With the New Year on the horizon, many of us are considering a new diet. Perhaps chronic illness is a motivating factor. Or a child with behavioral issues. Or maybe just a general desire to eat healthier.
When I considered venturing into a dietary approach to healing, I felt overwhelmed. How in the world would I get 10 other people on board? It didn't happen overnight, that's for sure. We slowly changed our eating patterns until the day we were ready to embark on a grain-free/fruit-free/sugar-free diet, which we began in earnest on August 1st.
Our diet has yielded more benefits than I expected. We have found a new level of stability. Ironically, our life now revolves less around food and more around artistic endeavors. We have less conflict over food than ever before, and the kids have learned to enjoy foods I never thought possible.
Grocery shopping is surprisingly easier. No more agonizing over food labels. A quick run through the produce aisle is all that's needed. I order meat online or from a local rancher. Much of my shopping is done through a food co-op.
I battled numerous doubts as we embraced our new lifestyle. I've summarized these below and included some of my thoughts as I sought to sift through the truths that seemed to reinforce each doubt.
1. People will think I'm crazy.
People also thought physician Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis was crazy when he suggested that hand disinfection played a role in the health of birth mothers. The connection between the food we eat and our health seems equally obvious, but anytime we go against the tide we are likely to experience ridicule and skepticism. This is simply part of the journey, one which I'm willing to accept.
2. It's expensive.
I shudder to think of what we spend on produce and meat in a week. However, when I think of the money we're saving on doctor appointments, emergency room visits, and prescriptions, I cease to count the cost. We eat out less, spend less on fast-food stops and lattes, and enjoy a simpler lifestyle. I no longer measure our health by our grocery bill.
Colleen Huber, a naturopath, contends that eating organically is not necessarily more expensive. She did a comparison several years ago and found the two types of diet comparable. Her study can be found here.
3. It might not work.
I hope for complete healing for each one of us. But there's no guarantee. There's no guarantee no matter what decisions we make about anything. I'd rather try than not try. I'd rather take the risk of eating healthier foods than assume it would make no difference. It's been five months now, and I've seen so many benefits that complete healing would only be the "icing on the flax cracker."
4. There are so many diets out there. They can't all be right.
Some diets say juicing is good. Others say not. Some are vegan. Others are meat-based. Some are raw. Some are cooked. Some include sweeteners. Others do not. (Although I have yet to find any nutritional protocol that invites people to eat "unlimited" refined sugar.)
In my mind, this is one of the biggest hindrances toward altering our diet. This is where our intuition is a necessity. There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to diet. We're each unique, with our own specific needs.
It took me months to find a diet I felt worked for our family. I found it by trying different approaches. We constantly tweaked, adding in foods and taking them out. Each member of our family is different, which only added to the frustration. When I heard of the GAPS diet, I was shocked to see we were already eating the foods on the plan. Instinctively I had been drawn to it.
We've embraced the GAPS diet. We weave in some of the Body Ecology, Specific Carbohydrate, and Paleo diets. We may change things down the road. I'm thankful we're trying something.
5. It will be hard on my kids.
It's also true that it may be hard on our kids to continue to eat sugar and processed foods. We can't protect our kids from pain, only do the best we can with the best explanation we can offer. If a child understands the reasons for the unusual foods, it can help. I try to find fun, creative alternatives for special occasions.
The night before we began our biggest diet change, we showed a clip from the movie Breaking and Entering. The movie is not kid-friendly, but one scene shows Jude Law sitting down to a dinner of chicken and vegetables. His wife explains the gut/brain connection and the role diet can play in restoring health to their ill child. The daughter throws a temper tantrum because of the missing ice cream. It helped my kids to see another family trying to improve their health through diet.
6. I might get sick.
Sometimes the body is so worn down it doesn't let us know the food we're eating is doing us harm. If grains, for instance, are perpetuating some of the bad "bugs," we often don't know it. When our body "wakes up" and we start feeding it healthier foods, toxins can die and create die-off symptoms, which are often worse than the general feeling of malaise we may have started with. There are numerous ways to get through the die-off, such as Epsom salt baths, activated charcoal, vitamin C, and many others.
If we're willing to get worse before we get better, we may enjoy a whole new level of health.
7. My food might not taste good.
This was especially difficult for me. I always had a healthy diet, free of sugars and processed foods (which still did not help me in my toxic home). But the sweetness I did have in my diet, I liked! I didn't want "bland" foods, let alone bitter or sour ones. I let go of my need for good taste and took the plunge. Sometimes I plugged my nose. I kept focusing on my goal of better health and reminded myself of the Chinese medical adage, "The bitter the better." Slowly, ever so slowly, my taste buds changed. I now eat sauerkraut, drink plain goat kefir, and drink bitter green juice. My kids do, too! We do use stevia to help with some of the foods, but my kids can drink the most bitter green juice in one gulp.
8. Extreme dietary restriction isn't necessarily a good thing.
It's a risk to embark on any dietary plan. In reality, we were already restricted by our food allergies and food intolerances. Once I accepted our limitations, I sought to find a diet that encouraged a well-rounded mix of vegetables, proteins, and fats. One that would help us heal so that we would be able to tolerate more foods. For some people, an extreme diet change is not necessary. Simply taking out refined sugars and processed foods can be enough.
But for those with severe illness, this quote from Hippocrates may apply: "Extreme remedies are very appropriate for extreme diseases."
Sometimes a strong message to the body can lead to a big change.
9. I don't think I can get my spouse or older children on board.
We can't control others, in any area of life. We can, however, do our best to educate and explain. We can lead by example. We can try. For our family, a slow transition worked better than an abrupt, unwelcome change. I introduced one food at a time and tried to find satisfying substitutes for their favorite foods. When I felt a more radical approach was necessary, I asked everyone to try it for 30 days. Thankfully, everyone agreed, and five months later we're still "experimenting."
10. It will be difficult.
There's simply no way around this one. It is hard to change patterns. Food patterns especially. Good things don't come easily. There's no magic pill when it comes to health and diet. I miss the convenience of take-out pizza and fast food. But there's something gratifying and empowering about this kind of hard work. I see it every time my kids play football, or read, or laugh. Simple things we weren't able to do two years ago.
In summary, there are plenty of reasons to stick with the "old way". Plenty of reasons not to step out and try something new. I like this quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes:
I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it - but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.
It's a New Year with new possibilities. The perfect time to set sail.