How To Improve Your Diet While Remaining Kind To Yourself

Diet is an interesting topic as far as personal growth is concerned. What you eat can help you gain or lose weight, but it can also affect your energy levels and mental clarity, help prevent or even cure diseases, slow or speed up aging, and have environmental and ethical impacts. Let’s face it, food is a big part of our lives, and it makes sense to think about our relationship with it.

My First Experiments In Diet

Apart from some poorly executed (and unsuccessful) weight loss diets in my childhood and teenage years, I hadn’t really thought much about my diet until I discovered the writer Steve Pavlina about eight years ago. In one article, he mentioned how for him eating meat and other animal products affected his mental clarity on a level equivalent to several pints of beer. When he went off them, it felt for him like being sober for the first time. That sounded pretty attractive, so at some point I decided to leap into the unknown and try being vegan for a month.

I never experienced any obvious change in mental clarity, but I did lose rather a lot of weight initially, which was pleasing. Some say that this is water retention weight, as you lose it rather fast and you don’t keep losing weight after the first two months.

After the first month I didn’t see any major reasons to quit veganism, so I just didn’t. I later read more about the ethical aspect of veganism, which cemented my change. Seeing as I already was on the diet I didn’t feel so defensive about these ideas, and that let me consider them a bit better. It did seem to me that if we can avoid animal suffering, why shouldn’t we?

The Pandora’s Box

So far so good. This started me down a path of experimenting with my diet, though. If I could make this one change, what other changes were there? I was opening a Pandora’s box.

My next major diet experiment was raw foodism. It was also a suggestion from Steve Pavlina. According to him, he had much more energy and mental clarity on the diet. And other people online had apparently cured themselves of all sorts of diseases and lost a lot of weight and so on. Reading all of this, I somehow managed to convince myself that the raw food diet was the one true best diet for everyone.

healthy eating

The trouble is, I do believe the raw food diet has value for a lot of people, but the stuff I was reading online was mostly rather dogmatic. There didn’t seem to be space for people who wanted to dabble or do a partially raw diet. I read a lot of people saying “cooked food is poison” or using the adjective “cooked” for anything they considered bad and unhealthy (e.g. “mobile phones are cooked”). One raw food guru I followed had a large following for his Youtube videos where he publicly ridiculed people who had different diet philosophies than him. One thing I remember him writing, which seemed to stick in my head somehow, was: “Raw food is like heroin. If you’re addicted to heroin, it doesn’t matter how much it costs, you find a way to get it. If you really want a healthy lifestyle, it doesn’t matter what you have to do, you make it happen.” His style of the raw food diet involved eating many kilos of organic fruit a day, so on a low budget it is genuinely hard or impossible. But no, according to him anyone could do it — should do it. There just wasn’t room for people who found it too hard.

Diet Blindness

Accordingly, I was just as inflexible with myself. I refused to admit when something wasn’t working with my diet, even telling people how amazingly it was going even when it wasn’t. Because of this blindness, it took me a stupidly long amount of time before I could accept that I had an intolerance to bananas, which because of my diet I was eating in large quantities almost every day.

I also ignored other problems with the diet. Because in fruit-based diets you have to eat huge amounts to get enough calories, I found myself regularly undereating. If I had been a better raw foodist I suppose I would have eaten more… but I wasn’t. And I didn’t accept that in myself. The result was that when I went off the diet, I found myself stuffing myself with more food than I needed, and I gained all the weight I had lost back on again in fairly short order. I had this nervous feeling that I could never get enough food in me, obviously some kind of light trauma from my partial starvation days.

If only there had been diet gurus out there that made it seem okay to not be “perfect”. Then I could have added more fruit and vegetables to my diet — which I recognised made me feel good — rather than stubbornly trying to ignore any reasons to not eat only fruit and vegetables. Maybe I would have beaten myself up less for failing.

Being Kind To Yourself

Experimenting with my diet has not been a complete failure. I’m happy to be a vegan — going on 6 years now – and a few years back I also gave up gluten, a seemingly innocuous decision that happened to cure 99% of the symptoms of my chronic Crohn’s disease. Through trial and error I’ve also discovered a few other food sensitivities and improved my well-being by giving them up, such as the aforementioned bananas.

Yet, looking back at some of my more radical experiments, I feel like diet for me was the battleground where I fought a kind of war with myself. I was just harsh with myself, inflexible, unable to accept any compromise, which I think reflects a rather larger issue of a lack of self-directed kindness. And when I gave up on my harsh diets, I ate in an indulgent, self destructive way. Either way, I didn’t know how to be nice to myself.

At some point I consciously gave up making new experiments with diet, and left it like that for about two years. This was good for me, a kind of reset. Then, fairly recently, I decided to lose weight, and now have to deal with thinking about food again. This time, though, I’m trying to do things differently.

First, I’m identifying how I treat myself with an aggressive, unkind attitude. Then, once I’m aware of that pattern, I let it go. Then I try to evaluate what I’m doing from a new standpoint, one of self-kindness. I believe it is this inner work, and not principally the exact details of what I eat, which will help me be successful with my goals. And if I am not successful with my goals, I’d say self kindness is an end in itself, anyway.

Sophia Gubb
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