About a month ago, I decided to try an experiment. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with keratosis pilaris (KP), a condition characterized by little bumps on my upper arm and cheeks. It doesn’t hurt or itch, but I’ve always been self-conscious of it. I’ve tried many different external treatments with no results, so I decided to make changes to my diet.
I have been very wary of making any changes to my diet due to my history with an eating disorder, but I felt strong enough to give it a try, and cut out gluten and most dairy. I have hesitated writing anything about this until now, because I was unsure how I felt about the whole thing. Note, this may be triggering for some. If you struggle with an ED, proceed with caution.
The first couple weeks into the experiment I felt good. I experienced fewer KP flair-ups and was overall less gassy and bloated. I should mention, I also started taking cod liver oil, regularly exfoliating, and applying coconut oil on my skin (all which could help).
After the first couple weeks, I didn’t feel so great. The first thing I noticed was that I found myself more preoccupied with my weight. Thinking maybe I was losing weight or looking better (red flags!). My intention going into the experiment wasn’t to change my weight, but by simply restricting certain foods affected how I viewed food and weight.
The second thing I noticed was that I began to fear gluten and dairy. Before going into this experiment, there were no “good” or “bad” foods, which released me from feeling “good” or “bad” for eating a certain way. In diet culture, there’s almost this virtuous label for eating “clean” or super healthy, abstaining from certain foods, etc. It’s almost as if you are “holy” for eating a certain way, and extremely guilty for eating a “bad” or “unhealthy” food. Who makes the labels and how does food have that much power over us?
The third thing I noticed was I felt deprived of certain foods. All I could think about was eating that food. When I did allow myself to eat gluten again, I devoured an almond croissant. Yep, it’s true. I wouldn’t let myself have that before, so it held so much power over me. And, my body was craving it. A primary concept in intuitive eating is the unconditional permission to eat. Have you ever noticed that when you are on a diet or restrict a certain food, all you can think about is what you can’t eat? And then if you allow yourself to have it, you go overboard because you don’t know when you will have it again? When we give food power over us, it controls us.
The fourth thing I noticed was that my digestion was out of wack. The first couple weeks were great, but not long after that, I started having stomach pains, gas, and bloating. I worried that maybe it was even the little bit of dairy I was having, so I completely cut that out and started taking supplements to combat the pain. Before this, I never had stomach pain like this. I was relaying this experience with a friend who has struggled with digestive issues for years, and it hit me that cutting out the foods was causing more harm than good for me. This was a humbling experience.
Our stomach is often called a “second brain” with a vast array of nerves and bacteria which respond to more than just food. Especially when we’re stressed, our digestion can go haywire, causing unpleasant symptoms like gas, bloating, pain, constipation, etc. I saw for myself, that the stress and preoccupation of cutting out gluten and dairy, learning to eat in a new way, and say no to foods that I was actually craving was causing unneeded stress on my body. For me, it wasn’t worth it.
In summary, this was a very valuable experiment because it brought me back to my philosophy towards food – all foods are okay. Period. I know for myself that restricting certain foods only makes me more preoccupied with food and my body. With my disordered eating past, restricting foods can be a very slippery slope.
Did my KP clear up by cutting out gluten and dairy? It did, but now that I’ve introduced those foods back in, I haven’t noticed a huge flair up (could be the cod liver oil). There is a trend of cutting out gluten and dairy (and “inflammatory foods”) right now to solve everything. I’m no scientist, so there may be some truth to it in some cases, but before jumping on the bandwagon, I’d encourage you to do some more research and check in with yourself. I do recognize that there are those who struggle with food allergies like celiac and lactose intolerance, and have to restrict certain foods. However, I do believe intuitive eating can still be practiced in those situations (great posts here and here).
Through this experiment, I saw how easy it is to get caught up in the diet fads and lose sight of what’s really important, all fueling my passion for health coaching. I want women to find freedom with food and not get swept up in all the fads. If you are feeling stuck in the maze of diet culture, I would love to help. I am taking clients starting January 2019 to help heal your relationship with food, find peace with your body, and wellness without obsession. Sign up here for a free consultation.
Have you ever cut out a food group for non-medical reasons? What did you learn?