I sat outside of a sandwich place, soon after I changed my diet, crying. All I wanted was a tuna-melt. That’s it. For three weeks I had eaten really healthy, my blood sugar was coming down, my weight was dropping, I was feeling better than ever, less depressed, less anxious, and in that moment? All I wanted was a tuna and cheese melt.
I called my friend Grace. Grace is a New Yorker, like myself. She doesn’t hide her feelings, she says it like it is. “NATALA YOU ALMOST LOST YOUR LEG!!!”. A few weeks before this melt down over the tuna melt, I was looking at severe complications from an infection in my leg, from my out of control T2 diabetes. That’s how bad it got. And now, all I wanted was this stupid sandwich. “How could you want that? It’s your leg or a sandwich Natala”.
I mean, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but let’s be honest. Had I consumed that tuna melt that day? I might not be writing this blog post right now. Why? Because I would get stuck in these pleasure traps, and once they started, they did not stop. I don’t do moderation, I don’t do a little bit of anything, I knew myself well enough (even then) that once I took the bite, that was it. For me, food (that is super high in caloric density/sugar/salt) is like a drug. I don’t do well just having a bite of something.
I remember back in my days in weight loss groups, they would often say to get the fun-size of various candy. So I did. Do you know what happened? I’d eat the entire bag of fun-size candy. Not the one little bag, the ENTIRE bag with all of the little bags inside of it.
I like to eat. I still like to eat. That has not changed. For a while I fought a lot with myself. I was angry about what was being “taken away”. It seemed like at every corner, there was something else I couldn’t have. In the first part of my journey, despite that my new eating habits saved my life, I found myself angry, a lot. I couldn’t go out to our favorite places to eat, I couldn’t go on vacation and eat anywhere I wanted, I couldn’t have big parties where I made very decadent Italian food and desserts with plenty of wine. For me, it was as though some part of my identity was being taken from me.
This feeling got less and less, but then a couple of years ago, I did something crazy. I went to True North Health Center in Santa Rosa, CA. True North is a medically supervised fasting center. Some of the best doctors in the world practice there. And they are known for doing “nothing”, as Dr. Alan Goldhamer will often say. Before I go on, long-term fasting should ONLY be done at a medically supervised facility. There is a lot that can happen durring a fast, and not everyone is the same, so make sure that if you want to fast, you only do it in a facility where there are MD’s.
That being said, fasting gave me a peace about foods that I will be forever thankful for. I’ve done 2 fasts. For a few weeks I only drank water. A lot of things happened health wise. My blood sugar was even more in control, my blood pressure was better than ever. But the thing best thing that happened? After my fast, food was amazing.
Like I said, I’ve always loved food. But I never would have thought that something as simple as a cucumber would make me really happy. Turns out after not eating for a few weeks, cucumber becomes your best friend. When I bit into a watermellon for the first time after fasting? I actually had tears in my eyes.
All my years of S.A.D. eating really did a number on my taste buds. While I was plant-strong, I wasn’t truly enjoying my food. The fast took care of that. All of a sudden had a tremendous peace about eating. I was content, and lost all the cravings for the really bad stuff, it just wasn’t an issue any longer.
Now, I don’t think that everyone needs to go and water fast right this minute (though I highly suggest it if you are struggling with pleasure trap addictions and or a serious health issue), I think that we can come to a place to truly enjoy food. It’s going to take a little work, but I’ve come up with a few ways to re-set those taste buds and start feeling great about the plant-strong food you are eating.
1. Eat clean. I can’t emphasize this enough. Every time a S.A.D. food touches down on your tongue, there is an assault on your taste buds. All of a sudden your brain starts sending signals, kind of like it would with a drug. Salt, sugar and fat hit pleasure centers in our brains, and make us (temporarily) feel great. The way to avoid this? Stay away from those harmful, drug like foods. I know this sounds easier said than done, however the more days you can get under your belt, the easier it will get. Really try to keep to a clean diet, with lots of natural and real flavors. Savor every bite. Try to really taste the subtle flavors in the food you are eating. Too often, we rush the process of eating, and we end up missing so many great flavors. The next time you buy a cucumber, try eating some of it plain, and see if you can pick on flavor that you haven’t tasted before.
On that note, avoid the worst offenders: fat, sugar, salt. Stay away from oil, which is the most calorically dense food on the planet, or as I like to call it, “liquid fat”. Reduce your sugar intake greatly, stick to 1-2 tbs of extracted sweetener per day (of ANY type of sweetener). Reduce your salt consumption, and that includes anything with lots of sodium in it like soy sauce, tamari or miso. Salt should be something you sprinkle a little on after you are finished cooking (so it’s on the surface of your food) or, you can do what I do, skip it all together. Since skipping the salt, food has tasted even more flavorful!
2. Have a day in which you just eat fruits and vegetables. You can re-set things a bit, by just focusing on eating fruits and vegetables for an entire day. The day after, your taste buds will thank you, and all food should start to taste a little more flavorful.
3. Get happy about your food. So often, we can really start to feel bad for ourselves and all of the food we are “giving up”. What if we approached the food we can eat, with a sense of joy? We are so fortunate that we are able to go out and buy a beautiful assortment of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole starches, whole grains and beans. Rather than becoming bitter about the things we are letting go of, let’s be thankful that we get to eat this amazing assortment of food that gives us a tremendous amount of health back. How fortunate are we that the food we eat can cause us to experience our best health? More so, how fortunate for the majority of us that we do not have to worry about where our next meal will come from? There is an abundance of plant-strong food available to us, anytime we want it. For some of us, we can even grow our own food!
4. Be thankful for your food. Growing up, my Grandmother taught us to always be thankful for what was on the table, she grew up in the depression and would tell us about how when she was younger, food was not always a given. Having a good amount of gratitude regarding your food can go a long way.
5. Find new ways to enjoy plant-strong food. I’ve had many blunders in the kitchen, since becoming plant-strong. I have never let my failed kitchen escapades to get me down. I just try again, or try out a new recipe, or flavor combination. Personally, I like things simple. Give me a potato, plain any day and I’m happy. Find what works for you. Try new fruits and vegetables, try new spices. If it doesn’t go your way? Have a back up plan. We always have oats and fruit in the house, just in case a meal doesn’t work out the way we thought it would, or if we’re just really busy and want something simple.
If you have just started on your plant-strong journey, or you have been eating plant-strong for a few years now, I want to encourage you to really embrace and enjoy the food you eat.
I hope to see some of you at our upcoming Farms 2 Forks events in Atlanta and New York! I’ll be talking about my plant-strong journey, the truth behind why some of us are overweight, and how to regain your health.