I’ve experimented with consuming less of many things, over the years. Less spending, less shopping, less alcohol (ok, no alcohol), less TV, less social media and so on. Last month, I took the social media experiment one step further and deactivated my personal Facebook profile (I still have a secret one I need for business). I haven’t missed it once, which proves it was the right decision for me. But if I had to pick the most important experiment I’ve done so far this year, I would say it’s been my commitment to consume less of the foods that make me feel bad.
By “bad” I mean everything from getting bloated to feeling my stomach twist up in a knot. The worst for me is crashing after eating something with a lot of white flour or sugar. This is something I’d started noticing last year, but didn’t accept how serious it was until a few months ago, when my body crashed after eating a single cupcake while babysitting my niece. Type 2 diabetes runs in our family, so my siblings and I are at risk of developing it. Knowing that, I decided to attempt to give up sugar for 30 days, back in February, which is how this experiment began.
In the first week, I experienced some withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches and worse sleep. The most dramatic might’ve been Day 3, when it seemed like pictures of chocolate and cakes were everywhere I looked and I was genuinely angry I couldn’t have any. By dinner time, I was literally plotting how I could sneak away from my friends and devour a piece of cake behind their backs. I didn’t try to hide any of this. I told friends how I was feeling and confessed the dessert sins I wanted to commit. They encouraged me to carry on, and I did.
On Day 10, I received a package of information on how to prepare for my hip surgery, and discovered I would have to hit pause on my experiment on Day 15. The night before surgery, they ask you to drink two cups of a clear juice. You have to drink another cup one hour before you go to the hospital. I should be clear that, in giving up sugar, I’d given up everything sweet – fruit included – so even an organic juice would’ve resulted in me breaking my original rules. I didn’t want to give up on the experiment, but I had to take a timeout for the surgery.
After the surgery, I was surprised to find my sugar cravings hadn’t resurfaced; this was huge for me, as I was always one to eat something sweet after dinner. I had added some fruit back into my diet (mostly apples and berries), as I was on heavy painkillers and knew I needed the fibre, but even that didn’t make me crave anything more. As the weeks went on, I decided to forget about finishing the 30-day experiment. I knew eating refined sugar made me feel terrible, so I would avoid it from now on. In place of that experiment, however, I decided to figure out how other foods made me feel too.
In March, I started keeping track of everything I ate. The goal wasn’t to decrease my calorie intake or lose weight. I should also add here that I hate “diets” more than the average person. I know from experience that the best way to lose weight is to eat less junk, eat more healthy food and workout – it’s that simple. So that wasn’t the goal. I was simply sick of feeling bloated, heavy and tired after meals. I didn’t know which foods my body hated most, but I was ready to find out and eliminate them. For the next 60 days, I ate everything I normally eat and wrote down how I felt after. Here’s what I found.
What I Learned From Tracking My Food Intake
1. Whether I like it or not, I am lactose intolerant.
I’ve known this for a long time, which is why I’ve been drinking almond/cashew milk for at least 7+ years now. However, if cheese was in front of me or someone suggested we go out for pizza or ice cream, I would still say yes. I wouldn’t buy it and keep it in my own fridge, but I’d eat it elsewhere and I always paid for it. I will say, I am not the worst-case scenario here, but I do get “pregnant bloated” (as I call it) after eating dairy and I don’t like it.
2. My body does not seem to like beef.
It’s rare that I’ll actually eat beef, but the few times I did served as a reminder as to why it’s better for me to avoid it. Beef is the one food that truly feels like it twists my stomach in a knot. It didn’t matter if it was a burger, stew or steak – if I ate it, I regretted it. Beef is one of the toughest things for our bodies to process, so I don’t know why this discovery surprised me as much as it did. Nonetheless, I’m now fully aware of how it makes me feel.
3. White flour* = white death.
I was doing a pretty good job of avoiding white flour, in that I rarely eat bread (and only buy whole grain when I do) and don’t bake anymore. But I did eat pasta and pizza a few times, and it always (ALWAYS!) made me bloated and tired. Similar to how I knew beef wasn’t easy to process, I know there’s no nutrition in white flour, so I’m happy to avoid it. But I’m also glad I tracked how it made me feel, so I can reinforce that decision in the future.
*Potatoes aren’t great either, but I never buy them and rarely eat them.
4. And, of course, my body HATES refined sugar.
I’ve known this for a while, but the cupcake incident was the final straw for me. Shortly after eating it, I got cold, started to shiver, curled up under a blanket and then fell asleep. That reaction isn’t good anytime, but especially not when I’m babysitting. And when I woke up, I felt physically sick – almost like I was hungover – for hours. I don’t want to experience that ever again, and I really don’t want type 2 diabetes, so refined sugar is out the door.
The Benefits of Changing My Diet
The longer I tracked how different foods made me feel, the more I naturally started to consume less and less of them. I swapped white flour with whole grains (and sometimes gluten-free options), got more protein from beans and nuts, curbed my sweet tooth with fruit and limited my dairy intake. And the benefits of slowly changing my diet have been incredible. I’m never bloated, I never feel tired or sick, and I never crash anymore. I’ve also lost 11 lbs. I’m sure some of that is a result of all the walking and hiking I’ve been trying to do since the surgery, but there’s no doubt it’s also diet-related.
One of the most interesting changes I’ve noticed, however, is more mental than physical. I feel as though I’ve entered a new level of clarity – like the fog that used to come from sugar crashes has lifted. I’m a little more creative and a little more productive. It’s not a huge, drastic difference! I’ve just noticed that I feel better about my work, these days, and I’m sure my cleaner diet is partially to thank.
My Favourite Things to Eat
If you’re curious, here are some of the meals I eat on a regular basis now.
- Breakfast: 2 hard-boiled eggs and 1 slice of whole grain toast OR oatmeal with berries
- Lunch: Salad and a green smoothie
- Dinner: Protein and veggies OR chilli/soup and salad
- Snacks: Apples, peanut butter, nuts, etc.
I will add that I’m not perfect, and I don’t follow this “diet” every day. In the past few months, I’ve had pizza a couple times and ice cream a couple times. There was also a slice of celebratory cake (but I did regret that one). I’ve simply removed the foods that make me feel bad from my regular diet, and eat much smaller portions of them now, if I do eat them.
Being Mindful Changes Everything
I’m not sure why it took me so long to do this experiment. Five years ago, I began tracking my spending, to figure out where my money was going. And I use mindful budgeting to make sure my spending aligns with my goals and values. Both have changed my financial health forever. I’m glad I brought those same practices over to my physical health and can now change that forever too.
Have you ever practiced mindful eating?
- Podcast: Learning to Listen to Your Body – Unmistakable Creative
- Podcast: Mindful Eating with Ali Wright – The Slow Home Podcast
- Simple Eating – Simply + Fiercely
- What is Mindful Eating? – Zen Habits
- Why You Should Keep a Food Journal – The Wall Street Journal