Over the years, my food philosophy has changed - it has gone from caloric restriction to vegetarian to extreme low carb and every which way in between. Finding something that works has been anything but a linear journey and it’s been a journey filled with a decent amount of frustration. Overall though, I’ve arrived at a place that I feel good about - I don’t obsess over food, it’s not draining my willpower, and it’s become a fairly natural thing. It has taken YEARS and a ridiculous amount of n=1 experimentation and I suspect that I have many more years left of that. I feel like the internetz can make it seem like everyone else has it all figured out but trust me, they don't. It took me a long time, and it's going to continue to take me a long time, to get it right. So let’s take a look at how I arrived at the place I’m at:
[photo by Cecily Garcia. This photo isn't from five years ago but I looked the same. Facebook has no photos of me from 5 years ago….with good reason. They’re probably hidden, I’m probably drunk looking, and it’s probably just not good.]
5 years ago: I’m 20, in college, living with others, have just started dating my husband most likely. I eat fairly healthy - not a lot of junk food, I cook dinner and almost all of my meals most days. When first starting to date my husband, we ate a lot of “fun” food because we love food. I gained weight, felt awful, had severe bouts of hypoglycemia, daily migraines, debilitating joint pain, ulcers, and was basically sick all the time.
4 years ago: Diet has been cleaned up, good amount of weight lost, I’m eating a more vegetarian/vegan-esque diet. I’ve found out that I’m intolerant to gluten and have cut it out although I still “cheat” with regularity. My migraines, joint pain, and general malaise have gone away (thanks to cutting out gluten) but I still don’t feel great. I’m still sick really often and easily fatigued. I’m not a normal 21 year old. I’m running a decent amount because that’s what you do as a 22 year old female right? You run and eat lettuce.
[photo by Jack Looney]
3 years ago: After going to more doctors than I can count, having more blood drawn than a bad vampire movie, and even being told by one of the top doctors in the country that I should probably just lose weight by eating 800 calories a day and doing cardio for 2-3 hours (which I promptly replied with a big “EFF YOU”), I’m at a loss. I just want to feel better. I work with my sports medicine doctor who has treated me for knee issues for a few years and her staff nutritionist and discover that my insulin levels are whacky - really whacky. It’s likely due to genetics but we try and get it down. I go SUPER low carb - a pretty much ketosis inducing diet. I feel okay, lose a bit more weight but am generally really tired and cranky. I even trying doing some intermittent fasting but can’t get enough calories to function in such a short eating window. I'm exhausting my willpower making food decisions and it's taking a toll - food is "bad" or "good".
[photo by Jack Looney]
2 years ago: Still eating low-carb and am very strictly gluten-free - the consequences of “cheating” are far too extreme and just not worth it. I feel pretty good, have maintained and even lost more weight, and work hard to feel good for my wedding. Overall, I feel MUCH better - there are still a couple of issues but I feel like a fairly normal person. However, I’m not eating nearly enough calories and still don’t feel 100%. At this time, I fracture my foot and have to stop doing “cardio” - my sports med doctor pretty much tells me that I need to start lifting weights or my bones may just turn to dust. I oblige and spend more time lifting weights than on the treadmill, bike, or pavement. I quickly realize that I love it. Also, it’s become fairly evident that a vegetarian-esque diet is wrecking my body, hormones, and happiness (not saying it doesn’t work for some but it definitely didn’t work for me). I still think of food as restrictive and "bad" or "good" but also begin to think about how it nourishes or doesn't nourish me.
[my first 200# deadlift]
1 year ago: I start Crossfit on a whim and I have begun eating paleo to get leaner. I feel much better with a diet free of grains, dairy, sugar, soy, legumes, etc. I make a decent amount of newbie strength gains and feel good. I lose weight after doing a strict paleo challenge but hate it since all weight lost was hard-earned muscle. At this point, I’m still very carb-phobic and not eating enough calories. I start taking weightlifting/getting strong more seriously and realize something has got to give. That something is carbs and calories - give me all of them, or rather, enough to help me get stronger.
[1 year ago & today...or last week rather]
Today: I eat “paleo-esque” although I could really give a f*ck about the label. I eat A LOT. I’m finally getting enough calories (although it is still a struggle some days) and have figured out what does/doesn’t work for me. Soy and legumes and most grains totally wreck me - things like rice and potatoes and some dairy work for me. I’m not very strict about it - I eat ice cream, potato chips, chocolate, etc. every once and a while, probably about once a week. I don’t care how much I weigh for any purpose other than competition weight class. I care about my food and how it impacts my performance, it's quality, and what it does for my body.
My food philosophy in a nutshell? Eat food that works for you. Eat enough of it. Be happy about it.