I’ve been debating in my mind whether or not to write this entry for a while now. You see, it’s a pretty personal subject and it’s not all that easy to talk about. What made me decide to go for it was reading Cynosure‘s many posts on mindful eating. I realised I could relate a lot to the points she was making and I also realised that sharing my story might help somebody out there realise that they are not alone.
In 2009 I was finally diagnosed with a mild case of Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. It may come as a surprise to you when I say I was mostly relieved to get this diagnosis. But you would have been too. I had spent the previous three years or so in constant discomfort, unable to eat a whole meal without feeling nauseous and tired. In the process, I also got my gallbladder taken out. And yet, my doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me. I was tested for helicobacter pylori, rheumatoid arthritis, coeliac disease. I visited so many doctors I lost count of them. At one point I even ended up having a food intolerance done, having to cut out foods like corn, sugar, coffee, tomatoes, pork, chocolate and lentils from my diet. Big fat waste of time that was.
And still I was sick. And it was erratic. Sometimes, eating crackers affected me while eating junk food was absolutely fine; other days, I just stuck to dry bread because it was the only thing I could stomach. The hardest part was the fact that I dreaded mealtimes. I’ve always been a girl who loves food, who loves trying different flavours and cuisines and suddenly food was becoming an enemy. Imagine going out to eat with your friends and not being able to eat more than a few forkfuls of whatever is on your plate. Imagine feeling so, so, so very tired and in pain after a small meal that you have to lie down.
I began to train myself. I had to, if I was ever going to enjoy food again. I only ate what I felt like eating and when I felt like eating. I stopped paying attention to convention and started paying attention to what my body was telling me. My body was saying ‘Davinia, we’re a little damaged, but if you listen to me and do as I say, I think we’ll be alright.’ My portions diminished drastically. I couldn’t manage more than 50g of pasta at one go, but dammit I was going to enjoy those 50g. I never let myself feel full, but I never felt hungry either. I started to avoid junk food places altogether, started to realise that drinking lots of water actually made me feel better. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was practising mindful eating.
And, whaddaya know? Even though I was still sick I began feeling more energised and I began losing weight, effortlessly, for the first time in my life. My body was finally in charge and it knew best, it really did.
Nevertheless, when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s, I was relieved. After three years, I finally had a name for my disease. It wasn’t some new disease my body decided to invent. I wasn’t alone. There’s a whole network of IBD support out there, including Malta’s very own MACC, who do a lot of great work.
With the diagnosis came the treatment. Unfortunately, that consisted of a six-month course of steroids, which was something I hope not to have to repeat again in a long, long time. Where before I had got used to eating very little and very specific foods, the steroids made me hungry all the time. Hungry and angry. If I couldn’t eat what I wanted when I wanted I would get depressed and snappy. And so I ate and ate and put on a lot of weight and I completely forgot my healthy habits because even though I was still trying to listen to my body my body was listening to the pills.
It’s been just under a year since I stopped the steroids now. In this time I’ve been trying to train myself to eat the way I did when I was unwell. It’s not easy to do when your appetite is ‘normal’ again. Sometimes, when I’m enjoying my meal, I find it hard to push the plate away if I’m not full. Instead, I try to put smaller portions in my plate and limit myself to one serving. Another thing I try to do is to add at least one fresh vegetable to every meal I make. If I can’t do that, I have some fresh fruit.
When you practise mindful eating, you are letting yourself tune into your body. Your body will tell you what it needs. You will suddenly get a craving for oranges, sushi (I crave this a lot), chocolate or a big, greasy burger. I’ll bet you anything that if you give into the burger craving, your body will be asking you for fresh salad the next day.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you want to practise mindful eating:
- Eat when you’re hungry. If you’re not hungry at lunch-time, don’t eat at lunch-time.
- Eat what you feel like eating. Even if it’s chocolate cake.
- Ask yourself how you can incorporate more fresh fruit and veg into your meal.
- Stop eating when you’re no longer hungry and do not eat until you are full.
- Savour every mouthful. Think about the way the food tastes. Try to sit down and focus on your food. Try not to multi-task while you are eating.
- Drink lots and lots and lots of water.