Ditching Dietary Dogma

I've subscribed to many diets in my life. I've been vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, paleo, and many combinations of all of the above. Following these diets made life easier in a lot of ways because it eliminated the element of choice in many instances. But it also stopped me from actually listening to what my body wanted. 

When I was vegan I never had to think about saying no to pizza or cupcakes because they simply weren't on the list of things I could eat (unless of course if they were vegan), so I didn't have to trust myself to make the right choices because there were such strict rules already in place for me. The same principle applies to each and every diet I followed. If it wasn't on the list of approved foods, it was easy to pass up because I simply didn't eat it. I had the discipline, and I was pretty good at following rules. I lived like this for about six years and really only left it all behind a few months ago.

The latest diet I was following was paleo so I completely avoided grains, sugar, dairy, and ate minimal amounts of fruit, and boy was it fun! Just kidding. 

It was easy to know what to eat because I pretty much ate identically every single day, but I was never really tuning into myself to ask my body what it wanted. Not to mention, social situations often felt frustrating because I wasn't able to participate in enjoying a lot of the foods I grew up loving without feeling the immense guilt that came with breaking my diet

I'm telling you this because I've come to the other side of rule based restrictive eating, and what I've learned has been extremely powerful.

Now, please don't get me wrong. I am not saying that it's wrong to be vegan or to follow a paleo diet. I'm saying that following strict dietary rules was wrong for ME. We are all different and I respect everybody's choice to practice individuality. It's what makes the world go round!

Back to ditching the rules...Once I threw the dietary rules out the window and started listening to what my body was asking for, I found myself truly surprised. And I was quite delighted. 

For one, I was happy to learn that even when I opened myself to eat anything I wanted (anything that is Natalie approved that is... more on that later but it generally means it is organic and whole or minimally processed foods), I wasn't craving junk. So when I trusted my body to dictate what I ate, it certainly didn't lead me astray.

I rediscovered my love of dairy. I love cheese. I really do. And for years I denied myself the ability to eat cheese because I believed it to be a "bad" food. However when I reintroduced dairy into my diet, I felt great! I should mention that I do only eat organic, grass-fed dairy, but nonetheless, it was so awesome to bring it back into my diet. 

I also found myself enjoying food as PLEASURE. I know, I know. Eat to live, don't live to eat. I agree. Food is fuel, and I will be the first person to advocate that. But food it also delicious! And it is so incredibly satisfying to actually eat what you want!

My biggest fear in letting go of rules and ditching dieting dogma was that I would lose control over my body and gain a bunch of weight or start struggling with disordered eating again (something I struggled with in the past), but none of those things happened. In fact, I've found myself feeling healthier and happier than ever.

I truly believe that our bodies are brilliant, and when left to their own devices they can actually do an amazing job at knowing how to best take care of themselves. Which includes knowing what to eat and when.

BUT this brings me to a very important point. In order to get to the point where you ditch all dietary rules and only listen to what your body wants, you first need to learn and understand the rules and learn to listen to your body.

This might seem like a total contradiction to everything I've been saying, but hear me out...

If I had ditched all my diets without having a strong foundation of understanding what is good for me and what is harmful to me, this wouldn't have turned out so well.

If I hadn't had such a clean diet before, my body might be used to eating crap, and when left to my own devices I might think that my body is craving Cheetos... when it's really craving a jog, or a hug, or protein. Because if you're running on junk it takes time for your body to detoxify. And if you've never listened closely to your body you might think it's craving junk food when it's actually craving something else entirely. 

Do you hear what I'm saying?

It is completely possibly to eat 100% intuitively and be wonderfully healthy. But first you must know how to eat good, clean, real food that supports your body to function properly. 

So there are two main steps to having this freedom with what you eat.

1. KNOWLEDGE. Learn the rulesEducate yourself about food. Learn what is food and what's posing as food at the grocery store, and create a foundation of standards for what you put in your body. Become a detective and start to become acutely aware of how different foods affect you. 

2. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Now that you've learned the rules, it's time to break them, intelligently. This does not mean to go eat taco bell, it means to make educated choices moment to moment based on the cues your body is giving you.

With these two steps you can be free to eat how you want, when you want, and be a healthy, balanced individual.

This is where true freedom is found. And I can't think of anything healthier than feeling free. Can you?

What is your experience with eating and following dietary rules? I'd love to hear. Let me know in the comments below, and we'll keep the conversation going.

Cheers to you health and happiness!