Perhaps you’ve recently been diagnosed with celiac disease, hashimoto’s, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, a food allergy or perhaps you have been told you need to lose weight for the sake of your health. Regardless of the reason, being told the way you currently eat isn’t going to cut it any longer is quite the blow. Being told you are not properly nourishing your body, whether due to ignorance or dismissal, can shake you to the core.
“But I like these foods!”
“Just one slice of pizza won’t hurt!”
“What does this doctor know anyways?”
“It’s not my fault. I’m under a lot of stress.”
“I don’t know how to cook.”
“I’m still in high school/live at home. What I eat is out of my control.”
“I can’t afford to eat a better diet.”
“I’m not worth making a change for.”
“It’s too late to make a difference, so why bother?”
Maybe some or all of those thoughts crossed your mind the moment it became obvious your current system of eating just isn’t enough anymore. Whether you need to avoid gluten, sugar, carbs, nightshades, dairy, nuts, soy, etc. it’s hard. Sometimes you can feel like a freak standing in the grocery aisle carefully reading each and every single label. It’s frustrating and overwhelming to not be able to toss your usual frozen dinners and bottles of ketchup into your cart. In some cases, perhaps 80% of your normal grocery store is off limits. You fumble your way through the produce department. Glaze over in the dry goods section. Make it to the freezer section, decide all hope is lost and abandon your cart while running towards the front with an armful of frozen pizzas and ice cream. (I’m sure I’m not the only one with that experience…right?)
I’m here to tell you that it will be hard. There will be days you feel like tossing in the [kitchen]towel. There will be days when all you have for dinner is a bowl of plain quinoa and you’ll cry. You’ll have to attend birthday parties and holidays and pass on all of your favorite dishes. You’ll have to decline invitations to eat out. When you do choose to eat out, you’ll have to spend an hour online first researching all of the restaurants nearby — making phone calls, scouring the menu trying to find something you can eat.
But, (there’s always a but) I’m also here to tell you that there’s hope. That you can do this. That you will do this. That you are worth it. That it will get easier. That you will one day question why you ever thought it would be difficult. You will finally start to feel better physically and emotionally. It will most definitely pay off in the long run. It may take time to get to there, but it will happen.
One of the things I am most passionate about is dietary changes for medical reasons. When you’re at the end of your rope and barely hanging on — that’s where I want to be the helping hand that pulls you back on solid ground and gives you the confidence you need to stay ashore. I’m going to share a few thoughts and ideas to hopefully help you begin to gain confidence and feel encouraged. Please, please, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions, concerns, fears, rants, etc. I’m here for you, whomever you are, and I sincerely mean it. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and I can be reached any time. I’m not a nutritionist. I’m not a psychologist. I’m just someone who cares an awful lot.
1. You’re not alone.
You are not the only person in the world to receive this diagnosis/news. You are not the only person in the world to have to make this specific change. I don’t say this to make you feel like your worries are insignificant. This isn’t a “someone always has it worse” speech. This is me reminding you that you are’t alone. This is a “someone has it too” speech. There are massive amounts of support groups online and in person. There are massive amounts of resources at your local library or doctor’s office. Please, do yourself a favor and take full advantage of these. Surround yourself with people who understand what you’re going through and can be a source of support and encouragement. I would recommend avoiding groups that simply complain about the struggle. Instead, find a group that is encouraging and uplifting. It may take time to find this group, but it will be so vital to your success.
2. You don’t have to be perfect.
In fact, I can almost guarantee you won’t be. Just do the absolute best you can. You may have a messy first few weeks, months or years — don’t give up. Don’t let one bad choice cause you to lose faith in yourself. You’re only human and there will be mistakes and regrets. Make notes, learn lessons and continue to improve. Don’t throw in the towel simply because you couldn’t resist a cookie. Your health and well-being depends on you not giving up. Don’t even consider it.
3. You don’t have to hurry.
This one has a caveat: If you have a condition such as celiac or a major food allergy, you do need to be as immediate as you can.
For the most part, you don’t need to leave your doctor’s office and immediately start following this new diet 100%. Give yourself some time to breath and process it all. Set a date, sometime within the next couple weeks or month, and plan and prepare. Get on Pinterest and create a recipe board for recipes that only match what you need 100%. Delete any recipes you already have saved that can no longer be a part of your new lifestyle. Start compiling recipes and do some experimental cooking to give you a good idea of what to expect. Choose 1 or 2 favorite foods (such as pizza or brownies) and find some good recipes that you like that can help fill in the gap. In some cases, you may have to ditch your old favorite for a new one. For instance, if you are now gluten and dairy free, it’s going to be hard to find a pizza to satisfy you’re cravings…at least at first. Skip the pizza and find a new favorite dish. After several months of following this new lifestyle, then you can venture out and try some gluten and dairy free pizza options. There are really good recipes for a pizza that is both gluten and dairy free, but it’s hard to compare it to a traditional pizza. Don’t even try. It will just leave you sad.
I realize this one is confusing. On one hand I’m telling you to find replacements and on the other I’m telling you not to. It really comes down to you. Only you know yourself and only you know just how bad you’re going to miss the original.
4. You don’t have to rely on manufactured food.
I’m going to use gluten free as the example in this next section. Feel free to substitute it with any other diet restrictions.
If you were to now be gluten free, you can easily go to a grocery store and find an aisle filled to the brim with lots of gluten free goodies. These are great to have and can help you feel ‘normal’ again. Eat them, enjoy them, but don’t rely on them. Gluten free junk food is still junk food. Plain and simple. You still need to focus on feeding your body as healthfully as you can and take nutrition into consideration. Even if you aren’t as concerned about the health factor, that stuff is expensive.
On the other hand, if you were to search “gluten free recipes” you will find a plethora of all kinds of gluten free goodness. However, a lot of these recipes use several different kinds of weird flours and gums and can also get expensive. When you go gluten free, it can be hard to remember all of the things that are already naturally gluten free. Meat, fruits, vegetables, rice, beans, some grains, quinoa, etc — all gluten free and all delicious. Seek out foods and recipes that are naturally gluten free. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
5. You should track your progress.
Whether you decide to keep a journal, take pictures, just write out symptoms daily or write a quick few paragraphs about how you feel starting, it’s going to be highly beneficial to look back on later to see just how far you’ve come. Likely, the change you see will be a slow change. Day to day, not much will seem different. However, several months from now you will be different. It’s always good to have something to look back on to remind yourself just how far you’ve come and improved.
I really hope someone somewhere found some encouragement and hope reading this. Know that you aren’t alone, it won’t be perfect, you can take your time, you can be self-reliant and there will be progress.