Food freedom in the world of autoimmune disorders

I love the idea of food freedom. It makes me so happy that people are finally throwing off the burden of diet culture and focusing on honoring cravings and eating what they want. It’s a huge step in the right direction for less of a focus on thinness and women’s bodies.

As much as I want to throw my whole support behind food freedom, I can’t do it. And I can’t do it because, if I ate what I wanted all the time, I would feel terrible.

Sure, once in a while I’ll eat something that’s the opposite of healthy: gluten, dairy, sugar, all the things. And when I do that, I do it fully knowing the consequences. I’ll be bloated, feel gross and, depending on what I ate and how much, might have some pain in my small intestine a few hours later.

If you’ve read my post about my experience with my autoimmune disorder, you know that I take medication. Eating healthy, for me, is more of an additional benefit than an all out cure. When I’m in full remission, I can comfortably digest a vast majority of what I eat. But even when all my markers are down, it’s hard to eat things like ice cream, cake and even pizza.

And as a human, I’m programmed to want those things. I want sugar and carbs and fatty things because of evolution–and as much as I want to fully honor those cravings, I can’t cave and eat food like that every time.

So I make substitutions. I make cakes with almond flour and coconut sugar. I eat plant based ice creams. I use parmesan cheese instead of mozzarella (parm is lower in lactose and easier to digest). It’s not exactly the real thing, but it’s pretty close. And it’s usually good enough.

I realize, though, that I’m wandering into dangerous territory. Eating “clean” all the time can turn into orthorexia, an eating disorder that has to do with fear of unhealthy or “dirty” food. The more I cut out of my diet, the easier it is to cut out more and more and justify it with “it’s for my health.”

Balancing food freedom and the need to modify my diet for health reasons is a challenge. I love eating sweets and cheese and things filled with gluten. But I also love being able to exist as a functioning human, and especially functioning as a human who’s not always in pain. Every day I spend a large amount of mental energy deciding what kind of day it’s going to be: one where I eat what I want or one where I’m nice to my body.

Most days, it’s a combination. For example, on the day I came home from college, I ate a banana for breakfast. I drank a (sweetened) chai latte before having blood drawn. I had a gluten free and vegan noodle salad for lunch, had a load of veggies for dinner, then ate a kids size soft serve for dessert with a friend.

Some days I’m very strict with myself. No gluten, no dairy, no refined sugar. Some days I go ham and eat whatever I want, especially when I’m on vacation or at a party.

This balance is still something I’m trying to figure out, trying to prioritize both my mental and physical health. I hope to one day spend less brain space on it, but for now it’s a huge part of my thought process each day.

If you’re like me and have to watch your diet, this is my advice: eat the damn ice cream. Just be ready for what comes next.

Peace, love and cashew milk ice cream,

Cam

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