Nourish Your Body: Food

Nourish Your Body: Food

My dad has psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. He takes pharmaceutical medications, which have helped him tremendously and, in many ways, saved his life in that they have enabled him to live well despite a condition that can be extremely disruptive and uncomfortable. I’d had mild psoriasis since I was a teenager, but after I had my third child, it erupted with a vengeance.

The worsening psoriasis was accompanied by psoriatic arthritis, which is an arthritic component of that disease. The arthritis pain left me limping and at times unable to walk without a lot of pain, which was petrifying for me. I had patches of psoriasis all over my body. In many places, my skin was bleeding. I’d just had a baby, my hormones were at the extremes, it was painful to walk, my skin had open wounds—and I was supposed to be a “wellness expert.”

Needless to say, I panicked. I met with Namaste’s entire team of nutritionists and many doctors to figure out how to approach it. I didn’t want to take the pharmaceuticals that my dad was on, but it was beginning to look like that might be my only option. I researched everything I could find on alternative treatments for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

From the information I gathered, I concluded that I needed to experiment with my diet. I eliminated dairy, sugar, and all grains including corn and rice. Shortly after I removed those foods from my diet, the disease went into complete and total remission. The patches cleared up, arthritis went away, and I was able to walk and conduct my life as I had before. Only a few times in the nine years since I changed my diet have I had any sign of the disease—and even then, it’s only a small bit peeking through my skin in moments when I’m overly stressed.

I have no desire to eat sugar, dairy, or grains because I feel very supported and taken care of by food and my approach to eating. The changes have been incredibly healing to my body beyond psoriasis. I no longer suffer seasonal allergies, and my PMS disappeared. I never have to think about my weight because I’ve eliminated all the foods that make me gain it.

Twenty Pounds or Less

My anxiety has lessened, and I’m able to perform at a level that would be unattainable with my autoimmune disease flares. With three children, a business to build and run, and a book to write, I need my energy to be optimized. I always have a lot going on (who doesn’t?), and I can’t afford to have a sugar hangover or feel sluggish and heavy in my body. That’s what worked for me.

I believe food is a very personal journey, and I also believe that pharmaceuticals can save lives and improve people’s quality of life as well. The basics, such as avoiding processed food and refined sugars, are undeniable, and research tells us quite clearly that our gut health is intrinsically connected to our brain and the prevention of many diseases.

Experts have countless opinions on the best diet—vegan, paleo, raw, ketogenic, Mediterranean, etc. Determining our path is where science, inner listening, and lifestyle choices meet. It’s where food becomes a journey of nourishment that informs our health— body, mind, and heart. Some baseline guiding principles can apply to everyone for mental and physical health.

Eating a diet rich in whole foods and nutrients, moderating or eliminating alcohol intake, avoiding refined and saturated fats, and avoiding processed food and sugar are all foundational. However, given the complex nature of our relationship with food, shame around what we put into our bodies is also not a formula for health and well-being. Simply being informed and making incremental progress toward better choices around food is the key. 

Food Psychology

Food is family, friendship, culture, and religion. Food is social. It’s tied to so many aspects of our lives, our lineage, and our relationships. Food also impacts our mental health quite literally. Given this complex web that is our relationship to food and its role in our lives, figuring out how to nourish ourselves can be confusing. Whenever my son eats something with red dye, he gets an itchy, swollen, somewhat painful rash.

It’s not life-threatening, but it is irritating. He’s twelve, and he knows he’s sensitive to foods with red dye. Still, it’s hard when all the other kids at the birthday party are eating the candy from the piñata and he’s not, so he eats the candy and suffers the consequences. He’s dealing with the psychological issues of preteen peer pressure and wanting to fit in, as well as the emotional and physiological draw of sugar.

If I try to control what he puts in his mouth, it seems to complicate things further. I have educated him on the concept of cause and effect, and I do my best to support the healthiest choices possible, but ultimately he needs to hold the control. Like all of us, he has to decide what foods or treats he’s willing to give up to feel good in his body, and at the same time I don’t want him to feel guilty for wanting sweet treats and to enjoy a piñata with his friends.

I work hard to not make him feel bad when he makes a choice that leaves him unwell, but I do encourage him to notice how he feels. Taking a middle path approach, I educate and advise him to go for the chocolate as opposed to the Swedish Fish at birthday parties instead of no sweets at all, but in the end, he needs to navigate his journey with food, friends, feelings, and health.

If our favorite time of the week is the Sunday evening family dinner and traditionally the meal is pasta, how do we navigate being told we should no longer eat white flour or grains? Multiple generations breaking bread together is deeply nourishing, even if the bread is not what our bodies need. That said, when we remember that it’s not only the food that’s nourishing but also the tradition and community that fills us up, we leave space for new traditions that may serve us on every level and leave no damage in their tracks.

However, similar to my son and his relationship with a good piñata, some people in this situation might feel as though they’d rather have a couple of patches of psoriasis and enjoy pasta with their family every Sunday. If that’s true for those people, then it’s true. The inner and outer listening gives us an awareness of our choices and the impact they may have on both our physical and mental wellness. I don’t believe in perfection.

Twenty Pounds or Less

Connie Buckley is a top public relations executive in Manhattan with a successful firm and fifty employees. She worked a lot and, over a decade, slowly went from being a slender size six to a size ten at best. Never much into going to the gym or boutique fitness classes, she came to Namaste wanting to lose twenty pounds through a practice of nutrition, yoga, and meditation.

Through her various practices and some supportive wellness coaching, however, she decided she wanted to lose only ten pounds and would be happy there. Losing another ten pounds wasn’t worth the effort required to achieve and maintain that weight. She wanted to find a healthy weight that felt sustainable to her, and while her thirties may have been all about size six, she felt comfortable that a size eight in her forties was a reasonable and realistic place to land.

Nourishment is about learning to experience our bodies from the inside out as opposed to the outside in. So often our goals or intentions are inspired by what we want to see in the mirror, or an idea from the past or the media. Creating goals that are informed by how we feel and that is in alignment with a lifestyle that speaks to us is key to long-term success and a healthy body image.

Surrounding ourselves with people who relate to their bodies from an accepting place supports both healthy eating habits and a healthy body image. As I say to my children, we are the company we keep. People rub off on us, and learning to stay connected to our core values can be a challenge, so mindfully working with this in our relationships is a process. Awareness is the first step.

People, just like food, can nourish us, deplete us, or throw us way out of balance. A wise and knowledgeable nutritionist can be a tremendous support as we make our way with food, but at the end of the day, we need to make our own decisions about what works for us and what doesn’t. Taking personal ownership of the process, gathering information from lab work and doctors, and then listening to our bodies to draw our conclusions is exponentially more effective than following the latest fad diet.

My mother has irritable bowel syndrome. She gathered a lot of information and weighed the variables in her life, then made conscious decisions about how to navigate the disease and food in a way that aligns with her preferred lifestyle. She’s learned which foods trigger discomfort and which don’t. She’s made major modifications to her diet and hasn’t been able to eliminate the symptoms.

She could make a full-time job of trying to heal this chronic condition; however, she prefers to focus on the nourishment she receives from focusing on her children and grandchildren, engaging in the community, and taking classes on spirituality and religion. My mom has learned to live with a certain level of discomfort as opposed to devoting her full attention to the process of trying to cure her disease.

She took information from doctors, naturopaths, and nutritionists and stirred it up with her vision for her life, creating a middle path approach that feels most authentic today. Ultimately, it’s the integration of the medical advice, the scientific information that we get through learning or bloodwork, lifestyle, goals, values, relationships, traditions, and the intuition that guides us as we navigate our food journey, whether we are addressing a medical issue, a body image issue, or the most optimized approach to nourishing ourselves.

How we eat doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it is informed by many variables that matter—a lot. Awareness of the variables in our relationship to food is paramount and enables us to understand the driving forces behind our behaviors and how we’re treating our bodies. Where are our choices coming from? Are we motivated by health, weight, culture, food as an extension of our creativity? Our instincts regarding hunger can come from many different places—physical, emotional, cultural, and patterns related to each.

We must ask ourselves a simple question: What are we hungry for? The answer to this question informs how we nourish ourselves on many levels. In my life, navigating my relationship to food has been an extraordinary healing journey. As a child I felt loved and comforted by my mom’s cooking; as a teen and young adult, I felt in conflict with my body and strived for what I thought was perfection, and food became a struggle.

Through yoga and meditation, my relationship to my body shifted, and I came to understand food as a tool for health and happiness. As a young mom, the right food became my ticket to having a body that functioned optimally and didn’t fall prey to the diseases I was genetically predisposed to. And as a busy working woman juggling many things, food enables me to function at a high level and keep what could be crippling anxiety, exhaustion, and overwhelm from becoming my reality.

As with all the pillars we’re discussing together in this book, different stages in life call for different approaches. To understand what we need at any given stage, we need to be resourceful, be intentional, and practice deep listening. In short, we gather information and education about what food choices are best for our bodies, consider our personal goals, and blend that understanding with what our bodies, minds, and hearts are telling us.

How are we responding to different foods, limitations, and indulgences? Meditation is a beautiful cohort to nutrition, as it is through that practice that we refine our ability to listen compassionately and avoid reactivity, which leads to impulsive choices that may be less than optimal for us. Informed, intuitive, and mindful nutrition is only one aspect of nourishment. Filling our minds, hearts, and souls with fuel for an internally abundant experience of our lives is also part of total nourishment.

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