Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cravings & The Elimination Diet

Dated: February 16th, 2009

In my recent learnings about Yoga and also Buddhism, a theme that has come up a lot is
craving and aversion, and how through these two states we create a lot of suffering for ourselves.

I recently experimented with these states through a long overdue "elimination diet."

The Process:

In the diet, you test your own body's sensitivity to certain foods by eliminating those items for 2-3 weeks, and then adding them back in one at a time to test your body's reaction (essentially you eat fruit, vegetables, nuts and rice).

The rationale being that you don't notice how food affects your body when there is a constant, low level of a substance (say, wheat, or sugar) in your body, but the reaction (say, fatigue, or sinus congestion) will be more pronounced after cleansing.

Besides informing me that wheat, eggs, dairy and sugar all cause me to become lethargic, moody and bloated (never mind the mucousy, stale, almost rotten feeling in my mouth and at the back of my throat that I never even noticed because I was so used to it!), the diet was an interesting experience in observing my patterns associated with food.

4 Conclusions:

1. Smell vs. Taste:

Living in Chiang Mai, and I am often exposed to a multitude of delicious smells, especially when wandering the many markets.

There is one lady at the Sunday night market who cooks these waffles that smell amazing.

Every time I walk by, I get a craving for one (based on the smell) and every time I eat it, I'm disappointed (the dilemma of Thai baked goods - look and smell great, don't taste that good).

During the diet however, I would go and stand to the side of her stall, and just smell for a minute or two.... mmmm waffles.... and then keep walking. I found myself quite satisfied. Just smelling was enjoyable, I didn't need to follow the automatic reactive pattern of eating.

2. Taste vs. Expectation:

As with the waffles, I am often disappointed when I eat things that I have expected to be really good and aren't.

This stems from my expectation of how I think it's going to taste based on how it looks, or similar things I've had in the past.

The thinking often gets so salient, that I don't even taste the food itself, I am simply "satisfied" because I am eating whatever it is, and my mind says "yes, good, chocolate cake".

When I eat, I am often so distracted by thinking about something else, talking to someone, walking, looking at things, tripping over myself because I am eating and talking and walking and looking at things all at the same time....that I'm not present to the act of eating, and don't even enjoy the flavor.

3. Food as Love:

In my family, when you love someone, you either cook for them, or take them out to dinner.

So naturally, I have come to associate food with love (and reward/special occasion) and was surprised at how often emotions are my reason for eating (I know this seems like an obvious one "eat your feelings, blah blah" but it's more subtly pervasive than that, when I'm feeling bad, it's how I show myself love, too).

This one will take a little longer to get to the bottom of...

4. Pleasure vs. Nourishment:

One of the most amazing things about the diet was this new kind of energy that came up in me.

An energy that I'd never felt before. Not caffeine (coffee was also not allowed during the diet - gasp!), not sugar and not short-lived, surface energy... but a more subtle, deep, enduring energy that I know came from the food I was eating, and made me feel so healthy and alive.

Desserts and coffee and bread and cheese may all be delicious, and I'm such a foodie I don't think I'll ever give them up completely, but now that I've felt how nourishing and life-giving certain foods are for me, it's a different kind of choice I make to eat the ones that aren't.


Steph Smith said...

Ali, I loved this! I would love to try this, so if you think I need additional details before I do, please send them my way. Although, if there ever comes a time that I no longer drink coffee consistently, I will have reached a level of transcendence unfathomable to my present self.

You're so good at suggesting the best for people without being preachy:)

Kyle said...

How's it going!? Good I'm sure. I see this is an old post, but it resonates with something I've been going through as well. I'm in Paris, the city of love (of food). I've been struggling with cravings as well and I have been attempting to fast once a week. Its going ok, although the last two times I was pretty low on energy towards the end of the 24 hours.

This diet you've come across (and I know you've already known about it for years) seems to be a good way of becoming more aware of your eating and how it interacts with your mind and energy. I will tell you its hard for me to attempt something that subtle in the land of the baguette. I just wanted to let you know I'm in a similar place in my life. E-mail me sometime if you've got it :) If not thats ok as well :)

Much love,

Also I have been tempted by writing...hahaha.

Ethan said...

Wow, that's a fantastic blog post, one of my favorites! I'd heard about this diet, but you make me want to try it.

If you send me an email or something telling me when you'll call next, I'll be sure to be near my phone (I'm so bad at that, and my ringer doesn't really work...).

I want some updates on your current travels too!

Ali said...

Thanks for the comments! For those who are interested, here is a more detailed description of the diet written by my friend April.


I highly suggest trying it, many people are not even aware that their "slight consistent headache/stomachache/allergies" could be caused by food!

And even if you're not sensitive to anything in particular, it's still an interesting experiment into your mind and patterns!

Tyler said...

I have a cousin who is a naturopathic doctor who helps people work through these kinds of diets. She described the same thing to me - that minor allergies and sensitivities to different foods sometimes cause chronic or persistent health problems. People put themselves on medications when they just need to avoid certain foods. I'm curious to hear if you decide to make other changes to your diet.

Ali said...

Tylor! yes, I remember talking to you about this (I have been thinking about doing it for a while) and you thought about doing it for you headaches, did you ever try it?
As for diet changes, I think I will be making them, but they will be slow and steady, without putting too much pressure on myself. I think those are the only kind of changes that will last.
As I mentioned in my Bali post though, I am getting really interested in Raw Food, I have talked to several friends about it, and have been making a lot more raw choices in my diet and feeling great!