If you’ve been following me on social media you may know that I’ve been eliminating foods in an effort to gain clarity on what may be irritating my gut.
In this post I’ll be sharing a bit more about the emotional side of cleansing. Maybe you’ve seen friends doing a Whole30 or maybe you’ve been inspired by my posts to try out an elimination diet, but what many people don’t share or talk about is the emotions, feelings and thoughts that come up when you start to limit the foods (drinks, experiences) you’re saying yes to.
Cleansing and detox is not an easy topic for me to write about because I know it can trigger a lot of people who have had or have a disordered relationship with food.
Obsession, restriction and addiction are all too common in today’s society I think mainly because of media and what we portray as “successful” or “healthy” or “beautiful” but also because so many of us were raised without really being taught how to have a healthy relationship with food and our bodies, and taking it a step further, our emotions.
I want to be clear that my current elimination and desire to cleanse was not and is not about weight loss (although I’ve definitely done cleanses or clean eating programs in the past where that was one of my goals). I’ve been in a lot of pain the last year and I’m finally taking action.
I heard best selling author and coach Alex Jamieson once say “Food is sex with your pants on” and she’s totally right.
Food is love.
Food is pleasure.
Food is connection.
Food is comfort.
Food is also safer (easier, and usually more readily accessible) than having sex, or asking a friend for help or striking up a conversation with a stranger.
It’s not a bad thing that we entwine our feelings with food. The trouble begins when we avoid feeling our feelings and connecting with our selves and with others, and instead “eat over” these things.
There’s a lot to say on this, and I’m more than happy to continue this conversation (in the comments below or 1:1) but really what I want to talk about today are some specific cravings or urges you might experience while detoxing or eliminating certain food and drinks.
I'm sharing what I’ve noticed through my studies and self study to be the root cause of these cravings, and what you can do instead.
CarBs > for comfort
I’m not a pasta person (I know, shocking!!) but gluten free toast and muffins are definitely my comfort foods of choice. And for a good reason: carbohydrates are thought to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which has a calming effect.
You can totally swap your white pasta (or white bread) for an “upgraded” carb like whole grains, potatoes and sweet potatoes, but here are some non-food ways to experience that same calm:
Meditation (it’s helpful in ALL situations, but especially here)
Deep belly breathing
Caffeine + sugar > to push through
One of the foods (well really “substances”) I’ve been working to eliminate is caffeine, and boy is it a tough one to let go of, mainly because we live in such a go-go-go society. It’s easy to push forward and get through your to-do list when you’re on the high of caffeine or sugar, but unfortunately coffee and sweets usually leave us feeling MORE depleted after the initial rush has worn off.
Here’s what to do instead of reaching for that second cup of joe or dipping your hand in the office candy jar:
Take a break or nap
Drink a glass of water
Go for a walk
Expect less of yourself (i.e. take your to-do list down from 5 items to 1 or 2)
Alcohol > To relax and numb out
Ahhh alcohol - the magical liquid that makes our worries melt away and helps us be more social, even in the most awkward situations. We unwind with a glass of wine, connect over a cocktail and celebrate with champagne. Drinking is woven into our culture, even though alcohol is truly a pretty toxic (and extremely addictive) substance.
If you’re feeling stressed, anxious or uncomfortable, here are some things you can do instead of reaching for the bottle:
Take an Epsom salt bath (or, if it’s available to you, book a session in a float tank)
And if you’re in a social situation… go to the bathroom and let yourself out of the spotlight for a bit
Note: If you are seriously worried about your drinking habits or relationship with alcohol, please contact your local AA support group or seek the help of a trained therapist.
Chocolate (also sugar) > FOR A dopamine hit
Similar to caffeine, chocolate is my go-to when I need a boost in energy or mood. Also similar to caffeine, chocolate has been one of the harder things to eliminate. Again, science explains why this is the case: Chocolate contains small amounts of a compound called phenylethylamine, which acts like an amphetamine, stimulating your brain cells to release dopamine (which is your “feel good” neurotransmitter).
While I totally believe that chocolate can be a part of a healthy diet, here are a few other ways to boost your mood:
Have a solo dance party (I have a specific playlist of songs that I know are good for dancing)
Work out! Endorphins also make you happy!
Add in this mood boosting adaptogenic herb: mucuna pruriens
Any food > to distract or avoid feeling
We can really use ANY food to distract or to avoid a feeling or situation. And while it may be a little “healthier” to distract ourselves with a tray of roasted sweet potatoes compared to a bag of chips, at the root there’s still an issue.
I know this all too well. During a particularly stressful time at my corporate job years and years ago, I would leave every afternoon to get a Cashew Mylk from the Organic Avenue by my office. Although this was probably one of the healthiest “treats” out there - gluten and dairy free, no refined sugars, made locally, etc etc… I felt crappy about it because I knew deep down the Cashew Mylk wasn’t going to help the real issue. Plus, I didn’t really need (or want) to spend $12 every day or have that rich drink every afternoon (too much of a good thing is still too much!). Instead of honoring that I was feeling trapped and stressed in my job, I used food to self soothe.
If you’re feeling like a certain food has control over you, there’s probably something else that needs and wants to be looked at.
Here are a few ways to get in touch with these feelings and emotions:
Call a friend and talk it out
Have a session with a healer or therapist
Work with a health coach ;)
I know there’s a lot to digest within this blog post, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed or not sure where to start, start with awareness. Nothing can change if you don’t first hold the space to see it for what it is. Next time you have a craving, take a moment to pause and ask yourself: Is there something else going on here? Is there another way I can support myself instead of automatically reaching for [insert your most craved food here]?
And please be compassionate with yourself during this process! No one (at least no one I know!) is completely free of using food to self soothe. It’s simply about cultivating awareness, starting that conversation with yourself and having tools you can turn in the moment.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Do you noticed yourself craving certain foods when you’re stressed or lonely? Have you done a detox or elimination diet and felt these feelings more intensely? Leave a comment below and let me know! <3