Heathful eating

The way you eat might be impacting more than just your waistline.

I have never really been the type to diet. I love rich, hearty food, I love to cook, and I love to share a meal with friends.

When there’s a feast, I’m inclined to try some of everything on my first pass, and come back for seconds for the yummiest choices. In my mind, holidays are linked with the foods that are typically served. Self-discipline is not a quality I’ve associated with myself.

In addition for my love for a rich, hearty meal, I have a voracious sweet tooth. I have kept a separate stash of chocolate, just for me, hidden in my pantry from my children. When it comes to cookies, it’s very hard for me to stop with one. And, there might be nothing I love more than ice cream, except my family.

So, when my husband and I enrolled in a wellness program in May, I was apprehensive. We had a lot of great reasons for taking this step into the unknown, but I was uncertain about what it might look like to give up these beloved foods, our way of life, for a time, much less for good.

The program we are a part of begins with six weeks of food elimination, followed by a three week detox in which you’re primarily eating vegetables, nuts, seeds and fermented vegetables. It’s focused on healing your body, reducing inflammation, and restoring your digestive system. 

Up until now, vegetables have historically been a “sometimes” thing in my diet, and when they did make an appearance on the plate, they have been coated in cheese or mixed in with pasta.

Now, however, every meal I eat is around 75 percent vegetables, alongside whole foods. I’m no longer eating dairy, gluten, caffeine, most grains and sugar. But, the foods I’m eating are not the most unexpected things about this new way of life.

I’ve been shocked by the way my palate has changed. As we started the program, our coach assured us that our taste buds would change, and I didn’t believe her.

I felt confident that I would just miss the foods I wasn’t eating, when in fact it’s been a pleasant surprise that by not having sugar for several months, fruit tastes much sweeter and even vegetables have a bolder, more appetizing taste than they did before.

A handful of mixed nuts satisfies what I thought was an insatiable chocolate craving. I look forward to a hummus bowl for dinner in the same way I once anticipated a piece of pizza.

I once thought that I had to have meat and starch on the plate to feel full, but I’m finding increasingly that it takes far less to feel satisfied than I once thought. 

Before changing the way I eat, I didn’t realize how much shame I was carrying about my physical appearance. Since beginning the program two and a half months ago, I’ve lost nearly 30 pounds and dropped a few clothing sizes. With that shift, I feel my confidence rising. I feel more comfortable in my skin, I like the way I look in photos, and my self-talk is more positive. 

A part of me rails against this a bit: I don’t want to believe that I need to be fit to be attractive, or that I need to be attractive to be worthy of anything. But, there’s a tremendous amount of value to feeling good about how you look, and it’s taken me by surprise.

The last, and biggest, surprise has been how changing the way I eat has improved my mental health. For years, anxiety has been a problem in my life, interrupting my days and wasting my energy.

About halfway through this program, I started to notice the absence of anxiety symptoms. No longer would I feel overcome by panic when my children were screaming or when I feared I’d disappointed someone.

Instead, I feel calm, even-keel, and genuinely happy most days. I couldn’t have imagined how the foods I ate were impacting my quality of life, and I’m so happy that I’ve sacrificed that old life for this new one.

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Colleen Cook works full-time as the Director of Operations at Vinyl Marketing in Ashland, where she resides with her husband Mike and three young daughters. She's an insatiable extrovert who enjoys finding reasons to gather people.