I’m often asked “Isn’t it hard to go grain-free?” Yes, it is.
But not for the reason that you think. It’s not because I can’t eat regular bread, or tiramisu. Yes, I used to love those foods (I mean seriously, I was a pastry chef…). It’s not because I can’t eat out at my favorite pizza place. The reason it is hard to change my diet is because I had to change my habits; habits that I didn’t even know that I had.
So what exactly is a habit? There are several definitions, but the ones that I want to discuss are the following:
I know my food habits were both of those: patterns of behavior and addiction! Our habits go back to the days of our youth: family dinners, holidays and comfort foods. Can you recall your favorite birthday cake? In my house, there was a favorite chocolate cake that my kids loved and I made it for every birthday, holiday and snow day. I made that cake so many times that I could do it with my eyes closed; it had become a habit that I didn’t even have to think about.
Changing our diet and going grain-free is as much about changing daily habits and routines as it is about changing what we eat. Though we may not realize or like to think it, each of us has developed habits, and not all of them serve us well. It goes without saying that some dietary habits are harder to break than others. But before we can break a habit, we must first identify that we have one and make a plan to change it. Some eating habits, as you will learn, begin long before we ever open our mouths.
Take, for example, grocery shopping. Think about it: do you walk through the supermarket and mindlessly place the same items in your cart week after week? Not only that, do you instinctively follow the same path around the store every time? Chances are the answer to both of these questions is yes. I approach grocery shopping as an Olympic sport – I need to finish as quickly as possible. So I know the route that will help me get in and get out in a flash. In order to change my diet, I must slow down and learn a new path with new foods that fit into my newly forming recipe file.
And how about if we take it back a few steps further? The food habits that you acquired likely came from your mother, grandmother and possibly even your great grandmother. You learned to cook, what foods to eat and how to manage your kitchen from the women before you. Your grandmother’s favorite holiday recipes? They may make your mouth water, but likely make your stomach churn too. Even if you don’t realize it, the foundation was laid. My mother was not much of a cook, and I began to cook when I was 14, but early on I did not stray far from what I knew. I learned to improve it, or tweak the recipe a bit, but otherwise, I followed what I had been eating since I was a toddler.
There are also a few other factors involved. Now, before you go and point the blame at yourself, let me first say, your behavior is not entirely your fault. Even with your family history, there are other factors that influence our decisions when it comes to food. The powers that be — advertising and marketing executives to be specific (okay, now you can point) — have conducted years of research and devoted millions of dollars to direct you toward foods that may not be the most healthy for you.
If I am describing you, don’t worry because you are not alone. In our fast-paced world today, we all look for quick, easy and not too expensive.
A few years ago I was just like you, except my bad habits had already caught up to me, and the result was devastating. In 2011, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. UC is a very debilitating inflammatory bowel disease that causes pain along with possible anemia, fatigue and a whole host of unpleasant side effects. I’m not going to go into all of the details in this post – we can save that for a rainy day. But I did months of research as the traditional treatments prescribed by my doctor were not working. And I learned that diet can be the cause and the cure. How could it be that the diet that had formed in my youth could be making me sick, and how could I make all of the changes needed to get better? This seemed overwhelming when first contemplated. No grains, gluten, refined sugar, and little dairy? What would I eat? But I learned that is not about focusing on what I can’t have, or even what I can. It was more about changing the habits that helped me to make the changes in my diet.
As a young girl, I recall Sunday mornings at the kitchen table, eating breakfast and browsing through all of the flyers that came inside the paper while my parents read the news. I loved Sunday mornings! But I never actually bought anything from the flyers (and anyway, so few people get the paper any more…). It was more about all of us being at the table together. Occasionally one of my parents would discuss something they were reading, but otherwise, it was just being together. Now I work on Sunday mornings, and my kids play sports, so we aren’t sitting together. But Sunday evenings are filled with chatter in the kitchen as we chop, slice, bag and do our food prep for the week. And I love this time spent with my family.
Changing my eating habits ultimately changed my life. In my effort to create new habits, I took to my kitchen, and one by one I created grainless meals and desserts that not only tasted delicious but also were easy on my digestive system. I healed and even thrived. My kids and my friends were not only supportive, but they really loved what I was making. I have new recipes that I make for birthdays and holidays, and there is genuine disappointment if they do not appear on the table.
Following a grain-free dietary regimen became a habit just as easily as any other habit, except today I am reaping all the benefits a grain-free lifestyle can bring from increased energy to improved digestive function. I have new favorite aisles at the grocery store, and new favorite foods that I love to eat. I rediscovered and improved my health by making smarter dietary choices – changing my habits for the better.
(Image courtesy of todayifoundout.com)