Have you ever been told that you have food sensitivities or food intolerances? Or maybe instead of doing the blood work or seeing an allergist, your doctor put you on an elimination diet.
Food loss is hard.
Even though it’s not a huge tragedy, there still is a lot of grief that goes along with having to cut foods from your diet. It’s important to learn how to navigate the grief and loss of something, even as small as food loss, so that you can handle bigger losses too.
Maybe it’s because I’m a total glutton, but I struggled with navigating food loss for almost a decade because I did not handle the grief in a healthy way.
I want to share with you what I’ve learned through navigating food sensitivities and food intolerances, so you might handle it better than me. Even if you’re just switching from the standard American diet to eating real food, this will help you.
What Makes Food Loss Hard
Food loss is difficult because we need food to survive. With other bad habits or addictions, you might be able to cut it out completely. But you can’t just avoid food.
We are meant to eat and enjoy food. It’s part of being human. But because of the fall, our bodies may not digest food correctly. And our polluted environment contaminates our food.
But more than that, food is a connector between people. We enjoy sitting around a table together. When people go through hard times, we deliver food. When someone has a new baby, we bring them a casserole.
Food is also a comfort. It makes us feel good. Whether it’s that crunchy bowl of cereal or candy bar, it’s a nice endorphin release.
And when it feels like that is taken away from us, it’s tough. We can no longer use food as a coping mechanism anymore. So here’s where to start.
Name What You’ve Lost
In any kind of loss, it is essential to name out loud the things that are now gone. We must move out of denial and into a place where we can acknowledge the things that we’ve lost and why they are so important.
Here are the most important things I lost when I had to conform to a healthier diet:
- Time – I now had to make most of my food and could no longer rely on fast food or let other people cook for me.
- Brain Space – I never realized how much mental energy went into having to meal plan and grocery shop. It also stunk that I had to always plan my own food and couldn’t rely on other people which leads me to my next point.
- Enjoying Social Gatherings – I enjoy good food and I love when other people cook for me. It was a huge blow that I couldn’t just show up at a party and enjoy what other people had made.
- Money – Trying a new diet is expensive because you have to redo all of your grocery shopping price comparisons and learn who has the cheapest prices on what. (Even though some say you’ll save money in the long run on health bills, it didn’t feel like it at the moment).
- Dopamine Hit – I’ve really struggled to lose one of my most cherished coping mechanisms – using food whenever I was stressed or whenever I needed comfort.
Can you relate to any of these?
In your own food loss, what are the inconveniences and the things that you miss most before you had a special diet? I encourage you to not just make a mental note, but to write them down in a journal or even the notes app on your phone.
These concepts are important in any kind of loss. Acceptance and acknowledgement is crucial to moving forward.
I’ve seen far too many people try to look for the good too soon or try to find gratitude without naming what they’ve lost. And then wonder why they have such a hard time sticking to a new diet.
For me, it wasn’t until I was able to verbalize everything I lost when I had to change the way I ate, that I was able to stick to it.
When I wasn’t honest with myself, my bottled up emotions came out and I just wanted to go back to my favorite coping mechanism which was food.
So don’t rush past naming what you’ve lost. Don’t minimize the important role of food in our lives.
Name The Emotions Food Loss Causes
After you’re able to recognize the things you’ve lost because of food restrictions, It’s also important to acknowledge the emotions these losses cause.
I used to stuff my emotions down because I thought they were a bad thing. But in adulthood I’ve learned that my emotions are a signal that I need to handle something and be gentle with myself.
Having to follow a restrictive diet has caused a wide range of emotions for me.
At first I felt relieved because there was actually something I could do about my symptoms. It felt like a solution. But soon after, I vacillated between anger and sadness.
And then it turned into isolation and loneliness because no one close to me had the level of food sensitivities that I had. (At one point I had over 50 foods I needed to avoid.) There was no one I could relate to.
Then I felt strong urges of temptation to not follow my doctor’s recommendations. After six months of following my doctor’s orders, I went into a follow-up appointment expecting to be able to add some of the foods back in, but I was told not to.
I began bargaining. And then I wanted to actually test to see if the foods were actually contributing to my symptoms.
The thought of having to continue to follow what felt like such a restrictive diet hit me like a ton of bricks. What made it worse is that the diet I had been following only solved about a quarter of my symptoms and I wasn’t sure if it was worth it.
This led to me having a cheat day once a month, then once a week. And of course this wasn’t really even following the diet at that point.
But I think I fell into this despair because I had not taken the time to acknowledge what I lost and I tried to stop the feelings about the loss.
So I encourage you to name what having to follow a new diet means for you and name the emotions that come along with it.
Then let yourself feel those emotions and don’t turn to something to numb out. Otherwise, if you’re like me, since you can no longer turn to food, your next unhealthy coping mechanism is turning to your phone or social media or binge watching a TV show to avoid the feelings.
Find Replacements For What You’ve Lost
After you’ve taken the time to acknowledge what you’ve lost and acknowledge the emotions that come with that, then you can think creatively about how to find healthy replacements for what you’ve lost.
For me I really struggled in the evenings with strong emotions about food because in the past, I used food to decompress from a hard day.
But I learned that I needed to find new healthy pleasures to help soothe myself.
My two favorites were herbal teas and Epsom salt baths.
I actually made it my New Year’s Resolution to drink herbal tea everyday a few years ago. I like them both hot and cold. Here are some of my favorite teas you can try:
- Red raspberry leaf
- Red clover
- Dandelion root
- Nettle leaf
- Lemon balm
And in case your taste buds are different than mine, here are some that I tried but didn’t love but I know other people like:
- Chaste Berry
For me, the act of drinking tea and getting to try new things was really enjoyable for me.
Now that I think about it, another thing I felt as a huge loss was being adventurous with foods. I used to love eating at restaurants and trying new ethnic cuisines.
I really enjoyed getting to try new teas as a way to be adventurous with my diet.
The other healthy pleasure I used to unwind at the end of the day was Epsom salt baths.
It’s actually magnesium sulfate.
In fact, I learned that when you crave chocolate, you might actually be craving the magnesium in it. So I learned to enjoy Epsom salt baths and sometimes I would add a bubble bath solution if it was cold to insulate the hot water or I would add some essential oils to make it smell good.
For some of the teas I bought that I don’t like the taste of (but I did like how they smelled), I steeped them in the bathtub. Lavender tea does smell delicious in the bathtub (even if I think it tastes gross.)
So if you’re facing food loss or even another kind of loss, consider if you can find a healthy replacement. Learning and identifying these skills can help you build on them, and transfer them to other losses in your life.
For example, when a dear friend moves away, after we grieve the loss of proximity, we go out and we make new friends. Learn to make new friends with some healthy coping mechanisms other than food.
Find Healthy Food Swaps
The biggest lesson I wish I had learned earlier in my real food journey was to not think of it as cutting food out of my diet, but rather making healthy replacements.
I was so focused on all of the foods that I couldn’t have, that I forgot to think about new foods that I didn’t typically have.
I really appreciate the advice of functional naturopath Beth O’Hara about food swaps. Her audience requires a special diet, but instead of focusing on what they can’t have, all of her recipes are really good at suggesting what to use instead.
Here are some of my favorite food swaps.
- When I could no longer have most grains, I learned how to use cassava flour and ground flax seeds to make satisfying foods.
- When I could no longer have sugar, I learned to use a pinch of monk fruit powder to replace the sweetness.
- When I was reacting to high oxalate greens like spinach and curly kale, I replaced it with iceberg lettuce and fresh herbs.
For you favorite recipes, look up food swaps to see what healthy options you can use instead.
I admit I missed the original foods, but the swaps are better than not having those foods at all.
One of my favorite foods for a while was banana pancakes. I just pureed a banana and then cooked it with 2 eggs and I would add a teaspoon of vanilla. The texture was strikingly similar to regular pancakes.
When I realized I had oxalate intolerance, I used more of the low oxalate spices like fresh garlic and ginger.
Going low oxalate actually got me using more fresh herbs instead of powdered spices which have a more powerful flavor.
When I was having trouble digesting pork, I found a farmer who had lamb for sale. Now lamb is one of my favorite foods.
No one wants to be stuck eating only 20 foods. So look for what you can have instead.
For me, I had to take a really slow walk down the produce aisle and consider what foods I had been skipping and didn’t realize that I was skipping.
One example is that I was subconsciously skipping iceberg lettuce because someone in high school told me that it was an empty food and was basically water.
But I find salads to be much more filling when I use multiple types of greens. So now I use iceberg lettuce regularly even though I had been skipping it.
Before, I only bought yellow onions, so I started also buying red and white onions along with shallots.
Reframing is when we examine a negative thought and replace it with a positive thought that is more helpful. Here are a few examples.
Think not about cutting foods out of your diet, but make it about finding delicious replacements.
When a negative thought crosses my mind such as:
“I hate having such a restrictive diet.”
I had to pause and reframe it as:
“I am thankful that I have a new hypothesis to test out so let’s give it a chance to see if it works.”
“I hate having to make food for myself when I go to parties.”
“I’m glad I now know which foods trigger my symptoms and I’m able to make foods that make me feel good.”
What negative thoughts can you work to reframe?
Celebrate The Wins Albeit Small
Once you have done the hard work of acknowledging what you’ve lost and the emotions that causes, focus on finding healthy pleasures, finding healthy food swaps, reflecting on the good, and celebrating the small wins.
For almost a decade, I thought that I could only handle one fruit a day because whenever I tried to eat a second fruit I would end up with a headache or other symptoms. This didn’t make sense because I reversed the prediabetes early on in my journey and my blood sugar was balanced.
However when I found out that I was struggling with histamine intolerance, (which I feel like is a misnomer because it’s more like an overflow of histamine in the body and I just wasn’t breaking it down correctly), I realized that I was reaching for high histamine fruits like citrus or banana as my second fruit. I mistakenly thought I was reacting to the sugar in fruit, but learned I was actually reacting to the histamine.
I was thrilled when I realized that I could have a fruit at the end of every meal if it was a low histamine fruit like an apple or a pear or blueberries.
Be sure to celebrate and name the way that sticking to your new way of eating has helped you. And in the moments when you feel weak and are tempted to eat foods that give you symptoms, remind yourself of the improvements and the wins that you’ve had.
At the same time, if changing your diet has not improved your health as you hoped it had, I’d encourage you to talk to your doctor about the following:
- Lectin sensitivity
- Dairy free
- Oxalate intolerance
- Histamine intolerance
- Food sensitivity testing
- Food intolerance testing
I am not a doctor so please work with a practitioner to explore the ways that food might be a trigger for your symptoms. Finally figuring out the right diet was a key part of reclaiming my health.
In fact, I’ve been able to reverse most of my food sensitivities except I think my body will always hate gluten.
As you navigate food loss, acknowledge the things that you’ve lost. Then sit with the emotions that the grief of loss causes you. It’s only after you’ve done that hard work that you’re able to move towards gratitude and reframing. We can’t rush past the hard emotional work, but it is so worth it.
What has helped you handle food loss well? Tell me in the comments below!