I love the fact that during my travels I’ve met people with real expertise in health and nutrition. I’ve learnt a lot, and I’m very grateful for that. But somewhere along the way, I started to get a bit lost, and forgot the value of my own intuition about what is right for me, my body and my mind.
Recently, I’ve heard a lot of talk about restrictive diets – intermittent fasting, 500 calorie days, watermelon fasting, juice fasting, raw ‘til 4. In yogic circles, people don’t tend to advocate them for weight loss (too shallow a goal maybe?), but rather for cleansing the body, detoxing or even “spiritual development.” Disclaimer here: I am not a nutritionist. I have no objective argument for or against these diets. If they work for other people, great.
But they don’t work for me. I’m not trying to lose weight. And more importantly than that, I’m trying very hard to not go back down a route of restrictive eating, which got me into so much trouble in the past. I know that restricting my food intake is not a healthy way to go.
When I turned vegan, it was not for health reasons, although I do feel good eating this way. One of the things I considered carefully was whether I could cope with the restriction of a vegan diet without getting back into negative thought patterns. I decided I would try it and review its impact on my body and mind a few weeks later. I would be willing to let go of it if it had a negative effect on my physical or mental health.
So far it hasn’t, but restrictive eating caught up with me in a different way. I began to think that maybe I was far enough past my eating disorder to be able to experiment with some of the diets. I wanted to try a day of 500 calorie eating. I wanted to see how “clean” my body felt if I ate only watermelon. I wanted to know whether my thoughts would be clearer, my mind more meditative if I fasted.
What happened when I tried? Well 500 calorie eating was very exciting. The anorexic voice in my head was thrilled that I was eating less again. This is great, it told me. See, you don’t need that much food at all. You’re good at this. The trouble is, once that voice had reawakened, it didn’t just go away the next day when I tried to eat normally. You should do another day of this. You’re strong. You don’t want to undo all the good work you did yesterday. You’ll get fat if you eat more now. I didn’t listen. But it was really really hard.
Watermelon fasting was even worse. If you haven’t heard of it, the idea is that you eat only watermelon for 1 to 3 days, to “detoxify” the body and let the digestive system rest. I don’t even believe in detoxing, but I still decided to give this a go. It was awful. It wasn’t the physical hunger itself that was the problem (although I did feel very hungry). It was the painful memories it evoked of the depression, isolation and misery of living with an eating disorder. I didn’t even last the day. By 4pm I felt so low, tearful and scared that I knew I had to stop. I ate normally for the rest of the evening, and felt better, although I had to contend with the sense that I had failed.
I know that’s not true though. I know that for me, eating a balanced, plentiful diet that gives me enough energy to live, and thrive and do all the things I love doing is a huge achievement in itself. So there will be no more fasting, no more detoxes. If that means I am less “cleansed”, and less “spiritually enlightened”, so be it. I choose health, happiness and life every time.