Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Tag: Eating

Why I won’t be fasting again…

vegan yumI 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.

Why it’s great to come back…

DSC_0350-2When I started travelling, I had this idea that I’d be roaming all over the place, seeing as much of the world as I possibly could. I never thought I’d come back to somewhere I’d already been. There’s too much of the world to see.  In fact, when I arranged for my second Workaway placement to come to Suryalila Retreat Centre, I thought one month (their minimum stay) might be a bit long. But I liked the look of the yoga here, so I told myself I’d make the best of it.

However, within days of arriving here in March, I knew one month was nowhere near enough. Before I even left I made arrangements to return.

So here I am, one week into my return visit to Suryalila Retreat Centre. Here’s a few reasons why it’s worth going back to a place you love…

  1. It feels comfortable. Travelling is great. The constant movement, the new experiences, the lack of a routine, and the (barely) organised chaos. But when you travel, your whole environment is constantly shifting and changing, and it takes a lot of energy to keep up. Sometimes it’s good to stop and take stock a little bit. During my tougher moments in Thailand, the thought that I would be coming back in the summer to somewhere I felt as comfortable as Suryalila kept me going.
  2. You already know the ropes.  You don’t need to learn a whole new set of systems or ask a million questions. Aside from a few inevitable but unsettling changes (the place the muesli is stored has changed – did not see that one coming!) it’s probably quite easy to slip back into a routine.  This allows you to focus right from the start on being fully present and making the most of each day.
  3. Same same, but different. You’ll always find plenty of new in amongst the familiar – not least new people. Getting to know plenty of new, interesting people and catching up with those I knew from my previous visit has been the ideal combination for me.
  4. You appreciate it more. It’s so true that you don’t know how good you have it until it’s gone. Sometime you have to go away in order to appreciate all that is great about the place you started. It’s like going back to your parent’s house after moving out and appreciating fully for the first time the joy of a fully stocked fridge and showers that actually work. Except this time I fully appreciate having beautiful vegan food, a space to escape to during downtime, and a schedule that is prepared in advance and fair.

There is still a lot more of the world I want to see and experience, but it’s really good to know I’ll be here for a couple of months. It’s even better to think that I don’t have to re-pack my backpack for a whole two months! I’m borrowing my final thoughts on this from the brilliant Terry Pratchett:

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

The flipside of positive thinking

Why maybe it’s okay not to like stuff…

11143479_10101215361562849_8306339481437872885_nFor about three years I ate prawns for dinner at least three times per week. That’s not so strange you might think, except that I don’t like prawns. I’ve never liked prawns, or any other seafood for that matter. There’s something about the texture, a squeakiness, that repulses me. So why would I eat something that I didn’t like?

Partly because at some point I got it into my head that there was nothing I did not like. That any negativity was just a thought, and that I could tackle that by simply deciding to think positive things instead.

I’ve applied this to lots of areas of my life and it’s been fairly successful. Marking huge piles of books became far more bearable when I told myself I loved reading student’s writing. Attempting a difficult yoga posture became a more positive experience when I decided that I enjoyed the challenge. Terrifying first dates were a lot more fun when I decided to love the awkwardness and embrace it, knowing that the worse things went, the more entertaining the stories would be afterwards.

But I’ve realised recently that it’s okay sometimes just not to like things. I’ve been teaching yoga at Moinhos Velhos, a beautiful retreat centre in Portugal, and I’ve had the chance to try out loads of amazing new things. Most of these I’ve loved – great meditations, yoga practices, vegan recipes. But there was one night I was talked into trying Biodanza. This is a practice of self development through music and dance. The idea is that as you progress through the practice, dancing and moving with people, you get in touch with your emotions, and feel a deeper sense of connectedness to others.

The lovely teacher assured us that although it might feel strange at first, that would quickly disappear. We’d feel completely relaxed and lose all our inhibitions. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, this never happened for me. The practise that was meant to leave me with “reduced stress and an enhanced sense of wellbeing” left me cold. All I wanted to do was run away. It was a feat of endurance not to fake a headache/ upset stomach/ broken leg and leave. I don’t entirely know why it didn’t work for me – I love dancing and I’ve had a great time at a (sober!) yoga rave before. But I just didn’t like it.

Afterwards I felt frustrated with myself. I wanted to like it. I wanted to find the positive, but all I could think was, “I’m glad I tried it, so that I know not to again.” But I realised maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s alright to dislike things sometimes. We all have individual preferences. Yes, there are some things that we need to do, and they’re a lot more pleasant if we find things about them to like. But there are some things that just aren’t our preference. And that’s okay too.

So why did I eat prawns for so many years? I was in a relationship with someone who loved them, and it was easier just to tell myself I liked them than cook separate meals. When the relationship ended, one of the many unexpected positives was realising I could stop eating prawns. My travels have become as much about working out what doesn’t work for me as learning about what does, and that’s all valuable. So I’m making a promise to myself now to remember that as long as I am open to new experiences, it’s okay for me not to like stuff.

And I’m genuinely excited about the prospect of never having to do Biodanza or eat prawns again…

Things I’m learning about detoxing (without actually doing any detoxing myself…)

The magic detox ingredients

I’ve always been pretty sceptical about the whole idea of detoxing. In my experience, “detoxes” are often a more socially acceptable shorthand for, “I’m starving myself on a crazy crash diet in a bid to lose weight.” Given my intolerance for feeling hungry, and my genuine love of cake, this is not something that appeals to me. I’m more an everything in moderation (including moderation) girl these days…

But I’ve found myself teaching yoga in a beautiful little detox retreat in Portugal, and I have to say I am learning a lot about detoxing, handily without doing any myself (staff are allowed actual solid food – I did check that before I arrived!). Here are a few of my observations so far…

  1. People can fast and still be nice, decent human beings. I’m pretty sure if it were me fasting I’d be consumed by “hanger” (hunger+anger= hanger) and resentment of anyone with food. But the guests here are genuinely lovely, easy-going and happy. Impressive.
  2. Detoxing seems to bring with it an obsession with bowel movements. It is nearly impossible to ask someone how they are without being told in technicolour detail about the way “things are moving”.
  3. Conversations in general become quite bizarre. “Jade would you cover my yoga class tomorrow? I’m doing a liver cleanse tonight,” is a yoga teacher problem I had not anticipated.
  4. “Breaking” refers to the end of a fast. It does not refer to the physical or mental destruction of a person through starvation as I thought the first time I heard the question, “When are you breaking?”
  5. Detoxing involves a lot of work. You’d think that with no meals to cook, the daily diet would be simple. How wrong you would be.  There are fresh fruit and vegetable juices and broth to prepare four times a day, as well as pills, pastes, powders and supplements to measure and consume. I now understand why people would pay someone else to sort out all the hassle.

Am I tempted to try it? In a word, no. Given my history of disordered eating, I think following paths of thinking which are, “It’s only hunger; it’ll pass,” would not be good for me at the moment. But maybe one day I’ll give it a go – if only because I’ve heard that cake tastes sublime after a few days of juice fasting…

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