If you’ve followed me for a long time, there’s something you might be shocked to find out. Recently, I’ve been eating more foods that contain ingredients like…
Is that… lecithin?!
Oh. My. God. *Insert gasp emoji!*
I know, I know. As someone who’s known to be one of the most critical people you’ll ever come across when it comes to ingredients, this might surprise you.
Who am I now?! Have my core values changed?!
Have I changed my mind about the healthiness (or lack thereof) of these ingredients? No, not really. What has changed, though, is my body’s resilience, how much I care about certain things, my perspective on my personal sense of balance, and overall, the current phase of my life.
I struggled for years with my gut health, and it took a huge toll on my body. When I stayed very strict with my diet, I noticed a huge improvement in my symptoms, and I was able to function like a normal person again because I wasn’t in pain all the time. During that phase of my life, I did notice a huge difference when I had a little bit of stevia here, a bite of something with “natural flavors” there, a drink or bar with some “gums” in it – my stomach and brain felt the effects very strongly. Even just a few bites. My body needed to heal, and it was very sensitive, so I had to be gentle and diligent if I wanted to feel my best. (I also want to add here – it will never cease to amaze me how profound an effect simple dietary changes can make on our health. Little changes made a huge difference for me. Pretty damn incredible.)
During that time period, I was following a healing diet. My goal was to heal. At the time I thought I just needed to heal my gut and hormones, but I also really needed to heal my brain and nervous system. And I truly believe it was very important for me to stick with my healing diet during that time and to eat very “clean.” Sticking strictly with whole-food, paleo-friendly ingredients, eating almost nothing from a package or container, and avoiding all sweeteners and products that had a gum, flavor, or emulsifier of any kind gave my digestive system and body a much-needed break so that it could truly calm down and heal. I was prone to inflammation, and I needed to follow a very strict anti-inflammatory diet. I moved from low-FOMDAP to SCD to keto to other food elimination diets, but the general theme was strict paleo with no sweeteners, gums, flavors, and so on.
As I started to learn more about the sneaky ingredients in “healthy” packaged foods and “clean” food and drinks served in restaurants and stores, I started to realize why all of those ingredients were giving me symptoms. With more education, it made total sense to me why I needed to avoid xantham gum and guar gum, which could actually encourage the growth of unhealthy gut bacteria. It was an aha! moment when I realized that “innocent” stevia was making me bloated and giving me blood sugar spikes and crashes. I stopped suffering from sharp stomach pains every day after I realized that the almond milk I used in my morning smoothie contained lecithin and “flavors.” I discovered that the reason I got sick every time I went to the “healthy coffee shop” and got an almond milk matcha latte was because their mix contained sugar, flavors, and gums. I learned where “natural flavors” and “citric acid” really came from, and it was a no brainer for me to start avoiding those at all costs. I felt a HUGE difference in my health when I made those changes and became very aware of every little thing going into my body. Knowledge is power. This is why I have a whole module in my Paleo Women Lifestyle Program that explains all of those sneaky ingredients that many people don’t realize could be causing their symptoms.
Anyways, I got really good at eating “squeaky clean” paleo. I never needed to eat anything out of a package. If I wanted something sweet, I could easily make a sugar-free, sweetener-free, keto-friendly dessert that honestly tasted better to me than its sugar-filled counterpart. I love to cook, so I paleo-fied anything I craved, and I loved all the food I ate! It was easy for me. I got used to avoiding everything with any “questionable” ingredients. If I didn’t need to have stevia, why would I bother ever having it? Why would I eat the gluten-free, dairy-free brownie out at a restaurant with my friends when I could go home and make a “healthier” brownie at home if I really wanted it? Why would I get a latte at a restaurant using almond milk with sweetener in it when I could go home and make myself a latte with homemade nut milk and no sweetener, if I really wanted to have a latte? Why would I eat at the Whole Foods hot bar when I could roast my own vegetables at home and be sure I was using real olive oil?
That was me on a healing diet, and it did help me. A lot.
Recently, though, I’ve moved from a healing diet to a healthy diet, which is a bit different. I think that in my little bubble of the health and wellness space, sometimes these two get confused for the same thing.
A healthy diet for a healthy body is very different than a healing diet for a body that is still working through health problems. If you’re already healed, your body can withstand more “stressors,” so to speak, whereas a body that is already under attack and trying to fight through something is more likely to be extra sensitive to certain foods and ingredients. If you have a leaky gut, for instance, your body might react to a number of “healthy foods” as if they’re unhealthy, and your body will probably be extra reactive to the “not healthy, but not necessarily unhealthy” category of ingredients. Even if you don’t have intestinal hyperpermeability, you might still be extra sensitive to certain ingredients while you’re healing and more prone to inflammation.
A healthy diet, in my opinion, is focused around high-quality animal proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices, but there is still room to fit in foods that aren’t so “squeaky clean.” It all evens out. I’m not one to really advocate for the “80/20” rule, because who knows what 80% and 20% really mean in the context of overall life, but I do understand the logic behind that approach. Rather than labeling it “80/20,” my approach is to eat “clean” paleo as my “regular,” and then anytime I want something else, I have it. No big deal. Maybe that looks like 85/15, or 90/10, or 70/30, or even 50/50 at certain times. I’m not too concerned about it.
I am eating foods that contain stevia, gums, and flavors more often than I used to (which still, honestly, isn’t that often compared to most people), not because I suddenly consider them to be “healthy ingredients,” but because they certainly aren’t going to kill me if I eat them. Now that I’ve gone through so much healing, I don’t react to these ingredients in small amounts the same way I used to. Part of it has to do with convenience in life and eating out with friends, but mostly because I’ve just been feeling like it. Because I don’t need any other reason. So, yes, recently I’ve been using protein powder instead of collagen in smoothies more often, and eating at the Lazy Acres or Whole Foods hot bar, or getting a matcha latte with who knows what’s in it when I go out for coffee rather than always sticking with straight tea. On the other hand, there are still plenty of times when I’ll choose not to have the stevia, xylitol, flavors, or gums, because I’d just rather not. I’m not one way or the other all the time.
What’s ironic, though, is that my “loosened up” version of paleo probably still seems like a very squeaky clean diet to the majority of the population. For example, I don’t really consider protein powders to be a health food / supplement because of the many symptoms they can cause, their processed nature, and their relatively sketchy ingredients and sourcing, but I’ve been using them pretty regularly and not really noticing any side effects for my body, as of right now. Most people, though, still think of a clean protein powder as a really healthy food. I’m not saying they’re unhealthy – there are a lot of foods and ingredients that aren’t “good” or “bad” – it’s not that black and white.
My point is that everyone is on a different end of the spectrum. The people I’m really speaking to in this post, though, are the people who tend to sway on my end of the spectrum. The ones who are very into health and healing, and sometimes get a little too caught up in keeping things as clean as possible, when they might not necessarily have to. If someone wants to stick with a healing diet, I am their supporter. But I also don’t want people to feel trapped in that phase of their healing, and I don’t want them to use that as an excuse to avoid other parts of healing, like being social, going out with friends, dating, going to events and parties, and so on.
I have been thinking about this shift in my own life more often recently because some of my friends have made comments about how they’ve noticed I eat a lot of things now that I never would have used to eat. Or they’re confused because I might explain how sweeteners, for example, can cause health issues, but then they might see me eating something with a sweetener in it. I honestly didn’t think about it much until one of my closest friends asked me if I was going to talk about it on social media.
“What do you mean? What is there to talk about?”
“Well, I think people would be interested to know that you love the taste of Nuzest protein powder or that Halo Top is your “not-so-guilty” pleasure or you’ll randomly eat Coco Whip and chocolate out of the blue.”
Hmm… that got me thinking. There is no such thing as perfect, and I hope you know that no one follows a “perfect” diet. What is perfect? I will never proclaim to be. I eat what I consider to be very very “clean” and nutrient-dense most of the time, but I’ll eat foods that don’t have “perfect” ingredients whenever I want to have them. I choose to avoid foods that cause harm to my body or give me clear negative symptoms, but there are plenty of foods and ingredients that aren’t harmful or helpful, and those are the ones that I’ll eat (I hate to use this term, but…) intuitively.
Because, yes! There are plenty of foods that I don’t necessarily consider “health foods” in the context of a healing diet but definitely fit easily into an overall healthy diet. Here are some things I absolutely love the taste of and will happily eat whenever I get the craving but never would have eaten while I was on a healing diet: Halo Top Birthday Cake dairy-free ice cream, Coco Whip!, Nuzest protein powder, Equip Foods protein powder, Marigold bars, The Good Chocolate, Rau Drinking Chocolate, everything at the Erewhon / Lazy Acres hot bar, Kite Hill Dairy-Free Greek Yogurt, and Lily’s Chocolate Chips. I mean, none of those are unhealthy foods, but they’re definitely not gut-healing foods. The majority of my diet is still protein, vegetables, and healthy fats, and I’ll always love a 100% dark chocolate bar better than any chocolate bar with any type of sweetener, but that doesn’t mean I don’t eat other things, too.
I believe that knowledge is power, and I like knowing the ingredients that go into my food so that I can make an informed decision about what’s going into my body. If I’m not feeling my best, then I’m probably not going to go out of my way to grab an almond milk latte with sugar, gums, flavors, and lecithin in it, or eat at the Whole Foods hot bar where the “olive oil” is 98% likely to be canola oil. But if I’m cooking for myself most of the time with high-quality ingredients and feeling good, and I don’t notice any negative effects when I have those “questionable” ingredients every so often, then I’m not going to stress out about avoiding them if they come up, or battle internally with myself if I randomly get a craving for a “fake health food,” as I like to call them. It’s not a big deal. My healthy body doesn’t react the same way to foods that my unhealthy body did.
That’s my balance. I gravitate towards eating very clean paleo the majority of the time, because that’s genuinely what I love the taste of and what makes me feel my best, but anytime I want something that has a less-than-healthy but not-going-to-kill-me ingredient, I just have it. No harm done. I don’t have to be 100% strict about my ingredients the way I used to have to be when I was healing, because my body is in a very different place now. That doesn’t mean that I still don’t naturally gravitate towards as few ingredients as possible, and it doesn’t mean I don’t prefer a sugar-free dessert to a sugary one – it just means I eat what I want. I’ll always eat gluten-free and dairy-free, and my diet will always be mainly paleo, but if I want some Halo Top, I’m going to eat the damn Halo Top.
It’s okay to be educated about things and still make decisions that conflict with your knowledge. It’s all about context. I think it’s important to educate people about the negative effects of vegetable oils, what guar gum and xantham gum are doing to your digestive tract, why protein powders can cause inflammation and weight gain, how stevia and monkfruit could be the source of your bloating and sugar cravings, what “natural flavors” are really made out of, and how grains and legumes can cause leaky gut, but that doesn’t mean they’re never allowed to eat those things despite having that knowledge. It just means that people should make an educated decision based on their bodies and their circumstances. We all get to pick and choose our own battles.
For example, I’m feeling just fine having some stevia most days, which I have been doing recently because it’s in a few hot drinks I like and in some of the protein powders I’ve been using. I probably won’t continue it forever, but it’s working for me right now. A year ago, drinking stevia every day would have made me bloated, given me sugar cravings, and given me a massive headache. I don’t think stevia is a “healthy” food, but I’m still eating it. Oh well. It’s also not necessarily an unhealthy food – it just depends on the sourcing, the person, and the context. The other day someone said, “I thought you don’t drink kombucha?” Well, I don’t 99.9% of the time. I don’t consider kombucha to be a healthy drink, but I wanted one, so I got one. I lived.
Again, it’s all circumstantial. If I know a client is having symptoms and also eating / drinking any of the above mentioned ingredients regularly, then I’d advise that person to take those out of their diet to see if they get relief. If I was reacting negatively to these foods, I would keep them out completely, but my tolerance has improved, and I’m at a point in my life where I really don’t care if I have some stevia or coconut sugar whenever I want it. I will survive. I’m not feeling symptoms.
If that’s not you, and you can’t tolerate it, though, then honor that. There are many people who complain about digestive distress, bloating, headaches, and cravings, and they’re still having a little bit of stevia every day, or eating something with guar gum, natural flavors, or lecithin. For some people, a little bit of those ingredients can cause huge symptoms. It depends on the state of your body – your body is not the same as anyone else’s, and your body might also change over time.
On the other side of things, I also will not stand for anyone shaming anyone else who likes to stay on a healing diet because that’s how they feel best. There are people who shame others for staying AIP, keto, SCD, or on any other type of healing diet because it’s “too restrictive” and they need to “live a little,” and that type of judgment is really not acceptable. If someone feels best eating a certain way, let them eat that way! You don’t know what it’s like to live in another person’s body. Again, they don’t need any reason to do something other than that they want to. I am very sick of the food shaming that’s gone on in the food space, in both directions.
My point is that I don’t want anyone to feel trapped in their way of eating. If you’re on a healing diet and have been for a long time, it’s okay to transition out of it and eat ingredients you might have avoided like the devil before. You can still follow a “healthy diet” but loosen the reins a little. Just because your diet isn’t “perfect” doesn’t mean it’s not healthy. On the flip side, you’re also not trapped in eating a “healthy, balanced” diet because anything else is “too restrictive.” You might need to move more towards the “healing diet” side of things for while until your body can tolerate more foods.
If you imagined that I never let a drop of stevia enter my body because I talk about its negative health effects, you would be wrong. I acknowledge the downsides of many foods and want to educate my followers on sneaky ingredients that might be causing their symptoms, but that knowledge doesn’t always dictate how I eat. My goal isn’t perfection – it’s to feel good physically and emotionally. Remember, emotional health and mindset around food are a huge piece of overall health. If eating something will make me happy, I’ll eat it. If avoiding something will make me stressed, I won’t avoid it. Me eating “whatever I want” is still “too healthy” according to many people, and I know that many of you reading this are in the same boat. Remember, it’s all a spectrum, so you just have to listen to your own body and mind.
One of my favorite nighttime snacks is protein fluff made from Nuzest protein powder (stevia and natural flavors), with pieces of The Good Chocolate (erythritol and stevia) broken into it, followed with Four Sigmatic Reishi Hot Cacao (coconut sugar and cacao) as a nightcap. Two years ago, I would’ve been doubled over in stomach pain from this. Nowadays, no issues. Hits the spot. I’m here for it.
I do not have space in my life for the food police, and neither should you. If anyone tells me I “can’t” eat X, Y, or Z because it “has stevia in it and you told us that stevia is unhealthy,” or that, “it’s gluten-free but not paleo, so you can’t have it,” all I have to say to you is….
I’ll eat what I want!
A healthy diet and a healing diet are not always the same thing. There are plenty of foods that can fit into a healthy diet that don’t fit into a healing diet. Just because you’ve been on a healing diet for a long time, doesn’t mean you can’t ever transition to a less strict but still healthy diet. And if you want to eat a “healthy diet,” that doesn’t mean you have to eat a healing diet. You don’t have to eat GAPS, SCD, keto, low-FODMAP, or strict paleo to be eating a healthy diet.
You can define that for yourself.