“It is easier to change a man’s religion than to change his diet.”
– Margaret Mead
Yup. Pretty much.
This entire shift began when I had a particularly gnarly couple of months with manic mood swings that rivaled my adolescence, acne flare-ups, bloating, low energy, night sweats, and all-round malaise. Knowing what I know, I looked at my diet first to see what could be adjusted. Everything was organic, whole, plant-based and totally “healthy” by most peoples’ standards. But it just wasn’t working anymore. I knew something had to give.
Delving in deeper, a typical day for me was a whole-grain porridge in the morning, topped with all kinds of seasonal fruit, homemade granola etc. Lunch was a couple slices of organic sourdough rye bread from the local bakery, with homemade hummus, avocado, sprouts etc. Dinner was often a mixed bowl, the base of which was brown rice, quinoa, millet or buckwheat covered in a rainbow of vegetables, homemade pickles, superfood-loaded sauce, and fresh herbs. I wasn’t eating sugar, drinking coffee, I was keeping up with my exercise and sleeping well. So what was the problem? In this case, I had a feeling it was a big ol’ grain overload.
The idea of cutting back on my morning oats, bread, and grain bowls was literally devastating to me. I cried. On multiple occasions, just talking about giving up muffins made me weep, and I felt like there was just no way I could make even more changes, or think about my diet even more than I already did.
I have had two serious experiences with orthorexia in my life. For those of you who don’t know what orthorexia is, it is defined as an obsession with healthy eating. It is considered an eating disorder, and one that is becoming more prevalent in Western culture as healthy eating becomes increasingly “trendy”. The first bout happened the year I moved out of the house to study at university. While many of my friends were bingeing on junk food and beer, I swung in the opposite direction entirely and took advantage of the incredible meal program that was offered at school, and fueled myself with enormous salads, delicious sandwiches and wraps, veggie-heavy soups and stews, and protein-rich smoothies. I also signed up for the free fitness classes at the university gym, got hooked on kickboxing, step aerobics, boot camp drills, and the weight literally fell off me. I lost about 25 pounds that year, and for the first time in my life I felt like I was in control of the way I looked. The sudden attention from guys – which I had never had before – further stoked the fires for my desire to be even thinner, even though my initial motivation to eat this way stemmed from a desire to be healthy. As my attitude towards food morphed from friend to enemy, I flirted with a full-on eating disorder at this point, playing games with myself to see how long I could go without eating, how many exercise classes I could fit in between classes and study groups, how long I could make my bean salad from lunch last (too long!). Eventually my energy levels dropped to the point where I had a very hard time getting out of bed in the morning and I couldn’t concentrate well in school. I realized that I had taken things too far and started eating in a more balanced way again. I put the experience behind me without giving it too much thought.
The second time this resurfaced was, ironically, while studying holistic nutrition. While I was learning all about foods and how my body worked, I became almost afraid to eat, toxifying my body, or “poisoning” it with sugar, gluten, dairy and the rest. I became obsessed with detoxing and subsisted only on “clean foods”; mostly vegetables. I was stressed, my hair started falling out, my acne came back and my energy hit an all-time low. Despite my obvious physical misery, I somehow felt validated since I wasn’t putting anything “bad” in my body. Eating as healthy as possible became obsessive for me and my classmates, and we’d all proudly bring our lunches to school, subtly scrutinizing each other’s Tupperware contents. Again, food had lost its pleasure, its joy, and had become something that I saw as more of an enemy than a friend. And that really scared me.
After graduating, I finally got a grip, and once again slowly re-established a healthy relationship to what I was eating. It is for these reasons that food is such a tender subject for me, and changing my diet dangerous territory. I spent so many years struggling to achieve a positive connection with food, and when I finally got there and it felt like such a relief. The prospect of having to go “back to that place” of thinking about food more than I already did felt unsafe for me, and slipping back into an obsessive place felt like an inevitability. Meanwhile, the negative self-talk voices were loud and overpowering, telling me how I was fat, flabby, weak, old – things that I KNEW weren’t true. But that’s the sad thing about internal monologues, they don’t need to make sense to play like broken records in our minds all day every day. It’s enough to drive a person insane. The cruel voices coupled with my extreme fear of reverting back to my old thought patterns and eating habits absolutely terrified me. I felt like I had hit a wall of hopelessness. And all I wanted to do to feel better was to eat a piece of eff-ing bread.
The reason I suspected the grain thing was because of the unique relationship that blood sugar has to our hormones. If we’re consuming carbohydrates at a faster rate than our bodies are utilizing them for energy, that extra glucose gets stored in the fat cells of the liver, which decreases its ability to breakdown excess estrogen, and allowing it to hang around in our systems longer than it should. This excess circulating estrogen causes a whole host of symptoms, including, you guessed it: mood swings, bloating, sluggish metabolism, tender breasts, fatigue, foggy thinking, PMS, and many more less-than-desirable issues. Now, these things can be exacerbated by stress (shocker), inadequate fat and protein intake, and environmental factors, all of which I was likely suffering from.
I set out by making a plan, since I know how hard it is to make positive changes without preparation. Instead of focusing on the all the things I wanted to reduce or eliminate, I focused on the foods I could have, foods higher in fat and protein, since I knew that those things would naturally elbow out the things I would normally fall back on (I’m looking at you, banana bread). I made a list that I could refer to when I was grocery shopping for ingredients. I cooked and froze things. I stocked the fridge and pantry. I was ready.
Within the first few days I already noticed a difference: my energy was incredibly stable, my emotions were in check, the bloating in my stomach dissipated, and I just felt good. As the days rolled on my compulsive urges to down half a dozen muffins subsided, and it was like I could clearly see that what I had actually been battling was blood sugar issues – not just “too many” grains or carbohydrates. It became clear that I had been taking my bod on a wild rollercoaster of high and low blood sugar for years, which had in turn been tossing my hormones around like a pair of sneakers in a washing machine. Stabilizing blood sugar is the first step in managing your endocrine’s system ability to do its job properly. I realized that if I was going to eat grains (or any carbohydrate-heavy food), I had to eat them in smaller amounts, balance them out thoughtfully with enough fat and protein, and make sure that I was actually using that energy instead of letting it sit around in my body. So far, things have been going incredibly well, and I am so darn proud of myself for not only identifying the issue, but actually doing something about it.
We are fluid beings with needs that evolve and change over time. Our diets need to reflect that, which is why it’s imperative to listen to our bodies and be advocates for our own health. No one knows your body better than you, and once you quiet all the noise out there telling you “how” to eat in black-and-white terms, you’ll be able to hear yourself, without judgement, and choose the way of eating that is just right for you, right now. It may be different tomorrow, and that is okay too. In sharing this all with you, I am trying to set an example, because you too have this intuition that is telling you just what you need to eat and do right now. It’s actually fun to be connected to yourself, your unique rhythms and needs. Learning about how you operate and designing a plan that caters to your exceptional self means that you can celebrate, instead of berate your body the whole month through, and experience pleasure in every stage of our cycle. I promise.
This is undoubtedly a huge topic, and one that I plan on chipping away at over the next few blog posts. Some things I want to reiterate here are, that I do not believe that grains or carbohydrates are bad. No natural food group should be vilified, just as no macronutrient should be either. If you’re thinking about giving up carbs, I’d advise you not to. Glucose, the sugar found in carbohydrates is your brain’s primary fuel source, and when consumed responsibly, carbs will help you on your wellness journey, not hinder you. I still stand behind each and every one of the recipes that I have created for this blog, the app, and both of my cookbooks, and I believe that they are appropriate for many people to enjoy. However at this stage of my life, some of the recipes do not serve my needs any longer, and I’ve had to make small changes to them, or put them on the shelf for another time. I’m okay with that.
Whew! Now for some notes on the recipe.
The base recipe for my Cinnamon Toast Crunch-inspired cereal is grain-free, but it does rely on almond flour, which can be expensive. If you can tolerate pseudo-grains, feel free to top up the base with buckwheat flour. This will bulk up the cereal considerably so you’ll have more for less money.
This cereal is r-i-c-h. You really only need a small amount to fuel you in the morning – not like the bottomless bowls of that we’re used to consuming in the morning without every really feeling satisfied, ya know what I mean? And paired with a luscious liquid like my Super Creamy Hemp Milk will keep you full for even longer, help stabilize your blood sugar, not to mention flood your bod with the delicate nutrients and powerful enzymes that store-bought, plant-based milk is missing. This recipe is dead simple and pretty much like cream – I shouldn’t even call it milk, since it’s so rich and thick. And since we’re thinking outside the cereal box here, don’t stop at breakfast…this milk is amazing in coffee and tea, in raw treats and baked goods, soup, smoothies, ice cream and popsicles. You’re gonna love it!
I made the cereal the first time with just almond flour and a full half-cup of applesauce. It was definitely delicious, but I loved it just as much when I cut this amount in half. If you don’t want all the sweetness, use just ¼ cup / 60ml of applesauce instead of the full amount. If you’re using buckwheat flour, you will need the full amount of the applesauce’s moisture to bind it all together. I haven’t tried a version without the coconut sugar, so if you’re not into that stuff feel free to play with the recipe on your own.
Grain-free / Gluten-free Cinnamon Crunch Cereal
Makes 5-7 servings
½ cup ground flax seeds / 50g
1 ½ cups / 150g blanched almond flour
1½ Tbsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. fine sea salt
¼ cup / 35g coconut sugar
¼ cup / 60ml – ½ cup / 125ml applesauce (½ cup / 125ml if using buckwheat flour)
1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
optional: ½ cup / 85g buckwheat flour
1. Preheat oven to 325°F/160°C.
2. Combine the ground flax seeds, almond flour, cinnamon, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Stir well. Then add the desired amount of applesauce and coconut oil, and stir to fully incorporate (you made need to use your hands if it gets too dry). Gather dough into a rough ball.
3. Place dough ball on a sheet of baking paper with another sheet on top. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough as evenly as possible, about 2mm thickness (not quite paper thin). If you’re using buckwheat flour, you’ll need to separate the dough into two batches to achieve this. Remove top sheet of baking paper, and using a paring knife, score the dough into small squares of your desired size (mine were about 1.5cm / .5” square).
4. Place in the oven to bake for about approximately 25 minutes until turning golden around the edges, then turn the oven off and let the cereal sit in there until cool (this will help dry it out and make them extra crisp).
5. Once the cereal is completely cool, break up the pieces into squares and place in an airtight glass container. Store for up to one month at room temperature.
Super Creamy Hemp Milk
Makes 1 liter / 1 quart
scant 4 cups / 1 liter water
¾ cup hulled hemp seeds / hemp hearts
Totally optional add-ins:
sweetener (stevia, dates, honey, maple syrup…)
raw cacao powder
1. Place all ingredients in the blender and blend on high until smooth (this make take a couple minutes).
2. Pour directly into a sterilized bottle and store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Initially, I was really afraid to come out about any of this stuff – the changes my diet is undergoing, the orthorexia, the internal voices! But I know in my gut that if I’m going through it, someone else out there is too. And the reason I wanted to start My New Roots in the first place was to create a safe space for everyone to share and support each other on our health journeys, so I have to be as transparent and honest as I feel I can be to set that example. I want to say a huge heartfelt thank-you to all of you who have stood by me all of these years and continue to do so. It feels pretty amazing to have you, and to be getting better all together.
In light and gratitude,
Also… There’s one spot left for the upcoming retreat in Ibiza, click here to join me for a week of total inspiration and rejuvenation!