July 2012 Self-Care Retreat: Check-in & Some Thoughts on Food and Self-Care

by Valerie on July 2, 2012 · 10 comments

Self-Care 2012 Badge _thumb[1]_thumb

Happy July! I am still figuring out how often I want to blog about self-care during this Second Annual Self-Care Retreat. Right now I am thinking of doing sporadic check-in’s throughout the month in addition to my scheduled post (on friends, support and connection) this coming Saturday.

So first, a check-in. I have been recommitting to my yoga practice which, while still regular and continuous, has not been as frequent as I would like.  I have been keeping up with a couple of 7am vinyasa yoga classes a week, and a restorative yoga class most Sundays, but I prefer to do more like 3-4 classes a week, topped off with a Sunday restorative class and, ideally, a weekly yin yoga class as well.  This week I did just that – 3 7am classes, yin yoga and restorative, and I really do feel the difference in my hips.  It really helped rebalance out the three gym jaunts I did as well. 

Second, I wanted to be sure to send you all to Cheryl’s blog to read her post on food restrictions and self care.  When I first realized I had to change my diet (I cannot eat gluten, dairy, or eggs, and also have to limit refined sugars, for a variety of health reasons) a few years ago, I actually came to it with great emotional trepidation.  As someone who has had a fraught relationship with food for decades – age 7 to age 14 were the worse, but 16 to 18 were almost as bad, and 18 to 27 were more like a truce than an improvement – , the thought of restriction scared me.  There were too many days in my teenage years where all I ate were an apple and a yogurt – as a result, managing restrictions can feel triggering for me.

My unhealthy relationship with food was about weight,  but also about the space I took up and the energy I did not have. My first memory of feeling like my weight was a problem was at age 7.  And my relationship with my weight and health and my energy (or lack therefore) has been rocky over the years.  I went from being a very restrictive eater as a teenager to attempting to not let food dictate my life by eating intuitively and really believing in self-acceptance by my mid-twenties.  Eating intuitively (using an 80% healthy 20% indulgent approach) + various health problems led to me putting on 50 pounds in 5 years, on top of being on the heavy side to begin with. 

Since then, I have lost about 70 pounds – the first forty through sheer calorie counting (and eating a healthy mostly whole-foods based diet), which was hard – every time I food-journaled, I felt two steps away from scary food restrictions, but I kept intellectualizing it, and remembering that losing this weight was objectively something that I should do.  After the first forty pound came off (and I got back to the 190s on a 5’9” frame) ,  I realized that something else needed to be done because I still had issues with energy and fatigue, and my IBS symptoms were getting worse rather than improving.  Eventually, after finding a couple of doctors who were willing to believe that I was not “just one of those people who has less energy” (as another, less-useful, doctor put it to me) and getting good advice, over time I found a diet that works for me: initially gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free and refined-sugar free, which has now evolved to gluten-free vegan with a very mindful approach to all sugars, including refined, unrefined and fruit-based sugars.  I also take a lot of supplements as I had pretty severe mineral malabsorption issues, likely as a result from gluten damage.  While those have improved, I do still rely on supplements.  I firmly believe those have made a huge difference in terms of my issues with exercise – I used to get violently nauseous and very dehydrated from light exercise, likely as a result of being completely depleted.  

I remember often telling doctors I just wanted enough energy to go to the gym and/or yoga 4 to 5 times a week while having a job and a bit of a life.  Today, I am pretty much at that point, though I still have my very-very-tired days (and occasionally, things go awry, like the sinusitis flare-up a couple of weeks ago that swelled one of my eyes half shut).  Avoiding gluten, dairy, eggs completely and restricting sugar are all very much a big part of that.  Part of the reason eating vegan works better for me is that I can eat more volume (think large salads and smoothies) and more fats, yet my IBS is not triggered.  Also, I just feel happier eating vegan in addition to gluten-free.  Yet, despite all that, for many months I second-guessed myself a lot – was I being too restrictive?  Maybe I should eat smaller portions of more foods. Maybe the various testing I did (most, incidentally, mainstream-medicine based) was not accurate. Maybe people grow out of food allergies? 

To this day, I really wish I had gotten better advice on gluten-intolerance and Celiac testing, and had better information available when I researched it to complement the advice I was receiving.  Somewhere between the people who were diagnosed correctly with Celiac and those who cut out gluten for more holistic reasons are those of us who may have had a false negative Celiac bloodtest, or missed being diagnosed for any other reason. I have heard several figures, including that about 25 to 30 percent of those tested for Celiac who test negative may actually be a false negative. Furthermore, the unfortunate bias against gluten means that often patients seeking holistic care are told to cut out gluten, and then reintroduce it later for testing (whether Celiac or gluten intolerance) – and often those tests turn out to be false negatives because the person cannot consume enough gluten for long enough for an accurate test. Accurate testing and informed medical counseling are key to helping people understand how gluten affects their health. Unfortunately, neither are a given.  When testing is not yet completely accurate and people get bad advice (and sadly there is a lot of bad advice regarding gluten out there, both from the conventional and holistic medical communities) there needs to be space for people to make a decision based on how they feel. I have seen too many people, who tested negative for all possible gluten-related problems, lead much improved lives from cutting out gluten. (Aside: Having just made those statements, however, I think there are people who over-restrict their diet and avoid gluten or other perceived allergens because of amorphous reasons, rather than true symptoms – and that is where the whole “listen to your body” mantra can get people in trouble, but, again, that only applies to a subset of those avoiding those foods). 

Back to food restrictions as self-care – whatever the reasons, avoiding foods that make us sick is a form of self-care.  Cheryl did a fantastic job at discussing her approach to it.  I still have days when I have to remind myself that I am not over-restricting and that the way I eat is very much a part of feeling good physically and emotionally.  I read articles like “The Picky Eater Who Came to Dinner” and bemoan the portrayal of those of us who really do need to avoid certain foods to feel better, not to mention people who based their diets on ethical principles.  Interestingly, that article had a couple of nuggets of insight – for example, how what we eat is part of our identity, yet it fails to make the link between identity and ethics- and overall I found it biased and unhelpful.  For every person who may over-restrict his or her diet, there is something who restricts certain foods as a form of self-care and compassion.

Finally, more information on our retreat this month:

Our fantastic group of bloggers and themes:

These posts are to inspire you all to make July a month of reflecting on self-care and the many ways to nourish ourselves. We would like everyone to participate in this event in a way that feels appropriate to them, whether that’s through personal reflection, journal or other self-care. If you would like to share your experience with self-care, we would love to include you in the experience, whether you join us for one week or every week. You can write generally about self-care and how you include it in your life, or “try on” one of the practices we’re blogging about over the course of the next week (food, support and connection, movement, creativity and inward reflection). We ask that you link back to this post so that more people can learn about this retreat, and leave a comment for the weekly theme host, too! At the end of the month, we’ll include a roundup of all the self-care posts you write to inspire others to work on their own self-care.

As a little added incentive, for each post on your goals and your progress you link back here or one of the other co-hosts, you’ll be entered to receive a $50 gift certificate to Nuts.com (they are not sponsoring, Cheryl is donating this gift and wanted something with healthy gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, etc. options).

I updated last year’s badge to use for the retreat; feel free to use it in your posts. If you would like to be included in our roundup and the drawing, please email a link to your post, along with your name and blog name, to us at selfcareretreat at gmail dot com by July 30, 2011.

Non-bloggers who would like to contribute, please e-mail the full text to the same address and it will be included in the roundup.

For a “flavor” of previous retreats, here’s a link to the July Self-Care Retreat and the December Sanity Retreat.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Faye@RawLawyer July 2, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Such a phenomenal post, Valerie. Thanks. I’m asking myself similar questions as of late.


2 cheryl July 2, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Thanks for such an honest post about your journey! Big hugs.


3 Gena July 3, 2012 at 2:59 am

Fantastic post, Valerie.

As I’ve written on my blog, I see no tension at all between my veganism and my history with anorexia. I like to make a distinction between selectivity and restriction: my diet is very selective, but it’s not restrictive in the sense that it is nutritionally abundant, satisfying, and not motivated in the least by the desire to be thin. I also make a distinction between food choices and mentality. When I began exploring raw foods, I was still prone to orthodox thinking, excessive planning of every food choice, alarmism about food (sugar is the devil! etc.), and the idea that my body was so fragile that if I made the wrong food choices, I’d break. These were all remnants of my disorder, and it was they–not the fact that I was getting into raw food, which I still adore–that were the problem. Time healed them, but my food stayed the same.

Part of why I can say this all so confidently, of course, is that I’m honest about my motives and I know the difference between my food choices now and my restriction in the past. The tricky zone is that we all know for a fact that many people do use special diets as diet diets. But I don’t think that forcing everyone to eat everything is the way to address these cases; rather, can’t we try to gently help people who do use allergen free or plant based diets as a means of restriction to address the underlying problem?

Whatever the case, I think you can feel proud of the fact that you have learned to eat foods that take care of you.



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