Simplify to Heal: Simple Eating

Regardless of the other areas that you look at simplifying, simplifying your food is probably of the most value to someone with celiac disease.

The amusing part is that it’s also the area I struggle with simplifying the most! I’ve made some real progress, but I still suffer from some wrong assumptions that tend to sabotage my efforts and progress in this area.

One of my big obstacles is letting go of the idea that if I simplify in this area that I’m somehow letting myself and my family down. I have really bought into the idea out there that asking my family to go gluten-free with me at home is somehow depriving them, so I owe them really elaborate, fantastic meals to make up for it. Another big idea I have is that eating healthy involves a big time and labor commitment to cooking everything from scratch. It also has a hefty dose of being married to certain ideas about what a healthy diet does and does not look like.

There are so many false assumptions behind those ideas that it makes my head spin to read it on (virtual) paper!

I’m going to take a little time to address some of them, under the assumption that someone else may be struggling with these same obstacles.

First of all, as I said in my initial blog post, being gluten-free absolutely does not mean deprivation. It does mean giving certain things up, it does mean finding some work-arounds and modifying certain recipes if you are insistent on keeping certain dishes in your repertoire, but it truly doesn’t have to be a lifestyle of deprivation, and definitely is not inherently so.

I have to believe that if it isn’t deprivation to eat this way for me, I’m not depriving my family either. In fact, often on my most exhausted days where I prepare something quick and simple,  my family will rave about how good the meal is.

Hardly the review of people feeling deprived!

A meal doesn’t have to be big and elaborate with 25 ingredients and 3 different methods of cooking just to be delicious, satisfying and nutritious. You can have food made from scratch without a huge time commitment. Jules Clancy over at Stonesoup has programs for simplifying everything in your kitchen – from how to put together a few ingredients to how to function effectively without an elaborate meal plan.

There are so many food blogs out there dedicated to simple nutritious recipes; it can make for a very enjoyable afternoon browsing the recipes and identifying ones that you may want to try out! I will spend the rest of the week tweeting links to some of these sites and recipes, so I won’t go into great detail here (follow me on twitter if you want to see the recommendations!), but I will mention a few that I particularly like.

  • Minimalist Baker: Dana makes recipes that require 10 ingredients or less, one bowl, or 30 minutes or less to prepare. Not all of them are gluten-free, but a great many of them are, and they are absolutely delicious! I recently made her kale salad with beets and lentils to take along to my husband’s office holiday party. I definitely wasn’t feeling deprived enjoying my meal while the others were enjoying their Thanksgiving style spread.
  • Elana’s Pantry: Elana has both this website and three published cookbooks (which I happily own) full of amazing recipes that are gluten-free and Paleo. She was my introduction to almond flour, which is definitely worth adding to your baking repertoire. She also uses coconut flour in a lot of recipes for those who can’t eat tree nuts. Last week’s menu at our house featured her Paleo Carrot Soup which was easy to make and absolutely delicious. It would be hard for me to run out of good things to say about Elana’s food.
  • I will also recommend two of my staple cookbooks: Clean Food by Terry Walters and Greens Glorious Greens! by Johnna Albi and Catherine Walthers. Both books have simple, flavorful recipes that I go back to over and over. Both also have a few more complicated recipes for nights when you’re feeling more adventurous, but those are still based on whole, nutrient-dense foods.

This is obviously a very broad topic and I would be hard-pressed to address it all in one blog post, but what I will do is suggest that you consider starting your journey of simplifying the way you eat in one of the following ways:

  • Eat only whole, unprocessed foods. This simplifies your life in a few ways: it makes it simpler to identify if there are foods aside from gluten that are giving you trouble because you’re not eating a mash-up of stuff made from several common allergens, it cuts down on preparation time and you don’t spend as much time reading labels.
  • Eat only simple meals made from 5 ingredients or less like Jules Clancy at Stonesoup recommends. Or ten ingredients or less like Dana at Minimalist Baker. Whatever feels simpler and more manageable for you.
  • Consider having a standard formula for your meals, or even for just one or two meals a day. For me, I have a standard formula for much of my day within which I vary the ingredients. I try to have a green smoothie every day as a mid-morning snack, but I vary what greens and fruits I use in them from day to day. I like to have a big salad for lunch, but I will vary what “toppings” and dressings go with the salad from week to week.

My final thought on the value of simplifying your eating plan to contribute to your healing: simplifying the physical aspect is the most obvious aspect of this project, but of equal importance is paying attention to the mental and emotional part. Making decisions about food is not just an academic exercise, otherwise we would never eat anything unhealthy, and celiac disease would be far less complicated to manage emotionally. Identifying our own obstacles to simplifying in this area is very important. Examining and questioning our assumptions is important too. If you’re feeling particularly brave, ask your loved ones – those with whom you live, and those with whom you frequently eat or discuss food – and ask them to tell you what they see as your main values and issues around food. (This needs to be a lovingly executed exercise; please don’t ask people who are going to give you a toxic reply and possibly sabotage your work.)

Please always remember: this is difficult work. Consider starting with the easiest habits and attitudes to change and go from there. Please come at this, as you would approach anything that you’re trying to simplify, from a place of love and curiosity, with a good dose of humor and leaving the self-judgment behind. Remind yourself that the aim is to reduce your eating habits to the most simple, healthy, joyful form you can, and to include foods and habits that bring joy and add value to your life. If something isn’t working, you can always change it, so don’t be afraid to experiment!

As always, I want to hear about what you are doing to simplify your food! What works for you and what doesn’t? What are your assumptions that get in the way? What are the healthier beliefs that you have that support your work in this area?

(Disclaimer – while I am a lover of gluten-free food and read a lot about diet, health and nutrition, I am not a healthcare professional or a dietician. Nothing I have written here should be construed as medical advice, and I can’t make specific recommendations about what would be best for you individually. There are some great celiac-friendly doctors and nutritionists out there who can help you work through your individual challenges with making meal plans and making sure that you are maximizing your nutrition on a gluten-free diet.)

(One more disclosure – I am not an affiliate of any of the websites I link to; I’m just directing you there because I love what they have to offer and they have added value to my life. If that changes, I will be the first to let you know!)

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