By Melani Schweder
Pizza. Noodles. Cheeseburgers. Ice cream. Just a few years ago,
these were some of my go-to staple foods. I knew these weren’t the
healthiest choices I could be making, but I reasoned they couldn’t be that bad.
The things I had learned from my mom (a registered dietitian) and all of those college nutrition classes had faded away, like a smudged handwritten letter. I could still make out something about protein balance and artificial dyes, but the rest was illegible. But the worst part of my past diet wasn’t the packaged and processed foods – it was my willingness to eat these things while battling a chronic illness.
My Relationship With Using Food as Medicine
I became severely and suddenly ill in the summer of 2009 and was eventually diagnosed with Lyme Disease and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The crushing exhaustion, dizziness, brain fog, headaches, pain, and heart palpitations made it impossible for my life to continue on its planned trajectory. I was forced to drop out of grad school, quit my job, and heal. Being of a scientific mindset, I sought the best drugs and the best doctors and poured over research studies and journal articles. I was determined to regain my wellness, but little did I know, I hampered my recovery with what I was putting in my mouth every day!
During the first few years of my illness, I tried dozens of different medications, therapies, and supplements. I learned my body’s limits and did my best to respect them. Then, when I finally thought I was making progress, it happened. I relapsed. Cue another round of doctors, tests, drugs, and lack of real answers. The relapse was harrowing and humbling and it spurred me to look elsewhere for healing. I returned to yoga and established a gentler daily practice. Meditation and breathing exercises became a priority along with Reiki treatments and massage. I studied herbal medicine and crafted my own tinctures, pills, and oil blends. Last but not least, I changed my diet.
Drawing on my research background, I began running nutritional experiments on myself. I’d eliminate one food, take notes, add in a new food, take more notes. After months of trial and error, and a whole lot of reading, I found that a primal diet would be the most nourishing, healing, supportive, and energizing for me. I experienced profound improvement in my symptoms that came from eating in a paleo way, and it hit home that food really was medicine. What I have learned is each and every meal we eat is an opportunity to either help or heal OUR natural well being. If you are struggling with a chronic illness and want to live a longer healthier life, here are five basic tips to get you started.
Five Basic Tips
1. Make Friends With Veggies
When I was a kid, you had to bribe me to eat my veggies. Nowadays, I’m known to use mixing bowls for my salads because regular bowls aren’t big enough! Vegetables, especially leafy greens, are everyone’s very best friends. I recommend covering ½ of your plate with veggies for maximum benefits. Some of my favorites include: kale, swiss chard, beets, green beans, broccoli, carrots, and bell peppers – the more colorful, the better!
2. Don’t Fear Fat
The days of fat-phobia are over! Avoid low-fat and no-fat because research has proven that healthy fats encourage better cognitive functioning, hormonal balance, energy levels, and much more. Don’t shy away from adding healthy fats to every meal. Choose fats that are found in nature, like coconut products, avocados, raw nuts, grassfed butter, and ethically-sourced animal fats like tallow or lard.
3. Be Consistent
Develop the habit of eating fresh, healthy, unprocessed foods every day. This is especially important for potent foods and spices that have medicinal effects, like turmeric, mushrooms, coconut oil, kale, herbal teas, and berries.
4. Set Your Intentions
As a Reiki master, I recognize the important energetic aspects of food. Regardless of your spiritual leanings, it’s important to infuse your meals with love, gratitude, and healing intentions. Eliminate distractions and be present while you eat, listening to your body’s subtle cues. Say a prayer, recite a mantra, use your hands to direct Reiki. Use any process that creates a connection with your food as it holds great healing power.
5. Choose Quality
Choose the highest quality ingredients you can. It may not be feasible to buy organic all the time, so learn about the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” from the Environmental Working Group at https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/. Make friends with local artisans and ranchers. Shop at the farmer’s markets. Read all the labels on all of your foods. Be picky! It may be expensive but when it comes to health, it is worth the investment.
There’s a saying that is appropriate: “Pay the farmer or pay the doctor. Pick One.” Let’s choose to pay the farmer. I credit my nutritional habits for most of my healing thus far. I believe so strongly in the healing power of foods that I have made it the cornerstone of my wellness mentoring practice. I encourage you to make food your medicine and notice all the wonderful changes that you experience. The grocery store is your new pharmacy, and your prescription is ready to be filled!