Inflammation or Under Eating?

I’m going to start with a story.

My oldest son, age 11, and I like to go play Pickleball on Saturday mornings whenever possible.  We are pretty competitive and I expend a lot of energy trash talking (haha). He practices all his tricky tennis skills on me, so it keeps me running and jumping.  Love it.  A few Saturdays ago we headed out a little later than usual.  I had some grapes before we left and then the whole family met us at the park to play after.  When we got home I went straight to an early lunch.  I taught a class in the early afternoon and I underestimated how hungry I would be after class and didn’t pack a snack.  I went straight home and grabbed lunch #2, but by that time my blood sugar had dropped lower than I would have liked.  

This doesn’t happen often nowadays since I make it a regular practice to eat consistently, regularly and adequately.  But sometimes it sneaks up on me and - just like clockwork - within a couple hours I will see an acne breakout, usually on my chin.  

I’ve had acne since I was a teenager.  It’s better now but every once in awhile I’ll get a breakout, particularly one or two cystic acne on my chin.  Historically I have blamed it on food - chocolate, dairy, sugar, blah, blah, blah.  

But in the past few years I’ve figured out the real trigger - eating too little or going too long without eating.  So what I used to attribute to a food group or a food ingredient, I now realize is a result of under eating.  I share to hopefully give you permission to make EATING your solution.  If you have physical symptoms that you attribute to food, it may be the behavior around food or inconsistent eating patterns rather than the food itself.  

This post on Metabolism will help explain the importance of eating to support metabolic function.

One of the reasons I blog is so you can learn from my mistakes.  The particular point I would like to make here is that chasing “inflammation” kept me stuck in very disordered eating.  While I’m sure there is room to talk about inflammation in some circles and some conversations, it's concerning that it's used so regularly.  It’s usually accompanied with a list of foods to avoid and if your experience is anything like mine, it’s easy to keep eliminating foods until you’ve got nothing left to eat.  

I truly attributed my worrisome physical symptoms to inflammation rather than seeing it for what it was: under eating and a huge lack of variety, flexibility and balance.  Not to mention that under eating itself causes inflammation.  So I’m telling you what I wish someone would have unequivocally told me:  you will feel better when you eat consistently, regularly and adequately while NOT EXCLUDING any foods or food groups.  Whenever I did hear anything close to that, there was always this disclaimer along the lines of “but of course there may be some foods that you can’t tolerate so listen to your body…”.  And then all the fear came rushing back.

I get why, I’ve done it.  We want to be sensitive and inclusive and evidenced based and legitimate.  We also want to recognize that everyone’s food preferences are different, and each of us have foods or patterns of eating we favor and gravitate to for various reasons (that's Intuitive Eating).  But orthorexia made me hyperaware to all physical symptoms and I just wanted someone to validate what I felt…that I needed to quit overthinking and make peace with ALL foods.  

So if you need what I felt like I needed, let me be clear: there was nothing I couldn’t tolerate. I made it up.  All of it.  It was totally psychosomatic.  I get there may be people with different stories than mine (it’s likely less then we assume).  But for those who’s stories are like mine, trust the feeling you have that food freedom means freedom with ALL food.  

I’ve got to make this point while we are at it: we are human and susceptible to aches and pains.  I’m a mom of 3 busy kids, a business owner, I volunteer in a demanding church calling, I’m HOA president, I’m the chair for our local United For Adoption chapter and I have various hobbies and interests I like to keep up with. Not complaining, I’ve chosen all of it (well except for HOA President, my husband volunteered me for that).  I’m sure you have a lot on your plate too - we all do. That means that we’ll have some days where we’re more tired or we might get a headache every once in a while or your tummy might feel sensitive…it’s called being human and manipulating food isn’t your (or my) answer.  I am, however, an advocate for saying “no”, taking breaks and getting rest when you feel like you need it.  

I do feel WAY better practicing the principles of Intuitive Eating than I ever did micromanaging my food choices.  I had this sneaky suspicion all along that enjoying food without judging it was my solution.  Turns out I was right.  I do have clearer skin, I do sleep better, I do feel calmer and my digestion is WAY better to name a few.  I can’t emphasize enough how much better I feel by not eliminating, overthinking, overanalyzing or second-guessing food.  I’m not promising perfect health (nor should you expect it ever) but I am promising you the ability to self-moderate without rules so you can consistently feel your best.  

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD