Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love food. Specifically, they know how much I love foods like chicken tenders, fries, ice cream, cookies, candy, and more. I am almost twenty years old with the taste buds akin to a ten year old. I am honestly OK with that.
When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2015, I was first put on an all-liquid diet. I drank seven Ensures everyday for two months straight. Yes - I literally did not eat any solid foods for two months. Well, in complete honesty, I rewarded myself with one cookie a week that I kept in the lowest drawer of my desk. I always felt so guilty eating that one cookie per week.
One of the ways I was able to push through those two months was by making a list of all my favorite foods from all my favorite places that I would eat after the two months was over. Everything from a bagel sandwich at my local bagel shop to a three course meal at the Cheesecake Factory that included a Dulche De Leche Cheesecake was on that list. I hung that piece of paper on my wall and looked at it to remind myself that this was not forever.
A month into this liquid diet, I saw a nutritionist to help me amend my diet after this treatment was over. Before going, I had not thought too much about what she would say, but I was definitely surprised when she suggested that I completely switch my diet around and become paleo. I was shocked. Once I learned what a paleo diet actually was, I realized that the list of ‘yes’ foods included all the foods I did not like - vegetables, fruits, etc - and all the ‘no’ foods included all the foods I did like, namely dairy, grains, and most processed foods.
Thinking I was never going to eat the foods I liked again sent me to a downward spiral that involved angrily crying and tearing that list that I had made into tiny pieces and throwing it in the trash. Yes, dramatic. But as dramatic as it sounds, I actually did feel like my world was getting flipped around. Food is one of the things that gave me joy - it could literally make a bad day better for me. Now, I not only had to deal with the fact that I was diagnosed with a lifelong illness, but I also could not eat any of the foods that gave me happiness.
So, I did what many teenagers may have done in my position. I did not listen to my nutritionist. After the two months rolled around and the liquid diet was over, I went back to my old ways. Sure, my parents tried to substitute paleo bread for regular bread, but let’s be honest, paleo bread sucks. For a while, my dad would sneak Splenda into my coffee instead of sugar, but I always tasted a difference. Eventually I stopped trying to use diet as a healing mechanism since it just felt too difficult and impossible for me. Medications were the only route for me.
Fast forward four years, I am a freshman in college, navigating the dining halls and relishing over the unlimited access to chicken tenders, fries, and soft serve ice cream. However, it was interesting looking at my plate in comparison to my friends, who had bowls (instead of plates) filled with lentils, beans, vegetables, and lean protein. I was shocked that, when given the opportunity, lots of students my age would choose the healthy options. In all honesty, it was very embarrassing how many vegetables I could not identify at the beginning of college beyond lettuce, carrots, green beans, and cucumbers, simply because I have never really tried them before. However, overtime, my friends started to have an influence on my eating habits.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned about diet during college is that it does not have to be all or nothing. I do not have to be 100% paleo or only eat processed foods. There is beauty in moderation, which is something I wish my nutritionist had told me before asking me to completely change my diet as a fourteen year old. Instead of replacing foods, I began adding foods - for example a side salad with my chicken tenders and fries. Or putting vegetables in my pesto pasta. My friends would offer recommendations to what foods work well with other foods to incorporate into my diet. They were an instrumental part of helping me realize that eating in a way that makes my body feel good was not impossible. Before, I had just accepted that eating would make my stomach hurt. But once I tried eating foods that are considered paleo, I realized that they did not hurt my stomach as much as the foods I usually eat. Having people around me who actually looked like they enjoyed eating healthily helped me realize that eating good tasting food and eating healthy are not mutually exclusive.
Slowly, these small changes adjusted my eating habits over time. I wouldn’t say that I am a vegetable convert yet, but I am definitely on my way. So if you are trying to change your diet in any way, speaking from experience I know it is not easy. But it is also important to remember that it is not impossible - there are ways to make foods taste good if you are willing to be inventive. Over the summer, Emma sprinkled crushed up Cheez Its into my salad so it would taste better and mask the other tastes of the salad. To me, diet is an evolving process and it is about continuing to try, not getting upset if progress is slow, and moving in moderation.