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the caterpillar non-diet

I am not a fan of diets. Starting a post this way reminds me of the time I was a tween (before we were called such), and the girls were gabbing away while changing into swimsuits in our cabin at summer camp. They were all chatting about how fat they were–oh how sad, looking back!–and I chimed in, “Oh I know. I’m sooo fat.” I resembled a walking stick bug at the time, only more bow-legged. Even my hair was skinny. One of the other girls gave me a withering glance and taunted, “YOU are NOT fat,” then spun on her heel and continued to moan about how fat she was. I had never felt less a part of the in-crowd.

Fast forward to the present day, and I am still mostly excluded from diet talk, only now it is by design. My “diet” is a consistent path I have continued–since as a child in my mother’s home–of eating whole, real food, local when possible (okay, the local thing is recent), and little to no junk or fast food. I pride myself on not needing cleanses or other fads to get back on the wagon.

Now allow me to hitch my high-horse up to a post and get down to the business of telling you about the diet on which I am about to embark. The holidays are a gluttonously fantastic season of eating anything and everything in sight. I ate, and ate, and ATE until I made myself sick, quite literally so. At the risk of delving down the TMI trail, I will elaborate a little.

For the past few weeks, I have been feeling progressively worse after meals, and I’m nearly positive an imbalance of gut bacteria is to blame. If you have ever been diagnosed with “Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” you know of what I speak. When this problem happened to me a few years ago, after taking antibiotics, I learned the reasons you should always take a probiotic while on antibiotics. A friend who was in the process of a celiac disease diagnosis at that time assisted me with getting on a diet that would put me back on track of having healthy gut flora…

Stomachache face.

…which brings me to the title of my post and what I’m calling my non-diet. I thought of the name when reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Vivi last night. If you haven’t been privileged enough to read it, I will summarize it for you: the caterpillar is very hungry (surprise!), and he eats a bunch of junk food until he gets a stomachache. Then he wakes up the next day and eats a leaf and feels much better, then he builds a cocoon and becomes a butterfly. The End. I love this story because of its subliminal message, “Eat green food, not junk!,” and Vivi loves it because he gets to be a pretty butterfly. Win win.

Back to my situation. I have been eating too much sugar and refined carbohydrates, and the result is I have less energy, frequent bellyaches, and I crave sugar constantly. It isn’t fair to place the entire burden on the holidays because there were other factors, namely that I started having frequent PB&J sandwiches (sugar, sugar, and sugar), and we are eating seasonally, so less leafy vegetables and more starch.

Happy, leaf-eating caterpillar!

So, the non-diet. There are some diets that are similar to how I plan to eat for the next few weeks or months, albeit mostly much more strict than my plan; GAPS, Candida Diet, and Paleo are just a few. My basic plan is to cut out sugar, alcohol, some grains (e.g. rolled oats and refined starches like pasta), some meats (e.g. cured and smoked), starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes, squash), non-citrus fruit, beverages other than water and tea (milk included), additives and preservatives as possible, soy, condiments, and highly-manufactured oils (e.g. soy, canola). I will take a probiotic supplement and focus on eating vegetables, fermented foods like sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, live yogurt cultures, eggs and fresh cuts of meat, fish, nuts, non-glutinous grains (e.g. wild and brown rice, quinoa), and cold pressed oils (e.g. olive, coconut, sesame, sunflower). Yeah, I’m a carnivorous caterpillar.

Here’s what I’ve got on my recipe list this week:

After a few weeks, I’ll start reintroducing some of the foods on the avoid list, but I will hopefully lessen the amount of sugar and refined starch I eat over the long term. Next year I’ll probably be back to doing this routine in January, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Mmmm, salted caramel chocolate pretzel bark. I miss you.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of Fight Back Friday, Monday Mania, and Real Food Wednesday.¬†

Update 1/19/2012: I completed my 1-week cleanse today. I am beginning my probiotic supplement tomorrow. In the first few days, I experienced what could almost be called withdrawal symptoms; I had a headache I couldn’t shake even with ibuprofen, moodiness, and sudden bouts of anxiety, a rare occurrence for me normally. I am not sure cutting out starchy vegetables and fruit was ever necessary, but I definitely feel better one week into the diet. I have more energy in the evening to clean up, and I fall asleep right away when my head hits the pillow, something that had inexplicably vanished after a lifetime in the past few months. I am planning to introduce fresh and dried fruit slowly and gluten/yeast like grains, crackers and pretzels, although I am still avoiding sugar.

Update 1/30/12: I feel great. Ten days into the probiotic, last night I ate my first bite of sugar and milk (other than my ration of 2 dark-chocolate-covered almonds per day) in a big bowl of rice pudding. It was both a celebration of 2+ weeks without sweets and a test to see how my body would react. I am happy to report that I seem to have recovered fully. We’ll see how it goes after my probiotic course ends in four days.