Food Freedom Forever: a book review
Food Freedom. For some, these are just empty words, for others, this might be an over-exaggeration of a non-existent problem, but for many, this is a life goal with a rocky path leading towards it. People tend to come up with their own version of what food freedom means. Some people might think: We only live once, I am >not going to deprive myself of desserts, or I am an adult and nobody is going to tell me what I should or should not eat. But just like a cigarette smoker usually thinks he can quit any time he wants, people who are very protective of their favorite foods are exactly those who need some real food freedom in their lives. Strong emotional connection between us and our food is not very far from any other addiction, including smoking. As a former smoker and a sugarholic in remission, I know what I am talking about.
Food Freedom Forever is the title of a new book by the bestselling author of It Starts With Food and Whole30 Melissa Hartwig. Some of you might be familiar with her previous work, or her infamous 30 day nutritional reset called Whole30, but if you have no idea what I am talking about, don’t worry. Food Freedom Forever is a stand alone book that does not require any knowledge of either of those previous books. Also, let me clarify something right away: this is not a diet book. This book is not going to tell you what to eat, when to eat, or how much to eat. This brilliant book is a guide for everyone who struggles with any type of food addiction, emotional attachment to food, and overall unhealthy relationship with food. Most people tend to see their eating habits as a linear path: we make poor choices, our health suffers, we realize the problem, we change our habits based on whatever diet tips we come across on the internet, and we either get better or get worse. If we get worse, we assume this diet was not working for us and we try the next best thing.
Food Freedom Forever, however, will help you see your diet and lifestyle habits as a circular pattern that keeps repeating itself over and over, as often as you need to. Let me explain that in detail. There are three steps in your Food Freedom cycle Reset, Freedom, and Setback (don’t confuse a setback with failure, but more on that later). The process of the Reset phase has two very important parts elimination and reintroduction. Elimination diets are very effective tools for finding potential culprits of our health problems, as we discussed in the review of The Loving Diet book. These short periods of removing certain foods and food groups from our plate help us to discover our triggers and our foods with no breaks (foods you cant stop eating, no matter what, even though you are well aware of the consequences), and foods you might be allergic or sensitive to.
The first part of this book is going to teach you how to put together a Reset designed specifically for you, based on your own nutritional needs and challenges. We know that eating right for our metabolic type is important no two people are the same and our metabolic profile is as unique as our fingerprints. That is why building a specific elimination plan just for you is very important. You might really love tomatoes (I do), but thanks to a short elimination period and mindful reintroduction, you might find out (as I did) that they are hurting your body and you should stay away from them. There are common allergens we strongly recommend staying away from in general, like sugar, gluten, soy, and conventional dairy products, but avoiding these foods 100% of the time might not be very realistic (unless there is a confirmed, clear, medical reason). The main goal of your Reset is finding foods that hurt your body, determining the amount of damage they do, and then making conscious, responsible decisions to either stay away from these foods for good, or eat them only occasionally, fully aware of the consequences. If you are a Celiac, you will of course stay away from gluten for life, because the consequences of eating a pastry are not worth it at all, but there is no fun in not having a scoop of gelato (or at least dairy free sorbetto in a cup) during your once-in-a-lifetime vacation in Italy. But you don’t want your vacation to be ruined by three days of stomach pain no gelato in the world is worth it. In most countries, there are gluten free or dairy free options available; you can always research shops and restaurants that are friendly to your personal restrictions in advance.
There is a difference between food allergy (or sensitivity) and food addiction, it just coincidentally happens that those foods we are most frequently addicted to are the same foods that are harmful to our bodies. Food should nourish us, not hurt us in any way. You should be able to enjoy your food with no regrets, guilt, or shame; while certain foods hurt us physically, others can do psychological damage. This is where the second part of the book comes in: addressing the emotions we experience in connection with our food choices.
After Reset comes Freedom. Based on the knowledge we gained from elimination and reintroduction, we now know which foods to avoid, which foods to enjoy abundantly, and which foods we might be able to add to our menu only occasionally. We learned to listen to our body’s signals, we know how it reacts to certain foods, and we built a strong foundation that will help us navigate through life until that chocolate cake we love so much comes in the way. As I mentioned earlier, many of us have strong emotions connected to particular foods. We eat ice cream when we feel lonely, we order pizza after a hard day at work, and we mindlessly stuff our faces with chocolate every time we feel like the whole world is against us. We know these as comfort foods foods, that give us emotional relief, like a warm blanket over our broken heart and hurt feelings. Boss was mean to your today? Here is your Hershey bar. Husband forgot about your anniversary? This bowl of Ben and Jerry’s is going to fix that. We have all been there, at least once. Or twice or for a week. Too bad grilled salmon with a big pile of green salad does not have the same comforting effect, right?
The connection between our emotions and the food we eat is a problem that is difficult to realize and admit, and even harder to fix. Crash diets promise quick solutions to our problems, with fast weight loss and unsustainable results, so we erroneously believe that once our dieting period is over, our late night cravings, love for sugar, or hangover binge attacks will be too. But this is never the case because our love for sweet, salty, and artificially flavored franken-foods doesn’t go away just like that. There is no magic pill that will rewire our brain so it doesn’t desire comfort foods anymore, and usually the moment we stop dieting and face our old enemies again (like chocolate chip cookies or potato chips), we get scared, we get confused, and very often we fall back into the arms of our sugar/cheetos/pizza dragon, that is going to suck us deep into his dark cave before we even realize it. And if we give in and take just one bite, we tend to fall back into all of those negative emotions regret, shame, guilt, self-loathing, anger, sadness, misery, self-pity, and the feeling of not being strong enough, good enough, or worth it. In those dark moments, we need comfort, and many of us are looking for that comfort in the pantry, fridge, or the closest bakery.
As we find ourselves back in our old habits, we get into the phase I described earlier as a Setback. Our healthy eating and optimistic resolutions turn into a binge fest, where every hour is Happy Hour. The most important thing in this situation is facing the truth and here is the catch going back to our Reset. It doesn’t matter if you stayed in the Freedom phase for a year, four months, or just a couple of weeks, experiencing a Setback is an important part of the process, not a failure. You did not fail, you just learned the hard way. You are not weak, you are not a loser, and you are not doomed to be unhappy, fat, and sick forever. A setback is not a step back, it is a step forward; you learned something you did not know about yourself (who would have thought that adding a few sprinkles of parmesan on my zucchini noodles and slowly increasing the amount could lead to basically inhaling the whole package in one sitting!) and you have a new chance to fix the damage with one big advantage: you already know the drill. Every time you finish the cycle of Reset Freedom Setback, you go back to the beginning, just like when you learned to ride a bike. You didn’t walk away from it when you fell, you got right back up and tried again. And again, until you succeeded, with many, many more falls and bruised knees during the process, that only made you stronger and more aware of what to look out for.
The main goal of this book is not to teach you how to avoid your favorite treats. The mission of Food Freedom Forever is to empower you to make responsible, informed choices about what you put on your plate, getting rid of unhealthy emotional connections to food, and being able to mindfully savor your birthday cake without feeling guilty about it, while still taking full responsibility for the health consequences. There is one thing I learned that changed my mindset about treats (or as some people call them, cheats, which is just another sad example of us treating food like a reward or something we should feel guilty about): You don’t need a special occasion to be able to enjoy a treat, and you also do not have to have a treat just because it is a special occasion. If you ever feel social pressure to just have cake or a treat at a party, even though you don’t really want it, this book is for you. If you are so looking forward to your own birthday because you will finally be allowed to enjoy that big cupcake with frosting and sprinkles, because you were so good with your diet for so long, and you deserve it, this book is definitely for you. If you are thinking no way am I going to skip popcorn on movie night, even though you later regret the decision while running to the bathroom every hour, you should read this book as well.
If you feel like you have to apologize for your food choices to your social circle because all they say is things like: you are no fun since you stopped drinking, live a little, have just one scoop, or I made this cake just for you, you have to at least taste it, the last part of the book is going to teach you how to deal with social pressures, how to talk about your choices with your loved ones, to what extent, and if at all possible, explain your eating habits to them. Sometimes it is enough to say no thank you, but there are some people in your life who will need to have greater understanding. You will learn to analyze if this particular treat is special enough or worth the consequences (if so, savor it and enjoy the experience; if not, just skip it!) and you will learn how to finally disconnect from all those negative emotions you used to be surrounded by every time you got close to your own comfort foods. You will find your own Food Freedom Forever, not by learning to be perfect all the time, but by learning to be aware. I found my own food freedom just a few days ago. I finished the elimination part of my reset a few days prior and I was walking down the street with my friend and her dog, while she (the dog) started licking a piece of chocolate on the pavement, that was dropped by a child a moment before. I said: Chocolate, I love chocolate. I really do. It is my food with no breaks. I can eat it like there is no tomorrow. My friend looked at me and said: Well, you are done with the elimination, you can have some, right? And I started thinking I love chocolate. I can have it, now my elimination is over. But I don’t want it that bad right now. Just because I can have it now, doesn’t mean I have to go and buy the biggest bar in the store and stuff my face with it. If I really wanted chocolate, I would go and have it, no matter what. But not just because I can. I never experienced this way of thinking before, but I realized this is my Food Freedom. Grab a copy of this great book and find your own!