If you have voluntarily cut any foods or food groups entirely out of your diet, then this article is for you. I was in your shoes, going gluten free after seeing how much “healthier” my father became from adopting the lifestyle, ebbing and flowing from strict Paleo to eating grains and legumes here and there. I was convinced that I felt alleviated in a myriad of ways by what I was doing: improved digestive system, less acne, more “natural” body form without water weight, and less fogginess of thought, among others.
But after a year and a half, even if some of those perks were true, I realized that this lifestyle had consumed me. In fact, it got to the point that it became part of my natural instincts, which was damaging mentally and socially. I immediately associated some foods with good and others with inherent evil. My goal went from enjoying life’s luxuries and liberties to achieving “perfect health.” And for a majority of the time, I never bothered questioning what I was doing. I just went along as if it was some heavenly solution that I needed to follow intensely in order to reap its benefits.
University of Chicago scholar and The Gluten Lie author, Dr. Alan Levinovitz, came to speak at Colgate at the tail end of last semester. His words were exactly what past me, when I still mindlessly followed a regimen I self-prescribed, needed to hear.
Why was I following my plan? Because I felt “saved” in light of it. Levinovitz was quick to point out how the diets and advice championed by the so-called “experts” are bound up in religious rhetoric and “the myth of paradise past.”
We are told that we can cure ourselves, or return to the purer ways of our ancestors, by taking foods out of our diets. Meanwhile, the various recommendations out there tend to conflict with each other, and we end up hearing time and time again about how the same foods are good for us, then bad for us, good for us again, and so on.
Okay, that may be a bit much for you to absorb and accept right away. After all, you’re coming from a place where you have been told definitively what to eat and what not to eat. You likely think about food in three dimensions: quality, quantity, and type. What’s the game plan if not thinking in that box?
Levinovitz’s recommendation was very much in-line with how I realized a need to stray away from a dietary restriction. He suggests a fourth dimension to eating that we should focus on the most: time. Food is something that is best enjoyed when taking our time with it – be it in evaluating what you want, the preparation of it, or the actual act of eating.
In the months before I shelved my gluten free lifestyle, I began my semester studying in Florence, Italy. The higher quality carbs had some to do with my decision to ditch the diet, but more importantly, it was the Italian way of eating. Italians eat meals they can make together and spend ample time preparing meals, regardless of what else goes on in the day to ensure optimal quality. Dinners with my host family were the designated time of day where nothing mattered but people and food. And this is where a bulk of the enjoyment and good health comes from — the conviviality.
In this sense, gluten couldn’t have been as bad as Mark Sissons and Williams Davis claimed. Since then, I’ve realized how irrational my previous behavior was. Everything turned for the better once I started eating gluten again. My emotions, my perspective on life, everything. And it certainly had to do with paying attention to time, instead of calories.
Just as Dr. Levinovitz said, some people are forced to follow certain food restrictions due to allergies and more severe diseases. But for those that aren’t, I urge you to take a step back and think about where you are finding your information.
Why exactly are you restricting yourself? It may be time to reevaluate. I was way over the deep end of following the Paleo/gluten free Bible, and I was able to climb out of it. Talk to people close to you, experiment. Just don’t keep yourself in a box for longer than you can take socially or mentally. As much as certain authorities would have you believe you’re saving yourself, following a false religion can do nothing but harm.