There is a lot of noise around healthy eating and body image. We are constantly bombarded with the latest diets, research studies, and opinions on what we should eat and the ideal body . It’s impossible to escape these messages, and it’s enough to drive anyone to confusion!
Up until about a year ago, I spent a ton of energy focused on unrealistic ideas of my body image. I stressed over my weight, the size of my clothes, and spent too much time working on how to make myself smaller. I wanted to lose weight, and as a result, I pushed my shaky relationship with food further into the unhealthy zone. It took a huge toll on my mental health, and almost stopped me from pursuing what I love.
I struggled to gain traction after starting Clean Plate Clb. It took me almost 6 months to launch the site after purchasing the domain name. I wanted to share the foods I loved eating, but I wasn’t allowing myself to enjoy those same foods! I convinced myself the only way to be happy was to be thin, and the only way to be thin was to diet. I tried them all; weight watchers, calorie counting apps, the Always Hungry diet, the Fast Metabolism diet, 21 Day Fix, the Whole 30, and probably a couple others that slipped my mind. Each one more promising than the next, and each point of failure more heartbreaking.
The cycle was identical for each diet. I was fed up with how I looked and researched a new diet extensively, convincing myself it was “the one”. I would follow the diet perfectly for a short period of time, surviving on small wins that come with starting a new diet. Then the unavoidable spiral would begin once my weight loss slowed or I couldn’t stand eating food I hated anymore. I would break the diet, overeat the foods I was avoiding, and beat myself up over the latest in a long line of diet failures.
My breaking point came the week after Thanksgiving 2017. I was on day 10 of the Whole 30. I was in the 3rd grocery store of the day searching for sugar free bacon when I had a panic attack. It sounds completely stupid, but it was true! It was the push I needed to step back and reflect on how I was treating my body. That was the day I quit dieting.
Reflecting back on that time, I put my mind and body under ridiculous amounts of stress during those diets. For what? Stressing myself because I ate chips over a piece of fruit did nothing to benefit me. It only served to put certain foods on a pedestal, and treat the rest like they would cause instant death or an instant 10 pound weight gain.
Quitting diets was filled with a ton of uncertainty. I didn’t know how to eat! I still had that little voice categorizing my food, and assigning guilt for overeating. I remembered a coworker mentioning intuitive eating. It wasn’t a new concept, but one that served to guide you back to your bodies natural, instinctive way of eating.
I was initially surprised by intuitive eating. The name alone implies that I can eat whatever I want. You mean I can eat chips and pasta anytime with no caveats? Sign me up! But there is much more to it than eating what you crave. It focuses on listening closely to the hunger cues your body is sending, and responding appropriately. You eat when you are hungry, and stop when you’re full. There are no labels assigned to foods, and nothing is off limits. It removes the focus on body image, and emphasises learning what makes your body feel at its best.
The first month was hard, but after awhile I got better at listening to my body. I learned a lot about myself. I didn’t need to eat huge portions. If I was hungry again soon after eating a meal I could eat again without guilt. I learned that I don’t really like fruit, and forcing myself to eat it just to “be healthy” led me to overeat because I wasn’t satisfied. I learned the foods that made my body feel great, and after a while I wanted to incorporate those foods into my diet more often than the foods that didn’t make me feel good.
The most important lesson I learned was to silence all the external noise around what I eat. Everyone has their opinions on what constitutes “healthy”, but no one knows what your body needs but you. No one deserves to be judged based on their weight or the food they eat. A person’s health cannot be determined on weight alone. No one has the right to tell you the food you are eating is “bad” or “good”, and no one deserves to feel guilty because they like pasta more than salad.
Breaking free from dieting was a huge step, and there are still times when I catch myself falling back into that mindset. It’s hard to change a relationship with food that you’ve had your entire life; however, it was a change I needed to be happy and healthy. It’s improved my relationship with food. It’s improved my mental health, and it’s allowed me to pursue my passion with no reservations!
I am sharing my struggle with dieting and body image because it’s something very important to me. There is too much negativity in the world dictating that we need to look a certain way to be happy or healthy. My hope is that this story reaches others sharing similar struggles, and helps guide them to find balance in their lives.
The recipe I’m sharing is one I developed after practicing intuitive eating. Mac and cheese is a favorite of mine, but I realized I felt like crap after eating a lot of dairy. I wanted the same satisfaction without the consequences. Butternut squash mac and “cheese” is a great alternative to the traditional version! This dish is vegan, and gets its creamy texture from butternut squash boiled in cashew milk. The squash is pureed with nutritional yeast to give it that “cheesy” flavor. Diced jalapenos are added at the end for a spicy kick to balance out the sweetness from the squash.
Give it a try, and let me know how you like it in the comments!
Almost Vegan Butternut Squash Mac & “Cheese”
- 5 cups cubed butternut squash
- 1/3 cup minced shallot
- 1/4 jalapeno minced (optional)
- 1 clove garlic minced
- small bunch chives minced (optional for garnish)
- 2 cups cashew milk – see note
- 2 1/2 tbsp olive oil divided
- 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 3 tsp dijon mustard
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt divided + 1/8 tsp
- 1 lb medium shell pasta
- In a medium saucepan combine squash, cashew milk, and 1/2 tsp kosher salt. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 12-14 minutes until the squash is fork tender. Stir occasionally to make sure the squash does not stick to the bottom of the saucepan.
- Remove squash from the heat, and let cool for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Once boiling, salt the water and add the medium shells. Cook according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
- Combine the cooked squash and cashew milk in a blender with the nutritional yeast, dijon mustard, 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, and 1/4 tsp kosher salt. Blend until smooth.
- In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add in the shallot, jalapeno, and garlic, and 1/8 tsp kosher salt; cook 3-5 minutes until soft.
- Add the blended squash mixture to the saucepan with the sauteed veggies. Cook 5-10 minutes to thicken slightly.
- Add the sauce to the drained, cooked pasta. Mix to combine. Garnish with chives to serve.
- I made this recipe with homemade cashew milk, which is not as finely strained as store bought. The sediment that can linger in homemade cashew milk helps to thicken the sauce. You can substitute store bought cashew milk, but may need to simmer the sauce longer so it thickens.
- To make homemade cashew milk, cover 1 cup of cashews with water and soak overnight. Drain cashews; add to a blender with 4 cups of water, and blend under completed pureed. Drain cashew milk through cheesecloth or a fine mesh sieve to remove most of the lingering sediment. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Shake well before using.