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When Food Becomes the Enemy

Note: Learn more about the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program here or at

When leading the Am I Hungry? program, I talk about the fact that it’s an “all foods fit” approach. That means that the program itself does not classify foods as good or bad. You can eat anything you want using the principles of balance, variety, and moderation, as long as you’re paying attention to what your body is telling you about your hunger and fullness levels.

That’s fine for some people, but what about those who have to be restrictive in what they eat? What happens if you find out that you can’t necessarily eat what you love, or at least when you want it, for medical reasons? In those cases it may feel like food has become the enemy.

I was thinking about this recently when talking to a woman whose husband was diagnosed with celiac disease about 10 years ago. They’ve adjusted their lifestyle accordingly, and in fact their two young boys don’t know what it’s like to eat a diet that includes gluten.

For most people, that diagnosis alone would be a nightmare, but for this couple it has gotten much worse. Because of the damage to his gut, the husband now has intolerance to about 20 of the foods they eat most regularly – lentils, eggs, tomatoes, etc. The painful irony is that this is because he ate those foods – what he loved – often, which resulted in it getting too much in his bloodstream.

It would be easy to feel despair about this. The woman I spoke with said, “How do you change what two boys under 10 eat overnight?” She also commented that her husband has to follow a strict cycle of the foods he can eat, so that he doesn’t overdo it on any one of them and become intolerant to that, which has made their life “less spontaneous” and quite restrictive.

How, then, do you reconcile this with eating what you love, when doing so is harmful to your body? How do you resist the urge to “cheat”?

For someone with this particular situation, that is certainly a challenge. But it’s helpful to remember that if you follow the correct eating plan and avoid those foods, in many cases it is possible to recover to the point that you can eat them again – with moderation. As for cheating, during the period that you need to avoid a food, like gluten, remind yourself that eating it causes damage to your body; this may help you avoid having it when you shouldn’t. In the meantime, it is becoming easier and easier to find gluten-free options, and restaurants that provide flexibility around food restrictions. The internet also has a wealth of information on preparing foods at home for any situation.

If you have a more mild intolerance, it is easier to avoid certain foods most of the time, but perhaps still treat yourself on occasion. And for those with diabetes (a growing population), Dr. May recently released Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, to show that you can still eat delicious food and support you health with this diagnosis.

If you find yourself in this situation, I recommend getting the support of an experienced nutritionist who can assist you in determining what your meals can include.

The real trick, though, is to be open to trying new things, not to despair that if you can’t follow your normal eating patterns, that you have to forsake good food. You may still be able to eat what you love – but you may discover that what you love to eat isn’t what you’ve always eaten.

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