Let's talk about "healthy eating," diets, and mental health

It took two weeks for the hefty restrictions of this candida cleanse to wear me down into the beginnings of a full-on breakdown, stalled only by me recognizing what was happening because it's not my first rodeo. The details of it are personal and largely irrelevant, but the big-picture effects are not.

There's no chance I will say this better than others have before me. So-called healthy eating, clean eating, cleanses, dieting, and the like are not accessible to everyone. There are hundreds of essays available across the internet about the privileges of healthy eating, and the lack of access to fresh foods in poverty-stricken areas, communities of color, and by people with disabilities. We know for an unmitigated fact that dieting is bad for us, and leads to malnutrition, unhealthy eating patterns, and can trigger mildly disordered eating into full-blown dysphoria and eating disorders.

It is a mark of privilege, of which I'm aware, that I even had the opportunity to try this cleanse. I can read, I can cook and beyond that I'm greatly confident in the kitchen with another pair of willing hands to help, I have a better than average understanding of medical science, internet access and great comprehension skills to understand what I was reading and apply it to my life, and I'm unemployed (albeit due to disability) so I have plenty of time to do research and cook at home, when I have the energy to do it.

What I do not have is infinite amounts of energy, or sound mental health, nor do I have access to the mental health treatment that I need. I have an untreated eating disorder, a temperamental stomach that makes meal planning difficult at best, and I'm surrounded by a world that is actively hostile to women, fat people, disabled people, the mentally ill, the list goes on but those are the relevant ones here. In trying to find recipes for this highly restrictive diet, I'm bombarded with imagery and messages that tell me that my fatness is a personal failing (even though I know it's not), that my worth as a woman is based on my thinness and attractiveness (still not), that because I'm a woman I'm necessarily forcing and manipulating my partner into trying this cleanse with me, that eating today's understanding of healthy foods that isn't even based in science is a status symbol and I'm failing as a person if my food choices aren't up to unreasonable and ever-changing standards, that if I'm not proving myself to be the Good Fattie by heavily restricting my food options to an unhealthy level then I deserve to suffer for my sins.

It's enough to make your head spin. And mine did.

Yesterday, I found myself panicking trying to keep track of the restrictions of this diet, come up with menu ideas, make the food flavorful and exciting or even just appetizing, keep up with the necessary activity levels which my health issues don't allow, fight back the guilt I'm told I'm supposed to feel over my partner's choice to do this, and stay sane in the process. Instead, I'm exhausted, hungry, nauseated, still completely forgetting to eat, and constantly reminded that I'm Not Good Enough. Seriously, no amount of improvement to my health is attainable if the effort to achieve it ends up sending me into a spiral of depression and killing me.

Add all that to the phone call I got this afternoon with my blood test results from Wednesday, when I discovered it appears I'm suffering multiple vitamin deficiencies, even of vitamins I'm taking supplements for. So my doctor has recommended that I add dairy and whole grains back to my diet immediately, slowly return to an unrestricted but balanced diet over the next couple weeks, doing whatever I need to make sure I'm eating 3-5 balanced meals a day (depending on size, based on appetite issues).

So I guess two weeks is as long as this candida cleanse experiment lasts. I can't say it doesn't work, but I can say it wasn't the right treatment for me. One more thing to try, checked off the list of ideas.

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