This week Chelsea Gross and I dive into the topic of healing from chronic illness (and healing in general) while intuitive eating. When you’re eating to deal with a chronic illness, you might have to do a bit of extra mindset work to maintain your own intuitive eating journey. Chelsea is SO open and honest about her story and her journey with healing, which makes this episode especially helpful.
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As a certified nutrition and mindset coach, Chelsea works 1-1 with women around the world (virtually, of course!) to make peace with their relationship with food, their bodies, and themselves. As someone who struggled with all those areas herself, Chelsea loves helping other women find healing and freedom.
Chelsea’s Early Food Journey
In middle and high school, Chelsea dealt with a lot of fear, anxiety, and even panic attacks. When she reached out to her mom and sister, they brushed it off. She internalized the idea that being emotional, being sensitive, and having fear was wrong — and that she needed to be fixed. Moving to college amped up her need to fit in, and she started to fixate on losing weight and “looking right” as a means of doing so. Like most women who decide to change their bodies, she started dieting and exercising. And at first, it seemed like it worked. She was getting a lot of attention and compliments, which felt good!
She kept up the cycle of obsessing, restricting, and controlling as long as she could. Eventually, however, things fell apart. When she broke up with her first serious boyfriend, she started eating more to soothe her emotions. Other stressors that popped up through her college career had a similar effect, and by her senior year she had gained weight. She determined to lose it, and jumped into a cycle of restricting and binging, which later led to purging as well.
Post-college, Chelsea took her struggles out to LA, where she pursued acting. The stigmas about weight, size, and diet continued to weigh on her in an industry notorious for pressuring women to control their food intake and maintain an “idealized” size.
The Wake Up Call
In 2014, Chelsea experienced a yoga injury and a car accident within a few days of each other. She started experiencing severe lower back pain, which sent her on a journey to all sorts of health practitioners. Nothing seemed to be working.
She found herself with no passion, no purpose, and struggles that seemed to be completely overwhelming her entire life. With no joy to fuel her, Chelsea realized she was sinking into a black hole that she had to find a way out of.
Via an online search, Chelsea found a nutrition program that sparked her interest. The connection between the physical body and the mind really intrigued her, and she made the decision to dive in. Throughout the course work, she became inspired to “make her mess her message”. She also gave up dieting and started looking at health as something holistic and positive. Rather than trying to “look” a certain way, she dedicated herself to “feeling” healthy, whatever that looked like for her body.
Healing From Chronic Illness
As she was working through all of this, Chelsea started experiencing symptoms in her abdomen and gut that were concerning. After many rounds with naturopaths and doctors (and so much testing!), she was diagnosed with Lyme’s disease.
Eating in a certain way (or not eating certain foods) can be an effective tool for healing from chronic illness. It can make intuitive eating tricky, however, because there are so many tendencies to use restriction as a tool!
Chelsea suggests that embarking on a healing diet CAN be helpful. And if you’ve been dealing with disordered eating or other chronic eating issues, it’s really common to be dealing with digestive and auto-immune disorders. Your system may be damaged, and you may need to do some reparative work.
Something important to remember is that when you were dieting, restricting or elimination a certain food came from a place of punishing, hateful energy. That was about control, and a desire to change your body or yourself.
Making a decision to restrict a food to decrease inflammation or help your body heal is a completely different mindset and motivation! If you’re attempting to heal from a chronic illness, creating a clear distinction that helps the restriction feel different is important. Intuitive eating is a way to honor your body and her needs. Making a choice to restrict a certain food from a place of love and respect IS intuitive!
I am choosing…
Rather than using “I can’t” language that makes you feel that you’re not “allowed” to eat a certain food, try using “I am choosing” language. When you make a choice to restrict a food for healing reasons, remind yourself that it IS a choice.
You aren’t creating new rules, and you aren’t putting yourself in a position to start craving food you’ve been restricting and controlling. Instead, you’re being gentle and making choices that you can feel good about.
Chelsea shares that now, she’s quite flexible in her food choices. She brings a mindset of choice into her food decisions, even when those choices are to restrict certain foods. Nothing is permanent, and she never 100% takes a food off the table as if she will never eat it again.
However, she has done some very specific food protocols to help her body in its journey towards healing from chronic illness. There have been times (like during her candida cleanse) that didn’t work for her. She moved into them too soon, and her head wasn’t in the right place. She realized that happiness and flexibility were super important to her. In addition, she had to recognize the role of stress in her holistic health journey. If eating a restrictive diet meant to heal her physical body created too much stress and pressure mentally, she was losing out on a different kind of health.
Being able to be in the moment, create space for her full life, and to incorporate joyful, positive practices ended up being vital. Chelsea realized that being happy was just as vital to her health as making food choices that empowered her.
Create Room for Joy
Overall, eating a certain way isn’t about doing it ALL the time…it’s about doing it most of the time. Give yourself room for joy, for travel, for date night — give yourself permission to live a full life, even in the midst of healing from a chronic illness.
Remember to CHOOSe to allow foods you love. Make the choice to give yourself permission to enjoy each element of your life, including your food choices. And create those distinctions in your mind! When you are making food choices from a place of love and compassion, saying “no” doesn’t feel harsh or punitive. So remind yourself – you LOVE your body, and you’re taking care of her in way meant to protect and nourish her in the best way possible.