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Reconnecting to Self-Love through Food

Reconnecting to food is something I’ve been doing since I started my healing journey. I knew that traditional foods and what healthier foods were, would be better for me and my body when I was younger, but I didn’t know about all of our traditional foods and still have more to learn. I was fortunate to take a postpartum training with Postpartum Healing Lodge earlier this fall. I owe a lot of my renewed sense of cooking and reconnecting with the nourishing power of traditional foods to this kwe. If you are a doula supporting indigenous families, I highly recommend taking a course from her! I’ve learned so much about how we prepare foods postpartum to how we eat foods postpartum can be so nurturing and healing for mamas that just gave birth. I will now be more equipped to support moms postpartum and myself when the time comes for another pregnancy.

After learning about different recipes and foods to prepare for postpartum care, I began using some of the recipes in my daily cooking. Realizing there were new flavors and places to source spices from, was just as exciting for my palette as it was to cook. The recipes Raeanne shared with us forced me to look at places I didn’t think about sourcing my food or spices from. Everything from shopping at the Ha Tien Supermarket and looking at the hidden gems in the grocery store, or scoring some freshly picked onions and garlic from the Farmer’s Market reignited the fire within me for preparing, cooking, and eating new versions of traditional foods from my people and other indigenous people. It made me more open to preparing a meal at home and less open to getting a meal from “out of the in” as Jake and I say. Just as we were getting used to all of the flavors and heartiness of these recipes and soups, our yoga teacher training (YTT) instructors let us know we were going to embark on a 21 day food cleanse.

As soon as they mentioned that, there was a feeling in my gut that told me sugar was going to be on the no eating list. Thank you gut, you were right! For 21 days, we were to use the following guidelines (taking note that you had the choice to opt out, do 4 of the 5, etc.):

  • No added or refined sugars.

  • No gluten.

  • No meat or animal byproducts (i.e. no butter, no eggs).

  • No kombucha. Or for those that drink alcohol, no alcohol.

  • No caffeine. None!

The purpose of this cleanse was to help us learn about unnecessary attachments. We did this cleanse alongside learning to teach the practice of yin yoga. Although a simple practice of being still, it is difficult because we often begin to attach ourselves to the discomfort we feel in stillness. The practice of yin yoga teaches you how to cope with discomfort, to let go of attachments, and to connect with yourself through your breath. It also allows the time and space for understanding the yamas (compassion, reciprocity, authenticity, honoring sacredness, nourish) and niyamas (purity, gratitude, self-discipline, humility, believing in something greater than yourself); the foundation and the base that provide the growth in the eight limbs of yoga. These foundational values are so similar to our values in anishinaabe and lakota ways of life. It’s so eye opening to understand how across nations, seas, and countries, indigenous people have similar core values and protocols for living good lives.

During one of our discussions in YTT, we were talking about how we look for or long for attachments to certain things in our life to give us comfort can be the same things that can cause a lack of self-compassion. Not always, but a large majority of the time we have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms and unhealthy attachments to things, people, and even energy that does not reciprocate love, compassion, or wellness back to us. It wasn’t to make us “vegan” or look a certain way. It was to teach us that perhaps the food we are used to eating is impacting the way we think, our gut microbiome, and maybe we can survive without sugar for 21 days. An example is added or refined sugars. They are hidden in so many things. Especially things with a long shelf life. And it’s in sun butter. Which I often have with an apple for a snack since I’m allergic to peanuts.

So what did I eat? What do you eat when foods you often eat are taken out of the picture? First, I didn’t think of this as a deprivation from the normal foods I ate. I thought of this as a way to further my connection with traditional foods, from my own people and from other indigenous people. I know that there were times in my people’s history when they didn’t have a lot of meat to feed everyone, and they had to rely on foods that grew from the earth, roots, tubers, and having reciprocal relationships with plants. Framing this 21 day cleanse in this way made this experience less daunting, even though it was easier to say that I was being a vegan for 21 days. If it felt daunting to me, I wasn’t going to fully participate in it. What helped me was thinking about the foods I’m familiar with and know how to cook, and relying on some of my previous cooking ventures.

I made a quick guide for myself to refer to and motivate me to look at all of the different combinations of foods and flavors that I would eat to prepare for this 21 day food cleanse (see pictures to the right). Back when I was an undergrad in a pre med program called Minnesota’s Future Doctors with other awesome individuals, I decided to try being a vegetarian for a couple of weeks. It was okay until I was hungry again. I knew I wasn’t doing it right. And I learned a lot about making different dishes with beans. For this 21 day cleanse, I leaned on those times and learning experiences to prepare my meals. I didn’t meal prep because I have not had the best experiences with meal prepping and prefer to make things fresh after the leftovers are gone. It was sort of nostalgic to make beans so often again for my meals. It filled me up- both physically and emotionally.

Although we eat pretty clean and usually have wild rice in our daily meals, I knew that I was going to have cravings for the things on the no eating list. Particularly meat and sweet treats that I like to indulge in once in a while. Sun butter cups are my absolute favorite. But I could not find gluten free, sugar free, vegan sun butter cups. Without these sweet treats and meat the first week, I was regretful. I’d enjoy my vegan meals, but I would wish and want the delicious meals Jake would cook. Eating vicariously through him and Bubba. I started to document what I was eating at each point during the day, turning my attention more to how I felt in my body, my mind, and noticing anything different. And I was kind to myself. If I was hungry, I would eat. I felt like I snacked a lot more than normally because I would get hungry quicker in the first couple of weeks. In those moments, I came back to the thoughts I had coming into this cleanse:

I am reconnecting to food in a new way. This is temporary. I can eat meat again after the 21 days. I am not doing this alone. I have a community of YTT peers to lean on when I feel like giving up. I am going to be kind to myself during this experience.

The silly thing about this 21 day cleanse is that I miscounted and realized I did a 22 day cleanse by complete accident! Total Pearl mistake and thing to do! I noticed this because I was journaling and documenting how I was feeling in my body, mood, energy, and any other differences I noticed for the cleanse. There were a few days towards the end that I didn’t get to journal right away because, well you know, life and mom life takes priority over writing a lot of the time! There were moments I remember being slightly stressed or bored and wanting to go to our sweet treats stash to get a piece of chocolate or one Oreo cookie, or one sun butter cup. But I didn’t allow myself to do that. I maintained self-discipline and put a can of cinnamon sticks in front of the little amount of treats we had to remind myself to not eat them but still indulge in something sweet. I would instead make a cinnamon tea or another herbal tea- no honey or sweeteners. Just an infusion.

Looking more at how I was feeling rather than what I was eating (by the way, I did not document how much I was eating, only what meals I ate, see some of the meals I made to the left), I saw a trend that was insightful. Here’s a summary of the differences I noticed from this 22 day food cleanse:

Week 1- I felt clean, light energy from within, mental clarity

Week 2- I felt irritable, clear minded, energized, alert

Week 3- I felt light energy from within, clean, hungry, and started to get headaches

I noticed that I had a lot of wonderful meals that actually filled me up after the 4th day of doing this cleanse. In reality, it probably took my body about 7 days to adjust to this new routine and meals without meat. What hit me were moments of irritation and perhaps boredom with this cleanse, was my longing for sugary sweetness.

In those moments of slight stress and boredom, I started to realize I had an attachment to sugary sweetness. My expectation and attachment of eating an Oreo cookie or sun butter cup when I’m stressed is rooted in a type of suffering. Meaning I have built my relationship to being stressed and “not being able to handle something” with wanting to spike my blood sugars with a sweet treat. If I make this a habit, which I believe I have, I am attaching myself to something so often that will more than likely, not give me the same satisfaction or expectation I was hoping for the first time that I had an Oreo cookie when I was stressed. On the surface it may seem that it is giving me satisfaction and relief from my problem, but internally, it’s not. Because change is inevitable with all things, nothing will ever be quite the same as it was the day before or the first time having an Oreo cookie. We must learn to remove ourselves from the attachment and the expectations that it will be the same or fix the problem. Reflecting on this, the rotten root of this attachment is buried deep beneath the surface.

When we had moved from Standing Rock to Cass Lake, it was a moment that made a huge impact on me. Negatively. This was hard on me because we left everything I knew that brought me comfort and happiness as a tiny human. My family and cousins were my first friends and we lived on the same road. We could bike to each other's' houses to play and we often did. We had nothing but the open prairie and the wind surrounding us when we would play outside. I remember the garden we had alongside our trailer house and the small clubhouse my dad built for my brother and me. Although we moved from one rez to another, I went to school off the rez when we moved to Mni Sota. I went from a place where everyone looked like, spoke like me, and probably had similar clothes as me. When I went to my new school in Bemidji, it was quite the opposite. I stood out like a caution sign with flashing lights. I was actually the only Native kid in my class. And so was my brother in his class. It was hard for me to relate to the other kids in my class and school. I felt sort of alone and that I didn’t belong. I remember one day standing in line for lunch and wishing I had a long sleeve shirt to hide my vibrant brown skin underneath it. It took me years to be okay with the move and to finally let go of my anger. And years to accept Cass Lake and Bemidji as my new home.

When we lived on Cass Lake, I remember going with my dad to the grocery store and to the Master bread store after school or on the way home to get something to cook for dinner. I’m pretty sure every time that we went to the Master bread store, my dad would let me get a box of Little Debbies, my choice. I would eat one every night before going to bed as sort of a dessert. I remember chomping into those white Zebra Cakes with the white icing and chocolate drizzle, and the cream filling inside. It was like giving me temporary happiness before going to sleep. As I reached adulthood and maybe even my late teens, I didn’t like eating them as much. But I still would find myself eating something sweet when I was overwhelmed. Like that one time in grad school when I ate a whole package of Oreo’s, Doublestuffed. All. By. Myself. Regrets? Maybe.

Noticing these moments of wanting sugary sweetness during this cleanse, made me think about my relationship with sugary sweets and food in general. It brought me to a place of reflecting on my past and how far I’ve come with centering my health and well being daily. It brought me back to not only my healing journey, but to my connection or reconnection with food. It reminded me of the yamas and niyamas and that the practice of compassion and love starts with self. If compassion and love for self are not there, it is hard to fully be compassionate and loving towards other humans and other beings. This includes the compassion and love we have for ayaa, our vessel. Loving ourselves first is considered a radical act because we have been taught and removed from knowing this. Coming back to self-love can be painful and uncomfortable, even in the slightest of ways. Reconnecting with self through love and compassion is a way to remove the rotting root and to begin to bring in new soil to replace it.

When I stepped into this YTT, I did not know we were going to do a 21 day food cleanse. I did not know this food cleanse was going to bring up what has surfaced and what I just shared. I did not know I was going to reconnect with food the way I have over the past few weeks. I did not know I was going to experience another transformation of being uncomfortable in order to shed and spread my wings. I did not know. I have been the most vulnerable these past few months than I have in the past four years. With this vulnerability, I have noticed that I am able to be more honest with myself, to let go of what is weighing me down, and to be more compassionate with myself and others. This 2(2) day food cleanse has taught me more about myself and reconnecting to food than I ever expected.

Now that my food cleanse is over, I am going to be more mindful of how I am attaching myself to sugary sweetness. Knowing that I can allow myself to have some if I want. Or that I can choose to drink an herbal tea or have an apple or some berries. As long as my intention is good and I don’t over do it, I know I can be kind and loving to my body and my health with the foods that I eat. I also know that if I want to have a vegetarian or vegan meal once in a while, that I can choose to do that, too. This cleanse has taught me that there are various ways to reconnect with food. And it doesn’t happen in one day or even twenty-one. It takes time. When we have a good relationship with our food, from how it’s prepared to how we eat it, we send our body some love and nourishment. It’s like a skill, that takes practice if you haven’t learned what that feels or looks like. Reconnecting to food can be different for everyone. Once the process to reconnect to food has started, it continues to get better. Bit by bit.

Note: If you are thinking of doing a food cleanse and have never done one before, do it with a group of people or have a support system in place. This is something I would recommend doing with other supportive people.

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