How has the self-isolation impacted my eating and what I have learnt so far

How has the self-isolation impacted my eating and what I have learnt so far
20 April 2020 Serena Sabala

Who would have thought that in my life, I would have experienced something as radical and extreme as what the world is facing right now? It is probably (and hopefully) the most extreme and unusual thing all of us will ever deal with, on so many levels. It has been SO fascinating to witness how profoundly this experience has been affecting everyone’s life; I’ve been having dozen of calls of each week with our shifter and I have witnessed first hand how everyone’s experience of this pandemic is unique however there is one common denominator that has come up in every single one of my conversations and that is FOOD!

Interestingly and, in my humble opinion, unsurprisingly, our eating habits have been profoundly shaken up by the radical changes we’ve all had to make to our way of living. Every single one of us has had to face disruptions of some kind, some more than others of course, and with such disruptions, we’ve all had to figure out a novel way of nursing and nurturing our mind-body; whoa, what a unique, powerful, challenging, confronting, learning and inspiring experience has it been so far. 

I want to take a moment to share with you my very own personal experience with these peculiar times, as it relates to self-care and in particular nutrition; I’ll be as authentic, raw and open as I can be with the main intention of empowering you through my own learning as I am fully confident that some, if not most of what I have learned so far can also, in some way, become an empowering tool which you can apply to your circumstances. It is true what the say: challenges can be our greatest teachers if we remain humble and open to receive the teaching even if they are not coming to us in the way we would want them.

As many of you know, in October last year I started what was going to only be a two week Plant-Based Keto experiment: this meant that I switched to eating in a way that would get me into Ketosis, where my body used fat as the primary source of fuel instead of glucose. In order to achieve this state, I avoided all foods that are naturally high in carbohydrates such as all fruit (except for a small serving of raspberries a day), all legumes (beans, lentils, etc), all root vegetable and all grains and their byproducts. Pretty radical, as you can imagine.

I decided to give this a go for two main reasons: the first one was to see if it would help alleviate a skin condition I’ve been dealing with since early childhood which I had always been treating topically with creams but I have always wanted to eradicate at the root level. Secondly, I wanted to experience Ketosis first hand and see what the hype was all about: keto diets are incredibly popular these days but I have always been pretty outspoken against them because of the high risk involved with consuming the huge amounts of animal protein, cholesterol and saturated fat they promote. When I discovered that you can get into ketosis without having to eat animal products, I thought it was worth a shot and could be interesting to learn whether it worked and how. After all, there must be a reason why so many people are so in love with Ketosis.

What started off as a two weeks experiment, turned into a six months experiment: after a rather uncomfortable adjustment phase which lasted a few weeks, I actually started enjoying my keto meals more than I expected to. I had been eating a low-fat plant-based diet for many years so I found it exciting and novel to be able to eat more of the foods that I was previously limiting hugely because of their high-fat content. I used to only eat avocados and tofu when we ate at a restaurant and now I was having them daily. Peanut butter or almond butter used to be limited to my occasional treats and now they were my daily go-to snacks, together with macadamia nuts and flaked coconut. The fact that I was also still eating TONS of vegetables made this possible and sustainable. After a few weeks, I started feeling SO good on ketosis. I had NO cravings for anything even remotely sugary, my meals were filling me up in a way I had never experienced before and my skin and hair looked better than ever before. That’s why I decided to continue for longer, which ended up being a whole six months.

Interestingly, at the beginning of March, I had decided that this would be my last month in ketosis and that it was time to start re-introducing other food items and see what would happen. I had no idea the timing was going to coincide with this period of self-isolation which made the transition an even more interesting experience.

The reasons why I decided to get off ketosis are multiple and I will surely cover them in details some other time; I will, however, say that from my ongoing research on the topic of nutrition for health and longevity, I continue to learn of many reasons why eating a lot of fat is not the best long term solution. I also believe that, unless you have specific reasons, you should not avoid for prolonged periods foods which are proven to be incredibly good for us, such as fruit, legumes and whole grains. So although I now have a newfound respect for Ketosis and its positive effects, and I realize why it may work for some people, I still believe that a whole food plant-based way of eating is far more sustainable and more conducive to optimal long term health.

However, I’d like to highlight the main points that I have learned from this self-experiment through food and also from having to re-adjust my eating in time for the quarantine:

  1. Fat is not ALL bad and to be avoided as much as possible: I was probably eating a bit too low fat before my ketosis experiment and that’s why I enjoyed the higher fat content as much as I did during the keto experiment. I used to think that cutting down all fat as much as possible was a good idea and would lead to better health and sustained weight loss. Now I know better: although animal fat and most saturated fat are known to be detrimental and should be limited or avoided as much as possible, ketosis also taught me that eating the right kind of fat from whole plant-based foods such as avocados, olives, and nuts is not only possible but even necessary for optimal health, wellbeing and optimal weight management.
  2. Sugar is not ALL bad and to be avoided as much as possible:  the main reason why ketosis is so popular is because of its appetite suppressant qualities and also because by completely cutting out ALL sugar and most carbs, you will experience less if no cravings. I certainly experienced this first hand to some extend but by the end of the experiment, I definitely still felt like something was missing from my life from not being able to eat some of my most favorite foods which I grew up on and which I know for a fact are health-promoting foods: fresh seasonal fruits, beans and lentils, cereals and whole-grain pasta or bread. Of course, I still know and believe that processed carbohydrates and refined sugars are mostly detrimental to our health and can be very hard to eat in moderation because they are packaged and manufactured in a way which makes them virtually addictive; however if you mostly eat the right kind, and if you do the right kind of work on the Focus pillar, as much as the Food pillar, you can and should eat them and benefit from their multiple health-promoting benefits.
  3. 99% of your Food problems are Focus problems: I’ve said this before and this experiment plus the current times of self-isolation re-enforced this belief more than ever. Now imagine this, I quit my keto experiment the weekend before self-isolation started in London, where we live. As soon as I let go of such strict boundaries and limitations, I was inevitably flooded with the desire to eat all the very things I had avoided for 6 months: my favorite pasta dishes, pizza, vegan cakes, and desserts. This coincided with my husband coming back home after a long trip (which surely called for a celebratory mood) and with the beginning of this particular time being stuck at home more than usual with all usual routines out of the window. I can safely say that, had I not been as well trained on the Focus pillar as I am, I would have probably gained 10 or even 20 pounds in a month! Thankfully I have spent my entire adult life mastering the strategies and methodologies that prevent this from happening and, although I have certainly allowed myself to indulge in treats and special meals that I hadn’t eaten in a long time, I have been doing so in a way that feels nurturing and balanced rather than excessive, self-sabotaging and demoralizing. This has confirmed for me what I already knew: how you eat and why you eat are WAY more important and powerful than what you eat. Improving your diet will make a difference ONLY if you also systematically and progressively improve your “psychology of eating”: otherwise it will remain a superficial effort that will only bring forth superficial results.
  4. Emotional Eating SHOULD NOT be demonized: this sounds counter-intuitive, right? After all, as a certified nutrition consultant, shouldn’t I be coaching people on how to overcome emotional eating? Isn’t emotional eating a bad thing? The short answer, in my humble opining, is NO. I believe that if you are a human being, you have emotions and trying to negate them, run away from them or demonize them is far from productive: it is actually mostly counter-productive. When healing and transforming your relationship with food, you should start by accepting and even honoring your emotions and becoming really present with how they affect your eating. The more you make yourself wrong for any form of emotional eating, the more you will experience and cultivate negative emotions and guess where negative emotions lead? That’s right, straight to the pantry where you’ll be likely to reach for something to make you feel better or distract you from the negative emotions. You can see then how, by demonizing your emotional relationship with food, you keep yourself stuck into a vicious cycle that will inevitably lead to even more emotional eating.

I am really grateful for my experience on a plant-based keto way of eating because it has enriched me with tons of new learnings which have deepened my understanding of nutrition and my own personal relationship with food and with my body. I am also, in many ways, grateful for this unusual time of self-isolation as this too is proving to be a massive learning opportunity for me and for all our shifters. I am however also very aware of the fact that, if I didn’t have all the experience and tools that I’ve developed over the years, I would be having a much harder time with it all. I know I am privileged and I don’t take this privilege for granted: that is why I have made it my life long mission to educate and empower our shifters to learn all that I know and develop all the tools I know will allow them to transform their lives and become their most fit, healthy and confident self.

If you too want to learn more about how to #maketheshift, you can join our FREE Facebook group now: in there, we share lots of free resources that will make a huge difference to your journey and you’ll get inspired by a community of like-minded individuals with similar goals and aspirations as your own.

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Stay strong, stay healthy and remember that NOW is the best time to take a new, brave and powerful step in the direction towards your most confident self.