Opinion: Cheesecake without cheese is not cheesecake. And why I don't really support making raw or re-designed desserts a habit just because they're more natural than the real thing.
I apologise for the longest post title in history, and I have a feeling it's a precursor to a long blog post itself. It's one of those topics that I feel I have a lot to say about, but with no particular logical flow or order haha. This'll be a stream of consciousness, but hopefully you get something out of it. Maybe scroll down halfway to get to the guts of why I think raw desserts and whatnot aren't all they're cracked up to be. DISCLAIMER: Just to be clear, I'm not saying that raw/"clean" desserts and treats are bad, but I think it's important to not see the unhealthier/more indulgent/more processed alternatives as "dirty" or something to feel guilty about. Having a good relationship with food, as you'll read, is incredibly important to maintaining good overall health. I have a bunch of recipes for healthified goodies and I think they're awesome for sharing and educating others on interesting ingredients. I'm just not advocating having them as cravings crutches you rely on to get through the week, especially if you also simply cannot contemplate destroying your life and chances of a hot bikini body by having the real thing every now and then (sarcasm alert). If you prefer the taste and texture of healthified goodies over the originals, then good for you and enjoy them as others should enjoy Mama's Fudgey Brownies...occasionally, mindfully and with a great big smile on your face savouring how damn delicious they are.
So a few days ago I started the Whole30 program. I'll link it here, but in a nutshell, you commit to 30 days of what is pretty much a strict paleo diet. None of these things: grains, dairy, alcohol, sugar, sweeteners (real and artificial), MSG, soy, carrageenan and legumes. Your day generally involves tons of veg, fish, meat, eggs, nuts and seeds and some fruit. That's hard, yes? Yes. It's pretty similar to what I tried to commit to a year of in 2014, which led to a really unhealthy relationship with food and a constant anxiety that made me realise I had to change gears and ease up on the food rules (you can read about my experience with orthorexia here). So Mama Sprout asked me on Day 2 of my Whole30, and quite rightly so, "Don't you think this Whole30 will make you obsess about food like last time?". Besides the program being a less daunting 30 days, therefore you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, one of the principles of the Whole30 is to change your relationship with food.
I guess what's different about Whole30 is that, for the most part, the founders and participants all know how off the chain it is, and how it's not sustainable 24/7 for the rest of your life. The idea is to eliminate a bunch of inflammatory foods (and processed foods generally, though my plate was pretty healthy to begin with) for just 30 days - long enough to break habits, long enough to start seeing marked improvements for many health conditions. After that, you're meant to feel "reset" with reduced cravings and a strong intuition as to what your body really needs and wants, and then you can reintroduce foods accordingly.
For me, I knew I needed a bit of a strong start to losing weight to give me some initial momentum and motivation. My primary motivator, though, is my polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) symptoms that had really flared up over the past month and are aggravated by a lot of the foods the Whole30 eliminates.
I haven't addressed Mama Sprout's question yet....how can I be sure this Whole30 won't send me on a one way ticket to Orthorexia-ville?
Let's rewind a little bit.
I've ALWAYS been chubby. I've pretty much always identified myself as "the chubby one" and noticed I wasn't as skinny and scrawny as most of my friends growing up. I don't remember being devastated by that, but the older I got, the more self-conscious I became about my size. You know, because puberty and shit. I never felt the need to be more slender and I was a healthy, confident kid and teenager with enough going for me that I knew my appearance didn't define me, but I have pretty much always wanted to be more slender. Mama Sprout is an ace cook and we've always eaten really good quality food and while I struggle to lose weight generally, I've still fluctuated for the past eight years or so within a 20kg range (oh hey there, stretch marks, how's it goin'?). In 2012-3, I was the smallest I'd been as an adult (about an AU size 10), but my relationship with food was such that I couldn't maintain it. I'm a classic emotional and boredom eater. When I became bored with my job and had some frustrations going on in life, I ate so mindlessly. Anyway, I ended up an AU 12-14, then found my feet and a new path in life (oh hey there, career change) and started to embrace who I was with confidence again.
When I decided to do "a year without" following a couple of months living off Snickers bars and instant noodles while travelling, it pretty much ended in disaster haha. As I've written about previously, I simply replaced the unhealthy binge foods in my life with alternatives made out of healthy ingredients. Sounds fine, right? So what was my undoing?
Okay, back to present time and the Whole30. One of the key elements of the Whole30 is that you are not allowed to make naughty treats out of nice ingredients. That means no combining dates and almonds to make a raw cheesecake base and soaking cashews and concocting a cheesecake-esque topping, no protein pancakes, no raw chocolates, no banana nice cream, no almond meal mug cakes, no nachos made with dehydrated flax chips...nada. This was my entire downfall last year! Why is this important? It makes you realise why you're making these replacements. Let's face it, it's not because they're healthy. We're feeding our cravings and filling the void that treat foods have left. In fact, those cravings and that void probably exist because we cease to consume treat foods as "treats" and thus it's inevitable that we will also consume healthified versions of our comfort foods more regularly than we should.
I'm completely on board with the idea that by banning yourself from making treat-like foods out of otherwise healthy ingredients for a short period of time, you can change your relationship with food altogether. Suddenly, you haven't got a comfort food to turn to, you haven't got your go-to fix for a sugar craving, and if you stick with it, you shouldn't have sugar cravings at all. Suddenly, you start finding other ways to cope with your emotions and boredom. And you don't find yourself putting on two dress sizes ;) (for the record, after a week doing Whole30, I was craving savoury and wasn't particularly turned on by the sweet treats I usually crave, which is pretty unheard of for me, especially given I hadn't really seen any physical improvement in that time, which is what usually spurs on my motivation)
Let's face it, our raw/healthy versions of traditionally "unhealthy" foods are never going to be as good as the real thing. In Whole30 language, this is called Sex With Your Pants On. Not as good as Sex With No Pants On and will probably leave you wanting to "take your pants off" and go on an "animalistic sexual rampage" (...a binge!). Instead, we need to be looking at traditionally "unhealthy" foods as treats, and treat them as such, and not as enemy foods that are forbidden and will cause major health destruction if you indulge every now and then. That relationship will only end in tears and stress and uncontrolled, habitual Sex With Your Pants On as you try to get the same kick that Sex With No Pants On gives you (trust me ;) ). Unhealthy foods in an otherwise healthy diet aren't actually all that unhealthy. Are you still following? We shouldn't be ashamed of indulging in the things that give us some pleasure and fun (we're talking about food now). If you want cheesecake, eat a gosh darn piece of cheesecake. If you want pasta, make a damn good bowl of pasta and enjoy every forkful. Do it occasionally to rev your engine and remind you of the amazing things in life humans have created and shared with the world. But don't tell me you get the same satisfaction from eating a bowl of zucchini.