I’ve never appreciated food before, not really. It was an inconvenience ever since I was about eleven.
I ate when I absolutely needed to and skipped meals like they were optional. There are plenty of foods I liked, but not really enough to bother making them. Or eating them.
It wasn’t an eating disorder in the sense that it was to do with how I viewed my size but it was disordered eating in the sense that I used not eating to deal with anything. Stressed? Not going to eat. Happy? Don’t need to eat.
It’s just the way I learned to live.
I never saw food for what it was — fuel.
When I left the UK to sail 20,000 miles on a little yacht, food became at least important to me. Sailing offshore is fairly physically exhausting. Even when you’re sat down your muscles are continually tensing to cope with the motion.
And I lived this way for three years. When I was seasick and eating in survival mode on ocean passages, I would daydream about all the incredible food I could eat once we reached land. I vowed to never skip a meal ever again, I would appreciate them all.
And mostly, while I was sailing, I did eat well. I needed it to fuel my sport, my swimming, my night watches.
But when I returned to land, eating once again took a back seat. To be honest, I could take it or leave it.
The daily stress
But could I really take it or leave it? Sometimes I’d roam the kitchen opening cupboards, searching for something to eat. But I just couldn’t do it. For whatever reason, I couldn’t bring myself to make something. I needed to eat, but I just didn’t want to.
And it became a continuous low-level form of stress that wove itself through every waking moment.
I couldn’t understand why I found it so difficult to do something so basic. So fundamental to my survival. I ate begrudgingly or not at all.
And then one day I woke up and I’d lost a large amount of vision in my left eye. Gone. Just like that.
I went to A&E. Hmmm, they said, yes you have lost rather a lot of vision.
A colleague at the time was a doctor and a research scientist. He speculated that perhaps it was down to an extremely low-fat diet. Fat is an integral part of nerves and without enough, nerves become compromised.
Had I done this to myself?
So I started looking at what I was actually eating and what my body — the invisible parts that I thought little about — actually needed to survive.
I’ve never been on a diet in my life, let alone a low-fat diet. But when I started looking at what I ate, there was little fat. I lived off vegetables and grains. And not much of those.
And if I wasn’t getting enough fat, what else wasn’t I getting enough off? Amino acids? Minerals? Protein?
What, did I think these things were just words? That they were optional? When was the last time I ate an egg?
I started eating. I planned balanced meals filled with all the nutrients my body could possibly need. I started running too, in the hope that the extra energy requirement would encourage me to eat more.
I stuck to it, for a bit.
But after months and many trips to the hospital, the answer was that it probably wasn’t my diet. It was something else causing mischief — I would never regain the sight I’d lost.
And while I ate better, I still didn’t eat enough. It was just too easy to not bother.
And then I read about the ketogenic diet. It intrigued me, even though the idea of ‘going on a diet’ was alien. But keto was therapeutic. It levelled blood sugar and reduced inflammation (and inflammation had caused my vision loss).
I read and read and appreciated that the science was there sometimes, and shaky other times. It had been used for years for a variety of issues but only in clinical settings. The trend for average people doing keto was too new to really gauge well.
But I gave it a go. A month ago, I started keto.
Ah, there you are
The majority of people on keto outside of a clinical environment do so for weight loss.
Instead of burning glucose for fuel, by limiting carb intake (with the exception of fibre, fibre’s all good) you force your body to shift to creating and using ketones for fuel. Essentially, you’re burning fat as fuel, not glucose.
So you can see how it might work for weight loss.
But I wasn’t interested in losing weight, I wanted it to have some magical ability to heal my body.
But the benefits I’ve had from keto, aren’t really keto itself. It’s a replication of my seasick days.
By eliminating all but 20g of carbohydrate from my diet every day, I’ve had to give up foods I rarely ate before. My housemate cooks garlic bread and I haven’t eaten it in years, but now it’s all I want.
I fantasise about sourdough and pizza even though I rarely ate them. I dream about pasta dishes and rice. I miss the granola I hardly ate and the crackers and breadsticks and potatoes and all of it.
And because I’m suddenly so distracted by the things I can’t have, I’m driven to throwing energy into the things I can. My brain, starved of sugar, raves for good food.
So I spend time, actual time, creating delicious keto foods every day. Bowls of tofu and vegetables, cheese and avocados. Olives, mackerel, mozzarella. I worked to create the perfect keto brownie recipe and started adding nuts and seeds to everything.
Each meal is the product of thought and effort. Of appreciation. I only have precious few carbs to eat a day and even ignoring fibre, vegetables still contain non-fibrous carbs. So I have to appreciate every morsel.
And now I’m running further and cycling faster. Where before I had just been thin, now I can see muscle, feel strength.
By restricting the foods I can eat, I’ve gained a far greater appreciation for eating at all.
I can feel its impact on my body. I no longer have mood swings because I consume exceptionally little sugar. I no longer feel tired in the afternoons.
Food has gone from an inconvenience to a blessing. To a fuel my body can actually use and I’m getting enough of it to use well.
Within a month, my attitude has gone from seeing food as an inconvenience, to seeing it as an actual part of my day. It deserves the hour or two I spend over it. I am no longer ‘too busy’ to eat. I’m too busy eating good, nutritious food.
I no longer feel the tension of needing but not wanting to eat. It’s just vanished.
Keto or no keto, I get it now. I started listening to that constant anxiety, the brittle tension and I found its foundation. My body wanted fuel. It needed fuel.
I feel like a different person because that huge, deafening, daily struggle has disappeared after twenty years. It’s an incredible relief I didn’t even know I needed.
It’s so simple. Fuel your body and your body will thrive.
It’s not that I didn’t know that before, it’s that I didn’t feel it before.
And to me, it’s revolutionary.
Let it be said that I am not advocating keto as a diet, especially one to be taken lightly.
Kitiara Pascoe is a ghostwriter and author. After three years of sailing around the Atlantic and Caribbean, she washed up in Devon in the UK. You can find her on Twitter @KitiaraP and @TheLitLifeboat. She’s the author of In Bed with the Atlantic and The Working Writer and you can find her journalism and blog at KitiaraPascoe.com or her ghostwriting at TheLiteraryLifeboat.co.uk