The answer, which I’m always pained to give, is that I was born this way. Like Gaga.
I recognize that this is a really infuriating response. But if you saw pictures of me in middle school, you’d know it’s true. And if you saw my middle school B team basketball photos, you’d know how awkward that kind of skinny was back then.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about what I eat and don’t worry about how certain foods will affect my body. I’m a woman for crying out loud! I may have dabbled in anorexia for a week or so in high school – I grew up in New York City after all, and it’s hard not to give skipping lunch a try when everyone is doing it!!—but I’ve never followed an official diet. Unless, of course, you count the pizza-only diet I was on in college. (Those pictures reveal that the more weight I gained, the sluttier I chose to dress. Oh college.)
Since becoming a food blogger and eating most of my meals at home, I would say my eating habits now reflect my own philosophy of a balanced diet. At the beginning, this meant bowls of pasta packed with sautéed chard. Saucy, cheesy meatballs made with turkey. And the avoidance of any and all products or ingredients marketed as “fat free.”
When I was diagnosed with a Gluten allergy last summer, this all changed. The doctor put me on his version, the official quotation mark version, of “The Balanced Diet.” Instead of just listening to my body and not denying myself anything, there were rules to follow.
The first week of Dr. Morrison’s “balanced diet” was brutal. My body wanted pasta and coffee, and it wanted it like crack. But after the initial hump, when my boyfriend, Josh, was convinced Dr. Morrison was a sadist and a hack, I felt great. I realized that while emotionally I had been on a balanced diet prior, my body didn’t really think so. I wasn’t processing food properly. I wasn’t absorbing nutrients. And no matter how free I felt to indulge in my cravings, I recognized that I was hurting myself, even if it wasn’t apparent to anyone but the person running my blood tests.
I didn’t gain or loose weight. But my body transformed into a fitter, healthier version of what it had been. The pouch above my belt that housed all the gluten my stomach was unable to process, vanished. My lips got pinker. My skin got less teenage-y. I felt like a new person. I felt almost like I could pass up pasta on a menu without crying.
More importantly, it reinvigorated my cooking, and the way I approach my food in the kitchen. It got me experimenting with more complicated ingredients—amaranth and millet flour—but it also got me to start cooking simpler food again.
Now that we’ve discovered gluten to be the culprit, I’ve adapted Dr. Morrison’s balanced diet to fit my own life. The recipes that result from it, which I’ll share as part of the Balanced Diet column on this site, are filling, complete meals that cover all the food groups and don’t feel like health food.
Take this pasta for instance. I use quinoa spaghetti which is packed with good protein. If you aren’t gluten-free, you could use whole wheat noodles or any other white pasta alternative. It’s also packed with dark green, nutrient-rich broccoli rabe. The fat, and there is plenty, comes from glugs of good quality olive oil. If my mother, who spent most of my life eating gluten, sugar and dairy-free, has taught me anything, it’s never to skimp on the olive oil. Oh, and that cheating from time to time is okay. That’s why they call it balance.
So stay tuned for more balanced recipes, and if you’ve had success designing your own diet philosophy, please share all your strategies for eating equilibrium in the comments section below!
1 large bunch broccoli rabe
½ pound spaghetti (quinoa, brown rice, or regular, if you like)
2 heaping tablespoons sundried tomato paste (recipe follows)
¼ cup grated pecorino cheese
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
2. Trim the broccoli rabe stems, removing the thick bottom third. Remove any leaves from the stalk – you can leave some towards the top. Roughly chop the cleaned rabe into 1-inch pieces.
3. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. 3 minutes before al dente, add the broccoli to the pot.
5. Toss the cooked pasta and rabe with the tomato paste, half of the pecorino, and a drizzle of olive oil (if necessary). Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary. Divide between two bowls and garnish with the remaining cheese.
This recipe is incredibly easy. The idea is to take a jar of sundried tomatoes in olive oil and puree them into a thick delicious paste to add to pastas, stews, anything really. If the jar you buy is a different size, don’t worry. Just add more or less oil and vinegar as necessary to reach the consistency described below.
One 10-ounce jar sundried tomatoes in olive oil
½ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1. Transfer the contents of the sundried tomato jar (olive oil and all) into a small food proccesor. Add the chili flakes and the vinegar. Puree until smooth, adding more olive oil if necessary, until the tomato mixture is the texture of a very thick pesto.
2.Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary. Store in an airtight container (you can re-use the jar!) for up to 2 weeks.