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Embracing a new diet has rewritten who I thought I was

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But in my own house with my own food choices, I’ve found it surprisingly easy, because bloody hell I feel so good. Once I understood the triggers for the rioting gremlins in my belly, it was blessed relief to live without them. Even if that means subsisting on cabbage, carrots and kale.

The change in me has been a revelation. I didn’t know you could feel full and not be in pain. It had been so long living with foods that inflamed, I didn’t realise there could be a different way. Suddenly, health issues I thought were just a part of being me are gone.

Weird ones, too – like insomnia. For decades, I’ve spent hours at night, lying wide awake or wandering around in the dark like Lady Macbeth, kept up by churning in my stomach, which I always thought was anxiety. Sometimes it is. But what about this crazy discovery? Often, it’s just because I ate onion! Yo, the link between gut health and mental health is real! It’s a miracle to me. I’ve rewritten who I thought I was. I’m not an anxious, insane insomniac. I just have a tender tummy!

But I couldn’t name it, because I didn’t have the knowledge or the vocabulary. And how often is that the case? How long do we shut down messages – whether physical or emotional – from inside ourselves, messages that tell us what we need, because no one has taught us, or given us permission, to hear and name them?

With the clarity of a good night’s sleep and the self-righteousness of someone who has discovered the answers to her universe, I’ve been pondering this. We live whole lifetimes ignoring our needs.

‘The change in me has been a revelation… I’m not an anxious, insane insomniac. I just have a tender tummy!’

As kids, maybe our parents delegitimised our needs – not because they were bad people but simply because they were busy and tired and wanted a minute to themselves to watch Prisoner. Or maybe they themselves had never had anyone acknowledge their needs.

And then as adults, we prioritise work, kids, partners, folding the laundry, over ourselves. We’re never still long enough to hear that voice inside us telling us what we need, or want, or dream of. We talk over that voice because listening to it can be scary or hard work or just annoying and tedious, like instigating a whole new diet. Or – and this one makes me really sad – we know exactly what our needs and wants are, we just don’t say it because we don’t want to upset those around us, or we don’t think we’re worthy of having our needs met.

For me, though – and maybe it’s because I’ve hit that glorious age where you stop caring what other people think – knowing what will nurture and fulfil me now guides my choices every day. That’s not to say I’ve become a hedonist. Mostly my needs are sleep, caring for my family, and alcohol-free days (I tried to ignore that message for a very long time).

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Sometimes they’re challenging, like the need to say no: to bad relationships, my inner critic, being out past midnight on a work night. Every now and then, my need is creative and courageous, like starting my own business, or wearing orange lipstick (truly gutsy with my complexion). Always though, when I hear what I need and fearlessly follow it, with no shame or blame or guilt, I’m a better version of me. And I think everyone needs that.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale February 28. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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