When I first changed my diet fairly drastically by removing gluten and then dairy, I did so with a totalitarian “whole foods only” frame of my mind. It was back in 2012, sort of at the onset of the gluten-free fad, when all sorts of new gluten-free processed foods were really starting to become mainstream. If I were going to be eating almost vegan and free of “normal flours,” I thought, I was going to do it all the way. I did not purchase or try gluten-free baked goods or vegan cheese. If the ingredient wasn’t in basically the same form I could find it in nature, it wasn’t something I ate.
But there was also a double standard because I was really into baking then and still had a strong taste for sugar, so there were exceptions. Namely, I went through a phase of being obsessed with figuring out how to bake bread, pizza crust, desserts, etc. free of gluten and then dairy as well. Even though I don’t bake a lot anymore, and my flour cupboard generally gets much less use than ever before, I’m thankful for that baking phase because when I want it now, I have some really good staple recipes to draw from and the basic science of whole grain gluten-free and vegan baking down.
These days, I’ve ventured into a way of eating that is a little less rigid than it was then–or perhaps it’s rigid in a different way and I can’t quite see it. In any case, I’m okay with a little more processing making its way into my recipes and meals. I began that because I recognized rigidity and eating perfectly is a hallmark of my disordered eating behavior. So recognizing that and doing something about it is why I started eating tofu and tempeh on an occasional basis. It’s why I nearly always have nutritional yeast in the pantry now, though I don’t use it super often. It’s why I made myself a big batch of Valentine’s cookies that were exactly what I wanted and then proceeded to eat the entire batch over the next two weeks, each day asking myself if I actually wanted a cookie, or perhaps many cookies, and each day eating exactly how many I was desiring. It’s also why I began to warm a little more to the idea of protein powder.
It turns out too that I might actually need more protein in my diet. Despite the general consensus (in the plant-based nutrition community anyway) that almost no one in the US actually needs more protein, I’m one of the few that might actually gain from eating more of it–for a couple of different reasons that have nothing to do with generally avoiding animal products but still add up to: providing our bodies with the right amount and types of foods is personal, and definitely not a constant. Adding more protein to my diet, strategically, is a current experiment I’m running. I’m not entirely sure it is necessary or will have the effects I’m looking for. But the protein powder is an easy way for me to adjust my eating patterns without making a drastic dietary overhaul.
I want to mention too, I’m sharing these bars purposefully during #NEDAwareness week. If you aren’t familiar with NEDA, it is the National Eating Disorders Association and February 26-March 3rd is a week of increased advocacy about eating disorder recovery and awareness. If you’ve been visiting this space for some time or have read my About section, you’ll know I struggled with the eating side of that equation for several years, sometimes still do, and have since been doing much of the mental side of recovery more recently. Probably similar to many who have struggled with disordered eating behavior, I did not have much in the way of emotional support in the early years following reaching a restored weight. In fact, I often received, and still do to some extent, a lot of push-back about coming to a way of eating that works for me, and there were many individuals who really pushed me into stressful situations around food, for the sheer fact that they were completely unaware of my history or that struggling with food is about much more than a desire/dislike for eating too little or too much. And it is the part that tends to linger on. Often quite invisibly.
NEDA’s theme this year is It’s Time to Talk About It. As NEDA has stated:
It’s time we take eating disorders seriously as public health concerns. It’s time we bust the myths and get the facts. It’s time to celebrate recovery and the heroes who make it possible. It’s time to take action and fight for change. It’s time to shatter the stigma and increase access to care.
I couldn’t agree more. In the interest of keeping it really real for just a moment more, a few of you know I started writing even a little more personally about my continued recovery process in this last year. My general theme has been using that space as an online journal to completely lay out what I’m working with because writing and releasing it beyond me is immensely helpful. It has been the most intensely scary and sometimes challenging writing I’ve done. It has made me feel incredibly embarrassed and ashamed of the beliefs and views I hold on to. But acknowledging those challenging feelings has helped me to release and slowly grow beyond them as well. This is all to say, feel free to catch up with me there. And if you find that you, or someone you care for, is struggling with what might be an eating disorder, please reach out to someone. It ended up making all the difference for me.
Now, I’m sharing these energy bars because I think of them as my recovery snacks. I tend to eat granola/energy bars in the mid-mornings or mid-afternoons on a fairly regular basis and generally I make my own. I designed these with the idea of eating them after a run to kickstart the recovery process when a larger meal isn’t coming super soon. So they have more of the suggested endurance recovery carbohydrate to protein ratio of 3 or 4:1. But I also find I can handle a portion of a bar 30-45 minutes before a hard effort too with no problems. And because of the slightly higher protein content, I also have been using them whenever I just need a snack in general since they are a slightly better option right now than my old stand-by of mesa sunrise and almond milk.
I recognize these are specialty bars, designed for a specific person and purpose. But if you like the idea of a Coconut Mocha or Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar that is delicious and nutritious, these might be for you too. If you’re not overly concerned about needing more protein, there are options for alternatives as well.
Peanut Butter, Dark Chocolate + Sea Salt Bars, makes 8
1/2 cup (100 g) peanut butter
6 (100 g) pitted Medjool dates
6 Tbs. (50 g) hemp protein powder*
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. (10 ml) raw honey or maple syrup
1 1/2 cups (50 g) crispy rice cereal, gluten-free if necessary
2 Tbs. +2 tsp. (40 ml) water
1 square (10 g) dark chocolate, broken into chunks
additional sea salt for topping
- Puree the peanut butter, dates, hemp, salt, vanilla, cinnamon and honey in a food processor until completely combined.
- Add cereal and 2 Tbs. water and pulse a few times more until it just comes together. Add a little more water as needed. Then stir in the chocolate chunks.
- Turn out and press into a 8×8-inch baking pan, or something of similar size. Then, sprinkle with a few shakes of additional sea salt, and gently press in. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, and then cut into individual bars, store, and eat as needed. They will last in the fridge for at least two weeks with no change in texture/consistency.
Coconut Mocha Bars, makes 8
1/4 cup (50 g) cashew butter
2 Tbs. (10 g) coffee beans, finely ground
1/4 cup (30 g) shredded unsweetened coconut
6 (100 g) pitted Medjool dates
6 Tbs. (50 g) hemp protein powder*
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. (5 ml) coconut oil
1 Tbs. (15 ml) maple syrup
2 cups (65 g) crispy rice cereal, gluten-free if necessary
2 Tbs. + 2 tsp. (40 ml) water
2 squares (20 g) dark chocolate, broken into chunks
- Puree the cashew butter, ground coffee beans, coconut, dates, hemp, salt, vanilla, coconut oil, and syrup in a food processor until completely combined.
- Then add the cereal and 2 Tbs. water as needed. It should come together easily when you pinch the ingredients with your fingers. Add a little more water if needed.
- Then stir in the chocolate chunks.
- Turn out and press into a 8×8-inch baking pan, or something of similar size. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before cutting, storing or eating.
*Notes: For a hemp protein alternative, try another plain plant protein powder such as pea or rice, or use the same quantity (by weight) of hemp, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds.