A look back at my food story.
Superbowl Sunday is a new milestone in my life. This Sunday marks the end of my first year of dairy- and gluten-free living.
Superbowl Sunday 2014 was my own person Lifetime Fat Tuesday. It was the last day I ate anything I wanted without worrying. Well, worrying too much.
I ate baked goods and chocolate and bread and I drank beer and I sprinkled cheese on everything in sight. I ate like the world was about to end.
Because the next day, I started a 90-day elimination diet to see why I was getting so many tummy aches all the time.
In January I had been tested for food allergies. The blood tests showed that I have antibodies to 27 different foods, including cheese, gluten, wheat, rice, white potatoes, and oats. And garlic, cantaloupe, cumin, peanuts, yeast, and certain shellfish. It is the most random list of foods I’ve ever seen. There was no way I could really be allergic to all of those things, right?
I got a second opinion from a different doctor. I whined a lot. Finally, I saw a nutritionist. The best plan was the elimination diet: cut out all those foods for 90 days while taking supplements to reset my gut, then reintroduce items one by one and see if they have any adverse effect on my well-being.
The 90 days lasted forever. I was so obsessed with staying on the plan that I spent much of my time thinking about how to prepare meals with the foods that were still allowed (mostly vegetables, blecch). I lost weight rapidly. People commented on how good I looked. My husband told me daily how thin I was, approvingly.
But I was miserable at first. Hungry and angry. Hangry.
After a few weeks I tearfully unloaded on the nutritionist who told me “Honey, you need to eat more food.”
This, after she was the one who recommended I stick to a 1600-calorie-per-day diet, while incorporating muscle-building exercise in my day, so that my body could be more efficient at using its new, healthy fuel. It was all I could to do take care of my family, obsess about my food, and carry on with my work. Exercise too? Forget it.
She saw how miserable I was, and how fast I was losing weight. “Most people give up after a day,” she admitted, “or they never come back to see me again.” She hadn’t been prepared for me, a person who sticks to a plan once she commits to it. Of course I stuck to it. The co-pay for the allergy test was several hundred dollars. I was already following a strict financial budget. I wasn’t going to waste that money.
Eventually with her help and my own unclenching, I relaxed into a way of eating that stuck to the elimination diet but didn’t make me (as) crazy every day. I cheated once or twice, but I really did it: I cut out dairy, bread, and all those other random foods for three whole months. At my next appointment with the nutritionist, she asked me what food I would reintroduce first. It could be anything I wanted, she said. What did I miss the most?
And so on that first day back, I had shrimp scampi. Extra garlic, please. Pour it on. I ate it with joyous relish – it was delicious, it sang on my tongue and filled my nose with its stinging flavor.
And I was fine. A little gassy, but otherwise okay. (TMI? We’re talking about my intestines, here, why hold back?)
Over the next few months I added food items back into my diet one or a few at a time without incident. I still avoided dairy and gluten, though.
But during the summer when I spent three weeks in my hometown, I mostly put all caution aside. Pizza. Dunkin Donuts. Ice cream. Whatever was on offer at any picnic or party. I should have known.
You can tell I’m having stomach trouble by the speed at which I go through a box of Celestial Seasonings peppermint tea packets. That summer food bacchanalia sent me back to the peppermint-tea-probiotics-and-yoga routine, and chastised me with its roiling gas pains, bloating, and weight gain. I had relaxed my diet so much I had gone all the way into denial. “Nothing’s wrong after all. I can eat whatever I want! See! It was all just a bad, pizza-less dream.”
After a few of those unfortunate backslides during the past year, I concluded that my “food allergy” is a reaction to shitty food, basically. If I eat too much dairy, grain, or processed food, my body goes nuts. It’s not one bite of pizza that does it. It’s ALL THE BITES IN A ROW. If I eat “clean” for an entire week and have a cupcake on Saturday, I’m fine.
But I have to eat clean for the entire week. And the next week, and all the other weeks.
This is what “spaghetti and meatballs” means to me now. Recipe here.
A year later I feel much better. I eat clean most of the time: that means no dairy, almost no bread or baked goods with gluten, very little grain besides quinoa, very little processed food. My almost-daily indulgences are wine (never eliminated, bless that nutritionist) and 2 squares of Hershey’s Dark chocolate.
I still don’t exercise every day, but I hike once a week and I tear out of the house for a brisk walk when I can’t deal with myself anymore, versus eating All The Things to work out my stress. So that’s something.
My weight has normalized – I’m not “skinny,” I never have been, but my clothes fit a lot better and I don’t feel bloated as often.
Superbowl Sunday is here again. I can’t believe it, actually. Last year seems like a lifetime ago.
I won’t be binging on all the delicious decadent foods at the party we always attend. I’ll have a bite of this and that, and I’ll monopolize the veggie tray. I’ll still enjoy it. But I have to eat now the way I always have to eat. Well.
I won’t say I’ll never backslide again – it will probably happen, but at least now I understand what’s going on in my body enough to manage it. Plus, it’s a better role model for my kids. That wasn’t why I started this whole discovery process, but it’s a great additional benefit.
They will watch me sneak a spoonful of ice cream while I am scooping out some for them and yell “Mom, you can’t have DAIRY!!!” and I’m busted. But they know why I avoid it, and we have conversations about putting healthy foods in our bodies for fuel. They still don’t like vegetables, but hey, gotta start somewhere.
It took me almost 45 minutes to make this pinnable image. Would you please pin it if you like this post?