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Food as Foe

09 Jun 2010, Posted by Jennifer Iannolo in travel, wellness

Yes, I’ve been pretty quiet. As my body has adjusted to the past few weeks of living gluten-free, my mind and emotions have been on a pretty steep, twisty roller coaster. I’ve also been in LA with consulting clients, which involves a lot of dining out, so by Day 2 of this trip the most familiar words out of my mouth were “I can’t have that.”

Cue meltdown.

What do you do when your life revolves around food and drink, and said objects are suddenly the enemy? If you are like me, you go straight to DEFCON 1: Life sucks, I will never experience pleasure again andIhateeveryone. If you are fortunate like me, there are good friends standing by to talk you off the ledge, give you a hug and a pat on the butt. Then you breathe, regroup, and move along the path to wellness, even if one itty bitty little step at a time.

Though I was feeling great when I wrote my last post, that initial nirvana has subsided, and I now live in a cloud of uncertainty, never knowing what will happen with my body from one moment to the next. (This makes scheduling activities particularly interesting.) I’ve also found that gluten-free mixes, for the most part, make me violently ill within minutes. So the unfortunate next step is to eliminate all grains for a certain period, along with dairy, eggs — and my precious coffee.

I have begun to HATE dining in restaurants, because invariably the dish I want has one ingredient I can’t have, and is incorporated into a key component of the dish, so it can’t just be removed. Or the stuff I can have holds no appeal. Or even better, some servers just forget about the gluten-free thing altogether, so an accidental chunk of cookie in my whipped cream renders me doubled over in pain within an hour.

I’m really trying to be a trouper here, but this sucks in every possible way. I find myself in tears a lot.

It would be groovy if all my symptoms were gone and I could say, “Hey, it’s the gluten! No more pain!” But that isn’t the case. The searing leg cramps, the swelling, the stomach nightmares — they all still linger. So now comes the dreaded part, where we get rid of everything else that brings me pleasure. The other night, out of spite, I ate almost a whole tray of brownies because I was just so ANGRY. The next day was less than fun.

I’m not a hedonist by philosophy. I embrace the rational pursuit of my pleasures. Living my life well is incredibly important to me, so in the face of having my definition of that turned upside down, I’m reacting less than optimally. But I am not lamenting long-gone orgiastic meals and jeroboams of the finest bubbly; I am missing a crust of bread. And soon it will be a piece of cheese, and a glass of wine. Where will it stop? And for how long?

I have a memory etched into my head from my Gramma Crucitti, who had a heart attack in her late 60s and had to go on a special diet. As I watched her slather a piece of toast with low-fat cottage cheese one morning, I looked her in the eye and said, “How does that taste?” She cringed at me with the most pitiful face, and said “Please. No wanna talk about it.”

I know how she felt.

In the midst of all this, however, I’ve been trying to see how I can leverage this nightmare so the information is of some use to others — to you, to a friend, a loved one, a dinner guest, or even a customer. The challenges I’m encountering are not new, certainly, but I’ve got a few hoops to jump through here if I intend to keep traveling and exploring the planet. Since you might one day find yourself in those same locations, I’ve started taking notes. And since I want to have guests over to dinner while not compromising my health, I need to learn to cook different foods. I’m taking notes on that, too.

So I will make lemonade, however begrudgingly I might do so at first. It is not in my nature to feel sorry for myself, and I’m trying not to be in that mindset, so I will keep the whining to a minimum; but there may be a few more rants as I navigate a path that is often rocky and uncomfortable. I’m trying to remind myself that this may not be forever, though right now it certainly feels that way. Of course, after eating 3/4 of a tray of brownies, I know 100% certainly for certain that gluten is a fibromyalgia trigger for me, so I can check that box.

What? You thought I learned that with the Bread Pudding Incident? Or the mini-muffins? Welcome to my definition of the Calabrese testa dura, darlings.

Photo: Kelly Cline

  • I can really relate to your feelings…when my son was diagnosed with a life-threatening allergy (peanuts), it rocked my world. Suddenly, peanuts–and all kinds of other foods that might have TOUCHED peanuts–were poison, wrong, evil, scary things. (And they still are.)

    I was mad and in disbelief and it took so long to get things back to a new normal again. But we did get back to New Normal. It was long and sometimes heart-wrenching, but we got there.

    And so will you.

    Much love,

    ~Jenn

  • Thanks Jenn. Like I said, my friends are getting me through this. Can’t wait to see you all again soon. Tell Ryan we’ll cook special stuff. :)

  • The only other lemonade I can suggest in this as you prune out stuff from your life is to use it as an exercise – however painful, I know – towards reducing attachment to stuff. You’re doing a phenomenal job already by finding ways to see this in a new perspective and using your experience to help others, which is one of the fastest ways to reframe.

    What if, and this is a mind shifter, what if food wasn’t a core part of who you really are underneath everything? The idea of food, of exploring the sensual, the idea of appreciating life in all of its sensory pleasures may be you, but it just so happens that the way you know best is through food.

    That doesn’t mean that’s who you are. That’s just the way you’ve learned so far in life to express that real you inside there.

    If you can shatter the mental and emotional chains of needing to define yourself by food – if you can free yourself of that attachment – I wonder who we’d really find.

    I know, however, whoever she is, she’ll be lots of fun to have around – even if we’re all dining on millet.

  • Your blog post really struck a nerve with me. I’m going through an almost identical experience as you. Just know that you are not alone in this journey. There are many of us. Thanks for being vocal for all who are going through this experience.

  • I cannot know the extent of what you’re going through, but I have had restrictions and issues and medical charts and all sorts of obstacles.

    It is a terrible irony. When one is an actor, one gets Mono or sore throats. When one is a baseball pitcher, their arm goes out. When one’s life revolves around food, it’s apparently too much to ask to simply lose a leg or go bald.

    Dave

  • Interesting that you said that, Chris, as that has been my latest train of
    thought. What if the food wasn’t the core?

    That is presently what’s simmering in my head. But I’m not surprised you could read that, Yoda. :)

  • Marnee

    Hi Jenn,

    Just remember that wheat alone is terrible and hardly edible. It’s all the stuff they add to it that makes it delicious.

    By the way, I dunno if I mentioned it already, but I have a rather violent reaction to wheat myself in the form of debilitating hay-fever like symptoms. It was like having a bad cold all the time. I’d been suffering from it for years before I decided to cut out grains in an effort to lose weight. My allergies disappeared almost overnight.

    I hope you are feeling well and that the fibromyalgia comes under control.

  • Dave, pretty much. I’m trying to make a gourmet lemonade nonetheless. :) Have you learned to work around the restrictions with ease?

    Chele, thank you so much for sharing that. I hope more people will speak up so we can make some headway, and perhaps help each other along the way, but in the interim I’m happy to be the loudmouth. :D

  • Sending you gluten free hugs.

  • Hi again. I understand about discovering other intolerances :/ I’ve ended up on a purely meat diet because I can’t seem to handle *anything*. Really. Not to scare you – I doubt you’ll have this much trouble.

    If you’re doing an elimination diet, I recommend switching to all-meat (be sure to get plenty of fat and some organs if possible) for 5-10 days before starting adding other foods back in. Or do something like you see at modernpaleo.com

    On traveling gluten-free – this blog about a GF trip to China is interesting:
    http://scdkatfood.blogspot.com/2010/05/china-part-1-getting-there.html