You finally found a health care professional who has an idea that may help you feel better after months and sometimes years of feeling like absolute dogshit. You’re blotchy, bloated, your joints ache. You feel depressed and fatigued. Maybe your skin condition is out of control or if things are really really awful, maybe all of this and MORE.
Then comes the suggestion of an Elimination Diet. Or the GAPS Diet. Or an Anti-inflammatory Diet. Whether these suggestions are for the benefit of detective work to suss out what the culprit might be (eliminating all the usual suspects and then slowly bringing them back in to test reactions to substances) or perhaps the food suggestions/prescriptions are in response to allergy tests that pointedly spike in the face of certain foods, you’re not psyched. Regardless of which protocol is suggested or the root of why it is suggested, the news of cutting out EVERYTHING FUN IN THE WORLD can feel pretty crushing. For some, our health has deteriorated to such an extent that trying anything feels like a relief. Some people have been so ill for so long that a steady diet of goat milk, buffalo and steamed carrots might be just the ticket to heaven, that sweet relief someone has been waiting for. Food allergies and sensitivities can really wreck a functional life to an astonishing extent. It is my sincere hope that true misery and illness are not the only reasons a person might be brought to the place of willingness and compliance with various protocols.
So what can you do with this when the news comes in? When you think. “Holy shit. My friends won’t want to hang out with me. I’m going to be the irritating special food needs person at the table asking a billion questions of the waitress. Or I won’t be able to go out to eat at all. I don’t know how to cook. I don’t have time for this shit. I don’t have energy for this shit. I don’t have energy at all. Also, this isn’t sexy. Plus I have spent years recovering from diets and the negative effects of them on my body and my true soul. Why me?”
Well. I mean.
WHY NOT YOU?
The first thing I want you to know is you can do this. Because doing it might actually work. And not doing it has landed you exactly where you are, and following that path isn’t your desired life. So fuck that path. You deserve to feel good, heal your body, and enjoy your food along the way. What will it take?
1. Time to mourn: Being sick sucks. It sucks. Especially in a culture that wants clear answers for illness and then a nice pill to clear everything up. So I bet even if you are one of the lucky people who has suffered through mysterious symptoms that no one can figure out and you’ve actually LET yourself complain, I want to say that wallowing and mourning are not the same. Mourning requires a true kind of compassion for the suffering you’ve been doing. Really look at how hard this has been. If you need to look at a photograph of yourself to externalize your own image in order to have feelings for the human you are looking at, do that. Write about it. Ask someone who has been supportive and kind to reflect their experience of watching you weather the storm so you can adopt those kind feelings for yourself as well. Once you are to a place where you have some room free of blaming yourself, get willing to try something new.
2. Gather your people: Before you worry about the kitchen, the shopping, the cooking, the time suck, the impossibility of it all, look around you and see if you can find some people who are willing to help. And by help I mean everything from listening to cooking to a meal companion. Find a trusted group from 1-4 people to rely on for the first couple of weeks of your trial here. Let everyone know the specifics of your protocol, how long it might take, what you are afraid of, what you are actually great at, and how they can help. At the center of this reliable core is, well, you. Be reliable. Be supportive. Be nice. Try your best to be your own ally.
3. Toot your own horn: This process means you have to ask yourself these questions as well. What are your strengths? Are you a great cook? Do you like to shop? Are you fucking hilarious? Are you good with recipe research? How can your skills be the things you commit to in this process and where can you use support? This will not only inform you about how to ask your people for help, but it’ll help you rediscover how you do have skills and you are competent and every little piece of you matters. Because when we feel sick, we forget.
4. Look for what you get: When you begin to find yourself wandering toward the Land of Wallow, remember this: even if you can’t have these things: beer, cheese, weed, soy, wheat, tomatoes, citrus, nuts, bacon, corn, peppers, potatoes, a burger, milk, eggs, half and half, bourbon, sugar, honey, cigarettes, pizza ,and COFFEE, for fuck’s sake, there are still over 4 billion combinations of food you CAN have, many of which are incredibly delicious. March your brain to a different tune. What are the things you do get to have. Who are the bloggers that work with those things? Are there cookbooks to support you in the library?
5. Avoid minefields: Sometimes, in an effort to not feel left out socially or to diminish our feelings of freakishness too early on in our efforts to recover from food related illness, we may find ourselves saying “Fuck it” and go to a bar with friends to watch the Super Bowl. We are then surrounded by beer, tipsiness, the entire nation of everything fried (which smells so good), bowls of pretzels and salted nuts, and popcorn. Our football journey may serve to alienate us even further or tip us over the edge into a chicken wing bonanza with jalapeno poppers. Doesn’t help with healing the gut. Instead, throw a small party yourself, invite your crew over, make snacks and request friendly ones to your protocol.
6. Find rewards outside the realm of food: Bring your salad and steamed sesame broccoli with shiitakes and rice to a baseball game. (In April-October) Treat yourself to a long walk you keep meaning to take. Take a sick day and go see a matinee. Let yourself turn the phone off. Get a new cookbook that supports your challenges. Go on retreat. Get a foot massage. Knit. Listen to music on headphones while you lie on the floor in the dark. Pick anything. I usually pick Yo Yo Ma when I’m in this place, but just as easily pick Tribe Called Quest. Go look at art. Pet the dog. Get a dog. GET A DOG!
7. There’s no wagon to fall off of. I know a lot of practitioners get all, “Well just one slip up and you have to start all over.” It sounds very infantilizing and scolding. In my humble opinion, it’s a very damaging way to talk to a patient who is struggling. The last thing you need is a fear driven voice in your mind. Even if this direction is based in science or whatever, you can only be where you are. If you veer off your protocol, so be it. Don’t blow it all up. Just begin again. It’s what life is, after all. We all just start over all the time. Everything you are doing in service to your health is bigger than not doing it. Just do your best. Imagine if you gave yourself as much of a pat on the back for things you’re doing well as the bullshit flogging your give yourself for all the things that don’t go as planned. No, really. Imagine it.
And you know what?
Write to me.
Especially with specific hurdles. I love to get an email. I read tons of blogs on cooking and health, know about a slew of resources for various diagnoses, and I coach people on these things all the time.
you can do this.
It’s not forever and it’s in service to a future version of yourself who experiences less pain, more joy, and more fun. If you can’t tolerate being sick, you can certainly learn to roast vegetables. It’s the same skill set as a friggin’ Pop Tart.
YOU GOT THIS.