“To eat is human; to digest, divine.”
If you are like me, food is the center of all things in your universe. I not only love to eat 3-10 time a day, but I love to research it, look at it, smell it and cook it. I went to school to be able to work around food all day. My favorite jobs were with my favorite chefs, but I’ve recently noticed that I cannot eat whatever I damn well please anymore. As much as I would really like to, my body rejects what it doesn’t feel is good for me.
Now, I should be ecstatic that my body knows me well enough to take care of my body and not put any harmful foods in my mouth, but unfairness is the primary feeling I have had in recent months. I envy those around me chomping on bread dipped in butter and covered in cheese. My mouth waters every time I smell pizza or see a hand scooped ice cream cone. Its simply not fair that I can’t eat whatever I want.
Once I broke down the comparisons and realized I was just having cravings, it was easy to say no to the foods that once made me sick. I’ve had a longer run of feeling better since eating healthier than I have with any other lifestyle change.
After 5 weeks of removing gluten from my diet, I decided I would reintroduce it to see if I could potentially add this known inflammatory back into my every day. I enjoyed a nice juicy burrito in a flour tortilla and thought “that was delicious, I feel fine, let’s have another.” Although I didn’t chow down another 5 lb burrito, I continued to have gluten. Two days later, I woke up with no feeling in my hands, burning and stinging on the bottoms of my feet and felt like I had a neck brace on with how stiff it was.
It is certainly easy to avoid something when it makes you feel like that! I took it back out and went back to my “safe diet” for another couple of weeks. After another 3-4 weeks of feeling well, I decided I would try a bit of alcohol, which I have been keeping at a low-level of intake for the past few months. I went out with some family and friends and enjoyed some wine and cider while staying away from harder liquors.
What a mistake! I will save you the details, but along with a fit of stomach symptoms, I also began noticing hives popping up, which has been one of my more prevalent symptoms, especially in warmer weather.
By being aware of my body and the reactions it has to certain things, I have found out more about myself than I have with 4 years of doctors appointments and endless tests and procedures. Learning this awareness took time, I have been feeding myself for years and never thought that what I was putting into my body was actually what was making me sick.
Knowing this, I have been able to change my diet to allow for these dietary restrictions and really delve into what makes me feel good. Of course, there have been some problems, especially in travel. I have run into language barriers where “gluten” doesn’t necessarily translate, or receiving a “milk free” boba tea leads to whipped cream on top.
Patience is key. Nobody wants to be one of those annoying diet people who is constantly bringing it up and making sure that they speak to the chef personally. Anaphylactic allergies are a completely different story. I am not discrediting those who have a serious allergy that could require hospitalization, please continue being annoying.
For me, having intolerances is like having guidelines. I should eat this, but in case of emergency, please break glass for pizza.
As I prepare for this journey, my diet is certainly on the top of the “how the hell am I going to…” list. I have a few decent ideas on how to backpack with a dietary restriction, and plan to find a dehydrator and make many of my own meals while traveling, however, there are certain times when my diet will be difficult to manage.
For example, I just called my airline to see about special meals on my flight. They told me they have a vegan/vegetarian meal or a gluten-free meal. OR. It was a choice, one or the other. Do I risk taking the gluten-free meal and it having it smothered in cheese, or do I take the vegan meal and risk it being a vegan burger made with bread crumbs?
The agent was firm that they could not do both, and suggested that I simply “bring my own food”. Alright! Vegan meal it is, and I shall eat in the airport and bring what food I can. Sometimes, compromise is all you can do, and that is okay.
At one point in my life, I was so poor that I couldn’t afford much food for myself. I made it by on a few packages of ramen and some chicken breasts and whatever food I could take from the pizza shop at the end of the night. I found that many of my neighbors had extra food that they would normally throw away, and once I spoke to them about my hunger situation, they were happy to chip in their leftovers to help me out.
At another point, I had so much money I didn’t know what to do with it. I found myself going out to super nice restaurants to try new flavors I had never seen or heard of, and always enjoying my meal with a drink or two.
Most recently, after I left the hospital, I lost my appetite, was constantly feeling uncomfortable and was in pain at times. I put into my mouth whatever I possibly could to get nutrition. It wasn’t always healthy, but it was going into my stomach and that is what I thought mattered.
Being in the restaurant industry, you always have to worry about allergies and sensitivities to foods, but you have a kitchen at your fingertips, and the same old thing gets old quick. Expanding my palette is always a goal of mine, but my restrictions make it more of a challenge and scavenger hunt to find something good.
One thing I have not had the courage to face yet is my baking addiction. Although I never enjoyed eating many of the sweets I made, I do enjoy baking and would love to open my skill-set to include gluten-free and vegan baking as well.
I’ve heard “you are what you eat” but no one ever told me “you crave what you eat”. When I became healthy enough to begin eating what I thought I should, I started to want more of the healthy foods I was eating. The momentum of feeling good carried me forward.
I look forward to sharing my tips and tricks on how to eat curiously, creatively and carefully. Whether you are in travel, just need some ideas for dinner, or would like to learn how to make your next meal out a healthy one, please feel free to reach out if you are struggling!
Homemade Bourbon Eggnog as Holiday Special at one of the restaurants I operated.