Life is Food
Photo by Brooke Lark

Hello! Welcome to my life is food journey. Before we begin, I want to preface this non writing-centric post by saying I have always loved to write. So, I want to share a little bit more about myself, outside of writing.

P.s. If you’re here for the writing tips, you can find them here.

Some Background First

As a child, I filled countless notebooks full of fictional tales and anything my young mind could dream up. As I grew older I turned to lyrics and poetry and I continue to fill pages full of content. But I’ve always asked myself: “What do I do with this content?” Write a children’s book? Write some songs? A book of poetry? Here’s the catch: I am super shy. Yes, I said it, even though my voice teacher told me that is a word that no longer suits me. Shy does like to sneak into my vocabulary when I think about singing in front of people, public speaking or sharing my writing. Basically, anything having to do with other people assessing and judging my work.

I finally decided to give blogging a try. I did try to blog once, during my junior year of college, about the difficulties of feeling emotionally satisfied in college. Sometimes it’s hard! But I found that I can’t drone on about that forever unless I want to depress myself every time I open a new word doc. I need something new. So, upon googling “what should I blog about,” I decided to go with something I know: food. Or, lack thereof. 

My Story

“What do you eat?” Is a question I receive more often than I can keep track. This comes after I tell people my exhaustive list of food allergies and/or sensitivities. The follow-up question is usually something along the lines of how I get any joy out of life when I can’t enjoy one of life’s most basic and ubiquitous pleasures. 

“Gluten intolerant”
“Celiac”
“Lactose intolerant”
“Fructose sensitive”
“Vegetarian”
“Pescatarian”

These are all words and phrases that are trending in pop culture. Some have even become synonymous with my identity. Why am I sharing all of this? Because these afflictions are way more common than we think! And there are ways to handle them and still live your (and my) best life. Food issues can be stressful, annoying, anxiety-provoking and all around not fun to deal with. Let me start with my story.

I have had food sensitivities since I was a baby. I didn’t nurse, I’d throw up any formula, and I was in constant pain as a young child. Lactose intolerant was the first label my doctor provided and my parents tried. Less dairy seemed to help, but it wasn’t the only culprit. Although, milk and cream are still two of my biggest triggers. All throughout childhood, I would feel sick after candy, ice cream, pasta, etc. All the typical favorites of children. And soda? A hard no to that one, my parents never even kept it in the house! The one sweet item that seemed to be okay was chocolate (I think I just refused to accept that my favorite sweet treat could be taken away).

Fast forward to high school. I still felt sick after every meal. It reached the point to where I really only felt okay in the morning before any food reached my digestive system. Food became a major source of stress and discomfort for me. Not only could I not enjoy the fun foods and places my friends did, I felt like I was missing out. And even worse, I felt physically awful! Whether it was nausea, bloating, or all around discomfort, it made having fun with friends something I had to consciously think about.

Celiac Disease

Then my mom was diagnosed with celiac disease. Enter all the gluten-free products. Her diagnosis was no easy process. She was originally diagnosed some ten years earlier than that, my senior year of high school, but it was very uncommon. The test was unreliable, and there were no gluten-free products! But now, it was real. She was celiac.

This ended up being a relief to our family because before the doctors figured out what was wrong, she began rapidly losing weight. She’s already thin, to begin with, and after the excessive weight loss, she was down to 92 pounds. The doctors were thinking colon cancer or gallbladder removal. When all it was, and all she needed, was a blood test confirming her body’s rejection of gluten. As wheat was quickly phased out of our house, I found eating gluten-free helped me feel a little better, and the doctors told me celiac disease can be hereditary. Given that our house was already gluten-free, it wasn’t hard to maintain the diet as someone who wasn’t originally celiac.

Food & College

My college career began at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, and dorm food wreaked havoc on my stomach. I quickly ditched the gluten-free lifestyle because there were so many places on campus within walking distance. Really, there was no other option as far as residence halls went. But the doctors chimed in and celiac was brought back to my attention. I started eating gluten free and mostly dairy free (it was impossible to give up cheese, what can I say) but something was still wrong.

Going into my sophomore and junior years of college I had it mostly figured out: no gluten, no dairy (with the exception of certain cheeses and small amounts of butter), and very little sugar. The sugar wasn’t a problem aside from the fact that I have a sweet tooth, and while I could give candy up forever, I absolutely love chocolate.

¡Hola, España!

After my sophomore year in college, I studied abroad in Spain for the summer. I was so excited to eat fresh vegetables and fruit right from the coast of Spain! Alas, I was in the middle of the country and there were significantly fewer vegetables than I expected, as well as fish.

I quickly lost weight because of the eating pattern, and the food really disagreed with me.

Breakfast consisted of only bread, so that was a no from me. Lunch wasn’t eaten until 2:30 or sometimes 3:00 in the afternoon! And usually, it was a very big meal with carbs and meat, which never seemed to sit right either. Especially the meat because I never really ate much red meat, to begin with, and never pork. This meat really did me in. I went to bed feeling sick. I woke up feeling sick and spent my entire day weak and hungry, only to repeat the whole pattern over and over again. If there was ever any question about how certain food would make me feel, I wouldn’t eat it. I couldn’t risk feeling sick with how much my friends and I traveled.

Lessons Learned

Throughout all of this, I have been to many doctors, received many tests, and tried many things. I finally had to take measures into my own hands. However, one doctor was able to give me some peace of mind. Rather than try to sell me supplements or over the counter drugs or nutrient/protein powders, she simply said “This is your body telling you what it does and doesn’t want, all you have to do is listen to it. It’s a blessing and a curse because it’s telling you right away what is bad for it. Some people will never know.”

I could interpret that answer as there is no solution. Which, essentially, is the truth. There is no one cure that will immediately fix all my food-related issues. And while I wish there was, I’ve come to accept and even appreciate my situation. It’s taught me many lessons, which I’ll quickly summarize.

Some Things Are Out of My Control

There are some things I’ll never be able to control or change. And that’s okay. What matters is how I react to it and how I change my own behavior. This has been a hard thing to accept when it comes to my food issues because sometimes I just want that chocolate donut okay?! But I know how I should react and I can take responsibility for my actions. Being able to do this with something as small as what I put into my body allows me to develop these skills on the small-scale so I’m more prepared to tackle the big things that come my way. For that, I’m grateful

Willpower and Self-Control

Living in a capitalist material-dominated world can make self-control an elusive quality to possess. Living with my food issues has taught me how to own my self-control. I can be doing really well. For example, not having cravings for something prohibited or feeling envious when I see friends or coworkers actually eating the aforementioned chocolate donut.

This is when I consciously have to make a decision: Do I want to indulge myself because I worked hard and I deserve it? Or do I want to exercise willpower and self-control so I can be confident and feel good for the rest of the day? Whatever I decide, the decision is completely my own. And believe me, I’ve learned a lot along the way. No situation is the same. Good decisions make you feel strong and confident. And you learn from the bad ones. I’ve learned the hard way, many times, that the instant gratification of that chocolate donut isn’t worth the hours (and hours and hours) of pain, nausea, and discomfort.

Once again, this can be applied to large-scale situations as well. For example, assessing a touchy situation at work or with a friend. Do you go for the option that’s riskier because maybe there will be more reward? Or do you play it safe this time? Do you exercise integrity and strive to find a middle ground? Whether I knew it or not, these are the questions I asked myself at a young age because I had to take control of my own health.

Independence

I’m an only child and have always been comfortable doing things on my own. I’m naturally independent. However, my sense of independence has definitely grown due to my food issues. I had to learn how to advocate for myself in situations where I needed to get my dietary needs met. I have to make my own food because only I can. This may seem obvious, but cooking as a college student can be a hard skill to learn and it’s easy to fall back on those well-known college meals. Think ramen, mac and cheese, etc.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure exists in many forms and many situations. It doesn’t have to be about drugs and alcohol. It can simply be about food! Maybe you’re at an ice cream place with friends and they all want you to get ice cream because who wants to eat ice cream alone? And who doesn’t love ice cream? It can be really hard to stay true to what you feel and what you know. I love ice cream and I don’t want to eat ice cream alone either. But if my gut is telling me that it won’t feel okay, I need to listen. 

Trust Yourself and Your Intuition

Last but not least, I’ve learned to trust myself and my intuition. I want to end with this one because this one is by far the most important. We get so many outside messages and it can be so hard to be confident or rely on ourselves when there’s all this noise out there that seemingly knows better. This has been the hardest lesson for me and I’m still in the process of relying on my own intuition, and trusting myself and my gut (no pun intended). I’m an intuitive person and through this process and the tough relationship I have with food, my intuition has been challenged.

One piece of advice my mom has always given me was to trust myself. Her words will never leave me and it’s one of the greatest gifts she’s given me. She’s an incredibly strong person who has her own difficult relationship with food. She’s been the one person who knows the ins and outs of my struggle with food and for that, I’m forever grateful. (Love you, mom!) The bottom line of this whole post is to love yourself, accept yourself, and learn from yourself.

None of these things are easy but when we look at the little aspects of our life we find that we’re already doing all of it. We just need to pay attention and make the conscious decision to engage in these activities. It’s a process, but starting small can make it seem less daunting. That is the beginning of my story and my journey to accepting myself, starting with the one part of my life I’ve never been able to understand that has no easy answer. In the end, I’m grateful for it, because I know I am strong and can handle anything life will throw my way.

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