I’m walking down the street listening to Adele’s new album crying. Thinking about the way things used to be and the person I used to be, when I receive a text from my friend whom I’m on the way to have a girls’ night in with:
“Shit. I feel really bad. I don’t know if I have snacks for you!”
And the tears rush out like rapids.
I’m not crying because I relate to Adele’s crooning about the men she used to love or the men she still loves. I’m crying about the foods I used to love. The foods I still love but can’t be with anymore.
“Let me photograph you in this light / In case it is the last time / That we might be exactly like we were before we realized …”
Rewind to a year ago almost exactly. For as long as I could remember I suffered from chronic stomach aches, but I thought it was normal, that everyone had stomach aches at least once a day. In high school, I spent every first period in the bathroom—at one point my teacher threatened to fail me for it. Little did she know she was threatening to fail me for shitting my pants, pretty much.
As a 20-something single girl in the city, I couldn’t eat on dates for fear of having the runs. Needless to say, I was single for a while.
As it got worse, it dawned on me that I was in pain more often than I wasn’t and I became fed up with living life bowled over.
You’re probably wondering what took me so long. Well, as I said, I’d been living my life this way forever. I didn’t know it could be any different. On top of that, there was the subconscious fear of what I might find out.
I love food. While I’m in no way, shape or form a “foodie”—I don’t care about chefs or take pictures of my food (mostly because I’m too busy eating it)—I do love food. During lunch, I’m thinking about dinner and when planning an activity, a meal is usually involved. I don’t love food in the sophisticated-fancy-restaurant small-portions-surrounded-by-parsley way; I prefer food that is greasy, fatty, and comes in a bag or box. Chocolate, chips, cookie dough, fries, ice cream, mac ’n cheese … anything that wasn’t gourmet or good for you had a home in my stomach.
My main man was pasta, though, so when at the age of 27 I finally made an appointment with a gastroenterologist, I prayed she wouldn’t tell me I couldn’t eat gluten.
Pasta was my family’s go-to until my mom got diagnosed with diabetes when I was in college—that should give you an idea of just how much pasta we ate. But even after that, my relationship with the carby noodle became only slightly strained (no pun intended). I also ate so much cereal that my mom got me milk from Costco. That’s a serious cereal commitment.
After some experimenting and analyzing, my worst nightmare came true. The doctor said that while I didn’t have Celiac disease, I didn’t have the enzymes to break down the amount of gluten I was ingesting and suggested I drastically cut back (as this point, each bowl of pasta or cereal I ate was immediately followed by a bathroom run). As the icing on that flourless cake … I was also lactose intolerant.
So, make that dairy-free icing.
Oh, and by the way, I was already a vegetarian.
Here I was, the girl who moved to Italy for the cheese and pasta, ate frosting out of the container, and believed a yogurt a day kept the doctor away, contemplating what on earth I could possibly eat for dinner.
They say you shouldn’t cry over spilt milk, but they don’t say anything about crying over lost milk.
Needless to say, the diagnosis scared me, but at this point, I’d do anything to go a day without a stomachache.
“It is the world to me / that you are in my life / But I want to live and not just survive”
I did as the doctor said, and felt an immediate difference.
I stopped putting cheese in my salads, switched pasta with quinoa, cleared my cupboards of cereal, and stopping drinking beer with my boyfriend. In restaurants, I got comfortable asking if there was dairy in the dishes and popped Lactaid pills like they were candy (although they didn’t always work). It took some getting used to, but I was dedicated. I’d been in pain all my life and finally, I went weeks without diarrhea.
So, while many people whine and whimper about how hard it is to cut out their favorite foods, it really wasn’t. It wasn’t fun, but it was worth it. It was like ending a relationship with someone you really loved but just wasn’t good for you.
Or as Adele says …
“If you’re not the one from me / Why do I hate the idea of being free? / If I’m not the one for you / You’ve gotta stop holding me the way you do / Oh and if I’m not the one for you / Why have we been through what we have been through?”
With these changes, I also saw a loss in weight. Fifteen pounds in three months, to be exact (which worked out perfectly for my upcoming trip to Greece). I wasn’t trying to lose weight or working out any more than usual. It was very obviously the change in my diet.
Needless to say, things were going great, or so I thought. Unnoticeably, with these positive changes also came some negative ones. I became that difficult girl at the dinner table. The friend people can’t stand eating with. The person who sends dishes back. I also started spending a lot more money on food, because dairy and gluten free does not come cheap.
The worst part was that little by little, I started to enjoy eating less. Months went by and I became more and more devoted to my new lifestyle because I finally felt better. I no longer looked forward to the next taco night, stocked up on Halloween candy, or grabbed a roll of cookie dough from the deli. The Cadbury crème eggs I bought last year are still sitting depressingly in my fridge because I don’t have it in me to throw them away.
Instead, I tried to do these things in a gluten/dairy free way. I hunted for brands that made delicious gluten-free, dairy-free cookies and restaurants that had options for people like me. What I learned quickly was that doing research on food is not nearly as fun as eating it—even if once the research is done, I got to eat a pint of ice cream that only tasted a little like air.
But that’s what my life had become. Google, Google, Google, hunt, hunt, hunt, eat, and repeat. Before I knew it, the sparkle that was losing weight and feeling great faded and eating became work.
“I can’t love you in the dark / It feels like we’re oceans apart / There is so much space between us / Maybe we’re already defeated”
Memphis CVB CC BY-ND
Grocery shopping was basically just an annoying vegetable fest, and dining out felt like a fight with a menu. When I found something that I could eat and tasted great, it was cool for a minute until I realized it had to be a one-time thing because I just dropped $20 on a box of crackers.
I could easily go an entire day only eating fruit because figuring out what to eat was too much work. On a good day, breakfast was a smoothie; lunch was a sweet potato and a handful of sunflower seeds; dinner was spaghetti squash, salad, or quinoa. What used to brighten my day became boring, hard, and kind of depressing. I was in this really healthy relationship without any excitement.
Flash forward to today. I’m starving at my friend’s house as she chows down on Pringles—yes, Pringles have gluten and no, I have no idea why—and I wait for some lame Asian salad I ordered (which turns out to be quite good, but not memorable or delicious like a handful of those Pringles would have been).
Am I now fed up with this lifestyle? Kind of. Am I going to go back? No. I’d trade food for feeling good any day of the week.
Am I going to find a happy medium? Probably not, because, unfortunately there’s really no such thing … which is why friends with benefits always fails or turns into a relationship.
Am I going to stick with it and look back on my former relationship with a smile and a bittersweet tear in my eye? Yes. Because, love isn’t always enough.
“Sometimes I feel lonely in the arms of your touch / But I know that’s just me cause nothing ever is enough”
Main photo by Caden Crawford CC BY-ND