Back in the ‘olden days’ when I was a fully functional human being, I used to think ‘diet’ was what you did when you were coerced by society to fit into a slightly smaller sized clothing item than is naturally suited to your body. It was something that was plastered over magazine covers next to the words ‘beach body’ and ‘baby weight’. If you’re a perfectly normal weight for your age and height, I thought the concept of dieting was ridiculous. If you want to eat healthier, just eat healthier.
Now I’m firmly living inside Chronic Illness-ville, ‘diet’ has a whole new meaning. A Diet is a medically necessary eating regime, cutting out basically everything you enjoy in the quest for slightly less severe symptoms. It’s less bikini-based and more bloating-based. Less curvy and more constipated. Less primed and more painful. You get the idea.
Instead of calorie controlled diets, most of the diets I’ve been on have consisted of trying to get as many calories as possible without making my gut throw a wobbly and stopping me pooping for a week. Forget juice diets and other fads. We’re talking about the following; *takes a deep breath* Auto immune, paleo, GAPS, low fodmap, specific carbohydrate, low histamine, sugar free, dairy free, egg free, gluten free, wheat free, soy free, caffeine free, JOY FREE. Artificial sweeteners? Are you crazy? Let me just read that label, yup as I thought, it’s all bad for me. Got a health condition? There’s not only an app for that, there’s an incredibly complicated and restrictive diet for that.
If you’re following one of these, and god forbid more than one of these at a time, you’re basically that person who sits in the corner eating organic carrot sticks and drinking only filtered-mountain spring-probably-produced-by-virgins-in-the-moonlight-water. You’re intolerant to everything and ingredient lists of convenience foods read like a firing squad armed with AK-47s aimed at your head. You spend an eye watering amount of money on your weekly grocery shop and still end up feeling hungry and frustrated. On the rare occasion you eat out you either have to choose the restaurant specifically and pre-comb the menu for something you can have (whether you actually like it or not, taste becomes irrelevant) or you just SPLURGE and have whatever the hell you like, screw the consequences. I tend to go for the latter, and then spend the best part of a week looking like an extra on Free Willy (that’s a film about a whale, not a penis, from the 1990’s for those of you lucky enough to be too young for the reference) and praying that at some point I might poop.
Which brings me nicely onto my next point. Poop. When you’ve got gut issues poop becomes a big deal. It used to be something that just took care of itself and you didn’t give a second thought to, let alone entire conversations with your friends. When you have gut problems poop becomes central to your life and you don’t mind freely discussing your latest bowel developments with anyone that’ll listen. You’ve got a hilarious anecdote about the time you got fecal impaction, you’ve consumed basically everything the human race has ever thought of to get you to go more or less frequently, you know exactly what types of bacteria you have, because you’ve been tested, and you know about all the horrific parasites you can get, because you’ve spent entire days googling and giving yourself nightmares after clicking on ‘images’. (Don’t do it, people.)
Natural anti fungals, anti biotics, pro biotics, pre biotics, been there got the T shirt and the $100 bill from iherb.com. Coffee enemas, fecal transplants and flushes, these are everyday topics of conversation. I never actually thought I’d see the day when I was carefully considering the logistics of how to get someone else’s healthy poop up into my ass. Call me naive, but it just didn’t cross my mind. I’ve come to realise it’s not crazy, it’s desperate. Your friends helpfully ask if you’ve tried glutamine, or licorice root, or ginger. Yes, I have all of them in my supplement graveyard – the cupboard of broken hopes and dreams where supplements I’m intolerant to or have had some other adverse reaction to, go to die.
I long for the day when I can eat food, any food, have it digested and 24-48 hours later pass out the remains in a contained and orderly fashion. That is luxury. Screw yachts and limos, I just want a functional GI tract and my flat-ish belly back. As nice as it is to be given seats on public transport, there’s not actually a human baby in there, just gas. LOTS OF GAS.
Before I got sick my diet was incredibly healthy, I was into cooking from scratch, I was too cheap to buy take-out and I ate basically every (natural) food under the sun. Now my diet is so restricted I count potato as a luxury item. I dribble a bit when I see adverts for Pizza Hut and McDonalds. Those damn golden arches of wheat, dairy and genetically modified, reconstituted, additive laced deliciousness.
The UK now has a few fledgling Whole Foods stores but for the vast majority of us they’re out of reach (and have no parking). We have to make do with buying specialist ingredients (I’m looking at you GF, DF organic hand-milled almond flour) on the internet. We don’t have health food shops, it’s not really a thing here, we have Holland and Barrett, which sells mostly overpriced, low dose, full of fillers supplements, and a few bags of nuts and goji berries.
I try to focus on what I can eat, make delicious meals around those things and enjoy the rare splurges like it’s my last supper. That’s the thing about dysfunctional bodies, it makes you weirdly more appreciative of things. I also advise just never setting foot in a supermarket, get your groceries online so you don’t realise there are entire AISLES out there with nothing you can eat, like I did. Lastly, practice a good passive-aggressive glare-face for when your friends are eating cake. Everyone likes passive aggression! You don’t have to be holier than thou about your diet and claim you’ve ascended to some higher level of health and consciousness because of it. It’s ok to say, “yeah this sucks monkey balls, I just want a Big Mac”.
So, the moral of the story is: Be thankful for what you can eat. And be thankful for Whole Foods. And McDonalds. And your GI tract. Also watch Free Willy if you haven’t seen it.