Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Other Kind of Diet

We talk a lot in FA about diets.  In general, we mean diets that restrict food in an attempt to lose weight.  However, everyone has a diet.  It is a term referring to what foods you eat.  It's difficult for me, however, to shake the association with restriction, and all the triggering scarcity thinking and food-obsession a weight loss diet entails.

When I first entered FA, I went through the period most people do, where I ate a lot of the foods I had denied myself in the past.  Once I convinced myself that it was okay not to diet, I satisfied frequent cravings for ice cream, pastries, fried foods, and all the other foods assigned negative moral values in our diet culture.  After a lifetime of scarcity thinking, I had to prove to my body and brain that I really could eat these things whenever I wanted.  I wasn't going to suddenly take them away again.  I was actually going to listen to what my body needed.  The only way to prove that was to acknowledge my cravings and fulfill them when they happened.

After a while (about 6 months to a year) my body was finally convinced that I wasn't pulling a bait and switch.  The food really was going to be available and I really could have it when I wanted.  My body started to trust me again.  The intense cravings stopped, and I began to actually want a varied diet with food that was good for me.  Healthy eating went from a form of punishment (during my dieting periods) to a form of self-care. 

Now, my life partner has Celiac disease.  For him, a healthy diet restricts any food containing gluten.  It also restricts all fast food and most restaurants.  Even restaurants with gluten-free menus have often made him sick from minor cross-contamination in the kitchen. 

Then there's me.  Bread and baked goods have always been a major staple in my life.  I've often said that I could live for months on nothing but good bread and cheese and be perfectly happy.  If left to my own devices, my ideal meal would be a whole-grain baguette and a wedge of imported cheese, maybe with some wine.  Entering into a relationship with a person who gets extremely sick from even the slightest exposure to the major part of my diet has required some adjustments. 

We have tried to compromise where I can eat gluteny food when I'm not in the house or with him.  It involves careful clean-up including a change of clothes, brush and floss, and face scrub. Even then, there is a period of about 24 hours where the particles of gluten in my mouth make it unsafe for him to kiss me.  That is the worst part.  I can go out to a restaurant with friends but afterwards I have to spend a day and night actively avoiding kissing the person I love.  I have to keep my glass and eating utensils separate.  I risk making him sick every time I touch him, in case I have unconsciously touched my mouth.

You would think, considering all this, that it would be an easy decision to go entirely gluten-free myself.  It may have been an easier decision had I not spent most of my life betraying my body with an unhealthy relationship with food.   It might be easier if I were gluten-intolerant myself, because he has developed unconscious aversions to the foods that made him sick, even as a child when he had no idea what was really wrong. 

To me, giving up gluten feels exactly like weight-loss dieting.  It means I cannot eat intuitively.  It means scarcity thinking, anxiety spikes, deprivation and unfulfilled cravings.  Can I convince my body that I'm not betraying it by denying it familiar foods? 

Recently, we both discussed it and decided that I was going to try to go entirely gluten-free myself.  He has had a few gluten exposures since we moved, and he cannot afford the time and progress lost when he's working 12 hour days in graduate school.  I should say we cannot afford it, because the whole point of us coming to Atlanta was to make that happen for him.  The risk is too high.

At his end of the compromise, however, he is working really hard to make sure I can make foods available that fulfill my cravings.  In a lot of ways this feels like coming into FA all over again.  When I started missing belgian waffles, he made sure we could get a waffle maker and I started looking up recipes.  (This one is the best we've found so far).  We got a stand mixer so that I could do better breads and cakes.  We got a toaster so that I could make gluten-free bagels and toast them to be as authentic as possible.  He doesn't argue when I say we need to get something that will help me transition.

It does feel just like going off weight-loss diets.  I have anxiety and scarcity thinking.  I get stressed over foods I can't have.  I've probably eaten a waffle every day this week just to prove to my body that I can have them whenever I want.  I made three batches of cookies with the new stand mixer, and two dozen bagels in the last two weeks.  I'm eating far more bread products now than I did before we decided to both go gluten-free.

The difference is that I've been through it before.  I know that if I just take care of my body, let it work through cravings, and prove that I can still give it what it needs, that my eating habits will return to normal.  The cravings will ease.  Any weight I gain (probably minimal) in the meantime will go away as my body adjusts my energy levels and sends me different food messages.  Most importantly, my body will trust me again.  And considering the risks and benefits, it's worth it. 

No comments: