On Monday night, I was up until 2:30am with a stomach crisis. I’m the worst when it comes to self-diagnosing via the internet (oh how I regret the day Web MD debuted!), and since my husband was visiting his family in Colorado, I had no one to stop me from looking up every possible cause of my distress. By midnight, I had narrowed it down to either food poisoning from an unknown source or a reaction to drinking a banana and mango smoothie I’d made for dinner. Before I began Googling, I didn’t know that both of those foods can have an adverse effect on a person with a latex allergy (which I happen to have), and I’ve eaten both many times before, although never together.
Of course, I have no real way of knowing what caused my stomachache, but I’m used to that. For close to twenty years, I had an undiagnosed intolerance to lactose, and since I happily drank milk with dinner every night, I had terrible pain just about every day. Looking back, our best estimate is that I developed the problem at three or four when I went from being an enthusiastic eater to one of the pickiest people ever. I was too young to be able to explain to my parents the deep-seated fear I was developing of food, and so many children go through fussy eating phases that, while concerned with the change, neither my doctor nor parents realized the extent of the problem. (Now, of course, I suspect I would have been diagnosed in under six months, but it was a different time.)
By the time I was seven years old, I was so good at hiding my stomach problems that I had everyone convinced I was just a difficult eater. The truth is, so much of my energy was focused on pretending I was fine that it never occurred to me to consider another solution. I thought, much like Shauna James Ahern, that I was just a low-energy, sickly sort of person. I didn’t see food as fuel, as pleasure, as anything but a necessity I approached three times a day with dread.
When I discovered the truth at twenty, it was both a relief and heartbreaking. Most of my favorite foods were full of dairy, and it was too much for a college kid to give up all of them at once. I was, at best, half-assed about my approach to eating better until 2008 when I was invited on a three-week rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. There was no question in my mind that I couldn’t consume dairy on the river; it was already an experience far outside of my comfort zone and I didn’t want to risk being crippled by cramps.
I can’t even describe how life changing the experience was, on many levels; the one that sticks with me most though is how different my body felt. For the first time, maybe ever, my body was completely free of the thing that was hurting it the most, and food tasted so much better when I didn’t spend the hours after eating curled up in agony. I felt like a super hero those first few weeks, like I’d been gifted with powers I could never have dreamed of.
Since then, I’ve learned to feed myself the way my body needs to be fed. Sometimes I still find myself apologizing for inconveniencing people when I’m visiting, but I know it’s worth it. I think that was part of the reason I was so upset on Monday. I knew everything I’d eaten that day was good for me, and yet I felt just as awful as I did when I was a kid. I couldn’t sleep, so I pulled out my Kindle and looked for a book that might relax me. I’d purchased Gluten-Free Girl a few years ago and only gotten around to reading the first few chapters. I dove back into it, a new-found kinship blossoming with this woman I’d never met. Yes, I thought, clutching a useless hot water bottle to my belly. She gets it.
Admittedly, I had to skip over the recipes she shares because my body was not interested in considering any combination of ingredients in that moment, but I’ve gone back and bookmarked most of them to try now that I’m feeling better. I may not be gluten-free, but I see the benefit of a diet low in wheat and high in delicious local ingredients. More than a collection of recipes though, she shares her journey of not only adjusting her diet to accommodate celiac’s disease, but of learning to rejoice in food. Her excitement is contagious.
For more about Shauna James Ahern, head over here. Seriously, you won’t regret it. Fair warning though: I just lost an hour perusing recipes when I should have been working…