Inevitably, the first response when I mention one of my food intolerances is one of the following: “That sucks!” “Ohmygod I would die without beer!” or “There would be no point in living.”
I get that you’re being hyperbolic, but I think a little part of you believes those things to be true. And as someone who has acquired an increasingly long list of food intolerances over the last ten years, let me tell you why it doesn’t suck, why I don’t die without alcohol, and why life is still worth living.
I’ve been gluten-free for 10 years. Long before Miss Elizabeth Hasselbeck threw it into mainstream with her G Diet book. Long before it was what all the cool kids were doing for their waistlines and ADHD children. I was a pioneer, eating bread that had a HIGHLY FLAMMABLE label on the side of the package, trying pizza that tasted both gummy and cardboard-like in one bite, and eating crackers that should be banned in third world countries, let alone the shelves of Walmart. And I spent my college savings doing this because in the early 2000s, if one wanted to be Gluten-free, one wanted to be Money-free. That mess was expensive and bad-tasting. I stuck to chicken and rice, lightly cooked veggies, lots and lots of celery, and learned to like peanut butter.
The options have obviously gotten a lot better tasting and more reasonably priced, but my intolerance list has expanded: chocolate, melon, grapes, most wines, dairy, red meat, most oils (especially olive oil), most forms of eggs, raw onions, blah blah blah. There’s more; my friend Michelle tells me I’m “allergic to the world”, and some days she’s right. And since I have acid reflux on top of said aversions, my stomach can change its mind from day to day on what it will tolerate. I do not say this for pity; I say this to give you background and to tell you that my good attitude about all this is not because I have just a little bit of food allergies and can cheat and get away with it. As you see, I have a host of food intolerances that make it near-impossible to set a steady, healthy diet.
So, here’s why my life doesn’t suck…
I’m alive. When I eat the right food, I feel incredibly healthy: energized, aware, happy, joyful even. I have a steady job, a roof over my head, friends and family that love me. I wake up to these two faces every morning:
Yeah I have to be careful and can’t indulge in everything that everyone gets to enjoy, but I also rarely go into a food coma, don’t entertain a food belly, and enjoy my company without having to feel sick. It’s a trade-off. Maybe I can’t eat that food, but I have consistently fulfilling quality time with my friends and family. It may sound cliched and trite, but it is the truth. When I found out earlier this year that I could not find contentment in food, I had to find it somewhere else. It was either that, or curl up in the fetal position and whine. I had to choose my attitude, or my attitude would’ve chosen me. So I found it in God’s promises, on the dance floor, with the people who helped me celebrate my birthday, celebrating my 30th birthday, reading, writing my second novel, playing with Sam, etc. etc. etc. See where I’m going with this? Life is good outside of the food I can’t eat.
It’s not like this hasn’t been a battle. I stage a resistance every month or so, getting cupcakes from my favorite bakery and/or indulging in chocolate covered macadamia nuts (my kryptonite). For 10 years, I’ve given in on special Friday nights, vacations and holidays because I would get so crabby that this is my lot, that I can’t enjoy local chocolate or homemade ice cream without getting a bellyache. And sometimes, I just wanna have a beer with my husband. I’ve gotten angry, cranky, bitter, and green with envy. I’ve also gotten sick far more often than necessary because I just had to have X, Y, and three Zs. But if I want to enjoy my life – and I am determined to do so no matter my circumstance – then it’s a survival tool for me to obtain and retain a completely different way of seeing this situation.
I want to thrive for my husband and our future family. I want to experience life outside of my apartment instead of being stuck in here with a stomachache every day. And when we travel, I want to enjoy a vacation to cities around the world and not need the app on my phone that tells me where the nearest public restroom is, which will be as necessary as our passports if I decide to eat whatever I want. I might look on with a touch of envy as Greg enjoys freshly baked croissants from a market in San Fransisco, or enjoys Belgian chocolate in Belgium. But the memories I make every day and the memories I’ll take away from those holidays and vacations when I don’t indulge in my kryptonite will not only keep my waistline smaller, but it will keep my insides happier, healthier, and healed in the long run. And that’s my main goal. I am only 30 years old. I want to get this right now, instead of worrying about having gastro surgeries and loads of meds in 20 years just because I couldn’t control myself. You’re only young once (YOLO to the pop-cultured among you) is not an excuse to do stupid things, it’s a reason to invest in your future and make decisions that will make your life fuller.
My life is good, my life is blessed, and I’ll keep the one I got if what I’m trading is some Ghirardelli and cheese rolls. My life with food allergies does not suck. It is rich, just not in the chocolatey way yours is. And that, my friends, is quite alright with me.
Do you have a food allergy story? For better or for worse, I’d love to hear it! Share it in the comments or send me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).