Ah yes. The health post. The post that just would not get written. The year by year trajectory of my journey, starting with developing food allergies and losing half my hair, before finding paleo and reversing many of my conditions – and I cannot for the life of me sit down and read what I write without hating it. It just doesn’t capture what I actually want to say.
What I actually want to talk about are two things. One is the emotional and social dimensions of going through a health challenge with a big dietary component. The other is how I see my story fitting into a much larger narrative, which for simplicity’s sake I’ll call, ‘what the heck is going on with all of us (and the planet), at the moment.’ I’ll save the latter for a future post.
If someone had told my 26-year old self that my 32-year old self would be an obsessive paleo diet follower with an alternative food (& fiction) blog, my 26-year old self would probably have spit the four chocolate chip cookies she’d stuffed in her mouth out all over the counter. What is this? she would exclaim. You love food. You’re a foodie, you eat everything. You’ve had an adorable paunch much like your Dad’s (let’s just call it the baby weight I never lost) your entire life. You call things healthy as long as they’re made from scratch, even if they involve ten pounds of butter, sugar, and flour. You have zero willpower and have never followed a diet in your life besides one month when you managed to eat only fruit for dessert. You’re telling me you’ve given up all grains, dairy, legumes, processed food, refined sugar, and a large degree of alcohol, coffee, chocolate, and all other things that make life good, in order to follow some celebrity fad diet?
Yes, I would say, and then my 26-year old self would likely proceed to whack my 32-year old self over the head with a baguette. I’m not even sure speaking of the numerous benefits she’d get from these changes – no colds in four years! no need to exercise regularly to maintain weight! no more joint pain! – would have staved her off.
I have a lot of nostalgia for old, pleasantly plump, perennially guilty hedonist Julie. There are times over the past four years when I’ve had to shake myself and say, I can’t believe this is my life now. I can’t believe this is my life. Then I shake myself again and realize how good that life still is and how much actual suffering there is in the world, and try not to let myself spend any valuable minutes bemoaning what is, in fact, the great privilege to be able to eat a selective nutrient-focused diet, when many people worldwide would give their right shin for the chance at three square meals a day, let alone nutrient-optimized ones.
Which is partly why I find it funny, all things considered, that people are so emotional—and in some ways, irrational—about food. We will literally tell people that we will die if we aren’t able to eat X (fill in the blank, I’ve heard it all – ‘pistachios,’ ‘cheese,’ ‘ice cream,’ ‘chocolate,’ etc.), and yet there are people every day who are dying because they can’t eat anything. I’d have to say that this whole process taught me a couple things about many people’s relationship to food: 1) it is how the majority of us self-medicate; and 2) it is where half our neuroses and emotional complexities lie. One innocent cupcake can hold both the nostalgia of twenty childhood birthday parties and the guilt of all of one’s failures in life.
Food is also, of course, inherently social. It’s how people bond with each other. It’s a multi-sensory degustatory experience that creates memories and a sense of belonging. It’s how people say welcome, hello, I love you, congratulations, and goodbye.
A drastic change in food habits threatens all of this. It threatens an established social order, and upends all those ways in which people communicate their emotions and desires to bond. For me, a person with limited willpower and some social and emotional issues, food (and all right I’ll say it, pie) was the easy way to eat away any depression or unhappiness that plagued me. Wheat made me happy. So did cooking and sharing foodie experiences with my friends and family.
But suddenly, my body removed the common foundation upon which all these experiences rested, my personal social and emotional jenga tower. It left me standing at the top of a single-pile spire, all by my lonesome. My first instinct was to pull everyone I knew to my spire. Be paleo! essentially. It did not work. It was probably the best way to topple me from my new precarious position. (If there’s anything I’ve learned in this process, it’s that threatening to take away entire beloved food groups from people is not a good approach to sell them on a way of eating – more like a way to ensure you’ll have no friends within a month.)
I’ve since learned to stand on the spire by myself, using binoculars to find others out there on their own, teetering precipitously in the winds of a new way. It hasn’t been easy. There have been mini emotional breakdowns, crying in the shower over Thanksgiving pies my family ate without me, watching my friends gorge on pizza while I drank water and maintained my not hungry-ness – only to later binge on every paleo snack I could find. You realize, at a certain point though, that it doesn’t really matter. I have super supportive family and friends. I am not always the easiest person to deal with, and if any of them had encountered similar health problems, they probably would have coped with a lot more grace, and a lot less self-righteous proselytizing.
At the same time, I have to believe that my dogmatic, activist tendencies and consistent belief in my own instincts have served me well throughout this process, providing me with resilience in the face of substantial opposition to the legitimacy of this lifestyle. The unwillingness to believe people who have health conditions which are not so easily definable and reactions to food is part of a greater problem we need to address.
In the meantime, I’m happy to have found something that works for me and my body, and I’m very grateful to the community of enterprising individuals—most of whom have paved the way through trial and error to reverse their own health problems—who provided me with the tools to do it. The blog is my way to turn what is, for many people, a burden and significant challenge on multiple fronts, into something lighter and more fun – and to remind us all that no matter how we feel, we can still go make some art.*