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About illness

“So what *can* you eat?”

I wanted to share a bit about what being sick has meant for my diet. As I mentioned before, I lost quite a bit of weight before I went into hospital, and I haven’t managed to put it back on. This is partially because I can’t eat much due to my digestive issues, partially because I have very little appetite and am often nauseous, and partially because I have some mental health challenges around my weight.

I used to think I was a pretty healthy eater. I was vegetarian and gluten free, and I thought I was being fairly conscious about what I was putting in my mouth. but I really, really wasn’t. And I didn’t realise the incredible damage I was doing to my body with food.

I forgot that you are what you eat. I forgot that the way you eat is almost as important as what you eat. And I didn’t give my body the respect it deserves. So really, it’s no surprise it rebelled the way it did.

I mentioned in my last post how much I was wording. Food took a back seat to this. Breakfast was coffee. Lunch was eaten at my desk, phone tucked between face and shoulder, fingers typing. Dinner, if it happened, was eaten on the couch with my laptop. I had no time to prepare good food – or, at least, I told myself I didn’t. So I was literally forcing unhealthy food into my twisted, stressed stomach, which was already constantly churning with lovely chemicals like seratonin and adrenaline. No wonder it couldn’t do the digesting it was made to do. No wonder it didn’t want anything I gave it.

So now that I am listening to my body, and my doctors, I have to follow a pretty restrictive diet. Along with no meat and no gluten, I should avoid wheat, dairy, soy,legumes, some seeds and nuts, most fruit, potatoes, tomatoes, capsicums, corn, onions, garlic, and anything spicy. So as you can imagine, I have pretty bland meals. It’s been very challenging to learn what I can and can’t have, and how to cook for myself to get enough nutrients without making myself sick. Sometimes, I’m still a bit naughty (I haven’t quite been able to give up chocolate!), but I usually pay for it afterwards, with massive pain under my ribs almost immediately after eating, along with the self-loathing that comes from my weight issues. So I know that the risk is really not worth it.

I’m lucky that I’ve met a whole bunch of other people who also suffer food allergies and intolerances – a lot of you through Twitter – so we’re able to share ideas and recipes. I just have to be a lot more creative than I used to be, which can be hard to do when you’re really exhausted. A lot of my issues mean I can’t have sauces and packets and pre-made things, so I have to cook from scratch, which is much better for you, but again, hard to do when you’re so tired your yawns are almost turning you inside out.

Fortunately, there is a chance that my system will eventually calm down and stop trying to attack itself every 5 minutes, so it may be that I can reintroduce different foods in the future.

One more note on the mental health challenges around food. My friend Sarah wrote a piece in her blog about eating disorders, and I thought it was utterly fantastic, extremely brave, and went a long way to debunking some of the myths around these disorders. I don’t have anorexia, but I have close friends who face this battle, and I relate to their experience. It doesn’t matter how many times people tell me I’m not fat, that does not change what I see in the mirror. And even if I were  able to change that image, it’s actually, as Sarah said, really about control. Forcing yourself to have control, and trying to get more of it. Hardly surprising, when so much of the control I did have has been removed lately, especially to do with my body and food, that my desire to manage what little choice I do have would increase.  Just another small battle. Just another day.

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About writehandedgirl

Sarah is a writer who is passionate about social justice, feminism, politics, and cats. She is a columnist and poet and currently lives in Nelson. You can follow Sarah on Twitter (@writehandedgirl) or read more of her writing at writehanded.org

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