I am an unabashed amateur foodie. I love looking at the raw ingredients (ever noticed how pretty purple-white onions are at the farmer’s market, where the ladies peel the skins off to show the shiny insides? Sigh …), and imagining meals from what’s in my pantry and fridge, and especially cooking and feeding good food to people I love.
This love affair has had its consequences: I have loved the sensations of eating to the point of consuming more than my body needs, and then hated the way too much food puts on too many pounds. It’s a privileged person’s problem, born of being able to take food for granted; and it’s an expression of addictive behavior, with food’s comforts as my substance of choice. (I sometimes complained that there was no cold turkey off this drug ….)
In my life, I have managed some brief periods when exercise outburned intake, but for most of my life an excess of food created an excess of me.
That changed five years ago; as the awareness of being gay dawned in my life, my fear over the consequences of that reality drove me deep into prayer, including fasting prayer, which – combined with the exercise I was getting at the time – took 40 pounds off my frame in a matter of a couple of months. The costs of accepting being gay seemed so high; I prayed for God to take the question with all its unknowns away.
I’ll never forget the day I stood at the door of my closet (in more ways than one), looking for something to wear that would not fall off my frame. A voice came into my head: “Have you noticed that your 30-year addiction to food is gone? If I could take that away, don’t you think I could take this away, if I thought it was a problem?” Implication: Being gay is not a problem. Further implication: Be who you are. All of who you are. It’s who I made you to be.
In the last few years, it’s been a joy to accept this changed body, and live into the healthier relationship with food that has come with self-acceptance and a commitment to my own well-being. I am learning to live with all of my senses into more of the joy the human body is capable of.
Of course, when you start listening to your body, not all the news is good. In the last few years, a few things have broken down. Mostly teeth – I have enough crowns now to be queen for a day – and the skin that got fried too many times in a South Texas childhood has produced a few basal cell carcinomas.
The food thing has reared some new heads, too: a few years ago, after too many days burping like a third-grader and too many nights feeling like I had swallowed a basketball, I realized cheese and I no longer got along. Milk wasn’t really working for me, either. With some reluctance, I gave up cow products; I still grieve gorgonzola. But I don’t miss the nights walking around like a horse with colic; I can be content with feta as my friend.
Well-trained dairy avoider that I’ve become, I was surprised this last year to have had a return of the burps, and the basketball belly. I put it down to stress, and ignored it. Other stuff, too … my running had become harder even as I shortened my distances … I was tired a lot … kind of depressed. Fuzzy-brained and forgetful and not very motivated … not me. Stress, I thought.
By a lucky or blessed accident – pick your worldview – I came across an article on gluten intolerance in the student newspaper of the college where I’m working. There was a list of odd-bedfellow symptoms –from digestive problems to dental issues, from cognitive fuzziness to breathing and heart-rate troubles – and I had lots of ‘em. Drat, I thought. I’m about to lose another major food group.
Gluten intolerance is an auto-immune disorder; when you get one of them, you are at risk for getting others. I had already had my first one: a thyroid that went hyperactive, back in my 30s. So, now my immune system is apparently attacking my small intestine, whenever I eat something with gluten in it. The only solution is to eliminate gluten.
Which I did, for a week or so. I missed pasta, and especially my morning cereal, but my gut felt so much better. No basketballs. Not many burps, either. I had been taking feeling bad for granted, without realizing it.
One morning, to test my hypothesis, I had a bowl of my favorite cereal. By the time I finished the bowl, my heart was racing and I was out of breath. I felt tired and fuzzy the rest of the day. “Well, that’s that,” I thought, mentally giving thanks for the article (coincidences, some say, are God’s way of remaining anonymous) and gearing up to change the way I eat. Again.
It’s been a surprising month. My energy is coming back. After weeks of not having the energy or motivation to exercise, I am running again. Laughing more. Writing more. (Eating vegetables more.) The little blessings keep coming: the food I do eat tastes better. I get hungry more often, and I’m satisfied with less.
I’m amazed at how many little things had snuck up on me, even when I thought I was paying attention and being aware of and committed to what well-being takes. I am bemused that the bread of life turns out not to be, for me.
I have friends and family members dealing with MS … being treated for cancer … a parent whose mental fuzziness no change of diet will recover. It may be that every challenge holds a gift in its hands, but some are definitely easier to unwrap than others. I may not be getting off easy, but I am getting off in time, with recoverable good health. And great thanksgiving.
And awareness that – for millions of people in the U.S. and millions more around the world – such a dietary issue is a problem of privilege, of abundance. For those living with daily food insecurity, cognition and sleep and well-being fight hunger, and hunger wins too often. Hungry adults have a hard time working for a living; hungry children have a hard time growing up.
What is the relationship between my thanksgiving and my critical awareness? How will I put the two hand in hand?
Show me this, too, Beloved.