A blank food label? – Living the “free from” modern diet

Oh the joys of having PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) ! Thanks to this meddling disorder that can’t seem to leave anything in my body (or my life) untouched, I have now had to modify my diet again. As if being Gluten/Wheat Free, Caffeine free, Soya-free and Sugar free, (processed and only most of the time, I do allow myself treats) wasn’t enough hassle for a modern girl, I have now developed an intolerance to Dairy / Lactose. In fairness, my bodies latest rebellion is linked to the wheat-intolerance, a by-product I congratulated myself on avoiding. Sadly it seems I haven’t.  

For a little while now I have been noticing that I’ve been feeling bloated, ill and generally digestively disturbed after sizeable quantities of dairy. Anyone with a food intolerance that goes against the modern diet knows the feeling of social awkwardness this brings. Worrying about what you will be able to eat, even to the point of carrying around your own food like you’re a Tesco delivery van, calling ahead, checking restaurant menus, getting food in, eating at the same places and eating the same food all the time etc. (I spent most of my time eating salads in Vienna because there was little else I could eat. Also once at Nandos I asked for help with the ingredients, they proceeded to give me a book the size of a small phone directory. Even then I got so confused I ordered a kids meal by mistake!) I have frequently had to battle against the comments and questions of people:

“Well, you can have a bit can’t you, it’s not like you would be as ill as . . . . (fill in the blank with a relevant name),

“I feel sorry for you”

“Well, why do you feel ill?”

“What you can’t even have any at all?”

“Well, what do you eat then” (NB The answer is funnily enough anything that does not contain the above mentioned devils, oh and a lot of salad)

“I should stop complaining about my diet” (yes you should)

“I couldn’t live like that” (well if you felt as I do when in the throes of my illness, you would find the power and the strength to do so) .

The reaction people exhibit when I’m presented with a “special dish made just for me” (Do you realise how many pieces of cake I have had to bypass to get this one bowl of Eton Mess?) And having to explain the whole thing over and over again when the response “It makes me ill” does not appear to satisfy their curiosity. Don’t get me wrong, many are valid comments but not particularly helpful, born out of ignorance. I do my best to explain. If I am ill at the time and thus an emotional wreck, I can explain nothing. No level of discussion however can bridge the gap between hearing about something and actual experience of the issue. Thus there remains a distance between myself and the person, I am not understood as I long to be. Last week I broached the subject of my latest intolerance with the chefs at the community in which I live. The chefs have been and continue to be absolutely amazing. They always look after me really well and I feel so cared for. But there still remains that slight niggling feeling when I stand in the severy waiting for my “special food” while they are hurrying about supplying the guests with their 3 square meals a day, that I am a nuisance and an anomaly. My own words not theirs and something I still need to address within myself. I have however gone beyond the stage of eating things I shouldn’t just to “people please”. I have the courage and the confidence now to either say to people, “I can’t eat that” or to accept any gifts with grace and kindness before passing it on to someone else who I know would derive more benefit (and less gas) from it than me. We need to find the strength to come to a point of acceptance and self-preservation where we can actually say “No” to things (a new swear word in modern society, met sometimes with a shocked gasp and the mark of a cross). No to things that will make us sick, risking at best surprising people, at worst being seen as an oddity. Does it take much discipline or strength to move from diet to failed diet, to yo-yo from the latest craze to the next? To monitor everything that goes onto your plate and into your body onto your body with regards to hormonally unbalancing toiletries and chemicals) that is a discipline, a strength needed every day. It is a constant realisation and understanding of my own unasked-for brokenness. That my body doesn’t work as it should. When I stand in the supermarket before a shelf of socially accepted foods (often that I would love to eat) and everything contains something that in variable quantities my body finds toxic I feel I may as well be looking at a blank food label. Find me there and you will find me shaking my head in exasperation.

Even taking communion at church becomes a hassle, is there gluten free bread there? If not, then no matter how much I may want to partake of this important faith ritual I can’t (NB. Here at Ashburnham, I take communion most of the time, in my last church I could never take it) Such issues succeed in separating me not just physically from others but also spiritually. I often feel that as my spiritual life becomes stronger and more aligned with God, my mortal body breaks up into even smaller pieces.

That being said there is a silver lining. My honest and difficult look at my failing body has been an amazing spiritual journey. God has shown me through my weakness and brokenness that I am indeed a “jar of clay”, bearing an illness that God never intended but allowed for my good. (Yet another symbol of a fallen world). It compels me to lean upon him and his sufficiency rather than my own. I live every day through an awareness of my condition that heightens me spiritually, bringing me closer to God precisely because I am weak in a world that idolizes strength. I have to rely on God for the power to manage my condition. And on days when I am ill, my solace is in knowing that God can and does still use me for his glory. Nothing can stop his work within and through me. That is why I will be blogging through the bad times as well as the good, because it is through being vulnerable and honest, putting a positive face and a voice to my recovery that I rid the darkness of its power to lead me into despair. The words “It is well with my soul” have never been more powerful than when I am kneeling before God mourning a body that is utterly broken and feels useless. For I am more than my physical cells. I am a light in a fragile jar. The light of God’s spirit never, I believe, shines brighter than when I have to surrender my health, my body, my future days, my everything into his hands. I have to merely accept, do the best I can, offer up the shattered pieces into his loving care and watch as he uses even the smallest shard. For him to make a new masterpiece, I just need to get myself out of the way.

The modern diet is littered with processed, difficult to digest, non-natural foods that are often cheap, easy and go further than normal. Thus more and more people are developing intolerances and illnesses around such foods. The modern diet is wrecking havoc with our health, becoming almost an epidemic. Those of us with these issues have just taken less time to reach the logical conclusion. I know several children who are gluten and dairy free. At the moment it is unlikely they feel the full impact of this difference. They are yet to notice that everyone longs to be the same, a sad fact they will realize more as they grow up. It may not be the most Christian thing in the world but I tell them that all the best people are gluten free 🙂 – this is not to imply they are better than others but to try and cushion the fact that living this life is not easy. Perhaps as role models we can show them our strength, helping them to navigate positively the minefield that is the intolerant body in a world that needs to be more tolerant. Perhaps we can minimise the chances that when they stand in a supermarket looking at a food label that may as well be blank, they will not feel like an out-cast. 

It helps that things are changing.

As more and more bodies start to rebel, food choices on offer are altering to meet the needs of different diets. This will hopefully see a return to more basic, healthy and non-Frankenstein foods. I look forward to a day that is slowly coming when we will not feel so different. After all, it is very likely we have already started to embrace the next stage of the human diet. Instead of viewing our bodies as broken or weak we can rejoice in the fact that we are finding a new type of strength and a new understanding of what it means to truly listen to our bodies and respond in a positive way. We could be standing on the cusp of a new era of self-knowledge and self-acceptance. We can show the next generation of gluten/lactose (whatever!) free mortals that we are secure in our differences. And in living out our reality, we own our very strength and can see change happen.



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