Food as Foe

by Jennifer Iannolo

Yes, I’ve been pretty quiet. As my body has adjusted to the past few weeks of living gluten-free, my mind and emotions have been on a pretty steep, twisty roller coaster. I’ve also been in LA with consulting clients, which involves a lot of dining out, so by Day 2 of this trip the most familiar words out of my mouth were “I can’t have that.”

Cue meltdown.

What do you do when your life revolves around food and drink, and said objects are suddenly the enemy? If you are like me, you go straight to DEFCON 1: Life sucks, I will never experience pleasure again andIhateeveryone. If you are fortunate like me, there are good friends standing by to talk you off the ledge, give you a hug and a pat on the butt. Then you breathe, regroup, and move along the path to wellness, even if one itty bitty little step at a time.

Though I was feeling great when I wrote my last post, that initial nirvana has subsided, and I now live in a cloud of uncertainty, never knowing what will happen with my body from one moment to the next. (This makes scheduling activities particularly interesting.) I’ve also found that gluten-free mixes, for the most part, make me violently ill within minutes. So the unfortunate next step is to eliminate all grains for a certain period, along with dairy, eggs — and my precious coffee.

I have begun to HATE dining in restaurants, because invariably the dish I want has one ingredient I can’t have, and is incorporated into a key component of the dish, so it can’t just be removed. Or the stuff I can have holds no appeal. Or even better, some servers just forget about the gluten-free thing altogether, so an accidental chunk of cookie in my whipped cream renders me doubled over in pain within an hour.

I’m really trying to be a trouper here, but this sucks in every possible way. I find myself in tears a lot.

It would be groovy if all my symptoms were gone and I could say, “Hey, it’s the gluten! No more pain!” But that isn’t the case. The searing leg cramps, the swelling, the stomach nightmares — they all still linger. So now comes the dreaded part, where we get rid of everything else that brings me pleasure. The other night, out of spite, I ate almost a whole tray of brownies because I was just so ANGRY. The next day was less than fun.

I’m not a hedonist by philosophy. I embrace the rational pursuit of my pleasures. Living my life well is incredibly important to me, so in the face of having my definition of that turned upside down, I’m reacting less than optimally. But I am not lamenting long-gone orgiastic meals and jeroboams of the finest bubbly; I am missing a crust of bread. And soon it will be a piece of cheese, and a glass of wine. Where will it stop? And for how long?

I have a memory etched into my head from my Gramma Crucitti, who had a heart attack in her late 60s and had to go on a special diet. As I watched her slather a piece of toast with low-fat cottage cheese one morning, I looked her in the eye and said, “How does that taste?” She cringed at me with the most pitiful face, and said “Please. No wanna talk about it.”

I know how she felt.

In the midst of all this, however, I’ve been trying to see how I can leverage this nightmare so the information is of some use to others — to you, to a friend, a loved one, a dinner guest, or even a customer. The challenges I’m encountering are not new, certainly, but I’ve got a few hoops to jump through here if I intend to keep traveling and exploring the planet. Since you might one day find yourself in those same locations, I’ve started taking notes. And since I want to have guests over to dinner while not compromising my health, I need to learn to cook different foods. I’m taking notes on that, too.

So I will make lemonade, however begrudgingly I might do so at first. It is not in my nature to feel sorry for myself, and I’m trying not to be in that mindset, so I will keep the whining to a minimum; but there may be a few more rants as I navigate a path that is often rocky and uncomfortable. I’m trying to remind myself that this may not be forever, though right now it certainly feels that way. Of course, after eating 3/4 of a tray of brownies, I know 100% certainly for certain that gluten is a fibromyalgia trigger for me, so I can check that box.

What? You thought I learned that with the Bread Pudding Incident? Or the mini-muffins? Welcome to my definition of the Calabrese testa dura, darlings.

Photo: Kelly Cline

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