Cheesecake Is Not Medicine

UPDATE: I have now been following the autoimmune version of Paleo for three years. I have healed enough that I can enjoy a (as in one) glass of wine or a hard-cider semi-regularly with no issues. I still do not drink any of the "hard" liquors (like the Gin I lamented in this post), but I am okay with it and actually have adjusted very happily. For those that will point it out, I also know that I can get gluten-free versions of communion bread, but I still have not crossed the bridge. There is something a little awkward about handing the pastor your g-free loaf with a little wink & a serious, "Don't cross-contaminate me, Preach!" LOL! If your journey is new, don't let the isolation get ahead of you. This process is SO, SO worth it and speaking from the other side . . . it will all work out.

I love cheesecake. One of my favorite fall foods used to be pumpkin cheesecake. I'd even eat it for breakfast with a cup of coffee filled with cream & sugar. My step-mother makes phenomenal cheesecakes. Even right now while I am typing this post up, I can't really imagine never eating a piece of her cheesecake again. Even more difficult for me to imagine . . . having to be as sick ever again as I was before I started eating AIPaleo.

My goal here is to tell you true stories about the emotional side of battling autoimmune diseases, particularly Celiac Disease. I've spent a month telling you how I have been sick, why I have been sick, & what I am doing to be un-sick. All of that was the build up to my true purpose, the background detail important to the understanding of the real story. I want to share about disease like mine & how to heal, but none of that matters if you don't tell the human story. It is the happiness in the triumphant moments & the grief in the moments of defeat that hold the actual story. Finding strength in one's weakness or admitting to the typical downfalls of the human condition, those are the stories I really want to tell.

So, what is the true story about eating the way I do for my health? The true story is that it's hard. Eating outside of the accepted food system can feel very restrictive. I realized how awkward it was to eat gluten-free immediately. I remember once trying desperately not to offend my Chinese neighbors who had invited us over to their son's birthday party & wanted me to fill my plate with dumplings. Not only did we have a bit of language barrier, but they did not understand Celiac disease. Or feeling like a tired, busy waitress's worst nightmare, when I sent my salad back a second time, explaining that the croutons made the salad completely off-limits for me . . . and then being terrified that they had just picked them off in the kitchen & brought me back the same salad.

Then as I grew sicker on a gf-only diet & realized I needed to get more restricted, the feelings of isolation grew. For the most part, I was so deeply grateful to have found a diet that was obviously helping me heal, that I took a very positive attitude. I happily went out shopping (more on how much a grocery trip changes later) for the foods I could eat & busily cooked up meals (more on how much cooking changes later) that were safe for me. I tried to boldly explain to friends or family when I turned down invitations to go out to eat. I sought out people who ate like me & made a little on-line support network of them. It wasn't all rainbows and unicorns though.

In all honesty, in the first few months I had a few breakdowns. I would suddenly be so frustrated I would burst into tears & scream to my husband about the difficulty of the transition. The food cravings were actually not as bad as I would have expected. They passed relatively quickly, but the social implications were huge.

I am among about 5% of Celiacs that are super sensitive. The risk of cross-contamination is so high eating out, that going to a restaurant is almost totally out of the question for me. As I adopted AIPaleo, it got even more out of the question. I have now mostly moved passed that too, but it was a painful change initially. At times I have had to just admit to myself that I could not even be in a restaurant without it doing some serious damage to my inner self. On Father's Day this year, I had to tell my husband in a shaky voice with lots of tears, that I just could not sit in a pub & watch people drink beers & eat battered fish & chips, even though it was his only request. It seemed like torture at the time. Other times it is about the reaction of others that I avoid going out. Recently, I ventured into a restaurant with family we had not seen in a long time. I was perfectly okay drinking a glass of water while everyone else ate. I'd had a small meal & smoothie before hand & I knew I was guarding my health by not ordering. The waitress gave me the obvious look though, the one that says, "That chick must be anorexic." Even my aunt noticed & got angry for me.

There are times that looking at a decadent chocolate cake or seeing a big plate of pasta with a rich tomato sauce & a mound of cheese is physically painful. Not so much because I am still craving those foods (actually along with the longing comes an acute disgust), but because they are a symbol of what I do not share with others anymore. They represent a social act I no longer take part in. I have not taken communion in a long time & now I wonder how I will handle it. This important act in the practice of my faith, is now off-limits. I know this approach to eating is healing me, but sometimes the isolation can sneak up on me.

Currently, one of my toughest adjustments is alcohol. I have given it up for long periods & tried to reintroduce it a few times over the last 6 months. It is clear that I can't have a glass like I used to anymore, my system is too sensitive to handle it. I'm not a rager or anything, but having drinks used to be a big part of my social life. My husband & I used to enjoy coming home on a Friday & relaxing while sharing a bottle of wine. I loved spending hours in the humid West African nights drinking gin & tonics & laughing with our friends. Now I wonder how things will be when I see those friends again someday? I come from a state that makes some incredible microbrews. Not being able to go home & have some beers with my family will be a huge adjustment. The mental battles & social changes of eating AIPaleo have been intense. I don't think this was part of the picture for our nutrition-loving ancestors.

This is not a "feel sorry for myself" post. This is a part of the true story. I would be a liar if I acted like all of this was no problem at all. I'm not throwing in the towel though. I never, ever want to be as sick as I was again. Ever. I am more than willing to accept the facts . . . cheesecake is not medicine.

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11 thoughts on “Cheesecake Is Not Medicine

  1. Thanks for being honest about how hard it is socially. I've been GF since 2001, and at the beginning it was grindingly hard...I basically had to learn to stand up for myself (particularly in restaurants), which I really never had to to on a regular basis before. I just started the AI protocol, and I'm finding it difficult, but since I've been the "high-maintenance" person when it comes to food for so long, I'm better able to just deal with it.

    I don't know which denomination you are, but regarding Communion, is it possible for you to at least partake of nonalcoholic wine/grape juice? We're Lutheran, and there is always a nonalcoholic option. My particular church also provides gluten-free wafers. (Which are probably not AIP-compliant, but I don't think I'm too terribly sensitive that I can't have them. For now, at least.) I hope you can find a way to participate again. Thanks again for your honesty.

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  2. Jennifer, thanks so much for reading. My goal is to be really honest & knowing that it helps others find a place where someone relates makes it worth it. As to communion, I know about GF communion wafers. I will have to look into them & see if they will work for me. It is a bridge I am admittedly nervous about crossing.

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  3. thank you - i feel exactly like this too on paleo AIP. it is so so hard to not feel like you can enjoy life with everyone else. it is definitely not feeling sorry for yourself to express these feelings - it is a normal part of grieving. thank you for sharing so i don't feel so alone 🙂

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  4. Kristin, thanks so much for reading. I am really glad that you connected w/ this post. My whole purpose for doing this is to be honest enough that people can have come here, read, & take a deep breath . . . knowing they are not the only one. Good on you for choosing AIP for your health! Keep up the hard work.

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  5. This was so beautifully written. Thank you for your honestly. I definitely noticed on my elimination diet how out of place I felt when everyone was eating sandwiches and cheese. Having to give up tomatoes - no pizza as a college student is a great way to feel left out. Luckily one of the groups I am a part of is super apologetic and makes sure there is something there for it. It is still hard.

    I'll be going on AIP next summer and I am so thankful that husband is willing to support me and eat the same meals as I. That's nice, but since he doesn't have to, he can cheat and won't truly know what I'm going through.

    One thing I have learned is that a support community is one of the most important keys to success. In real life is ideal, but just reading stories such as yours is really great for knowing I'm not alone. Thank you.

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  6. Thank you for posting this. I'm still working up the courage to go fully AIP, after some false starts. One of the problems I'm experiencing is the expense of the groceries. I'm on a very low budget (unwell, can't work full-time etc. The vicious circle) and it's surprising how much fresh food I go through when I take things like bread out of the equation! one day I'll have the energy to have a garden again 🙂 The other problem, the really big one that stops me in my tracks and leaves me feeling small, insignificant, and kicking myself, is the one you talk about here: the social aspect. My sweetheart is loving and supportive, but he's a picky eater and I find myself going along with whatever he wants just so that I can have a meal with him. He doesn't have good food in his house, and he refuses to eat vegetables. I don't think he realises how difficult it is to literally have to do my own groceries on the way to his house just so that there's something for me to eat. Like many others, I'm finding it hard to stand up for myself in this situation, where to do so is to break common conventions. Like, going to someone's house for dinner and they've cooked something that in their opinion is good and healthy, so it feels like I'm insulting them or just being difficult if I can't eat it. It's amazing how many people think that 'just a little bit, and you can't even see it' won't matter. I want to scream that I'm not just being difficult, I'm trying my hardest to get well and that's hard enough without all the other stuff on top. My self esteem has taken an absolute bashing. And then I comfort eat. Sorry for the outburst. I haven't been able to say these things to anyone else.

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    1. Oh, Virginia, I so identify! But I'll tell you what, I feel SO much better than I ever thought possible by eating this way that my attitude has really shifted. It's still not entirely comfortable for me to go through the whole, "thanks, but I am on a really strict food regimen for my health so I can't have that... or that either... nope, can't have that... really it's OK" but I find that most people just end up feeling bad that they can't feed me, and I often end up comforting them! For the ones who act as if I'M the one being unreasonable, I quickly find myself with the attitude of, "this is the only thing that makes me feel better, it is my medicine. I am not risking getting sick, and I'm a little irritated that you are asking me to." I've been doing the AIP for 14 months now and embracing it despite the social difficulties has been a gradual process, so be patient with yourself. It is so worth it, and people get used to it. In general I have found that the more comfortable I am with it, the more comfortable others are around me.

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  7. Wow, just such a good blog here. I identified with it in so many ways. I've been on AIP since March of this year and feel great physically, but man, it has been tough, especially at the beginning. I had my fair share of breakdowns early on, as well.
    My husband has been helpful and a shoulder to cry on since I started AIP, though he often sabotaged my efforts to "eat clean" before that, bringing home small slices of cake or rice krispie treats from some work party. And I always caved. My hubby is pretty healthy and eats as he likes, though when we're home, he eats what I cook. Fortunately, he's not a picky eater. He loves to eat out though, which is a never-ending source of frustration, as there are so few places I can *sort of* safely eat.
    So while I still miss the former freedom of eating whatever and wherever, I enjoy the health I'm experiencing far more. A fair trade. 🙂

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