After a long break from writing, I’m finally taking the time to go back to my favourite sport of coffee shop hopping. I have been focusing on myself and my career and my health, and now that things have settled I have the opportunity to return to my overly caffeinated weekends and enjoy some lovely me time with a cookie and a book in a strange place.
Walking through the Toronto Public Library, I came across a title: The Autoimmune Solution. I pulled it off the shelf and flipped through the grainy pages of a book that had so obviously travelled from kitchen to kitchen. The stale smell of spilt food lingered on its pages as I looked at the pictures of a meal that impossibly claims to cure you of all symptoms. The neighbouring books listed endless diets of how to eat and why to eat it – and I began to reflect on this unusual massive marketing scam.
Dieting has of course been an absolutely essential point of my career and illness. It’s undeniable that certain foods make you feel a certain way. But these books claim that every person consistently has the same reaction to all foods. For a long time I was a victim of these schemes, in fact, I had probably tried every single diet listed in that library until I realized that this is not how the body works. Especially a body that’s differently abled than the rest of the community. How could I be assured that a paleo diet will all of a sudden improve my illness? If my illness requires a tailored set of medication, should my diet not be tailored as well?
The most challenging part of this is the negativity that I receive from people. Everybody wants to label your diet: “Are you paleo? Are you vegan? You can’t say your plant-based if you’re willing to eat that.” And my all-time favourite: “Are you celiac? Will anything actually happen if you eat gluten? Or are you just one of those hipsters trying out a fad diet.” The criticism is endless. It has even gotten to the point that I avoid eating with people that don’t know me well for the fear that I’ll be judged on how I choose to eat.
Unfortunately, this fear is not unfounded as I’m sure many others with dietary restrictions have experienced. I’ve faced criticisms from vegetarians arguing that I’m not ‘a real vegetarian’, meat eaters saying that it’s a stupid choice not to eat meat, I’ve dealt with coworkers criticizing my food portions, friends criticizing my weight and strangers telling me to go eat something because I’m too skinny. All this and caring too much has led to food anxieties of all kinds.
I eat the foods that make me feel good regardless of whether it fits or doesn’t fit in the web of popular diets. And quite frankly what I choose to put in my body is a choice that shouldn’t be criticized or praised by anyone other than myself.
Ironically enough, I’m sitting in a little coffee shop having an almond milk latte beside a couple where boy is criticizing his partner for having a coffee with cream: “You’re not supposed to have cream” he said, to which she replied: “I’ll do what I want and I want”– you go, girl.
It seems like a simple statement – eat the foods that make you feel good, but it took me years to get to a point where I was aware enough that I could follow an untitled and individual diet. I had to clean my diet up from most food and gradually reintroduce things over the course of a few months to finally feel a difference. I’ve learned that I can consume gluten in small quantities, I should avoid dairy like the plague, rice should be consumed only on occasions and fruits are my best friend – except oranges…yuck. Though as like everything else in my life, my body is not stable. I need to change my diet regularly to keep up with myself, and I’m still learning how to do that. I’m learning that generalized diets like The Autoimmune Solution may have helped certain individuals, but it’s unfair to say that it will cure your illness because from my experience a lot of these diets can be more harmful than good.