I LOVE to eat food, and I love to cook. I’ve been in the clean plate club since I was old enough to use a fork. I’ve always been one to eat just about anything. I adore animal fats and wine, and I’m a diehard butter advocate. Dinner that lasts three hours with a couple bottles of wine is one of my favorite pastimes. I’m grateful that I’ve never had to consider “going on a diet.”
But at this moment I find myself being careful about what I eat. And I’ve been surprised to note that some people apparently hate that.
Long story short, I’m on a mission to repair my gut health, and vitamin deficiencies I didn’t know I had, after 20 years on the Pill. I haven’t eaten grains or dairy for the past couple months. That leaves me eating a whole lot of vegetables, a little fruit, and thankfully, meat, eggs and fish. I took it on without bitching because, after I saw the SpectraCell results, I knew I had to do something. My work was suffering; I couldn’t make my brain focus any more. And my B vitamins were stupid low.
Two months in, I feel energetic and healthy. My stomach has shrunk, I never have gas any more, and the fatigue and brain fog I thought was normal is gone. My brain is firing on all cylinders. I finally feel productive and motivated at work again. Most amazing of all is the realization that I forgot what it was like to feel really good. How did I slowly accept less than this? Have you ever been in a toxic relationship, and finally said goodbye to it? That’s the way my body feels. Free. And like being “out from under” a bad habit of relating, or a sad, problematic emotional environment, I celebrate this new life every day and marvel at this new level of being.
Yay for me! Right?
To my dismay, some people actually discourage me from eating in a way that supports me feeling good. I can’t figure out why.
Of course, they say they want me to feel good. But they keep offering me things I can’t eat, or they make faces when I say I can’t. Instead of just letting me be and do my thing, people tell me what to eat, and it’s always what they’re having. There is apparently no “right” way to decline food. What’s this about?
I don’t think I’ve been obnoxious about it. I’m not even the cook in my house, so I haven’t upended the routine; I might make an extra veggie side dish and share if anybody wants some, but we don’t have special grain-free meals. I take my kids to get froyo, but I get the sorbet. I go to dinner with my love, and simply order dishes that are veggie and meat. I try making new recipes, but I don’t insist anybody eat like I do. I only talk about this food change after friends offer pasta or bread or cake or ice cream, and I politely say no thanks, and they say c’mon have some, and I say no thanks I’m not eating grains or dairy right now (yes I usually have to decline twice), and they ask why not. Then I explain, and try to be brief but informative, especially to other women who have taken the Pill and might be as unaware of its side effects as I was – that’s what friends do. And I always say how great I feel.
I would expect people to hear that, and go on with life. Some do. But others say to me, “You should take a day off and just have a sandwich.” (Day off from feeling awesome, you mean?) Or, “come on, just have some.” (Like I’m simply being stubborn.) Or, “Oh my god, she can’t afford to eat less, she’s already practically anorexic,” even though my BMI is fine. Or they roll their eyes and say me “being on a diet” is “annoying.” (That’s from a ten-year-old, but I get the feeling everybody shares that sentiment.) Or they try to get me to eat grains, not once but over and over, when I’ve already told them that it makes me feel bad. What’s going on here?
Someone who loves me playfully tried to put an Oreo in my mouth, and I playfully kept my lips closed. It was funny, but I also remembered the day before, when he made a disgusted face at me when I said no thanks to bread. Like I was being holier than thou, or a pain in the ass, or both.
Of course, some people are kind, curious, and accepting. But others have made me stop to ponder these unconscious reactions coming at me about food. Why do some people care what I put in my mouth, and why do they try to get me to eat the same as them, even if they know it makes me feel bad?
Some just don’t want to think about what they eat. Simply by being mindful about food, I am rocking their boat.
Some think you don’t say no to food because you care about your health; only hardass, self-depriving, uptight, no-fun people do that.
Some are mad at me because they want to cut down on bread, but aren’t doing it. They get irritated at me because I’m making them look bad, to themselves, in comparison. (I am not better at discipline. I just don’t want to take these particular consequences any more.)
Some people don’t grasp that some food can be bad for one person’s body, but fine for another’s. They think my refusal is a judgment on what they eat, on all bread, all dairy, all sweets. (It’s totally not, since I aspire to one day eat pasta again, smothered in a cream sauce. Followed by cheesecake. Just not right now.)
After thinking about it long enough, I wondered if I’ve ever treated someone this way. If you can sympathize with what I’m talking about, if you have a food allergy, or a religious rule, or just don’t like to consume certain things and have been made to feel odd about it – I am sorry. I can empathize now. People can make each other feel excluded over anything. But why would we choose to?
I know that I’ve felt, and probably expressed somehow, the feeling that’s being directed at me now: it’s like the times I’ve consumed alcohol around a person who doesn’t drink. If I look closely enough at that feeling, it’s a lot of feelings combined: I feel they’re missing out. I feel they’re left out of the celebration. I feel sorry for them and want them to be able to join in. I assume they can’t possibly like missing out (and notice how I just blazed on past that assumption that they are missing out, and accepted it as fact). I feel conspicuous having the drink in my hand, self-conscious and also rude, and subconsciously noting that if they weren’t abstaining, I wouldn’t feel that way (so I blame them?). Or I feel they’re judging me somehow for indulging, and then, I think maybe they are actually better than me, stronger somehow. Isn’t it weird, the things we unconsciously take on? What a burden of unnecessary judgments!
Life has handed me yet another bountiful lesson: to walk a mile in another’s shoes, to inspect something I took for granted, to be more mindful about the judgments and comments I make. It has challenged me to respond in a less reactive way, a more thoughtful way, to thoughtless comments. I’ll remember to consider more carefully when I encounter people who buck the status quo, in the thousand different ways we all do that. We all have things that are important to us, and that we want others to understand. We all assume sometimes. We all speak thoughtlessly at times. We’re all working on it. And we all suffer a little when we’re not understood and respected.
Through this experience I’ve wanted to ask people to check their reactions, check their assumptions, and give a little more space to possibilities they hadn’t thought about. But as I’ve mulled this over, I realize I’m also being called to do exactly that, to treat others as I would want to be treated.