How to cope when your diet is different to everyone else’s and it feels like you can’t eat anything.
Living with long term food sensitivities isn’t easy. It’s navigating your way in a mine-field where your body seems to betray you at every turn. It can be depressing and extremely frustrating. It can also be lonely, especially if you are surrounded by friends with apparently cast-iron guts who have absolutely no way of empathising or understanding your unique stance on food.
Then there are the people who after assuring you that they have cooked you a meal you can eat, mention in passing, usually after your third or fourth mouthful, that their ‘safe’ meal so proudly presented is full of the very ingredients that make you sick. Its not unlike the battle a committed vegetarian must face, a daily onslaught of the uninformed who don’t know food groups and categories and struggle to know the difference between eggplant and lamb.
But I think by far the hardest thing is the internal battle, that body betrayal, for reason’s unknown and bewildering, the depression of watching everyone else eat things you would love to eat but simply can’t. This is especially true if your restrictions are on the extreme end (allergic to nuts, eggs, legumes, grains and dairy? I know people who have them all, along with severe food chemical sensitivities to salicylates, amines and glutamates).
So, here are my Top 5 tips for how to cope and live your life positively, empowered and deliciously:
1. Empower yourself: Learn to Cook and Learn about Food
You can’t live out of a can or a packet. And it’s not much fun eating bland food just dumped on a plate.
To cope with your food restrictions you have to learn to cook it yourself and cook it well. The best way to do this is firstly get really good at following recipes. Follow them exactly, be precise with your measurements. Once you get a few recipes under your belt and become more familiar with how ingredients work together, you can start improvising. Most “bad cooks” I know who can barely boil water simply don’t follow recipes.
Along with this, you need to educate yourself about food. Western countries in particular can be very limited in their food choices/knowledge and your diet can be unnecessarily limited if you don’t educate yourself about all the foods, fruits and vegetables that you may be able to eat with no problems, but have perhaps never tried.
2. Become a Good Cook, even if that is not “your thing”
I was never a good cook. I was never passionate about it or particularly interested in it. Being grain free has forced me to not only cook what feels like ALL THE TIME but to become a good cook (practise makes perfect, right?). Being a confident cook has opened up a whole world of possibilities, and I am so proud to cook not only healthy but also delicious meals for my family whilst being grain-free (and often low salicylate as well).
Being a good cook means you won’t be intimidated to make your own bread or pizza or pastry from scratch. You won’t be overwhelmed at the thought of having to cook a lot and making most things from scratch.
And if I can become a good cook, honestly, you can too.
3. Focus on what you can eat, not what you can’t.
If you spend all your time looking longingly at what you can’t eat, it will do you no good.
Don’t waste time missing Chinese takeaway or fried chicken. You are not missing out by making choices that help you and your body feel better.
Focusing on the positive helped us to realise that instead of restricting our diet, we no longer had the western dependence on wheat and rice as staples and it introduced us to a whole world of new foods that more than compensated for their paltry lack.
4. Find some food-buddies
Over the years I have got to know a few friends who also have food allergies/intolerances/sensitivities. These people have been a lifeline for me especially during difficult times. They understand. They “get it”. They are suffering too. You can exchange horror stories, recipes, successes, failures. It’s really nice to have some support, and to know you are not alone.
5. Be nurtured by something other than food.
Sport, friends, craft, art, a meaningful volunteer activity, giving back to your family or the community. All these things make your life rich and meaningful and help put your physical limitations into perspective.