One of my Facebook (and real life) friends is struggling at the moment with chronic fatigue. And when I say struggling I really mean it! She is stuck, mostly at home, sometimes even unable to get out of bed for days at a time. Her life is HARD.
She wrote on her wall yesterday asking which of her friends are dealing with an invisible disease and I responded that I was, but I felt a little guilty for my response. If you had a continuum of invisible illnesses then she is at one end and I am at the absolute opposite end. But I still have a health issue that is affecting my energy levels and life. Suffering, for me, is an overstatement – much to strong a word to describe what I’m going through.
Here is my invisible illness: Chronic rhinitis and sinusitis. Basically, I have a snotty nose. I always have a snotty nose. Sometimes overwhelming sneezing and sometimes a sinus infection but most of the time just a slightly snotty nose and hardly ever a sense of smell. I have assumed that this was due to a low grade allergy to something – probably my cat – and that it didn’t really make my life horrible and that I should just put up with it. But this year I had a couple of months in a row where I couldn’t breathe through my nose at all, and I couldn’t sleep and I got sick and I decided that up with it I would no longer put.
I went to see my GP and she sent me to a GP that is interested in allergies (she informs me that she is NOT a specialist, just a GP interested in allergies). The GP tested me for about 30 different allergens – I posted a photo of a very interesting looking arm on Facebook, covered with skin pricks and pen marks – but there was no reaction to anything except, of course, the histamine. (Good news! I’m not allergic to cats!)
Together we decided that the next step was to exclude food sensitivities, especially as the only very strong reaction I have is a reaction to wine. I can’t have red wine open near me without sneezing furiously and constantly blowing my nose. Very antisocial!
Excluding food sensitivities requires a three week diet that I like to call the Boring Food Only diet. The doc told me that if it works, it will rejuvenate my life, and if it doesn’t I’ve only lost three weeks. I thought it was worth a try.
On this diet I can eat:
Bread, rice, pasta, cereals and potatoes (yay for potatoes!)
Beef, lamb and free range eggs (but it all must be preservative free)
Cabbage and lettuce
Salt and pepper and sugar.
And importantly, coffee – but only certain brands and no tea.
There’s a few other things allowed but you get the general idea.
First thing you see there (or don’t see) is colour. There isn’t any. Everything is white! I have been taught that a colourful diet rich in fruits and vegetables is the way to go but right now it’s all white flour, white veg, white fruit. It feels very strange.
Secondly, I have already voluntarily reduced the amount of sugar in my diet. I have replaced high sugar foods (bread, muesli bars, muesli, chocolate, biscuits) with low sugar alternatives or with fruit. I am struggling with the idea that the diet that I forced myself to eat could actually be the thing that is making me sick. Some food in this diet that I am now eating regularly (e.g. Smiths crisps) I would have only eaten in very small quantities before now because it was unhealthy. I guess it all depends on perspective – what you’re looking at, what you’re trying to avoid.
In one way, I am a good person to take on a diet like this. Tell me what I can eat and I will eat only that. I am good with routine and very good with following rules. I like rules. A lot.
But in another way this diet is hard for me. Being good with routine means I don’t like change. I don’t deal with change very well. This diet change, even if it is only for three weeks, is a big change. I have reacted badly to that – even grieving a little. Wait until the chocolate cravings start – I’ll be grieving a lot more then!
It’s not just the change in routine though, it’s an issue with food. I have read wonderful books by Geneen Roth about mindful eating – a process which sounds great and makes lots of sense to me. It seems that the healthiest way to deal with food is to eat when we’re hungry, eat healthy food, concentrate on what we are doing (no TV, no reading) and stop eating when we are no longer hungry. I have trouble with this because I like to follow rules. Instead of taking time, listening to myself and checking if I’m hungry I would prefer to make a set of rules and follow them. To eat a bowl of oatmeal and natural yogurt for breakfast because it contains no sugar and it contains protein and the rule is that I will be able to last until morning tea on that food. Then I will eat a banana because it is fruit and healthy and I won’t need to eat again until lunch. It wouldn’t matter if I was hungry or not, I would just eat by the rules.
Going on to this diet has broken all of my rules. I’m eating less protein, more simple sugars. I don’t know how much of what I have to eat and I’m shaken up and going by feel. I’m worried that I’ll put on weight because I’ll eat more because the food is boring (this is an idea from French Women Don’t Get Fat) or that I’ll put on weight because the simple sugars in the food will trigger my body to eat more (from I Quit Sugar). (You can see I have read a lot about this food issue, I’m working on it). I’m worried that I won’t make it through the 2 hour lecture I have to give because I can’t have a banana in the middle and I don’t know what to replace it with. I’m missing my little square or two of dark chocolate in the evening and my handful of nuts mid-afternoon. And I’m aware that mindlessly snacking on those foods in not necessarily better than mindlessly snacking on anything else. It’s interesting how a small change like this can make you re-evaluate your life.
So I’m hoping that even if this diet doesn’t show up any interesting food intolerances it will still help me to realign my attitude towards food and that it will remind me to be grateful for the tastes and textures that are normally available to me. And I’m hoping that the next three weeks pass quickly so I can get back to my square of chocolate in the evening.