Adjusting to Your Food Issues
Coming to peaceful terms with a food allergy or intolerance and learning to live comfortably with it takes time. After you receive the diagnosis from your doctor, you invariably go through a period of adjustment. For some people, the process is brief. But for most, it takes months (maybe even years), as initial feelings of loss and deprivation transform into feelings of empowerment and gratitude.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages of grieving--denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. When people learn they have a dietary condition that will change their lives forever, that they can never again eat certain foods they love, they begin a mourning process. If you’re newly diagnosed, chances are you recognize many of these feelings.
Before their diagnosis, many people with celiac disease spent years living with fearful fantasies of cancer or they worried they had some strange, exotic illness and that they might be dying. A conclusive diagnosis comes as a relief: “What! That’s all that’s wrong with me? I’m not going to die!” Switching to the gluten-free diet makes them feel better. Yet even with these good feelings, they are likely to go through some period of mourning and adjustment.
First, you grieve the loss of not being able to eat normally. You can’t believe that you’ve been given this cross to bear, that you have to stop eating a certain food. As you wander though the grocery store or rummage in your kitchen cabinets, the magnitude of your restriction sinks in. You grasp for the first time that this is a permanent change. It will never go away. It will last the rest of your life. You may feel devastated. You complain to friends and family about what you are going through.
But as time passes, your gloom lifts. You stop complaining and begin explaining to people. You learn to effectively communicate your needs and find the support you require. You ask for understanding, not pity.
You read everything you can about your condition and your special diet. You think about finding a support group. You discuss special food products and preparation with family members and close friends. You develop new ways of relating to food and eating. You learn how to read ingredient labels and experiment with preparing interesting meals. You think about your body and your diet in healthier ways. You pick up the terminology and learn how to work with the medical community.
As time passes, you develop valuable survival strategies. You never assume that someone knows what they’re talking about when it comes to offending ingredients. You ask and make sure. You figure that few people know more about your condition than you do, because you know your body best. If you are not feeling well, you check your diet. You know that if the doctor doesn’t help you, you can find anther doctor.
Eventually, you reframe your experience and you realize how lucky you are. You develop a new identify and body image that comfortably include your condition. Your food issue is no longer your primary focus. It is only a small part of who you are. It is not your life. It becomes something that is simply folded into your day-to-day experience. Eventually, you find that it brings its own wisdom and even opens up some interesting opportunities and valuable friendships.
It’s not good news until you say it is—and you’re ready to say it. And to go on with your life.
Thanks to Lauren Komack, LICSW, and Jax Peters Lowell for inspiration.