A car slammed into mine, right into my side. I’m lucky to be alive.
I’ve written about this before, many times before. In December of 2003, I survived a terrible car accident. Life spun me around, and I finished facing another way. Pain surged through me. I could barely walk. My back spasmed in time with my head.
So, two weeks later, I started a diet.
That entire time period is foggy in today’s mind, so I cannot tell you why I thought it the best plan of action to start The South Beach Diet for my stupid new year’s resolution. Everyone was doing it? I knew I wasn’t going to be doing much more than lying on my back in pain, so there went exercise. And of course, following a lifetime’s tradition of regarding food as my enemy, I panicked. I’m going to get fat.
Maybe I needed something to do. I don’t know. I wasn’t eating much anyway, and everyone had to make the food for me. But in my cracked-up, concussed head, I thought the best thing I could do for my body was to deprive it.
I’ve never been a skinny malink. I’ve never been a size two, or even a size six. And so, following in the tradition of everything I had been taught by the media and other girls my age, I perpetually worried that I should lose more weight. And some of those years, I was right. I used food as a defense, as a layer against the world, as a muffling of the loud noises in my mind. Emotional eating overwhelms many of us.
But so many other people have written about that. I don’t want to put any more words into the world about that. Especially because it’s no longer true for me.
For the past five years, I’ve been eating well—olive oil; ten servings of fruits and vegetables a day; nothing fried, everything whole—with the occasional exception. Except I couldn’t lose weight. I was doing everything they say to do, and it just wouldn’t come off. I went to a fancy-schmancy gym and lifted weights, took African dance, worked out six days a week for an hour a day, and the needle on the scale barely moved. I had surgery in January of 2003, which left me constantly enervated. I think now that’s when the celiac set in. Apparently, it can lie dormant for years, silently affecting us, but a trauma to the body of some kind can kick it into action. Like abdominal surgery. At the end of 2003, the terrible car accident—that was a peach of a year. That made the celiac worse. I just couldn’t shake my exhaustion, my headaches, my lingering joint pain. Exercise was right out. And so I slipped even further into the fear of food. It seemed it was always chasing me. No longer a comfort, food threatened me.
Most Americans seem to regard food as an enemy. At Weight Watchers, people talk about “trigger foods,” the ones that open up the doors to the cavernous hole below and they just fall in and eat to fill themselves up. Is food a shotgun, threatening to shoot them? Others eliminate entire food groups, as though they are little blue meanies ready to attack with pointy knives. People talk about carbohydrates as though they are the devil.
Well, for me, some carbohydrates are. Wheat, rye, barley, triticale, spelt.….
I have this theory. I think the reason all these no-carb/.low-carb diets have been so popular is because undiagnosed celiacs tried them and felt mysteriously better. They didn’t know why, but they just felt lighter. More awake. And so they stayed with these rigid programs (and in the case of Atkins, I’m sorry, stupid programs), thinking that was the cause of peace. Instead, it’s the gluten. Or lack thereof.
I did feel a bit better on the South Beach. I think. I barely remember. But I do remember that it was easy to follow. I needed everything written out for me those days. And it called for no processed foods and no grains the first two weeks. Without knowing it, I was cutting out gluten. I lost weight, I started to feel a release from the headaches.
But I couldn’t stick with it for too long. The worst moment was the night I could only walk on my hands and knees because of the sciatica pain, and the pain pills were hurting my stomach so much that I threw up for only the third time in my life. And I had no other choice but to eat some saltines crackers for dinner that night, because it was the only thing I could keep down. But in the back of my head, I was thinking, “But I’m on the South Beach diet! I’m not supposed to be eating carbohydrates!”
That was it. I realized what I was doing to myself. I went back to eating macaroni and cheese and processed foods. And the pain grew worse, and my headaches persisted, and I spent a year and a half in a pain-wracked body, just wishing for some energy.
Fast forward to now. Four months without eating gluten, and I already feel better than ever in my life. Finally, finally, I have the boundless happy feeling of exercise. Biking the Burke-Gilman trail, bouncing in the pool, gliding along Lake Union in a kayak, rollerblading Greenlake, walking in my neighborhood at night, regular yoga classes—I’m doing two of them a day. At least. Turns out it was the gluten that kept me laying on the couch every afternoon, wanting to be well but not having the energy for it.
And my body is changing. I’m not eating any less. In fact, I’m sampling all the foods I’m making for this blog, and I’m not scrimping. If it’s gluten-free, I’m trying it. But in spite of that, the weight I’ve carried around all my life is starting to fall off me, without me trying. Why?
Well, more and more research is showing that the traditional definition of celiac disease is far too narrow. Traditionally, you could only be a celiac if you had trrible diarrhea and couldn’t put on weight. But now, studies are showing that some celiacs can’t lose weight. No matter how hard they work or try to diet, the weight just stays on. It’s a function of the damaged small intestine, the way that body reacts to gluten. The way my body reacts to gluten.
Hm. Yet another blessing. Losing weight without trying.
But I think it’s something deeper than that for me. You’d think that more than ever, I’d regard food as a poison. With all this hidden gluten, you’d think I’d suspect every morsel of being a potential assassin. But I don’t. In fact, it’s the other way around now. Because good food, gluten-free, is the only way to heal myself. Food is the only cure. I love that. And now, more than ever, I know the old adage is true: I am what I eat.
And now, I only want to fill myself with goodness.
I love great food, food I’ve prepared myself with the best ingredients. Food I can feed to my friends and they will love it, and somehow the laughter ringing in our ears is part of the taste of it. Food I can photograph and write about, and share it with you.
When food is an elixir, a joyfulness, a sensory pleasure—and especially when it’s the path to health—I don’t eat too much of it. I taste it, fully. And then I’m full, quickly.
Befriend your food. Accept it. And watch it change your life.
CRUSTLESS QUICHE CUPS
There’s not much of the South Beach diet I follow rigorously anymore. But I found the book on the floor of my laundry room, in the pile of give-aways I’m taking to Value Village. And I remembered this recipe for quiche cups with egg whites.
In the endless quest for an interesting breakfast, this one isn’t bad. I changed their recipe around a bit to make more taste, and the proportions are mine. So call it a blend.
one 16 oz package of egg whites, gluten-free of course
sauteed vegetables, whatever appeals to you
cheese of your choice
* So I sauteed some zucchini, wilted spinach, soft green peppers, even softer tomotoes, and some jalapeno peppers I had sitting on the counter. This recipe is great for the vegetables you should have used but haven’t yet. They don’t have to be pretty. Make sure to use great olive oil and sea salt.
* Pour the vegetables into a bowl, and add as much good cheese as you want. Last night, I added about 1/2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add the egg whites.
* Ladle portions of this goopy mess into a muffin pan. (For those of you who are celiacs, you have to buy new baking supplies after the diagnosis. You don’t want residual flour in this.)
* Cook at 425 degrees for about half an hour, until the quiche muffins are puffy and crusty.
They’ll store in the refrigerator for days. A fast breakfast for those squeezed mornings.