Food has many definitions. For some, it is a fuel, its only purpose to power an athlete through their next workout. For others, it’s a luxury, the creamy taste of ice cream melting on the tongue. Pre-diagnosis, food was just part of life. I devoured pizza during sleepovers, baked on the weekend and never turned down a trip to In-N-Out.
And then, during months of extreme nausea, acid reflux, and weight loss, food changed. Suddenly, it transformed into a weapon and the cause of all my pain. And even after I became Casey the College Celiac and dove into eating gluten-free, food kept torturing my belly. I didn’t heal like the doctor promised. The weight I had lost didn’t magically reappear. Food as medicine didn’t work.
I didn’t mean to stop eating. I didn’t mean to live off of a rice cake with a swipe of peanut butter for breakfast, an omelet for lunch and a salad for dinner. But suddenly, that’s what happened. The food lover – the girl who ate everyone else under the table and left waitresses flabbergasted at her empty plate – broke up with her appetite because it just hurt too much.
I staggered around my college campus like a zombie. My stomach gurgled with liquid fire. Eventually, I ended up in the hospital hooked up to an NG tube feeding me liquid cheeseburgers. And when I returned to school a week and a half later, for the first time in ages, I felt normal. Almost.
Food no longer tied up my stomach in fear, but the idea of being “healthy” dominated my mind. To gain weight, my doctors prescribed a diet of brownies, ice cream – anything dripping in calories. But I couldn’t do it. My mind rebelled. It just seemed illogical to me that in order to be healthy, I had to gorge on unhealthy treats.
That’s not to say that I turned down every sweet (almond butter and I are joined at the lips), but sweets suddenly became less important. I loaded my plate with a rainbow of veggies and proteins, and cringed at the idea of past greasy favorites like Pizza Hut. I became so obsessed with “being healthy” that I forgot that what society deems as healthy isn’t for everyone. And, as I’ve finally realized, it isn’t healthy for me.
Food has worn many masks in my life: the criminal, thief of dietary enjoyment, the judge able to unlock health if regulations are met. Now, food and I have a different relationship: food – every type of it – is my friend. And I can’t thank celiac enough for teaching me that.
I still eat healthy. I still love salads, avocados, sweet potato rounds and broccoli (even though my dad gags every time he sees my plate). I still try out new health trends like açaí powder in my smoothies or 72 percent dark chocolate. But I also love Chick-Fil-A’s gluten-free fries and ketchup. I love watching a triple chocolate mug cake inflate in the microwave. And my afternoons are packed full of recipe experimentation, from pizza dough to brownies.
And sure, that half a tub of sunflower butter in my quinoa flakes may not be part of average Annie’s “healthy” diet, but it fits in mine. And while some might think I eat “too healthy,” I know that I’m giving my tummy and taste buds everything they crave. The fact is, I’m weird. I’m the 1 in 133 people with celiac disease in the U.S.. My eating style doesn’t match the national average – and I’m finally OK with that.
It’s been a long, hard journey to find my personal definition of food and heath. First, my body extinguished my appetite and then society and my quest for the holy grail of health limited my diet. Now, a year after celiac triggered this cycle, I am finally free.
Food has never tasted so sweet.