First of all, holiday parties are mine fields for anyone with food sensitivities. Not only are there tables groaning with home-baked holiday treats, but all the “real” food seems to be full of gluten too.
This week, my office had not one but two holiday parties. I work for a medium-sized department on campus, which is part of a larger division, and both the department and division hosted parties for their staff. It would have been a really nice change of pace (in fact, having two afternoons off to socialize with coworkers was quite relaxing). But with social events comes food.
They’re inextricably linked.
My coworkers have been insanely supportive of my gluten free journey since the beginning, and even chose the site for another coworker’s going away lunch solely based on whether I could find something to eat. I love them. They actually kept me in mind when ordering food for Wednesday’s holiday party too.
Only the caterers decided to put fried onions on everything. Onions fried in wheat flour.
I was never so glad I ate lunch before a party in my life.
I also brought a pan full of homemade GF Nestle Toll House cookie bars (dead easy – just sub out the 2 cups of flour with 200 grams of GF flour; I used 100 g teff, 40 g sorghum, and 60 g potato starch). Which stuck in the pan, despite my best efforts. So I grabbed a plastic knife that people could use to dig them out.
I almost died when I looked over during the middle of the party and saw one of the graduate students in the department pick up the knife, use it to cut a (wheat flour) brownie on another plate, and put it back down IN MY PAN. I jumped up, moved the offending knife, and got another one from the kitchen for my cookie bars. Stinking cross-contamination.
Yesterday was our Divisional holiday party. Lots of stuff to eat. Sandwiches. Canapes. Cheese and crackers. Do you see a trend? One of my friends was going on and on about how fantastic the artichoke dip was. But one of the ingredients in it (which were, thankfully, listed) was cream cheese. Which might be gluten free, but would have been oh so much fun for this gum-intolerant girl to digest.
Even the tortilla chips were mixed in with the crackers.
Which makes a nice display but sure sucks for those of us who literally can’t eat.
Anyway, that brings me to the title of this post.
I was standing there, wondering how it would taste to have together the only two things I could spot that I knew for certain I could eat – cucumbers and cheddar cheese (answer: really not so good) – and one of my old coworkers, who now works for a different department, came up next to me. We exchanged our pleasantries and chatted a bit, and it was lovely to see her. That is, until she asked the dreaded question:
“So, have you lost weight?”
Look, everyone, I know it’s supposed to be a nice thing. For women, it’s a compliment. Or something. I know. But if you just stopped there, it would be fine.
I happen to know I’ve lost exactly three pounds since the Spring. I know this because I was at the doctor’s office this week for debilitating intestinal issues (more on this later – my favorite suggestion she had was that this was “hormonal,” but at least she’s going to run some tests for me!). However, I also know I look better, overall, than I did, thanks to not being puffy and inflamed from eating gluten.
“Well,” I answered, “probably not, but I’m allergic to gluten now, so I can’t eat it, and it’s making me less puffy.”
“Oh,” she answered, “That sucks. But it’s actually really good, then, right? Because it forces you to eat healthy food!”
Oh yes, it’s just great to have to worry every single time I eat something if it’s got a hidden allergen in it (my latest find: gum in crumbled goat cheese… sigh). It’s fabulous to have horrible cramps and runs, not to mention headaches and fatigue, when I inadvertently ingest gluten or gums. It’s even more laughs when I eat something that should be okay and it hits me, and I wonder for days whether I’ve got a new sensitivity or experienced cross-contamination or found something that was poorly labeled. My friends are fantastic about letting me see labels, but I’m sure they just love having to save everything for me to check out obsessively. And it’s so much fun to have to bring my own food to parties, or sit watching everyone else eat.
Also – my diet hasn’t changed that much. Oh, I have to be careful not to eat gluten or gums. But highly processed food was something I mostly cut out about 8 years ago. Every once in a while I’d buy a package of cookies or graham crackers, a pizza crust or bread. But even before my decision to go gluten free, I baked my own bread on a fairly regular basis. I ate frozen meals maybe once every year or two. This isn’t forcing me to eat “healthy” so much as it’s forcing me to be aware of how screwed up our food system is in this country, with our obsession with wheat and our propensity to add chemicals into just about everything. Aaaaaanyway…
I tried to gently tell her that it’s been pretty difficult because people don’t always label things (ummm, hello “natural flavorings!”), and cross-contamination is rampant. And, you know, it’s not pleasant being sick. But all she could talk about was how great it was that I had lost weight.
I wanted to scream.
First of all, equating weight with health is a really big pet peeve of mine. There are skinny people (like my husband) who eat completely unhealthily. On his own, my husband will make entire bags of chips, boxes of cereal, cartons of cookies, or loaves of bread disappear. Like, in a single sitting. He can eat more candy at once than I can eat in an entire year (as we found out during our first Christmas together, 8 years ago). But people are constantly talking to me about how I must starve him, or how he must be so healthy.
I’d never be considered skinny, but I tend to eat a very well-balanced diet, lots of lean protein and vegetables and fruits. When I have time to cook, I like to make lots of leafy green vegetables (spinach makes me happy) and salads. I like baking, certainly, but don’t usually eat junk food or sweets. Okay, not often.
Being intolerant has only reaffirmed for me how important it is for us to have a good relationship with our bodies, and with food. No one should eat anything that doesn’t make them feel good. This includes diet food (I have a friend who is perpetually on a diet, eating boxes of tasteless processed food, and it makes me so sad). This includes “healthy” food. I’m not saying “Eat whatever you like to eat because it tastes good.” Rather I think it’s really important that everyone – intolerant or not – starts to pay attention to how they feel when they eat. My body feels best when I stay away from gluten and bananas (worse, for me, than staying away from gluten!), don’t ingest any stupid gums, eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, don’t skimp on the protein, and indulge my chocolate craving if I have one.
I could actually care less if I ever lose another pound. I’d much rather never have another episode of intestinal horror. That’s way more important.