Digesting dietary change
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
This month: digesting dietary change
For most of us tax paying adults April 15th has deadline significance. For me that date took on different meaning eleven years ago. It was the day I took my husband to the hospital after 72 hours of mind-splitting headaches. It was near midnight on April 15th when a doctor in the emergency room approached us — sitting side-by-side on a gurney in the ER hallway, our legs dangling two feet from the floor like small children — to say that the three masses that appeared on the CT scan of his brain didn’t seem congruent with the healthy looking 31 year-old man sitting in front of him.
Before I go any further into the realm of that evening and its relationship to dietary change, I have to confess that there are three days that still loom large in my memory of our trials with the brain tumor that was diagnosed shortly after that visit. I allow myself those three days like I allow myself homemade chocolates and sprouted corn tortillas. There used to be more. (More dates and more dietary indulgences.) There used to be a play-by-play, date-by-date memory trail through two and a half years of medical intervention — radiation, different courses of chemo, craniotomies and more — coupled with the most evolutionary life-changing and intimate experiences I have had to date.
Because the worst health news can potentially breed the most significant metamorphosis for an individual and an entire family.
I’m often in the position of recommending that clients give-up a certain food or category of food to promote their healing. Similarly, a friend of mine once asked me: “How many dates do you need?” He was right. His stark confrontation allowed me to see that my addiction to that stream of dates wasn’t healthy. Those dates deserved to be released. To be honest, I haven’t yet been able to fully emancipate all of them. As one of those dates approaches I’m like a kid passing a candy store with a certain amount of watching and even longing for the potency of the experience that lead to that memory on that date. What I do now is tell the story of not having the date instead of having the date. There’s still an underlying sensation that I could barely live or that life would be horrible without my hold on that date, as if it is a hold on his life. But overtime, some of those dates have indeed receded from my cognition completely. (The overall memories remain, but not the actual calendar marking on which something occurred.)
The three milestones that I consciously permit to remain in my grasp are the most impactful ones. They are his birthday, his death date and April 15th, the date he was admitted to the hospital and we admitted, whether we liked it or not, that the headaches were more than a sinus infection. Shortly thereafter, one by one, we relinquished the foods that we deemed harmful for our goal of sustaining life against all odds, particular to our understanding of his unique situation. That was actually quite easy. The stakes were so very big.
Curiously, even though I’m a real foodie, love food, spend much of my day considering food, and have structured my whole career around food, I struggle less with the foods that I haven’t eaten since then than I do with the dates.
Sometimes I wonder how high the stakes need to be to enable us to digest the prospect of dietary change?
In the past few weeks I’ve been working with a number of clients with some very important decisions to make regarding diet and health. Their health, or in some instances the health of their child, is in jeopardy. Yet the idea of dietary change, the prospect of eliminating certain culturally-enjoyed fulfillments from the plate, can seem as daunting as the diagnosis itself. I get it. This is real pain. It’s the pain of dispensing of much of what we know to be true and relegating ourselves to the realm of being one of “those people”. One of those people who has to choose their restaurants carefully, drive the wait staff crazy with endless questions, and for whom it is very difficult to cook. Entering into that realm deserves a process of grief and mourning. It also deserves a measure of applause for embracing the power that we have over our own health and recovery.
When I first presented the research to my husband that sugar consumption can feed cancer growth, he was done with sugar. He never ate another bite. But he was given less than six months to live, possibly missing the birth of his son. When I tell my clients who have chronic Lyme Disease that gluten is causing them further digestive distress, they leave their appointment no longer feeling the lure of the bread at the bakery just next door. But they’re riddled with more pain than most of us can even imagine. When I initially delivered the news about dietary change to my then eight-year old client Stella, who was about to have a bone marrow transplant to help her combat Leukemia, she threw away the Starburst and the Mac & Cheese and does her very best to adhere to all the rules and regulations I stipulate for her ever-changing needs. But she knew, even at that age, that this was a matter of life and death. She knows which she wants.
My intent with this newsletter isn’t to chastise those of us who struggle with the dietary changes we determine to make or are advised to make. This is a struggle we all share. It’s incredibly hard work to digest change, let alone make it!
My intent is to invite us all to lower the height of the stakes that would allow of us to climb through the feelings of seeming social exclusion, face the probable addictive tendencies that keep us in potentially harmful patterns of dietary behavior (because food change is often much more complicated than an issue of willpower), and cut out the cheese (or whatever it might be).
Eater’s Digest Homework:
Just as new dates and memories enable me to “crowd out” much of my story around the trajectory of my husband’s illness, new foods and healthy options can help to “crowd out” something that we think we can’t live without but that isn’t serving us well.
Over this next month, and through this upcoming milestone, I plan to consider what kind of support, understanding, love and self-assurance would steer me toward a change that might permit myself to flourish more fully.
Please join me in considering how that might pertain to your patterns surrounding dietary change. I’d be honored to hear about your journey!
(You can email me or post something on the Replenish PDX website under this story.)
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