There is an interesting discussion going on over at Tara Sophia Mohr’s blog on food addictions. Tara has written a post called My Sugar Story about giving up sugar, which has attracted a lot of comment from her readers. This is topic close to my own heart, as I have been on a long journey of trial and error to find a diet that works for me. My reason for doing this was, quite simply, that I felt lousy most of the time. The first to go was sugar. It makes my blood sugar swing all over the place, leaves me edgy and creates a creepy crawly feeling in my skin if I have too much, like a sugar hangover. It also wrecks my body balance and causes all sorts of irritating minor health issues. Later I tried restricting wheat and yeast, and eventually all gluten. I also don’t drink alcohol. Goodbye bloating and fatigue. At various times I tried to be vegetarian, but that was just too difficult to pull off, given all my other food restrictions.
The point of this story is not what I eat or don’t eat, but the issue of food intolerance. I have accepted that I have a sensitivity to certain foods, and life goes better for me without them. Thats OK. I can live with that. I don’t feel deprived. In fact I feel LUCKY not to have to bother with certain so called treats. The difficulty for me has been that my food choices sometimes bring up a strong reaction in other people. I am sure everyone is aware that there can be a fair amount of social pressure to drink alcohol, whether direct or indirect. In my experience there is even stronger social pressure to eat cake, chocolates and desserts! These foods come up in a much wider range of social occasions than alcohol, and because they are regarded as treats and signs of sociability, there is a huge pressure to ‘join in’.
It still surprises me how strongly some people feel the need to urge food onto others. When it comes to cake, chocolate and dessert, there seems to be a belief that I am depriving myself, and suffering in some way. People say I am “being good” or “being healthy”. Actually I am not trying to be anything, I am just trying to feel OK for the rest of the day. I don’t fully understand the motivation to urge certain types of food onto people when they clearly don’t want it, but I suspect it comes from beliefs about sociability and from discomfort about their own eating habits.
I came across similar issues when I was trying to be a vegetarian. I had a flatmate who got very persistent in trying to convince me that it was stupid to be a vegetarian, and that I should eat meat because it was normal. That was a while ago, and I think vegetarianism is much more accepted, but I expect there is still a certain amount of discomfort around that choice for some people. I really admire people who are able to be healthy vegans, because it seems like a logistical nightmare in a society that doesn’t support that diet choice well, and I expect there is a lot of social pressure to relent and eat animal products.
Many people choose to eliminate certain foods to achieve a healthy weight, manage allergies and intolerances, control addictions, promote general wellbeing and be true to their values. It is not an easy path. Unfortunately society does not always do a good job of supporting them in their efforts. So let me help out.
It’s OK not to eat cake at a birthday party.
Its OK to skip dessert at a restaurant.
Its OK not to have alcohol at a wedding.
Its OK not to eat meat at a barbeque.
It is OK not to eat chocolate at Easter.
You don’t have to turn yourself inside out making wheat free cakes, sourcing substitute chocolate and guessing which wine a vegan can drink. If people have special requirements, they will usually work it out themselves by making careful selections or doing without, or they can tell you about their preferences if you ask them. People who are working with their diet don’t want a lot of fuss and attention. They just want to be allowed to get on with it without judgement, without being singled out, without being made to feel weird or guilty. Giving people space to sort out what diet works best for them and supporting them in their decisions is what Food Tolerance is all about.