Listen Sugar, We Need to Talk.

by Stephanie

Shortly after I moved to New York, I was awoken around 4:00 am with a searing pain in my back. The pain was so strong I could hardly catch my breath. The only thing I knew was that I needed to get to the hospital (and that I did not want to take an ambulance there). I had just moved to Queens and knew nothing about the area, but I was able to hobble down to the main intersection in my pajamas and hail a cab. I asked for the nearest hospital, and he drove me away from the finer establishments in Manhattan to the now defunct St. John’s hospital in Elmhurst.  After a battery of uncomfortable tests and logistical nightmares (at one point they wheeled my bed into the waiting area because they had no space for me), they diagnosed me with kidney stones and sent me home with a delightful quantity of Percocet.  This wasn’t the first or last time I would be diagnosed with “the stones,” so I decided to seek out a doctor that could really help me sort things out.

A coworker recommended a doctor in the area who combined holistic and western medicine. Wanting to take a different approach to healthcare, I immediately made an appointment, and what I learned from this doctor was nothing short of mind-blowing. After a thorough assessment of my health, he explained to me that most of my seemingly unrelated symptoms could probably be addressed through my diet. Say what, doc!?! He went on to explain that a lot of people experience food sensitivities and/or allergies that compromise the digestive system and can result in a variety of ailments similar to an autoimmune disorder. Basically, he was saying that my kidney stones, history of knee complications, chronic insomnia, and frequent stomach pain could probably all be reversed if I took the time to clean up my eating habits. Before I could start, I needed to determine what foods could be causing my problems. This is where he prescribed me six weeks of hell: the allergy elimination diet.

This six-week eating plan required me to strip everything from my diet to which anyone could possibly be allergic. This included the following: wheat, sugar, dairy, night-shade vegetables (buh-bye potatoes!), corn, nuts, caffeine, certain types of seafood, and anything else of the processed chemical variety that I can’t pronounce. After six weeks of painful detoxification, I would then reintroduce these items every other day and journal any and all reactions that resulted. Oh, did I mention that Doc prescribed this to me at the beginning of December ensuring that my birthday, Christmas and New Year’s would be full of so much joy? Yeah, that was the icing on the cake…..that I wasn’t allowed to eat. I’ve always had an iron-will when it came to short-term challenges, so I jumped right into the misery. I was about halfway through the diet and I was dominating, but one of the most challenging feats was surviving my birthday.  Some friends took me out to a restaurant on the Lower East Side. I managed to order some carefully seasoned steak and a side of steamed vegetables, but the whole house of cards almost came crumbling down when our waiter brought us the dessert menu. To paint a clearer picture, let me tell you that this was an Australian restaurant, a place where the owner must exclusively hire good-looking servers with sexy accents. There are not words to describe just how handsome our server was, and he totally knew it. He was aware it was my birthday, but I explained to him that I was on a special diet and wouldn’t be indulging in any birthday sweets. He crouched down beside me, leaned in close and whispered to me every unspeakable ingredient in his favorite dessert, seductively, as though reading pages out of a harlequin romance book.

“Rich, decadent dark-chocolate brownie…..smothered in melted caramel sauce and hot fudge….ice-cold vanilla ice cream melting down the sides…”

My mouth watered, and my friends were silent. After a long pause, I looked at this evil man, gritted my teeth and told him “No, thank you.” It never got more difficult than that night, and after a few more days, I did eventually pass the point of sugar rehab and moved on to that phase in healthy eating where you simply feel like you can conquer the world. Once I began testing the restricted foods, it became obvious that wheat and potatoes are not my friends. Overall, though, when it was over, I felt nothing short of amazing! My energy levels were up, I was sleeping better, and I wasn’t running back to the ER with back pain. I returned to the doctor confident that I could make a couple of these dietary changes permanent. It’s been four years since that diagnosis, and I can tell you that I made none of those changes permanent. I should not, then, be surprised that I haven’t lost any weight, I still have insomnia, and my knees still barely function above the level of the Tin Man. Why is it so difficult to eat the way I should eat? To deny the immediate pleasure of toxic food when I know that I will pay for it later? I just spent ten days back in the Midwest devouring the best of my mom’s cooking and the worst of the Midwest’s dining options. By the time New Year’s Eve rolled around, I felt lethargic and ill.

I am not someone who usually makes resolutions, and I’m not usually the sort of person who makes public my issues with weight and poor health, but I think I reached a breaking point three weeks ago. I was riding my subway to work when within 30 seconds, I felt queasy, broke out into a massive sweat, and my whole body went numb. I clutched to the pole as hard as I could, and I was determined not to be “that person” who collapses on a train and holds up everyone at rush hour. I felt my knees buckling just as the train pulled up to my stop. I stumbled out the door and hunched over on the platform bench, laying there like a homeless person until my legs decided to work again. I went to the doctor, and she thought it was just a virus. It was impossible to determine my blood sugar at that moment because I had eaten by the time I went to the clinic, but my hunch is that this was a wild attack of low blood sugar. I toss back so many processed, sugar and carb-based foods on a daily basis that I’m convinced I am experiencing the peak of my comeuppance. Things must change, and they must change now.  This isn’t about looking better in my clothes. It’s about being the best version of myself and being a good steward of what has been given to me. It was with that revelation, that I stumbled across my dear friend Kristine’s post on Instagram rallying folks to participate in the Whole30 food challenge.  Click here for the specifics and I will expound in more detail later, but this is precisely the type of detox that I desperately need. Hopefully it will transition me to a permanent, healthy relationship with food. Almost a week ago, I accepted this challenge. It’s on!

To be continued.

*PS. I do plan on finishing my blog series on my Joe Jobs. Still tweaking those drafts though 🙂