I do not know what it is like to be fat; we run to the thin side in my family, probably in part due to the subpar assimilation of our diseased digestive tracts (Crohn’s is known as a wasting disease, although there are overweight Crohnies out there).
So except for the stares and whispers when I am refugee-thin, I do not know what it is like to be reviled for being a particular size. Mostly, I pass for normal. Especially with creative layering.
But in the three and a half years since I was diagnosed with Crohn’s and put myself on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to help manage it, I think I have learned something of what my brethren on the other end of the weight spectrum go through every day, surrounded by what they know they can’t have.
Lately, you see, I dream of bread.
Good, chewy bread with a hearty crust and insane tooth, dragged through a mound of softened butter, garlicky olive oil, salty taramosalata from Athenian Room in Chicago, with an order of Kalamata chicken (oh! the fries!) following hard on its heels and a draft ale from Glascott’s next door to wash it all down with.
I long also for sushi, for cupcakes, for a gigantic platter of buttery naan to soak up a plate of vegetable korma. I crave John’s-on-Bleecker brick oven pizza, McDonald’s Extra Value Meal #9 (with a supersized fountain Coke), mac-‘n’-cheese, Mounds bars and marshmallow Peeps. (Especially stale ones.)
What you might not guess is that I also want tabouli and steel-cut oats and quinoa and mostly, oddly, my old-favorite lunch: brown rice with tofu and broccoli. I want all of the things I now know I may never have again, these foods teeming with forbidden sugars and starches and glutens that feed the bugs that eat away at my intestine and steal my health, crumb by crumb.
There is no cheating on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, because as Elaine Gottschall, its major evangalist, always said, in order for the diet to work at all, it must be observed with fanatical adherence. Any trace of sugar or starch translates into food for colonies of bad gut bacteria to thrive. Only after a full year symptom-free, we are supposed to try, if we are the gambling types, reintroducing small amounts of illegals to see how we do.
We do not, apparently, do so well.
I “cheated” on the SCD last year, occasionally at first, ramping up to full-throttle food slut over the holidays. While I’m 99% sure that a course of antibiotics provided the actual tipping point, I know that my own lack of self-care contributed directly to my current sorry condition, just as surely as I know all of those years of Greek omelette-and-fries lunches (preceded by corn muffin and coffee breakfasts and followed by tortilla chip and salsa dinners) contributed to the onset of the disease itself. I feel good when I eat well; I feel bad when I don’t. Quod erat demonstrandum, no matter what my G.I. doctor says about food-disease causality.
If I were stronger-willed I could probably, after a long stretch of fanatical adherence to SCD, wing the occasional baddie. But I’m an addict, with an addict’s binary decision tree. On or off. Yes or no. In or out.
So now I find myself feeling deprived in a way I never have before, having to figure out how to fill up the hole with something other than what I know would fill it. I realize that somewhere down deep, I always felt deprived; I just got to hide it longer. The fat girl, she knows all about this, I think. We’re more alike than I knew, although having walked through the fire, she is probably kinder and less judgmental than I.
She is probably someone you would much rather have dinner with.
I guess this is some of what the Crohn’s still has to teach me. First, I learned to be grateful. Now it’s time to take a crack at compassion. (Patience, I fear, is an ongoing lesson that is going to take more teachers than some piffling inflammatory bowel disorder to teach me.)
I would rather take the lesson over a freshly-pulled Americano and a slice of apple pie. But I suppose that’s why this particular lesson is mine to learn in the first place…
*Post title and meditation on food after Judith Moore in her vividly told, gripping memoir, Fat Girl: A True Story. Read a sample here. Read why she wrote it here. Read a real review of it here. Get it here or here. Not pleasant, but highly recommended.