It is the afternoon of New Year’s eve and I am one week into a sugar binge that has left me cranky, foggy-headed, tired, and sick. My muscles feel like they need an exorcism and my skin is sagging and puffy at the same time. I am bloated and cranky and my boyfriend, J, has just asked me if I would get out of bed to help him get food for the party. That seething venomous funk that accompanied me during the holidays for so many years begins to creep in. It is that angry/emotional moodiness that junk-food junkies know only too well. “Do we have to go to this thing tonight?” I ask. J stops what he’s doing and looks at me, “you don’t want to go?”. I reply disdainfully, “Well, it’s just that I’m not drinking tonight and all there is to do with these people is drink and it’s New Year’s Eve so it’s going to be worse than usual”. J looks at me like I just shot his pet rabbit and walks out of the room. I spend the next five hours trying to dodge angry blasts from him as I climb through the rubble back into his heart.
See, J. has only known me for the past year and the person he knows and loves would never say such a vile thing about anyone. But the person he knows and loves is the person I became after I detoxed from the SAD (Standard American Diet) seven years ago. He has only known the person who hears her inner voice, who loves unconditionally, who sees perfection in every soul she meets, who inspires people with her writing and lifestyle, who shares the precepts of the 8-fold path and 8-limb practice with her students and friends, who is turning her dreams into reality while helping others do the same. He only knows the me that is kind, affectionate, understanding, and compassionate. He doesn’t know that there is a Christmas tradition among my siblings to tell the story about the time I flew into a rage because they woke me up to open presents. J doesn’t understand that this is what happens to people who eat too much sugar and processed foods. He has only just given up gluten and sugar a month ago.
Since we became a couple six months ago, I have slowly slid back into my old ways in a mainstream diet. It’s not J’s fault, it’s natural for couples to use meals to socialize, and, in fact, meals together are a luxury that few couples even get anymore. But, it’s hard to find healthy restaurants in Framingham, where I work and J lives. As a single woman I was satisfied with a hearty blended vegetable drink or kale salad that I could prepare at my studio. J. ate very few salads before we started dating. And he is younger, physically active, and male, so his metabolism is much higher than mine. A salad or simple vegetable blend is hardly enough for him.
But it’s not just a matter of diet. I am busy building a business and preparing for competition. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is the only quality time I get to spend with J., who is, without a doubt, the man of my dreams. And J has recently decided to go gluten and sugar-free. This means that much of our relationship, as do most, revolves around food--planning for it, choosing it, negotiating it, sharing it, eating it. There is nothing like the socially active holiday season, where we all over-indulge in gatherings with family and friends, to remind us how much relationships and food intertwine.
And so I have decided to give up gluten and sugar for my boyfriend. That’s an easy enough decision to make. I can get back to my roots as a clean-living advocate--walk the talk-- as we like to say, and be a partner in health with the man I love. But I’m also going to blog about it, and this raises the stakes for me. Blogging is not like Facebook where you get to put your best face forward. Blogging means I have to own up to my struggles with food and with love as I’m struggling--without the benefit of hindsight. It means I have to be vulnerable and this is uncomfortable territory for me. I am not afraid of many things, but I am afraid of being anywhere on the radar screen with my jugular exposed.
Nonetheless, if I’ve learned one thing since opening my studio in Framingham it is that I am not alone. This is a place where you can post on Facebook that you need something and your neighbors and even strangers open up their homes, hearts and businesses to help you. I am amazed at the generosity of spirit that I have found in this community--the kindness. This is a place where lost wallets are turned in, and people chase you down to return something that you dropped, and where people buy yoga classes for their neighbor who is going through a difficult time. People here wrap you up in their loving arms and don’t let you suffer alone.
I also know, that I am not the only person in Metrowest who is suffering from bloating, rashes, GI problems, brain fog, low energy, migraines, joint pain, and any of the other signs of gluten sensitivity. A nutritionist from Metrowest Medical Center told me that there is a high concentration of gluten-sensitive people here. This makes me very curious. Why are there so many concentrated right here in Metrowest? Do we just have a well-versed medical community who understands the condition or is there something in the water? Does the metrowest region of Massachusetts reflect the rest of America or is it isolated? Is it genetic? Are there more people of a certain race suffering this, or is it simply the food? Why did I never meet people with gluten sensitivity when I lived and worked in Metro Boston?
I also know that I am not the only person who has decided to give up sugar in 2014, started reading labels, and gotten overwhelmed. Ok, I understand that I can’t have dessert, but what about peanut butter? OMG, there is sugar in EVERYTHING! Are we allowed to eat fruit? (fructose is sugar). What about milk? (lactose is sugar). Is turbonado sugar OK? What about evaporated cane juice or Agave syrup? Do I avoid anything that will spike my blood sugar, or just focus on staying away from processed sugar? Already this is enough to make my head spin (and not too unlike Linda Blair’s in the Exorcist either when you’re a sugar addict like me). And I'm a nutritional health coach, I have access to more resources than most!
Finally, I am not the only woman in Metrowest who struggles with eating healthy, cost-effective meals that will satisfy loved ones while managing a career and personal fitness. Nor am I the only woman who wants to have it all; the dream body, the dream man, the dream job, and forgets who she is in the process of manifesting it. And so, putting myself out there with my jugular exposed is the only thing I can do. Blogging about it will keep it real and if there is one thing I know only too well from my practice as a health coach, it’s that you can’t do it alone. And so I will share, and we will all learn, together.
It is New Year’s Eve, our battle is done. The man I love has reminded me of who I am and demanded that I live up to me. He has no interest in the cesspool of toxic sludge that insulted his friends before. Nor do I. We attend the party and I see the people I so rudely dismissed in the midst of my junk-food funk with clearer eyes. They are my community and, like the people I have come to know since coming to Framingham, have come together to support each other through thick and thin. It is thick times now and most people are joyous. Those who are not, because holidays are tough when you’ve lost a loved one, are surrounded and supported by friends--this is what it’s all about.
Each person has brought food and the table is laden with platters, dishes, trays, and pans full of food and, yes… desserts. Gluten and sugar abound, but I’ve lost my appetite for anything but vegetables after the afternoon’s battle. J. is mesmerized by the number of dishes laden with chocolate brownies, mousse, truffles, bon-bons, pastries, sweets, candies and more. This is what he lived for before. I can see the struggle brewing in his eyes. “It’s New Year’s Eve”, he says, “surely I can have a little sugar on special occasions.” I’ve been there, I know. “It depends on whether doing so will set you back or not”, I tell him. I wait. He is silent. His eyes dart back and forth from plate to plate and I say, “I have to tell you, baby, I am so proud of you for doing this. It’s one of the hardest things in the world to do. You inspire me”.Suddenly the spell is broken. He has heard all he needs to hear and his eyes settle back into a place of ease and confidence. I have reminded him of who he is and who he wants to be. He pulls me close, kisses my cheek, and smiles. We join the crowd to toast in the new year and I know...we’re going to get through this just fine...together.