Chronic Illness and Cheat Days
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Chronic Illness and Cheat Days
If you are on a diet, chances are you look forward to your "cheat days" or "cheat meals." I mean, that's the best part of dieting aside from losing weight! But when you are on a diet like the endometriosis diet, where you are eliminating foods for your overall, long-term health, or due to food allergies/sensitivities, there are no cheat days. We aren't lucky enough to eat according to plan 6 days a week and then splurge on the 7th day. Or because it's our birthday, or a holiday or because we don't feel like cooking. When you are on a restrictive diet for your health and well-being, you don't get to have "just one" of a forbidden food. So I decided to share a glimpse of what cheating can mean based on my own few cheats.
Now on the Endo Diet, what you can and can't eat is based on what triggers your flares and symptoms, what your body tolerates and what foods affect hormones, inflammation and even histamine in your body. We all know to avoid soy due to its affects on estrogen levels in the body. Meat needs to be hormone-free, but other hopes are free-range/pasture raised (wild caught for fish), no antibiotics, proper feed (depending on the meat, grain-free, grass fed, vegetarian fed, etc.). Most of us avoid dairy including eggs, gluten, sugar, refined/processed foods, anything prepackaged, caffeine, alcohol, you know the stuff cheap in price and nutrition.
Once you start eliminating the bad and adding in a ton of the good, you start to feel better almost immediately. But there is always that one day you wake up wanting a bite of your old life. Unfortunately that one bite can come massive issues you will regret. For example, even though I still eat sugar, some processed foods and hard cheeses, I have ditched gluten, coffee (and almost all caffeine), alcohol, almost all dairy (I'm lactose intolerant, so I do continue to eat the dairy I can tolerate but ditched the rest years ago), soy, canned beans, red meat (unless I can get the really good stuff and only then once in a great while), and just crap in general. But even though I feel great, there have been tons of times I've been tempted to eat whatever and a couple of times, I gave in. Guess what? I got sick. Every. Single. Time.
Each time, it was gluten. Because gluten has been the only thing I regularly ate that I've cut out completely, it's been the hardest. Gluten makes things taste good, not sugar, fat or salt. Effing gluten! So the first time I cheated, it was by accident. I grabbed some nuts and not thinking about the added seasoning, I didn't check the label and I glutened myself. Because I didn't eat that much, the only side effect was gas that could be weaponized. Same with the next time I accidentally are gluten. In fact, I thought gluten was only affecting my ability to clear a room quickly. But I was wrong.
My most blatant cheat was at the worst place for nutrition - McDonald's. I'm not kidding. Their GRILLED chicken isn't gluten free meaning they either feed the chickens a grain-filled, cheap diet or they add wheat to their seasonings or both. So you can get a lettuce wrapped burger (no Mac sauce though and I'm not sure I'd trust the lettuce wrap because I don't think I've ever seen fresh lettuce at any location), chicken-less salads, and a huge chunk of their shakes, coffees, and smoothies (most of which contain dairy). Fries are a no-go because of the cross-contamination issue (Chick-fil-a wins this as their chicken is pressure-cooked in peanut oil while the fries are fried in canola oil). I naively thought that their food never really caused me issues because out of everything I used to eat, I never seemed to get noticeably sick after eating. I was wrong. So very, very wrong. I got the 2 cheeseburger combo with fries and a Coke. I honestly thought gas was the worst thing that would happen. That was the one side effect I didn't have.
So not only did I get sick (which I'll get into in a second), my food was terrible! For starters, my food was put together so poorly, I felt like I was eating a deconstructed burger and thrice fried fries. But even worse than that was the taste everything had. Not even grease, it was just the worst tasting food ever. There are no words. Everything tasted so beyond what food should ever taste like, that I can see why people hate McDonald's. I've had ruined homemade meals that taste better than that bag of death. The side effects of eating started pretty quick. The first was the film both Phil and I felt our mouths develop as we were eating. The other effect we both felt was sluggishness. That along with the rest of the side effects started within 15-30 minutes after eating. I ended up with the return of swelling, joint pain, nausea, a headache and a flare day! Needless to say, we have both decided McDonald's is never again going to be an option.
And my only other "cheat" wasn't so much a cheat as trying to see what I could have. Again, it involved fast food (and it's stupid availability). Phil was craving Arby's and had been for weeks, so I looked up that I could have the roast beef, roasted turkey, salads with turkey, and a few other things. They recommended skipping fries due to being fried with everything else. I got a roast beef sandwich, which I tossed the bun and fries that I ate maybe 5 of. No major digestion issues but I did have joint pain the next morning. Next time, I'll stick to the salad as an option if we are out and need something on the go.
I know it probably seems like all we eat is fast food based off this, but really we don't. Fast food is almost exclusively a thing of the past. We will hit Chick-fil-a if we want a quick lunch and don't feel like making something, but I can only eat so many grilled nuggets and fries.
Now when someone tells me I can have "just one" or that it's a "special occasion," I can say with authority "No." Because when you have to eliminate foods due to your health, whether it's for an allergy, a chronic illness or anything else, you can't "just have one." Sure, there is hope that one day I'll eat whatever I want again, but if I can never again drink a beer in exchange for a life not stuck in bed, it's worth never again having a beer. Or chocolate cake. Or fluffy, white bread. I refuse to put my body through being sick to appease anyone, even myself and my own cravings.
If you are thinking about changing your diet and eliminating foods for your health, know a few things.
- It's hard and unforgiving, do not give up something unless you NEED to. Plenty of people can tolerate gluten or dairy with no issues and they do provide nutritional benefits, so don't cut something if you don't have to.
- Don't think of it as a "diet," instead think of it as a lifestyle. In fact, I think of it as a "dietary lifestyle" because a typical diet is temporary. While I can hope that one day I'll eat "normal" again, I also know that I may never eat gluten or drink coffee ever again. And that's ok.
- Focus on what you CAN have and build your meals off that. For example, we always ate a lot of spaghetti. Now I make our sauce from scratch, which is actually cheaper, and use gluten free pasta.
- Don't apologize for your new way of living. Don't be a dick about it, but don't apologize for putting your health above someone's need to feed you something that will make you sick.
- Be prepared bring food to get-togethers. It's far better easier to bring a dish to share than getting sick.
- If you attempt a diet for your health like the Endo Diet, it takes time to notice the good shift. For some, it's almost immediate, but for others, it can take months to notice the changes in your body. It depends on your current health, toxins in your body and how strict you stick with it. Two weeks isn't enough to see a solid change, in fact your body could still be detoxing for weeks after you switch and eliminate.
- And lastly, if you do cheat, either on purpose or accidentally, know it's going to suck while your body recovers, but remember this feeling so when you are tempted again, you can remember why we don't get cheat days.
And now a word to everyone else. If you happen to be a friend, relative, coworker or general person in the life of someone with strict dietary restrictions, don't be that person and suggest they eat or drink anything they aren't allowed. They will get sick and be in pain, even if they don't say anything. If you really care about them, don't ask, suggest or ridicule them about forbidden foods. Never harass someone to the point that they feel they have to eat to appease you. I hate to say it makes you selfish, but it does. Instead if you want to have them over, ask what they can have or must avoid. Want to go out? Ask where they can eat. Having a get-together? Ask them to bring something they can enjoy if you are worried. At the end of the day, being supportive is a better approach than being the one encouraging harmful habits.
Have a dietary lifestyle that doesn't allow cheat days and meals? Tell me how you handle cheat meals and any recovery in the comments!
To help with medical expenses, a Go Fund Me donation page has been created. If you wish to donate, please visit https://www.gofundme.com/wvfg67-marys-medical-expenses.