If you’ve ever shared a meal with me or attended a social event with me where food was served—or walked past me a stone’s throw away at any of the aforementioned occasions—then you already know that I have a very restricted diet. Most diets are intended for weight loss or nutritional gain. Mine is of neither sort. The sole purpose of my diet is to spare me pain. Certain components of food, such as acid, caffeine and potassium, turn toxic inside of me and cause inflammation which escalates into a myriad of other symptoms, like tense muscles and throbbing nerves. Essentially, pain.
I started my diet 3 years ago, when I was first introduced to my disease. The process of adapting to my diet—and sticking to it—has actually changed the way that I think and approach life, to a certain extent.
This diet is called an “elimination diet” because you start with next to nothing, and slowly add foods one by one to “test” their potency. Some foods are found to be “safe” and can be included indefinitely, but the “risky” foods are meant to be avoided always.
For the first couple weeks of my diet, I purged my system of everything but the basics: grains, carrots and spinach. The goal is to have a “status quo” from which to judge your experimental additions. My search for a direct cause/effect connection (between what I eat and my symptoms) became a sort of personal science experiment. My “control group” was my already-tested safe group of foods. The “variable” was one food item eaten only once during that week. I’d then wait for my symptoms to either flare or remain constant. One by one, I ruled out bananas, processed meats, tofu, salad dressing, and on and on. I also found “safe” additions, like French fries, blueberries, and bacon. While my tummy sometimes growls for hunger (or food-envy), I can honestly say that keeping to “safe” foods makes a palpable (though not entire) difference in my symptoms—that is almost worth the sacrifice of my taste buds.
My already analytical and organizational mind clung to this process of cause/effect and soon applied it—to a slightly frightening degree—to other aspects of my life and the world. I’ve begun to expect a reason for, and an explanation to, everything that happens. My diet gave me reins to control, ever so slightly, my pain, so I’ve monopolized this sense of power and demanded it elsewhere…with varying degrees of success.
I’ve been rejected for programs and jobs, so I searched for the “cause”, and decided to polish my interviewing skills. I had the “effect” of anxiety when driving on busy highways, so I endeavored to practice, practice, practice. I acquire “fistfuls” of music, and then “sift” through them song by song and weed out the ones I don’t like. Harmless analysis? Not quite.
Cause/effect can only take you so far. When my car was seriously rear-ended, through no fault of my own, and then two weeks later the windshield shattered (randomly, again without fault), I could not find solace in analysis. I could not interpret a lesson to follow to avoid such events in the future, nor could I have foreseen or altered my behavior to spare myself or my car. I had to admit that separate entirely from control is chaos, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But I’ve noticed that I still hold tightly to my control. As Vaclav Havel puts it, “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” I cling to my logic, my analysis of consequence and prevention, believing it is the highest goal, my most concrete hope.
The supreme irony, of course, is that even as my diet spurred on my cause/effect thinking and control-grappling, the biggest thing in my life without a cause is my disease itself.
Doctors, scientists and researchers don’t understand the origins of my disease. It is not infectious or contagious. Not caused by a parasite, bacteria or virus. Not hereditary. Has no set pattern or prognosis. No prevention exists. Nor any set treatment method. Although evidence is spotty, my disease is suspected to be an auto-immune failure. Meaning, my body may be fighting itself unwittingly, due to a biological misunderstanding.
I’m glad that I have a tool to improve my condition, however feeble my method of controlling my diet may be. Sometimes I feel like I’m lost in a pitch dark room, but holding oh-so-tightly to my compass.