Have you ever changed your diet or let go of a life-long habit? Whether through your own reckoning or on the advice of a health professional, lifestyle change can sometimes bring up stronger emotions than you expect.
A couple of decades ago, before becoming a naturopath, I realised that one of my favourite foods was making me unwell. The solution, to stop eating it, should have been straightforward. But instead of it being a simple dietary adjustment – I felt like I’d broken up with my oldest friends. What ensued was a year-long dance through the stages of grief.
I remember the day well. I was 20 and my housemate announced she was giving up dairy.
I’d NEVER do that, I thought.
Even three decades on I can recall the vehemence of my internal response. I could easily forgo milk, as I detested the flavour, but cheese or chocolate ice cream? Never.
It took another three years to connect the dots and come to my own awful truth. It wasn’t just the monthly cycle of tonsillitis that would become a ten-day cold, or longer if the inevitable chest infection kicked in. Nor the ache deep in my gut after eating dairy foods (most of the time). It was my heart leaping out of my chest after devouring a super-cheesy bake one winter’s night. The palpitations were strong and rapid enough to alarm me. It was too much of a coincidence. My body just doesn’t cope with dairy and it was time I started to listen to it.
Realising that these foods made me sick wasn’t a happy conclusion. I was annoyed with everyone else who could eat dairy, seemingly without any negative consequences.
It just wasn’t fair.
As much as I accepted I had some kind of food intolerance, I reckoned I wouldn’t have to give dairy up entirely. A little sheep or goats milk cheese would be ok. Or maybe the odd big, fat slice of Black Forrest gateau. After all a little couldn’t hurt –could it? Perhaps a small amount would even inoculate me, so I could eat dairy regularly again one day.
However going for a couple of months without a cold was a first. Then a friend lured me into a newly opened cheese shop on her birthday. “Just try the sheep and goats cheeses,” she said. So I did. The next day with glands like golf balls and an aching throat – my old friend was back. I felt awful and I knew why.
Cheese had long been my best friend. I ate it when I was bored, unhappy or as a reward. It was a harsh truth; my go-to comfort food had turned against me. Accepting this long term relationship was over and there was no going back, filled me with sorrow.
It took me close to a year to accept my reaction to dairy wasn’t a passing phase. I was born with an intolerance to both milk sugar and dairy protein. If I wanted to feel good, these foods could no longer be part of my diet.
The dairy-lust didn’t cease immediately but instead of giving into it, I learned to ask myself whether it was delicious enough to make me feel unwell? Working with instead of against my body, makes life a whole lot easier.
How do you cope with lifestyle change?
Whether it’s the discovery of a food allergy or intolerance or being diagnosed with a serious condition like heart disease or diabetes, it can be confronting to change even a small aspect of our life. What, when and how we eat can be fundamental in our relationship with our self and others. Grief is a common response.
While some people embrace change with ease, many of us aren’t keen to let go of old habits, even the ones that harm us. The dance of grief can vary greatly in duration or sequence, and like any kind of loss there’s no right or wrong way to traverse it.
Confused about food allergies and intolerances? I’ve found the majority of clients who have self-diagnosed food issues have got it wrong, and are unnecessarily altering their diet. Getting expert help is the safest way to navigate health issues.