When My Chronic Illness Affects My Diet


Once upon a time, I was a girl who loved food. It was one of my greatest passions. I loved to eat and try new things.

There was a little problem, though.

Things I ate tended to make me sick. I would get sick after so many different meals that it was difficult to pin down what exactly my food triggers were, only to learn that I had a lot of them.

I have tried cutting out things that likely make me sick many times over the years, with varying levels of success. As a kid, dairy was the first thing I learned that made me sick. I would go through phases where I was good and avoided it completely, but then I’d see other kids eating things. And since my allergies weren’t life threatening, I’d decide the ensuing issues were worth it and would just pretend to not have the allergy. The same happened years later with gluten. The healthiest two years of my life were the two years I cut it out, but I added it back in when I was pregnant and have not been able to have any sustainable healthy diet changes since.

These last three years since my daughter was born have been a spiral of up-and-down diet choices and declining health. I know that what I eat affects how I feel, but I also know that likely, I will feel badly anyway, because it doesn’t control completely how I feel. It’s a rollercoaster of conflicting emotions:

“Eating well isn’t going to cure me, so I might as well eat delicious things.”

“Other people can eat whatever they want. My illness already impacts so many areas of my life. Why does it have to impact my diet, too?”

“So many foods make me sick that I don’t even know where to start. It’s too overwhelming. I might as well not try at all.”

I realized the other day, suddenly, that all of these issues have made me actively afraid of eating. I don’t get the joy out of it that I used to, because planning each meal is a tedious task full of “what if’s.” I go through seasons where I just totally give up and eat whatever I want, knowing that things are making me sick, while just ignoring it.

I am confident, however, that this season of food nervousness in my life won’t last forever, if I finally actually do the work to repair my relationship with food. My 2017 one-word resolution, which I have written on before, is “wellness.” Total wellness needs to include me healing my relationship with food.

For me, this means several different things. Firstly, it means buckling down and eliminating the foods that are likely making me feel poorly – not just for a few weeks and then giving up, but for a long enough time to track real progress. I know, deep down, what my biggest food triggers are, and just don’t want to give them up. They’re ingredients in some of my favorite things and I don’t want to accept that I don’t get to eat them when other people do. My overall quality of life is so much more important than the fleeting joy I get from eating things that are ultimately destructive to my personal health.

This also means accepting I am different from other people, and diet limitations are some of the limits on my own life I must accept. This can definitely be one of the hardest areas of accepting my chronic illness for me – the comparison trap. I look at other people around my age without chronic illness and often idealize their lives. Doing so depresses me. I imagine them all doing anything and everything they want, unencumbered by illness, while my illness affects so many areas of my life. Does it really have to affect how I eat, too? It’s not like I have life-threatening allergies, so can’t I just ignore them and experience joy through eating cheese, donuts, and the like?

But what I try and remind myself is that everyone is limited, chronic illness or not. No one gets to do everything in life, and everyone must make very personal choices in what they need to do to live their own personal happiest, healthiest life. I know certain foods are making me feel worse, and in the long-run, limit me from things I care about more than food – from being at my personal best. So I need to buckle down, commit to this, and make the choices I know will be best for my overall long-term wellness.

I am not doing it alone. I am thankful for my support system through this. I know in order to succeed in totally transforming my diet and sticking to foods that make me feel better, I need my friends and family to hold me accountable, which they have done an absolutely fantastic job at.

And I know already that this new adventure of eating healthily and working on wellness in this area will hold joyful surprises as well. Just today I spent a whole morning teaching my 3 year old daughter to make carrot “spaghetti” using a spiralizer. We both had so much fun, and the joy made the final product so much better.

It’s going to be hard, but I hope by the end of the year I can write a post about how my eating habits have transformed and helped me thrive despite my chronic illnesses. I have faith that this is yet another area where I am stronger than my illnesses, and I am committed to following through.

Follow this journey on Writer Kat.

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