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Food has always had some sort of magical hold over me, for as long as I can remember. Some may call it emotional eating, but for me it goes way beyond that. It’s more of my way of remembering things. Of remembering times I shared with friends and family, of stories told, of ways places have made me feel, of particular things I may have been feeling or thinking at the time. I think back over my childhood and while I do have specific memories of events, a lot of it has an associated food to go with it.
I remember that time when I was sick with the flu in 4th grade and my mom brought me a grilled cheese sandwich (American cheese on white bread) and some steamy hot Campbell’s Tomato Soup. It was pure comfort to me and despite the aches and unending snot, I knew I was loved. I also remember that day when the spaceship Challenger tragically exploded. It was a cold, snowy day in New Jersey and when my sister and I came back inside after frolicking in the snow, my mom sat us down over a cup of hot chocolate and told us the terrible news. I still remember the feel of the hot chocolate on my tongue as my mom spoke and how the painful burning sensation from drinking too fast felt appropriate as I processed the information.
I also seem to always associate places with food, so it usually is the first thing on my mind when I travel somewhere. What kind of special food can I get where I am going? I grew up in New Jersey so every time I go back I need to get Italian water ice. When we fly out of the Philadelphia airport I want a cheesesteak. When we go to the Jersey Shore I want salt water taffy. If I go to Paris it’s a chocolate croissant, Germany it’s a pretzel sandwich or one of those freaking amazing fist-sized cake balls you can get in the town near the Neuschwanstein Castle. I mean, this is seriously how I am. I even do this when not travelling. For example, now that I live in Colorado I always rack my brain when I make the 10 whole minute trip to Boulder “What can I get here?”.
So you can imagine my panic and chagrin when I was diagnosed with Celiac disease last spring. I had already been grain-free for 3 years so for 90% of my lifestyle it wasn’t a big deal. But when I thought of all these cherished memories I’d have to leave behind? Until this point I would pretty much cheat anytime we’d go somewhere because in my mind it was “special” enough to warrant a cheat. But my health was bad enough last year due to adrenal fatigue and a Hashimoto’s flare (and subsequent Celiac diagnosis) that I have learned my lesson not to cheat anymore. It really was quite devastating to me though. I don’t think I even acknowledged how much so until recently, but when something makes up every fiber of your being like food seems to for me, it is quite a blow. Seriously though, how was I to remember things now?
Once I became determined to get over my adrenal fatigue and calm the Hashimoto’s down, I decided to go onto the Autoimmune Paleo protocol. For those of you unfamiliar with AIP, it’s a very strict subset of the Paleo diet that removes most foods that are considered to be inflammatory and can cause sensitivities for people. You stay on this for a period of time (I did 3 months at that time) and then you start adding back foods one at a time to see if they cause any differences or reactions. It’s not for the faint of heart, but yet seems to be super effective in helping one quickly start to see progress against autoimmune disease. It has definitely helped me tremendously in both how I feel in general, and how I regard food as nutrition. This isn’t my first attempt at a strict diet either, I’ve been on GAPS Intro and have done several 30 day strict Paleo efforts, but this time it really made a huge difference for me.
I started the diet with conviction, but also trepidation that I may never again be able to have some favorite foods, as well as knowing that for at least for a 3-6 month period I’d have to give up some other things I held dear, like coffee. But I survived and without significant emotional damage!
The surprising part to me is just the other week I was having a dandelion root herbal “coffee” (what I actually prefer to drink now for the most part instead of coffee) and it brought back memories of my trip this past fall with my family to Breckenridge, up in the mountains here in Colorado. I remembered sitting out on the deck of the condo we had rented and sipping my “coffee” and looking out, staring at the vibrant fall color on all of the trees against the vivid blue of the sky, as far as my eye could see. And then we had kielbasa for dinner recently and it reminded me of a camping trip we took this summer where some feisty and courageous chipmunks literally jumped up onto the hot stove and grabbed from the cast iron pan one of the two kielbasas I had brought as my AIP-approved alternative to hot dogs.
And how when we eat this certain AIP-friendly fruit cobbler it reminds me of how we were eating it while on another camping trip as deer peacefully walked through our campsite, yards from us, in search of their own dinner.
It all just made me realize that memories do not stop being made when you have to go on a restrictive diet or give up something you love. Those memories you already have don’t go away just because you cannot eat something. They are still there. I just need to remember now more of the other details of the memories, of what the food had reminded me of. And it actually has made me eager to travel again, but this time to make new food-based memories. To try to find the things that I can eat that will evoke a cherished feeling or maybe give us some good stories of an adventure not yet had. It’s quite freeing and makes me excited for the journey ahead!
*All photos in this post were taken by my wonderful husband Erik