When I was a child, I would listen to my mother and aunt spend hours comparing notes on awful they felt when they ate this or that. My mother did terribly on green beans and just couldn't eat bread without bloating like a balloon whilst my aunt reported migraines with cheese and terrible side effects from onions.
As a child who had a stomach of steel and could eat an entire sweet shop without suffering any of the dire predictions regarding tummy aches, I couldn't - for the life of me - understand what they were going on about. I just could not compute the idea that eating certain foods could make you feel unwell.
As a teenager and young adult I would roll my eyes and shake my head with scorn when I heard them go on about what they could and couldn't eat. When I heard about sleepless nights blamed on cheesecake and painful bloating pinned on onion soup, I would shrug my shoulders, and happily take another bite of donut thinking that old people were, well just a bit pathetic, really.
And then suddenly one morning I was one of those old people.
Over the past few years I have noticed that - to my dismay - I really don't do very well on certain foods.
I love lentils and when I eat them I bloat horribly and get trapped wind. It's painful and very uncomfortable.
I adore garlic and nowadays if I eat it in more than homeopathic quantities I get awful headaches, nausea and, when eaten raw, diarrhoea.
I am a fan of fruit, especially summer fruits: peaches, apricots, figs but when I eat them my belly swells and I feel pregnant.
I am very partial to crusty yet chewy sourdough bread but sadly when I have it I feel just awful: I bloat, feel a bit sick and usually want to lie down and sleep it off.
So does this mean I must cut out bread and pulses, fruit and garlic? No more garlicky, winey lentils with crunchy bacon bits? No more roasted garlic bruschettas? Bye bye summer fruit pavolva? Adieu bread - forever?
I did for a while think that this would be the only solution. I reasoned that if I just cut out the foods that don't agree with me, I would solve the problem. What I forgot was that deprivation, under any guise, fuels cravings and overeating. As soon as I told myself I would forgo bread I found myself baking ciabattas like they were going out of fashion and eating 3 bagels for lunch. I found myself eating sweets instead of fruit, just to taste something sweet. After years of having a balanced and 'take it or leave it' approach to food I suddenly found myself in diet mentality all over again: starting 'properly' on Monday, vowing to stay away from this or that food, having lots of last suppers to cleanse my kitchen cupboards of the culprits, rebelling and telling myself this was all a load of crap and NO-ONE (not even myself) was going to tell me what I could and couldn't eat and so on and so forth....
Luckily I know better. I went back to basics and to being my own guru. I became curious, I asked myself questions: how much of these foods did it take to make me feel unwell? Did eating them at particular times make any difference? Did I need to cut them out entirely or was there a way to keep on eating them without paying with my health? Was I willing to face life without garlic and how did it feel to ban bread from my diet? I experimented and made notes and slowly began to untangle myself from the all or nothing mentality that I got caught up in.
So, will I be cutting out carbs and all the other foods I love but feel terrible when I eat? Here's what I discovered...
Lentils are defiantly a no-no. I do love them but not enough to suffer the side effects and not eating them does not drive me into binge mode. I can live without lentils. Arriverderci lentils.
Garlic is a tricky one. It's not just that garlic is delicious to eat, it makes such a difference to the flavour of so many dishes. So after much trial and error I have arrived at the following conclusion. I am not willing to eat raw garlic, however much I love the dishes it comes in. It's just not worth the pain and discomfort. However, I can cook with it in small quantities and have recently found the magic solution: garlic infused oil. Thanks to this wonderful invention, I can get the perfume of garlic in my cooking without actually having to eat any!
Fruit, I have discovered, is fine as long as I eat it on an empty stomach. It seems that when I eat fruit with other food it all ferments in my stomach and that's what causes the distress. So goodbye fruit puddings and hello fruit salad for breakfast!
Bread, is a tricky one. What I've found out by trial and error is that the problem is caused by yeast, especially fresh yeast. So it's not just bread, it's all types of yeasted carbs. And it seems that the more I eat, the worse the symptoms get. I can eat a slice of bread or a croissant but 2 isn't great and more than that for more than one day in a row makes me feel generally yuck. The thing is it's not like the lentils which have a really massive effect or like the garlic with which I feel very ill. No, with the bread and yeasty stuff it's a general bloaty, sluggish, lack of energy feeling which I can - and do - live with. It doesn't keep me at home within reach of the toilet or in bed with a sick bowl. It doesn't disrupt my life. I just don't feel as well when I have a lot. And I'm just not willing to cut bread and baked goods out. So I'm still debating this one, still experimenting with how much I can get away with. Nowadays I make sure I only eat really fantastic bread and truly delicious baked goods. I savour each bite, enjoy it and make it last rather than wolfing it down in a couple of mouthfuls. I am going for quality rather than quantity.
My experiments have given me useful information with which I can make informed decisions. I now feel I have a choice about what I eat. And choice is so powerful. It means that when I go for the egg salad instead of the egg sandwich I am making a choice. A choice to look after myself. A choice to care for my health. And this feels very different from the self imposed depravation that I started out with. It feels kind and respectful. It feels good.
This is what I love about the work we do at Beyond Chocolate - it's all about empowering women to make choices that feel good, good about what we eat and good about our bodies.
Oh, and it touches so many other parts of our lives too. After all these years I feel I owe my mother a public apology for being so dismissive and intolerant. Sorry Mum!