My friend deadpanned when I told her about my new diet of broiled chicken and brown rice.
Three to five times a day. Just chicken, rice, a vitamin and water. No seasoning allowed.
"You should be hating the world right now," Mel said.
My allergist set me onto this plan for two weeks — today marks the end — so we could get to the bottom of some mysterious food sensitivities I have. Allergy testing came up negative. I'd already cut out gluten, dairy, soy and nuts, which all helped, but I was still getting sick a couple times a week. Broiled chicken and brown rice are two of the most hypoallergenic foods, my doctor explained. If I felt good at the end of the diet, she said, we'd know that something I'm ingesting is causing my problems.
Well, it's been two weeks, and I'm symptom-free. I don't hate the world. In fact I'm happier and more energetic than I've felt since I can remember. This weekend, for example, I worked on projects around the house because we're preparing to sell. I spent hours power washing the patio and front stoop on Saturday. On Sunday, I painted the patio, helped the kids decorate pumpkins, made lunch, went trick-or-treating at the zoo, then returned to put a second coat on the patio. Before, when I had no energy, it would have been a pick-one-or-two scenario. This time I was in turbo mode with energy to spare.
I am grateful to the diet that I first deemed horrid. It's made me feel like me again. I'm also feeling reflective, so brace yourself for a few personal revelations.
1. Health is way more important than good food.
I love food. I love trying new foods from hot, James Beard Award-nominated chefs. I love pretending I'm a gourmet chef at home. I love taking seconds of foods that I love, or even thirds. But if I had to give all that up forever, I'd be fine with it, I now realize. Because I haven't felt this good for this long since I have no idea when. No fatigue, unintended weight loss or sudden, intense hunger that makes me feel like I'm going to pass out, no matter how much I devour. I now realize I was malnourished. My body couldn't absorb nutrients from what I was feeding it.
My husband, Will, and my mother indulged in some scrumptious-smelling take-out last week while she was visiting. Pizza, sesame chicken, burritos. They got some great laughs at my expense every time they'd sit down to eat and say, "What are you having?"
Meanwhile, I'd be fanning the smoke detector, set off by a dirty, hot oven that was attempting to char some flavor into my meat. Quinn, my oldest, snuck in his own joke — "Mommy's cooking again!" — and Bennett, the baby, perfected his pronunciation of the word "Beep."
I expect to eat like a (semi) normal human again soon, even if I have to go through a painstaking elimination process. But this epiphany about health over indulgences is huge for me. I could do without and be happy. I never knew.
2. Sugar does not control me.
A sidebar to "I love food" is "I worship chocolate." I doubt I've ever gone this long without sugar, even as a baby, when I nursed and probably got it through my mother's milk, just as my kids did through mine. One of the first things I did when I went gluten-free recently was find gluten-free cookies (Pamela's Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Chunk Cookies are divine). But here I am, two weeks in without a drop of sugar and not only surviving, but thriving. OK, I'm contradicting myself as I salivate over those cookies while I type. I'll have to repeat this lesson to myself once my sugar ban ends.
3. No one will advocate for my health like I will.
I've had these mysterious symptoms for so long, and they always seemed disconnected. Fatigue, stomach stuff, anxiety, blah, blah, blah. I had asked several doctors about them over the last couple of years, but usually my question was an afterthought in a visit for some other reason. There were always explanations:
Pregnancy will do that to you. Nursing makes you hungrier, and it helps you lose weight. You have two very small children: You're not getting enough sleep. Your body does weird things in the postpartum period.
When the symptoms kept happening, I would Google them. That tended to turn me into a hypochondriac. But I persisted and found a doctor who could help. And now that I know I wasn't crazy — that it's possible for me to feel healthy and vibrant — I don't want to go back.