I love Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. Mark Hyman. I believe the world is a better place because of the work that they have done. That said, there is one area where they have done their fans a disservice. I have never seen them be straight with people about the relationship stress caused by a dramatic permanent change in diet. Once the change is made it is straightforward, but that first year of creating and enforcing boundaries, of learning about yourself, is pretty tough. And glossing over how hard it is does no one any favors.
So here are some of the things you may go through when you try to change what you eat.
1) Changing your diet often causes your friends and family to question the way that they eat and feed their children. Not that you are eating better they are comparing what they do to what you do. Given how often I see a child’s hand in a bag of fries or cheesy fish crackers this tends to make them feel self-conscious. They may lash out at you for the fact that they know that they should change but don’t have the guts or the energy. Its not fun, but it is also not personal. They don’t like what they see in the mirror. You just happen to be able to save yourself…and be in the room.
2) Some people will treat you like a hypochondriac. Given our condition, celiac disease, I was surprised at the reactions that I got. I get visibly ill within an hour of eating gluten. I turn green and I move into the bathroom where I stay for at least a full day. I have documented genetic tests. My son has genetic tests and IgA tests. We have a diagnosable, measurable condition. And yet sometimes even that does not matter. The eye rolling and acting like I am making it up is astounding. The person who understands is always the “nut-free mom” who deals with the same thing.
3) It is rarely as simple as giving up gluten. For this over-simplification I blame gastroenterologists, although I understand their dilemma. The truth is that most people will have other issues (like needing to avoid dyes and artificial flavors or casien and corn intolerance) which also need to be accomodated. Celiacs may also have type ! diabetes. Even more challenging, you need a lot of extra nutrients to make up for all the times that the food that you ate was not properly digested. And during that “recovery” year (and it does take at least a year) you need a LOT of extra nutrients. So if a healthy person needs 9 to 13 servings of fruit and veggies per day (yes you are reading that correctly) you need even more. I needed a ton of supplements. So yes you can eat the gluten free cookies but if you want to get well, it isn’t that simple.
4) You must describe your condition to people you don’t even know. Every restaurant meal, every party invitation begins with a full explanation of your illness. Great. What lovely topics to discuss at mealtime. If you had a physical handicap people would understand how to accomodate it. Instead you need to train people about how to handle you. People you do not even know like the surly lady at the chain restaurant. What fun.
5) Your personality may change. I call this the “Dr. House” effect. As it turns out living in constant pain and discomfort is not good for one’s mood. I went from being a high-strung, moody person to being much more easygoing. I also gained motor skills. It takes some getting used to the new you and while most people will like the new you a whole lot better, some won’t.
6) Eating special food is not cool. I am so glad that we learned early. In high school I think it would have been very difficult. How do you tell a teenager that she cannot kiss a guy who just ate a pretzel? That her dates can eat gluten only if they brush their teeth and tongue before kissing her.
7) You learn who your friends are. Knowing that people who claim to love you are unwilling to modify their behavior in order to avoid physically harming you is devastating. When you see that behavior you can never really un-see it. You then know from that point on, that your health and safety are not something that they consider worth an inconvenience on their part. And it changes your relationship forever.
So yes, the transition is not easy. Some relationships do not survive. All I can tell you is that those who remain are those who care and in the end it is worth the pain. You will not feel better right away, but you will feel better eventually. A few relationships will end. Others will begin. If you do the entire program, you will be healthier and happier with better friends and a richer life.
Just keep that in mind when it gets rough. In the end, it is so much better.