Thursday, December 29, 2011

Miracle Diet Firms Ankles, Reduces Goiters

After I was diagnosed with DCIS, my mother began to offer a lot of advice about what to eat or not, mainly the latter, which was a topic she’d gotten a head start with due to her own cancer diagnosis last spring. This also hearkened back to when I was seven and she put me on the first of many diets, which I have long assumed was well meant: she wanted to make sure I wouldn’t have problems with my weight, but of course, dieting leads to nothing but problems with food and eating, and also leads like magic to weight gain, ultimately.

Thus began 10 years of one diet after another plus two varieties of giant binge: the “Farewell to Food,” which was the giant binge that preceded going a diet, when we ate everything we would never eat again, and then there was the giant binge that ended each diet. I don’t think we had a name for that one; we were too busy making a list of everything we were going to eat after the two or three or five days of cruel deprivation. I guess it was the “Hello to Food, and About Time” binge.

(“That was when you were living with your biological mother, of whom I have no knowledge, right?” my current mother asked when I told her I was about to mention the Farewell to Food on the Internet.)

It was astonishing to see 42 years disappear and to feel just like I did when I was seven and was denied a piece of birthday cake at a friend’s party. However, it was viscerally clear this time around that such advice came from a place of anxiety for my well-being, and I imagine it was the same back then, too.

In recent weeks, the information has rolled in, some seeming rather anecdotal in nature: I’m going to send you a link about this woman who stopped eating everything but pistachios, mint toothpaste, and buckwheat flour, and two tumors on her neck the size of basketballs shrank away completely in one week!

It was hard to know what to believe, and I was starting to feel a little miserable about the whole thing when I remembered that two can play at that game. It so happens I have a food theory or three up my own sleeve. I’ll see your “Don’t eat dairy” and raise you a “Don’t eat tofu.”

Even perfect strangers got in on the act. As I stood in the produce department at Rainbow one day loading a container I’d brought from home, a short, beautifully coiffed and dressed old lady at my elbow asked, incredulous, “Mushrooms?”  “Yes, indeed, mushrooms,” I confirmed.

“They’re the worst thing for your health,” she said darkly as she marched off, adding, “I’m a nutritionist.”

Fortunately my eating plan has long been an extremely healthy one with an extremely unhealthy one layered, perhaps larded, on top of it: grains, beans, fruits, veggies, nuts—and ice cream by the pint or two and Ruffles by the bag. So it wasn’t a matter of having to learn that substances made of unpronounceable chemicals aren’t even food, as Michael Pollan writes, but of the surgical removal of that top layer.

One unanticipated effect has been how much dish washing is now required. Say one decides to replace Pop Tarts with oatmeal and walks into the kitchen hungry for oatmeal, or at least prepared to eat it, but alas, there is the oatmeal pot, crusted with the same, in the sink along with the bowl, spoon, wooden spoon, and spatula. It works a lot better if everything is clean already.

Other than all the scrubbing, so far it’s been perfectly easy, largely thanks to the folks on breastcancer.org who started out with a DCIS diagnosis and are now trying to decide what will be hardest on their young children, for their mother to die at home or in a hospice facility. I am a somewhat seasoned hospice volunteer at this point and yet can barely stand to read these stories, in part because they make me afraid for myself.

I’d thought this anxiety might bolster my discipline in regard to eating, but nah, it doesn’t work that way. As they say in group sessions for recovering alcoholics, “You can’t scare an alcoholic.” You also can’t sufficiently scare a smoker, nor a Ruffles aficionado, but I have found potent the idea of refraining from former favorites in honor of those who would be incredulous with joy if skipping ice cream was the only thing they had to do that they didn’t want to do.
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