Intestinal Fortitude

Sometimes, for me, having food restrictions isn’t a big deal. It is what it is. I wouldn’t “kill for a piece of bread.” I mostly cook at home, and mostly stick to the same types of foods. Generally I’m not tempted by foods outside my norm, like sweets, because I feel better when I stay away from them.

It took months of slowly transitioning different foods into and out of my diet to find my equilibrium. For example, I’ve been gluten-free for years, but only in the past year have I started changing other parts of my diet. First came the switch from dairy milk to dairy-free milk when I realized that I was intolerant. Then all dairy products followed with the exception of cheese. I love cheese, and have not given it up completely, but I did take a hard look at the type of cheese I was eating, and how often.

I’ve always seen cheese as a treat. A good cheese plate makes me disproportionately happy. But that wasn’t the type of cheese I was eating. I was eating the type that lasts for almost a year in the package, with lots of ingredients that don’t sound edible, and which doesn’t taste like cheese. So, I stopped.

With every change I made—which included not only eliminating foods, but adding foods and being picky about their origins and journey to my plate—I felt a little better. My workouts were better, my mind was clearer. I was even pleasantly surprised when I went out to dinner and requested steamed vegetables, a plain baked potato, and steak, “with nothing on any of it—no salt, no spices, zero, nothing, just the food itself, totally plain,” that my request was honored. It may seem bland, but the taste of food itself, when totally unmasked, it quite astounding.

But then. After weeks, months of me swapping foods, perfecting my meal plans and prep, and reaching maximum efficiency such that I never even thought about what to purchase or what to cook, having food restrictions became a big deal.

As nice as it had been to be in my little food bubble, sometimes you have meals with people, and sometimes those people are business contacts. Maybe those contacts are interviewing you for a position over lunch. There are some times when you just don’t want to spend twelve minutes detailing your dietary restrictions to the waiter. My plain-eating regimen was working well for me, and whenever I strayed, I felt unwell. As if lactose were angry with me for giving it up, and got its revenge with even the slightest amount of cream in my soup. But in order to maintain my plain eating standards, even if I order the plainest thing on the menu, I might still spend twelve minutes grilling the waiter about how it’s made and with what.

This is where “intestinal fortitude” comes into play, particularly for celiacs, who must be diligent and insistent about making sure their meal is uncontaminated. Quite literally, the physical intestinal fortitude of celiacs is directly related to their mental intestinal fortitude. Courage, stamina. Guts. How fitting.

No matter what your food restriction is, there will likely come a time when your intestinal fortitude will wane. Just remember to listen to your gut (okay, I know, I couldn’t help it), because your health should always be your priority, even when it’s inconvenient, and difficult, and you wish it weren’t so.

– Kaitlin Puccio