posted by meowser
(With apologies to Jack Benny.)
If you are autistic, or you’ve done any reading in depth about it, one thing you have probably heard of is the GFCF (gluten free, casein free) diet. That basically means no wheat or most other grains, and no dairy products. The theory is, firstly, that autistic people are congenitally unable to fully digest those foods, and that’s why we have so many Digestive Iss-Yews. Secondly, advocates of this diet say those foods function as “opiates” for us and thus make us more stuporous than we would otherwise be.
Me, I’m agnostic about it. If you feel better, or your autistic kid does better, eating that way — great. I’m not gonna shove pizza down anyone’s throat. However, it needs to be said that it’s likely most autistic people don’t actually follow this diet, at least not all the time; they (and/or their parents) don’t find it particularly useful or even especially sustainable to keep up. (I don’t think there’s ever been a study done of what the percentages are of autistic people following GFCF; my assumption is largely based on anecdata.) Joel Smith of the blog NTs are Weird believes that the “gut issues” associated with the autism spectrum are mostly about stress, rather than an inherent inability to digest certain foods, and given the ridiculous amount of stress most of us experience throughout our lives, it’s tough to argue with that.
However, Gut Issues are pretty much what I’m all about. I admit it — what I like to eat sometimes (okay, a lot of times) doesn’t like me back, and that fact doesn’t necessarily stop me from eating it again. And it doesn’t have to be “junk” food, either; sometimes a vegetarian meal of legumes and veggies and rice and flatbread that looks perfectly salubrious on paper goes through me like a tornado. This is where all the hatebags will probably descend on me screaming, “See? You fatties, you just eat whatever you want even if it fucks you up and you don’t care about MEEEEEEE and my bank account!” Here’s the problem, though. It’s a lot harder to pinpoint what does “fuck me up” when I eat it than to ascertain what doesn’t. If vegetables and salads do that to me, then it’s probably not just that I have a congenital inability to eat gluten and casein, yadig?
My shrink (who’s not autistic) told me that a couple of years ago, she was having Gut Issues herself. So she, following the advice of a nutritionist who believed in the “systemic candidiasis” gut theory, went on a dietary regime for two years that was not only gluten and casein free, but also low carb. (So much for being vegetarian on a diet like that, huh?) The idea was that those nasty yeasties would have nothing to yeasty-feast on and would eventually die off and go away. She was already quite thin and wasn’t interested in weight loss, and she did eat small amounts of potatoes, brown rice, and oatmeal, enough that she wouldn’t go into ketosis. And she ate as much protein, fat, and non-starchy vegetables as she wanted, lots and lots of each of those, so didn’t go hungry. And, she said, “My gut issues cleared right up.” She’s now back to eating much more omnivorously, with no problems.
Now, think about what a diet like that would consist of. Or, more to the point, think of everything you’d have to eliminate. Obvs, no baked goods, no fruit (!), no pasta, no white rice, probably no alcohol, no desserts — and most especially, no chocolate. For two years. Are your coffee beans broken? I can’t do that. Yeah, there’s an end in sight and I wouldn’t have to do it forever, but would it feel that way? Besides, how do you stick to something like that and never fall off? I don’t have a lot of confidence that there wouldn’t be recidivism, especially living with two skinny men (one an extremely active 18-year-old) who heart their carbs and would be very cranky not having them in the house unless it was a matter of life and death for me, or at least a matter of my being able to work versus not being able to.
I asked her, “Weren’t you depressed eating that way?” I remembered reading Geneen Roth’s Appetites, which was centered around Roth’s experiences with a “Candida diet,” and Roth basically said the diet didn’t do anything but piss her off and screw up everything she’d managed to learn about intuitive eating. Being someone with a history of major depression — not to mention someone who has binged pretty fiercely after restrictive diets — this was not an idle concern for me.
“At first I was,” she admitted. “But after a while I felt so much better.”
She did say that if I decided to do this, I shouldn’t do it on my own, but that I should work with a GI specialist and a dietitian (or naturopath) who knew what they were doing.
When there’s something you really, really want and don’t have, it’s easy to be vulnerable to the claims of people who say they have the Instant Cure. Part of me kept saying, “Oh hell no, I can NOT do that. There’s no way.” And another part of me says, “You’re not going to get to eat everything you want forever, everyone has dietary restrictions if they live long enough, so get over it.” And with me, of course, all of this feeds into normalcy pangs. Don’t you want a group of real friends, living right here in town, to hang out with every week? Don’t you want less gas and not having to spend so much time in the john? Don’t you want a real career? Is chocolate and all those other things worth sacrificing all that for? Think of all the friends you’ll have if you give up carbs! Women love talking about what they’re not supposed to eat! You will be One of Them at last!
Yeah. And I’ll also be living alone because I will have driven my partner irretrievably bonkers. Thanks for playing.
And this isn’t even a “diet” in the weight-loss sense. There’s no getting on a scale or whipping out the measuring tape to see if I’m doing it right. And once it’s done, it’s done; once the two years are up, I can start phasing all those foods I love back in gradually, and life will go on. There’s no going to bed hungry. There’s no getting clipped about the head by a “counselor” who’s pissed at me for cheating with cough drops. Only one thing is important: Do I feel and function better eating this way?
And yet, even this much seems overwhelming to me. Not to mention objectionable in other ways; I would probably have to eat a whole lot more meat than I’m eating now, and I don’t particularly want to do that. I feel guilty enough eating the amount of it that I do, and haven’t ruled out becoming a vegetarian again. And isn’t it true that once you haven’t eaten something for a while, you lose your ability to digest it? What if something looks or smells so good I can’t resist, and by then I don’t have the enzymes to digest it anymore? Won’t that make me seriously sick, much sicker than I am now?
On the other hand, I feel like I’m so weak for not feeling capable of doing this, for being such a slave to my appetites and cravings that I won’t give up anything I love, even if it would help me. I feel like maybe people are right to discriminate against my fat ass, that their perception of me as weak-willed and self-destructive simply by dint of my body shape is accurate. Sacrifice? Hard work? Stiff-upper-lip attitude? Strike one, strike two, strike three. Yeah, it’s true. “My chocolate or my life” doesn’t sound like much of a choice, and I’m not even eating a lot of chocolate or eating it every day. Even doing one of those things — no gluten, no casein, OR low carb — seems like a recipe for feeling mentally lousy, even if it’s time-limited. What if I do have medically related dietary restrictions one day? Am I going to be one of those people who’s chronically noncompliant?
I guess I have some thinking to do. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an overripe banana to eat.