A Tale of Two Lifestyles (in One Body)

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Long, long ago, in a galaxy (or, at least, a state) far, far away, I was married. My husband adored fast food — his eating philosophy was summed up by saying, “What I want is to drive up, point to a picture of something, say, ‘I want that,’ and have them hand it to me.” He wasn’t much for cooking, and had a serious aversion to washing dishes and other domestic tasks. (Not that there weren’t some legitimate reasons for all of this, which I’ll get to in a minute.) We were usually flat broke and overdrawn, and I was constantly stressed out and exhausted from working and running around trying to prevent our phone bill and such from being shut off and moving to yet another new apartment, and wasn’t up to doing all the cooking and cleaning night after night — so either we ate fast food, or nuked something, a lot more often than I would have liked. I drank a lot of soda, and ate a lot of stuff from convenience stores, and there was not a whole lot of goody-goody whole-grain organic-veggie goodness in my life at all. I got exercise here and there, but it wasn’t very consistent.

Fast-forward about 10 to 15 years. I’m now divorced and living with a domestic partner, and my life is as stable and healthy as it has ever been. I cook lots, eat lots of fiber and very little packaged or fast food, have discovered a whole slew of nutritious grains since quitting gluten for a year (my intolerance seems to have been of the temporary variety, about which more later), avidly attend farmer’s markets and shop for organics at the fabulous local chain New Seasons, and exercise about twice as much as I did in the old days. And there’s a lot less stress, for many reasons, not least of which is that I understand my own disabilities now and have learned to work with them rather than against them, and my partner actually demands very little of me, readily cleans up after meals and takes on many of the domestic tasks I have always sucked at. My soda and juice consumption has declined drastically also, and I sleep much better.

Now, given all this, would you guess I weighed more when I was married, or more now?

Since you guyz are so smart, you probably would guess what most people would not: I’m fatter now. By a lot. You see, I wasn’t taking Remeron then. Also, I’m getting old. Makes a difference.

Am I healthier now? I don’t know. I certainly feel much better mentally, and my stomach is a much happier place. But I don’t even know if there’s any such thing as “good health,” only the current presence or absence of diagnosis or symptomatology. Clinicians can miss your diagnosis entirely, and disease process can be happening even if you don’t feel or see a thing. Your car is highly likely to do some funny shit when your mileage hits the six-figure mark, and it could happen long before that, no matter how industrious you are about changing the oil and getting tuneups and rotating tires. And if you don’t have the money even to do that sort of basic maintenance, it greatly increases the likelihood of something going kablooey. Bodies are like that, too.

This is why I want to rip out what little is left on my scalp when people try to make health and weight all about choices and behaviors. Sure, I could have made the choice to get divorced sooner rather than later. Heck, I could have made the choice to stay single. It’s easy to say that now that I’m not living in a pit of longing and loneliness for someone, anyone, to love me, like I was before I met my XH. But truthfully, I was kind of a mess when I met him. I was always tired. I never had much energy or focus. I was always depressed and anxious. I was constantly dragging the undiagnosed aspie barge behind me, feeling like all I did was to try to get people to like me and to fit in someplace, and all I did was fail. I had to work my ass off every single minute to try to understand things that nonautistic people picked up by osmosis, and even then I never quite got there. Was all that my fault? I think not. So I don’t think “2012 me” is entitled to lecture “2002 me” from on high, and neither is anyone else.

As for my XH, as blood-curdling as his eating habits no doubt sound to the Fresher, Localer, and More Sustainable than Thou crowd, even this turned out to have some basis in biology. You see, he had undiagnosed disabilities, too, among them fibromyalgia and hereditary hemochromatosis, both of which put him in constant pain and completely drained his energy. If you’re not rich, it can be extremely difficult to get whatever health issues you have properly diagnosed, let alone treated; his HHC was discovered by a fluke by an emergency room doctor who correctly played a hunch when ordering some lab tests. Otherwise, he might be dead from cirrhosis now, despite drinking a lot less alcohol than the average man. How are you supposed to cook when even sitting at a table cutting up veggies wears you out? How are you supposed to sort out your food cravings when your blood is overloaded with iron and nobody tells you?

And not only that, as I discovered on my own food journey, your brain often rejects certain foods that are allegedly “good for you” because of previous bad reactions. IANAD, but my completely unscientific hunch is that the reason I was having all that trouble with wheat was because my gallbladder removal was a shock to my digestive tract; that it persisted many months longer than it should have could easily be chalked up to my Sooooper Sensitive System. (I was tested extensively for celiac and other digestive diseases by both scope and blood, all negative.) I still have problems digesting whole wheat and oats, but I have plenty of sorghum, amaranth, quinoa, and brown rice in me to keep things moving. Raw or undercooked vegetables can still be a problem, as can certain fruits, and cow’s milk is still not a happy food, although I can tolerate very small amounts with some Lactaid now. But I would not have responded well to people telling me this was all in my head, or some other nonsense. The reactions were real.

When people have a bad food encounter, it will put them off that food, or at least that presentation of said food; that may be less likely to happen if they already have a history of liking it, but more bad experiences than good will tip the balance. If a mealy apple, a bruised banana, a bowl of mushy brown rice, or some broccoli that goes down funny is their first (or most recent) encounter with that food, it can be difficult to get them to try it again. And in some cases, maybe if they did try it again, they would still have an unpleasant reaction, because Bodies Are Weird (TM). The point is, it’s not someone else’s call to make, unless they’ve actually been asked for help — and even then, there’s always something about another person you can’t possibly know.