My stomach growls as I look over the menu. Burger and fries? Catfish and hushpuppies? Or maybe a salad with bacon and fried chicken and lots of blue cheese dressing? The possibilities are endless, but also, I am told, poison. I wonder if I am willing to die for a slab of baby back ribs with a baked potato. Would I so readily dive into that hot fudge brownie cake if I knew I was shaving six months off of my life? On some days, the answer is yes, but then, reason sets in and I rethink it.
Food, it seems, is the new smoking. And although I haven’t yet seen the warning label that reads, “eating this Twinkie may be hazardous to your health,” it is an unspoken reality, especially for someone with a chronic disease. And it scares the begeebies out of me.
There have been numerous studies of the psychological component of eating disorders, the love-hate relationship that so many of us have with food. It is a relatively recent phenomenon, since there was no such thing a hundred years ago when folks readily ate what was available and were grateful to get it. But in all fairness, the quality was different then. We have industrialized ourselves into a nutritional crisis with all of the subsequent consequences. It has made us all a little fearful when we sit at the dinner table, and that, I think, is a tragedy. Nobody gets to eat in peace any more.
When I was first diagnosed, I welcomed the unsolicited medical advice about diet as it related to cancer. (Well, other things, too, but I can’t afford a hyperbaric chamber or weekly vitamin C infusions.) I began to collect articles about what foods I should avoid and which I should eat with wild abandon if I wanted to be healed. As you can imagine, all of the good stuff is considered toxic. Sugar “feeds” the tumors, causing them to grow at an alarming rate. But apparently, so does meat and fish and poultry, even the organic, free-range, wild caught kind. Vegan is the way to go, with some caveats. The so-called “wheat belly” creates a cancer growing environment, so bread, including the one using a Biblical recipe is off limits. So are rice and potatoes and dairy. I am supposed to replace my morning coffee with green tea mixed with some rare exotic blend from India and sip a gallon of alkaline water throughout the day. (Who knew that Ph was so important? I am, it appears, acidic.) Fruit can be consumed in moderation, but it must be peeled and it must be grown in a certified orchard. Almonds are okay, but peanuts are lethal. So is anything that comes in a can or box with a shelf life of two years. Oh, and watch the salt.
I am learning that non GMO is as important as my HMO. So eating at a restaurant can be a challenge. Heck, eating anywhere can give me pause and make me wonder if I am hastening my own demise simply because I gave into the temptation and had a grilled cheese sandwich with chips on the side. Don’t even think about alcohol unless it is one small glass of red wine, without the sulfites, of course.
Most oncologists spend little time discussing diet with their patients. I’m not sure that they have even received training in nutritional counseling. We are told to eat “healthy,” one of those ambiguous blanket terms. But a stroll down the cereal aisle in any supermarket will demonstrate that those glittering generalities are thrown around like word confetti as box after book is labeled “fortified” or “containing essential vitamins and minerals” along with sugar and a mile-long list of preservatives. Processed anything is lethal.
I take fifteen vitamins a day, the names of some I can’t even pronounce. I am hopeful that one will boost my immune system, while another will repair my sluggish thyroid and yet another will make my hair grow back faster. (I’d love to have eyelashes and eyebrows again.) And while I have drawn the line at coffee enemas, rolled seaweed, and juiced spinach, I have tried to eat better. I really have. I sprinkle chia, hemp and flax seeds in my smoothie, which gives it the consistency of wet sand. As I choke it down, I hope that it will perform whatever nutritional magic necessary to make me strong again. Wouldn’t it be disappointing to someday discover that this is all hype?
Listen, I am a Cajun girl. I love crawfish and occasionally suck the heads. Everything that comes from my kitchen starts with a rich brown roux. Food is a social, spiritual, sensory experience where I come from and tofu isn’t included in the recipe. Have you ever heard of vegan gumbo? I like my coffee strong with a little too much cream and sugar. And chocolate is my favorite food group. Am I doomed? Gee, I hope not.
Man cannot live by kale alone, even if he really loves the stuff. Moderation is the key to everything, right? Sometimes, you just have to give in and eat what you enjoy, even if it is chili cheese fries washed down with a chocolate shake. Hmmm… Doesn’t that sound good? Yup. But so does staying healthy. I am hoping for both.