This is an odd post to make, and it doesn’t really fit within a blog of my hobbies, but it does fall under the heading of “Things that might be useful for others to try,” so here goes.
I shouldn’t eat wheat. I don’t seem to have a severe allergy, but I do seem to have semi-serious problems with it that definitely impact my quality of life. Eating wheat causes a rash to appear on my face (sometimes arms) that lasts a full day or so. It causes itchy skin all over but especially on my face and neck. It also causes severe pain (an exacerbation of the fibro pain), mild stomach pain, worsened brain fog, and it makes my lungs hurt (no trouble breathing, but lungs feel tight and uncomfortable).
It can also – get this – cause a mild fever (inflammation? what the heck?). If I eat a lot of wheat in a sitting, about half the time it will cause my normal temp to rise over a whole degree. I don’t know how long this has been going on, since I normally don’t sprint to the bathroom to whip out the thermometer whenever anything in my body feels slightly weird, but that was B.C./Before Covid. Since the pandemic, I know that two things reliably spike my core temp for the next two hours: a lot of wheat in a single meal, and a hot shower.
There is no other way to say this except to just say it. My brain is basically unable to assimilate my experience with wheat in any functional way. Past experience never matters in the moment before I’m handed something breaded and deep fried. Will I do the stupid thing? Yes. When faced with something delicious (and full of wheat), every ounce of discernment just exits my body. It’s like I’m off-gassing rational thought.
There’s even a sound I make. It’s, “Uhhhhhh.”
It’s the response I give Greg or the kids when they say, “Are you sure you want to eat that?”
….that’s the sound of all critical judgment evaporating.
The next words out of my mouth will be:
- It’s fine, I haven’t had any in awhile. This is likely not entirely true, but I will believe it.
- I’m willing to go through the pain. This is true only for a tiny handful of things.
- There isn’t that much wheat in it. <Yoda voice> Oh, but there is. There is.
- I don’t care. I will care in an hour, when I can’t stop itching and the tight lungs are making me anxious, and I will care tomorrow, when I have a rash.
I’ve tried text help from friends. A few months ago, I complained about this on a Slack I’m on with a bunch of wonderful people, and everyone was very supportive and no less than half a dozen people direct-messaged me their phone numbers and said, “Text me whenever you’re faced with wheat, I will talk you off the cliff.” How sweet is that? So sweet. How often did I use this? Uhhhhhhhhh.
Relatedly, I’ve tried writing myself a note. But when I’m sitting in the restaurant, do I look at the note? No. I’ve tried tracking “wheat mistakes” on my calendar, to note how many I make in a month. Do I look at that, ever? No.
Something finally works: Kind reminders from Past Me.
It’s so simple, but so effective. It’s the Reminders app on my iPhone. That’s it.
I have set a reminder that pings me once a day, and just says, “Remember that wheat causes the following problems….”. And then a little list. Since I started using this a few weeks ago, I’ve eaten wheat once. That’s a pretty astonishing feat when you consider my record.
It isn’t anyone telling me what to do. It isn’t even me telling me what to do. It’s exactly what it is: a reminder from Past Me that she really didn’t enjoy it the last time she ate wheat. That’s all.
Removing it from the situation is the crux of it. In that moment where I’m deciding whether or not to eat the wheat-thing, I feel anxious and stressed. Even though I know in some abstract way that wheat isn’t good for me, and I vaguely remember I promised myself I’d give my body a break from this drama, in that moment all of this good information fades in volume to barely a whisper, while the wheat-y goodness is at high volume, calling to me. A glutenous siren song.
My set reminder pops in when I’m not in any stressful food situation. Its only purpose is to gently me of something I routinely forget. The note isn’t guilt-inducing, it doesn’t make wheat into a moral issue, there is no self-criticism, threats, or deal-making. It has nothing to do with losing weight, with “being good”, and it doesn’t say I can’t eat wheat ever again. It makes no rules, and it doesn’t comment on my body. It simply says, “Remember it didn’t feel good the last few dozen times you did this.”
I think it’s precisely because I’m not currently in the middle of any food-related decision, and because the message is so clearly nonjudgemental, that my mind is able to listen. I close the reminder. It pops up again the next day. I read it, close it. The cumulative effect of this is powerful, it means that the next time I’m faced with a decision relating to wheat, I remember my past experience so much better because I’ve read it to myself every day for the past few weeks.
It’s working. I feel good. I’m rash-free, and in less pain. And it feels like I’m able to take care of myself better. I like that.
Maybe this will be useful for someone else. I imagine I’m not the only person who struggles with stuff like this.