Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Food Allergies & The Grieving Process

I used to think that the grieving process was reserved for mourning the death of a loved one.  Then I learned that this process applies to being diagnosed with an illness: chronic, incurable or terminal.  In reality, the grieving process can occur for any kind of loss - big or small.

Just recently, I have come to realize that grieving can accompany the diagnosis of a food allergy, intolerance or sensitivity.  Because when one receives such a diagnosis, it's inevitable that you will need to let go of that food - no matter how familiar, comforting or engrained in one's life.

The 5 Stages of Loss & Grief:
  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance
These stages don't necessarily happen in order, everyone and every circumstance is different.  Not everyone will go through all five stages.  Stages can be revisited.  Sometimes stages can occur at the same time: denial & anger, depression & acceptance, etc.  And sometimes, it can take years to get through the process - if ever.

I have many food allergies and have gone through the grieving process with each diagnosis, even though at the time I had no idea I was doing so.  Now that I recognize it, it makes it no easier to deal with, but at least I better understand my thoughts and behaviors.

Four years ago, I was diagnosed with a soy & gluten allergy.  Although I sought diagnosis, that made it no easier to accept.  At that time in my life, I was going through radical changes, mostly beyond my control and I opted to deny the diagnosis.  Not because I didn't believe it, I just couldn't handle it.

Fast forward four years...I'm finally pass the denial stage and right into acceptance & anger, with a little bit of depression thrown in for fun.  I'm finally paying attention to the symptoms that have been plaguing me and accepting the connection to my soy & gluten intolerance.  You see, four years ago I was handed a bomb shell, I was diagnosed with an animal protein allergy - that if ignored, would have dire consequences.  While I had gone vegetarian by choice years prior, that choice was stripped away and I now had to abstain from all animal-derived food or ingredients.  While the benefits far outweighed being chronically ill, the loss was no less severe.  I never denied this (some things you just know), I never bargained, I didn't even get depressed, although I have had a private pity party from time to time.  I simply went straight from acceptance to anger and frankly have remained there ever since.

And this is where I find myself yet again.  Anger.  I'm pissed off that I now have to remove two more food groups from my diet, just because my body can't handle them.  I'm angry that I can't eat like everyone else.  I'm angry that I have to find new meal solutions to replace the meals I have grown to love.  I'm angry that I can't make a vegan version just as good as my mom's chili!  I'm angry that being in any social situation with food just got that much harder.  And I'm angry that I have to constantly explain & defend myself to those around me: friends, family, co-workers, waiters/ I'm doing this just to be difficult. 

But from that anger comes a sense of empowerment.  While I can't control how my body reacts to certain foods, I can control the food I consume and thereby stop the damage.  So while, I am mourning the loss of delicious gluten filled bread and veggie soy burgers, I find solace that I am once again helping my body heal and repair itself and thereby reaping the benefits of my sacrifices.

The Hoff


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