I found out a few months ago that I have a benign tumor on my kidney. No one likes the word tumor.
Not even if you try to put it in a little rhyme or freelance battle-rap. Not even if you name it, just for shits and grins (Tommy, by the way). The fact of the matter is, the word tumor makes people think of cancer and death and ugliness and pus and a slowly growing pile of yuck. You can’t dress it up, you can’t make it dance and you certainly cannot buy it a drink (but seriously, you can buy yourself one. I did). It isn’t charming or cute. It doesn’t go away the next morning and it reminds you that it’s there every time you get a little niggling pain or dull ache that just. won’t. leave.
No one likes the word tumor.
This all started back in November, and pretty uneventfully. I (yet again) ate too many nachos (hello, melted cheese) and was having some severe discomfort. Days later, the discomfort had persisted and worsened. Then a few weeks went by. And then I was hosting my first Thanksgiving and I couldn’t even enjoy the meal. What I thought would be a routine doctor’s appointment turned into several MONTHS of doctors, radiologists, specialists, blah-blah-blah-medical-crap-blah.
Somewhere in the middle of the medical chaos, I got slapped with the word ‘tumor’ and just as quickly, I was shoved off onto some more testing. I didn’t get much of a chance to process what was happening.
And then the tumor got put to the wayside and the focus became my stomach.
So, one glorious afternoon of Propofol induced sleep gave me an answer-ish: it turned out that the culprit behind all this pain was one pissed off stomach. The entire organ was blood-red (it should be pink), swollen (it should NOT be swollen) and really, really mad. So mad that it couldn’t get un-mad. There was no ‘medical’ reason why. No ulcers. No cancer (thank goodness). No celiac disease.
Just…you know, mad.
Which brings me to the here and now. And that is to say, what I am learning about me. (I should be an expert on me, right? Turns out, I’m not.)
It has a little bit to do with food… and a lot to do with love.
What’s Food Got to Do With It?
Like most women, I have had a complicated relationship with food my entire adult life. Don’t get me wrong: I love food. I love everything about it. I love making it. I love reading about it. I love collecting recipes I’ll never make. I love smelling it. I love serving people something I’ve made with my own two hands. I love eating. I love it all.
But somewhere after college and before 30, things started to go a little sideways.
So, let’s get honest.
I was never body conscious growing up. I was a ballerina for most of my childhood and adolescent years; about 20 years as a practiced, tried and true dancer. Most, if not all of my confidence came with my skill and ability. I was (am?) a naturally good dancer. And because of that confidence, and hours of time spent at the dance studio, I never once flinched in the mirror at myself.
It wasn’t until somewhere in my late teens/early twenties that I started to worry about my weight. I worried, but didn’t really act on any of those thoughts. I don’t think that I’m alone in that I had plenty of comments thrown my way about what I look like… Either by family, friends, acquaintances. Hell, even strangers. I know I’m not the only woman who has heard, ‘You’d be perfect if you were more athletic,’ (thank you, ex-boyfriend), or ‘You’re too skinny! Are you starving yourself? YUCK,’ (thank you, family member), or being constantly categorized depending on my audience: thick, tiny, sexy, cute. Like ANY of those things are flattering when verbally thrown at us as a means to get a reaction. Women’s bodies have long been up for public forum. Which is an entirely different topic, and I’m sure fodder for another post.
Nonetheless, slowly but surely, my confidence started to take a hit. Somewhere in my mid-to-late twenties, my waning confidence became pressure to improve myself. And this pressure was a spiraling, cloudy, dark hole of self-criticism and depression. It was an uninhabitable wasteland in my brain. And I couldn’t pull myself out of the mess. Some of this was due to a not-so-fantastic relationship I was in, but it was mostly due to the not-so-fantastic relationship I was having with myself. So this pressure, coupled with my intense perfectionism and Type-A personality manifested into a very structured and disordered way of eating.
In short: I starved myself.
I starved myself and whatever I DID eat was quickly washed away (or so I thought) with laxatives and copious amounts of water and coffee.
This went on for roughly 3 years. 3 years of meticulous monitoring of my diet. Of countless, literally countless, packets of laxatives. 3 years of feeling constantly ill. Of planning my social life around my ridiculous routine (you know what laxatives do…so I invite you to use the theater of the mind as to why I had to plan when, and most importantly where I was – at all times). It is a rigidly structured and stressful existence. 3 years of food = anxiety.
Coming out of that lifestyle and mindset is quite difficult. It takes therapy, patience, great friends, supportive family and re-learning the role that food plays in your life.
And you know what else you learn?
How to love yourself, exactly as you are. And that ain’t easy. I still struggle. But, it’s bearable.
Eating Vegetables in 2014
Fast forward to today, and what this post is truly about: self-love and real-food = health.
Learning to actively love myself snuck up on me through small victories. Every time I choose my health over old, destructive patterns, is a victory. Every time I can look at myself squarely in the mirror and see a good person with a lovely heart instead of the girl with the short legs and old acne scars, I win. Every time I focus on the beauty of the life I was given and not dredge through my abusive past, I take a leap forward.
And what do we know? A LARGE part of your emotional health can be tied directly to your physical health. So, my pissed off stomach and I took matters into my (our?) own hands. I had a chat with my super-awesome doctor friend and she suggested (as I thought), that my issues might be due to some food allergies, coupled with the damage I had inflicted upon my own digestive system years prior (this was my guess…she confirmed the possibility in a very gentle and caring manner). I did some research on ‘allergy elimination diets’ and jumped into it.
Three months in of little-to-no sugar, absolutely no dairy (*sniff* I miss you, cheese), no wheat, no soy, no nightshades and some various other ‘no’s,’ and I’m feeling better than I’ve felt in… Well. A long time. I’m eating good, pure, REAL food and my body is happy. My stomach, for the most part, is happy. And you know what? Unplanned and unbeknownst to me, I’ve lost a surprising amount of weight. I add this in for one point only: what is it about what we eat that makes your body hold onto excess weight? And what emotional baggage are we stringing along behind us, anchoring us to the past, keeping us entangled in bad habits?
It’s a mystery I plan on diving into as I learn more and more about what my body does and does not like.
All this writing for the simple point of loving yourself. It’s hard out there for a pimp woman. If there is one thing you take from my ramblings… take this: be good to your body. Now.
Shed the baggage, love yourself and for the love of all that is holy, eat some damn vegetables.
By day, she works in Finance. She is a writer by hobby and ballerina by years of painful training. Get more from Aubrie at her awesome-tastic blog, The New Montgomery.
[Image by ThompsonWood]