My name is Jefferey, and I’m a healthy eater.
It was March 7. The scene was Mexico City. The crime was rather minimal. In fact, it was one that I committed on a fairly regular basis with little to no consequence. What’s the offense?, you ask. I ate dairy. And not just any dairy. Creamy, gooey, fresh cheese dairy on a mouth-watering personal pizza. This might sound like your average day in paradise, but I’m lactose intolerant. Diving into a scrumptious dairy-heavy meal is an anxiety-inducing gamble. When I scan a menu, I have to decide if the risk is worth it. Will this pizza taste so amazing that it’s worth some extended quality time with the porcelain throne?
You see, on a pretty regular basis, I ate cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products with very minimal aftereffects. So despite my body’s increasing inability to process lactose, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything particularly dangerous by consuming a few slices of heaven. Boy was I wrong.
"Diving into a scrumptious dairy-heavy meal is an anxiety-inducing gamble."
When the rumbling in my stomach started, I immediately regretted my decision. I spent half of the next day getting intimately acquainted with my hotel room’s bathroom. I could barely eat anything. I was lightheaded and weak. I had the chills and the sweats. I even had a mild fever. At one point, I had to be examined by the hotel doctor to make sure I didn’t have the Zika virus. I spent two days on a soup, tea, and toast diet until I felt strong enough to have food that required chewing.
I thought it was a combination of altitude sickness (Mexico City is more than 7,000 feet above sea level), Montezuma’s revenge, and a particularly nasty episode of lactose intolerance. It turns out I had a stomach full of H. Pylori. For those who aren’t familiar, H. Pylori is the bacteria that causes ulcers. But I didn’t figure this out for a few weeks. I got sick again during my first full day back in the States. Then I started getting this intense stomach pain in the middle of the night. It was this fiery burning that felt like I was digesting hot coal, and it cost me some valuable sleep over the course of a couple weeks. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I went to the doctor.
"it was easier to focus on what I could eat."
After my diagnosis, my doctor provided me with a lengthy list of foods to avoid. Let’s just say it was easier to focus on what I could eat. The most logical way for me to approach this extreme diet change was to follow the Paleo Diet. Also affectionately known as the caveman diet, the Paleo Diet basically allows you to eat fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and little else. Lactose and wheat are a no-no. It’s all about eating unprocessed foods that your body can easily digest.
While most people would have felt overwhelmed by how extensive the dietary change was or would have gone into mourning for the foods they could no longer eat, I was excited. Sure, I was more than ready to get rid of that pesky stomach pain that may or may not have been the early stages of an ulcer. But in a really nerdy way, I was also pumped to get back to eating healthy.
I’m that guy that always brought his lunch to work. And that lunch always consisted of turkey breast or chicken breast or fish. And it was always paired with a vegetable or salad. I wasn’t one of those people who occasionally packed a healthy lunch. I did this EVERY day. If anyone ever caught me with chicken fingers and French fries, it was either a cheat day or a day in which I was eating my feelings.
"If anyone ever caught me with chicken fingers and French fries, it was either a cheat day or a day in which I was eating my feelings."
I find great joy in reading personal training handbooks. I took an online course in nutrition just for shits and giggles. I had my meal plans mapped out in an Excel spreadsheet. I have an email folder full of workout routines that I’ve created or intend to try. I even use an app called HealthyOut that helps me identify the healthiest dishes when I dine out. I’m a Type A health freak. But I find it rare to encounter others like me. When I lament about the lack of gluten free options on the menu in a group setting, I can sense a collective eye roll. So I tend to dial it back.
"When I skip dessert at dinner, it will inspire sympathy instead of ire. When I pass on that second glass of wine, everyone will nod in agreeance."
I end up throwing back more booze, fried foods, and desserts than I’d like to. I constantly find myself putting a muzzle on my inner Richard Simmons. But now that I have this ulcer-causing stomach bacteria, I have no choice but to eat healthy. When I skip dessert at dinner, it will inspire sympathy instead of ire. When I pass on that second glass of wine, everyone will nod in agreeance. When I spend 20 minutes scanning a menu for the healthiest options, no one will have a problem asking the server to come back for a fourth time to take our orders.
I’ve been freed from my grease-covered prison cell. Now, I can be picky and precise to the max without being despised. Though no one else will probably agree, contracting H. Pylori is one of the best things that’s happened to me this year. Cutting all the bad stuff out of my diet has given me more energy, more focus, and the gift of my goal weight.
Coming out of the closet as a healthy eater is a huge weight off my shoulders. The next time someone asks if I want a slice of bread, I will gladly decline.