Unapologetic Self-Care

by Jaclyn McCabe August 10, 2021

"How willing are you to put your health above all?" my coach asked the other day.

"Seven," I quietly said after a long pause, my inner mean girl taunting, "You're so dumb. If you really loved yourself, you'd say ten." 

Recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, I was given orders to remove gluten and grains from my diet. I was struggling to order food at restaurants that wouldn't harm me. And worse, my old disordered eating voices were back and louder than ever.  

At that moment, when my coach asked me the very annoying but important question, I was in the “oh holy hell part” of healing. 

My body's journey to self-love often reminds me of the myth of Chiron, who was a powerful healer but could not heal his own wound. So instead he turned his wound into his greatest gift by showing up in acceptance and compassion. By transforming his fracture points into strengths, Chiron teaches us that healing takes a lifetime of courageous acts of uncovering, discovering, and discarding, all while being gentle on ourselves.[1] 

I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto's. That's basically a fancy way of saying my body is attacking my thyroid. There's some meta-Chiron situation happening here––my body is actually turning on itself, making it almost impossible to heal its own wound. 

And the shittier part: it took me going to five doctors before someone took me seriously enough to stop dismissing me as a hysterical perimenopausal woman and started running actual tests to find out the cause. 

I wish I could tell you the story ends there––the fifth doctor found the cause, prescribed treatment, and the patient lived happily ever after––but it's not quite that simple. 

 

[2]

The treatment was to go gluten- and grain-free, which didn't sound that bad. But this seemingly minor shift in my well-honed anti-diet way of eating triggered a rage of disordered eating thoughts. 

Several years ago, during my "West Coast Hiatus," I was given a chance to dig into my relationship with food, movement, and my body.  As part of healing from my disordered eating pattern, mainly bingeing and restricting, I reconnected with cooking and learned to truly enjoy food. This led to significant shifts in my food choices.  

Gradually in the last seven years, through somewhat of an intuitive eating model, I was embodied enough to feel the effects of food on my body. For example, I learned that I felt better, had more energy, and experienced fewer depressive thoughts when I ate more vegetables and less processed food. That being said, I didn't forbid myself from eating anything. 

It looked more like this: I love me some southern gas station fried chicken. Slowly, and I mean slowly, I ate less and less fried chicken simply because my body felt better when I ate other foods. And when I did stop at Brother's for some greasy goodness, it wasn't ten pieces in a binge sort of way, or one tiny wing because I was restricting. It was moderated due to being in tune with my body, desires, and level of fullness.  

Because it had been so long since I had even had a desire to binge or restrict, I honestly didn't think the proposed changes would make a significant difference.  

Oh, how wrong and naive I was.  

It took my body two weeks to detox the gluten and grains. It turns out they are in everything! I was in a physical and emotional upheaval that was comparable to detoxing from antidepressants.

And if that wasn't hard enough, there was the old dubious voice of my inner mean girl. She was fixated on food, or really the lack thereof. Convinced I had no food choices, she became obsessed with carbohydrates. 

After a few days of flailing around in food scarcity thinking, I remembered an old tool from early eating disorder recovery: just eat the damn food. Whatever your mind is obsessing on in the name of restriction, just eat it. Letting yourself have the "bad food" will release you from the obsession and honestly probably not be as satisfying as the obsessive thoughts want you to believe. 

But here was the problem: I couldn't actually let myself have the foods I was obsessing over—they were harming me. 

So I found a workaround: gluten- and grain-free alternatives. I went to the co-op, loaded my cart with every gluten- and grain-free cracker, pasta, and cookie I could find, and just let myself eat it. 

After about a week, I didn't care about pasta anymore and went back to my regularly scheduled eating, sans gluten and grains. 

It worked! I felt instantly better and even started sleeping through the night for the first time in years. 

And while I wish I could tell you the story ends there––I learn to eat only gluten- and grain-free food, autoimmune disease is cured, I live happily ever after––again, it's not quite that simple. 

I was still getting tripped up every time I dined out. It was causing my body to crash hard for anywhere from one day to one week. And since dining out is my favorite hobby, this was not sustainable.  

This is where that very annoying but important question came in. How willing was I to put my health above everything else?

My inner mean girl was judging the shit out of me when it came to ordering food that met my needs at restaurants. While an abundance of good things came out of my time in Los Angeles, witnessing women with orthorexia tendencies navigate a menu time and time again was not one of them. And my inner mean girl was unwilling to let me order like a Valley girl, even if it was saving my life. 

Then I remembered another tool from early eating disorder recovery: practice new behavior one meal at a time. 

 

Brunching with the dream team, Pat Casey Daley and Bill Steber. I want to be them when I grow up. 

 

Around that time, two things happened that gave me the perfect opportunity to practice. First, a beloved elder feminist I respected came to town for a visit. At brunch, I got to observe the patience of her husband and server as she navigated her own dietary needs on the menu––what a gift to witness unapologetic self-care. 

The second practice opportunity came during a trip to Mexico City with a friend from Los Angeles. I could practice navigating a menu in a foreign country with a dining companion so accustomed to orthorexia-type ordering she wouldn't even notice. 

It worked! After five days of practicing saying things like "No puedo comer harina" and "¿Esto contiene maíz?" I was feeling confident to take my new self-care tool back to the States. 

I'm not going to lie and say it's been easy peasy since implementing my new way of eating. I did have to discover new things I like to cook and eat at home––thankfully, there are plenty of good cookbooks to help. I recently treated myself to some new cookware and kitchen gadgets, which was fun in a #adulting kinda way. Making groceries is a little more daunting as I stop and read every label these days. Dining out in New Orleans, I don't always have the most exciting choice on the menu, and cross-contamination is a real problem no matter how well I communicate my needs. And I miss my occasional gas station fried chicken the most. 

But the benefits (feeling good in my body, sleeping through the night, little to no midday or evening fatigue, the heart palpitations are gone, as is my bald spot) definitely outweigh the cost. So for that, I can finally answer that very annoying but important question, "How willing are you to put your health above all?" with a wholehearted, very loud TEN.  

 

[1]  It's probably not a coincidence that the planet Chiron is in my 10th house of career and public life within the embodiment sign of Taurus. That tells me the wound around my "body stuff" will be a lifelong journey, always returning so that I can find deeper healing. And further, it shows me that I am in the right profession––helping women find freedom from their own "body stuff."

 

[2]Full disclosure: I struggled with whether to include this photo, since it shows me eating stereotypical "diet food," and I’ve worked hard for a long time to get away from a dieting mindset. But this is a lot of what I eat right now, because it’s what makes my body feel good. And I’m not going to judge myself for that.

 




Jaclyn McCabe
Jaclyn McCabe

Author




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