I was finally feeling myself hit a stride with Wahls. Over a half year into a way of eating that revalued the way I relate to food, confident in my meal prep and strategies to reach toward my 9 whole & and holy cups of deeply colored, leafy green, and sulfur-rich veggies and fruits each day. The euphoria of being able to get through a day without entire body exhaustion, of not being defeated by the common cold, of being able to breath through both nostrils – may have gone to my head.
As I approached my one-year MS-anniversary,
I started to think about my progress with Wahls in relation to the number of followers it generated, compliments it garnered, or relative praise about my constructive response to being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I preached the Wahls gospel to anyone willing to listen, and began to see the American Standard Diet with general disdain and eventually, disgust. I projected onto food outside of my Wahls-window in the same way that I used to do to my body after a hearty and ravenous food binge – I looked at it as unworthy, disgraceful, and embarrassing.
This cognitive shift in how I appropriated the Wahls Protocol did not happen quickly. It was pretty insidious, convincing me I was ahead of the game, reveling in the “healing” way of eating I’d finally unlocked. Before I get too far into this confessional, an atonement for my silence and dwindling highlight reel of foodstagram glory—let me situate one thing first. I haven’t given up on Wahls. I haven’t given up on the Autoimmune Protocol. Both ways of knowing and eating and moving through the world are meaningful, radical, and entirely worthwhile.
But, today, on World MS Day, I am reconciling to one big truth: I am unqualified.
I don’t know how to run an Instagram account worthy of garnering Teri Turner levels of followers. I am sick of eating my dinner cold so I can orchestrate the perfect photo. The moment I find out what hashtags are trending and build them into my posts to elicit more traffic, they are irrelevant. I am embarrassed of the amount of times I ask my husband to repeat something because I was transfixed on Paleo Bailey’s insta-stories more than the sound of his voice. Most of all, I’m not a subject matter expert on Wahls or AIP, and most days, even when I feed myself and check ALL the boxes, I still feel like a fraud.
Recently, I received a Facebook message from a mutual friend thanking me for my commitment to Wahls and for making my food journey public. I was so encouraged by this message – it reminded me of why I was sharing my autoimmune journey at all to begin with. At the same time, I felt like such a massive phony. The arrival of this message coincided with my visit home to Wisconsin – and I didn’t abstain from any of my favorite Milk Mecca summer treats. I ate ice cream (with abandon), I had cheese, I ate bread, I drank beer! (GASP). Now, I know that every right-minded follower of my personal journey with food and MS and healing would not look at these detours as absolute, deafening failure. Unfortunately, this is where my longstanding relationship with food and my propensity toward emotional eating rears its ugly head. Each transgression – cheesecurds at Culver’s, the S’Mores blizzard at Dairy Queen, these are not just worth-it “Food Freedom” splurges for me. With each treat, I had to reconcile how far I had diverged from the Wahls Protocol, from anything remotely paleo, and toward the foods that could hurt me, put weight back on me, and send me spiraling into an MS relapse.
That restrictive, shame-laden, and obsessive mindset I’ve always wrestled with has grown and evolved and is barking at me again. This time, the intrusive thoughts sound like, “How come you’re not posting pictures of the ice cream you’re eating? Don’t want people to know you’ve bailed on Wahls?” and “Maybe you gave away your old clothes a little too soon, hey?” and “When was the last time you ate a vegetable?” and “How many more treats til you have a relapse that lands you in the hospital?” among many other, destructive, self-loathing lies. During the last few days, a few critical things have landed on my heart to give way to this post.
When I get obsessive about food, whether it be the “good” food I am supposed to be eating, or the “bad” food that may interrupt my healing process – I start to believe the lie and forget who I am and how I should see myself. I will be the first person to tell you not to shame yourself for the food you eat, to guilt yourself over that extra cookie, and to celebrate EVERY body, regardless of size or our perception of “health.”
But, unfortunately, my body positive posturing doesn’t always transfer through to the body behind it.
I am beginning to realize that my battles with food are far from over, and an inherent part of the struggle is me elevating food to a God position. No, I do not have a shrine in my house dedicated to the worship of food. (Or do I? What is a refrigerator, anyway?) But, I do mean to suggest that my daily life slowly starts to become solely about what I do or do not eat.
The-Sarah-of-diets-past-thinks: How can that be when I’m not counting calories or points or packing my food into specific color-coded containers?
With a whole new genre of red flags, I have managed to once again make food an idol in my life. A litmus test by which I succeed or fail. Certainly, the number of followers I have on Instagram, the number of vegetables I eat in a day, and the indulgences I allow myself have absolutely no bearing on how God sees me, but that doesn’t stop the broken bells inside of me from ringing out:
You’ve messed up again.
You’re too far gone.
You’re a fake.
On Sunday morning, I was walking out of my parent’s apartment toward my car and I looked down at my feet. They looked swollen and round (no doubt to the credit of increased inflammation from refined sugar and dairy and gluten), but in my sandals with my chipped toenail polish, they looked like the feet of a little child. I remember thinking, “kid feet” and finding the view really endearing – in the same ways I admire my nephew Myles when he proudly counts to “Surteen” instead of 13. At church that morning the message centered around being willing to approach God as we are, without posturing or posing, as little children do. Little children are confident, in their stained onesies and soaked diapers, simply because they know there is nothing they can do to separate them from or make them undeserving of, the love of their parents.
Kids are bold. My nephew James illustrates this beautifully – as a waterfall of yogurt careens down the side of his chunky thigh and into his diaper, he stares at his mom with a wide, gap-toothed grin and sparkling eyes, knowing with impossible certainty that she loves him just the same now as she did a moment ago when the table (and his body, and his diaper, and the kitchen, and his chair) were clean and pristine.
Hey, God: message received. You saw your daughter with her puffy feet from one too many sweets and gave her eyes to see what you see: kid feet.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God”
The built-for-Sarah version of this verse might read,
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor the vegetables you do or do not eat, nor the dairy you shame yourself for eating, nor the Instagram posts you fail to make, nor the opinions of other Wahls Protocol bloggers, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God”
The standards of success and failure I have put around my food journey are not from God. They have nothing to do with how God sees me and the worth I have in his eyes. I am chosen. I am loved beyond measure. I am worthy. I am a child of God. The best part: I can’t screw it up. LOUDER NOW: I CAN’T SCREW THIS UP. WHETHER I EAT MY 3 CUPS OF LEAFY GREENS A DAY OR NOT.
Finally, the big revelation I’ve been forming on the tip of my tongue:
I am totally unqualified.
I’m unqualified to be a “food blogger.” I’m unqualified to heal myself with food. I’m not willing to puff out my chest and pretend I’ve got this figured out. I am that little child in my stained ass onesie and I AM UNQUALIFIED. – But it is okay. All the best people are. (I mean I’m not equating my food journey to the crucifixion but like even Jesus was like, can this cup pass? Er no?)
I was given the language to talk through this whole mess a while back, but only just found the words today on our long drive back to Virginia. A friend felt compelled to send a book my way about the relationship between Faith and Creativity — and I believe I cracked it open at just the right moment. The author is familiar, having written one of my favorite books as a kid, A Wrinkle in Time. As she talks about how we convince ourselves out of creativity and into restrictive ways of knowing, Madeleine L’Engle writes,
“We all have glimpses of glory as children, and as we grow up we forget them or are taught to think we made them up; they couldn’t possibly have been real because to most of us who are grown up, reality is like radium and can be borne only in very small quantities. But we are meant to be real and to see and recognize the real. We are all more than we know, and that wondrous reality, that wholeness, that holiness, is there for all of us, not the qualified only.”
So the ephemeral dream of being a full-time Wahls Protocol Food Blogger may shape-shift as God peels back the plans he has for me with food and healing and MS. In the time and space between whatever becomes of this writing and cooking and healing endeavor, this creative pursuit– my wholeness, my status, my healing does not ride on my “success” or “failure” with food. I am more than the pictures that I post. The cups of leafy greens I do or do not manage to consume. I am more than I know, simply because I am the kid of the God that loves me immeasurably more than I could ever ask or imagine.
We are all more than we know.
So where does being unqualified leave my “brand” – my Wahls Newbian efforts, still only in their infancy? To be honest, I’m not totally sure. I am starting to acknowledge, once again, painfully so, that true healing is much more expansive than the food I eat (or don’t eat). And if I continue to punish myself with food — I am doing myself an incredible disservice. I want this writing to reflect the God that loves me – not smoke and mirrors to distract you from the truth about my battles with food.
So, one kid foot in front of the other,
I am freeing myself of expectation, knowing that whether I post or don’t post — whether I prep that perfect Wahls approved meal or not — I am worthy and deserving, more than I know.