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The importance of a reset meal, for body and soul
Rice noodles and eggs and feeling like myself again
You probably know the concept of a reset meal. Something sits heavy in your stomach or upsets it entirely, and then the next day you’re like, ummm, maybe no french fries or something-on-a-stick or whatever food sounds wrongish to you. Maybe you follow the BRAT diet, or maybe you eat rice pudding. I don’t know what works for you. I sincerely hope you do.
When I was first trying to figure out what was wrong with my stomach, I went to a gastroenterologist (actually two, but that’s not important), and he asked me what I ate. When he asked me about fried food, I made a face. I was like, oh weird, “me produce rechazo,” (it makes me feel sick) to think about it. And went on to say, it must be because I’m not feeling well, bla bla bla. And he said, no, it’s probably your body actually telling you right now that it would not be a good thing to eat. He suggested that what I was feeling from his suggestion of the food (queasy) was actually one of the body’s four digestive sphincters squeezing shut, as if to say, “no, not that.”
And that was so interesting to me because how does my body know? Also, doesn’t everyone’s body always want ice cream or pizza or General Tsao’s chicken (fun fact, I have never eaten this dish)? Yes, of course it does. But to me, kind of in the mouth. In the body it may be a different story.
When you have food sensitivities, one of the kindest things you can do to your body and mind is to eat simply. Few ingredients. That way if something’s wrong, it’s easy to figure out what it is. Which is why my reset food (pictured above) has three, safe-to-me ingredients. Rice, eggs and oil (in this case, butter). It’s cooked and drained rice noodles, and then I put them in a hot pan with butter, and I scramble an egg in. It’s basically egg-fried-noodles. I think it probably takes the same spot in my stomach that macaroni and cheese might, except I didn’t grow up with mac n cheese, and I don’t particularly like it, except for the greasy crunchy burny top, because I am not a heathen.
This dish is something that I know will always hit the spot and never make me sick, if I am more or less ok, and able to eat anything at all. I know this from experience. If a food I normally love doesn’t sound good to me for some reason, I have had to learn that my body is trying to tell me something. That food (or that specific food) is not a good idea. How many times does the body try to tell us no, and we’re like, nahhh, override, I love this food? How often does it end well.
Allow me if you will, a story.
One time I went on an inadvisedly long hike on Lake Titicaca’s Isla del Sol (in Bolivia, not flexing, but there’s a world outside and I used to get to see some of it). But back to the island. The altitude, combined with the fact that I wasn’t drinking enough water made me incredibly sick. There’s a funny story about that on my blog, but I don’t want to distract you and also something is wrong in blogland, I am working on it. It involves a lot of vomiting which was not the funny part, exactly, but I digress. I had been feeling off since about midway through the hike, but you can’t just stop on the middle of an island where you don’t know anyone and set up camp, so I soldiered on. I was having trouble regulating my temperature (I was cold, though it was not cold out) and I had run out of water (and had been drinking bubbly water, which is not as hydrating, for reasons I do not know, but trust me on this).
We finally made it back to the town, and I bought a bottle of water and started trying to drink it, but it felt thick in my mouth and wholly unappealing. I have a bone to pick with the manufacturer of this human machine, that rejects water (and also throws it up) when it becomes dehydrated. But also, this was another good sign that everything was about to hit the fan. My body was screaming, in its own way.
A little while later, one of my hikemates made pasta, and offered to make me some. I knew intuitively that I didn’t want any sauce, but pasta? pasta should be ok. Everyone loves pasta. But when I put it in my mouth, I could tell something was really wrong. It was pasty-dry-laundry lint-old sock unpleasant. I went upstairs to lay down.
Fitful hours later I was the kind of sick you would wish on an enemy, and by the way it was New Year’s Eve, and wasn’t that the very best thing ever. A few days of hydrating and herbal tea later was I able to hold down Sprite and soda crackers, and manage the wavy boat back to shore. I swore to every deity I’d ever heard of that I would take better care of myself, be more careful at altitude, etc. Spoiler, I’ve gotten this kind of sick again and again, until finally I put it together that I personally need to drink some rehydration salts in water if I’m going to be at altitude for more than a couple of days. I don’t like it, I wish it weren’t true, and want to be invincible, but evidence points to the contrary. Also, by making this adjustment, I have been able to manage altitudes, and even walked 16 km on Isla Taquile (on Peru’s side of Titicaca) one day looking for people to interview for a story. I don’t know if this kind of altitude sickness is related to histamines. But it’s related to being me, and I have to respect this body.
So that thing that happened? Where thinking of the food either makes my body feel weird, or actually feels wrong in my mouth? I like to think of this as my body telling me something. I recently told someone that while I love walnuts, they’d always made my mouth feel dry and scratchy. And that eggplant made me feverish. It’s easy not to notice these things when your walnuts are in pesto, which tastes amazing, because of all the other delicious things in it, or when eggplant is smoky awesome with tahini and scooped up with pita in baba ganoush, or rolled up with other vegetables and some melty cheese. But if I’d just eaten these ingredience on their own, and given real credence into how they made me feel, I might have known earlier that they were not right for me. But would I have paid attention? It is so easy to normalize everything and ignore data that gives you information you would rather not receive.
So I want to talk about the emotional benefits of having a reset meal. One thing that I cannot overstate is how distressed I was when my stomach was angry and I couldn’t figure out what to feed it, or when it looked like I would only ever get to eat a super restricted diet. Two people I know are currently going through something in histamine/stomachland right now, and both of them have taken out time to make sure that I know that if they were not sympathetic enough when I was in the thick of it, that they are sorry. They were, and all’s good, and now I bestow that sympathy unto them, and also unto you, if you are in this mess. And if you are not in this mess, but know someone who is, some kind words never go awry.
So I also impress upon them to you, and the people that you know that it is important, for this very reason to have something you know you can always rely on, that will fill you up and satisfy you well enough so your body can calm down, finding a safe place, until it’s time to go out in the world again. Think of it like a quick visit home when you’re feeling out of sorts, or a conversation with a good friend, or your bed. A do-over.
And it’s not just calories. It’s mouthfeel, it’s flavor, it’s enoughness. You will know it when you taste it. I encourage you to find your safest foods and dream up something solidly comforting that will keep you company until it is time to foray out into the unpredictable food world again. Eating low-histamine is occasionally boring and I get full of myself, and I make mistakes, assuming a one-day free-pass on eating some chocolate chips I was baking into muffins for friends were ok for me to eat again, and then again again. Hubris! Failing-to-learn-from-past-mistakes.
And so I make myself this dish, and go “back to rations” and think about how much more I know now about myself than I did before, and how I know what to do if I’m sick, which I didn’t before and was kind of the worst part. Except for the part about how it threatened my identity. And that is what is up next.
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