After being diagnosed with celiac disease, I paid more attention to certain aspects of life than ever before. Like gluten in my food, or crumbs on the kitchen counter top. And, as I've realized over the past two years, my stomach. Particularly, its state and size.
I grew up in a mostly body-positive household. Of course, I experienced the usual struggles (like being called "chicken ankles" in fifth grade - yes, I still remember), but my parents always stressed that the inside of a person counts more than the outside.
But what happens if your inside - my celiac disease - has external consequences? Mainly, like bloating. Gas. Constipation. And a sprinkling of nausea to finish it all off.
Logically, you want to improve it. Find a better you - or, more accurately, a better belly. And that isn't a bad thing. Until it is.
I've touched on body image and its connection to celiac disease before. When your body loses 20 pounds in a few months, you're trying to gain weight in a society obsessed with losing, and no one can understand how you can still have negative body image days when you're "so slim" - loving yourself ain't easy.
Neither is balancing "loving myself as I am" and "showing self love by trying to improve my body." I'll admit, I'm one of the greener-pasture-seekers. I follow the low fodmap diet, and drink warm water with lemon and apple cider vinegar every morning. I've experimented with charcoal tablets to treat gas (and to help recover from a glutening). I've invested in flowy dresses to make me feel confident even on bloated days and have learned yoga poses that aid digestion.
You could say I'm an A+ stomach student.
Yet, I wonder when improvement is more harmful than helpful. The desire for a flatter belly, after all, is partly fueled by jealousy - the desire to be like the hundreds of fellow college girls who can down chicken tenders, fries, and ice cream, and still rock a crop top without a single food baby in sight.
I wonder when, instead of searching for the latest fix, I'll appreciate the real-estate I already own. I hardly remember thinking about my stomach, pre-celiac. I fed it, it digested, and that was that. It would be naive to think I could entirely return to that degree of disinterest - one of the side effects doctors don't reveal about celiac disease is the way it changes your body and how you view it. But, I can realize that no one cares as much as I do.
I was lying in bed watching The Walking Dead (no spoilers - we're still two episodes behind!) with my boyfriend the other night. Randomly, he asked me, "Are you ever self conscious with me?"
It took me a second to reply. I'd chowed down on Chipotle that night, which sometimes does and sometimes doesn't agree with my stomach. "A little. About my stomach. You know, the usual."
His response? "Well, it's perfect to me. Celiac is just part of you. It's never bothered me."
Maybe the key to a better belly isn't a pill, a new diet, or a disguising outfit. Maybe it's just some old-fashioned, tender love and care.
Honestly? I doubt I'll ever totally stop experimenting with my diet and lifestyle. If there is a way I can feel better overall, I want to find it! (Overachiever alert, anyone?). But, I also want to focus more on improving my mindset. Less judgement and anxiety about what "this food will do to me" and more unconditional love.
Celiac disease controls what I eat - that's a given. But how well I accept my body, however it may function or appear? That's on me.
Have you struggled with body image after a health diagnosis? How do you balance self love and self improvement? Comment below!