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Mandy Jackson-Beverly Headshot

Life After Gluten and Swedish Fish

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HEALTHY FOOD
Betsie Van der Meer via Getty Images

I can't remember the exact date when my health and general well-being began to decline, but the moment of realization that I needed help is clearly etched in my mind. It arrived while delivering a plate of leftover cookies to the kitchen at work after a somewhat stressful meeting.

Placing the platter in the front passenger seat of my car was the first sign of trouble. I thought for a moment about relocating it, away from temptation, but alas, the fleeting moment passed.

By the time I made it to the kitchen, three chocolate chip cookies were making their way into my blood stream. Two more teaspoons of sugar disguised as cookies magically appeared in my hands when I sat back into the driver's seat. And in the time it took me to reach third gear, all cookie evidence was gone. Then came the instant rush of heat to my face, and the guilt. I'd become the victim of my own addictive symptoms. Sleepless nights, overwork, irregular exercise and an unhealthy diet... sound familiar?

Arriving home that night, the house was eerily quiet, my husband and our dog were in LA. When the cat caught a glimpse of the water pouring out of my eyes, she turned her Siamese back on me, swished her fluffy, elegant tail and walked away, as if to say, "Later, darling... and remember, dinner's at 6." There were two other beings left for me to confide in; the bird (quite frankly, he has constant verbal diarrhea) and Ziggy.

Sitting on the piano stool next to his water resort, I stared at the little face adorned with identical red stripes. "Ziggy," I said, "I'm a f*cking mess!" He splashed his ancient hands in response, the way turtles do when they need food. After feeding him I settled into the sofa with my computer and began researching nutritionists in the area. Before losing my nerve, I called the number one choice and left a message. Was I entering sugar-holic sobriety?

Since that evening, I've peed in a container the size of a medicine cup, had enough blood taken to keep Dracula content for at least a year and spat into tiny test tubes that I'm sure were designed for harvesting mice saliva. The data gathered from all of this liquid revealed that I, (like a large percentage of women in this country) was pre-diabetic, and either devoid of, or carried extraordinary high levels of anything that I'd had tested. The good news was that everything seemed treatable, but it would take a commitment from me to turn my life around. To consider the alternative was not viable.

For the past 31 years I've eaten a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. That means I eat eggs and dairy, but no meat. I adore pasta, risotto, potatoes, stir-fried rice and tofu, anything with a sauce, desserts in any shape or form, latte's topped with chocolate and chocolate topped with chocolate. Swedish fish are pretty damn good too. Therefore, it was with a heavy heart that I listened to the list of items my nutrition angel rattled off that needed eradicating from my life. Muttering to myself in true crazed menopausal fashion, I made it to the supermarket with the list of stuff I could eat. It was a very short list, minus any of the above-mentioned carbs.

There was, apparently one kind of noodle that I could consume, so life really wasn't as bad as I'd originally thought. The problem was finding it in the extremely expensive local healthy-organic-native-raised supermarket. After mindlessly searching the shelves, I asked one of the hipster beard-wearing male food operatives if he knew of this gluten-free, rice-free noodle. "Sure. Yeah, I'll show it to you." He said, while simultaneously listening to music via ear buds.

I followed him to the refrigerated section, where he promptly pulled out a sealed plastic bag full of liquid with some kind of mass floating inside it. Doing nothing to hide my horror, he grinned at me and said, "Kind of looks like brains mashed up, doesn't it?"

"Actually," I answered, "I wouldn't know. Have you ever eaten this... thing?"

"Once," was his answer, which meant that once was enough. He continued, expressing to me the importance of rinsing the noodle in question -- really, really, really well, otherwise they sucked -- big time.

Yummy, I thought to myself. Sounds like a gastronomic delicacy.

Taking the anemic specimen from the bio-genetic-genome-grad, I turned triumphantly with my list and headed for the veggies. My eyes were beginning to tear up --- again. Good grief, I needed to get a handle on myself. We're talking a change of diet here, not WWIII. I've been sober for 27 years, for Christ's sake -- I can handle this! Can't I?

After tossing some very expensive Arugula into my trolley, I decided to trade down to a shopping basket. Who the hell was I kidding? I only had about five items on my list, that's what happens when one's new menu is devoid of gluten, peanuts, soy, beans, legumes and sugar. Goodbye agave -- hello something with a name that I can't pronounce, and will never learn to like.

Miraculously, two days later I felt like a new woman. I took my supplements, ate only whole foods and made a new friend out of my Bullet processor. But perhaps the one thing that has really made a difference to my eating is that at meal times, I just eat. No longer do I return emails on my computer, read, or -- what had become the norm -- eat while driving. Instead, I give thought to what I'm putting into my body.

The most difficult part of this equation was the decision to not return to my teaching position next year. The evening I sent in my resignation, my muse placed her nurturing arms around me, forcing more tears. But after the sadness came the writing. I became manic about finishing a novel that I've been working on for -- well, more than a while. I'd go to work during the day, come home and write like I was possessed until the wee hours of the morning.

Five days later, I drove up the coast and delivered the manuscript into my editor's hands. To mark this event, we went hiking. Arriving home later that afternoon, it was evident that my next venture would be clearing clutter. Similar to my health decline, I can't really remember the exact date that I began to hoard remnants of fabric, and every card that anyone has ever given me. Not to mention newspaper clippings of events that happened decades ago, and collars of every deceased animal I've ever owned.

Am I really that bad? I thought to myself. In answer, Luna-Bella stared at me with her crossed eyes then promptly began licking her private parts. It's amazing to me how quickly rescued cats get an attitude.

A week ago I finally tossed the bag of mashed brains into the trash. It's not that they were outdated -- in fact, I'm sure they had quite a long life span, but honestly, I've been enjoying coming up with my own recipes. Having perfected the gluten and rice-free pizza crust, the noodle is next. I'm still working on the coffee with coconut half and half -- it's a stretch, but doable.