It’s Time (again)

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I’ve made a decision. I’m going back on what I call my no-fun diet. I’m stating this publicly in the hope that doing so will actually help me follow through, else suffer in the knowledge that my mouth has written a check my stomach can’t cash.

I’ve been telling myself for a couple of months that it’s time. My body’s been telling me. When I first went on the no-fun diet five years ago, it was after years of suffering sinus issues and other problems: a lack of energy, headaches, digestion difficulties, concentration problems, quasi-narcolepsy and a host of other minor and not so minor annoyances. I had gone to dozens of doctors, both traditional and nontraditional, looking for a diagnosis without luck. No possible cause was ignored. One doctor thought I had fibromyalgia. Another thought it was Lyme Disease. Another thought it was tree pollen. Another thought it was polyps. I had sinus surgery. Cranial sacral therapy. Deep tissue massage. Acupuncture. Homeopathy. I took drugs ranging from nasal steroids to powerful antibiotics. Nothing worked. Eventually many of the doctors came to feel that my problems were not physiological but psychological. Even my wife—maybe especially my wife—began to believe I was simply being a whiny neurotic. Still, it was my body. I knew when it was working the way it was supposed to and when it wasn’t. Unfortunately, because my ailments weren’t crippling, I conducted my twenty-year search for a cure not with urgency but with a growing sense of resignation that this was just a condition (whatever the hell it actually was) that I was going to have to live with.

Then I read a book called The Yeast Syndrome by Dr. John Parks Trowbridge. The thesis of the book was that there were a lot of people out there suffering from some of the same low-grade mystery ailments that I was, and that they were caused by something called yeast overgrowth—or candida. Over the years, I had gotten my hopes of a diagnosis and cure aroused by other books, one on migraines, in particular. But the Trowbridge book outlined so many of my symptoms that I found myself once again letting a glimmer of hope be kindled. The solution to yeast overgrowth consisted of a diet that I can only describe as Spartan and ascetic. Without going into all its particulars, it basically consists of giving up sugar, alcohol, caffeine, dairy, wheat, gluten and anything starchy or processed. In short, everything that makes eating fun.

But five years ago, I was feeling sufficiently terrible, that I was willing to give it a try. The hardliners for this approach believe that you need to adhere to the diet for three straight months and that if you fall off the wagon even once, all the good you might have achieved is undone and you need to start counting again from the beginning.

In other words, if you stuck to the diet for two and a half months and then ate pasta or drank a glass of wine, you were basically stripped of your entire achievement up till then. I didn’t necessarily subscribe to such a rigorous and unbending approach, but I wasn’t going to risk finding out the hard way. Nothing much seemed different for my first couple of months on the diet, except that I was losing my mind from the deprivation. But in the weeks after that I noticed that I was actually starting to feel a little better. Then much better. At the three month mark, I was like a new man. My brain fog was gone. I had tons of energy. I felt like a million bucks. I felt so good, in fact, that I stuck to the diet for another three months.

Some people believe that once you’re “cured” you can begin to reintroduce things into your diet and see how you feel. I started doing this after six months. But I quickly learned it’s a slippery slope–at least it was for me. It turns out I’m kind of an all or nothing guy. Once the wraps were off, I was back into my old eating habits full bore.

For a while, I maintained my sense of well being even so. But gradually, I began to slide backwards. My sinuses clogged up. The brain fog returned. The loss of energy. And a host of other minor ailments. Still, I resisted going back on the diet. No fun was right. It took so much energy and discipline to be good. I went on like this for a couple of years, gradually feeling worse and worse. Two years ago, Alice and I both resolved on New Year’s Eve to go on the diet for a month. At the end of the month, she quit. I kept on it for another month before I stopped too. I felt better, if only slightly.

Now two more years have passed and I can’t kid myself. I need to do it again—and not for a month or two. I need to really do it. I’m older so I have less energy than I used to anyway. I need every edge I can get at this point. I remember hearing how Amare Stoudemire was taking red wine baths to help heal his wounded body. I wish that was all I had to do. For whatever reason, I have to do this. This is my cross to bear. But there are worse things in life. Plenty worse.

So before I begin this, I just ask one thing of my friends and family: Wish me luck and don’t take it personally if I seem a bit cranky these next few months.

By Peter Alson

Peter Alson is a writer and editor. Among his published books are the memoirs Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie and Take Me to the River. He's also co-authored (with Nolan Dalla) One of a Kind, a biography of poker champion Stuey Ungar, and Atlas, the autobiography of boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas. His articles have appeared in many national magazines, including Esquire, Playboy and The New York Times. He has worked as a writer for People magazine, and as an editor for Playboy and for Hachette Publications. He has written screenplays for Paramount and various independent producers, and his TV pilot, Nicky’s Game, starring John Ventimiglia and Burt Young, appeared in the New York Television Festival and the Vail Film Festival. As a poker player he has finished in the money numerous times in the World Series of Poker and other events. He lives in New York with his wife, Alice, and their daughter, Eden.

One reply on “It’s Time (again)”

As the Wife, I feel there is much to say in self-defense. As for my participation in this diet, the year we went on it together, the extent of my commitment was a single month, and I fulfilled it. It was a full 31 days of deprivation during the longest, bleakest, most existentially challenging month of the year: January. And since I had no other reason to pursue this diet except to keep you company (so you wouldn’t suffer alone), I actually felt I forged some awesome new karma just for doing it.

Second. I don’t think I ever used the phrase “whiny neurotic”, even though I do happen to come from a long line of Irish Catholic Suffer-In-Silence Stoics (not to mention Marine Corps vets). Though emaciated and diminished from successive famines, my people battled the British and still somehow managed to write epic poetry. So we may not know from yeast overgrowth and the like, but I’m sure it’s no less daunting than the Easter Uprising of 1916. You see, we are a very compassionate people.

Very much looking forward to these next three months with you. xoxoThe Wife


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