A piece of cake (for the gluten-phobic)

The last month, I have been so inspired by some of the other food and eating disorder blogs that I have been reading -- like Emily Jolie's -- that I have begun to reconsider my no-gluten policy.

If bodily functions gross you out, skip down to the recipe below for zucchini chocolate cake and read that instead. It's guaranteed to not gross you out.

When I first recovered from my eating disorder, and began to eat normally after a few years of binging and purging, my whole digestive system was in serious trouble. It was as if it had forgotten how to move things forward, and every evening, without fail, I had body-stopping cramps that left me huddling on the couch with a water bottle on my stomach. I spent a miserable summer trying a series of "elimination diets" to see if I had a food allergy, and in the process learned that things seemed to get better -- a modicum of improvement -- if I eliminated gluten from my diet. I consulted gastroenterologists, allergists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and nutritionists, with mixed success. I didn't like the GI doctors' advice to take anti-acids for the rest of my life, but I also knew that following a strict diet when I was recovering from an eating disorder could potentially put me at risk for more eating-disordered behaviors. So it was with caution that I adopted a gluten-free diet.

Miraculously, I have been gluten-free for almost three years, and it hasn't led me down the old road of restriction + binging. Absolutely the contrary. Because I couldn't rely on my old stand-bys of peanut butter sandwiches and Honey Bunches of Oats, I had to look farther afield, and start making my food myself. I didn't hurt that at this point I moved to China for four months with the man who is now my husband; living in a rice-based culture is much easier for someone who doesn't tolerate gluten well. But even after I left China for Brazil, it was as if a whole world of cooking and food opened up to me, once I was forced to cook for myself.

Cooking for myself is the ultimate act of self-nourishment. Cooking is what grounds me in a foreign country; cooking is what keeps me from going crazy about food. Cooking for others puts me in contact with my friends and family and shows them that I care about them, and allows me to spend time with them. Cooking has, in a sense, saved me from an eating disorder, and I am passionate about and respectful of food in a way that I could never be when it shared the bejeezus out of me.

Over the past few years, limited by my gluten intolerance, I have let so many other foods back into my life, foods that I never would have eaten during my eating disorder: red meat, whole milk, cheese, tuna fish, butter, mayonnaise -- the "bad" foods -- not to mention kale and beans and amaranth and sweet potatoes and beans and almonds and mangoes and sweet corn and brussels sprouts and did I mention beans? Like Shauna, the Gluten-Free Girl, by tailoring my diet to what I could tolerate, I was able to find "food that loved me back."

But this week I am going back to eating gluten. I am going to take it seriously, and see if we can tolerate each other again. It has been a long time, baby.

Which means: I know that I don't have celiac disease, that sometimes gluten makes me have an upset stomach (but mostly when I eat a lot of processed, white foods in overabundant quantities, a.k.a. binge), and that, in theory, I should be able to tolerate gluten. So what has been keeping me back? Fear, I think, of opening that door and letting in all of the foods that were once so hard for me to stop eating: cookies and candy bars, cakes and pastries and puddings. Conveniently, not eating gluten because I fear its consequences in my lower intestine has helped me to avoid binging on those very foods that once were so irresistible. Is it a coincidence that I developed an intolerance to the same foods that I once binged on? I think not. However, given what I know about my body, about eating intuitively and eating the foods that nourish me, I am willing to give it another shot with gluten. Especially since lately, even in the midst of Italian gelato and Perugian chocolates, I have been able to hold my own, to ask for food when I need it and stop when I am full.

And what better way to celebrate a return to glutenhood than baking a cake? Because I'm not afraid of cakes anymore.

When I arrived at my parents' house on Thursday, there was a mountain of vegetables in the refrigerator from their CSA share, and the clear injunction to do as much as I could to get rid of them. My mother produced an outlandishly sized zucchini and a recipe for zucchini chocolate cake, reproduced below. I got busy this morning and now have an entire cake awaiting my unwitting family.

The recipe:

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
(And please don't pretend that the zucchini makes this a "health" food. This is chocolate cake. Chocolate. Cake.)

3/4 c. oil
1 1/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 c. grated zucchini (I used less than half of my larger zucchini)
1/2 c. sour milk or buttermilk
2 T. cocoa powder
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. each ground cinnamon and cloves
2 1/2 c. flour
1 smallish bag of chocolate chips (however much suits your fancy)

Heat oven to 350 degrees, grease two round cake pans. Mix all ingredients and bake for 25 minutes. Glaze or frost if you so choose.


Emily Jolie said...

Dearest Ai Lu,

I am so honored that you mentioned me in your post and so thrilled to hear that my blog has provided you inspiration! I can wholeheartedly say that the same is true for your blog for me! I so thoroughly enjoy your writing and am very happy to have stumbled across your path!

I love that you're writing more about how food ties in with eating disorders, hunger for life, etc. As you know from reading my blog, this is a topic I am quite passionate about!

Your zucchini chocolate cake recipe sounds divine! I have a wonderful zucchini muffin recipe that I love. I haven't made it in quite some time... When I have a chance, I will either post it on my blog or email it to you. I think you would enjoy it. And you might even be able to make it with gluten-free flour if you so choose.

On that note, I am very impressed that you're venturing into glutenous territory again. I also want to tell you to please, please be careful. I have done what you're doing here a number of times. Granted I didn't have 3 years of binge-purge-free time under my belt. But even 4 months. I thought I was so much stronger. I thought I could handle foods that had previously been binge foods. And I did ok for the first couple of days. Then found myself back with my head over the toilet bowl way too quickly!

I do believe that our food intolerances are aggravated by the eating disorder, but, at least for myself, I also do believe that the pre-existing food sensitivity contributed to the formation of my eating disorder in the first place. That, if I were like my sisters, who do not experience the feeling of bloating and discomfort that I do when they eat cakes and breads, I may never have resorted to binging and purging in the first place!

So, dear Ai Lu, enjoy the delicious cake, and also please, please, please be careful and make sure you have a support system set up and someone who can hold your hand through the discomfort and the bingey feelings if they come up. Because, no matter how much willpower we have, those feelings can be really, really strong, and I've seen too many times with myself how they can completely wipe out all of my resolve!

This feels particularly near and dear to my heart right now because I just recently came off a 5-month candida diet that was very restricted, but, also, in many ways, saved me from my ED. While I stuck to it, I didn't actually get the crazy binge urges, nor did I desire to purge what I'd eaten, as the foods, even when I'd overeaten, didn't upset my digestive system or make me feel manic like sugary or bready foods do. Then I started feeling better and ventured out to eating things like chocolate and the organic cheese puffs I love. I thought I was so much stronger now! After all this time of doing well, I thought I could venture out. I'm afraid I have to admit that I binged and purged a number of times over the past couple of weeks. I've learned that there are certain things I just cannot eat in moderation. At least not yet. Maybe some day my system will be less sensitive to them, I don't know.

What I'm saying is just, please, please, approach your experiment with great care, and should you want to talk about any of this away from the blogs, feel free to email me at nourishyoursoul AT gmail DOT com!

lots of love to you!!


P.s.: I sure hope we get to meet in person one day! :)

Emily Jolie said...

P.s.: Are you familiar with Heather's blog, transcendbulimia.com? She, too, has struggled a lot with digestive distress and has written a lot of very helpful entries. She writes a lot, too, about the Law of Attraction and how to create more health and well-being for yourself.

Also, because you mentioned your doctor telling you to take anti-acids for the rest of your life... you may be interested in reading about my recent discovery of using HCl as a supplement. You can read about it in the following post on my blog: http://nourishyoursoul-private.blogspot.com/2008/07/regaining-some-freedom.html

with care,


Ai Lu said...

Thanks for reminding me of how important a support system can be for people who have had eating disorders. I have shared some of my concerns about this gluten adventure with my family and I think that I'll be able to take this next step. One step at a time, that's what I keep telling myself.

elizabeth said...

how did it go? The cake looks beautiful. I adore baking desserts, I'm a little sweet-sensitive but I love to delight in small constant bites. I am very glutten sensitive but have been eating it anyway. I feel like if I work at it hard enough my body will change its mind. :fingers crossed:: cramped stomach::
good luck to you in your gluten adventures, I agree that cakes are great place to start.

I know that my blog is very winter looking. I keep thinking I should summer it up But i so adore the winter, it's hard. I'll probably change it towards the end of the month and then summer will be nearly over. The photo is from april on the ocean (in the NW) at 4am when it was snowing and thousands of people were clam digging.

elizabeth said...

ps. I LOVE your current header: green and thriving and summery.