Diet Culture Post Chemo and Surgery

Disclaimer: This post discusses my experience with diets and food restrictions. If that’s not your thing, please skip this entry.

Before I was diagnosed with recurrent ovarian cancer, I explored Intuitive Eating (IE) for the first time. It was the thing that I had been waiting for all my life. That sounds dramatic, but it’s not just one of those flippant things people say. I had put pieces together about diet culture, like someone asked me to go on the Keto diet with them, and I said, “I never do well with diets and I don’t want to set myself up to let myself down.” Enter Intuitive Eating. For the first time in my life I was truly learning to love and respect my body, to listen to its cues, and to let go of diet culture.

Then came surgery. After consulting a nutritionist while in the hospital post surgery in April, I became very confused. I consulted with a nutritionist who I found quickly was a traditional, “Your BMI is in the obese range” kind of nutritionist. He himself had lived with cancer for 10 years without any kind of treatment. He told me that people who are prone to cancer need to eat no processed foods, no sugar, like even most fruits because “they have more sugar than nutrients”. He then said to eat the least amount of animal fat products as possible. No meat, no cheese, no milk. Some fragile feeling of hope that lived in my chest immediately dropped to its demise in my stomach. Everything I had just learned about Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size (HAES) seemed to unravel. How could I practice the freedom and the beauty of IE if I had to restrict my calories and become completely vegan? I became very angry. One of the two times I completely lost my shit in the hospital happened after this (Sorry Mom and Malcolm!)

I came to the conclusion that I was only going to restrict myself in the broad sense of only eating one of three categories a day: meat, dairy, sweets. That became a bandaid on the wound, covering but not healing. As I got further away from IE, I began to think about my body size and losing weight, which is semi fair because I was going through chemo and had several surgeries. All I had to think about was my body; what the cancer was doing to it, what the chemo was doing to it, the impact of what was happening in my body weighing heavily on my soul. A multitude of change happened in my body, most of them in an unhealthy way. It’s all I thought about.

I felt I had finally, finally embraced my body exactly as she was but now that paradigm is no longer congruous. As I began to restrict, I also began to criticize. And my fucked up thinking started seeping back. “Am I gaining weight, the weight that I lost during chemo? My body worked hard for that weight loss and I don’t even get to keep it?” or “My body is getting so toned now that I’m moving more frequently on a consistent basis which is good because I’d hate myself otherwise.” Even while writing this post, I noticed a part of my body and I looked at it with disgust and faint mental pictures of lifting weights to immediately correct it. Anything to make it look better.

Usually I like to end my posts in a positive tone, but spoiler, this one won’t end like that. I am still in that space, drowning in diet culture. The holidays is one of the toughest times to power through diet culture, and I’m afraid that I’m succumbing to it. I am succumbing to it.




2 thoughts on “Diet Culture Post Chemo and Surgery

    1. Mae Goes West

      I didn’t even know it was bothering me this much until I wrote this. Diet culture is so damn sneaky and it’s so easy to fall into my old ways of viewing myself. But I’m working on it!

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