Skærmbillede 2013-11-11 kl. 22.01.06

By Sonja Woitschek
– Some would say pizza is a superficial need. However being deprived of your favorite foods for month after month can really boost your frustration levels. Food intolerance is no piece of cake – the good news is that dining will get easier! Eventually…

Yes, it’s mean. Back home after the diagnosis of multiple intolerances, and there they are, the new feelings. Bitter envy when others eat what we crave so badly. Doubt whether our strict diet really helps us. Lack of understanding why intolerances have hit us and not the unfriendly colleague from the accounts department. And even fear of starving to death despite a full fridge.

In my case the food envy was and remains the biggest challenge. Once I left an important meeting at work because my colleagues were so bold as to order pizza – my absolute favorite forbidden food. Hello? Couldn’t they sense that I miss pizza most of all foods? I don’t dream about George Clooney or even about Ryan Gosling. I just have a modest dream about my favorite pizza with tuna and onions. With only a little (ahem!) extra cheese.

To find an explanation for my pizza fixation, I have looked into the ERG theory of Clayton Alderfer, an American psychologist who further developed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This ERG theory includes the frustration hypothesis, which states that an unsatisfied need will become dominant, and because of this we are driven by unsatisfied needs. I can really relate to this! One example from my life with intolerances: The punk girl with the pink hair who made herself comfortable right next to me at the subway, enjoying a pizza (tuna, what else?). Some would say pizza is a superficial need, not qualified to meet the high theories of Clayton. However, I have experienced that being deprived of your favorite foods for month after month can really boost your frustration levels. It certainly did for me. And in the train that day it was so frustrating that the pink punk girl escaped a food motivated hate crime only by a pink hair’s breadth.

Our clever old Clayton has also established the satisfactions progression hypothesis: The satisfaction of a need activates the hierarchically higher need. I have experienced this too. If I feel bad enough, I’m happy that boring rice cakes don’t irritate my sensitive belly. In these situations, people can even chew their pizzas in front of me; my main concern will be that I get symptom free again. But as soon as I feel better, I crave pizza even though I know what it’s capable of doing to my body.

But my favorite theory is the frustration progression hypothesis (pay attention, intolerance pals, this is the theory that has the potential to lead us towards true gratification!). A need not satisfied for a long term can contribute to personal development and lead to higher levels of demands. Applied to our situation this means that we can overcome the habitual craving for forbidden foods and reach higher spheres where long-term health and a perfect skin (also an effect from leaving out unhealthy foods) count.

And maybe I am finally moving a little closer to some higher level of gratification! Snickers, love of my youth, is proof. There were times when it took more than three Snickers per day to silence my inner sugar devil. Sure, I really missed Snickers when I initially had to give them up. But I have personally experienced such clear evidence of the strong effect of healthy eating that I now view refined sugar as pure poison. Now I select foods that nourish my body, not those that destroy it. Okay, I can’t promise I will never eat any sweet “poison” again if my intolerances should disappear one day. But for now, you can find me in the higher spheres of long-term health – and recognize me by my perfect skin.

Then what?
The theory may explain to us why we react when we can’t have our needs satisfied. But what do we do with this understanding? Weddings with lavish buffets, barbecues with colleagues, cooking evenings with friends, girl’s rounds at the café – understanding won’t put food on our plates. These are all situations where we are still faced with the challenge of being able to enjoy the conviviality without turning green with envy watching the others enjoying forbidden foods.

It’s mean, it’s unfair, it’s cruel. But maybe we are better off if we realize that our wellbeing is basically our own responsibility. We can’t really demand that our friends and family figure out all of our special needs. And I personally don’t want that either. In this way, I believe, the intolerances would get more power over my relationships and daily life than they already have.

But then again, after having taken full responsibility, I don’t want to hide myself and my intolerances from anyone either. I also know that my story can lead my friends and colleagues to reflecting upon the importance of keeping control of the tempting snickers and pizzas and similar easy fixes. Because unbalanced eating often plays a major role in developing food intolerances. Maybe this knowledge could save these people one day from some of the food challenges I am experiencing now.

I survived the wedding boom in my circle of friends just fine by consciously enjoying the food that the chefs had prepared for me as agreed in advance and retiring inconspicuously for a walk during dessert. First, I didn’t have to expose myself to the cruelty of watching others eating dessert (I can fantasize about mousse au chocolat-motivated hate crimes, too, it does not necessarily have to be related to pizza), secondly, there are also people around us (especially those who care about us) who will feel badly if we stare at their plates with big envious eyes.

At activities in which food is clearly the center of attention and there is no tasty substitute for me, I just don’t participate or emerge later, when the plates are cleaned. I know others who prefer to bring their own food, or eat a full meal before they arrive. Whatever works for you is fine. Personally I find that the number one way of combining food and being with my friends is cooking for them! I act out all my creativity in the kitchen and I am able to eat everything that I put on the table. Not to mention that when my experiments are successful, I can also be credited for my skills in modern, super healthy cuisine.

The good news is that dining gets easier! Of course there remain specific foods and dishes for which all of us with food intolerances could murder, and there are good days as well as there are bad days. But over time we might experience it’s not that bad when others eat foods in our presence that we do not tolerate. In my experience this happens when we truly sense that these foods are not good for us. This is also when we slowly start to discover and enjoy the foods that make us feel genuinely vivid and alive.

Living with intolerances is a huge effort. When the united theories of Clayton fail to help me, a quote from the struggling realist Jane Austen will most often do the trick for me: “The fact that we are missing a part of happiness should not stop us from enjoying everything else.”

Sonja Woitschek works as a human resources representative and is addicted to DIY, music and movies. After several years with multiple intolerances she still enjoys experimenting in the kitchen and discovering new healthy foods and dishes. Sonja shares her flat in Munich with her biggest loves: Her petulant cat and her books.