A grab-and-go love story
I love food. I don't do Crossfit. I'm not getting any kind of sweet, sweet advertising or sponsorship cash by writing this. I just love RxBars, and currently they're saving what gossamer shreds of sanity and self are still wafting within me. For those who have not yet been indoctrinated into the cult of the RxBar, they're a Paleo and Whole30-friendly protein bar with bare-bones packaging that spells out the contents within: "3 egg whites, 6 almonds, 4 cashews, 2 dates, No B.S." More relevant to my current gastrointestinal situation—a nasty, hard-to-treat bacterial overgrowth called SIBO—is their notion of what constitutes B.S.: added sugar, dairy, soy, or gluten.
Those foods—along with grains, legumes, and alcohol—are currently verboten for me on account of my bum stomach and it's been painful, nerve wracking, and alienating in ways I'd never expected. I'm fine when I'm at home, cooking Paleo meals in my Instant Pot and making grim little sundaes of unsweetened coconut yogurt and almonds as an evening treat. I can control every morsel that goes into my mouth because I assembled it from scratch. I take careful little Tupperware containers of leftovers to work and scarf them at my desk because I know they're safe. This is not how I enjoy living, but I've learned the hard way that slight variance from the path leads to swift retribution from my digestive system and no fleeting pleasure is worth the discomfort that follows. It's awful to be bullied by my own body, but it's become my normal for now.
Travel away from home is a constant for me, too. I go to conferences and festivals to talk about food and mental health and often the intersection of the two. While the rest of the attendees and speakers are out exploring the culinary delights of the city, I'm hunkered down in my hotel room eating an RxBar. I know it will feed me. I trust it won't make me feel sicker than I already do and right now, that's everything. I stash them in my luggage and my purse by the fistful when I'm away from home because I'm afraid I'll be without anything I can eat, and I'll have to compromise—taking a small bit of fullness in exchange for some minor (sometimes major) nausea, upset, and humiliation.
I never wanted to be this person—the one who scrutinizes every label and raises her hand when the server asks if they have any dietary restrictions. Yes, come stand next to me for a while. You may wish to take notes. I have always connected with friends, places, change via audacious exploration of food. Short of something actually being alive or cruelly sourced, I'll try just about any dish. I'll get in cabs and on planes, read message boards and blogs, meet up with random strangers who can lead me to the taste of a place so can know it, them, and the world a little better. Right now, I can't ingest so much as a saltine cracker without suffering the consequences. Right now I don't feel much like me.
But before RxBars, I felt hungry all the time. Walking around feeling like a void and a burden when I was away from home. Sorry guys, can I meet up with you after dinner? I just have to do a… thing. I don't want to impede anyone else's pleasure by having the restaurant choices revolve around my limitations—but I still have to eat. I was in denial about this at first, traveling far from home with maybe a packet of almonds and a banana in my shoulder bag. Oh, I'll find plenty of food I can eat when I get there, this will hold me. It never did.
I was sitting in my friend Stacey's kitchen in Chicago, polite and ravenous, and she could just tell that something wasn't right. She shows love with food and she went into her pantry. Here, my husband and I just did Whole30, and these were a godsend. She handed me a fistful of RxBars and I took them back to the guest bedroom, grateful and skeptical. In the morning, knowing I wouldn't be able to eat much or any of the food on offer at the get-together we were attending, I tried one. It was the Coffee Chocolate flavor and while it tasted distinctly of neither of those, it was nicely chewy, sturdy, and sweet in a way that felt almost forbidden. My pleasure centers didn't short circuit or anything, but I didn't need them to. I felt sated, sane, and non-sick for the first time in a while—certainly while traveling. I walked around the room chatting with friends and colleague, free from any urgency clawing at my gut. Sometimes the absence of pain and worry can stand in for actual happiness.
I ordered a case of RxBars when I got back home, and have one or two on my person at all times. They're breakfast sometimes, or possibly lunch if I've forgotten to grab my little plastic tub of pre-vetted food. My carry-on bag is stuffed full of them. Knowing I have an RxBar in easy reach helps me concentrate on the task at hand and be present, rather than doing the mental math about how, where, and how much I'm going to get fed. This is a temporary fix for a problem I hope will someday soon be but a cruddy memory but for now, RxBars are the cure for a little bit of what ails me.