In my late 20s I had a bad chest infection, of which I’ve only had 3 or 4 in my whole 58 years of life. The infection was persistent, even after high doses of tetracycline antibiotics. I was feeling constantly nauseous and unwell, and was craving something but did not know what. Intuition told me that I’d find it in the Adelaide Central Market. So I went to town on market day and walked up and down the aisles of food stalls with no idea what I was looking for (and feeling a bit silly, too).
Cheese? … Really?
Something made me stop at a kind of stall I’d normally pass by as quickly as possible because they smelled strongly of dried fish, fresh oysters, and other things I can’t handle the odour of. However looking at the goods behind the glass, suddenly there was the thing my body wanted!
I still had no idea what it was. A block of some weird greyish-bluish-greenish translucent rubbery stuff, it looked more like a pencil eraser, shoe sole or ‘sea monster’ gristle than food! It turned out to be some kind of cheese, and though I was a great cheese lover then, it did not look appealing at all.
It didn’t matter, because that’s what my body wanted. I bought a piece and went off to try it. It smelled strong but not offensive, was intensely salty and had a weird flavour and texture. But my body said: “Yes!!” So for about 3 days I had tiny pieces of it, no bigger than a fingernail, and loved it!
The Off Switch
About the fourth day I got my weird cheese out of the fridge and could not bear the smell. Something in me had switched off and I felt that my body no longer required it. I had evidently obtained whatever was needed, some uncommon substance or nutrient or microbe not present in my usual food. Crucially, it had stopped the nausea completely and I began to improve rapidly. After the ‘switch off’ I tried a bit of the cheese and almost vomited. It tasted foul and intolerably salty. End of story with that strange cheese!
Here’s what amazed me ever after: how did my body know that in the Adelaide Central Market there was a food I had never seen or heard of before that contained what my body needed to restore itself after the tetracycline therapy?
Spam (and I don’t mean on the internet)
Decades later in 2011 I had another similar experience during a major illness. Again, I’d had a multitude of powerful antibiotics and my guts were very miserable. I was taking a range of probiotics and nutritional supplements, but there must have been something missing. I walked up and down the supermarket aisles ‘following my feeling’ and it stopped me at the Spam shelf.
Spam?! How is that possible? I’m a vegetarian, Spam is meat, it’s preserved and full of chemicals, which I avoid.
But it had whatever that magic thing my body wanted. So I bought a small tin of it, ate it in 2 days, and hey presto! My body got what it wanted and hit the off switch.
After that the mere thought of Spam was revolting again. I got the feeling this episode of craving Spam had something to do with sulphur, but I didn’t really make time to do the research.
I don’t digest animal protein very well. Usually meat smells, tastes and feels offensive to me. But occasionally, particularly when I’m sick, I suddenly crave meat (usually chicken) and find myself thinking about it against my mind’s will. Then meat suddenly smells good to me and I find myself drawn to the smells in supermarkets and barbecues. So I buy some organically raised chicken. It tastes great, I still have some trouble digesting it and must eat it very slowly with a lot of fresh vegetables, but it works. I know when the ‘switch off’ has occurred, because once again I can’t stand the smell of meat and I don’t feel the need for any more for quite some time.
So I’ve learned: body knows best!
By Dianne Trussell, BSc Honours; 16 years in Biological & Medical Research & Teaching