People ask me this all the time, especially if they have known me since college when I swore off dairy foods. And then I found out I was allergic to soy about a year ago, decided to test the theory of lactose intolerance by pulling it out of my diet and putting it back in, and found that my gastrointestinal reactions were psychosomatic, often precluded by an emotional event of some sort. Whether I’m actually missing the enzyme lactase, or have less of it in my gut, is therefore still up for debate.
Scott, a writer for the Atlantic, recently wrote a rather long piece about his own life with anxiety, also mentioning something I have tried to describe to others but he says it better so I’ll quote it here:
“… medical researchers have charted the connections in precise and systematic detail: as one’s mental state changes, for instance, so does blood flow to and from the stomach. The gastrointestinal system is a concrete and direct register of one’s psychology. In their 1943 landmark of psychosomatic research, Human Gastric Function, the physicians Stewart Wolf and Harold Wolff concluded that there was a strong inverse correlation between what they called “emotional security” and stomach discomfort.”
Ever since I was young, I would complain about stomach aches. Mother noted that I would complain about them after doing MathFacts at school, a one minute race against yourself to complete a list of 100 arithmetic problems. It wasn’t that I did poorly, I actually did well, but the pressure was enough to drive my stomach into mental nervousness. I also curiously would seem to feel sick before every piano recital, every retreat, and every long vacation trip. So the conclusion is, I’m not really lactose-intolerant, at least not to where I can notice it systematically, when I’m feeling secure emotionally. When I’m relaxed, I can eat whatever I want. When I’m not, well that’s another story for another time.