Month: October 2017

8 Things People With Food Sensitivities Want You To Know

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A small selection of foods I no longer eat

A year ago, I received clinical affirmation about a problem my body had been alerting me to for years. I started having severe stomach pain episodes at 25. After several attacks that sent me to the emergency room for answers, doctors shrugged their heads and told me to take Zantac. The attacks kept getting worse, and I was checked for ulcers I didn’t have. At 32, I had my gallbladder removed and was told the trouble should subside. It didn’t. In my mid 40s, I found myself eating Tums like M&Ms. After watching some documentaries about our food system, I began eating primarily whole foods. Little by little, my symptoms abated, and I understood what had been causing the problem. I had been living with severe food intolerances for decades.

What I learned as the result of food sensitivity testing last year has changed my life. Within two months of altering my diet to eliminate trouble-causing foods (gluten, soy, and dairy were the primary culprits), I lost ten pounds without counting calories or heaping on tons of exercise. My gut no longer was bloated after a meal, and the stomach discomfort disappeared. I weaned myself off the Zantac and Tums that had become my daily norm. I got sick less often and the colds I did catch were less severe and shorter lived. I recovered more quickly after strenuous exercise and had less muscle pain. I slept better. I found my skin getting clearer. I had fewer sinus headaches. I didn’t run out of energy midday and crave afternoon caffeine. Now at 49, I feel better and weigh less than I did at 29, all because I jettisoned foods that were doing me more harm than good.

There has, however, been one unexpected negative side effect from my lifestyle change. My food intolerance issues have suddenly created issues with other people. If you have food restrictions, you know what I mean. So, on behalf of those of us who live with dietary caveats, I present eight things to keep in mind before you judge or complain about people living with food intolerance.

  1. Our food issues are not a choice. We are all unique. Our bodies have different strengths and weaknesses. People with food sensitivity didn’t chose this path just as people with asthma didn’t choose to suffer with difficulty breathing. It is something we live with, not something we asked for or enjoy.
  2. Food insensitivities are a real thing. We are not making this up and we can’t just eat like you do. If we eat foods we shouldn’t, our bodies suffer and make us pay for it. It’s not a joke and it’s not an invention, fad, or stunt to garner attention.
  3. Following our diets is a lot of work. Eliminating multiple food groups or worrying hidden ingredients that may make us sick is a formidable task. We are constantly vigilant. I recently went to a ubiquitous lunch spot with my mom. After checking the ingredient listings for menu items online, I realized there was only one meal (a salad) I could order and even with that I had them skip the cheese and snuck in my own homemade dressing. No lie. I’ve become that person. Meal planning, grocery shopping, and eating out require research. It’s not something we undertake lightly.
  4. We often miss the foods we avoid for our health. I miss cheese, and sorbet is not a great substitute for ice cream or gelato. I miss being able to drink a beer without doubling over in pain. I miss French bread, birthday cake, and shortbread cookies. I miss stuffed manicotti, chile rellenos, and cheese enchiladas. And the loss of peanut M&Ms and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is still heartbreaking. It is what it is. We deal.
  5. This has nothing to do with you. We’re not eating differently to annoy you or cause trouble. We’re not trying to ruin your dinner party or stress you out about what to serve at your barbecue. We don’t see how this has anything to do with you. Stop telling us that the preponderance gluten-free foods and gluten-free friends annoys you. We get it. People like us once annoyed us too. Now we have perspective.
  6. Stop attempting to goad or guilt us into eating what you want us to try. People often tell me, “One piece won’t kill you” or “You just have to try this.” Stop it. Maintaining my proper diet requires willpower and dedication to my health. I absolutely want a crab rangoon and I would kill for a bite of your donut. I cannot have it. Stop asking me to do something that will only hurt me. It’s unkind and not helpful.
  7. You could do it if you had to. If I had a dollar for every time a person without food issues told me, “I could NEVER give up gluten (or sugar or soy or dairy),” I’d be living in a yacht in the Mediterranean. Trust me. You could eat the way I do. I never thought I could either until it became a necessity. It takes time, but you’d adjust.
  8. We don’t expect you to change for us. When I go to someone’s house, I do not expect them to accommodate my issues and prepare special foods for me. I often ask the host if I can bring a side dish because then I know I will have something to eat and share, which alleviates both our fears. When it’s not appropriate to bring my own food, I carefully choose from what is available. I have been at a party and consumed only carrot sticks and mixed nuts at dinnertime. Sometimes I pull out a Lara Bar or apple I have stashed in my purse. I expect to compensate for my issue because I understand my dietary needs. If I don’t eat anything at your house, I promise I will not fade away. You are not responsible for me. I’ve got it covered.

I know it must be frustrating to people who are unaffected by foods to feel they have to tip-toe around people with food intolerances and allergies. You don’t. It would be nice, however, if you didn’t treat us like circus freaks either.

 

Physical demonstration of one part of what gluten does to me   The left photo shows me 30 minutes after ingesting three, tiny petit-fours I thought my body might be able to overlook. Oops. Not so much. The right photo was taken 72 hours later when the gluten had worked its way out of my system and my belly no long made me appear six months pregnant.

When Times Get Tough, Pull a Thoreau

“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” ~Henry David Thoreau

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The seasons have changed again without my expressed consent. Fall, with its kaleidoscope of colors and blazer temperatures and soup recipes, does have its allure. But it’s not summer anymore, dammit, and fall is the harbinger of the upcoming cold, grey suck of winter. It has been dark and rainy here for the better part of a week and a half, and my dog and I are tired of dampness and soaked feet. In Denver, fall traditionally arrives with blue skies punctuated by rippled cirrocumulus clouds, a landscape bathed in yellow rabbitbrush, and ideal hiking weather. Pumpkins come out, indian corn goes up, hay bales and scarecrows adorn yards swathed in fallen leaves. I often slip into fall with only a twinge of sadness at the loss of summer. This year with the rain landing me unexpectedly in the middle of seasonal affective disorder months earlier than usual, however, it’s felt like a 55-mile-per-hour rollercoaster descent into disappointment. Combined with relentless barrage of heartbreaking news over the past five weeks, from Harvey to Irma to Maria to Las Vegas, I have been living in a why-even-get-out-of-bed state in my head.

This morning the sun reappeared, not in a cloudless sky but more obviously than she has shown her face recently. I jumped at the opportunity to walk the dog in dry conditions before delivering our sons to school. As Ruby and I padded along, scores of butterflies scattered before us. Hundreds of them, migrating through on their way to the warmer climes of New Mexico and Arizona, flitted across our path making it impossible not to stop and stare. For the first time in weeks, the clouds in my head lifted, borne upwards on the wings of painted ladies.

When I need it the most, this planet slaps me with its marvels. The intricacies of our connections to the earth and its flora and fauna are miracles too immeasurable to overlook. It’s common to check out of the moment and to check into problems that are either too big for adequate and timely solutions or too meager to stress and belabor. In times like these, I always benefit by pulling a Henry David Thoreau and taking a walk to remember what beauty is and where peace lies. Turn off the television when the news is too much. Go find yourself again where you didn’t know you lived. The only certainty we have is this moment. Don’t waste it.

“There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.” ~Henry David Thoreau

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Painted lady pause

Switching Gears

Full disclosure: My husband advised me against writing this post. He did this because he is embarrassed for me by what I am about to disclose. He suggested I might not want to share this particular story. Second full disclosure: Listening well has never been in my wheelhouse. So I am going to tell my story anyway. 

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6:30 on Saturday morning

Steve and I started road cycling in 2009. When we brought my new bike home, a shiny, blue-and-silver $1300 aluminum frame contraption with mid-level components, Steve had to explain to me how the dang thing worked. I could ride a bike, but this was the most high-tech cycle I had ever owned. Steve began by telling me about the brakes and reminded me squeezing the front brake too hard too quickly would cause me to somersault head-over-heels off the bike. That seemed like an important point, so I memorized that. He showed me how to take the wheels off in case of a flat. I sort of paid attention to that detail. Then he continued explaining how to make the bike work for me. About two seconds after he mentioned mechanical advantage, I checked out. Mechanical advantage sounded a lot like physics. Yawn.

I am a bottom line person. Where some people like the fine details and want to understand the minutiae of a topic, I want to know only what I need to know. Call it impatience. Call it short sighted. Call it crazy. I call it being married to a man who tosses me a 300-page camera manual and tells me to read it when all I want to know is which button on the auto-focus monster snaps the photos.

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Ready for a beautiful ride

So as he was describing how the gears up front work in conjunction with the gears in the back to help you increase your speed or climb hills or whatever (like I said, physics), I interrupted him to posit when we might get to that ever important bottom line.

“Which gear do I want to be in to make it easier?” I asked.

He started in again about mechanical advantage, yadda yadda yadda, and I went on another mental vacation. I vaguely heard something about “big gear,” “small gear,” “front,” and “back.” I would figure it out. How hard could it be? It was a bicycle. All I needed to know was how to get going and how to stop. I could do that already.

Steve and I participated in the Tour of the Moon ride into Colorado National Monument on Saturday. We first discussed this ride as we were coming off the high of completing the Bike MS ride in June. I registered us and then I forgot about it. Two months went by during which we got on our bikes only twice for short, easy rides. A couple days ago, we started considering our options for the weekend and chose to go ahead with the ride without training. We figured we might be sore afterward, but we could handle it. At the hotel the night before, I glanced for the first time at the ride’s elevation profile. Big mistake. In roughly 16 miles we would climb about 3500 feet. Did not sleep well with that knowledge.

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13 miles of flat, 16 miles of climbing, 12 miles screaming descent

The next morning as we approached the monument and the dreaded climb was looming, Steve asked me what gear I was in.

“I’m on the middle ring,” I told him, referring to my front gears.

The middle is where I most often stay when riding because, well, I don’t understand my gears because, well, I didn’t pay attention during my lesson. In the past, I have tried to switch gears on a hill, lost momentum, stalled out, and simply flopped over sideways still clipped into my bike pedals. I haven’t enjoyed that, so the middle gear has remained my crutch and faithful companion. It gets me where I am going, and I don’t fall over while switching gears. Win-win.

We pulled off into a church parking lot so Steve could investigate. He told me to switch into the easiest gear. I did.

“What gear is your chain on?”

“The big one,” I replied.

“The big one up front?” he asked.

“Yes. Granny gear.”

“Umm…that is not granny gear,” came the reply.

“Yes it is. You told me the big gear up front was granny gear.”

“You want the small gear up front and the big gear in the back,” he told me.

“This is how I have always done it,” I told him.

“Always? Not always,” he asked doubtfully.

“As long as I can remember,” I said.

“Then you have been climbing in the wrong gear,” he replied.

Well, shit. No wonder I’ve hated hills.

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About to head into the first tunnel through the rock

With my bike finally figured out (nine years later), we began our ascent. The new gear knowledge worked like a charm. The ride wasn’t exactly easy (rain, hail, and cold weather temps ensured that), but I had no problem riding. My legs weren’t tired. I pedaled up the hills slower than molasses in January, but I never felt like quitting. And you know why? Because for the past nine years I have been training for this one ride by cruising along in middle gear. And that is an oddly perfect metaphor for my life to this point. From the beginning, I’ve made things more difficult for myself than they needed to be. I checked out too soon or checked in too late or somehow managed to do both. There isn’t much to gain from an easy path, so I’ve grown through my hard (and occasionally not necessary) work.

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Wet, cold, and looking at the road out

Perhaps you now understand why Steve was reluctant about my relaying this story. It’s embarrassing. This blonde moment lasted nine years. It’s practically a blonde decade. And, at a point in my not too distant past, I would have been too mortified to share this information. But I am older now and working to accept my flaws and appreciate my gifts. I am learning to look on the bright side. I could take this whole bike-gear lunacy and go to a dark place about what a dolt I am and how naive I was not to figure out my bike properly in the first place. Instead, I’ve chosen to be positive. For something between the 3000-5000 miles I have ridden over the years, I have worked at my cycling. Every ride I undertook, I rode with more effort than I needed to give. All the times I felt weak because the hill climbs seemed much harder for me than for others, it was because they were most likely harder. And the times I passed other riders cruising up a hill in a harder gear than necessary, it was because I was strong, stronger than I had any idea I was. That is not embarrassing. It is an awesome discovery of my power and resiliency.

I’m not saying I will eschew the easiest gear going forward. That would be silly. Sometimes the path of least resistance is a good idea. I might, however, keep riding in middle gear a bit longer and see what else I can do.

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Dried off, warming up, waiting for espresso, dreaming of wine