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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Thanks for writing this! We have these same issues, and the same responses. What we are finding, though, is our friends truly care for us, and are willing to make sacrifices and changes to accommodate our individual needs. Which sometimes means not being able to partake in an exceptionally tempting dessert, but, hey: that’s life!
We have some very good friends who are kind like yours. Others seem tired just thinking about accommodating me. For me, I’m just at a point in my life where it’s important for me to speak to what I need. If others think it’s a bother, that says more about them than it does about me.
Since they are not required to come up with a menu that would be good for you, they should not be annoyed at all. If they are, they are not your friends at all. Why bother invite you?
good for you for solving the mystery and finding your way back to good health –
I’m a slow learner, so it took me a while to give up on traditional medicine and look for other solutions. I am glad I have, though. No regrets. Thanks for commenting! 🙂
Wow, I really need to take a serious look at what is going into my body. My stomach appears to be six months pregnant as well.
After I eliminated gluten for a while and reintroduced it, there was no mistaking the issue. Pants that fit me in the afternoon would be hurting me after dinner. I got tired of unbuttoning my pants after eating. 😉
Yeah, my problem is gluten. I was taking some pills that were controlling the gluten in my body. As soon as I stop taking them. I looked seven months and my pants stop fitting.
I keep supplements around for those times when I think I might get some incidental gluten while eating out. I try not to use them as an excuse to eat whatever I want because I know the gluten issues lead to other gut issues for me.
Thanks for posting this. I have taken this grief from people my whole life and have wanted to say exactly what you have. I know how much discipline it takes to commit to dietary restrictions for any reason and have fallen off track many times because I succumbed to outside influence / pressure, i.e., not wanting to insult the host, feel isolated at the office pizza party or turn down a birthday treat someone gave me. I recently wrote a post on the difficulties being married to a meat-and potatoes man while I try to build meals around vegetables. I am inspired by your ability to stay consistent and determined. Good for you!
Thanks, Gail. Sorry to hear that you struggle too, although it’s nice to be in such good company. I’m learning a lot about compassion as I get older. We all have a path to walk, and I am learning to have patience and understanding for myself and others as I get older.
Some things I avoid because of affects to the system as you’ve described. Others I avoid because if I don’t vigilantly avoid them they will kill me. I mean literally, due to a heart condition.
Gosh I miss dairy. (Longing gaze…)
Here’s the thing: after I modified my diet for my health, I suddenly realized how much better I felt on a daily basis. Like many, I thought gas, indigestion, acid stomach, cramping, constipation and occasional irregularity were normal. (That’s what Pepto-Bismol, Alka-Seltzer, Tum’s, Rolaids, Zantac, Milk of Magnesia and Beano told me on TV).
Now I rarely suffer from any of those things.
I think everyone would benefit from cleaning their diets. Like a broken record, it’s simple: no dairy for adults (like all other mammals), plenty of fiber, avoid fats, reduce processed foods, salt and sodium intakes.
To your health!
Love number eight ! Not only do you get to bring a dish you love , you also not only relive the stress from the host , but you open up the door for other dinner guess to try something new 🙂
I love bringing a dish! It’s always gratifying to have people try one of my vegan, gluten free dishes, ask me what’s in it, and then tell me they cannot believe how good it is.
Whoah! Those before and after pics!..I am not sure whatever else I might have a problem with, but I am food intolerant to shrimps and crabs. I have been since childhood. We used to eat them in the evenings then sometime later, usually around bedtime, I’d feel very uncomfortable in my stomach. My mother would put hot water in a bottle and let me carefully roll it on my stomach until the pain went away or I fell asleep. They probably thought it was something else. I guess food intolerance was not a known thing back then, unlike allergies, and I wasn’t showing any symptoms of allergies.
It was in high school when I noticed the “pattern”. I realized I suffered from it whenever we ate shrimps and the occasional crabs. BUT they do not affect me all the time. So what I just do sometimes is take a piece to satisfy my craving. What usually happens is whenever I experience it, I wait till it’s time. By this, I mean I have to go to the bathroom. I found out that was what I was supposed to be doing all along, to wait it out till it’s time to get the toxin out of my system. I KNOW I should be doing what you’re doing. I do, most times.
It’s my husband who has a dangerous allergy to shrimps (probably crabs as well); he didn’t use to have an allergic reaction to them before. We found out about it when he experienced quite a breathing problem. So I keep telling him to always make sure the food he is offered does not have shrimps in it.
Food allergies are scary! I haven’t had any severe reactions, but it does cross my mind that it could yet happen.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed!
Love this post! It’s so hard for others to be understanding when they haven’t been in our shoes
Yup yup. Gluten and other food intolerances have plagued my life for years, but I’ve actually been able to eat my former trigger foods lately, including gluten. Hope this helps you too: http://botanicalalchemyandapothecary.com/healing-from-food-intolerances
Yes! Thank you. Absolutely. I may just print this out and keep a few copies in my purse…
Great post! I completely relate to this. I always have Larabars or Nakd bars or nuts or fruit stashed in my purse in case I end up somewhere where I can’t eat anything. You’re right about people often saying “I couldn’t live without [insert food here].” You get used to it. And find substitutes for many foods that you miss (like vegan ice cream, for example). However, I still will always miss my mom’s homemade bread (gluten also makes me look pregnant haha)! Thanks for writing these truths!
I have acquired a fondness for sorbet, but I will forever be sad about bread too. Oh well. I am grateful for my health and learning that some vegan recipes are actually amazingly good. Thanks for your comment!
Very true! Being “forced” to eat healthier has been great for my body! Mmm I love vegan food!