Health

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.

Roar — The Dragon Mother Has Awoken

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Look at that mane. You just know I can roar.

I am not okay today. I’m not. Yesterday morning I was excited. I was powerful and bold and, dare I say, optimistic for once against my more skeptical nature. Today I am sad, and it’s not that garden variety of sad where you can’t put your finger on it. It’s not general melancholy. It’s in-your-face, raw, jagged, emotional pain. It’s pathetic, disconsolate, achy-breaky heart sickness. This country, which I was starting to imagine was leaning towards becoming more inclusive and welcoming and more like our forefathers envisioned and Lady Liberty professes, pulled my heart out of my closed chest last night with some crazy nunchuck moves and then used it as a target for AK-47 practice rounds. So I am not okay today. I am struggling, and I know I am not alone.

I am not okay today because of who I am and not because of what happened yesterday. I am a woman. A well-educated, well-read, white, straight, upper middle class, clearly privileged woman, to be sure, but a woman nonetheless. I am a mother. I am what my detractors would term a “bleeding heart” liberal. I am an agnostic. I am a feminist. I am a friend to gays and lesbians, people of all faiths, and all colors. I labor to keep an open mind and I search daily for our common values so I can remain open hearted and accepting. It is hard work, but I do it ceaselessly, remaining friends with people I don’t agree with in the hope that I learn more about them and their views and grow in understanding. For a while, I had tricked myself into believing that I was part of a majority and that, as a collective, we would triumph, love over hate, stronger together, all the while going high. It didn’t happen.

An election is an election. It is politics as usual. So, at 48, the election of someone I did not vote for is not something with which I am unfamiliar. I was deeply troubled in 2000 when Al Gore lost the presidency. I worked in the renewable energy industry. Jobs were lost. I’m familiar with disappointment, but this is different. For me, this is a personal loss. I can put aside politics. I can trust that the next administration will do their best. I can be a good US citizen and play nicely with others when my candidate loses. This loss was not about politics for me. It was about sexism, racism, xenophobia, and hate. And when those are your stakes, when you are not simply voting democrat versus republican, a loss is devastating. Today I am poignantly aware that I am in the minority. I am on the outside. To many, I am an unwelcome aberration, at best an anomaly and at worst a nuisance. But if you think for one second that I am going to go quietly, to shut up, stay out of things, and let hatred and ignorance rule, you don’t know me very well. And you don’t understand Pantsuit Nation at all. I’m a middle aged woman with time, money, and pussy-grabs-back attitude. I’m not going quietly.

This is my challenge and my charge. I have only one choice and that is to rise from the heap of those left disenfranchised and make my voice heard. My privileged white sons are about to witness something powerful. Their dragon mother has awoken. First thing this morning, I set up a monthly donation to Planned Parenthood, the first place that opened its doors for me when I was a young college student without insurance looking for well-woman care. Planned Parenthood saved me from a sexually transmitted disease that was on its way to becoming cervical cancer. Because of that, I have long stood with them for the health of all women, women like me who needed some help when nothing else was accessible. As women before me suffered for causes like the right to vote, I will gladly step up, with my money, my voice, and my body to keep the doors of Planned Parenthood open. It’s imperative. Whatever it takes. Don’t even think you can stop me.

When I was younger and an important relationship would end, I would pull out every song that reminded me of the person I’d lost and play them over and over until I was reduced to a tearless, dehydrated, emotionless lump of flesh. Today I thought about playing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and just having a good cry. Instead, I found Katy Perry. Today I am giving myself permission and space to mourn. Tomorrow I roar.

I’ll Share My Life But Not My Toothbrush

Toothbrushes in the trash. Try not to judge me by the Red Vine box and the gummy bear bag in there as well.

Toothbrushes in the trash…where my potty mouth belongs.

So this past weekend we headed out for a few days in the mountains. As we were packing up, I noticed Steve hadn’t yet packed his toothbrush. Wishing to avoid a weekend with him without proper oral hygiene, I reminded him to grab it. He went into the bathroom to get it.

“It’s not here,” he said, referencing the toothbrush holder on our bathroom counter.

“Yes it is. I left a couple of toothbrushes in the holder when I grabbed mine,” I answered.

There were two toothbrushes in the holder that I hadn’t been using, so I knew he had forgotten his.

“Look. I already packed mine,” I told him. I showed him the toothbrush in my bag.

“That’s my toothbrush,” he replied.

“No. It’s mine. It’s the one I’ve been using.”

“Then you’ve been using my toothbrush.”

“Really?” I balked. “Are you sure? I’m pretty sure this one is mine. I used it this morning.”

“Yes,” he said, inspecting it more closely. “That’s mine. You’ve been using my toothbrush.”

“How do you know? They all look alike.”

We buy our toothbrushes in bulk from Costco. The Oral B package of soft-bristle brushes contains eight, spanking-new brushes in four, color combinations. We’re both fairly consistent about changing our brushes out every couple of months because, well, we buy them in bulk at Costco so why not? Because of the multiple color combinations, though, it can be easy to forget which toothbrush is your current one. I mean, by the time you’ve gotten used to your brush and have memorized which one it is, you’ve chosen a new one and have to remember it. We’re getting old. It’s hard to keep track of things, you know?

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was sure that one was mine. It’s not a big deal, though. Here you go.”

I handed him the toothbrush so he could pack it. I turned around and went into the bedroom to pack some other things. When I walked back into the bathroom, I noticed the toothbrush in question was now in the trashcan along with the other two toothbrushes that had been in the holder.

“You threw them all out?” I asked incredulously. “Really?”

“Since we don’t know whose is whose, we’ll just start over. I’ll buy a new one when we get there,” he replied, as if this were the most logical solution.

What the heck? Suddenly I was feeling downright dirty. I began wondering if the Board of Health might need to shut me down as a contamination risk.

“Am I diseased or something? Is that why you can’t keep any toothbrush that might have been in my mouth?”

“It’s just gross,” he said. “I’m pretty sure other people would agree with me.”

“The toothbrush was in my mouth…the same mouth you kiss. You know that, right? We share food off the same fork sometimes. How is this any different?”

“It just is.”

“Apparently my foul mouth really does bother you,” I retorted before heading back to my packing chore.

I’m not going to lie. I was disappointed and shocked that my own husband had such virulent concerns about my hygiene. Don’t get me wrong. I understand where he’s coming from. It’s not very sanitary to share a toothbrush. That’s a fact. And I wouldn’t normally want his mouth on my toothbrush either, but I wouldn’t freak out about it if tables were turned. As a rule, I don’t like to share, especially when it comes to germs. It was just the immediate and swift manner with which he dispensed with all the compromised toothbrushes that irked me, as if he were taking no chances. Was he concerned I could have Ebola? Honestly, I wouldn’t have been thrilled to discover Steve had been using my toothbrush, but I wouldn’t have thrown it out. I would have shrugged my shoulders, given him a hard time about it (probably forever), and then eventually switched it out for a new one when I had destroyed all the bristles on it by brushing too hard. (Yes. I know this is not a good practice for my teeth and gums. I’m working on myself one flaw at a time, and this particular flaw is reasonably far down on my list of concerns.) Whatever germs don’t kill you make you stronger. At least that has always been my theory and, forty-six years into this theory, I’m still here so it appears to be working.

The man's personal toothbrush kingdom.

The man’s personal toothbrush kingdom.

Let it not be said, however, that I am insensitive to my husband’s needs. After twenty years, I may not have understood his relative level of paranoid germaphobia until now, but I do know how to solve a marital problem. You find the issue that’s been rubbing you the wrong way and you find a way around it. It doesn’t even really require compromise. You simply apply a bit of creative thinking and find the win-win. So, today I dug into my resourceful brain and found a solution to our dilemma. I bought him a special treat…his own toothbrush holder to keep on his side of the double vanity. Henceforth, his toothbrush has its own kingdom and it need never be near mine. Ever again. Problem solved. Now he just has to hope I don’t hold this germaphobe thing against him. It could be a long next twenty years for him if I’m stubbornly refusing to put my mouth anywhere near him because of this slight. Not that I hold a grudge or anything. Well, if you’ll excuse me…there is a piece of cake in the fridge I’ve been saving for later. I need to go lick it to guarantee it’s mine. 😉

I’m A Ninja Like That

Here Joe eats wild caught tuna from a can to get me off his back about protein.

Here Joe eats wild-caught tuna from a can to get me off his back about protein. I might harp a bit about food occasionally. What mother doesn’t?

Our sons have many predictable rituals in our home. None is more predictable than the two-hour-post-dinner-second-dinner. This annoys the living daylights out of me. I understand they are growing. I understand they are hungry and therefore, like every Labrador retriever I’ve ever known, constantly believe they are starving. And all this would be fine if we were independently wealthy but, alas, we are not. And a year ago, in an attempt to cut processed and genetically modified foods from our diets, I began doing the majority of our grocery shopping at Whole Foods. This was not an inexpensive choice, but it was one I felt good about making. At the rate our boys are currently eating, however, we will have to disconnect our cable and wireless Internet and drop our iPhone plans to support the sudden bump in our Whole Foods habit.

Tonight, two hours post dinner as per protocol, Joe came downstairs and asked if he could consume the last of the chocolate ice cream in the freezer. He’d already had dinner and dessert, so this would technically be his second dessert. I balked.

“What fruits and vegetables have you had today?” I asked.

“I had that chicken soup for lunch,” came the reply.

He was referring to some of the homemade chicken soup I make for him each week for his school lunches. He enjoys it, and it’s a labor of loving creating a whole food lunch to infuse some measurable nutrition into my son’s diet. Sometimes I put kale in it. Sometimes I toss some edamame in there. It is always full of vegetables. It is always organic. So I had to give him some credit for that meal.

Sensing I was not quite fully satisfied with his answer, he quickly added, “I had a mandarin orange too.”

“Well….that’s probably about half the fruits and vegetables you should have eaten today,” I said. “You would need more of that before you would be eligible for more of dessert.”

In our family, dessert is not an issue. They are allowed dessert every night because they are blessed with skinny genes. Caloric intake is not a concern for our boys who are only in the 10th percentile for height and weight. Nutrition, however,  is a constant struggle. It’s hard to get them enough calories in healthy foods to keep them growing. They require more nutrition than they have traditionally been willing to ingest. We have to sneak it in through negotiations. So off he went to the kitchen in search of some additional nutrition to appease his demanding mother. Hubby and I went back to watching our Netflix movie.

Eventually, the banging noises coming from the kitchen got my curiosity.

“What did you find?” I asked, fully aware of the current Mother Hubbard condition of our cupboards.

He held aloft for my approval a now empty package of organic, chopped, frozen spinach, which he’d dropped into a ceramic bowl for heating. Interesting, I thought. Although I had bought that frozen spinach specifically for inclusion in one of my green smoothies, I decided that now was not the time to complain about his eating my food. I’d sent him in there to forage for something healthy, and he’d found it. Best not to bicker when your child listens to you and chooses spinach for his evening snack. And he did consume the entire 10 ounce package. Without butter or salt or any enhancement whatsoever. God bless him. I’d managed to sneak two additional servings of vegetables into our nearly teenage son’s day without so much as an eye roll or grunt from either one of us. Yep. I’m a ninja like that.

Of course, he still got his second dessert. It was chocolate ice cream. There are some forces of nature that even a ninja warrior can’t fight.

You Just Never Know

Our jar filled with things we did in 2013 that made the year memorable.

Our jar filled with paper reminders about all we did in 2013 that made the year memorable.

My friend, Rachel, posted this to Facebook earlier today, and it’s been tumbling through my mind like socks in a dryer all afternoon.

People like to use New Year’s Day as a “clean slate” or a “new beginning” but in reality every second of every day is a new lifetime, one you have never lived before, so if you are ready to make a change do it. You are the master of your fate. Use every new moment to be who and what you want to be.

Boom! There it is. What an amazing revelation. Every minute we’re given an opportunity to start fresh. The past is behind us. Our future becomes reality one minute at a time as the present begins anew. There’s no need to wait for New Year’s Day to begin a resolution. You never know what’s coming up next. We fool ourselves into believing there’s always tomorrow. But, sometimes there isn’t. The time to go, to do, to forgive, to trust, to try, to adventure, to reinvent, and to begin is now. No matter how bad things seem, you can make an improvement if you really want to.

Yesterday I spent time with a friend I haven’t seen in a couple of months. I mentioned that hubby and I are planning a trip to Peru next year. It’s a trip we’ve talked for twenty years about taking but have found somewhat legitimate excuses to put off. We recently pulled the trigger and booked the trip, rational thought be damned. As I relayed my concerns about leaving our boys for 12 days of international, out-of-touch travel and adding way too much debt to our credit card at one time, my friend implored me not to delay any longer. She understands that there’s no better time than the present. Her husband is 48 and is suffering from progressive MS with an emphasis on progressive. In six years he’s lost the ability to complete simple daily tasks most of us take for granted. His body is betraying him and his sons and his wife provide support so he can get dressed, get in and out of bed, and function as best as he can each day. As she has witnessed her husband’s decline, she’s learned a lot about life. Life is too short to wait for anything. The time will never be right. There will always be things that stand in our way. But, honestly, sometimes there is no better time. Sometimes there is not even a tomorrow. And we may not know that until it’s too late to do something about it.

Tonight at dinner we sat down and went through a jar we’ve been keeping since January 1st, 2013. We filled the jar all year long with paper reminders of all the memorable things 2013 brought us. As a family we recalled camping trips, personal accomplishments, and cool adventures. We relived our year, and it was pretty great. Universe-willing, 2014 will be amazing too. Steve and I will be hiking the Inca Trail in July. And in the meantime, we’re going to continue to hug our kids and tell them we love them every day. We’re going to wake up and be grateful for what is good rather than lament about what is not the way we had hoped. Some days we’re going to do crazy things, like splashing into 37-degree water on a brisk New Year’s Day, just because we can. I’m going to take deep breaths, revel in joyful little things, and accept last-minute invitations. I’m going to let the laundry pile grow while I go for long walks. I’m going to welcome new friends into my life and linger over the last sip of wine in my glass with old ones. I’m going to be more bold, practice being at peace, and enjoy my precious time on this planet because you just never know. And if a year from now I’m still fortunate enough to be on this crazy ride, I’m going to sit with my family again and add up the gifts I was willing to reach for, one minute at a time.

 

Destination Unknown

My lunch today...tropical smoothie with kale.

My lunch today…tropical smoothie with kale.

Fitness is 20% exercise and 80% nutrition. You can’t outrun your fork.”                         ~Anonymous

A friend asked me the other day how my book writing is coming along. And I was forced to tell her the sad truth. It’s not. I really haven’t done anything substantive toward completing a book since I stopped the daily writing on my blog back in January. It was hard for me to admit that to my friend, but what’s harder still is resisting the urge to make elaborate excuses for my written inactivity. So rather than lying to you about some monumental personal obstacles I’ve encountered that have restricted me from writing, I am simply going to tell you the embarrassing truth. Like a dog that stops everything when it notices a squirrel running across the top of the fence, I got distracted by something. That something is food.

In January, after months of knowing it was the right thing to do and yet ignoring my better judgment, I finally decided it was time to jettison the artificial sweeteners in my diet. No more skinny lattes containing sugar-free syrups and no more diet sodas laden with aspartame. I switched to water. Round about that same time, curious about the Paleo diet some of my friends swear by, I decided to do some more research into what I should be eating. Over the years I would occasionally try a diet to lose a few pounds I had packed on. This time I was looking for a lifestyle change diet, something I could live with and maintain. My Type A personality went into high gear and I began reading, watching documentaries and Ted presentations, and doing my research. Then I officially went off the deep end head first. I tossed out everything in my house that was hiding MSG (and all of its pseudonyms). I cleared the refrigerator of food dyes. I decided against Frankenfood and set about a mass reduction in the amount of GM foods we eat. I tossed out packages of foods whose ingredients read like a foreign language. I bought a freaking juicer. And I decided to get downright personal with our food.

Along the way, we had many family discussions before mutually agreeing we would work toward a whole food, plant-based diet. We cut way back on meat. I reduced the portion of dairy in my diet from approximately 30% to 5%. We cancelled our milk delivery. We started buying more organic produce. We decided that it matters to us what the cows and chickens we include in our diet consume. We stopped eating out as often. We greatly reduced our consumption of sugar, caffeine, and processed foods. We started making fresh juices and vitamin-laden smoothies to get more fruits and vegetables in our diet. We decided to stick to heart-healthy oils and plant-based fats. I began work on my gluten-free baking. Our unbelievably picky eater, Luke, willingly began experimenting with new foods. Our dinners are now comprised of ingredients that we can pronounce. And we feel better. We sleep better. Our skin and nails are healthier. Our immunity seems to have improved. We don’t count calories. We just eat food that makes sense, food that we understand. And we eat as much of it as we want.

I didn’t truly intend to spend much time walking down this path. It began as a curiosity and morphed into something much larger. Each day I take another few steps away from what I thought was important toward what I now believe truly is. The more I’ve learned about the complexity of our food (gained through years of industrialization, scientific research and experimentation, and a lack of appropriate governmental oversight), the more I know that this is where I need to be focusing my energy right now. This is what I am being called to. Who knows? Maybe somewhere along this journey I will find my raison d’être? Maybe in the midst of all of this I will find my book? Maybe not.

I know there is the whole eat-right-and-exercise-and-die-anyway philosophy. I think about that sometimes and wonder if I’m diverting my energy into something that in the end won’t really matter. Then I read another article linking some health issue to our food supply and I remember that I’ve never been the type to sit back and wait to see what happens. My mother taught me that if you aren’t happy with something, you should fix it. So that’s where I’m headed…to improve my health and the health of the ones I love. Perhaps something will stop me in my tracks early and I won’t live to be the vibrant 90 year old I know I’m capable of becoming. I only know one thing. I want to live as many of my days here on this earth free of pain, feeling good in my skin, and knowing that I’m doing the best I can for my family, myself, and this blue planet. So, for now, I have to keep walking this road to see where it leads. I’m pretty sure that it leads somewhere good.