In 2009 I had food allergy/sensitivity testing done …
Blood tests (IgG) show sensitivity to:
gluten, wheat, dairy (cow’s milk), brewer’s yeast
Muscle testing (applied kinesiology) show sensitivity to:
chocolate, peanuts, red pepper, red food coloring, msg
Over time and through elimination diet I have also removed:
corn, white potatoes, cashews, artificial sweeteners (splenda/sucralose give me migraines)
Going Gluten – Free
And dairy-free and wheat-free and corn-free and … well, I’m a mess. I’ll be the first to admit it. In the article I wrote about Rheumatoid Arthritis, I talk a bit about why I started eliminating foods from my diet, so I won’t rehash all of that. My hope of this article is to give you some hope and encouragement if you are faced with eliminating foods from your diet.
I remember how overwhelmed I felt when I first started eliminating foods from my diet. I should also mention here that I don’t like change. The thought of changing my diet so drastically was terrifying. But I trudged forward and I started with peanuts, chocolate, red pepper and red food coloring. Then two weeks later added gluten, dairy, wheat, and brewer’s yeast. My blood tests also showed 33 other items that I was mildly reacting to and my chiro suggested that I rotate these foods – making sure that when I ate them to skip two days before eating them again. My brain was overloaded. I experienced all sorts of emotions – fear, anger, frustration, and hopelessness just to name a few. As I was reading labels and trying to figure it all out I felt like I couldn’t eat ANYTHING! I would have little tantrums. I couldn’t eat out, I couldn’t have my favorite things like Papa John’s Pizza, I couldn’t join in with co-workers when treats were brought in … My mind was focused on what I couldn’t have.
Those first few months were tough (this was summer of 2009), but I started seeing the payoff almost immediately. This helped me to persevere. I dropped a lot of weight in the first few weeks and I began feeling better. By the fourth month my RA symptoms were completely gone.
But to get to that point, I had to do a few things.
First I had to educate myself. In 2009 I had trouble finding really good resources online. There’s almost too info much now – it can be overwhelming to sort through all of it. At that time, I read everything I could find that was presented in every-day normal language (found some way too technical documents that were over my head). Most of the info I found was for those who have celiac disease but it was helpful nonetheless. I made lists of thing that I needed to avoid and lists of things I could have. I posted those lists on my refrigerator so that I would see them every day. I also made a list and copied it to my smart phone so that I would have this info with me at all times – especially at the grocery store.
Break it Down
I had to break it down in manageable chunks. Now, I’m an “all or none” kind of gal. This was hard because I want to get it all right and do it right and be perfect or not do it at all. So allowing myself to only work on pieces of the puzzle was a challenge. But realistically, I just couldn’t take on all of the changes at once. So, I decided not to worry about the 33 items that I was supposed to rotate – I just tackled the top 7 items. Which, looking back is still a huge chunk, but I’m an over-achiever, what can I say? I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone else. It was hard.
Clean out the pantry
When I started this new journey, I had a roommate and we shared food expenses, so I couldn’t just throw everything out. If you are able to go through the pantry and refrigerator and get rid of the offending foods, I recommend you do it. But since I wasn’t able to do this, I read every label and took a red sharpie marker and marked every thing that was unsafe for me to eat – I would actually circle the ingredients.
Hopefully you will be as lucky as I was to have supportive family and friends. It makes a huge difference to have those who encourage you to make the right choice and don’t help you sabotage your efforts. There are also many support groups available for those with specific food intolerances and those resources can be very helpful as well. Many of them will also help with the education pieces and can offer recipes and other resources. Google it.
Shift in mind-set
I had to get out of the endless cycle of focusing on what I couldn’t have. This was making me crazy and I felt deprived. I had to start looking for what I could have. And appreciate that. I had to make a decision to be more positive and look for the positives. The longer I kept going, the more positive results I saw, the easier this became. I actually began to be thankful for this whole experience because I was starting to feel better.
Stick with it
This is a process that you have to give time to in order to see and feel results. It doesn’t happen overnight. I got into a good routine and figured out what I could have. You may notice some changes right away, but it took me about 4 months before I realized that my energy was increasing, my flu-like achiness was gone and my RA symptoms were gone.
When I first started this journey, I didn’t eat out much. The restaurants didn’t cater much to food intolerances – especially not fast food places. I’m sure some of the nicer places would have made special food for me but I was very self-conscious about it and didn’t want to be a problem (tapping in on my codependent issues here – this was early in my Celebrate Recovery journey). It is pretty different now! Almost all restaurants have websites now and most of them have menus with allergy information. Many even have gluten-free (and other allergy-free) menus. As soon as I discovered this, I printed out all of my favorite restaurants’ allergy friendly menus and made a binder that I kept in my car.
If you really want to see how the food affects you, keep a food log. Every day write down what you eat, how you feel, if you have symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, or are tired at a certain time of day, etc. I rate my RA pain at the top of my food journal and write out how many hours of sleep I got and my exercise info for the day. This will help you see patterns in food intake and your symptoms. This is also a good way to check yourself if you’re trying to lose weight – you may not realize just how much or how little you are eating or if you’re eating too much sugar, not enough protein, etc.
Keeping a food log helped me to identify other food issues including corn that was giving me horrible stomach cramps, white potatoes making me congested, and splenda and aspartame giving me migraines.
Keep in mind that this is my journey and things that I did that I found useful … it took me quite a bit of time before I got to the next few parts, so give yourself a break if you’re not there yet. Making small, manageable changes over time may be the best route for you and if that’s the case then choose what you can do and work on that for a while. Then try the next thing.
I got stuck in a rut of eating the same foods over and over and I wasn’t rotating foods. The danger of this is that my body is already freaked out about food and eating the same things over and over can create more intolerances, so a nutrition coach helped me with meal planning. I have a calendar with 7 days of the week and slots for 5 meals (see pic). I actually didn’t start using these meal plans until Dec 2011 and they have helped me tremendously with meal prep. I plan, shop and cook on the weekend. Then I have everything ready for the week. No eating things I shouldn’t –no excuses. I have it all ready to go.
Try New Things
Another nutrition coach challenged me to try one new thing a week. What? Did I mention that I don’t like change? Haven’t I already changed enough in my life? I’m also a little bit competitive and can’t turn down such a challenge. You know what I discovered? I like bok choy, parsnips, kale, rutabagas, delicata squash, kobacha squash, acorn squash, chia seeds but not roasted fennel or tahini. And now I have a whole bunch of new foods in the rotation.
Quit Reading Labels
What? Did you read that right? Yes, indeed. I quit reading labels. For the most part anyway. Over the last few years I have slowly transitioned to eating almost all organic produce and meats (pasture, grass-fed, cage free, etc). I purchase very little processed food (therefore no label reading required). I have made up my mind that I don’t need the grain-based food, so I rarely eat bread and other grain containing foods. I don’t miss them anymore. I don’t miss the carbs, calories and the cravings, either.
Keep learning. There is always new info available and new things to try. Keep reading, keep asking questions, and keep looking for answers until you find what works for you.
My RA diagnosis has turned out to be a blessing, really. This journey has made me stop and think about what I am doing to my body. I have learned about how toxic our food supply is and I have decided to do everything within my power to be healthy and make better choices for myself. And I am much healthier and happier for it.
I wish you well on your own journey!