Living With Multiple Food Intolerances
“Here, have the last of the chocolate milk!” Me: “you know I can’t drink dairy” Her: “Seriously, if you’re not going to finish it then I will, I just don’t want to see it go wasted”. This conversation took place between me and a real close family member not too long ago at a family party. The last four years, I have lived with a strict diet of not eating over dozen of the most common foods, dairy, wheat, barley, oats, corn, soy, eggs, almonds, green beans, cherries, bananas, kidney and Lima beans, celery(never liked it anyway), black and white pepper. Living with a strict diet like this is hard enough, but it is even harder when once own family members have hard time understanding that one glass of milk, will give me severe migraine, stomach cramps, and nausea. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I hope you don’t ever wonder why I may have attitude problems. I have questioned myself and my doctors many times. Wondered if either they or I am imagining my symptoms. In fact, I have had several acquaintances, friends and family members ask me if I am just stressing myself to my symptoms. Or comments like; “Why would anyone not want to eat bread?”, “are you sure you can’t just have a piece?”, “one piece won’t kill you” and on and on…
For the record, my BMI is 23 and I do not avoid food because I think it’s a diet program, or because I like the attention. On the contrary, I think skinny does not equate healthy body, and I would rather be able to eat my own home baked bread than to have someone feel sorry for me.
Let me explain few of the challenges with living with my “imaginary diagnosis”. Why would anyone spend time cooking two separate meals every day? Don’t I have anything better to do than to read labels and figure out new recipes? Or how about spending more money at a restaurant then all my other friends, because I have to special order my plate of food. If I considered the price I have paid these past four years, both financially and emotionally, I definitely would have never chosen this lifestyle. My poor husband, who wants to take me out for a candle light dinner occasionally, usually ends up with taking care of the dishes because we stayed home for a home cooked meal. Even with all this hard work, I find myself having some real rough days. I am not telling you all this, because I want empathy, actually I am trying to explain to you why I won’t be drinking that glass of chocolate milk next time you offer again.
Journey To Understanding
According to a research done by Arnold Berstad, Ph.D, food intolerance and symptoms of IBS usually starts in early life of the patient. Unfortunately because of lack of research, most of the time some patients will spend decades before pinpointing the real cause, as was my case. I started having stomach issues and migraines in my early teens. But as mentioned before, most often it was blamed on hormones and stress. I went on getting married and having kids and the older I got the worse my symptoms got. At one point in my late 20’s I had one doctor in Sweden who was considering to diagnose me with Fibromyalagia. But that was in the 90’s. At that time the doctors that I went to, did not think that Fibromyalgia was a “real” diagnosis. It was considered more of a “state of mind”, potentially a result of depression. Fast forward to my early 40’s, my symptoms got worse and worse. By then being in bed for days at a time because of chronic pain was common.
My joints and muscles would just ache. My skin suffered from years of having regular outbreak of hives and eczema. I also suffered with breathing problems and seasonal allergies, and few doctors claimed I had asthma. By now depression was my constant companion because of all the pain. With all this and the headaches, nausea and stomach cramps, I was constantly tired due to insomnia. Early 2010, I met with a doctor, whom I had been refereed to by a nutritionist. She told me that she thought perhaps this doctor could shed some light on all of this. After couple of visits with him, and bunch of blood work, he explained that I was dealing with few problems. He gave me my lab results and highly recommended I stay away from gluten, eggs, oats and few other foods. He said, researchers are still trying to figure this thing out, but “your problems may be linked to what is called food intolerance or sensitivity”. I remember going home, and thinking it was worth the shot. By the end of that year I was feeling pretty good.
Since I started feeling better, I started also questioning if I really still needed to be on this strict diet. Some of my friends and family members thought I was exaggerating and started to encourage me to go back to “normal” diet. Without any support by some of my other medical doctors and those around me,(with exception of Robert) I decided to go back to eating everything. Within couple of years, I was back feeling miserable. Only this time, I felt worse than ever before. I started doing my own research, and finally found a clinic that specialized in gut health. Since then, I have worked with a doctor who has helped me to understand the correlation between my symptoms and lifestyle.
What is Food Intolerance Caused By?
Basically the individuals inability to digest and absorb certain foods in their intestines. This is often as a result of the absence of specific enzymes. The body then mistakes the food particles that are floating around as harmful and the antibodies which were suppose to protect against the real enemies, starts creating havoc in the system. This often leads to systemic inflammation. There is the saying of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”, same goes for leaky gut and food intolerance. Some researchers believe that if you have leaky gut, you can develop food sensitivity and allergies, while others believe the opposite to be the case. And even though food sensitivity or intolerance is not destructive like having food allergies, the symptoms are very similar, if not the same. Another difference between allergy and sensitivity is the reaction time in the body. Most people with food allergies react within minutes, and while the initial onset of the symptoms can come within minutes with intolerance, it can also be delayed up to three days later. This is why diagnosing someone with food sensitivity is so much harder.
How to Test and Diagnose
Many doctors and scientist argue that the blood test that can be done to measure the IgG can be false . It can show negative, even if the body reacts positive. Fortunately more and more regular family doctors, are doing these blood tests, to have some direction on how to best help their patients. Another option to blood test is what is refereed as Oral Food Challenge . Dr. Albert Rowe was the first physician to speak of the elimination diet. I did this after my blood test came back, to confirm that the IgG blood results were accurate. My doctor had me remove pretty much all potential inflammatory foods out of my diet. He then started adding one potential sensitive food at a time, back into my diet. I also had to keep a food journal and write down all my symptoms. This was really hard. I went thru withdrawals (yes! I had major withdrawals from not eating bread). And after 3-4 months, it became real obvious what my body was having hard time digesting. That said, it still took me about six months before I was feeling good enough to feel, that what I was doing was the right thing.
Can Food Intolerance be reversed?
After reading multiple research and from personal experience, there is a clear consensus that in some cases, after removing certain foods that a person is intolerant or sensitive to for certain time, can go back to eating everything. Our youngest child is a good example on that. He suffered a lot with gut health. And after several years of constantly being sick and just having a terrible immune system, our family doctor did a IgG test on him. That poor boy ended up having to remove everything from his diet. Try being 12 and not being able to eat anything. For an entire year, he lived of, chicken, turkey, rice and vegetables. The amazing thing was, that after being really consistent in his efforts, he is now back to eating all foods and doing great. Sometimes I will notice that his energy level is not good or that he is struggling with pain, that’s when he goes back on anti-inflammatory diet for few days and he is able to bounce back. Unfortunately I haven’t been as lucky.
Friend or Enemy
Food can be our friend or our enemy. It is true that we are seeing more and more kids as well as adults struggling with food intolerance as well as allergies. There are multiple theories why this is the case. Everything from overuse of antibiotic to environmental reasons. I’m not sure about your experience but I am pretty much half a Century old now, and there is no one that can convince me that the foods we eat today are the same quality as they were back when I was a child. At the same time, I realize that genetics play a huge role in our gut health. The good news is that scientist are making new discoveries every day and I believe that soon we will have few more explanations which will answer some of our questions. Can I just say, I have a good life. I can walk, see and smell the beauty around me. I never feel sorry for myself, or feel deprived in any form. Although occasionally I may need an attitude adjustment 😉 .
“Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Medicine Be Thy Food”