Thursday, December 8, 2011

Food Allergies and The Great Gluten Debate

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More and more people are being diagnosed with a variety food allergies, including dairy, soy, and gluten. In the last couple of years being gluten free has gone from being a necessity for some people to a lifestyle choice for others.

But why? Why all of a sudden could you be allergic to something now? If you're not, should you avoid it anyway? Should you get tested for food allergies? What's the difference between allergies and intolerances? And can you one day eat everything again?

There are answers. I'll explain. You can decide what to do next.

Food Allergies: What I learned and what you can do to overcome them

I've had allergies all my life, but they were always limited to plants and dust type things. I'm pretty sure I'm allergic to the earth. A couple of years ago things started getting weird with me. I noticed my hair falling out, and not just on my head, but my poor little eyelashes and eyebrows too. My fingers would swell and my whole body just felt terrible. I had a hunch that maybe there was a food I was allergic to so I went and got tested at our local Southwest Naturopathic Medical Center.

Turns out I was allergic to: Almonds, asparagus, blueberries, cabbage, cauliflower, coffee, corn, cucumber, eggs, garlic, gluten, grapes, lettuce, malt, cow milk, peanuts, green peppers, pineapple, rye, soybeans, tomatoes, watermelon, wheat, bakers yeast, brewers yeast, yogurt.

What one thing was I not allergic to, that I happily, HAPPILY would have been? Splenda, and it's not even real food.

I was deeply distraught.

How was I going to survive? Have you ever tried to eat out and avoid lettuce? The concept of gluten free was becoming more mainstream, but lettuce free? Nope. Who had ever heard of that craziness?

The naturopathic center worked out a treatment plan for me which involved rebuilding the strength of my intestine through removing all 27 foods, then slowly adding them back in, and taking a variety of natural supplements over the course of what felt like forever. They explained that certain characteristics in the foods, like what causes green bell peppers to be green, were causing my reactions. Interesting.

I hated every single minute of the treatment because I was angry. I was angry at the test results, at the food, and at myself for not wanting to be different like this. Different in the sense that my whole life was going to become dramatically limited. How would I travel? How would I eat at my friends and families houses without causing a fuss?

I had many questions, so I turned to Google. I researched what I could online and became terrified. All the articles I found seemed depressing and hopeless. The Internet is sometimes a dangerous thing to use (which I know is ironic because this blog is on the Internet and Google may have brought you here). Everything on my list was full of nutrients and things I needed to be healthy, so how in the world could they be hurting me? And why all of a sudden? I wanted better answers.

I took a Taoist Healing with Foods Five Elements Nutrition class at school. When I told the teacher my allergy dilemma he simply said, "There is nothing wrong with the food. They do not cause allergies. There is something wrong with your body." Well, OK. Great.

He had a solution. To figure out what organs of my body were weak and to then strengthen them. We proceeded to go over a chart outlining what organs coincided with what elements of the earth, and what those specific organs would need to once again function as they were intended to. Based on the chart it was determined that my liver was the weakest link (in America, most people's livers are, due to too much sugar). To heal it I had to eat liver healing foods, like artichoke. The more I ate those foods, the stronger my body would become, enabling me to eat anything again. I took what I learned in class that day and added it to my already ongoing treatment plan from the docs. But I still wanted more answers.

I told my friend, Josh, who is a hypnotherapist, about my weird food situation. He explained to me that in hypnotherapy they believe that allergies are caused by emotions that are built up, not addressed, etc. This made sense as well. I had things I wasn't really dealing with and we all know what stress does to the body, so this was definitely plausible.

I went home, took all the information I had gathered from my three sources, and applied it all. I avoided the foods, took the supplements, ate the liver specific foods, and dealt with things. I believed that I would be able to eat my favorite foods again. I believed it would work.

And guess what? It did. I'm almost normal again, y'all.

I still do my best to avoid dairy, soy, gluten and wheat because I still feel funny after eating them, I just plain don't care for them, and not eating them isn't going to upset me like say, having to avoid lettuce.

Let's Get Down to Business

If you've recently come to wonder if you have food allergies, it might be time to get tested. Here's what you need to know:

1. Do not, I repeat, do not panic. Especially if you get a list like mine. 
I can eat 24 out of the 27 foods again without one single problem. You know what this means? If I can do it, so can you. Anyone can. Your body can be healed.

There is, however, a difference between a severe food allergy and a non-severe one. Severe means you will die, in like 5 minutes, after eating the food. Non-severe is a delayed reaction. The tests will show you, based on a scale,  just how allergic you are. Keep in mind that if you have an incredibly severe food allergy it probably can't be healed. There's no sense killing yourself just to try and test it out.

2. Pay close attention to your body. 
It is still very hard to tell the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance. Some signs are clear, like for example if you eat a peanut and your throat closes. In that case you definitely have a severe allergy. Avoid peanuts at all costs.

Most allergies are sneaky, though. They are delayed reactions that don't happen until hours, days, weeks later, after you've eaten that food. They cause inflammation in the body which results in hair loss, weight gain/hard to lose weight, swelling, mood swings and depression, among many, many other things. Weight issues, in particular, are often a sign of an allergy.

Intolerances are very similar. Your digestion system doesn't function properly. You feel tired, sluggish. Not so good overall. This is why it's hard to diagnosis one from the other. Your best solution is to avoid the food entirely until you heal yourself up.

3. You have to avoid the foods. 
You seriously have no choice, for now. The reason? When your body is in a state of disarray inflammation occurs. It cannot mend until the inflammation has subsided. So if you keep eating foods that cause inflammation, your body will never have a chance to heal itself.

You will have to avoid the foods for months. And months. But if you can overcome it, it's worth it.

4. Switch it up.
It's been thought that eating the same foods over and over and over will cause a food allergy. If you look at this from the Tao Five Foods Healing perspective it makes sense. Without alternating foods your organs won't gain what they need to remain strong and healthy, thus leading to weakened organs, which can definitely result in intolerances and allergies. If you don't alternate foods you are greatly limiting your nutrient intake and overall well being. Even if you have allergies to certain foods you must branch out and try all kinds of other foods. Then, once you've regained harmony in the body, you can try introducing your old favorites back in.

5. Try a multitude of methods. 
I sincerely believe that there is never just an A or B option. If I had only done one thing I highly doubt that I would've come out of this so well. I think all three things played an integral part in my healing.

Try it all. Give it everything you've got.

6. Mind over Matter
Most importantly, believe that you can overcome this. I'm living, breathing proof that it can be done. It can be hard. You suddenly no longer feel normal. Your friends and family still eat "normal" foods, but you can't. Maybe they don't even think you really have an allergy or they don't understand. It's hard on everyone. You might feel left out. You might feel like the black sheep. You might be stubborn like me and refuse to stop eating everything at first. But don't let The Man hold you down. You need to do this for you, no one else. Educate your friends and family on it. Suggest options. Do research. Do what works for you.

Here is a great article from some people I know and trust, all about food allergies.

Bodhi Body: Food Allergies and the Ninja Anti-body

The Great Gluten Debate

The other day I was in Sprouts getting supplies for a recipe I was manipulating. I needed maple syrup and I wanted the genuine stuff, not the fake sugar free kind that has who knows what in it. I'm in the aisle staring at all these bottles of syrup when I notice that none of the real ones have the gluten free sign on them. How could that be? I stood there for a second wondering how someone had infiltrated maple trees.

Here's the thing: They hadn't. I should know better, but I was thrown off in my hurried holiday shopping. Being gluten free has become a big market now. So big that some manufactures are putting signs on things saying they're gluten free when they never had gluten in them to begin with, and I've gotten so used to it that for a second I forgot that not everything will have a gluten free label even when it is indeed gluten free, like pure maple syrup.

So what is gluten exactly? Just like in the name, it's a protein that acts as a glue. And it's everywhere. Salad dressings, sauces, and of course things like bread. Gluten is a component of wheat, so when you try to avoid gluten you ultimately have to avoid wheat. A gluten free item will always be wheat free, but a wheat free item will not always be gluten free. Keep that in mind.

Gluten and I don't get along. It's becoming more and more clear to me that this is a battle I am not going to win, and that's fine, now that so many things are gluten free. This is wonderful news for all of you as well. Especially if you have an intense reaction to gluten, better known as Celiac disease. If you have this you must absolutely, positively avoid gluten at all costs. 

Gluten allergies/intolerances are actually more common than most people realize. I would wager a bet that there are tons of people walking around with this issue and they've never realized it, never had it diagnosed. For example, do you have digestion problems and your doctor told you that you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome? That's not an answer, ladies and gentlemen. It's a "We don't exactly know why you feel awful, so this is what we're going to call it" response. It's like putting a bandaid on a cut, but never treating it. You need to rip it off and get to the bottom of the problem. You don't just hurt because. There is a reason. 

A gluten allergy/intolerance causes a variety of reactions including swelling, inflammation, digestion issues, abdominal pain, constant lack of energy, dark circles under the eyes, and weight issues. That's right...trying to lose weight, but can't? It could all be because of gluten.

Being gluten free has also become popular because people who have no intolerance and have avoided it, have reaped the benefits. But there is still a huge gluten debate out there about why you should or should not avoid it, if you don't have to. Basically what it comes down to is one group says that they feel better when they avoid it for X, Y, and Z reasons. The other group says it's an important nutrient and if you don't eat it you lose out on X, Y, and Z minerals and vitamins.

My thought is this: Give yourself one good, solid month of no gluten. See how you feel. If you notice more energy/weight loss/feeling overall more awesome than you did before, then you need to avoid it. Your body doesn't like it. However, if you go gluten free and nothing - not one single thing - changes in you, keep eating it. It's not hurting you then, clearly.

If you eat out a lot, no worries! Do a Google search for Gluten Free Restaurants and several links will pop up, all of which are dedicated to listing gluten free restaurants in your area. Awesome, right? Being gluten free has never been easier. In fact, I was just sent an email on a new book, The Intolerant Gourmet: Glorious Food Without Gluten & Lactose by Barbara Kafka. I haven't tried it yet, but don't worry. I will. And I'll tell you all about it.

Also, I just discovered something that made me giddy with joy. I saw this article which lead me to this website, Gluten Freely. This site is dedicated to being gluten free. They have recipes, tips, and coupons. Who doesn't love coupons, c'mon now! The article basically says that one of the big food companies, General Mills, has gone gluten free. Little did I know that there were all kinds of gluten free things in the normal aisles of my grocery store.

Being gluten free is your choice...unless you have to, like some of us. But hey, if there's ever been a time to be gluten free, it's now.

One Last Thought (Don't try this at home, kids. Let me test my crazy theory out some more.)

All in all, most of my food allergies are gone. When it gets right down to it gluten is still my #1 enemy and I can't always avoid it. I don't always, especially when I travel, because I'm stubborn and I want to experience the culture and foods of other places. Or I don't want to offend someone. And maybe I'm still just stubborn and want to keep challenging myself. But, and a big but at that, I know my body well. I know all the signs of when I feel bad, when I'm good to go, when I need to call it a day. I'm all about researching and I am my own best tool for that. But I think I've discovered a secret...sort of.


When I travel I am so, so happy. I mean happier than in everyday normal life and when I eat something that may cause my hands to swell, they don't. In fact, nothing happens. Ever. Not a day later, a week later, ever. It's like my extreme happiness overrides my reaction. It's magically beautiful. Going back to what Josh said about emotions, I have to agree. 

Maybe happiness is the answer to everything. 

Questions? Concerns? I'm here to help.

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