By Carrie Perrien Smith
Food allergies and sensitivities are a major inconvenience for me. But I’m lucky to know I have them. Thousands of people wander through life with no idea that is their problem. Instead, they are medicating the symptoms and then medicating the side effects caused by the medication.
Because I know what they are, I’ve been able to modify my diet and improve my life. My weight is easier to maintain too (as long as I behave). I love being able to see my hip bones again. I have those whiny moments when I miss porterhouse steaks, tortilla chips, cheese dip, and fried chicken. And bread … fresh homemade yeast bread and baking powder biscuits with sausage gravy [sigh].
So how did I know I had food allergies? I didn’t in the beginning. I had the same symptoms that many other women of a certain age have. You know them: the constant battle with my waistline, inability to lose weight, fatigue, nagging aches and pains, heartburn, acid reflux, hunger pains that never end, sinus problems, sleepless nights, digestive issues … I could go on and on. I thought it was just part of getting older so I wrote it off. I also recognized that these were problems that pharmaceutical companies spend fortunes in advertising dollars on. I just couldn’t see myself on a collection of meds at the tender age of 40.
Finally, I realized that I was dealing with a group of problems that were also symptoms of depression. Number one: I didn’t think I should be depressed. Number two: I have a family history of mental illness so I wanted to take pre-emptive measures. I finally talked to a naturopath about it. After listening to the list of symptoms, he suggested that we test for food allergies.
He was dead on. That diagnosis has changed everything for me. There are allergies and sensitivities. Either way, the symptoms are progressive. Yours might not be too bad. I don’t go into anaphylactic shock — yet. I sometimes calculate how long I will feel bad from eating a forbidden food and weigh it against the short-term joy of eating it. But in the back of my mind, I know that my body is still having a negative reaction to the food that can compromise my health in the long term.
Here are three ways that I’ve found to co-exist with food allergies:
1. Check Out Eat Right 4 Your Blood Type
The research in this book by Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo is pretty heady. All you really need is the list in the back of the book. I found it to be about 90 percent accurate for my chemistry. The list of items is extensive. It tells you the foods that are good for you, the ones you should limit, and the ones you should avoid. It covers fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, seasonings, and food chemicals you’ve never heard of. I use the iPhone app but I also carry the list of forbidden foods in my billfold.
If you don’t know your blood type, you can pick up a modestly priced kit at many health food stores. You can also donate a pint of blood at your community blood bank for free and find out.
I had to resort to a blood test to determine some items that were triggering a reaction. Unfortunately, I’ve never found anyone with an all-inclusive blood test that tests for every food you can encounter. And blood testing can be expensive. Buying the book is a good interim step.
2. Become a Foodie
The key to thriving with a seemingly limited diet is to understand what is in the food you eat and how it is prepared. Experiment with new cooking techniques to vary your menu. The same food can taste drastically different steamed instead of broiled. I learn a lot from watching the Food Network and the Cooking Channel. I also study recipes to learn the process so I can swap ingredients I can’t have for those I can. I enjoy cooking but my dream is to have a private chef who prepares my meals to my oddball specifications.
I stay away from restaurants that use a lot of pre-prepared items because they have food chemicals I can’t have like MSG and carrageen. I also watch for places where cross-contamination is a possibility like Chinese buffets. Even a barbecue restaurant will use the same cutting board and knife for beef and pork. I’m not afraid to ask the kitchen staff what is in a menu item and request substitutions. I normally take my homemade salad dressings because restaurant offerings can be loaded with forbidden chemicals.
3. Buy Individually Packaged Meats and Precook Staples
I’m just cooking for my husband and me these days so it’s a little easier. But, of course, he doesn’t like the same things I have left to cook with. Trying to come up with two separate meals each night is exhausting. I often take the same basic meal and prepare it with different meats.
Being able to purchase individually packaged meats helps. I cook a piece of salmon marinated in my dressing at the same time I’m cooking a piece of chicken for him (cooking times will vary between meats). Then we eat the same rice dish.
I precook chicken and roast for him and freeze part of it. I also keep cooked brown rice in the fridge to use in recipes. That allows me to pull out just enough for a meal to shave some of the time and effort required to cook from scratch.
If You Have Any of the Symptoms I Mentioned, Get Tested
Maybe you are saying to yourself, “I’m afraid to get allergy tested because I’ll have to give up [insert your favorite food here].“ If you are dealing with symptoms that could be caused by the inflammation associated with allergic reactions to foods, you could be a time bomb. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. People with food allergies and sensitivities have a higher risk for cancer and other life-shortening diseases. The people in your life want you to be around for a long time. Aren’t they worth educating yourself and making some lifestyle changes?
Carrie Perrien Smith is mama to Darcie and a pack of black dogs (Snappy, Jazmin, and Midgieboy — in pack order), grandma to Robert, wife to world-traveler and Walmart-blue-bleeding Tom, daughter to Wayne and Phyllis, speaker bureau and publishing company owner, Business: Engaged! small business radio show host, Rogers city council candidate, community activist, singer in a party band, and home improvement junkie. Follow her on Twitter @soarwitheagles or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Photo by 46317 via Flickr