May 28, 2011

Food Allergy Lifestyle – My Experiences w/ Food Allergy Tests & the Obstacle of Sticking With It

I know 100% without a doubt that I am allergic to Cow’s Milk, and it’s not just the lactose. I’m also certain that I have a strong sensitivity to peanuts and possibly Tomatoes & Cumin and to a lesser degree Aubergine (Eggplant)& Red Wine. I try to limit my intake of Gluten and Wheat and I am trying to eliminate refined sugar and reduce my consumption of meat, eggs and any form of animal protein just for overall health reasons. I find that I feel better when I do these additional things but they are not essential.

Why or how do I know this about my food allergies?

My mom discovered my milk allergy as a baby. I had chronic ear infections. She thought that I had grown out of it after a few years because my reactions weren’t really ‘visible’ or typical but it became pretty obvious that the allergy was still relevant when we came to Ireland on a summer holiday and I threw up after drinking full fat milk! It seemed that I could handle light milk but after a few years of this we discovered that I hadn’t grown out of anything... in fact, I just didn’t know what I was supposed to feel like! So I went back off of milk and all of a sudden I could concentrate, my ear infections stopped, my grades went up, and I was far less hyper and ‘annoying’ as my sister would put it ;).

My mom suspected other food allergies such as corn (I was/am also quite allergic to dust and horses). We went to a local allergy specialist in Thunder Bay (Canada), where I grew up and we got a skin test which was a bit mad. My whole arm seemed to be covered in itchy lumps. It was great for confirming my allergies to things like the dust and horses, and it also made me aware of a slight sensitivity to cats which I had sort of ignored but it wasn’t very helpful in determining my food allergies, so I stayed off milk, as before and watched my mom discover some crazy food allergies of her own.

In general, and as long as I stayed off milk, I was a seemly healthy child. I did catch colds easily but I fought them off quickly enough too. Looking back now I see that I had an unnatural amount of canker sores (mouth ulcers), and an almost permanent low lying dull headache once I hit my teens. But I didn't really think too much about it, or even mention it much.

However, in 2000, about two years after moving to Ireland, I began getting severe stomach cramps.

The cramps would come and go but by 2007 they were following a lot of my daily meals and almost every meal I had away from home. I had been getting sick more and more frequently and it was getting worse. I now seemed to be catching absolutely every bug that was going and just after Christmas ’07 I came down with one of the worst fevers/flues I had had in my life. So basically I was at a personal all-time low with my health.

All this prompted me to take a strange type of allergy test that my mom and aunt had done. This test combined a blood test with a machine test (which gave a number reading from your pulse, heart rate, temperature etc.. which represented how much nutrients you were absorbing from your food) and what seemed to be the testers own personal regime – maybe based on how foods react with each other?? Unfortunately I’m not very knowledgeable about the details and I don’t even know the name of the machine because I wasn’t as into the mechanics then as I am now!

The test cost €100 and then €5 for every visit thereafter. I was told to eliminate about 41 foods and some things like relishes and soy sauce as well as limiting my intake of specific meats and bread. I stuck to the diet. It was very hard at first but I have a happy talent for working around things like this :D so it got easier in time. In addition to sticking to the diet, I also completely eliminated sugar which was a personal choice – I had been recommended to only have it in strict moderation. Anyway, things started to get good. I felt better than ever, except for the stomach cramps which persisted, albeit to a lesser degree. I lost almost a stone (14 pounds) in weight even though I wasn’t even trying – at all! – and I was eating more than I had ever eaten, and loads of that food was nuts and hummus and the likes! I had loads of energy, didn’t get sick even once. My skin was looking great and most importantly I was feeling great!

I didn’t go back as often as I was supposed to (due to logistics) but I did return after 5 months (which was a shockingly long time! But I stuck with the diet the entire time). My ‘nutrient absorption’ as I call it, had previously been at a shockingly low ‘2’ (it’s supposed to be in the high 20s or 30s) which explained a lot of my illnesses but after the five months it was at 42!! I was so pleased. Then the tester started to reintroduce foods. I won’t go into the details but despite the fact that things were going well (except for the stomach cramps) for some reason I stopped following the diet.

That’s right, I stopped. I am still furious with myself for having done this because I HATE quitting anything.

Why oh WHY did I ever give up the first time?

• Because I was feeling good & looking good but had forgotten how I got there
• Because I still had some stomach cramps which I didn’t really discuss with my tester and I didn’t look further into them
• Because I gave into ‘peer’ pressure
• Because I didn’t fully understand my testers methods
• Because I was going on holiday & it was going to be 'too difficult'
• Because I find it hard when the re-introduction of foods come into play. I’m a bit ‘all or nothing’ by nature and ‘re-introduction with moderation’ is the hardest part for me.

So I threw the regime aside and watched myself go back to feeling a bit blah all over again. I also believe that sugar has a lot to do with all of this.

I have figured out that my stomach cramps had a lot (but not everything) to due with drinking liquids with my food and not chewing enough. But after a while of sliding back to exactly where I had been a year ago I wanted to know what my ACTUAL food allergies were... SO, I got a big fancy blood test. It cost €320 and showed me the levels of my sensitivities and if you read my And the Results Are... post about a year ago you saw my list of 32 sensitivities and a further 15 borderline sensitivities (ironically more food to avoid than before – Served me right!). I stuck to this diet really hard. I even avoided the extra 15 border line sensitivities. I did this and all to no benefit.

I gained back the rest of the weight I had originally lost (fluid fluid fluid!!!) plus a couple of pounds - luckily my body shape hides it moderately well. My skin was at an all-time low for months with spots replacing spots. My mood was yo-yoing, I suffered through more cold sores since I started the diet than I had had my whole life put together –seriously!– and the most frustrating thing was fluid retention. Previously I had only ever suffered from fluid retention if I got milk. Since I went off of all these new foods I had fluid retention issues every single day varying from bad to worse!

PLEASE note: that this was just my experience! I know people who have done the very same test and have got amazing results and their lives have been completely turned around, they feel and they look Great!

Needless to say I was COMPLETELY confused... I tried to give it time to settle down like they recommend but after months of this I finally gave up. Sometimes I wonder if I got somebody else’s results by mistake!?

The truth of the matter is that my gut is misbehaving and needs to heal itself. I began working on this and in the meantime reverted back to the allergy list that I once recklessly abandoned. Within weeks I looked notably healthier and my skin started to clear up.

And that is my turbulent food allergy journey from the 1979 to 2011...

Sometimes I think that it’s helpful to just hear somebody else’s struggles. I believe that it is SO important to be Honest and Open with everybody because without that we will never learn or discover that we’re not alone. Food allergies can be EXTREMELY difficult to get a hold on! They can cause frustration, there can be relapses and often times it can get worse before it gets better... The hard part can be knowing when it’s working for you and when it’s not.

It has been a bumpy journey for me but I discovered that I can be cured... now it’s just a matter of getting back to that place! And please, please, please, if it’s working for you DON’T STOP! It’s SO COMPLETELY not worth it... take it from me!

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I want to do some interviews with people who have multiple food allergies or even just one or two allergies. I’m also interested in people who follow lifestyle diets like veganism. These interviews will focus on reactions, frustrations, choices, relapses, favourite foods, etc. because I think it’s important for people to share their experiences with honesty as well as to hear about other people’s journeys. I would like to share true representations of life with food allergies, to help inspire others and also to help them live life to the full while maintaining their diets – and that is exactly what Survival Guide is supposed to be about!

If you would be interested in taking part in this please let me know by:

A. Leaving a comment OR
B. Emailing me at OR
C. Contact me on twitter – I’m @allergyguide

I’d also just love to hear your thoughts and opinions (always!) even if you don’t want to take part in the interviews!

And if you read this far I wish you an extra wonderful weekend!

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