October 7, 2011

The Food Allergy Interviews - Catherine Conroy - Dairy Free w/ sensitivity to Eggs & Oats

Art Gallery Sales Assistant and aspiring Studio Jeweller. Catherine is in her mid-thirties and lives in Dublin. She has a massive collection of sugar packets (1100 strong) and has been practicing yoga for the last five years. She is a huge advocate of walking be it hills, fields, cityscapes or cross country, literally, having crossed both Spain and Portugal on the Camino Frances and Camino Portuguese, respectively (without straying too far from her food allergy diet!) She also does watercolour paintings and simply can’t resist a wind-up toy.

What are you allergic/intolerant to?
I am allergic to Milk and have a sensitivity to Eggs and Oats.

What are your reactions?
Milk: bloated stomach, achy joints, deep skin pimples, slight dyslexia, depression, fatigue, generally muddle headed and can't make decisions
Oats: weight gain
Eggs: hives

How long have you had, or have known about your food allergies/intolerances? I've known about my milk allergy for 20 years, Eggs I think I've known about since childhood and oats about one year. 

How did you discover your sensitivities, or what prompted the diagnosis?
A rotation/elimination diet my mother put me on when I was a teenager uncovered my milk allergy. She was into health food and decided that my bloated belly, sluggish nature and bad morning breath could be allergy symptoms.
The eggs were quite obvious, I think I realized the connection quite young that if I ate more then one a day for about five days running I would get hives. Oats I have only discovered in the last year or so. Every time I start to eat porridge as a healthy breakfast alternative my digestion would get very sluggish and I'd put on about five pounds that I just couldn't move, no matter how much I exercised and cut back on fats. Those pounds magically disappear when I quit eating porridge so there is a problem there. I gave up gluten for a while just in case there was a connection but that doesn't seem to be it, only oats cause the symptoms!
Do you find it difficult to stick to your diet? And if so why?
Generally these days I have little trouble sticking to my diet. At first though it was very difficult. Being a teenager I just wanted to do everything my friends did and be 'normal'. There weren't very many substitutes like soya/rice milk, cheese and yogurt on the market then. Putting apple juice on your breakfast cereal was what the books recommended back then... truly disgusting! Food allergies also weren't widely known about. People acted as though you were just making a fuss about yourself and that if it really was an issue that you should be able to get some sort of shot from your doctor like an antihistamine for hay fever.
As time passes you get pretty savvy about reading ingredient labels and asking the right questions when eating out so you don't stand out too much. Food is really such a social thing and you never really think about it until you can't participate. It is also really awkward when eating at other peoples homes. The last thing anyone wants to do is offend your host by not eating what is offered to you.
What is your favorite food?
Can a spice count? I'd hate to eat most things if paprika was out of bounds! Other then that my favorite healthy food is puy lentils and I have a true weakness for plain salted crisps!
What do you miss the most?
Cheeses of all descriptions!
What do your friends and/or family think of your food allergies or how do they deal with them?
Both my sister and mother have food allergies so we are all pretty tolerant of each other in trying to cook without the offending food and understanding when we feel rotten because we've accidentally eaten something wrong. A lot of my extended family generally prefers to believe it's all in my head (personally I think this is because they are afraid they may be allergic too). Any of my close friends have always been supportive, often to the point that they embarrassingly screen food for me when we are out! Many of them have actually tried a dairy free diet to see if any of their own little problems like bad skin or runny noses might clear up.
Where is your favorite place to eat (that can cater to your needs)?
Yamamori on the quays near Ha'penny bridge. Japanese restaurants are always great, I can eat just about everything on the menu. Asian cuisine in general is pretty dairy free.
Do you or have you ever broken your diet?
If so, why? How does it feel? & How long does it take to get back on track?

When I travel it is hard to get what you need, especially if there is a language barrier! It also can be very hard to pass up a little taste of a local specialty you know you will never come across again! But even then I try to wait until the last few days so I won't be feeling crap for my whole holiday. When I first gave up dairy products it included a lot of my comfort foods like cheese cake, skor bars and cappuccinos. The cravings for these often lead me to breaking my diet. But I suppose with time, waking up with sore arms and legs and feeling all doom and gloom eventually outweighed the momentary comfort/ pleasure. When I do accidentally get dairy these days it takes me about a week to get it all out of my system. I am pretty good at getting back on track right away even though when I get a trace of milk the cravings come back. Actually if I find myself longing for pastries or a slice of pizza it's a sure sign that there's been an unnoticed slip up somewhere!
Have you learnt anything about yourself since abstaining from your problem/danger foods?
Yes! First off, that I am an amazingly resourceful person both in finding food that suits me and creatively using substitutes. I serve a lot of my dairy free creations to dairy eaters without them ever knowing and most importantly I have learned that I am not a lazy un-energetic/unmotivated person. I am actually the person who can't sit at home all day, I am quite active and have to get out and walk everyday. I can also finish a crossword now which seemed like the most insanely difficult riddle when I was younger as my spelling abilities were atrocious. That said I still only do the simplex :)
If you could give advice to people with food allergies or potential food allergies what would it be?
Really and sincerely try giving up your allergen for at least a month (it often takes at least a week to clear your system alone). I have met far too many people who've only gone off their suspected problem food half heartedly ie: If you are giving up dairy that includes cheese... Yes, I know you love it too much to give it up... but try. It just might be worth it!
What is the best source of information and/or help that you have found?
There is an amazing amount of info and recipes on the internet which have been most helpful over the years but really I have to say that the allergy advice labelling that has been introduced on food products has been a huge help: One, for speeding up shopping time and Two, for solving the contents of ambiguous things like E numbers.
Can you share with us one of your worst, best and/or funniest experiences living with food allergies?
Years ago a new boyfriend of mine asked me to a wedding as his date. His parents were only friends of the groom’s parents and he was invited through them, being the eldest child. I felt completely out of place being the date of the son of friends of the groom's parents! Anyway, when the dessert was being served I discreetly declined as it was laden with dairy. After a few moments my boyfriend’s father noticed my empty place and asked why? I quickly and quietly explained why I couldn’t eat it but little did I know that he was a major advocate for dessert! Very loud, over everybody he exclaimed that I ‘Must have a dessert!’ and started shouting out to the waiters ‘We need a Fruit Pot! SOMEbody get this girl a FRUIT POT!’ ...So much for discreet! [ouch! The word mortified comes to mind. -Ed.]

Would you like to share a quick and easy food allergy-friendly recipe?! 
This is a good substitute when a recipe calls for an Au gratin topping:
   1 cup Breadcrumbs (use gluten free ones if you need to)
   ½ cup Ground Almonds
   4 tablespoons Nutritional Yeast: it adds a nice cheesy flavor 

Mix all the ingredients together well and top your casserole before baking. The measurements are only approximate and can be adjusted to your own taste. Sometimes it’s nice to also blend in some dried herbs into the mix that compliment your dish ie: if the casserole is fish based a bit of dill mixed through is a nice touch!

If you would like to take part in The Allergy Interviews or The Vegan/Vegetarian/Raw Interviews please contact me by leaving a comment below or by emailing me at: aurea.conroy@gmail.com
I’d love to hear from you either way. And enjoy your weekend!


ceci said...

I like the interview and your new layout. The bit you wrote about dunnes allergy sections the other day made me laugh, I have also wondered about their dedication to rice cakes the stockists must really believe they are a substitute for sliced pan!!!

Aurea@Survival Guide said...

I know! it's crazy! but they must be selling all those rice cakes so they obviously know something we don't! ;)

and thanks so much! I've been wanting to change it for ages but just couldn't decide on a new look...