my allergy story
Things started to get bad in 2012. I kept getting horrible stomach aches after eating the smallest amount of dairy. So naturally, I cut lactose really quickly. Then a year or so later gluten started to give me issues as well. I was having digestive issues but it was also showing up in other ways like congestion and a swollen/puffy face. The smallest amounts of wheat gave me the worst pain. It was so bad I even had to stop taking communion at church. But, I got used to it: dairy and gluten were just two things I had to be on the lookout for. I got pretty good at reading nutrition labels and knowing what restaurants were safe to eat at.
But then something scary happened. I ended up in the ER with a severe allergic reaction. I'm talking swollen face, throwing up, itching hands and ears, and some rather unpleasant details I'd rather not go into. The doctors asked me if I had eaten anything, but the reaction had started early in the morning just after I woke up. I didn't have any other known allergies either. Sensitivities to dairy and gluten sure, but I hadn’t eaten either. So they sorted me out with some steroids and antihistamines and sent me home.
In the following days after my trip to the ER I naturally scheduled an appointment with an allergist. We went through all the scratch tests and nothing came up. I was told it wasn't a food allergy because I would have had a reaction as soon as I ate the problematic item.
So I went on my way and didn't think much of it until it happened again. And again and again. The reactions didn't happen back to back, they were spread out over months and years.
I saw another allergist, got even more tests done, nothing. Just a prescription for an Epipen and instructions to carry it with me always. I realized if I wanted to get to the bottom of it I had to take this whole thing into my own hands.
I figured just cut out processed food. If I only eat whole foods then I'll be ok. But then I started to obsess. All I could think about was food, what was good, what was bad, when I could eat next. I started limiting my food even more to things I was sure I could eat and be fine. This led to declined dinner dates with friends, "oh let's just meet for drinks.". I didn't want to be in a situation where I couldn't control the food. I started skipping meals too for no reason related to my allergies. "Oh, I'm just not very hungry right now" even though my stomach would be growling. This SUCKED. I felt pretty alone and the majority of my thoughts revolved around food. I was distracted at work, exhausted, and anxious. When I did eat I usually had to go lay down because I would get so bloated.
Looking back now I see the damage I was causing to my digestive system and my body. I was not caring for my body the way that it needed to be cared for. The one bright side that came from this disordered eating was when I did have a reaction I had very few culprits to investigate.
About three years after my initial reaction that sent me to the ER I was able to narrow it down to a food dye allergy. Don’t ask me which one, I have no desire to experiment and find out. Also. I don’t blame the allergists I saw for not figuring it out. There literally isn’t a test for food dye allergies; the doctors did the best they could with the tools they had.
Once I determined that food dyes were the issue, I had another challenge ahead of me, avoiding everything with dye. I couldn’t believe how many things contain coloring, not just the foods that obviously have some dye (gummy bears I’m looking at you). Dressings, marshmallows, seasoning, medications, some meat even! I got really REALLY good at reading nutrition labels. I confused the heck out of some waiters and bartenders asking if there was food coloring in anything that I ordered.
It was hard at first, this was uncharted territory, but it did get easier. It just became the way I continue to live my life.There were plenty of tears, awkward moments, and frustrated rants along the way. Some days were really good and others just hit me hard. I slowly got out of my restrictive eating patterns and turned to a whole foods, plant-based diet. I found the most freedom eating this way. I did my research and learned from doctors who have studied the health benefits of this way of eating. My digestion improved immensely (no more post-meal bloat). And the most important thing in my opinion: I learned to LISTEN to my body again. I’m writing this in spring 2020 and the last time I had an allergic reaction was the summer of 2017.
I’m telling this story because if you have or are going through something similar, I want you to know that you aren’t alone. I know what it's like to feel out of control when it comes to food and how it affects your body. Our food system has changed dramatically in the last 100 years and some of us are more sensitive to these new food-like substances than others.
I became a health coach so you can have an ally who gets exactly what you are going through. I don’t want you to have to struggle the way I did. Allergies are hard to navigate but with the right knowledge, tools, and encouragement, I believe you can live your fullest life.