Sunday, July 22, 2007

Happy weight loss times

As you can see from my tickers, I've lost four pounds this month toward my five-pound month goal. It's going to be crazy if I have a weight of 180-point-something by the end of the month. If it happens, I will be so close to--just a week or two away from!--the 170s, a land I haven't visited since perhaps my sophomore year of college.

My husband pointed out that if I continue to average about 1 lb. a week (which has been close to my average this year), by the end of the year I will be a couple of pounds away from my goal weight. Isn't that a crazy idea? "I want to lose 50 pounds in a year" isn't a goal I have said, and when you break it down by the weeks, it doesn't even sound like much per week. But it sure adds up. Will it happen? I don't know, especially with all my food juggling that I'm doing with the food allergy issues now. But what an exciting thought it is! I told him it would be like moving even further back in time to my 10th grade or so weight. (I thought I was fat then in a size 10. Boy, how wrong I was!)

One thing that has been interesting lately is that I find myself feeling my face with my hands, noticing how strange it feels to have my facial bones emerging from the veil of fat they had been hidden behind. My husband has noticed the same thing about my knees, ribs, and other various bones. Not that I'm suddenly super-skinny--nor would I want to be, really--but now we can feel bones that before were so cushioned that they weren't able to be easily felt.

In the spring, I tried on sundresses at Ann Taylor. None of the sizes fit just right, and the dresses were about $150, so I didn't buy one. I tried on one of those dresses again this week, on clearance for $60, and got a size 12! It's going to be perfect for the wedding we are attending next weekend. (I still wear a 16 in pants, though I think I might be in some 14s if I tried them now. My top and bottom used to always be the same size, but that ended when I had abdominal surgery a few years ago.)

These are happy weight loss times. Even as I am feeling down about food and stressing over the food allergies, I am trying--trying--to keep in mind that I should eat reasonable portions, watch my sugar intake, and eat lots of veggies. Fortunately, those actions have at least partly become habit these days. I'm still not counting or tracking anything specific, and I feel good about that.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Delicious Cuban Rice & Beans

One of our friends emailed me today to ask for the recipe for the Cuban rice and beans I served at our last simplicity meeting. Nearly simultaneously, Dan IMed me, “I’m so in love with these beans and rice you made.” I took those two things as a hint to post the recipe. The recipe comes from the wonderful (milk-free, egg-free, wheat-free, soy-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, fish-free, and shell fish-free) cookbook The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook. I’ve modified it a bit.

Cuban Rice And Beans

(Serves 8)

1 large Vidalia onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, pressed/minced
2 bay leaves
4 T olive oil
2 tsp. oregano
1 T cumin
4 15-oz. cans black beans (about 6 c. of beans)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 c. cider vinegar
1 T honey
2 cans of veggie broth

2 c. white rice or brown rice
enough water to cook the rice
salt to taste

Saute onion, garlic, and bay leaf in olive oil over med. heat until onion is soft. Add oregano and cumin. Cook about 2 minutes. Add black beans through veggie broth; cook 30 minutes at a simmer.

In the meantime, cook rice in water according to bag or cooker directions (30-50 min., depending on rice).

Toss the rice and beans together thoroughly. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Let the flavors combine for 5 minutes, and serve.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

80% of my energy is taken up with figuring out food--but not dieting

Yesterday, I hit a low. I got a phone call from my allergist that my new round of allergy tests came back . . . with low-level allergies to crab, pork, beef, lobster, lamb, avocado, peppers, pecans, grapefruit, pine nuts, walnuts, and eggplant, and slighly higher-level allergies to almonds and oysters. (Oysters?? I don’t even eat oysters.)

I hung up the phone and started crying. Adding those allergies to gluten, dairy, soy, corn, tomatoes, apples, eggs, and peanuts overwhelmed me. When those tests came back, it became apparent to me that I am one of the small minority of people with food allergies who develop allergies to nearly any food they eat regularly (and some they don’t). I called Dan and cried and cried. “I can’t eat anything,” I sobbed. I heard him zipping up his bookbag, and he told me he was coming home.

Dan found out the contact info for a doctor in Chattanooga, TN (US) who uses sublingual immunotherapy to treat food allergies. It’s Krys Alimurka with Allergycare of Chattanooga. My insurance won’t cover part of the cost, but I’m going to go see her to get on food allergy treatments. They are no panacea, but they can make allergies better over a long period of time (sometimes somewhat better over a short period of time), and having hope with food allergies is a big deal.

(Some people on message boards find these drops very controversial. I say let’s try them and see if they work. What harm comes if they don’t? The people who are completely opposed to them simply because a doctor told them to be remind me of the people on the IC chat boards who lament that nothing works to fix IC yet never stick to any of the remedies long enough to find out.)

In the meantime, I’m going to have to rotate through foods, continuing to eat ones that give me only a mild allergic reaction or no reaction. I spent 15 hours this weekend–really, no joke–planning my breakfast, lunch, and dinner for each day this week. It was frustrating. I sighed a lot. I keep feeling guilty for feeling frustrated, and then feeling frustrated for feeling guilty when this situation does suck. I’m dealing with it, but it sucks, okay? Always having a good attitude is not possible for most of us, and I’m certainly no exception. Sometimes the glass seems half empty, and sometimes it seems half full. Right now I’m torn about which way it is, but it depends on the moment you talk to me.

There have been bright spots, of course, and some big ones. I feel better. That’s huge. It would be difficult to overstate it. My skin is also clearer.

Several people–friends in my ‘real’ life and people who read my blog–have contacted me to offer suggestions on foods they have found that they think I can eat. A few of them: my friend Nikki left me a voicemail about a flour mix she saw that might work; I just bought some of it. My friend Margaret managed to make cookies with none of my allergens (well, the known ones, anyway). Another blogger sent me a link to a company that sells gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free chocolate cake mix that’s also organic and fair-trade. (I bought two boxes, and two batches of their frosting, for my birthday party next weekend, and they were nice enough to ship it to arrive more quickly than it would otherwise–and the proprietor sent me a nice email with other icing suggestions.) My friend Lesley has sent me a lot of links to allergen-free blogs and websites she has found. A professor at my husband's school who has children with allergies met with me to talk about how to handle them. I could keep listing the people who have sent me helpful suggestions for a while, and there have also been a lot of people who have emailed or commented just to offer support.

I have found local, sustainable sources for beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, duck, and possibly bison now, as well as the usual organic vegetables, fruits, grains, and goat cheese I buy locally. Dan and I are planning to purchase a small (7 c.ft.), energy-efficient chest freezer so that I can put away additional allergen-free meals and always know that there are things at home I can eat; that will help keep anxiety at bay. We bought a small, very well-reviewed gas grill–a Weber BabyQ 100 grill that I got at Sears (where I got excellent customer service–props to Sears)–that has made us able to make tasty foods fairly quickly without using allergen-containing sauces. Pattypan squash and zucchini slices on the grill with salt and smoked paprika on them were delicious.

So what am I eating? I have gotten a lot of questions about that from people who realize that if you cut out all foods that have proteins in them from corn, soy, dairy, eggs, wheat, and tomatoes, you have just cut out 90% of what Americans today typically consume. Our reliance on a few foods is a bit scary, really. What I have realized is that, for the most part, I have to stick to whole foods–foods in forms that are close to how nature created them.

But to answer the question, let’s see. . . . Recently for dinner, we had grilled chicken breasts, grilled squash and zucchini, roasted garlicky potatoes, and cantaloupe. For a light lunch recently, I combined salad greens, nasturtium blossoms, feta, olives, and pistachios with a dressing of lemon, olive oil, and a variety of Italian herbs from our little porch herb garden.


For lunch, I tend to be eating leftovers, though I am going to have to be careful about eating leftovers of the same foods multiple days in a row. For the simplicity meeting (another great meeting!) on Sunday night, I made slow-cooker mojito pork with Cuban beans and rice, and other people supplied side dishes, drinks, and desserts. The directions for grilling pork chops here made for absolutely incredible pork that was not at all leathery; we ate the pork chops with mashed sweet potatoes and Indian spiced butterbeans.

For breakfast, I’m having gluten-free muffins I made, or granola (have to careful about what kind), or amaranth flake cereal, or other random things.

It’s still a juggling act. And when I get home and am hungry and want a snack, I have been struggling with what to eat. At restaurants, I have found that unless I order things completely plain, there will be an allergen snuck in there somewhere (not intentionally, just because one of them is in something). I’m determined to figure this out because my health is incredibly important. But it is taking an enormous amount of energy to avoid lots of foods and to try to strictly rotate others.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Working my way through this allergy thing

In a way, I guess this gluten-free thing can (at least at times) be a back-to-basics kind of meal planning system. After all, it has only been in relatively recent history that people have relied on regularly having flours—and wheat flour specifically—to get them through meals. If I just rely on alternate flours, which can be as good as wheat or more authentic than wheat in a recipe . . . but not commonly, I can have as flour-y a life as ever, but there are catches to that:

1. If I consistently rely on the same flours over and over on a day-to-day basis, I’m likely to develop an allergy to those flours as well. It’s much better for the sake of allergies to eat a diverse diet that does not include the same foods day after day. (I have a book coming from Amazon that delves into this topic in greater depth–this process is called having a rotation diet.)

2. I’m likely to be disappointed, often, with the quality of previously-consumed-with-wheat-flour baked goods, as they will not resemble my memory of what they should be like.

3. A lot of gluten-free flours are low in fiber. I eat a lot of vegetables, so fiber is not my biggest concern, but I don’t want to be eating nutritionally bankrupt foods very often either.

4. If I eat good-for-me whole grains, like millet, that are gluten-free, I will get fiber and learn to eat something new without delving into previous expectations of how that food should taste and what the texture of the food should be.

All of that said, of course I don’t intend to give up baked goods entirely. It’s going to be a balancing act. I think ‘balancing act’ is my favorite phrase lately to describe everything–my job, exercise, healthy lifestyle, simplifying, healthy eating, and now gluten-free eating, as well.

I came home half a day early on Tuesday. I’ve been working too much and was antsy to be away from there long enough to make today count, especially since I worked last Saturday and will be working this coming Sunday.

I came home after going back to the salad restaurant Dressed for another meal. I had intended to eat soup at work—Dan looked at the ingredients and thought the soup I packed was fine for my allergies—but it turned out to be tomato-based. Oops. (I HATE that I found out I’m allergic to tomatoes right as the tomato season kicks in. Tomatoes are one of my favorite foods!) I went to Dressed for lunch, ate a Cobb salad with no egg, and came home . . . where I was pleasantly surprised to find that I did not want to go to sleep. Last week, I went to my primary care physician and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but something is. I am getting headaches every day, and all I want to do is sleep.” I also told her that my balance was off, that I had scared myself falling down the stairs, and that I wanted to be certain nothing was really wrong. She ran a bunch of tests, but she told me she thought maybe my years of sleep problems were just finally catching up with me. This is my third day with no headache, though, and it was so miraculous to get home yesterday and not climb in to bed to take a three-hour nap and wake up still tired. (Yes, I know taking naps can sometimes make you more tired, but in the last couple of months, I have come home so tired I can do nothing but sleep.) I don’t know if all of this is attributable to allergies, but from what I’ve read, all of those symptoms can be—including my sleep problems! Someone from the town where I grew up who has the same allergies emailed me to say that, among other issues, her nightmares had stopped when she did an elimination diet. Isn’t it strange that food allergies could cause such diverse reactions in our bodies?

Speaking of which, other than the typical symptoms of allergies like nasal congestion, here is a list of some of the symptoms that allergies (some environmental, some food) may cause:

  • headaches and migraines,
  • abdominal bloating or cramps,
  • frequent diarrhea or constipation,
  • eczema or other skin problems,
  • painful swelling of joints,
  • unexplained mood swings,
  • depression or anxiety,
  • swollen hands, ankles, feet, eyes, face,
  • unexplained weight gain or loss,
  • constant fatigue.

Fascinating, I think.

Oh, and because there is a doctor at our church who swears by gluten-free diets for the treatment of a whole range of illnesses (gluten increasingly being a problem due to the enormous increase in gluten that is found in the strain of altered wheat grown 90% of the time these days), here are the symptoms of gluten intolerance and/or celiac disease:

  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Nutritional deficiencies due to malabsorbtion e.g. low iron levels
  • Gastro-intestinal problems (bloating, pain, gas, constipation, diarrhea)
  • Fat in the stools
  • Aching joints
  • Depression
  • Eczema
  • Head aches
  • Exhaustion
  • Irritability and behavioural changes
  • Infertility, irregular menstrual cycle and miscarriage
  • Cramps, tingling and numbness
  • Slow infant and child growth
  • Decline in dental health

Undiagnosed for long periods of time, food intolerances have been found to contribute to diabetes, bowel cancer, anemia and osteoporosis.

As far as allergies go, you have to find a doctor who will do a blood test for IgG (not just IgE) if you want to find out whether you have latent/delayed food allergies. And you have to find a doctor who uses a good laboratory that is careful about their food samples and runs tests to replicate findings.

The tests for gluten intolerance may be a bit more complicated. The doctor at our church sends off stool samples to a particular lab for testing.

Now that I’ve brought up stool samples, I think I’ll write about food in a separate post. On to that now. . . .

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

20 pounds down: a photo!

I did a 10-pounds-down photo, so here's a 20-pounds-down photo.

Of course, I have the advantage of a great photographer for a husband. He showed me how many Hollywood portraits are taken like this one--a bit overexposed--to get rid of the appearance of fine lines, pores, and flaws. Women just look luminous like that. Here's another, less exposed one.

He took about 100 photos of me--no joke, really--when we were messing around with his camera yesterday. It's interesting to see what I look like in photos and how that is different from what I look like in my own head. Occasionally when I catch a glimpse of myself reflected in a mirror, I'm surprised to see myself looking thinner. On other days, I can be feeling thin and catch a glimpse or see a photo and think, Ugh! It's funny I can be that judgmental about my fat, because I sure don't feel that way about my family and friends!