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.


Andrea said...

Oh, wow, dood. I'm so sorry. That sounds like a colossal pain in the ass.

(((hugs))) You're a smart and capable woman. You'll figure this out.

I wish I had a diet even remotely healthy as yours. I love reading about your meals. So inspiring!

Dynamo360 said...

Ditto that Veggie. I believe you will figure this out. It definitely sucks though. :( Glad you are writing about it.

Cory said...

Sorry to hear about the allergies. That's a definite problem. But you're working through it much more gracefully than I would be able to.

Salma Gundi said...

I am really, really glad to read your post. I know it's a mountain of a problem, but I'm confident you are going to climb it, just by focusing on one step at a time.

I want a cake report after it is made! And btw, happy pre-birthday :)

Leeanthro said...

I am oneof the few people that had a true milk allergy as a child (most people are just lactose intolerant but claim to be allergic). I have found that milk that has been processed into cheese, etc. doesn't bother me.

I recently found out through routine allergy tests that I am allergic to mushrooms and onions. But I eat them all the time with no problem.

You can try adding back in some of the things you are allergic to to see if you can eat them in low quantities.