Saturday, February 2, 2013

Gluten/Dairy Free: My Before & After Story

I'm going to take you back to the first 22 years of my eating life. I loved all things pasta, pizza, bread, pretzels, cookies, crackers, cheese, butter, yogurt, and ice cream. My mom taught us healthier eating habits when I was younger, so I knew the nutritional value of wheat over white bread, but that didn't stop me from eating two Wonderbread grilled cheese sandwiches with creamy Campbell's tomato soup when I talked my Grandma or dad into getting white bread at the store, or went to a friend's house. If I was sick, chicken noodle soup and Saltine crackers made me think I felt better. Peanut butter and jelly/honey sandwiches were my lunches 4 or 5 days out of the week. When I got back from swim practice, I would ravenously devour a big plate of spaghetti with meat sauce.

Can you guess which one is me? :)

As I got older, continued to swim and started working, I would take my staple lunches to the pool: crackers and cheese, PB& J,  pretzels, fish crackers, granola bars, the occasional fast food hamburger (because the chicken had always been revolting), fruit and baby carrots. Sometimes I would get wild and order a sub from a local restaurant. I know, look out. Needless to say, I ate foods that were both nostalgic, at the time delicious, and very much mimicked the standard American diet.

Racing with Stevens High Team at State, 2004

And I was sick. All the time. When I was younger, this translated into stomach aches, headaches, and a depleted immune system that gave me ear infections as an infant and left me susceptible to illness growing up. I would like to point out that anxiety issues had a lot to do with somatic symptoms, but I firmly believe that this was only part of the cause.  

 In my high school and college years, I had a feeling of almost "heaviness" in my body (though I never had a weight problem), a fuzzy head and nearly continuous issues with my digestive health. Probably the worst outward symptom that something was wrong inside my body was my moderate to severe acne that plagued my face beginning when I was 11 years old. 5 years of antibiotic treatments only suppressed the problem, and wrecked my immune system even further (acute bronchitis four times in a year is not normal for a 20 year old). I spent a ridiculous amount of money using prescription and over-the-counter products for my acne. Nothing worked.

Then one day, something amazing happened. My husband (then boyfriend) gave me a trip to the spa for my 23rd birthday! During my first ever facial, the esthetician commented on the placement of my most inflamed acne. I will never forget her words, "See this infammation around your mouth and chin? That's from a food allergy." I had never heard of such a thing! We talked about the most common food allergens, and I definitely knew casein (the protein in dairy products) was one. So I thought I would try cutting out one of the next likely causes: gluten.

But what is gluten and casein, and what are they in? They are the proteins in grain and dairy products, respectively. Gluten is what holds baked goods together. Come to find out, gluten and dairy are in almost every packaged/processed food. I set out researching all I could about gluten/casein sensitivity and intolerance (I had already been ruled out for Celiac Sprue, but testing for food allergies requires getting onto a specialist's lengthy waiting list and is not always reliable).  So, I did it the old-fashion way. Cut it out completely! I was so desperate to get better, I hardly cared that I wouldn't be able to go to a restaurant and order spaghetti or lasagna again (until some restaurants offered GF/DF options). It did throw me for a loop a little when I realized I would never be able to have the full experience of an all-American hamburger again, but I was convinced it was worth it.


And it was.

I recently read the quote by Kevin Trudeau, "Most people have no idea how good their body is designed to feel."   This was true for me. I thought the fuzziness, digestive issues, and acne was just how it was. I was so wrong.

My gluten and dairy-free (GF and DF or CF for casein-free) journey began. It involved finding out that packaged and processed gluten and dairy-free options were not much healthier, if at all, than their gluteny and caseiny counterparts because of the preservatives and additives that go into them. My journey involved finding out how great I felt if I ate naturally gluten-free and dairy-free foods like sweet potatoes, brown rice, almond milk and flour, etc. I really learned to read labels! I also learned how awful I feel after accidentally ingesting gluten or casein. When I don't, I feel great! Lots more energy, good digestive health, and only an expected mild breakout here and there.


I wanted to share this part of my life to continue to bring awareness to food intolerance and allergies (this awareness has greatly increased even over the last 3 years!), and to provide a backdrop to my discovered passion of green living, toxin-chemical free, chronic illnesses, holistic and natural medicine, the effects of food on the body and mind, and bringing awareness to the dangerous messages food companies are and are not saying. I want to share this knowledge for people who need support in beginning or continuing a gluten/dairy-free lifestyle, or a more natural, healthy lifestyle.

You can find copious amount of knowledge on Pinterest, including my own boards on healthy food and lifestyle choices including Eating Gluten and Dairy FreeLiving Gluten and Diary FreeHealthinessNatural Solutions and Natural Healing. There is a ton of information on the internet and in books. For just starting out gluten-free or allergen-free, I found a couple of helpful books:


I am an open book about my own eating habits, lifestyle and the knowledge I have accrued on food allergies/intolerance and healthy living, so don't hesitate! My goal is to write another blog detailing guidelines of gluten/dairy-free eating and symptoms of food intolerance to supplement this post.  For now, be mindful. Pay attention to how you feel and what you put in your body. It could be life changing!