I’d been doing lots of research (for a couple months) and had past experiences with dietary intolerance’s and so therefore was starting to deduct how my problems could be directly correlated with food. Trying to live a normal life while always being tired, headaches, dealing with a foggy mind, and not being able to go the bathroom right just isn’t what I call fun. I started a new diet (or as I prefer to call it… lifestyle) in the fall of 2009 and since then have seen drastic improvements in my health.
At one point, when I was 16 years old, the doctors claimed I was ‘allergic to myself’. That was definitely the crowning moment of frustration. When I was 14, I started to get extremely painful and large hives. My hives came with fevers, which was said to not make medical sense as the 2 are completely unrelated. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to the onsets. Hot vs. cold, inside vs. outside, home vs. away at boarding school, summer vs. winter , etc– there was no explanation for what caused the hives to appear. Everything I ate gave me an allergic reaction of some kind, mostly in the form of hives. Not just any hives, hives that resembled boils. One would sometimes cover a whole leg or arm just by spreading. My hands and face would swell for no apparent reason.
I was eventually diagnosed with Pressure Urticaria. Great right? Its a “No-Cause, No-Cure” condition. And not the normal run-of-the mill type, which was bad enough, but mine was Bilateral (I go into that more below). They (the multiple doctors I visited over a two year period) told me that I could grow out of it, or that I might have to live with it for the rest of my life. More great news. These hives were not something I thought I could handle as a life long condition. Also, there was a general consensus that the hives were a result of some other physical problem. But since that couldn’t be identified, we spent way too much time dealing with the condition instead of the reason.
Because I’m not all that technical, here is a definition of Pressure Urticaria provided by Medterms.com
“Pressure urticaria: A common type of hives (urticaria) that occurs after the skin has been under pressure, often the feet after standing or the buttocks after sitting for a long time or areas where clothing is tight. The hives are typically deep and invisible to the eye. The hives may begin hours after the pressure on the skin has ceased. The hives last 8 to 72 hours and may be painful, itchy, or burning. They may be accompanied by low fever, chills, fatigue, joint and muscle aches, and/or headaches. Triggers include pressure from using tools (such as a screwdriver or a hammer), clapping the hands, carrying a bag or suitcase, sexual intercourse, and the use of tampons. Aspirin is known to be a trigger. Antihistamines may not help. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or oral steroids may be used. The disease tends to be chronic and last for years. The cause is unknown.”
Not pleasant. And lucky me, I had one additional symptom that really baffled the doctors. I was actually put in a medical journal because they found me so fascinating. Great :-/ If I were punched (even just playfully) on my left shoulder, a hive would develop there in about 45 minutes to an hour. That’s the normal part. However, in about 3 to 4 hours after the ‘punch’, I would develop an identical hive on the right shoulder. Thus the ‘bilateral’. To this day, no explanation of this strange condition was given.
Since that time I have grown out of this for the most part. I have had many ‘relapses’, but all of which have never been as intense as those first two years. I am now 23 years old and if my math skills are correct, its been 9 years since this all began. How was I able to reduce the conditions of the hives? Not easily.
The conclusive thought across all boards was that my body was reacting to all foods badly. So they wanted to flush my system. I ate only white rice for a very long time. (Try explaining having multiple containers of already-cooked white rice in your backpack while trying to get through airport security. They don’t care much about allergies there!) Eventually I was allowed to add non-sweetened applesauce to that. Slowly more basic (and bland) food was re-introduced into my diet. Unfortunately, that approach as well as multiple (and a seemingly endless) different applications of medication did nothing for me. I was 15/16 at that time. Still playing basketball for my high school team, keeping up with my 3.9 grade average, and dealing with a huge case of depression and anxiety. (More medication was shoved down for that too…)
So more and more built up frustration developed. Especially on the part of my parents; they weren’t too keen on a constantly crying daughter whose hands and feet are more-often-than-not in a large metal bowl filled with ice and water. It’s the only form of relief for the chronic itching. The cold numbs the skin rather deep, so it was my momentary freedom. I used the say “the best feeling in the world is scratching a hive. The worst feeling in the world is the burning after you scratch.” My parents also had to deal with unimaginable medical costs and it didn’t end there. When you live at a boarding school and you’re on a strict diet… guess what, you’re feeding yourself. But because I wasn’t able to make food in my tiny high school dorm room, I had to rely on my mother’s help and expense to eat. Luckily I was only an hour away from home, but still. I was a very expensive teenager!
So why am I telling you all this? (I’m sorry if its been too graphic, I’ve tried to leave the especially gross and painful things out…) I’m telling you all this because we found a culprit. We changed my lifestyle and I slowly began to grow out of it. I had many food intolerance’s that had gotten out of hand. We took me off those foods (including gluten, dairy, sugar, different types of meat, most processed foods, etc etc etc.) The health food stores became my (and my poor mother’s) refuge.
So about 7 to 8 years ago it was looking like we’d solved this issue. But I was just a kid then and I didn’t care about health… I just wanted to feel better and stop all the bloody itching! So when I was able to introduce food back in, it didn’t take long before I introduced it ALL back in. I wanted Taco Bell, ice cream, Cheetos’s; all those things I’d not had for way too long. And for a couple years I think my body handled it okay. But like with most problems that aren’t properly taken care of, this one came back for round 2. And this time the symptoms weren’t exactly the same, so it caught me off guard. So much so that it took 2 to 3 years to catch on!
Slowly but surely symptoms that I had and new symptoms started to come back. The last three years were quiet a struggle for me. The most frustrating part, looking back, is that I didn’t see the signs! If I had acknowledged my food intolerance’s when the problems started, I might not have gone through all that I did in the ‘relapse’ period. So here I am. Not eating anything with gluten, dairy, or sugar. I do cheat sometimes (it’s usually on accident) but for the most part I’m able to stick to this diet. My stomach functions normally again, I get less headaches (I’m convinced the ones I still get are from my over-computer-usage at work and home), my moods are much easier to control and read, I actually sleep at night, I can ride in a car without wanting to vomit; I could go on and on and on!
This diet might not be necessary for most people, but I can’t even begin to describe all the wonderful things its been doing for me! I strongly encourage you to listen to your body. If you have constant problems, it might be trying to tell you something…
<edit> This addition is in response to Marilyn’s question “How did you come to the conclusion that it is these are things you need to leave out of your diet?” <edit left on January 20, 2010>
A very good question! I suppose I should have answered this question at least as a disclaimer. I have not recently had any tests done to determine whether these food intolerance’s are medically proven for me. I’m not in any way suggesting that this diet is medically proven or promoted by any medical professionals. I’m not a doctor; I don’t even claim ‘nutritional’ knowledge. (I AM related to a lot of doctors though… haha) I can only share my personal experience and what does/doesn’t work for my own body. I hope this blog will help someone else in their health related issues too, but I can’t offer any expertise on food testing at this point.
Having said that, I WAS tested in the past with more tests than I can even remember (I’ve had no food/allergy related tests in over 7 years, however). But among all those tests, the only ones that yielded any results were from kinesiologists or professionals practicing kinesiology. At that time, there were many things my body was intolerant of; gluten and dairy included. They weren’t actual allergies, just food intolerance’s. (an allergy is an instant affect on the immune system while a food intolerance is an inability to process the food). Being the teen that I was at the time and not caring much about overall health, I did what I had to to reduce hives, but then I went back to living a life of ice cream and fast food.
The reason for recently removing gluten, dairy, and sugar are for all separate reasons, even though the main goal is overall health, weight management, and mood control. (which have all greatly improved since the inception of this lifestyle!)
Dairy: I’ve ALWAYS been lactose intolerant. I used to simply put up with the discomfort that milk products brought but it also had side effects that I really didn’t like. One specific side effect was acne. I see a large difference in the clarity of my skin just by removing dairy from my diet. Otherwise I had all the normal lactose intolerance symptoms.
Gluten: I first considered removing gluten mostly for digestive issues. I did a lot of reading on the effects of gluten on the average persons body and realized that a lot of my symptoms were similar to symptoms of celiac disease. Some of these symptoms were migraines, extreme fatigue, back pain, cramping, bloating, and blurred vision. I didn’t think all of these would just go away if I stopped eating gluten. But I am proud to say I’ve had no migraines or blurred vision AT ALL since starting the diet. The other symptoms have lessened greatly and are much easier to deal with.
Also, have you ever noticed how you crave carbs? I read that removing highly processed flours and wheat flours from your diet lessens these cravings. I can honestly say that on this diet, I don’t crave carbs. Its beyond describable how great that feels! (If I see carbs I’m like “Ooo, that looks good!” but its not a foaming at the mouth craving like I used to have… haha)
Removing gluten was also a weight management move. I’m very careful about what I eat now and I have to read labels. Because more products than you can imagine contain gluten, I’m able to make good decisions about which foods I do buy. Gluten free products are also usually combined with other healthy ingredients which makes it easier to monitor what goes in.
Sugar: I’m not ‘intolerant’ of sugar in any real symptoms sense. (Unless you count headaches, I do get intense headaches -not migraines though- from large amounts of sugar.) After much reading and exploration, it seemed to me that all the arguments against consuming sugar were hard to ignore. Cravings were also a big issue. I’m a binge eater and sugar is a downward spiral of addiction. The more sugar you put into your system, the more your system craves it. My mother had actually suggested I start taking Vanadium, a supplement that is meant to curb sugar cravings. I did for a while and it DID help, but then I realized that was the wrong way to go about it. If you don’t face a problem head on, it’ll just come around again for round two.
Sugar is also in EVERYTHING. Okay, slight exaggeration, but if you pick up a packaged good from the supermarket the chances of finding sugar (cane sugar, fructose, corn syrup, ‘natural sweeteners’, etc) in even savory foods is extremely high. Sugar is cheap and therefore is a very common filler. So I knew that just ‘not eating dessert’ wouldn’t take care of the craving problem. I had to eliminate anything with sugar, which does mean avoiding most packaged or pre-made foods.
One last reason for avoiding sugar… Diabetes runs heavily in both sides of my family. So I’m choosing to be pro-active about prevention.
If you have any other questions about this or why I’m not eating gluten, dairy, or sugar please e-mail me (aubreecherie [at] gmail [dot] com) or leave a comment. I’d love to answer any questions or hear about YOUR story!