If you had told me even two weeks ago that I would, at some point, systematically remove all wheat, milk, and cheese from my diet, I would have told you that you were absolutely flippin’ insane. No way. Absolutely not. I have a serious love of cheese. There is a gourmet foods establishment in Philadelphia called DiBruno Bros. that also refers to itself as the “House of Cheese” and whenever I passed it years ago, I honestly thought to myself, “I wish I lived in a house of cheese.” I honestly have never met a cheese that I do not like. The same is true of most breads. If I could dip a nice crusty piece of bread into a vat of melted cheese (I believe they call that fondue), I would be in absolute heaven. Unfortunately, it seems, however, that cheese does not like me. Nor does bread, milk, wheat, gluten, and a whole host of other items.
You see, for the past ten to fifteen years, I have struggled with sinus and allergy issues. In reality, I have had allergy issues all of my life, but they were mainly outdoor items – trees, grasses, pollen, etc. – or so I thought. If you ask my sister, she will probably remember when my parents realized that I was also allergy to our dog, Pixie (the cutest Scottish terrier ever) and we had to give her away to my grandparents (who only lived the next town over and we saw them all the time, but still). Whenever I would hug or be licked by a dog, I would break out in hives and my eyes would itch like crazy. But, with allergy shots, I improved to where it was, at least, bearable.
Fast forward to college when my roommate and I decided it would be super fun to be “puppy raisers” for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. We get a free puppy! How cool is that?! I knew in the back of my mind that I was still allergic to dogs, but, well, little Bandit was just so darn cute. The idea behind being a “puppy raiser” is that you teach the dog really good doggie manners and then he, hopefully, goes off to become a guide dog. Bandit did all that (we were SO proud) except he eventually feigned an injury (that’s a story for another day) and he retired. I jumped at the chance to get him back before anyone else could adopt him. He was with me (and eventually my husband and youngest son) all through law school and multiple moves, until he developed a horrendous massive tumor in his chest and had to be put down at 12 1⁄2 years old. He was an awesome dog.
But, during those twelve plus years when he was with us, almost every night when I returned home, I would become congested. I was on multiple allergy medicines and eventually developed asthma, first exercise induced and then to full-blown, “I need to be on regular medication and have an inhaler” asthma. The summer after Bandit passed away, I had some of the worst sinus infections I ever had. The pain was unbearable. I could not taste or smell and my head was pounding. I finally saw an ENT, who did a CT scan and could not believe his eyes. Every area on the scan that should be air was filled with mucus (so gross). I had polyps in all of my sinuses, likely caused by constant allergic irritation. I ultimately decided to have surgery and my congestion dramatically improved.
A funny thing happened at that point, however. I started to have more sinus infections than ever. Almost every other month (sometimes more), I would start to feel that tell-tale pressure in my sinus (almost always my right), have the body aches, and be exhausted. As a result, I was on a lot of antibiotics (probably 6 to 8 times a year). At one point, after we moved again, I saw a new ENT, who started me on cortisone shots with the roughest of infections just to decrease the inflammation.
He re-did my allergy tests and found I was allergic to dogs (shocker!), but at that point we no longer had a dog. I was also allergic to dust mites and mold. We did all everything possible to minimize my exposure to dust mites and mold, but nothing really changed. I was facing the prospect of a second sinus surgery, but felt like there must be some other way.
And that is when I began seeing a naturopathic doctor (insert sounds of singing angels here). He explained (with scientific articles to back it up) that biofilms, not bacteria were the culprit for most of my sinus issues and if I could remove the biofilms from the sinuses (through a treatment he developed), I could feel tremendously better. I had just been through a round of antibiotics, still had a sinus infection, and was ready to try just about anything. I went once a week for four weeks and immediately felt better after the first treatment. After that, I returned approximately once per month and miracle of all miracles, I have not been on antibiotics for a sinus infection (I had a yicky chest infection this winter, but that was it) in the year since I have seen him. It works. Not exactly sure how, but it does.
But, I was finding that, although I did not need to go on antibiotics, I was still coming down with that yicky pain-in-the right sinus issue every other month or so. On my visit in June, my naturopathic doctor asked about food allergies. As far as I knew, I did not have any food allergies. He explained that there are “hidden food allergies” that may not cause anaphylaxis, but can still cause inflammation in the body. The blood test was not very expensive, so I did it.
Now, there is some controversy with the IgG allergy test. Some believe it is not useful at all and there is debate about whether it is actually testing an allergic response or a built-up anti-body to combat the allergy-causing food. Others believe, however, that with other indicators, it can be a reliable food allergy test. I had been through over a decade of allergy and sinus issues and was willing to try it.
Just over a week ago, I returned to my doctor to receive the results. I am not sure what I expected, but was very interested in the results. He sat me down and told me that he had not seen such results in a very long time. I was practically off the charts for every single dairy item – hard cheese, soft cheese, milk, goat’s milk, casein (I don’t even know if I know what that is), and yogurt. My next highest responses were to broccoli (what the . . .), bananas, pineapple, cranberry, and pear. Seriously.
I’m allergic to pears?! And then the kickers – wheat, gluten, corn, and chicken eggs. Oh, but apparently I can eat duck eggs. I didn’t even know that was a thing! Duck eggs?!
The good news was that I was not allergic to grapes, brewer’s yeast (cheers), coffee, or cocoa. There is, in fact, a God. He may be laughing at me right now, but at least he is not sadistic.
The bad news is that my entire diet was being totally turned upside down. I love bread, cakes, cookies, doughnuts (why do you think I run?). I ate yogurt EVERY DAY. I started eating less meat a while back (due to hereditary high cholesterol), but most of my vegetarian meals had cheese in them (yes, I understand that this was probably not so smart given the amount of saturated fat in cheese, but don’t cloud my diet with fact). WTF was I going to eat?!
There is an Einsteins Bagels on my bus route that I pass almost every morning on the way to work. Before receiving my allergy test results, I would think, “I should get a bagel there this morning. . . . Eh, but then I would have to walk like five extra blocks to the office. And I’m tired. So tired. Maybe some other day.” Oh, how I wish I had gone on now! Two weeks, I could have gone in there in total blissful ignorance. But now, I know too much.
It’s been just over a week since I received this horrendous news and I have not eaten
since . . .
It’s been a tough week. Last Saturday night, I almost cried at the dinner table eating a disgusting rice wrap with veggies and vegan mayonnaise. When I told my oldest son that I was allergic to bread, pasta, cheese, he said, “Be serious with yourself!” Serious as a heart attack, my child. Serious as a heart attack. I picked up a loaf of gluten-free bread when at the grocery store, but when I put it in my cart, it landed with such a thud, I decided to put it back. Plus, most gluten-free breads have eggs in them (and they are likely not duck eggs). I bought some rice cakes, but who knew that most rice cakes, aside from being made with all sorts of artificial flavorings are also made with corn? Mother f*@kers. I spent hours in the grocery store reading labels, only to find out that there is gluten or wheat or eggs or dairy in EVERYTHING!
My new phrase to describe new things is “not terrible,” as in “this veganaise is not terrible. And this pea protein faux cheese is also not terrible. But these crappy ass brown rice tortilla wraps are indeed terrible.”
I decided that my plan was to my plan is to remove dairy (except half and half in my coffee – I just can’t do it without), wheat, gluten, and chicken eggs from my diet for 90 days and see then how I felt. If I did not see a change, I would still minimize my cheese and dairy and wheat intake, but not been too staunch about it. And then a funny thing happened. Last Saturday, I woke up tremendously itchy. I had hives all over my back. The hives appeared and re-appeared on different areas of my legs, arms, back, face, and abdomen. I could not figured out what was going on, so I e-mailed my doctor. He told me it was likely a “healing reaction,” also known as a “healing crisis.”
The allergens and toxins are being released from my body (after being built up for who knows how long), but the body is not able to deal with them quickly enough. So, they are coming out through the skin as hives. I looked it up (what did we do before Google?) and the symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a month in some cases.
I started to realize that this whole food allergy thing might just be legit. I had been unwittingly exposing my body to irritants on a daily basis. No wonder my sinuses were constantly inflamed. I would be pretty angry myself if I were them. And then I had a few really good dairy free, gluten free, vegan meals. I know, you think I’m joking, but, I swear, its true. I made Cuban black bean cakes and my son actually ate them. My husband had seconds (which I was secretly pissed about because I wanted the last one, darn it)! They were awesome! Allyson gave me some great vegan recommendations and I looked at several other recipes that looked “not terrible.”
In fact, they actually looked really good. I found that I actually like almond milk and that coconut milk yogurt is really good (the almond milk yogurt, however, is disgusting). But when I found a gluten and dairy-free chocolate cookie at the grocery store that was fantastic, I decided I might be able do this. Yes, it will be challenging and yes, the grocery store will be somewhat depressing. I am also not looking forward to being that totally irritating person in the restaurant asking, “Do you have anything that is gluten free? And dairy free? Oh, and no eggs either (unless, apparently, they are, again, duck eggs — WTF?).” But, I can do this. And, in the end – as long as I minimize the crap-carbs (like potato starch) – I will be much healthier for it.
But, damn it, I wish I would stop itching. Where the frig is the calamine lotion?!