Here's a look at my personal food intolerance health journey.
Over the past four months, many people have asked me very specific questions about my elimination diet, my chronic eczema, dealing with dermatologists and naturopaths, dairy-free, gluten-free, and grain-free recipes, that I thought I would include my answers in one post.
Know first, that this is just my particular journey. Each person's health journey is so very different. I also don't pretend to have all the answers; if you have specific questions about your own health, please do contact your healthcare provider.
Lifelong chromic eczema
My most recent health journey began when my eczema finally flared up to the point of no return, and nothing that worked in the past was working anymore.
I was born with eczema, and I will likely die with eczema. Sometimes, it's the quiet kind that just shows up in small patches that are annoying, but not debilitating. More often than not, especially over the last 20 years, it shows up in ugly, extremely painful, sometimes debilitating rashes and sores. All over. The kind that have caused dermatologists to scratch their heads and bring in their string of interns so they can see the freak show that is my weird and fascinating extreme atopic dermatitis.
Those rashes have lead to scars, and those are the scars you see on my legs during the summer when I can't cover them up. I have spent my twenties and thirties being so, so ashamed of those scars. I see strangers looking at them, and I've heard people whispering about them to their friends as I walk by.
But I'm determined not to be ashamed of them anymore. These scars are a part of me, they're not contagious (you can't "catch" eczema), and maybe they're hideous for you to look at but you can always look away.
I can't. I've spent the past few years forcing myself to look at them, to look at me, and to no longer feel ashamed. So this summer? I'm rocking tank tops and shorts. I have finally arrived at a place where I actually like what I see. Because it's ME.
Food Intolerance Blood Test
I've had every kind of skin allergy test done throughout my life, and have seen the top dermatologists in town. I've used every single prescription ointment and cream available. I've done light therapy. So finally, I decided it was time to look at other potential causes besides contact triggers.
In November, I took a blood test to help determine whether or not I had any food sensitivities/intolerances. Although it's important to note that these tests can sometimes result in false positives, the foods that came up on my test have so far made complete sense as far as my own inflammation and skin issues.
Dairy was the #1 item that was almost off the chart for me. Casein, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, mozzarella cheese, cow's milk, goat's milk, whey, and yogurt were all in the Very High and Extremely High zone.
Also in those zones: bananas, pineapples, and pecans. Eggs came up high, but because I had vaccines, which are born in eggs, I was informed that eggs can sometimes be a false positive because the body automatically believes it should be fighting the eggs.
For six weeks in November & December, I went off dairy and all other problem food items from the blood test except for eggs. Nothing happened. There was no change. Therefore, it was determined that on January 2 I would start a full elimination diet to reset my body and help determine what the heck was going on.
Considering the fact that I eat, drink, review restaurants, and develop recipes for a living, I was worried about my new FULL elimination diet orders. Here's a look at what I could and could not eat and drink over the course of the next seven weeks:
It turned out to go fairly quickly and it wasn't as bad as I thought it might be.
The alcohol was tricky, since I couldn't really drink any wine (and thus you'll notice a lack of Wine Wednesday posts so far this year...but that's about to change soon, my friends!).
Otherwise, being a lover of food, the elimination diet challenged me to test my capabilities in creating new recipes. It was fun! Eating out was a challenge, but again, not as difficult as I thought it might be. Living in Portland, land of vegans of all kinds, and restaurants with numerous gluten-free, grain-free, sugar-free, dairy-free accommodations & substitutions definitely helped.
Favorite Food Resources and Brands
During my elimination diet, I read more than 30 Paleo, dairy-free, gluten-free, grain-free, sugar-free, allergy-diet cookbooks, and followed bloggers and cookbook authors who created those type of recipes on Instagram.
I have also amassed a wide number of new favorite food brands that offer delicious relief for those suffering from various food allergies and intolerances, such as Cappellos Grain-Free, Gluten-Free Pasta, Heidi Ho Nacho Cheese, Bob's Red Mill Almond Flour, and Tofutti Non-Dairy Sour Cream.
I'm working on putting together a resource page with a list of all of my favorites and will post that in a future blog post as well as on the Urban Bliss Life Facebook page when that's complete.
At the end of my elimination diet, guess what? I felt SO much better and stronger off of grains, sugars, dairy, and gluten. BUT, my skin was still doing its crazy thing. I was approved to go back to eating and drinking as normal, except for the items that came up high on my first blood test.
Now, I have a new Naturopath doctor, and I just went through new blood testing and other medical testing to look at potential non-food related causes, such as thyroid, yeast, and vitamin D issues.
And now, I'm eliminating eggs as much as possible to see if my skin clears up without eggs in my diet (it already is, so I have a feeling I will lay low on the eggs for a while to see if the skin clear-up continues).
Some people have told me that they feel bad the elimination diet didn't help, but really, it did. I now am very aware of how my body feels with and without certain foods.
I may not be Celiac, but my body & mind definitely do not like gluten; I feel sluggish and have massive brain fog. Nor does my body like refined sugar; I would have break outs whenever I accidentally had a decent amount of refined sugar, such as from store bought ketchup or baked goods. So I'll be gluten free as much as possible, and try to stick to non-refined sugar sources (like fruit and coconut sugar) when I can.
The best positive outcomes from this experience
It is now odd for me to have a meal without any vegetables.
Greens and/or other veggies are a normal part of my breakfast, lunch, and dinner now. In fact, I have gained a special affinity for vegetables in the morning along with a protein to start my day, and I have so much more energy and am much more productive when I do.
I enjoy and make time for exercise.
I couldn't do the crow pose pictured above, nor did I even like yoga, before this journey began.
Exercise was the key to my weight loss -- the weight I didn't ever mean to lose, but did as a nice side benefit. I have been sadly lacking muscle for so long, since before my kids were born when I used to have strong muscles. Incorporating weight training into my exercise routine has made all the difference.
Since I started this food intolerance health journey, something switched and I now exercise 3-6 times a week. I love T25 and P90X3. The most I have time for is about 30 minutes each day, and those videos are perfect. I can honestly say that I am surprised that I stuck with it, and I am extremely proud of myself for being able to, since this is an area I have struggled with for so long.
I have a wide range of new recipes to work with.
I've loved the challenge of having to create tasteful meals that were dairy-free, gluten-free, grain-free, and sugar-free. While I will still post "normal" recipes with gluten, grains, and sugar, I'm definitely dairy-free now, and my recipes will reflect that. I may never had the idea to make the Spaghetti Squash Blinis pictured above had I not been forced to be more creative with vegetables and a no-grains diet.
My kids are more aware of what they are putting into their own bodies.
Sure, they still snack on Cheez-Its (apparently my homemade Cheez-It recipe is not quite up to snuff as the store bought), but my oldest, especially, is making smarter choices. I love this benefit.
That said, I've learned that I do not love cooking every single meal and every single snack from scratch.
Not being able to have ANY processed foods was hard, even for me. I love to cook and am a huge advocate for whole foods. I hate how most processed foods taste, and even my son is learning there is a weird chemically mouth feel to processed snacks that you don't get with food made from scratch and all-natural ingredients.
That said, making every single thing from scratch is crazy time consuming and totally annoying. Ain't nobody got time for that! So I now have a greater appreciation for the companies who are committed to making healthier processed foods. And, I do believe there is a time and a place for processed foods like granola, pre-made gluten-free pasta (I am NOT bringing out my pasta maker every time I want pasta!), healthier bread, and kid snacks.
I feel SO lucky in that I am now working with a few of my favorite gluten-free and dairy-free brands and I can't wait to share some of the recipes I've developed using their healthier packaged foods soon!
I've discovered an amazing community of people I never would have met otherwise.
I've suffered through my extreme eczema alone all my life, and realize now that I don't have to. There are people who have had it just as bad or worse, and there are so many people who have other health issues that have stemmed from food intolerances who are just as determined as I am to take charge of their own health.
I am incredibly grateful for all of the support I have received, from friends and strangers alike, throughout this entire health journey, and I am absolutely trying to return the favor and support to others as much as I can. I don't pretend to have all the answers, and I love connecting with others who are on similar journeys -- their openness and vulnerability inspires and motivates me.
What's to come
So there's a look at my personal food intolerance health journey. I'll be curious to learn of the results from my latest medical tests during my next doctor's appointment about a month from now.
Mostly, I want to tell you all how very much I appreciate you reading my story, sharing your own experiences with me here, in person, and on social media, and for your support.
Thanks so much for sticking with this lengthy post. DIY fun, some delicious gluten-free recipes, and more Las Vegas travel food tips are all coming up on the blog this week!
Hope you have a BLISSful rest of your weekend, friends!