Our Food Allergy Journey
Food allergies and sensitivities are a challenge, to say the least. No one limits or changes their diet for no reason, it all has to start somewhere. This is our food allergy journey.
I was sick most of my life, before I can even remember. From the time I was a small child, I would have “spells” with my stomach. These spells included incredibly painful cramping (the only thing I can compare them to are labor contractions), diarrhea, cold chills, hot flashes, and nausea. They are exhausting. I spent years of my life either in a bathroom or afraid to be too far away from one.
In the seventh grade, I was incredibly underweight and constantly sick. At my mother’s insistence, my pediatrician finally sent me to a gastroenterologist in the closest city to us, Charlotte, which was about an hour away. That doctor immediately put me in the hospital for what would be my first of many colonoscopies. I was diagnosed with four ulcers in my colon and severe irritable bowel syndrome. They put me on medication for the ulcers, antispasmodics for the spells, and Zoloft to try and help prevent the spells.
We were told if I didn’t start gaining weight they would put a tube in my stomach. The doctor told my mom to go to GNC and get me these high calorie shakes and to mix them with ice cream to up the calories even more. I’m sure they meant well… Needless to say, it didn’t work. I ate just enough to put on some weight so I didn’t have to get the tube, but I remained underweight and super sick. By the ninth grade, I was only able to do half days at school, so my mom pulled me out and started homeschooling me.
Because of my health and the fact my dad had had colon cancer when I was younger I had to have colonoscopies every five years. In 2003 my dad died from pancreatic cancer. I was 19. We never were told what had caused his cancers.
As I got older I figured out some of my triggers. Fried foods almost always did it, most dairy, lots of sweets, and several other things. And stress. I would try to avoid the trigger foods as much as possible or make sure I was either at home or near home if I was going to eat pretty much anything.
These spells continued into adulthood. I learned where the bathrooms were wherever I went. Every shopping trip, vacation, or outing was planned ahead in detail to learn the location of the bathrooms.
A New Challenge
In 2012 I had my first baby. She was absolutely precious, but she was miserable. She cried and cried and cried. There were a lot of things that went on with her that we ended up having to deal with and heal from. It was incredibly overwhelming as first-time parents. At 15 months she still did almost nothing but whine and cry. Her sleep was horrible. Her poops were rarely normal. And I was in deep post-partum depression. A close friend who has a child with severe food allergies suggested we try an elimination diet. Nothing we had tried at that point had helped and our pediatrician at the time was pretty much useless.
We cut dairy first, both of us. She was still breastfeeding, so I cut out everything we cut out for her. Her skin and bowels got a little better, but she was still miserable and not sleeping. Next up was gluten. This one took some time to get out of our systems. This one was hard on me. I cut it out cold turkey and ended up with horrible withdrawal symptoms. I had awful headaches, nausea, body aches, and emotional outbursts for about two weeks. Once those symptoms subsided everything started getting better, for both of us. Her whining and crying reduced significantly. For the first time, she would play content, smile, and laugh on a regular basis. And she started sleeping! She still woke up once around early morning, but not screaming and would nurse and go back to sleep!
For the first time in my life, I stopped having spells regularly. It was incredible! The first whole week I went without having one I think I cried. I don’t think I’d ever gone that long without having one. My acne cleared up and eventually, the bumpy skin on my arms and legs started going away. My anxiety reduced, I didn’t constantly feel like I was on the verge of a panic attack, and I could focus better. It was like I had been being poisoned and I didn’t know it.
Figuring It All Out
Soon I learned what celiac disease was. Finally, I had a diagnosis that not only made sense but actually made a difference! It was literally life-changing. When we reintroduced gluten for a bit a few months later it was horrible. I immediately got sick, broke out, and my anxiety skyrocketed. My daughter started whining again and actually lost what few words she had. She started waking during the night screaming again. We didn’t react the same way, but we both definitely reacted. I had no idea how much celiac could affect. Here is a good list for some of the symptoms.
She tested positive for an allergy to gluten as well as being sensitive to dairy and a few other things. We haven’t tested her for celiac yet simply because our current doctor (who is amazing) says it’s not worth reintroducing it and making her sick for that diagnosis. Hopefully one day they will be able to test for it without reintroduction. But we treat it as celiac, just to be safe. With the way she reacts, my health history, one grandmother that also has a celiac diagnosis, another that reacts to gluten, and the fact my father had colon and pancreatic cancer, we take it seriously. Unfortunately either no one knew about celiac or didn’t think there was enough of a reason to test him for it, so we have no way to know if he had celiac or not.
My youngest daughter tested positive for gluten and dairy food allergies as well as sensitivities to a few other things. She also has the genes to potentially develop a peanut allergy, so we keep a close eye on that. Both of our girls have MTHFR genetic mutations. Put in super simple terms they don’t detox efficiently and don’t process some nutrients well, especially synthetic ones, in particular, folic acid. All of this is just something else we have learned, something we are still learning about, on our journey. Things I have been battling my whole life but had no clue about until my baby girl was born. I hate everything she has been through, but I am so grateful for everything we have learned along the way and everything we are still learning. Not just with food allergies, but everything.
My husband was an athlete and part of his nutrition and training protocol included food allergy testing. Through that we found out he has food allergies to chicken eggs and bananas. So he avoids bananas and we get duck eggs for him. Just recently he has joined us going gluten and dairy-free and we have already learned he reacts to gluten when it has been out of his diet for a period of time. It’s incredible how much something can affect your health and you don’t even realize it. We are all learning this together.
This food allergy journey hasn’t always been easy. At times you think there’s no way you could possibly cut out all the things you love. But then you do and it changes your life. You miss some of it, sure, but you don’t miss being sick all of the time. To experience being healthier than you’ve ever been. The improvement to your quality of life makes it so beyond worth it. It’s really nice to not have to worry about where every single bathroom is. I still have those spells from time to time, but now they are typically caused by stress or getting glutened and I can usually pinpoint which it is.
I’ve had some of the best food of my life since cleaning up my diet and I can’t wait to share some of that with you here. And if I can help one person figure out why they’ve been sick their whole life or why their little one is just miserable and they can’t find anything that helps, sharing our stories will always be worth it.
Does your family have food allergies or sensitivities? Have you suspected food may be behind some of your health issues or is it something you haven’t considered before? I’d love to hear about your journey!
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To learn about one of my favorite resources for finding safe herbs, spices, and other products check out my post on Frontier Co-op here.