My path towards health hasn’t been exactly smooth sailing. I grew up on a traditional American diet of meat and potatoes, plenty of spaghetti, and a bevy of processed, packaged snack foods and sodas. I also grew up with horrible allergies. Every month was allergy season for me it seemed. Getting allergy shots was discussed regularly, but thanks to my terrible fear of needles I always refused. I became the girl with a wad of tissues in her pocket at all times.
When I went away to college things started to shift a little. I began developing these itchy little dots between my fingers, which I promptly blamed on the rings I used to wear. I stopped wearing jewelry, but the problem would still crop up during times of stress. Around the age of 23, after a period of some heavy emotional stress as I stumbled my way from college into the working force of New York City, the problem got incredibly worse. My fingers and hands became covered in itchy blistering patches. My doctor didn’t really know what it was, and gave me some samples of drugs that didn’t help. Then I went to a dermatologist, who looked at my hands and just said, “you have eczema.” She informed me that adult onset eczema is common and gave me a steroid ointment that helped relieve the problem quickly, but I was left wondering… Something inside just didn’t seem right. It didn’t feel intuitive to me that my immune system behaved that way “just because.”
A couple years later, these inner questions led me to the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. The lectures were so informative and inspiring and made me look at health in a way that no doctor had ever done for me. I began to realize that food is medicine. Not once had I ever had a doctor ask me about my dietary habits, or if I was under any type of unusual stress in my life. I stumbled upon this path on my own. Early in the program, it became evident to me that dairy products weren’t most of the speakers’ favorite foods. It is still a controversial topic among doctors and nutritionists, but something clicked with me based on all of the evidence against it. So I stopped eating dairy products for 6 months. 3 months into this experiment I went home to Pittsburgh to visit my family (where the family cats used to make my trips home unbearably painful). I was completely shocked to discover that I did not sneeze or blow my nose once during the long weekend. I did not pop a Claritin, which I used to have to take on the plane well before arriving at the house to prepare for the attack. Even my parents couldn’t believe it. That weekend changed my life. To this day, while I cheat from time to time, I remain almost entirely dairy-free. My hands also remained free and clear of the eczema until years later when….
I developed a throat infection that required very strong antibiotics. I was on the medication for 3 weeks. At the end of the treatment I began experiencing some strange phenomena including itchy and swollen skin around my eyes and cracks at the corners of my mouth. These symptoms would come and go, but they got progressively worse. Not even bothering to go to a doctor about them I knew it had to be something dietary. After almost a year and a half of researching and experimenting and retracing my steps back to the antibiotics, it became clear to me that the antibiotics had wreaked havoc on my immune system. While I took some probiotics during the regimen of antibiotics, the medicine was just too strong for my digestive tract and it killed EVERYTHING – good and bad. I developed food intolerances, particularly to gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and lots of processed foods that use those ingredients. It took me so long to peg gluten as the culprit, (mostly because I was in denial about it for so long) but once I got rid of it, I had no re-occurrences of the swelling eyes or cracked lips. I also realized that I no longer got tiny little ulcers in my gums that had plagued me growing up, making me think that I could have had a subtle intolerance to gluten my entire life that I never recognized.
Many of you have probably heard of Celiac’s Disease by now. It is an auto-immune disease where the immune system is triggered by gluten. The most common side effects are gastro-intestinal symptoms, especially pain and diarrhea, but there are very many subtle symptoms also that may fall under an umbrella of other issues and are therefore rarely considered to be Celiac’s; eczema (or any skin condition for that matter), depression, occasional mild tummy problems, chest pain, even chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia are thought by some practitioners to be a gluten intolerance.
I do not know if I have Celiac’s disease. Testing isn’t 100% accurate, and quite honestly I don’t care if it’s the auto-immune disease or if it’s a food intolerance (different type of immune response) because all I need to know is that I feel better without it. I AM better without it. Gluten sensitivities can increase the risk of fertility problems, depression, lymphoma, and many ambiguous “problems”, so why take the risk? I can still treat myself to gluten-free varieties of baked goods and pizza from time to time so I don’t entirely miss out on life’s simple pleasures.
To that end this blog is a way of opening a window into my intuition, to help spark yours. My journey still has bumps in the road, but I know how to listen to my body. There is also a ripple effect when you start taking care of yourself. You start to take care of the world, too. In learning about what’s good for you, you’ll start to see how those foods are good for the planet as well, and isn’t having a cleaner, more self-sustaining world something we can all get behind?
Thanks for being my reader. To your health.