Living Life With Food Sensitivities
I'm sure many of you know that I have a very very very long list of food sensitivities. Let's give it a go- gluten, dairy, soy, apples, pears, raw cauliflower (for some reason super cooked cauli is fine though? Like okay stomach), amaranth... and I have to be careful with how much I eat of any sort of beans, cashews, sunflower seeds, garlic, honey, beets... okay I'm done you get the point LOL
I bet some of you are reading this thinking "WTF DO YOU EAT?!" and honestly I used to think the same thing when I started realizing all of these sensitivities. But, trust me, I still eat real freakin good and I LOVE what and how I eat.
Let's back it up a little though- how did I figure this all out? Honestly I didn't realize most of it until a year and a half ago (because I'd always suffered from stomach aches every day I thought that was normal... LOL). We always suspected I couldn't do dairy, but I didn't truly figure it out until after my Freshman year of college. Then I realized gluten was a trigger as well shortly after. I realized soy was a big trigger only about 6 months ago and the others have all been figured out at some point in the last few years. Thinking back through my whole life, my mom and I now realize how many signs there were when I was little- constant stomach aches, fatigue right after eating, etc.
(One of my all-time favorite foodie spots that always has something I can eat is Kure Kitchen in Portland!)
I've gotten lots of tests done and all my doctor can attribute it to is IBS which can really only be helped through fixing what I put in my body. Something that has been shown to help is following the Low-FODMAP diet so I've recently been eliminating different foods on that list and re-introducing them one at a time, trying to find more triggers. And GOOD NEWS I've started figuring out more triggering foods and life has been so much better now that I know!
How do I know? When I eat something that doesn't work for my body it doesn't only hurt my stomach, but it also gives me what my mom and I like to call brain fog. It's honestly like I can't think straight and I'm too tired to function. Funny story- when I finally realized soy was a trigger it was because my brain fig seriously got so bad that I legit had a mini blackout. I freaked out when my mom and I were walking around the Portland zoo because I thought I hadn't put my camera in the trunk and my mom was like "uh Nat we had a whole conversation about it and I opened the trunk for you and you put it in there" and I was like wait... wut. I knew my brain fog had been bad after eating soy at a restaurant right before that, but I didn't know how bad it really was.
It may seem like finding out more foods I can't eat or have to limit would be frustrating, but honestly, after suffering from awful stomach pain on a daily basis, finding it out is such a relief.
The biggest thing I've learned from living with so many food sensitivities and chronic stomach pain is how to stay positive in the face of struggles and make the best of otherwise crappy situations. I used to have a super negative attitude about having to be so careful and let it ruin my mood a lot of the time, especially when going out to eat or traveling. Now, I turn it around and find joy in meal prepping and finding options that work for me AND it forces me to get more creative in the kitchen so I don't end up just eating the same "safe" meals over and over.
If you also have food allergies/sensitivities here are 4 tips on how to tackle life, without letting your sensitivities get the best of you, physically and mentally:
Don't be afraid to ask: There are two parts of not being afraid to ask that I want to discuss. First, don't be afraid to ask if restaurants can accommodate your allergies. I always make sure to just be super nice about it and I've never ran into a problem. I usually preface my order with "Okay, I know I'm about to be a little high maintenance but..." which gives them a little warning (even though it really shouldn't be considered high maintenance when it's what we have to do to not get sick). It takes a few times to get totally comfortable with it, but you just have to realize you're doing what you have to do. Second, don't be afraid to ask as many questions about ingredients at restaurants or cafes as you need to! I'm always asking if dishes, dressings or seasonings have certain ingredients I know I can't eat. Again, it takes a few times to get used to it, but most people are more than willing to help you out and make sure you can find a safe option.
Read labels: If you're new to this whole living with food sensitivities thing, you won't believe what companies sneak into products. For example, when I realized soy was an issue for me, I noticed even certain gluten free crackers had soy in them, which wouldn't have been obvious at all. Make sure to be a knowledgeable consumer and read read read so you don't end up with a stomach ache when you least expect it. I'm totally that girl that takes an hour and a half to grocery shop because I'm reading every single label (ok and because I really like wandering the aisles LOL).
Be prepared, always: You can't rely on others (even family or close friends) to 1. know all of your food allergies 2. to realize they need to have a different option for you. YOU are the only one that can guarantee your health. Even when people offer to try and accommodate me at group dinners, etc. I opt for bringing my own food because there are too many little things that could set off my stomach. Bringing my own snacks when I'm out and about or full meals to sorority events, group dinners, etc. helps me have a lot more fun at these events because I'm not worried about getting sick or not having anything to eat! It may sound like a lot of work, but meal prepping and always having options on hand makes it easy to always be prepared, no matter how short of a notice.
Don't worry about what others think: I used to get SO awkward when I had to ask a lot of questions at restaurants or take out my own tupperware meals at events, but I've learned to own it. Usually people do get judgmental, but once they ask and I tell them why I brought my own food they stop. And even if they don't stop? WHO CARES! It's your life, your health and your happiness. Don't suffer through eating something that could hurt your stomach just so people don't give you weird looks. Weird looks > stomach aches any damn day. ;)
I'm so grateful that I'm finally getting to a place that I feel like I have a little more control over my health with the new knowledge of what foods my body doesn't react well to. Some people may see this all as a hassle and a burden, and I used to see it the same way, but when there are factors out of your control in life all you can do is continue living with a positive outlook. My food sensitivities may make my life difficult at times, but they're also what truly has inspired my love of cooking, pushes my passion for nutrition and finding the coolest foodie spots wherever I go. Anything can be changed from a negative to a positive and when you choose to do that, life is so much better. :)