Learning to eat allergen free and loving it
The Bewildered Bug wrote to us…
‘When I first heard that I was gluten intolerant, I have to say that I experienced a mild anxiety attack. I had found out only a few years before that I had to give up all dairy due to a casein allergy and had struggled to figure out how to change my entire diet to exclude dairy. At the time of diagnosis, I had no clue what gluten was, but when I found out that it was a protein in many of the grain products that I had included in my diet, I was devastated. When I found out that these grains were also hidden in everyday food items such as soy sauce, lunch meats and hot dogs, I wanted to give up. That was 3 ½ years ago, and although I cannot guarantee you that I am 100% casein and gluten-free, I certainly make a much more concerted effort to adjust my diet to suit.
The hardest thing about going through drastic changes for any food allergy is that it’s not just a dietary change; it’s an entire lifestyle change. It is possibly the most daunting task you can think of when it’s first given to you, but trust me it is worth it, and trust me it gets easier as time goes by.
The most difficult time is when you are first presented with a list of products and ingredients that you are to avoid – it seems like it is everything that you normally eat. I’m here today, to give you a few tips to help you smoothly transition into allergy free eating - be it gluten, egg, dairy, fish, soy or any of the other top 12 allergens today – and to give you a few suggestions to help you stick to it.
One of the first instincts upon finding you have a food allergy is to run to the grocery store and, purchase every alternative product you can find. For example, someone with a gluten allergy would go stock up on all the rice and potato breads they could find, or those with a dairy allergy may go buy soy, rice, almond and coconut milks like there is no tomorrow. It is almost a fight or flight reaction that most people will have.
The problem is that we do this without really researching what we are purchasing. Did you know that gluten-free flours often have more sugar in them than “normal” wheat, rye or barley products? Did you know that if you cut out dairy, you have to make up calcium that is not provided in alternative milks, unless it’s “Calcium fortified”, and even then, you may still require an oral calcium supplement just to ensure that you are still getting your daily recommended amounts? Purchasing & consuming products without knowing exactly what you are buying or putting into your body is dangerous in a normal situation, and can be deadly in this situation.
The way to avoid this is to start by choosing to purchase and consume naturally allergen free foods. Ask your physician or nutritionist for a list of foods that are naturally allergen free. Do your research before you run to the grocery. For me, gluten is in so many things, but it is not in fresh vegetables, nor is it in meats and seafood, so I tend to stock up on those and eat a low-carb, protein-rich, fibre-rich diet. As for the milks, I personally only buy fortified almond, rice and soy products and I take supplements on a daily basis.
If you’re not sure how to start your diet or how to stick to it, invest in a registered dietician or nutritionist to help you. They may cost a bit in the beginning, but you will have a clear-cut direction to go in because most of them will be able to advise you as to what to eat, where to shop and will help encourage you while making your journey into the allergy free world a little smoother. Once they give you an ingredient list and a possible daily or weekly menu, you can branch out from there on your own successfully.
In general, North America is not as allergy aware as the United Kingdom and certain areas in Europe, and therefore, if you choose to purchase allergy friendly alternative foods, you may not have that much choice, depending on the grocery you go to and where exactly you live. The good thing is that there is a lot more choice today than there was ten years ago, and that there are more and more products that are going allergy free everyday, giving you more choices. Even mainstream names are going allergy free, for example, did you know that Kellogg’s has a gluten-free Brown Rice Krispies on the market or that Betty Crocker has gluten-free cake mixes on grocery shelves? In the end, it is up to you, but choice is important, especially when first starting on an allergy free diet.
If you have a good selection of allergy free foods at your grocery store, then congratulations, life may be a bit easier. In my neck of the woods, the selection is limited at the mainstream groceries, and often, the foods are mediocre. I consider myself to be a bit of a foodie and choose to enjoy my foods, so I had to find an alternative. I now shop partially at mainstream grocery stores and spend the little extra money to buy quality (and often organic!) foods at a specialty grocery store and natural health food store. I would advise you to look them up to see where your closest one is – it may become your best friend.
Speak with the management and employees of these stores; see if they are knowledgeable about your condition. The better they know you and the more aware they are of allergy-free eating, the more advantages for your health and your palette. Also, the better their knowledge about allergy free eating, the better the situation for you. They may even start carrying a brand that they did not know of previously, just because you mentioned or suggested it.
As with any change in the human condition, we sometimes lapse. You know what I’m talking about, think about your New Years’ resolutions – how many have you kept throughout the year? Be honest. If you’re like me, my resolution tends to be completely gone by the 3rd of January. I’ve slipped many a time with dairy and gluten; like I said, I’m a foodie – I used to love my different cheeses and am addicted to trying new restaurants of every and any genre.
I’m of a half-Chinese background, so I grew up with soy sauce in everything, and I LOVE noodles. I can no longer eat noodles unless they are fresh rice noodles, and I have to use gluten free soy sauce. I no longer eat at as many restaurants as I used to. Life changes have been rampant for me in the last three years, much to both my frustration and that of my husband.
However, every time I slipped, I end up either curled up in bed with stomach cramps, worshipping a toilet or completely miserable with nausea and a migraine. If I did happen to be at a new restaurant, I would be completely miserable and make the entire experience horrible.
So, if you’re ever tempted to cheat, think of the pros and cons. Remember how you feel when you eat these products, what the reactions are and then ask yourself “is this worth it?” Is it worth three days of running to the washroom? Is it worth the headaches, the bloating, the allergic reactions? Or could we just put that hot, restaurant baked dinner roll smothered in lovely whipped garlic butter down and request a gluten and dairy free meal?
At most restaurants, they are aware of food allergies – but they won’t know about YOUR food allergy unless you speak up and make them aware of your needs. It’s quite interesting how most restaurants today will go out of their way to accommodate you. If they don’t – you do not want to eat there. I know this is difficult, because I am also a person who wants to avoid confrontation and is a bit shy, but you need to get over it for your own health and well-being and for the sake of enjoying your evening with whichever companion(s) you are out with. It’s not fun for your loved ones to rush you home or to the emergency room. Respect them, even if you don’t respect yourself.
That’s the final thing I’m going to tell you today. You see all those people who love you and want to see you well? They rely on you to be strong and to take care of yourself so that you could be there for them when they need you, and so they could enjoy their lives with you. If not for you, think of the people around you, and let that inspire you to take care of your food allergy.
In the end, it’s up to you. You need to push yourself to be good, by sticking to your required diet because you are the only one who will be able to do this in the end. Purchase foods that are naturally free of your respective allergen, do your research properly (including a nutritionist if you are having difficulty), give yourself as many options as possibly by looking for alternative groceries, speak up when you need to in order to ensure that you are eating safe and remember why you need to be well.
In the end, it’s about quality of life – take care of yourself and you will have a great quality of life, will inspire those around you and will improve the quality of life for your loved ones.
©BewilderedBug All text and images.
Hi there, I’m Bewildered Bug, a 30-something PR-friendly, twitter-addicted, gluten-free, dairy-free, “smug-married”, self-proclaimed people-watcher, just trying to navigate through this obstacle course called life all in one piece. I currently reside in Toronto, Ontario and blog about everyday experiences, health issues, events and products that I love and even dabble in some fictional writing. Come on over and say hello – you never know, I may blog about you!
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