Do you feel tired and bloated after eating? Are you overly tired in the afternoon? Do you have red skin, especially on your cheeks or chest? Or puffy eyes? Does food make you feel sluggish instead of rejuvenating you? Are you having trouble losing weight even though you exercise and eat healthily? Do you suffer from depression or anxiety? Does your poop run your life? Maybe you’ve had some of this stuff so long that you don’t even notice it, or maybe you think it’s your lot in life.
I hear you! I have this trouble, too. That’s why I talk about this stuff all of the time. I’m not just talking at you, I am dealing with the same things. Some of these things are an ongoing struggle that I haven’t quite figured out for myself yet. Unfortunately, it takes some trial and error. I didn’t intend for this article to be so long, but it is my story. The whole thing. I didn’t leave any embarrassing parts out. I’m sharing it because I think it might be helpful for those of you who have food sensitivities but don’t realize it yet.
I have had rosacea from before I can remember. I probably started noticing it in teenage years. It’s just a redness on my cheeks and nose, sometimes blotchiness down my neck and on my chest. Honestly, I thought it was my complexion or residue from being repeatedly sunburnt. It gets much worse and spreads to my ears if I drink beer or sometimes wine. Also, if I scratch my skin, not hard, just what you would do if you had an itch, it gets angry red streaks where my fingernails scraped the surface. People are forever coming up to me and asking what that red on my neck is or saying how terrible a bug bite looked and that I needed something for it. Nope, it’s just my skin.
I got to where I would slather on the sunscreen, wear hats, and avoid the sun at all costs. I would always wear my hair down if we were going out because I didn’t want my flaming red ears to show after a few glasses of wine. My face, neck, and chest get red when I run. Doesn’t everyone’s? Not this red. It’s alarming. Concerned people comment about it all the time. I thought it was my complexion. I didn’t even realize the red streaks from lightly scratching were even unusual until one day a chiropractor was performing a sort of reflex (or sensitivity?) test with a tool that she was rolling along my bare skin. She rolled the tool up and down my arms, my back, my legs, and at some point gasped and said, “Oh my God, I’m leaving red tracks all over your skin! Does that hurt? I’ve never had that happen before.” Um, no. It’s just my skin. Since she had done this to countless people before without getting this reaction, it made an impression on me, but I didn’t clue in until years later.
I also have had gas and bloating my whole life. In my family, the condition is considered genetic. Everyone is gassy. Farting is natural, right? I didn’t think it was anything unusual until I was working at as a veterinary technician (it’s easy to pass gas off on the animals in that profession, by the way), and someone else got blamed for my stink. She said, “No way was that me. If I smelled like that I would be rotting inside,” and it got blamed on a dog. At that moment I realized that I had a problem. No one else dealt with this stuff like I did. It isn’t normal to be gassy and bloated after every meal.
Fatigue is another thing that has been a part of my life for awhile. In my younger years, I chalked it up to abusing my body with alcohol and cigarettes and staying up late. There were days I would drink coffee until it was late enough to drink beer. It was when I had cleaned up my act, started eating clean, drinking water, getting sleep, exercising regularly, and practicing self-care but was still fatigued that I realized there was a problem. Even when I cut back on coffee, decreased my rigorous exercise routine, and increased my sleep I would still go through a mid-afternoon slump. These got so bad that I absolutely had to have a nap. Other people get mid-afternoon slumps, but they hold down jobs and schedule appointments in the afternoon. I find myself only scheduling things before lunch, because after I eat I crash.
Along with fatigue, I also live with depression. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart because they overlap in their symptoms. Am I really that tired, or just depressed? There were many days when I just couldn’t get out of bed. It was a physical thing. I just couldn’t face the day. I was also irritable, impatient, and angry quite a lot of the time.
After I had my baby, I felt stuck, alone, and worthless. That little girl, who depended solely on me was the only thing that kept me going. I went on Prozac once I was done breastfeeding because I was okay alienating adults, but I didn’t want my little girl to have to live with a mom who was so mean, impatient, and short-tempered. I still deal with some of these issues, but I am off of the Prozac and am generally a happier person now. Some of that is due to delving into the positive mindset, personal development, and self-help culture. But I think most of it is due to figuring out that food affects your brain and vice-versa.
Take It Up a Notch
Most of those things I have dealt with to varying degrees my whole life. I didn’t take any real action until the real digestive issues started. In addition to the bloat and gas, I started to have irregular bathroom habits. Cramping in my gut followed by diarrhea or occasional constipation, but it was usually more of a disaster pants situation. I remember one time I was out for a run and had to run home urgently before I actually did have disaster pants.
The bloat I experienced was constant and low-grade, but occasionally like a someone blowing up a balloon in my belly until sometimes I thought it would burst. There as a constant gnawing, uncomfortable feeling in my belly. Like indigestion or something not setting right. You know that feeling when you have drunk too much the night before and you have a sour stomach in the morning? Yeah, that. Plus rotten guts.
Trouble Losing Weight
Did I mention that I had gained weight, mostly around my middle and on my thighs, that I had never had to deal with before? This wasn’t from pregnancy weight, either. I had lost the pregnancy weight and was in the best shape of my life in my first year of being a mom. Then I went through my tough bit of depression and stopped running, but didn’t stop eating. When I noticed I had packed on 25 pounds, I started running and eating better again, but the weight would not come off. I was stuck at the same weight, which was 25 pounds heavier than I should be. It never budged. It didn’t go down–but at least it didn’t go up–no matter what I did. I mean, I was running, doing Pilates, kettlebells, yoga, body-weight exercises, and eating way healthier than all of my friends. I decided I needed help. That’s when I hired a health coach.
Once the bad digestive stuff set in I finally decided that something was just not right. I had already hired my health coach to dial in my nutrition, so I asked her what I needed to do. We decided on an elimination diet to zero in on what was causing my issues. We eliminated the common allergens and irritants (wheat, soy, dairy, legumes, corn, refined sugar, alcohol), and I took it seriously but didn’t really think I had issues with food. I had always been able to eat anything I wanted, after all.
The elimination diet made me feel worse. This is when I decided to seek professional help. I went to three doctors, who ran tests but found nothing wrong. One completely blew me off. The third gave me a diagnosis of IBS and sent me to get food sensitivity testing done. The test was super easy. I just went to the allergy clinic, had blood drawn, and in a week or so the results came back. This is the test I had done. The results indicated that I was sensitive to 25 foods to varying degrees. One of the highest reactions was almonds, which is what I had been using as a substitute for flour, quick snacks, ground up to make the grain-free granola I was eating almost every day, and they are in practically every grain-free protein bar. I also reacted to vanilla, white potatoes, all legumes, cauliflower (which I had also been using as a grain substitute), brewer’s yeast, cacao, and black pepper to name a few. I mean, how do you avoid black pepper? And cacao? Come on! What wasn’t on my list was wheat, dairy, corn, or soy. More on that later.
The suggested protocol was to eliminate these foods for 90 days and then start adding them back in slowly one at a time to see which still reacted. I was super excited to finally have an action plan to deal with my digestive issues. After the 90 days, I started adding foods back in. I began with my favorite foods on the list (hello, cacao!), and those which tested lowest on the sensitivity scale. I didn’t notice any reaction with cacao, and found that I can have some cauliflower–as long as I don’t go crazy–and black pepper is also okay occasionally, but I still avoid it at home because it’s hard to avoid out in the real world. The thing that was most horrible upon reintroduction was legumes. I cannot have any beans. They give me bloat, gas, and disaster pants in short order. Plus, I started noticing my fatigue and brain fog was worse when I ate them, which was my first introduction to food affecting more than just digestion.
Avoiding what I knew I was sensitive to helped but I still felt bloated, I still had gas, I still experienced fatigue, and I still had rosacea and sensitive skin (which I still didn’t register as a problem). Since I still felt crappy even though I was doing what I should, I started cheating here and there. I would have a beer (brewer’s yeast), which would cause terrible hangovers–that other spirits such as top-shelf gin, whiskey, and additive-free organic wine didn’t cause. Or I would have some processed food containing soy (which is a legume), and immediately need a nap. Even when I was really good about avoiding everything on my list I still didn’t feel all that great.
Then, in September, I decided to eliminate all grains. I had listened to several lectures, read a few books, and heard quite a few interviews that made me realize that it was possible to be sensitive to foods that did not show up on conventional sensitivity testing. You just have to eliminate them and see how you feel.
Once I strictly eliminated the grains, in combination with avoiding legumes and sugar, and increasing my fat consumption, my life changed. Suddenly, I was creative again. I began writing more frequently, I could focus longer, and my thoughts were clearer. My depression subsided. I went completely off Prozac, which I had been decreasing for the year and a half or so since learning about my sensitivities. All of this further interested me in the gut-brain axis. I started sleeping better. Ten pounds fell off and I went down a pant size. My digestive issues were still there, but no longer controlled my life. Plus, my skin issues–rosacea, redness, and blotchiness–which practically everyone on my mom’s side of the family has, went away.
Then the holidays rolled around and I fell off the wagon. A person can’t possibly have Thanksgiving dinner without stuffing! So I had the stuffing. And the green bean casserole (legume). And pie with wheat flour crust. I was sick for a week. My whole right side from my rib cage to my hip bone felt clogged or congested and sometimes painful. I almost went to the doctor thinking I had appendicitis. If it had lasted one more day, I would have. My creativity took a nose-dive and my inner Mean Girl (depression, worthlessness, etc.) returned. I didn’t want to do anything and felt really low.
The thing with eliminating these foods is that when you reintroduce them you get a much worse reaction than what you had experienced before. You also start to get cravings. After a few days without grains and sugar, you get intense resistance from your brain and your body in the form of mood swings, lethargy, sleeplessness, or cravings. But then all of that disappears and you start to sleep like a baby, experience happiness, and be nicer to those around you without cravings. You really don’t need that bread, as amazing as that sounds.
Back on the Wagon
What I didn’t realize was related were my skin issues. Right away after eliminating grains my rosacea went away, as I mentioned. But what about the angry, red streaks I got after scratching an itch? I just this minute scratched my neck and walked to the bathroom to take a mirror selfie. Here’s what it looks like:
Yeah, there’s a bit of red in one vertical streak but I scratched it horizontally. There are no fingernail marks! You guys, I just discovered this last week. What an amazing thing! Another thing that has improved since going grain-free is my afternoon sluggishness. I actually went all day yesterday without a nap. That might not sound like a big deal, but that’s a big deal. I still write and schedule important meetings in the morning, but this gives me hope that I may be able to function well enough to do some things in the afternoon.
You see, food allergies, sensitivities, even autoimmunity can show up anywhere. It doesn’t necessarily equate to digestive problems. Celiac’s disease, for example, can be misdiagnosed as severe mental health issues, anorexia, malabsorption, joint disease, or any number of skin diseases. Gluten sensitivity does not show up on conventional food sensitivity tests. You actually have to do a food elimination trial to discover it. Food sensitivities can be difficult, because their symptoms may show up days later–as opposed to allergies that strike immediately. I didn’t get major issues with legumes on the same day I ate them. I might have felt uncomfortable and gassy, just like everyone else does with beans, but I got the debilitating symptoms two to three days later.
Now I know I have gluten sensitivity and gut microbes that don’t like sugar–well, some do, but those are the wrong type. The issue I am dealing with now is the social stigma attached to avoiding gluten and other grains. Namely the, “Oh, you’re one of those people,” implying that I have a made up condition. I struggled with this for awhile. I mean, I consider myself a reasonable person. I am also a casual, go with the flow, let’s see where the day takes us, I’m up for anything kind of a person. I am not overly strict with my diet, and I don’t fall prey to every fad diet that’s out there. So I have fallen off the wagon several times, thinking, “This is in my head. I don’t really have food sensitivities. It’s because I study this stuff all the time and now I’m self-diagnosing this condition.” Then I’m sick for a week after eating what I knew I shouldn’t have.
I’m largely over that, though, because this thing has been thoroughly vetted, tested, retried, challenged, and found to be true multiple times over the last 6-months. Remember when I said that after you have eliminated a food for a time and then reintroduce it, the symptoms are usually much worse? I had beers with my husband and a friend one afternoon a few weeks ago. Not only is this beer made with wheat, it also contains brewer’s yeast and any number of other additives. The next day I had terrible digestive issues, to the point that I was doubled over, wondering if I needed to call one of my medic or nurse friends for help. Yep, not doing that again.
There is Help For You, Too!
The point here is that if you are dealing with any of the issues listed above–I mean, there are several, take your pick. I want you to know that I get it. I know where you are coming from. Elimination diets, food sensitivities, food allergies, auto-immune diseases, fatigue, depression, and inability to lose weight despite eating right and exercising are all my jam. I get it and because I get it, I can help you, too. Is your issue gluten, legumes, and sugar like mine? Maybe not, but we can figure that out together.
You don’t have to be alone in this. It’s hard to poke around in the dark, trying to figure this all out and thinking (maybe being told) that you are making this all up. You can be eating the healthiest diet out there but if you’re not absorbing it properly, or if it is causing adverse reactions, it isn’t doing you any good. It could actually be doing you harm. New research is coming out all the time, but don’t worry. You don’t have to stay up on it, because I do.
I helped myself, now I would like to help you, too. My plan is simple and doable for everyone. I would like to offer you an initial wellness consultation completely free of charge. Simply email me here. I can’t wait to hear from you.