Identifying My Food Sensitivities Saved My Life
After years of suffering, changing my diet has changed everything.
My mom was famous for her cooking. Everyone in the extended family loved to visit her house. Growing up in an Italian American family, our meals consisted of lots of pasta, red sauce, bread and cheese. Holidays were heavily laden with tomato sauce, ricotta, mozzarella, cured meat platters, garlic bread and tons of desserts. In the ’60s and ’70s, no one was talking about food sensitivities.
I learned about acid indigestion at a very young age—Brioschi was a household word. My mom never imagined that the ingredients in her recipes could be making me sick. When I would tell her that the sauce on Sundays gave me agita (acid reflux that was fondly referred to as “nasty repeat”), she would give me more ricotta or milk to “cut the acid.” Coca-Cola was common at our dinner table. It also gave me heartburn, so Mom added milk to that, too.
I Had a Lot of Medical Issues, but Doctors Couldn’t Help
By the time I was 18, my doctors had already run upper-GI testing with no concrete results. I was sent off with a limited diet that really only cut out coffee, while still maintaining the “food pyramid” approach to nutrition. By then, my symptoms had advanced beyond acid indigestion to include painful gas and bloating.
My food sensitivities created wicked digestive issues that regularly spoiled trips or interfered with special occasions. For many years, I struggled with stomach upset and continual weight gain. Because I had no knowledge as to what caused my issues, most of what I thought was helping was actually making things worse. I began to rely on daily doses of Prilosec and the like, which gave me a false sense of security and great anxiety about discontinuing it as the manufacturer recommends after a certain amount of time.
I had allergy testing done and found that while I did have allergies to environmental elements, I didn’t have any allergic reaction to foods. This kept the search for answers just out of reach. Somehow, I knew it was the food, but no medical professional would believe my symptoms or my logic.
In my adolescence, I was often sick with swollen glands, severe sore throats and postnasal drip related to upper respiratory infections. This was never tied into my stomach issues. but now that I have learned more about Eastern versus Western approaches to healing, I’m sure that the way my body was constantly battling to stave off my food sensitivities, my immune system was often compromised.
My skin was another area where the effects of my food sensitivities would show. I had seen dermatologists for years and finally gave up with their approach after a brutal round of Accutane as a 40-year-old. In my desperation, I was willing to subject myself to regular blood tests and painful skin eruptions. Basically, their process is that your skin gets horrifically worse before you have any improvements. I have vivid memories of having conversations with other adults where I would keep my hands at my face and elbows on the table to hide my embarrassing skin.
My Food Sensitivities Finally Pushed Me Over the Edge
It was around this time that I undertook a high-pressure project to make costumes for my niece's dance team at Duke University. As my work was coming to the scheduled date to bring the costumes down to North Carolina for fittings, I haphazardly scarfed down a pack of those substandard airplane nuts on the way back from the local dance studio. It turned out to be a huge mistake and much too close to the time I was supposed to travel. The pain and gastric upset set my work back to the point where I had to bring my sewing machines with me to finish the costumes at the hotel. I was extremely sick for the days leading up to the trip, as well as during my stay, not only from the food reaction but also the stress of feeling like I had failed my niece and her team.
This was one of the times where after the initial upset, I would not be able to eat and would have “dry heaves” and spasm with no vomit. Other times, I would vomit up bile after my system had been in turmoil for days.
My journey along the Western medical path led to an unnecessary gallbladder removal and continued discomfort and pain, to the point that I couldn’t enjoy dinner out with my husband without dreading the aftereffects of the meal. On one trip to New York City, I spent an entire night between the bathroom and the bed in our hotel room while my husband and daughter waited it out in the next room. The hotel rooms in New York are extremely small, and needless to say, the upset stomach was extremely embarrassing with my family on the other side of the door. On that occasion, I had been very careful as to what I was consuming during the entire trip, but just one roasted pepper sent me into a tailspin and ruined the night.
I Had to Look Beyond Western Medicine to Find a Solution
My son encouraged me to see a non-Western medical practitioner who specialized in energy healing, acupuncture and nutrition. They determined that my issues were based partly on my body’s sensitivity and intolerance to a range of foods and substances—grains, dairy, soy, sugar, tomatoes, peanuts, avocados, chlorine and heavy metals, to name a few—and partly based on the “stuck emotions” associated with past trauma that I had not addressed or acknowledged before.
Four years into her care, I have learned to understand my body and how to nourish it, as well as how to send it into a spiral by ignoring my sensitivities. As a result of this experience and education, my skin is clearer, I have shed roughly 30 pounds of unhealthy weight and my outlook is bright. We can now enjoy a romantic dinner and not have the rest of the night ruined by my gastric upset. People ask me how I can survive without so many of my “stressors,” but until you have your life changed and freed from that kind of pain, you can’t really understand the motivation.
I’ve struggled to understand the disconnect between Western medicine practitioners and their approach to nutrition. They seem to have tunnel vision and only follow what they learned in school, without considering what the patient is experiencing. I can only surmise that it is the influence from Big Pharma that is keeping doctors peddling drugs that only offer temporary help and often create other issues. There is no profit in patients that stay healthy by eating right.