HAWMC: Learned the hard way

For the month of April, I'm participating in the Health Activist Writer's Month Challenge from Wego Health. Each day I'll be writing a health-related post based on the HAWMC prompts, aiming to challenge myself as a writer and health activist. Thanks for following!

I think every food allergy/intolerance/sensitivity is discovered the hard way. Something feels bad so we try and fix it. I'd like to share my story here; hopefully it will resonate with you!

As a child, I ate EVERYTHING. I guess I took after my father in that respect; he always goes for the more interesting item on the menu, no matter where in the world he might be. Many a table I've shared with him where he's ordered the pig's trotters or the frog's legs or the sheep's brains and loved every mouthful while the rest of us cringed. But before I knew how to cringe (or knew even what I was eating), I happily munched that stuff along with him.

Somewhere along the way I became slightly more choosy. We moved to America and I soaked up the culture completely, loving my fruit roll-ups and lunchables at school. I got a taste for processed, dyed, refined food and was hooked.

We know where this is going - you've seen my blog and know that I wouldn't touch that stuff within an inch of my life these days. But until more recently than I care to admit, my diet was 99% processed junk.

In high school, when I was about 16, I started experiencing digestive issues. On a trip to England and France with my Mom, I felt sick the entire time. I carried Pepto Bismol and Immodium with me and took them daily. Everything I ate made me sick. I was afraid of leaving the house because I didn't want to have to run to the bathroom in public. I couldn't enjoy the beautiful surroundings in Provence where we stayed because I was feeling so ill. It was the most frustrating feeling.

I saw a doctor when we got back home to Philadelphia. They diagnosed me with H. Pylori, a stomach bacteria found in ulcers, and gave me a prescription of Prilosec, a heartburn medication. When that didn't work, the doctor just told me I had a case of gastroenteritis that kept coming back, and to rest and let it pass. I visited an acupressurist, who gave me a wonderful belly massage, but still no advice on what was causing my symptoms. I continued to take over-the-counter meds constantly, Tums being a favorite.

College started and I still felt ill a lot. I never knew when I would experience embarrassing episodes after a meal, sometimes during, and have to excuse myself two, three, sometimes four times to go to the bathroom. Not a good look.

Finally, in San Diego, in my third year of college, I found relief. At the time, I was on a super-bland diet. My favorite meal was half a baguette sliced open with a few pieces of swiss cheese placed inside. My Mom met an acupuncturist named Jutta, a beautiful blonde German woman who combined her acupuncture practice with herbal remedies and nutrition advice. She approached my health issues in a way I'd never experienced before. She made me feel relaxed. She asked me to write down everything I ate for a week and to note symptoms as they occurred. She had me go on an elimination diet and gave me some L-glutamine supplements to help heal my gut. She suggested I take a saliva test, a non-invasive approach to identifying food sensitivities.

All of these steps led to the beginnings of what is now my normal diet. At first, it was difficult. I felt cheated, as though I couldn't eat anything, and mourned the loss of my beloved swiss cheese. However, that mourning quickly turned to celebration when I realized that my symptoms had almost entirely vanished. I could eat food, healthy food, and feel amazing. I didn't have to go through life wondering how my intestines will respond to each meal. It was too easy.

I thought about how helpful this had been, how I wish I had known that the foods I chose to eat were the culprits all along. It wasn't until years later, however, that I became so interested in this connection that I decided to make a career out of it.

Great things can come out of tough lessons. In a sense, I'm glad I learned the hard way. If I hadn't, my life would certainly be different today - for many, this change is still to come. But I love when I can inspire people to think differently about their food - it's a powerful connection and one that can affect the rest of your life!