The Importance of Diet: Discovering Food Intolerances

Food is a big part of my life and always has been. 90% of my work history prior to starting this journey was food service. Family gatherings were centered around food and even family rites-of-passage integrated food. Everyone in my family cooked from scratch. That didn’t stop food intolerances.

Growing up I was surrounded by good food. My uncle headed 2 barbecue cook teams. Both of them consistently placed in the top 10 of 500 competitors annually at the Rodeo. When my dad taught me to bake my first loaf of bread we bought whole wheat berries and ground them into flour to make it. I began helping cook at two. Then I grew my first garden when I was four, and I took over cooking dinner at eight. By the time I was twelve I was regularly eating Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Armenian, Mexican, Spanish, and Brazilian foods.

So when I finally discovered last year I had food intolerances to 4 of the top 8 allergens (Dairy, Gluten, Soy and Egg*) my world was upended. I suddenly didn’t know how to eat without hurting myself. My favorite foods were now off-limits, and my cooking repertoire was extremely scaled back. On top of the challenges I’ve had learning to cook for various other dietary restrictions for our friends, I now had to make sure I could work a menu that was Gluten-Free, Vegan, Paleo, and Soy Free with special attention to who was coming to dinner as to other random allergies like peppers, tomatoes, avocado and bananas. It’s a good thing I cook. 

One of the more common food intolerances dairy

The Process of Discovering My Food Intolerances

So how did I finally discover my food intolerances? A Food Journal (downloadable template). I knew other than expensive and repetitive testing the best option was to use a food journal to keep track of eating habits and help identify potential food intolerances and allergies. 

What I didn’t know when I started keeping a food journal was the wide range of things food intolerances and allergies can show up as, or how long there would be a delay in symptoms. Things like brain fog, mood, pain levels, sleep quality, skin issues, digestive issues, and joint mobility. So I didn’t write any of that down. I didn’t find anything. 

As time went on and I learned more I knew something was wrong but I couldn’t figure out what. So I tried keeping a food journal again. This time I wrote down how I was sleeping, what herbs I was taking and my mood. I kept it up for about a month before I felt it was too tedious and stopped because I still hadn’t figured it out. 

Photo of various nuts and beans in containers

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Another month later I tried again. I was desperate for relief so this time I wrote down what I ate in detail, my pain level, my mood, anything I could think of. I had been writing in it for a month before I woke up one day and felt different. A miracle of miracles, I didn’t hurt! I couldn’t remember the last time I woke up and nothing hurt. I grabbed the journal and flipped through to see what was missing in the last few days. Wheat. My heart fell. We ate wheat at least five times a week. Having learned the foods you love the most are usually the issue and with the journal as evidence, I grudgingly eliminated it. 

By the end of the week, I was sleeping better and my mood had improved. But what sold me on keeping wheat out of my diet was that my pain level had dropped tremendously. Additionally, my skin was clearing up and I was losing weight. So I stopped the journal, satisfied I had found my issue until weeks later I had a reaction like I ate wheat at a certified gluten-free restaurant. This time the culprit was soy.

It took an additional month to isolate eggs. This was a particularly difficult isolation because we don’t eat eggs often, and I was only reacting to them sometimes when we did eat them. Compliments of the food journal I found that it wasn’t the eggs per se, it was how the hens were fed. I didn’t react to our eggs, but I would react to most eggs at a restaurant or other people’s houses. So what was the difference? Soy. I don’t feed our hens soy, but it’s a common ingredient in chicken feed. It finally made sense because thinking back, I knew when I was very young if I ate only eggs I would get sick but I didn’t know why. Now I do. 

Photo of mussels

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