Saturday, January 2, 2010

Gluten Free Girl

In my search for wheat-free cookbooks, I came across Gluten-Free Girl by Shauna James Ahern. I've only read three chapters, but I'm already really enjoying it. Ms. Ahern isn't vegan, so I certainly won't be trying most of her recipes. Gluten-Free Girl is about living with celiac disease, which, fortunately, I don't have. In fact, the tests showed I don't have a sensitivity to gluten at all. But I can relate to a lot of what Ms. Ahern writes about. She grew up in the suburbs eating packaged and processed foods, like I did. She always never quite felt right and doctors couldn't find the source of her health problems, much like my own childhood.

I was a very sickly child. I always had a cold, sinus infection, ear infection, etc. When I was about 5, I had my tonsils removed because I was contracting tonsillitis too often. The doctors were going to put tubes in my ears, but apparently removing my tonsils fixed whatever the ear problem was.

I always had horrendous environmental allergies. Cleaning products gave me headaches. I had to be pumped full of antihistamines to visit friends with pets. I was always tired and didn't have much energy. A doctor once told my mom that my immune system was compromised because we lived across the street from a gas station at one point in my childhood. That could have been part of the problem, but I doubt it was the whole reason for my constant illness. My parents both smoked, which I can't image helped.

In high school I was out sick so often that my teachers had to take a vote to let me graduate. I had frequent sinus infections and terrible headaches. The many doctors I visited would run tests and the conclusion would always ben that I was prone to sinus infections and headaches. Antibiotics and steroids were often prescribed. One doctor told my mom that it was psychosomatic and recommended a therapist. My freshman year of college I was so sick that I had to drop out start over again the next semester. I had to take summer classes to make up for missed time so that I could graduate with my friends.

I went vegetarian shortly after turning 21. I pretty much had to teach myself to cook, because my mom's idea of a vegetarian meal was a bag of frozen peas, corn and cubed carrots. I ate lots of cheese and egg salad to make up for what I thought was a lack of protein. I felt slightly better on my new diet, but I was still plagued by constant debilitating headaches.

About 8 years ago I decided to go vegan. I had read that cows' milk could cause sinus problems, as it is a mucus producing food. After a little while on my new diet, I realized that my headaches were becoming more infrequent and I was feeling a little better. It made sense that giving up dairy products would cause my sinus problems to clear up, but I still suffered from low energy and the feeling that "something wasn't quite right". Over the past few years, I've gained weight that I can't get off, my hair has been breaking off and falling out, I've had low energy and I haven't been able to get rid of stubborn acne. My eyes frequently fee dry and burn, and I can't wear contact lenses despite the fact that my eye doctor says there's nothing wrong with them. I've also had a lot of intestinal problems that I've been trying to ignore, though it's not easy. It's been frustrating since I eat a pretty healthy diet - much healthier than the Standard American Diet that most people eat.

So now after seeing a doctor who knows about food allergies and finding what foods I have sensitivities to, I can see what was wrong all of these years: I was eating the wrong foods. The food I had the biggest reaction to was eggs, and test also showed that I'm highly allergic to cow's milk, so it makes sense that my headaches subsided after going vegan. But after going vegan, I began to eat lots of soy and I started snacking on nuts regularly. I do eat wheat and corn, but certainly not in the amounts that the average person does. (The tests showed that my intolerance to wheat is really high. Corn and soy weren't so bad, but I did have reactions to them.) Food allergies are usually inherited, and this is something I'm sure I've had my whole life, along with my environmental allergies.

Despite the fact that I now have to eliminate about 50% of the foods I used to eat on a regular basis, I'm pretty happy to find out what the culprit to my maladies has been. I'm looking forward to having more energy and feeling better. I promise to keep you up to date on my progress!

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