Going Against The Grain, or How I Discovered My Food Intolerances, part 2

This is part 2 of 3. Part 1 is How I Found Out I Was Allergic To Pizza, and Discovered My Other Food Intolerances

Part 3 is  Full Circle, or How I Discovered My Food Intolerances

bread loaves
I’ve found that unraveling food intolerances is often like peeling away the layers of an onion. Get past one layer, and there’s another one waiting for you.

A couple of years after I stopped eating nightshades, I started having symptoms of “digestive distress” as they call it, politely, or to be more specific, problems such as gas, heartburn, and constipation/diarrhea. I also started having regular migraines again. On top of all of that, I started having hypoglycemic episodes, where I would be hungry, get lightheaded, start shaking, and feeling cold. I started feeling really stressed out and frustrated with everything. It was not a fun time.

I talked with an acupuncturist I was seeing about my love/hate relationship with food, and my obsession at the moment which was making my own pasta from scratch, including rolling out and cutting the dough to make noodles.

At that time I loved everything made from carbohydrates, having a bagel and a large smoothie every day for breakfast, sub sandwich for lunch, corn chips for a snack, and pizza or pasta for dinner.

She suggested I read the book Sugar Busters, because she thought I may have fallen into an addiction cycle with sugar and carbs. This was in 2002, right when Atkins and low-carb dieting was just beginning to dawn on the country.

I found Sugar Busters to make some sense and then went online to read about Atkins. Not one for going halfway, I decided to jump right into the Atkins diet of 20 grams of carbohydrates a day, also known in Atkinese as “induction.”

I had no idea what I was in for.

The first four days, I felt dizzy, like I had just gotten off a ride at the fair. I felt feverish. I was thirsty a lot and craved chocolate like I never have before or since. It was a tough time and I hope I didn’t torture anyone around me with my mood swings – I’m sure I was no fun!

Day five came and the dizziness was gone. I actually felt pretty good. Someone found me some low-carb chocolate protein bars that tasted like cardboard, but managed to find the will to stick to the diet. I ate meat, nuts, vegetables, and lots of cheese. I read that if you crave chocolate, try some cheese because it satisfies some of the same chemistry in your body that wants the chocolate to begin with.

I experimented with Splenda which was just coming out, at first only available in Diet Rite sodas. I dropped aspertame which was making my tongue feel like it was burned all the time, because I was chewing so much sugar-free gum to stave off sweet cravings.

stevia leaves
I found the slightly off-tasting, super-sweet stevia. I tried various sugar alcohols, including maltitol (closest to sugar), erythritol (supposed to cause the least intestinal gas but instead was the worst for me), and xylitol (which has some dental health benefits and a slightly cool taste).

The best part was I lost 40 pounds that I had gained over the last couple of years. It took me about four months, and it lasted. I felt pretty good about how things were going.

I decided to back off the 20 grams of carb a day limit because I no longer needed to lose weight and I felt pretty good about adding some complex carbohydrates back in.

I tried some low-carb bread first, but found it would make me feel nauseated. Great Harvest is a local bakery/deli shop that sold some of this bread and I tried three sandwiches there, each time feeling sick after. Low-carb breads often rely heavily on vital wheat gluten flour to keep the carbohydrate count low and protein high. I didn’t like the texture anyway, and decided high-gluten flour breads were not for me.

I began trying sprouted grain breads because they had a lower carb count and were generally considered low-glycemic, as far as breads go. Ezekiel made a really dense one, but I didn’t like the freezer requirement, so I went with Alvarado Street breads. California-style was my favorite one, with a slight sourdough taste to it. My local health food store has a bbq and deli and I could get a burger or a sandwich made on Alvarado Street hamburger buns.

However I was having stomach problems again, and occasional bouts of diarrhea that would last up to a couple of weeks at a time.

I had a particularly bad spell right after I’d gotten back from a two week trip to France where I’d most egregiously gone off my lower carb diet, having crepes, croissants, fondue with baguette, and pain au chocolat most every day. My doctor tested me for giardia or bacterial infection and gave me an antibiotic to take right away. However, both tests came back negative.
It was eight months later before I realized I may have a problem with gluten. I called my doctor and asked what he thought and he said to try a gluten free diet for two weeks – if I felt better, then that was my answer. I realize many people go through various tests to verify whether or not they have Celiac disease, but I was fine with trying the dietary change, having had such a positive reaction from avoiding nightshades, a still relatively unknown intolerance.

I can’t say it was a night and day experience, but I did feel a little better. It was a couple of weeks before I noticed I wasn’t feeling so tired and that I wasn’t having blood sugar swings if I dared to eat something that contained a few carbohydrates. Plus my migraines backed off again, from about three a week to three a month.

Six months later I took a test to see if I was creating antibodies for gluten and found out my result was one point lower than positive, so I was not officially gluten intolerant. Since it had been about eight months since I’d stopped eating gluten, the fact I was developing antibodies at all was still a sign I’d made the right decision.

The reactions I have when I do get any gluten at all are enough to convince me – I feel pretty crummy for the first week, then I have a day or two where I feel like it’s over, but it kicks back in and lasts for up to about two more weeks. It’s a weird process that involves my digestive system feeling bad, my head hurting a lot, my thinking getting cloudy, and my emotional state going in a depressed direction.

That’s not all – I have found several other foods along the way I should avoid. I discovered that I am allergic to shellfish, even touching it to clean shrimp or crab makes my fingers raw, and if I eat it, my lips swell slightly and get itchy, and I get severe stomach pain and headaches lasting about 24 hours.

Aspergillus niger fungus moldI also have an allergic reaction to a fungus called Aspergillus which is used to ferment sugar to form commercial citric acid, as well as tofu, miso, sake, black tea, and create the drug component of many statin (anti-cholesterol) drugs.

I have an intolerance to corn. Sometimes I can have small amounts of organic corn, but regular corn, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and corn starch all upset my digestive system.

Ever since I stopped eating gluten, I have had no tolerance for alcohol. Even half a glass of wine, gluten-free beer, or shot of hard liquor gives me a hangover as if I’d consumed the entire bar the night before. I haven’t been able to figure out why that happens but found on the online support group at www.Celiac.com that this seems to happen to a certain percentage of people who stop eating gluten due to intolerance.

Coming soon – Full Circle, or How I Discovered My Food Intolerances, part 3

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