Sunday, June 3, 2012

What Happens When I Cheat

"Allergies are reactions that involve the immune system.....Foods should not normally trigger an immune response.  Unfortunately, all too often, they do, and the immune system produces antibodies that target the food and circulate throughout the body, which is why an allergic reaction can show up in such a variety of symptoms just about anywhere in the body.  These antibodies in turn trigger inflammation, which can result in pain and tissue damage, leading to further symptoms.....It is not understood why an allergy to a given substance is expressed so differently in different people.  Some people get hives and swelling of the lips and tongue.  Others get digestive problems, migraines, or arthritis.  Each individual seems to have a unique weak point where symptoms show up first." 

Dr. Stephen Wangen, "Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerance's" Coping With Allergies and Asthma, Winter 2011, 2012.

For some time now I've wanted to write a post explaining what exactly happens to me when I eat a food that I'm allergic to for the simple reason that most people just don't 'get' my allergies since I don't have what they know to be a standard reaction.  It gets a bit exhausting, and honestly I'm sick of this whole conversation.  SO, for once and for it is:

1.  Dairy and grains:  cause immediate IBS/digestive symptoms.  I won't go into great detail, but will say that it runs from minor annoyance to major pain and can last anywhere from 24 hrs. to a week.  Sean and I have decided that these are my big bads.

2.  Sugar:  Sugar hurts.  If I get even a little bit I will wake up the next day with painful joints.  Trust me when I say this is not fun.  I'm also more likely to wind up with sore, achy muscles and/or muscle strains/pulls when under the influence of sugar.  The bigger problem, though, is that within an hour of eating sugar my energy completely disappears.  I spend at least the rest of the day walking around like a zombie - barely able to function.  This has become more and more pronounced as of late....but that constant state of exhaustion is part of what drove me to the allergist's office anyway. 

3.  The other no-no's (fermented anything, dried roasted anything, less obvious sources of yeast):  The scary thing is that sometimes I can have some of these things with no reaction whatsoever.  But at other times they can firebomb my gut.  As near as I can tell, hidden mold is the big culprit.  For example - even though coffee is on the no list, I've still always drank it at my parents' home, in part because they drink a coffee roasted here in my town that is always very fresh.  One weekend they fixed a different brand of prepackaged coffee - the only no-no I had that weekend - and I proceeded to spend the entire weekend on the toilet.  Not fun. 

4.  Reactions to all:  Of course, there is an obvious tell.  Anytime I cheat I wind up with a very puffy face and hands for the next 24 hours or so.  Within a week I break out with rather horrid there's no way to cheat without at least my husband and kids figureing out what I've done.  As a bonus, all that swelling can trigger carpal tunnel symptoms.   Fun!  Nearly all of my allergens immediately give me some form of insomnia.  (And thanks to my diaries I can track that symptom back to age 13.)  It starts immediately, and can linger for a couple of weeks after the offending foods are gone.  Headaches are also common to my allergic responses, as are bad mood swings (usually depressive, but sometimes anger).  My weight will always jump up a few pounds - even if I've eaten only a small amount of the food.  Perhaps one of the worst parts about it, though, is that my allergens will immediately kick off crazy, CRAZY cravings for all of that stuff that makes me sick.  It's rather insane...and bizarre.

5.  The scary stuff:  Sometimes I react with swelling and itching in my mouth and throat - although that seems to be pretty random.  More and more lately, I also get what I refer to as 'heart palpitations' - mostly in response to sugar.

The scary thing is that one reaction doesn't necessarily inform the next reaction.  Thus, I always carry benedryl and my epipen these days. 

I should also add that quality of food and my stress levels highly influence the type and strength of the reactions I have.  The better the quality - and the more relaxed and happy I am - the less likely I am to have a negative reaction.  My responses are also influenced by what's going on with my seasonal/inhallent allergies at the time.  While my drops have significantly improved my overall health, if mold and/or pollen counts are high my body has a harder time dealing with any food allergens.

Now I'm going to be totally honest.  I'm a big girl, and I'm very aware of the repercussions of cheating on my allergy diet.  There are times when I choose to eat things I shouldn't (although those times are growing more and more rare), knowing full well what's going to happen.  Having said that....

Now that we've talked about the depressing stuff, I have some great news!  In the last month I've found a way to make my allergy diet actually work for me in a way that I believe will be sustainable for the long haul.  Even better, my new plan makes it FUN, and is something we are going to be doing with the entire family.  Stay tuned to tomorrow to read all about that.


Bonnie said...

Thank you for this post! As someone who also has food allergies, it's always helpful to hear from somebody who "gets" it. I look forward to your next post!

I personally no longer try to explain or justify what I eat to others. They are on their path, I am on mine. I can't change their thoughts and reactions, only my own.

Lecia said...

Living with allergies sounds so challenging. I admire your stamina.