Living with food allergies - Soy, Nuts & Sesame

Food allergies

I'm pretty sure I haven't written about my food allergies before.  And although a lot of my close friends and family know allllll about it (thanks for being supportive all of you lovelies out there).  I thought it might be helpful to share a bit about it here for others that may have similar issues.  Because with all my internet wandering...looking for others like me, It's been a bit of a struggle honestly.  Sure I've found those with nut allergies, and those with soy allergies...but not a lot with the full combo.  So if you're out there, and struggle with food allergies like me - I'm here for you!  And if you're not allergic to foods, I grant you permission to skip this one.  Don't worry, we'll still be friends.  ;)  

Here is the list of my food allergies: Soy (Soya here in Europe), Peanuts, Almonds, Hazelnuts... (yeah ok to save some time...we'll just say all tree nuts), and Sesame.  It's a doozy.  Let me tell you. 

The nuts and sesame...not so bad really.  That is, they are pretty easy to find and avoid.  In fact, most restaurants have heard of those they're usually pretty understanding.  But the soy, HA!  Not so easy.  You mention you're allergic to soy to a waiter or waitress and this bewildered look comes across their face.  It's in EVERYTHING packaged.  Well, almost everything.  And nearly every restaurant (excluding some of the high-end and natural places) cook their food in vegetable oil (9 times out of 10 this contains soy).  Not just that, but it has all sorts of different names.  Like it's part of MI5 or the CIA.  All incognito. 

Those of you allergic to Soy or Soya know what I'm talking about.  For those of you who aren't (you lucky buggers) here are some of its 'covert ops' names (for a really extensive list check this out):

Artificial flavoring
Hydrolyzed plant protein
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
Natural flavoring
Vegetable Oil

That's just some of the secret names for soy found in food.  Though, being severely allergic I've had to avoid not just what I put IN my body, but what I put ON my body as well.  I'm talking about shampoo, lotion, soap, makeup, all that jazz.  Here are a few more hidden gems: (Tocopherol, Vitamin E, and Glycerin to name a few).    

The crazy part?  I haven't always been severely allergic to these foods.  In fact, growing up I used to eat soy, nuts and sesame.  Granted, I did have spells of stomach pain and what have you (I won't get into details, but you can use a little imagination here).  It wasn't until my mid 20's that it really hit me.  And really hit me, it did!  My skin was a complete mess (cystic acne, rosacea, and dermatitis), and I couldn't keep food down most weeks.  I landed myself in emergency a few times.  It was serious.  I had no idea what was wrong with me.  And worst of all?  Neither did the doctors.  As far as they were concerned (you know, based on their tests)...I was healthy, and normal. Reality: I was miserable. 

So I amped up my yoga practice, reduced stress as best I could, and tried cutting out different foods for selected weeks.  If any of you have tried this, you know how slow of a process this is, and frustrating.  First it was tomatoes...then milk.  Nothing showed progress.  I was still really sick.  And stressed.  And beginning to feel like I would never get well.  This went on for about 1 year. 

Then one day,  while sitting in my car at a red light I see a sign for an allergist.  Light bulb.  Oh sure, I had been through the ringer with tests from doctors (Upper GI, lower GI, blood work, scans, medications, antibiotics) but ugh............never an allergy test.  Weird huh?  Why the heck hadn't this occurred to me?  Or to any of the doctors?  Hmm. 

So the very next day I had myself an appointment with the allergist.  They did that simple (ha, I say simple...I'm so silly, it was more like torture if I'm honest) pin prick test on my back, for 150 different foods.  As I lay on my tummy waiting for the doc to come back in for the results....I am itching.  We're talking itching beyond any measurable amount of itch.  But I lay, practicing my yoga breathing...waiting.  In he walks, and the look on his face.  HA!  Well, we figured it out that day, I'll tell you.  I had welts on my back that lasted almost 2 days after that test.  I've never been so happy.  The issue was the combination of allergens.  I was ingesting these items at various times and almost constantly, so much so, that my body was in a constant state of an allergic reaction.  Simply from eating: packaged bread or tomato sauce or my favorite crushed lentil soup from my beloved middle eastern restaurant who apparently used soy oil for the base...It was shocking to realize how much I was eating that I was allergic to.   

And now I had some answers.  It was a revelation.  And the best part?  I could avoid those foods like the plague.  I could do it.  Easy peasy.  No medications.  No more guessing.  Happy Jessi. 

5 years later, here I am.  Feeling fantastic.  Eating better than I've ever eaten in my life.  Healthy.  No medications.  Still living with some serious food allergies, but you know what?  That's ok.  I realized that all I really needed to do was listen to my body (and not the disconnected and impersonal reactions I received from various doctors, in my case).  My body was giving me all the signs that it was unhappy and struggling.  One of my yoga teachers once said: "The best doctor is the one living right inside you." 

So how are things?  I'm eating real food.  Lots of wholesome organic (and local when I can) veggies, meats (grass fed), wild fish and fruits.  And yeah, I completely shifted my lifestyle.  Previous to my discovery I was on the go a lot.  Working a lot.  I didn't spend a ton of time preparing my food.  Sure, I would cook for myself, but it was always a bit mixed with easy things from packages.  I would eat out often as well.  Almost every work week lunch was eaten at a restaurant or from take away.  It was easy, it was fun, it saved me time.  

After my discovery, I was still working a lot, on the go a lot.  The difference was that I was determined not to be sick anymore, and not to take medicine.  I spent more time shopping for local, organic foods.  We even signed up for an organic box to be delivered to our door to help save time.  Most of all, I dedicated more time to prepping our food.  My husband was so supportive, and excited to do it with me.  We cleaned out the pantry of all the 'allergy' packaged foods and stocked up on wholesome foods, and if they were packaged we made sure we knew (and how to say) every ingredient on the list.  We did it together.  It was fantastic. 

Oh and you know what else?  The motivation to not be sick anymore, to spend more time prepping food and searching for wholesome goodness has made us both more active.  And happy.  And healthy.  Win, win, win, win!

I know this sounds all rainbows and butterflies now.  But I will tell you that it can still be difficult.  Especially dining out.  Being social.  Travelling.  I usually have to prepare snacks for myself, as there have been the occasional instance where I'm just not able to eat at all.  No options.  No fresh food.  Or it's a restaurant that cooks everything in soy or peanut oil, and all they can prepare for me is a plate of chopped iceberg lettuce and a tomato without any dressing (yes this really did happen once).  Some people just don't get it.  Most restaurants now save money by using a blended veg oil or soy oil.  It's foreign for them to deal with you because you're 'different' or have a 'special need'.  And often folks don't realize that soy can have all those other names!  Imagine.  So very often I worry.  Worry that someone will miss one of those secret names and the ingredient will make it's way into my food.  Have a spell of anaphylaxis and end up in the emergency room (yes this also happened).  But I've learned that it's better to be safe then sorry.  Communicate the best you can.  And if you're unsure...don't risk it (oh and having some Benadryl or an EpiPen in your bag doesn't hurt either).

But what it's taught me more than anything is compassion.  For myself, and for others.  Because having these food allergies has made me realize what it means to have a disability.  How it feels when others are conscious of who you are.  And what a powerful feeling it is to embrace understanding.      

So there you have it.  Phew. You made it.  Stay tuned, I'll be sharing some of my favorite allergy-free cosmetics and products in later posts!  Oh, and even if your not allergic, that's ok - these products are natural and healthy for everyone!