Posted in Banned Foods, Diary Entries

White Powder Of Death

I have a few true allergies: Pineapple, honey, and sunlight all give me hives. (I swear my body just hates yellow. LOL!) I have a dust allergy developed as a kid that makes me sleepy. And I don’t mean just a little tired. I mean the doctor discovered it after I almost slept an entire month away one summer. That is the only allergy that has improved over time. (My track record with any other allergy/intolerance is that it only gets worse with exposure.) Whenever I’m in contact to a lot of dust I get very, very sleepy. I’ve joked over the years that the sandman just really likes me. But none of this came even close to being life-threatening. My husband has a childhood allergy to peppers and onions that he has mostly been able to recover from, but it has taken him quite some time to get his body to adapt. Frankly I don’t know how he managed it especially when even just peppers cooking used to make his throat swell.

I you have never had an anaphylaxis attack it is really hard to understand what it is actually like. I had been with my husband for decades and even I didn’t get it. And I surely couldn’t appreciate how hard it was for him to find a way to mitigate his allergy.

Frankly the first time it happened to me I didn’t even know what was going on. Roughly a half hour after eating homemade tortillas with baking soda, the acidic baking soda taste had crept out of my stomach and up my throat, making my tongue feel strange and prickly/tingly. Then my lips started to tingle a little bit as I noticed that my tongue felt fuzzy & puffy. After that I realized that it felt like all of the oxygen was slowly being sucked out of the room and I couldn’t quite take a full breath. I was an idiot and should have been heading to the ER. But I had never had any reactions even remotely like this before and truly didn’t know what was gong on until it was getting pretty severe. I had to put my hands behind my head with my elbows up to force my lungs open more just to get close to enough breath. My husband was asleep at the time and I had initially been worried to wake him up because I knew he needed to sleep since he worked the next day. I was still scared to pieces. I was also concerned that somehow I was overreacting(?!?) for no reason and kept telling myself that if it got any worse I’d wake up my husband to take me to the ER. In retrospect we should have bolted out the door fifteen minutes previously. I was unbelievably stupidly lucky that it began to resolve itself right after that when my breathing slowly began to improve.

It wasn’t until the next morning that the reality of it sank in. Part of why I was so confused about what was going on was because at the time my throat didn’t feel any different, it was the upper half of my lungs and the airways in my nose that felt restricted. My throat felt fine. Or so I thought. The next day my throat was sore and feeling like it was stretched out.

I cannot even tell you how baffling this whole thing was. I was mostly in denial that a food I’ve eaten my whole life I was suddenly and deathly allergic to. It made no sense whatsoever. Trying to research ‘baking soda allergy’ online was near useless. I only found one site that mentioned it was a possibility (and also listed the symptoms I had) but it was so rare that it was really nothing to worry about. REALLY?? I know that’s true for almost everyone, but I’m that random freak who has to take it very seriously. Even my nurse friend up in Canada could only find one other reference to it.

For most people, baking soda is a ‘wonder’ ingredient or cleaning aid, touted as a miracle all over the internet. Please excuse me if I don’t join in the celebration.

So having the analytical mind that I do, and have used the process of elimination to pinpoint my honey & sunlight allergies in addition to figuring out all of the crazy stuff that has been making me sick these last few months, I had to do more tests to make sure it was really baking soda at the root of the problem.

You can be completely sure my husband was entirely aware of it this time and I kept him constantly updated on how I felt.

I carefully ate some homemade GF baking powder biscuits to see if I’d still react since there is a small amount of baking soda in baking powder. And right on queue my tongue and lips felt a bit funny/tingly/numb but not enough of a reaction to change my breathing at all.

In some of the research on baking soda I found that almost all baking soda was chemically produced, while there was two brands that were still naturally mined. One of which was Bob’s Red Mill brand. I’ve known for years that my body doesn’t react all that well to various lab-produced frankenfoods (they just make me feel yucky but nothing I’ve ever been able to pinpoint) so I thought that there was a chance that the natural form could be safe. My thinking was the connection between commercially produced citric acid (corn-based) and natural citric acid from fruit. When I first realized that any prepackaged food with added citric acid made me sick, I feared that I’d eventually not be able to eat anything with citric acid from any source. I assumed it could be an allergy would develop over time like my pineapple allergy did.

Knowing that essentially all baking uses baking soda/powder for anything fluffy and isn’t a hard rock, I wasn’t willing to give up just yet. So the testing process was repeated with the Bob’s Red Mill Baking Soda. I cannot explain how terrified I was. Seriously, I almost cried before eating a tortilla and I had been panicking all day. But my husband had the day off and I assured him that I would not have tested it without him being there and fully awake. This time I was completely prepared to go to the ER and we would have left the moment it even remotely seemed necessary.

It seemed like some stupid nightmare as a kid, being terrified of eating a tortilla that had the potential to kill me. But I got my answer.

Within three minutes of eating 1.5 tortillas (containing less than 1/32 teaspoon baking soda) I was getting a distinct reaction. So what does this really mean?

Tama's Not Sewing

 

These are standard Dritz long pearlized sewing pins. The head of one of these pins is probably a smidge larger than 1/32 teaspoon. So if I eat two pin head worth of baking soda, without access to treatment, it very easily could be enough to kill me.

I am really not the type of person who enjoys being melodramatic. But this is still hard for me to wrap my mind around. Even now parts of my mind are still in a state of shock over all of this. There isn’t any logic to this allergy, making it easier to understand. And since baking soda/bicarb/bicarbonate of soda is so exceedingly common worldwide and safe for practically everyone else, I do not have resources to fall back on of lists of products that use this like even exist for uncommon corn allergies.

So I have no one else to talk to and discuss if there is even a brand of corn-free baking soda free toothpaste that won’t prevent me from breathing. How do I find a deodorant to use? I can’t use the gel kinds because they always give me severe rashes. And it looks like washing soda needs to be added to my banned list. But does that mean we will have to switch to liquid laundry soap to eliminate the worry that dry laundry soap would trigger a reaction just from the powder getting in the air close to me? Is carbonation in soda/pop produced with baking soda? Never? Sometimes? Frequently? What other food or cleaning products might contain baking soda? Does it have any ‘hidden’ names like corn? At least the brand of cat litter we use doesn’t have baking soda. I also try and eat in a way that I don’t need antacids. But there is baking soda in fire extinguishers?!?! At least I don’t have to worry about self-rising flour since I can’t eat wheat anyway.

My husband got stung by a wasp the other day and I had an instant panic attack and guilt trip all in one that nearly made me flip out. I couldn’t remember if he was allergic to them (if so, it isn’t significant according to him) but at the time I only knew that baking soda and water are most commonly used for putting on the bites. He practically never complains about pain, but his ear was hurting bad enough that he was yelling and nearly in tears. I was madly searching the net on my phone to find an alternative to baking soda while panicking so badly that I nearly started crying myself. At the time I was thinking that he may be allergic and if I didn’t find a solution fast enough that his life could be in danger because we got rid of all of the baking soda in the house. The easiest alternative we found was a cotton ball soaked in apple cider vinegar. (Yes, it seemed to work.) In some ways it felt like this whole thing was so stupid because if it wasn’t for the baking soda allergy this would have been a calm non-issue even though my husband would have still been in pain for a while.

All because of something I would have never fathomed I could ever be allergic to, especially not even to this degree.

Most days I’m still lamenting that this, even more so than my wheat/gluten intolerance, has felt like the death knoll to my love of baking. Emotionally I feel like London after the end of WWII. I’m afraid to ask what more foods can be taken away from me because then the universe or the Fates would do just that.

If nothing else, this whole ordeal has really proven something to me that I have observed for a long time. That Americans, and especially humanity as a whole learn to adapt and continue to move forward. I just didn’t know I’d have to learn that lesson so well in my everyday life. Here and there I’ve found small sparks of hope on how baking can work without baking soda, but in this modern age it is just so counter-intuitive to the ‘baking laws of the universe.’ It really is hard trying to think about it any other way.

I’ve never been the type to give up easily. I thought I’d never be able to bake again ‘properly’ once eating wheat was out of the question. But I’ve adapted. and it’s always amazing when I find something very close to the wheat counterpart. My baking may not have the range it used to but that’s no reason to give up entirely.

Baking is an expression of love to me, one I can share with others. It simply makes me happy. And that most of all is something I will not give up on.

Posted in Diary Entries

To Eat or Not To Eat…

Eating is supposed to be simple, right? You just take some food, stick it in your face, chew, then swallow. Your body takes care of the rest. Life goes on and this process repeats multiple times a day.

It is disregarded as foolish if someone says they are addicted to food, or it is said in a very flippant way by some skinny girl, “I’m addicted to these brownies! I ate two whole pieces before I could stop!” *insert cackling laughter here*

And every fat girl ever just wants to punch her squarely in the face.

Food addictions are ignored because food is a base function of being human. Food is so common, how could it be addictive? ‘Oh, you are just over exaggerating.’ I really do not believe that is true. It would be like telling an alcoholic that they aren’t an alcoholic since alcohol is everywhere. It’s not really that bad. You can just stop whenever you want. You just need to want it bad enough. Or have more willpower. Or more self control.

This pushes the blame on the person as if it is a controllable emotional response, not a malfunction of the chemical composition of the brain. As if telling someone who is OCD that they are just being excessive and they should tone it down. Food addictions, OCD, and battling alcoholism has that controllable emotional factor, yes but that’s like blaming a passenger for driving badly. When severe, these conditions are out of control. It is not simply mind over matter since the chaos is being controlled by the mind that chemically not working right. The individual is a hostage to their addiction.

I’ve spent the day sitting here trying to convince myself to eat something. My mind has been crying and whining like a little kid, only wanting and thinking about everything I can no longer have. Cheetos, oatmeal, chocolate oranges, pizza, most of the vegan or vegetarian meat replacements, yogurt, Japanese boxed curry, for goodness sake I don’t even know what salad dressings I can even eat anymore. And even if it says gluten-free, is it still actually safe? What was also processed on the same equipment? And all my mind wanted to think about was how to replace all the bread. Obsessively scrambling through my thoughts, telling me all I wanted to eat was bread, bread, and more bread. GF of course. As if that really makes it better in this case. My mind gets fixated on one thing and obsesses about it, often for days until I eat that food. I cannot simply brush it off or hope it will go away. Too much of the time it doesn’t even matter when I last ate, if I’m hungry or too stuffed, my mind continues to rant and obsess on that singular point.

I have exhausted my willpower time and time again trying to battle those obsessive thought patterns. It makes me feel like a drug addict looking for the next fix. It seems unaffected by common sense. And yet it has ruined much of my life. Everyday is such a struggle as I haul around the dead weight of an adult my same age and build if I was at my ideal weight. Too many people who see me, all they presume about me is that I’m stupid, mentally slow, and that I must sit around all day just eating nothing but full sugar, full fat junk food. One day one of the checkers at our grocery store was trying to convince me that french fries from McDonalds were healthier than homemade oven fries made from red potatoes. Seriously? Who’s the idiot now?

For years I have battled to get my weight down. And the fight is really unbelievable, in the sense that it’s unbelievably hard and unbelievably slow. Before I went to college for a year I had managed to lose 80 pounds (my highest known weight was 378) and amazingly got under 300 pounds. Then college and the stress ruined everything. I never expected to go to college. Formal schooling was never my thing. So even now I see it as a huge accomplishment, especially since I was on the Dean’s list two semesters out of three that I attended. In high school my average grades were C’s and D’s. I nearly didn’t graduate high school. I stretched myself as thin as I could and then some in college to prove to myself that I was smart enough to go to belong there. And I did it. But as Mom says, college isn’t for everyone. The effort took it’s toll and I had the second worst emotional breakdown in my life. All I can remember is I cried for 3 months straight. Hubby was beyond worried. When I started to recover I saw some of my text books sitting on one of my shelves and had no recollection at all what they were even from.

I couldn’t believe it a couple of months later when I found one of the letters from the Dean and re-read it. I had to double check that it really was my name on there. I was stunned that something hugely important as that had been wiped from my memories. (It is now framed and hanging on the wall.) I had even gone to one of the meetings to be a part of the Honor Society. That was a dream I wanted in high school but being an undiagnosed dyslexic, horrid at math, a slow reader, terrible at memorization, and any tests would give me panic attacks that would nearly erase everything I knew, a dream was all it was. Some of us are just not designed for how the American school system is organized. After I was married I discovered that I’m a voracious learner as long as I can learn what I’m interested in and in my own ways.

But there I stood. Looking back at the months of my life just being in a meltdown that all I can remember is the pain, tears, and playing Tetris when I wasn’t sleeping. So much happiness and pain so closely bound together in my college memories that thinking of them over four years later still hurts to some degree. And the worst damage of all caused by the stress was the 50+ pound weight gain.

I want to say that I don’t know how it happened, but I know how I lost the 80 pounds so I know precisely how it happened. It just feels like if I don’t control my eating with an iron OCD grip that I just gain weight as easily as I blink. And then the guilt sets in. And then the blame starts in that voice that never has anything positive to say and seems to live to just shred me to pieces. Voices from the past of random boys telling me that the world would be a better place if I just shot myself. Little did they know that more than once in my life if I didn’t have such a strong sense of self preservation I would have committed suicide. Strangers giving me horrified looks as if they are looking at nothing but a mindless monster that materialized in the grocery store.

They truly do not see the person inside who got to this point by being a bulimic who could never force themselves to throw up. What do I even call myself? Everyone just simply sees me as fat. Nothing more. What I wouldn’t have given as a teenager to just be able to purge everything, just to be skinny. My oldest sister was most definitely anorexic when she was in high school, she was barely more than skin and bones for a while. I was in middle school and even I thought she looked like she was going to snap like a twig. Over the years I’ve done research on bulimia and the way I react on the behavioral end of it is identical. I just was deathly afraid of throwing up. I can recall countless times of binging until I literally could not fit anything more in my stomach. I wanted so badly to throw it all up but I just couldn’t force myself to do it. I’m really surprised that I never burst my stomach. I’d be in excruciating pain for hours, but somehow at the time it felt better than the emotional pain. This began when I was in late grade school and continued for many years after I was married. Occasionally I still battle with it but thankfully it doesn’t get anywhere near that extreme anymore.

But with every binge cycle there comes the starvation. And with me that is done mostly with food restriction. My mind systematically strikes off foods from the list that I can eat, giving a reason for each and every one. This part of my eating disorders can be the most sadistic. Perfectly healthy and reasonable foods removed along with the less stellar ones, all being labeled toxic in one fashion or another. When my mind finds cause for it, I can be ever so clever. Convincing myself that there are 5 foods in the whole world that are deemed ‘safe’ to eat, and I can have them without guilt. So my husband and family see me eating. So they don’t question. So they don’t worry. So they don’t know that I’m not eating when they aren’t looking. They cannot see that nutritionally I’m starving and I’m sick. Because I can smile and give all the right answers when I’m questioned.

My husband remembers when I had my breakdown at the end of my vegan dietary restrictions. I wasn’t getting enough protein regularly since in my mind tofu was too fatty. Who knows what else essential I wasn’t getting. I couldn’t hide the neurotic panic that had been driving me for over a year at that point, but even what he saw wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg. He says he remembers the stress. What he couldn’t see was every time I had to eat that I’d be mentally shuffling through all the lists I had made in my mind, trying to find the one that listed something I could eat. By that point I had convinced myself that even eating a single grape would make me gain 75+ pounds. Water was so toxic that I may as well have been drinking sewage. Air was hardly better. Even when I did manage to eat, it was the grossest feeling in the world. I had to force it all down, and it barely managed to stay there.

None of this I wanted to remember. For years I’ve told myself that it wasn’t that bad and ignored all the details except it ended badly. I was standing in our kitchen shaking because I was so hungry, the look on Hubby’s face was nothing but panic, and I couldn’t stop crying. My stubborn will finally broke when I asked him to make me some scrambled eggs. I’m sure some would argue (and easily) that there must have been vegan options at the time (I’m sure there were) but the eggs were the only thing I could think of a the time that would keep me from collapsing.

The other side of the equation was my OCD taking over and trying to learn how to be a ‘perfect’ vegan. Through the glory of the internet I was constantly swamped with the message that just being vegan wasn’t enough. You had to be some uber vegan, you know the kind who has never eaten meat once in their lives, let alone smelled it, who would boycott anything not vegan associated, and would call every company about every ingredient of anything they ever ate before it could cross their holy lips… and if you couldn’t do that, you weren’t a ‘true’ vegan. Because trying is never enough when you are vegan. I just wanted to eat so I didn’t get sick, I wasn’t looking for a religion.

Research triggered by fear, the facts distorted by panic, uncertainty fed doubt and distrust. This is what really broke me. The worry that I could never research foods well enough to make sure the entire process fit my dietary requirements. Even if I had researched it and had the facts written down, how could I really truly trust that the companies knew how small of a margin of error I had to go by?

All too familiar that feeling is. One I had hoped I would not have to deal with again. I’ve spent the last three years trying to teach myself how to eat within moderation in a healthier way without having to enter in every last crumb of food that I’d eat into the diet and nutrition program that I used to lose the 80 pounds. In it’s own way using the program is better, until I refuse to eat until all my food for the day has been calculated. On bad days I’d skip two meals and be so frustrated by dinner that it was almost a free-for-all as long as I didn’t exceed my calories. Yet another trigger for my OCD food restrictions lists.

Now my body is making it very clear that those lists demand to be revised. Heralding back the OCD food nazi, now carrying the Gluten-Free and Dairy Free banners.

I’m scared. I’m really, really scared. This is the very thing I’ve been trying to teach myself not to do the last few years and managed to lose 35 pounds without having to diet and just being sensible. The day before Thanksgiving the old food habits returned. I told myself that I was just checking to make sure I wasn’t using foods that Mom or Sis couldn’t have. And before I knew it the full blown panic had set in. And hard. I was racing around the kitchen checking every label of the seasoning mixes, condiments, random things in the fridge… and then decided to look up what foods were banned for those who do not eat gluten. Then I went into a frenzy. The only good thing that came out of that panic was finding out that there was malt extract in the cereal I had been eating for a week, and finally explained why I felt sick and my face was stuffy.

How I wish it was just a single day and then I could get back to my rational mind. But then I got sick again. Whispers from a devious little voice started in my mind.

“At least if you are feeling sick you don’t have to think about food.”

“You know this is a good thing. It wouldn’t really hurt anything if you just didn’t feel like eating for a day or two. People do that all the time when they have the flu.”

“You don’t really want to eat the poisonous food that will make you sick do you?”

“Just avoid the kitchen. You don’t really need to eat anything. You’re fat enough as it is.”

Then today this started in: “Don’t eat. You’re fine. Nobody will know if you don’t tell them. Besides, anything you eat will just make you curled up in a ball again. Sure a growling stomach is annoying but a lot less so than being nauseous. Be an adult. Nobody can force you to eat against your will. Not like any other adult never skipped a meal or two.”

If the thinking behind all of this wasn’t so frightening, it would be hilarious in a Looney Tunes gremlin sort of way. And the fact that I have been awake for about 18 hours with only eating two small GF biscuits, 1 TBS. peanut butter, some diet 7-Up (only thing that reduces the nausea,) ¾ can garbanzos, 6 crimini mushrooms, ¾-1 c. of cooked rice, ½ c. almond milk, and about ¼ c. raisins. Nobody in their right mind could tell me that’s sufficient for a day’s worth of food. But it felt like it was all I was able to ‘allow’ myself.

This cycle is starting again and I don’t know how to stop it. Admitting all of this, especially where my family will see it has been far from easy. Almost none of them have heard any of this from me before. But I don’t know of any other way to ask for help.

I’m drowning and I can’t keep my head above water.

~SK

Posted in Diary Entries

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

I thought by now that I’d be able to start posting a recipe here and there, but instead I’m sitting here crying. Out of frustration. Out of anger. Out of heartbreak.

The last five days have resulted in me being curled up in bed, feeling sick and queasy to the point where I could hardly talk without wanting to barf. In the beginning I thought I had caught my niece’s cold (little bugger still needs to learn to cover her mouth properly.) By the third day I started to suspect that my body had fended off her germs since I only had cold symptoms the first day, and I sounded like a frog when I woke up. I was no longer coughing, my throat wasn’t really sore, I didn’t feel bad outside the ‘norm’ for me.

And that’s when my worrying began. The third day in, I was in denial. I was still trying to convince myself that it was just a cold and only a cold. By the fourth day that nagging voice that kept telling me that these patterns and timing were way too familiar and consistent finally started to win out. Before Thanksgiving I had tried my best to double check that everything I was using was gluten-free. I thought I was safe. By the way I was feeling it was obvious something had snuck in, even with me hardly able to eat due to the nausea.

I had made a test batch of biscuits the day before with GF flours (white/brown rice, tapioca flour & psyllium husk powder) and was able to eat some leftover mashed potatoes from red potatoes. I’ve never seemed to have any reaction to rice and I’ve eaten it since I was young. The only problem I have with starch that I know of is having to do with the carbs and eating too much makes my joints ache. I’ve just recently started using the psyllium husk powder but never noticed it reacting badly with my body. I’ve eaten red potatoes for years since waxy potatoes have less starch and don’t bother my joints plus if my research is correct, they have a higher percentage of potassium for the calories than bananas do. I can eat potatoes all day long and be fine, but I’m in danger of frequent bathroom visits if I eat more than two bananas in a day. (I suspect it is because of the fat content they have.)

And yet my levels of nausea, severity of my ear infection, and ever so mild stuffy nose was progressing and regressing at the same frequency as my mashed potato consumption. With one exception, when my husband made me some vegan macaroni & cheese. It uses nutritional yeast. And it was also added to the mashed potatoes.

But I had checked everything. It was a safe food. Wasn’t it?

After doing a quick Google search for Celiac & Nutritional Yeast I found my answer: Red Star Nutritional Yeast is processed on the same equipment as wheat. I couldn’t help it. I cried. Not only is it what I call ‘Vegan cheese powder’ it’s also the source of B12 for vegetarians and vegans, a very vital nutrient. I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Luckily in the same page other commenters said that Bob’s Red Mill and Braggs also had nutritional yeast (NOT the same as brewer’s yeast or bread yeast, not even remotely the same.) So back to Google I went and looked up Braggs first since I was sure I had seen it at our grocery store. At the very bottom of the FAQ it stated that the nutritional yeast is made on dedicated equipment. So that gives me some hope. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that it tastes similar since it’s something that can really vary.

The real reason this information shocked me, with the physical evidence to back it up, was in a flash I saw the possible scope of what I might be dealing with. Essentially the fact that even cross-contamination is enough to obviously bother me. I really didn’t think I was that sensitive. I’ve been eating wheat my whole life. I learned how to properly make seitan and like it just like every vegetarian and vegan worth their salt in the kitchen. I learned to bake bread from Mom. I was the only person in the family that could make Grandma Ohmie’s chiffon cake. For years cake decorating was my hobby. I’d spend hours pouring through the Wilton yearbooks and was uber lucky to get the last of the Wilton encyclopedia locally after they went out of print. Two of my favorite cookbooks used to be a Pillsbury Breads Bake-Off cookbook and a reprint of a Betty Crocker Cooky Book. I even have Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World. It’s an awesome book if you can eat what is in it.

I feel like the Fates are sitting in a corner cackling at me, pointing gnarled fingers, and having the grandest time watching how I adapt to an ever restricting life. How much is finally going to be enough? Am I going to wind up in a pitch black room connected to some supplemental drip in my old age?

I’m already introverted and antisocial as it is due to multiple social phobias. My sun allergy effectively turned me into a recluse. And now one of the few universal topics I felt like I could talk to people about is getting more isolated. Meat? Yeah, I haven’t eaten chunks of animals since before my niece was born. Dairy? Sure if I want GI issues that would feel better if someone just sliced open my gut. Fatty foods? Nope. I find them disgusting and leave my mouth feeling like an oil slick. Gross. And another source of GI issues. Salty? Again, sorry but no. I battle enough with keeping my potassium in balance without defeating myself with excessive sodium. (Even so I’m far from perfect. We still eat canned beans especially when I’m feeling too sick to cook them.) Sugary foods? Oh. Right. Yeah, I almost never eat sugar since Hubby is diabetic and I don’t do well eating it anyway. I’m also currently trying to figure out how to make normal food low carb and meatless without it all just tasting like overcooked eggs. Eggs. Oh EGGS! Yes, I eat them. But to be perfectly honest they gross me out much of the time. I really have a love-hate relationship with eggs. Sometimes they remind me way too much of flesh, well, technically because they still are. Often can’t even stomach them. Did you know I ate a vegan diet for two years? No, I didn’t eat vegans you bastard. It is possible to be vegan and overweight. It’s about calorie consumption and battling eating disorders. I used to love oreos occasionally. Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy. I can’t eat them anymore because they have gluten. Discovered I can’t eat that either. What do I eat? I don’t know. I’m still trying to find out myself. I like tofu a lot! No, it isn’t the stuff between your toes. The more you laugh, the bigger of an asshole you sound like.

So much of the time it feels like this is the conversation that goes through my head. Unfortunately it’s based on many conversations I actually have had.

I was thinking this morning about the only time in my life that I can remember that my body felt ‘vibrant.’ I was part of the time I ate a vegan diet to the best of my ability, and then decided to try and go with eating as little wheat, grains, or rice as possible. This cut out the dairy, wheat, much of the fat I had been eating, I was drinking plenty of water and eating tons of veggies and some fruits. I’d go into more detail but I can’t really remember. But the overall feeing of complete wellness stuck in my mind along with having more energy than I had in a long time.

I only failed because I was not adequately prepared for how drastic of a change, in not only what foods I would eat, but how to even think about food, meal planning, or how to even survive going to the grocery store. It was at this time when I truly discovered what wheat/gluten had been doing to me. For the first time I could BREATHE. I never knew what it was like to breathe through my nose with my mouth closed without suffocating. I realized that I hadn’t had an ear infection in two weeks and was amazed that my ears were healed and not hurting. But I was building a house of cards that eventually collapsed.

Let me make this clear. I really truly believe it is possible to thrive long term on a vegan diet if it is well planned out, nutritionally balanced, and sustainable with the knowledge on how to keep supporting the structure. My problem was that I didn’t plan, I didn’t know what I was really needing to focus on, and I was not tracking my nutritional needs. Multiple times I have found out that even when I have the best intentions to eat properly and in a healthy way, the screwed up parts of my mind where my eating disorders are manage to invade and distort my perception. One of the biggest factors for me is I actually struggle a lot to get enough protein. Sometimes because I eat too much grains/rice and it doesn’t leave room for things like vegetables. I get paranoid of nuts. And fruits. And anything that I haven’t quadruple checked with the company to make really sure it is really actually vegan. Avocados? Can’t have those because they are too high fat. Eggplant? Not nutritious enough. Apples? Too many pesticides. Lettuce? What if I didn’t look over every leaf to make sure any possible bug part got washed off. Wash it again. And again. And again. Now it’s all broken up. What if there is something in the drinking water that could saturate into the broken cell walls and somehow make it no longer vegan?

I had an absolute meltdown. Literally. This is a glimpse of what it’s like when the OCD part of my eating disorders take over. It gets to the point where NOTHING is safe to eat.

And this is why having more restrictive eating has me so upset and scared. It’s not too much about the food, but my relationship with it. And it scares me having to dedicate more of my life to focus on food. From past experience, the more I focus on food the more obsessed I become with it. That only seems to lead me into a downward spiral that got me nearly to 400 pounds. I am beyond terrified to lose my stabilized weight at about 315 pounds. Far from healthy but every single day I’m terrified to start gaining weight and it wll never stop.

Emotionally I feel like I’m walking into a minefield. Nowhere is safe. I have the hardest time convincing myself of that when anything I’ve eaten this last week has left me feeling very sick because of the small traces of wheat I have been unintentionally consuming. It will take another 3-4 days to have the symptoms clear out of my system. And that’s AFTER I identified what the cause may be.

I hope to be in better spirits soon.

~SK

Posted in Diary Entries

Rewriting the Rules

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the USA. I spent the day with my family, having loads of fun, with the additional surprise of seeing my teenage nephew unexpectedly home after thinking he would still be out of the state for school. Our family usually has happy get togethers, but even today I keep thinking about it and smiling. Okay, more like grinning like a fool. For the way I’ve been feeling the last month or so, I was expecting to be stressed out and having to pretend I was happy.

For a moment, let me rewind over a decade ago. Mom was in India and it was the first time I would get to host Thanksgiving since I got married. A huge milestone. With an unexpected result. I had helped Mom with cooking Thanksgiving Dinner for many years growing up, being a part of every aspect of the process. I knew what to expect. The chaos began as I stood there looking at the thawed turkey and I could no longer ignore the mutilated reality sitting in front of me. My husband loves turkey. As a pet. (I love him, but he is an odd one.) My mind could not stop the stampede of very vivid comparison images from flashing through my mind. Too keep it simple, I was horrified and had to keep my stomach from ejecting my breakfast. At that moment, I knew I had no choice but to rewrite the rules I had been taught to live by.

It was scary. I felt helpless. I felt wholly ignorant. But I just couldn’t ignore the fact that I was living my life in a way that went against what was in my heart.

I still don’t know how I got through that Thanksgiving, still smiling, still laughing, as my mind was screaming at me. A crisis of conscience really felt like an understatement. But things had already started to change before that. I hadn’t entirely noticed, and the things I had seen shifting I was still in denial about.

Part of the conversation with my family last night reminded me of a few details that I had forgotten over the years. Pork was the first meat I had to give up. It was voluntarily but you can be sure it wasn’t willingly. You know how Ponyo screams for ham? Yeah, that used to be me in SO many ways. But the problem was how it affected me after it passed my stomach. Cramps that put most other cramps to shame as if I had eaten razorblades followed by suffocating gas (I sounded like a whoopee cushion), and what Mom always called ‘The Green Apple Quickstep.’ (And no, I don’t mean the band from Seattle. Ewww.) The mild stomach ache from my system struggling to break down the meat was hardly a footnote compared to these other symptoms. I just shake my head now when I think about when I was growing up, my body was nothing but a chaotic mess of pain and discomfort. And I had no idea why.

So by the time the ‘fateful’ Thanksgiving was nearing, I was still battling some of these similar problems but on a lesser degree. I had learned that my body can’t handle fatty meats. That explains part of the reaction written above. So that had mostly gotten under control and I could live my life in a lot less pain. Sometimes I wish the food saga ended there. With understanding what foods upset my intestines so much and how to avoid them, the stomach aches became a lot more pronounced simply because a larger pain wasn’t overshadowing that issue any longer. I would still eat lower fat beef, tuna fish, occasionally fishsticks, and poultry. The next item my body decided to boycott was the beef. After talking to Mom later on, she mentioned that even as a kid I would sometimes mention that it felt like ‘I had rocks in my stomach’ after eating hamburger. I’m thinkin that my body just doesn’t have enough stomach acid to digest meat well, making it feel like I might as well have eaten a handful of pea gravel for how it would feel afterwards. Often for 4-6 hours after we ate, along with the near continual low-grade stomach ache and general indigestion.

I just got tired of feeling ill in one way or another. I had already given up the ham, so was it really that hard to stop eating beef too? At least I could still have poultry! And tunafish sandwiches! Sure I’d miss bologna (my favorite lunch meat growing up) but I had already gotten to the point where it was phased out too simply because of the fat. Poultry at least didn’t give me the stomach aches like the pork and beef would. My life could maintain a happy medium without really having to change anything.

And yet I wasn’t really being honest with myself. I grew up in a farm and ranching community. The biggest thing my hometown is known for is the cows and the rodeo every year… and the big massive university in the middle of town. Central Washington University to be exact. Even if the children of the farmers I grew up with thought of me as one of the ‘University kids,’ I never did. I was born in the same town as them. I had just as much of Ellensburg in me as they did. And yet I was still treated as an outsider. I grew up thinking I’d be a farmer’s wife. All I wanted was to live out on a farm in the country with a flock of sheep like my grandparents. I still dream of having a postage stamp orchard sometimes too. I was a country girl and no one could tell me otherwise.

But somehow the Fates had something else in store for my life. I’m 38 and still wishing I knew clearly what that was. My mind still thinks about the world from the same view of the little country girl I used to be. Cows are what you eat. Milk is what you drink. Chickens are for laying eggs and eating. And then like some privileged citified person, my body was beginning to demand that the rules be rewritten. There was no plan ‘B’ since living my life in unimaginable pain was just not an option. How do you even live without eating meat? Seriously, I was really confused. But seeing that dead, headless, and gutted turkey sitting on the counter in front of my horrified sight, the proverbial door closed behind me. I couldn’t deny anymore that this is not what compassion looked like.

The next two months were hard. I was at constant war with myself. I felt like I had to force myself to eat things that I just wanted to throw up. It has been branded into my bones that food is not to be wasted. Mom did her best for us growing up, but being a single mom with four children and attending university, we had far from the posh life. You either ate what you were given or you went without. So somehow I was left with the majority of the remaining Thanksgiving turkey that year, and spent through December trying to convince myself to eat it. Frozen or not, every day I was trying to force myself to find some way so it wouldn’t get waisted. My husband was not a vegetarian but he surely wasn’t going to eat it, just like I never ate mutton to the best of my knowledge. I love sheep. They are just so cute, adorable, and fluffy! They had been my favorite animal longer than my memories go back. My first stuffed animal when I was a few days old was a lamb.

Come January I had reached my limit. I’ve had some long-standing eating disorders and sometimes it makes a really bad cocktail when mixed with my OCD. I had reached the point where it felt like only 5 foods were ‘safe’ to eat, despite knowing that it was far from being nutritionally balanced. On New Year’s Day or Jan. 2nd is when I finally decided to become a vegetarian, because that HAD to be healthier than what my mind was trying to do otherwise. My mother-in-law became a vegetarian long before my husband was born, so I had at least someone I could possibly ask for help.

Sometime later I remembered that when I was 12-13 I had blurted out to my family, “What if I decided I didn’t want to eat meat?” Mom and my three older siblings looked at me as if I had sprouted another head. I think that was around the first point in my life when it started to dawn on me that it could be the food that was making my body be all out of whack.

If that was the only drastic dietary change I had to make, I seriously doubt I’d be writing all of this. In high school I developed an allergy to fresh pineapple, and had my first brush with hives. For a few years I could still eat canned pineapple, but even that worsened my allergy. The last time I consumed pineapple it was hidden in orange juice that Mom served with my birthday dinner one year. She had checked the label carefully and I had at least once when she showed it to me. It looked fine. The week after, my entire body except my left leg from my knee to my foot was covered in hives. My hives literally had hives. There was one so large on my arm that it was about the size of a standard potato chip with another hive on top of it the size of a quarter. Misery does not even describe it. If it was just orange juice, how could it have triggered my pineapple allergy? We did some research and discovered that pineapple and orange juice are often processed on the same equipment. Many orange drinks have added pineapple to ‘enhance’ the taste.

By concerned family and friends, they reassured me that I’d grow out of it despite being in my 20s at that point. On the contrary, I seem to be growing INTO my various allergies. My grandfather had multiple food allergies and even became allergic to my grandmother’s hair. My allergies that trigger hives, it seems to be the more I’m exposed to the allergen, the worse the allergic reaction is. The next surprise allergy turned out to be honey. Honey? Really?? My father-in-law used to be thoroughly amused by the fact that honey gives me hives. It’s difficult for me to find the humor in that when I know all too well the agony of having to suffer through hives. In the US at least there has been a huge surge of praise of honey being a ‘healthy’ sugar, and it now pops up in an amazing array of products as it is often used to replace high fructose corn syrup. For me that means seeing a major allergen to me pop up in some of the freakiest places. Foods that I could eat otherwise except for that singular ingredient. That happens with pineapple too but on a less frequent rate.

Sure allergies can be annoying at this level, but nothing to change your life over, right? Just avoid the triggers and you’ll be okay. It’s not that bad. It’s not that inconvenient. Just get on with your life. Be happy. Do things you enjoy. Garden. Grow stuff. I may not be able to have farm animals in the city I live now, but I can still grow and eat my own food. That’s what vegetarians do. Well, maybe not all of them but it’s an ideal.

Ideal. A nice name for a stereotype. ALL vegetarians should grow their own food, just like all meat eaters are also hunters. Stereotypes fit everyone. (That’s sarchasm in case you didn’t catch it.) What I wouldn’t give to be the carefree little girl running around barefoot out in the grass, giggling because my heart was so full to be outdoors that I couldn’t contain it. If the Fates are somehow trying to teach me a lesson, I’m surely not understanding what it is. I miss gardening. It breaks my heart every time I stop and think about that I can’t do it anymore. Because of allergies. I can’t spend a warm afternoon on the beach anymore. Or even dream about riding horses, wandering around my mother-in-law’s farm. Picnics? Thing of the past. Riding bikes around town? Nope, not anymore. Laying out in the yard reading on a lazy summer afternoon? Sorry, nope. Swimming in the river? I can’t even spend any length of time beside a body of water let alone in it. So what do all of these things have in common? Sunlight.

Much to my horror and denial for a few years, I am indeed allergic to sunlight. It also gives me hives. And in the 5+ years I’ve been dealing with it, my theory that my adult onset allergies simply worsen with exposure have been further been proven to me with this allergy. A few Springs ago I went out in our yard for less than five minutes when I was looking for one of our indoor cats who had snuck out. Within half an hour hives were popping up on my arms. About the same time the following year I couldn’t figure out why my neck was getting itchy until I realised I was sitting in a sunny window. We are slowly having to switch the lights over inside our house to LED bulbs. All the other light bulbs we have used slowly start to cause a reaction after a few days if I spend too much time under my worklights. I have to pay attention to what time of day it is and avoid the room inside that the sunlight is streaming through. This last spring I finally caved in and covered the two large livingroom windows in dark canvas after my husband was also diagnosed with a sun allergy. I simply do not understand how this happens.

I thought that would be the last life changing allergy or food issue I’d have to deal with. Being vegetarian was enough, wasn’t it? I think the Fates laughed. You know, because my life is just so carefree. What else do I have to do with my time?

Then sometime in late September it began. Slowly at first, but by mid October there was emerging a consistent pattern that I was trying my best to either ignore or reduce the foods that was causing it. I’ve had constant ear infections my whole life. To the point where it affected my hearing comprehension as a child, and now as an adult if someone doesn’t enunciate enough it just sounds like loud mumbling no matter the volume. I’ve tried my best to deal with the infections and resolve them as quickly as I can, but they would always return. If I was lucky I’d have a two week break of my ears not hurting. But something in September changed. By early November I was in a panic. I was so tired with feeling constantly sick but I didn’t know if I could change. For a reason I can’t quite figure out, the ear infections were additionally coming with a high level of nausea, bad enough to make it so I couldn’t eat for about two days. After that happening about 3 times in a two week period, change was no longer an option. I’ve dealt with severe lower back pain since my early teens and generally don’t think of it too much anymore because I’ve learned to tolerate the pain. But a queasy stomach? It is the worst feeling to me. I literally can’t do anything but curl up in a ball in bed.

So what was causing all of this? Wheat and dairy. Long ago I discovered that both of them caused my sinuses and nose to react, living almost my whole life with minimal breathing capacity though my nose. I hated running in P.E. with the whole ‘breathe through your mouth and exhale through your nose’ thing because when I tried I’d get really light headed because I couldn’t get the air through my nose fast enough. I’d end up feeling like I was gasping and holding my breath half the time when I was trying to run as fast as I am able. Being overweight just made things worse. I had cut back on most dairy since the higher fat products affect me the same way as meat did. Mom thought that maybe it was the lactose that my system couldn’t handle, but the last time I ate dairy it was lactose free, and it gave me worse gas than a week of eating beans for dinner could.

In my family we have always joked that we are addicted to bread. Mom still is amused over the story of my brother when he was a toddler, sitting in his high chair making a ruckus until he got a slice of homemade bread he could smell cooking. By removing wheat and dairy from my diet, I was having to eliminate everything that made up the culture of food I grew up with, my basis of understanding how to even eat. For the majority of vegetarians and vegans, wheat based products is the major ingredient used as a meat replacement. Seitan? Pure wheat. Commercially made veggie patties, lunch meat, hot dogs, sausage… all have wheat and sometimes dairy in them.

I wanted to cry. I had really avoided trying to remove those two foods that I’ve known for a long time that they bother me, but I was able to ignore it since it didn’t really affect my everyday life. But now, against my will, the rules are being rewritten once more.

Mom and one of my sisters have been gluten-free for some time now. Sis is also dairy-free, most of the time except holidays it seems. This Thanksgiving Mom was really happy to have our first GF holiday, and it made me really happy that it felt like the first time in the 11+ years I’ve been vegetarian that I didn’t have to sit there and question everything I was eating, or only eat the things I brought.

So that is really the point of this blog. Part diary, part recipe experiments, maybe part product review, as I scramble to relearn what I can even eat. I do not claim to be a guru of any sort, just an individual stumbling the minefield that is the grocery store and my kitchen. I’m a decent enough cook but my food photography is less than stellar. I’m trying to do better at that but to be perfectly honest, cooking is not my favorite activity. I’m having to learn again to make it my hobby since that’s the only way I know how to deal with this.

I hope this might be helpful for others that have similarly restrictive dietary needs, but I needed a place to vent and post the recipes I’m working on to easily share with Mom & Sis. I hope to find the place where I can be healthy and not struggling to discover what to eat that won’t make me sick. I really don’t like being this picky about food. It’s exhausting especially for someone who has had severe and damaging eating disorders hidden within what everyone assumed was just some stupid and lazy fat girl.

~SK