For as long as I can remember I’ve had a stomach that hated me. I’ve also been a vegetarian since I was about 8, with a few phases of veganism thrown in. About 5 or 6 years ago I finally settled as a happy and guilt-free pescatarian but the stomach troubles remained.
It wasn’t until I started struggling with what seemed to be a kind of chronic fatigue, dizziness and attacks of anxiety and nausea that I decided something was up and a friend of mine suggested something called the yeast-free diet. So began my long adventure with elimination diets and food sensitivity investigations. It’s been a tedious and frustrating journey, as those of you who have ever has any unidentifiable food sensitivities will surely know. It seems that with every new elimination and every new stomach ache comes a new potential suspect, and off you go, around in circles for another few weeks trying to identify it while your social life goes out the window as you sit inside examining ingredients and furiously scribbling symptoms.
My first elimination experiment was that it cut out fruit. I thought this was silly. It was also the first thing to be reintroduced, I thought nothing of it until a delicious apple sent me into the worst stomach pains of my life. Enter my mother, “oooh yes, I’ve never been able to eat apples, neither can your grandma”. Thanks for your input there Mum, useful. And timely. Anyhow, the other thing that got me regularly was onions, bread and soy milk.
Now wheat and soy, fairly standard, but the rest? It didn’t take too much internet research to turn up a culprit: FRUCTOSE. It would seem that far from being odd, frutose malabsorption (right up there on the public enemy list: apples) is actually pretty common.
But it wasn’t over, armed with my new knowledge I struck out into the realms of experimental cookery in an attempt to make my increasingly restricted mealtimes more interesting.I tell you what, its amazing what a shiny new raw foodie convert can do with an avocado, cauliflower and some soaked cashews…..until they shit their pants. Yep, I shit you not (pun totally intended), my most awesome breakthrough to date was actually just another challenge. Off I go back to my trusty friend Google.
And STILL, I am not a weirdo…along comes FODMAPS, a rather nifty IBS solution based on avoiding a whole bunch of different sugars that half the world can’t actually digest. Named and shamed: onion, avocado, cauliflower and cashews.
SO, there’s still a fair few things I’m unsure of, and I love avocado too much for me to give it up forever but After 2 years of fun I’ve found a strategy that works for both my stomach and my social life. You see, my biggest problem with food sensitivities- aside from the stomach aches, fatigue, headaches and suspicious bowel movements of course- is that it can turn you into a bit of a social outcast. You have the option of A) Go out for pizza and beer and a laugh, appall and disgust everyone you know with your increasingly foul emissions and then have to turn in early because you didn’t bring your spare underwear…OR B) Become THAT person, the one who says ‘Oh I don’t eat gluten…oh no, no I don’t eat that either…oh, or that, in fact I’ll just have something when I get home’. I HATE that person. As summed up by entertaining old lady in front of me in the coffee shop, discussing with her friend the gluten-free sandwich of the day, “ah yes, because these days, everyone thinks they’re celiac”. It feels like such a pretentious fad that I without fail, feel embarrassed to admit to not eating wheat…let alone the other stuff.
At first, it was a nightmare, and I caved at least once a day and simply put up with the consequences. Slowly and steadily however, it’s become second nature and, as my 8 year old self once went totally off meat, I have grown used to not eating each and every one of these things. The most important thing for me is that I don’t dick around with ‘substitutes’. To be honest, it’s mostly due to the cost of ‘free from’ products, but also because- with a list of sensitivities as long as mine- it’s likely that any weird gluten-free soy-free concoction will be rammed full of other stuff to turn my stomach. Instead, I just stick to good old real food.
I eat a lot of veg, a lot of fish and A LOT of rice cakes. I’m fortunate that I’m able to handle small amounts of dairy too- without it this whole thing would have been 10 million times harder that’s for sure- so I can treat myself with or a glass of whole milk and a square of dark chocolate at the end of the day.
I also know when to call it quits. Other people with sensitivities might frown upon this but, for the most part I get away without actually having to admit to anyone quite how particular I am because I’ll allow myself small amounts of ‘red flag’ foods; if a friend is cooking me dinner for example, or if its a birthday/wedding/etc. At the end of the day it won’t kill me, it’s just a bit of a stomach ache. That I can handle. It’s the everyday lapses that lead to me feeling fatigued and nauseous that I CAN’T deal with. And so to my ‘breakthrough’: lts not the occasional treats that are the problem but the day-to-day regular diet that we consume that really affect our health. Positively focussing on making the bulk of my diet nutritious and friendly, rather than homing in and becoming obsessive about eradicating every occasional morsel of cake, has finally allowed me to get a handle on my health.