Monday, April 13, 2009
Food Allergies and Me: an asthma odessy (part 1: dairy)
The picture has nothing to do with food allergies, but aren't we cute?
My journey with food allergies began in college. I had struggled with asthma on and off since high school but couldn't put my finger on the cause. It was diagnosed as exercise-induced asthma, but I still had fits of wheezing at other inconvenient times-- like during choir practice. It seemed like some times my throat would close up and I would wheeze, and though I had an inhaler it didn't seem to help all that much.
When I tell people I don’t eat dairy at all, sometimes they think I must not have liked it that much, because they couldn’t possibly give up dairy. So let me just tell you that dairy and I had a long, tumultuous relationship and it took me over three years to finally break it off.
I grew up on cheese and crackers as a favorite snack. My brother and I never could get enough milk—we chugged it like baby cows—often and in large quantity. Marc and I had Friday night pizza dates for years. Mexican food is one of my favorites, and was I willing to give up the delicious ooze of cheese on their bean burrito? Not me! And I won't even go into the love affair with ice cream passed down to me by my dear father-- ice cream was a near nightly affair at our house for awhile-- even the cat loved it and waited like a furry little vulture for her chance to lick our bowls.
In college I tried a number of different diets including one that suggested eliminating dairy. I felt amazing for several weeks. When I inevitably went off the diet (as is what happens when people go on "diets") I noticed an immediate resurgence of my asthma symptoms. However my family was getting very heavily into raw milk at the time and I firmly believed (and still do) that it was a very healthy food and I really enjoyed it so I continued on dairy for awhile.
It wasn't until I read Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman that I completely gave up dairy. Dr. Fuhrman's book is a very strict mostly vegan, plant-based plan that I followed for about 3 years. It is a very healthy diet for those whose bodies do well with veganism-- unfortunately I was not one of those people and became incredibly anemic. The restrictiveness of the diet (which is not only vegan but also very low grain, only allows whole nuts and seeds, no oils and a few other tough choices) made it nearly impossible for me to have a social life. Right around the time I started grad school in nutrition I started moving away from the Eat to Live plan. But a number of dietary indiscretions on my part told me that dairy = asthma attacks. Mucus builds in my throat and my lungs constrict. Later I get overwhelming fatigue that leaves me feeling like I’m wearing a lead suit, and it last for days. An experiment this Fall with raw goat milk told me that my symptoms have progressed to milk burning my esophagus all the way down as if I had swallowed something covered in little needles and extreme stomach discomfort. Thus, dairy and I had to end our relationship. After the last incident which left me feeling like I swallowed a sword, dairy no longer held much appeal, though I do miss our pizza night dates now and then, it is more for the convenience than the cheese.
Part two will follow with my journey through gluten-intolerance.