The more I know, the more I realize I don't know. Is that true for just about every topic imaginable? I don't know--probably!
I have never in my life had problems with food allergies, at least that were obvious. I always assumed an allergic reaction meant rashes and trouble breathing soon after eating a certain food and being really sure that you shouldn't eat that food if you don't want to risk that kind of reaction. But over the past few years of my life I've been pondering food sensitivities and intolerances and realizing reactions can be subtle but no less disruptive. It's not always obvious when a food sensitivity is present. By paying attention to my eating patterns, I've slowly started to pin down intolerances linked to general bloating, skin problems and digestive difficulties.
Two years ago, I had a baby who seemed to react to dairy proteins in my breastmilk. I finally gave up dairy in all its obvious forms and we both started feeling much better in many ways. My cravings for dairy products disappeared, I lost a few pounds, my skin cleared a little, I stopped feeling like there was barbed wire in my guts, and I had more energy.
Here's the thing, though: after more than a year of avoiding most dairy, I tested the waters again. No reactions! I can now have cheese and occasional ice cream without suffering the consequences. I think. It's still mysterious and I think I still have a limit, but the situation has certainly improved.
Now I've gone through another pregnancy and am nursing again. Around the moment my baby turned twelve weeks old, I felt what I call The Big Shift. Postpartum weight loss halted and started reversing. Suddenly changing hormones made me feel strange sensations. After a few days or weeks, I seemed to settle down hormonally again: I felt not like a big, soft brand new mother but more like regular me, slightly altered. The most mysterious thing I noticed was a frequently itchy face. Also, my old common digestive disruptions returned. Back in my no-dairy days, I suspected I would experience further relief if I also gave up wheat/gluten. But I could not fathom giving up my precious bread and pasta, so I never did.
But lots of tiny signs added up to one big feeling that I needed to make a major change. I read the book Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis and finally, with great difficulty, announced to Erich that I was going off wheat, and to my surprise and delight he agreed unreservedly to do the same. We both lost significant weight right away and knew we would stay with this diet for a while if not forever.
It has now been about a month and we are very pleased. Each time we cheat and have some wheat we both suffer heartburn and mental fog. I think Erich has benefitted even more than I have from a wheat-free diet.
I am still on my food journey. Even without wheat and while avoiding most dairy, my food intolerance signs persist. Furthermore, I have had two events that point very clearly to food allergies, either entirely new or newly worsened from a nearly imperceptible level. One of these occurred after eating pistachios, the other after eating peanuts. I suffered major itchiness and rashes, constricted breathing and significant digestive upset. I'm pretty sure these nuts are problematic for me, but it's proving difficult to link specific symptoms to individual foods eaten. Once a vision of going into anaphylaxis while home alone with my tiny children crept into my imagination, I decided it was time to bring in the health professionals. My nurse practitioner ordered blood work for me, including the food allergy panel. I know it's only a starting point and may not identify food intolerances, but I know I'm allergic to something, and I'd love an easy method to figure out what. If the results aren't conclusive enough for my peace of mind, I'm looking at a full elimination diet to figure out what all is bothering me. That does not sound fun, but I do believe it would be worth it. How is food any good if it actually does harm to my body?
I just don't know.