Depending on your source, the number of Americans with some type of food allergy ranges from 3 million1 to 15 million2. The FDA’s estimates are 2 percent of adults and 4-8 percent of children. Regardless of the real number, I am one of them. Here’s how I found out:
It was early 2009. Despite ongoing efforts to exercise and diet (or at least eat in moderation), I couldn’t lose weight. I was running 3.25 miles a day, and the scale was still perma-stuck in the mid-180s (as it had been for years—my peak was 192 pounds.) In addition to being overweight, I was bloated, exhausted, and my digestive tract was…, well…, not digesting so well. The more whole grains and fibers I added to my diet (i.e. the “healthier” I tried to eat), the worse I felt.
Doctors I saw all told me I’d feel better if I just lost weight.
Aaaahhh! That’s the problem! I can’t lose weight! Something’s wrong with me!
Not receiving any direction from the medical community, fed up with the crappy insurance company, and thoroughly confused by all of the conflicting diet advice out there, I cracked. I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired that I decided, “Screw the health industry. They’re not helping me; I’ve got to help me.”
I stopped working out, stopped trying to “eat right,” and threw everything I’d ever heard or read about food, diet, and exercise out the window. I focused on one thing: listening to my body.
The first major clue came with cheese. When I listened to my body, I realized my mouth burned when I ate cheese. That was my body telling me, “Don’t eat that!” I cut out dairy.
Two weeks later, I figured out that when I ate wheat it made my stomach hurt—the more whole-grain, the worse. Another clue. I cut out gluten.
(Does this ring-true to anyone else out there…?)
It was difficult and frustrating at first, having to figure out new menus for myself, but I started feeling better so quickly that I wanted to continue. My mouth healed. My digestive system started getting back to normal. I focused on simple, one-ingredient foods (“spinach,” “ham,” “almonds”) so I could maximize control over what I was ingesting. I started getting my energy back. And I lost thirty pounds in four months, despite not working out.
I’ve continued to eat this way and to listen to my body for over three and a half years. I did go back to exercising, though gradually, listening to my body. And while I’d still like to lose ten more pounds, the scale now reads 130.
Going gluten/dairy-free eliminates ninety percent of junk food, but I don’t recommend adopting a radical diet like this just to lose weight. Gluten and dairy are important things to have in your system, if you can. (Besides, chances are you’ll be setting yourself up for failure if you cut out entire, major food groups for no reason.) For me, though, the reminder of how much it used to hurt when I ate gluten or dairy is a huge incentive to keep going. I also don’t have anything against doctors (my dad is one), and I still see them for other things.
Listening to my body is an ongoing process. There are a few other foods I’ve been interested to discover that my body doesn’t like. Some of these are broccoli, apples, and cashews. Surprising, I know.
But who am I to argue with my body?