This year has been a real wake-up call for my family. My dad had a triple bypass in September, and his brother had a quadruple bypass in October. One of my sisters had a spot of melanoma removed. My other sister had back surgery, and my mom is about to have knee surgery. As everyone around me is on the mend, it’s become quite clear to me that I need to do more to take care of myself.
To me, that meant more than just go on a diet and cut calories like I did in high school. I had been reading a few books about food and health, and felt generally confused. Was I supposed to go heavy on healthy fats and protein and cut carbs? Or go for a starchy vegan diet? Not to mention that The New York Times recently broke a story revealing how the sugar industry paid major nutrition influencers to blame fat, not sugar, for heart disease. When it came to figuring out a diet to help prevent heart disease, I was incredibly confused.
That’s how I ended up at a consultation with Carrie of Forever Nutritious. Her approach appealed to me because it was about using food as medicine to treat the whole person, not just help people lose weight (although I did want to continue losing weight). She explained that we’re increasingly finding inflammation to be the culprit behind just about everything, from heart disease to weight gain to cancer. The key to health is creating a plan that reduces inflammation as much as possible. I have been super curious about trying an anti-inflammatory diet, so I was sold. I got started on her 6-month program to cut down on inflammation in a personalized, expert-driven process.
This started with taking a blood test to find out which foods were causing my body inflammation, indicated by the release of white blood cells or histamines. I kind of expected my results to be ZERO foods, or possibly mangoes, as my sister is allergic to them. As far as I knew, I didn’t have any food allergies, or really any digestive problems at all. I used to have heart burn quite a bit, but I swear that a month of eating Cracklin Oat Bran for breakfast completely eliminated it. (This actually makes some sense, as the fiber acts as a prebiotic that can feed healthy gut bacteria.)
I was incredibly surprised when I sat down for my results and was given a card listing all of my reactive foods. Here it is.
Red is a food that I was reactive to. Yellow ones I was moderately reactive to. I would imagine Carrie’s more severe patients have a lot more than one red food, so I guess I’m lucky there.
There are a lot of surprises here. Garlic, I had no idea I had any kind of problem with. And it’s in EVERYTHING. Caffeine didn’t surprise me, and neither did mango. I also can’t say I was surprised about cow’s milk, as my sister is lactose intolerant and I can’t handle ice cream that well, although I love it.
I was happy to see eggs on there, as I hate eggs, so now I literally had a “get out of eating eggs” card. Tomato didn’t surprise me necessarily, as they have seemed gross to me lately and maybe this was why.
Then we get into the ones I was really sad about. Ginger I put in everything. I had previously been going crazy with sweet potatoes. Cucumbers, carrots and cauliflowers are some of my favorite staples.
As a whole, these ingredients explained a couple things. For one, it explained why my favorite protein powder gave me a headache the first time I tried it, as a couple of its main ingredients are green peas and vanilla. It also explains why pastries make me feel lousy, as they are full of eggs, vanilla, cane sugar and often cow’s milk.
My next step was to follow a 5-phase elimination and reintroduction plan tailored to my unique sensitivities. The whole idea isn’t that I’m allergic or intolerant to these foods. It’s just that they are causing a certain amount of inflammation in my body.
Apparently, becoming reactive to foods can happen just from eating too much of them on a daily basis. By removing them, and feeding myself with foods that don’t cause inflammation for a couple weeks, I could give my immune system time to calm down and repair itself. Then, when I add the foods back in, it’ll be less likely to lash out at them.
Carrie also suggested I completely give up gluten and dairy, as they tend to cause a lot of inflammation for everyone, and she suspected that dairy was the cause of my daily allergies and frequent sinus headaches (it makes mucus thicker, gross).
My 5-week diet plan was a bit scary to comprehend. I had no idea that working with a dietitian would lead me to be on my own personal Whole 30 situation. I didn’t know what I would say to family, friends or colleagues about why I couldn’t have, say pizza, which is basically nothing but gluten, dairy, garlic and tomatoes.
It would be quite a process, but I was excited to see if it made me feel any better. I’m now on phase 4 and I’ve learned a lot. I’ll share more in my next post!