Last Wednesday, I found myself very lost. Wandering aimlessly through row after row after row in the brightly lit space, I was unable to communicate or comprehend the overwhelming confusion that clouded my brain. Searching up and down the towering stacks, I would reach out to touch something only to recoil in the unfamiliarity of it. At one point, a kind soul approached me to ask if I needed help, which I must have – quite obviously – looked as if I did. I jumped and swung around, stuttering and feeling inept in my apology. “I’m sorry, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.” I could see the startled strangeness in his eyes as he wracked his brain for what must be going on with this unsettled girl. Upon my blank-expressioned explanation and gesturing at the paper in my hand, however, his eyes softened and he said, “Let me help you.” But after the brief interaction, he abandoned me, leaving me again alone and adrift in the vast emptiness of the… whole foods market.
I had just learned I am dairy and wheat intolerant. And apparently, I had lost my ability to navigate every day activities and common social situations along with a lifetime of cheese and carbs. And milk. And ice cream. And spontaneity. And indulgence. And BEER.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had issues with my stomach. Growing up, I would find myself laid out on the couch every night at 7 p.m. like clockwork. Since then, not a day has gone by without some incidence of a stomachache in varying magnitudes. Toward the end of college, all through grad school, and the year I took off between, I started feeling progressively worse, adding symptom after symptom to the long list of problems I was seeing in my health and wellness. At least once a week, I would have such an ache in my stomach that I could barely stand up straight, and just as in my elementary years, I would find myself laid out on the couch, the bed, the stairs, any flat surface in close proximity on which I could curl up in a ball and pout. Beyond that, I was always tired. And freezing cold. I had sinus infections and facial tension and a clenched jaw more than frequently. I would unexpectedly get waves of nausea. (No, I’m NOT pregnant!) Calf, shin, ankle and foot cramps would wake me up most nights or cause me to bolt off the couch to “walk it off” during movies. And beyond a variety of persistent skin concerns, my once beautiful, complement-inspiring hair has become dry and brittle with the ends constantly split and breaking off easily between my fingers.
Recently, a few of my loved ones informed me that not everyone lives this way.
So begins the journey to figuring out what the heck is going on with my renegade body. With fantastic benefits from my new job, this epiphany could not have come at a more opportune and grateful time. At first, thinking it was purely stress, I practiced yoga, relaxation, and meditation regularly and found a great therapist close to home. She happened to rent her space from a sort-of natural healing and integrative medicine community consisting of a birthing center, a registered dietician, a chiropractor, and more. Also among their ranks was an acupuncturist/integrative health specialist, who I decided to give a try. She was also insanely fantastic, with great suggestions on adding and subtracting food from my daily diet along with sticking needles all over the place. (More on this later!) And while my anxiety started to subside and my jaw unclenched noticeably, I was still feeling many of my other symptoms. That’s when my mom informed me that both she and my maternal grandmother have hypothyroidism, which can be inherited genetically and the symptoms of which matched up perfectly with many of those of which I was complaining. Hours and hours of calling offices around the county finally turned fruitful with an appointment with a physician’s assistant, who drew up the paperwork for a blood test. In his office again a week later for the test interpretation, nothing abnormal turned up except for a slightly lower that ideal white blood cell count. He assured me there was nothing to worry about. Thankful for the news but frustrated in a continued lack of a solution, I decided to call the husband and wife team of Longevity Healthcare with offices in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Newport Beach to see what they could offer. Their operation sounded like just what I needed, with his M.D. degree and her PhD in Holistic Nutrition. I waited a month to see them, but it was well-worth the wait. Upon arrival, the first 15 minutes were spent with Dr. Peter Muran, who took one look at my concerns and my blood test results and informed me I may indeed have a thyroid problem and more tests needed to be completed. The next hour and a half were spent in an appointment with Sandy, which soon became a whirlwind of information that left me light-headed and dizzy. Finally, two hours later, I emerged from their office – stacks of reading materials, extensive supplement lists, and protein powder samples in hand.
There it was, ladies and gentlemen. Wheat and dairy were the culprits all along. But let’s not stop there. I need more protein and magnesium, am currently incapable of making my own B-vitamins, and have a candida overgrowth in my stomach. I had been looking for a zebra when the herd of horses was the problem. No wonder I felt like shit.
Fast forward one 20-minute in driver’s seat conversation – during which I fell even more in love with Bill with his outpouring of husbandly support – and you will again find me where our story began roaming the aisles of New Frontiers, our massive local whole foods marketplace. I have been there a hundred times in the past for their salad bar and smoothies, but this time was different. With a wealth of products I’ve never seen before, labels I don’t yet understand, and astronomical prices, I became easily overwhelmed at the life overhaul which I am about to implement.
Needless to say, the last week has had its ups and downs. After the $94 New Frontiers escapade, I floated over to Target to find great gluten-and dairy-free options for MUCH cheaper. One disheartened metaphoric “d’oh” later, I was happy to find that something I love – but had not purchased at a much higher price point – was not only cheaper but also on sale at Target, and I loaded up on enough Amy’s frozen entrees and EVOL burritos to get me through more than a week of work. Now I know that this is not necessarily the best way to go, what with sodium counts being under intense scrutiny lately, but I knew that what’s up ahead is more than just a “Can Eat/Can’t Eat” challenge. It is a lifestyle change. Not only do I need to relearn what is available to me and read nearly every nutrition label and ingredient list along the way, but I also need to find more time to plan for meals, prep food, and actually cook. We all know how difficult that can be with full-time jobs, gym memberships, households to upkeep, and most importantly, relationships to maintain. Beyond that, my milk guzzling, PB&J scarfing husband and I are going to have to keep many of our foods separate. I don’t want him to have to change his eating habits just for me, but now I also need to learn how to make things we both can enjoy. All of this adds together up to an overwhelming mess of intimidation, of which I am simultaneously feeling excited for the challenge and terrified of the effort involved.
The following days have been interesting, and I’m learning new coping strategies as I go. Thursday was awesome. I ate lunch with my vegetarian friend Courtney at a local vegan restaurant, Bliss Cafe, which made for easy choices on my new diet. With the kitchen at home not adequately stocked with supplies, I gave myself a break and ordered two meals, which served as dinner that night and two more meals over the weekend. Friday, however, was a challenge. Still not feeling awesome from the two-week flu incident preceding the ordeal, I decided to follow my sleep-in pre-work schedule upon waking. Too bad I ended up late for work because I couldn’t figure out what the hell to eat for breakfast. Next up, mid-morning a plate of my favorite favorite gluten-free cookies from campus catering showed up in the front office at work, and it took me two bites to realize that the chocolate chips in their peanut-buttery goodness most likely had some form of milk product in them. My stomach soon agreed, and I threw a perfectly beautiful cookie straight into the trash. Then, as part of an initiative to bring our staff together socially, we had our first monthly lunch planned. At a Mexican restaurant. Full of cheese and flour and who knows what else. Thank goodness I brought my vegan leftovers, because I just sat there and sipped water while all my coworkers splurged on gorgeous enchiladas. By the time I got back to my leftovers, the lunch hour was over and my attention was pulled every which way, leaving no continuous period for much needed sustenance. The tipping point was that afternoon when I realized that I can’t have my dad’s waffles, my stepmom’s french toast, my mom’s quiche, or my family’s Christmas cookies anymore. (People seem to jump at the chance to point out that there are many ways to make these with all the options out on the market today, but they completely miss the point that it’s the recipes from my childhood that make these things so special to me and changing the ingredients completely nullifies that concept.) My anxiety was riding high by the time I got in the car to go home at the end of my tumultuous Friday, and then I realized that Bill and I had planned a rare Friday date night at Que Pasa… with more Mexican food. I collapsed in a sobbing pile in his arms upon arriving home. Once I quit crying, I realized I had given myself a stomachache, but this time from anxiety.
The weekend went more smoothly once I had time to really sit and think through everything. My beautiful friend Danae sent me home from our yard sale with her husband’s homemade quinoa salad (which by the way, is AMAZING… They’re the owners of Old San Luis BBQ Co. in Downtown SLO, and you MUST GO). I found Trader Joe’s Gluten Free and Vegan Lists online, which after the complicating cross-checking that someone with both allergies needs to do, made my shopping trip much more enjoyable. And lastly, this girl made me feel much less alone. Even though my big plans this weekend were a Wine-and-Cheese Party turned Just-A-Wine Party for me, followed by a dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town where I starved through the 90-minute long bread and butter and caeser salad extravaganza my friends enjoyed before something I could eat finally landed in front of my face, I’m slowly getting more and more confident in this new chapter.
The refrigerator has been divided.
I’ve begun domination of New Frontiers, Vons, Trader Joe’s and the Target food section.
I’m getting the hang of this “bring your smoothie in a mason jar” thing.
New cookbooks have been added to the Amazon Wishlist. Pinterest has been raided. All is slowly becoming right in the world, and I’m already seeing a few results.
What it all comes down to is that this will be one hell of a journey, but I know I’ll come out healthier, happier, and stomach-ache free on the other side. I have found I have a lot of support, and it’s not hard to remember that there are worse problems to have. Bill and I have even set a date in the future to celebrate new behaviors becoming habits, and I’m planning to “graduate” to my new lifestyle at that time. Until then, I ask that my family and friends please ask questions and be patient with me, because I’m still learning too (and currently have very little idea of what I’m doing). So here’s to a new crop of treats and luxuries! Because as Rae Smith said…