Food Anxiety

It’s a gorgeous morning, an absolutely perfect summer day. The air is dry, sunny, and a wonderfully comfortable temperature. It is the best treat after the long stretch of rather unbearable heat and humidity. We can finally fathom moving around more and picking our home and projects back up again. I’m also just looking forward to being less sticky and sweaty and running the excessively loud air conditioner less. While those aspects will be great and likely spare me from a sensory overload headache, the best part of today will decisively be spending time with Ben. I was uncharacteristically lonely this week, a problem that used to plague me but that I’ve largely overcome (until this week!); therefore, I’m thrilled to have these two days together with relatively few obligations that would drain our energy or cut into our quality time together.

This was a big week for me. I made some steps in overcoming a paralyzingly fear: I tried a dairy food after six years without any due to reactivity. I don’t have a dairy allergy per se, but like many people, I’ve never tolerated it well. When I had food allergy testing back in 2012, most dairy foods registered as highly reactive or that I was very intolerant of them. I immediately cut all dairy out at that point and although I desperately missed it (because, as a vegetarian, it had always been a major constituent of my diet), I felt much better days after removing it. My digestion slowed enough that I was only going to the bathroom a handful of times per day instead of nearly two dozen. That was a big time saver, helped me feel better, and gave me some life back since I was less tied to the bathroom. The sheer number of minutes wasted in the bathroom if you’re going 20-25 times a day is disheartening. I got much of that time back and a calmer stomach after cutting those products out.

There have been many times since that day in 2012 when I stopped consuming dairy products that I’ve longed to have some yogurt, cheese, or ice cream, but I have never once indulged for fear that my stomach would go back to be as unsettled and prone to 20 or more bowel movements a day. At that same time, tons of other entire food groups were eliminated from my diet due to igE, igA, and igG food allergies (the first being immediate/anaphylactic-type allergy and the latter two a more gradual, but still significant reaction).

My diet became so limited that it has not only been nutritionally-deficient (and supplemented with a wide array of expensive synthetic nutrients, which are far less bioavailable). Since the very end of last year, my chronically poor digestion has become much more severely problematic, on par with the incapacitating nature in 2012 before the food allergy testing and subsequent removal of the genuine allergens and highly intolerant foods.

As I’ve mentioned, something has changed and I’ve been in near constant discomfort and frequent agony. Again, I feel like I’ve lost my autonomy. Instead, I’m enslaved to my stomach, severely and freakishly bloated and with impossibly frequent and urgent diarrhea. Although I had not introduced new foods or changed anything discernible about my diet, my GI system had just been in horrible haywire.

After seeing my new gastroenterologist in March and discussing my celiac disease, strict adherence to the prescribed gluten-free diet, all of my other food allergies and sensitivities, limited diet, and nature and pervasiveness of my still chronic digestive problems, he decided we needed to visualize the structures again via the endoscopy and colonoscopy that I finally had last week and that although he was nearly certain nothing would turn up abnormal from those and that we’d need to deep dive further into other more specific diagnostic tests, he suggested I consider slowly experimenting with adding some foods back into my diet as long as they were not ones with which I had registered as a true igE allergy or severely reactive with an igA or igG intolerance).

I told him I would try, though I wasn’t convinced I really would because I’ve developed such bad anxiety around putting new foods into my mouth because of the majority percentage of times in the past five or six years of doing so wherein I have had a frighteningly dangerous anaphylactic reaction or severe delayed stomach reaction involving bloody stool and stitches. Even foods that used to be considered “safe” for me or that had not been identified as allergens or major sensitivities on the food allergy testing would often cause epi-pen-requiring anaphylaxis or trips to urgent care for either immediate allergic reaction reversal or eventual stitches from lesions from terrible hives. As much as I feel physically and emotionally deprived by my crazily limited diet, it’s so scary to have such potentially life-threatening reactions or delayed pain and inflammation that takes weeks to resolve, that I am typically more discouraged from expanding my diet by trying to incorporate a food I miss or want to eat. Even when part of me knows it would be healthier to have more variety in my diet and that the potential to feel better because of that is a real possibility, the fear and anxiety from repeatedly having dangerous reactions has so much deterred me that I go months and month eating just two or three foods all day every day with zero variety.

Recently, I’ve been working hard to reduce my anxiety about trying something new enough that I actually will attempt something and give it a chance without confounding the outcome by being so worked up as nervous about it; in other words, trying to be calm and hopeful enough that my own anxiety doesn’t feed into any true physical reaction to the food, exacerbating the feeling that the food is not agreeing with me. Motivated by recent poor biomarkers and diagnostics indicative of my overall health, I decided to really give expanding my diet my full effort and vowed to be brave and willing to suffer the consequences for the potential greater health attainable with a more well-rounded, nutrient-rich diet.

I’m still in the very early stages of my experimentation and on overcoming my phobia surrounding eating foods that have previously caused issues. Of course, things like gluten, shellfish, and nuts are clearly unsafe and I know not to eat those, but there are some other foods that might be workable; I’m starting with dairy (well, that’s not quite true. I started with eggs last week but I had an anaphylactic allergy.). So far, I’d say it’s going so-so. I haven’t had any difficulty breathing or airway swelling, but my stomach has been extra problematic. I’m going to keep at it though and see what happens.

I’m beyond proud of myself for trying and really hope this works out, both because my body desperately needs better nutrition and because a food “success” will be one point closer toward evening out a very unbalanced ratio of safe to unsafe foods.

 

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