As much as I believe the last three years has given me an education on clean eating, ingredient label comprehension, and the dangers of cross contamination, I still walk in the same shoes as anyone who has an autoimmune disease, chronic GI issues, and severe food allergies.
I goof, here and there. And I pay for it.
If you think there is an expert resource who avoids all gaffs, goofs, and sundry “oops”, I challenge you to find him or her. As far as my research has taken me, I have not found a single respected expert in the field who has never been “glutened”, become ill due to cross contamination, or suffered from an imbalance of micronutrients or macronutrients as they experimented with all available options.
One great example is gluten-free oats. Most of us who were placed on a gluten-free diet had a steep learning curve. Some of us did fine with gluten-free food products such as gluten-free oats; these people dove into GF oatmeal cookies and lovely GF oatmeal trail mixes that could be baked into bars when mixed with nuts, seeds, and oils.
Others of us suffered “Swan Lake” death scenes, suffering long near the white throne in our households, and feeling horribly betrayed by safety labels and descriptions that declared these products safe for people with CD/NCGS.
You often don’t know which category you fall in until you try something and it doesn’t work for you.
This post is about goofs, yours and mine.
One of the commitments I’ve made to my part in the autoimmune and food allergic community is transparency, and part of the way I remain transparent is to keep the dialogue open about what life is REALLY like when I try to eat the way I do, free of so many ingredients that it has become very difficult to eat outside my own home. Transparency also includes HOW those foods are prepared, cleaning processes, and talking about common mistakes.
On top of that, when I eat from inside my own home, there are still other concerns to consider, such as what I allow in my regular rotation of foods for meals and snacks. What I allow may not be the same as what you allow, yet the overlap we share is the decision process of what ends up in the “lather, rinse, repeat” of meals for batch cooking, and what is better left off, either for good, or for now.
Gaffe #1: Residue and Cross Contamination
In my household, I have a cleaning rule: rinse and lightly scrub all dishes in the sink with the appropriate sponge (different colors for different food items), place in the dishwasher, and the dish does not get reused until the dishwasher cycle has been completed. The rule is a part of my food religion.
This weekend, I goofed. We ran out of clean large bowls, and I reached into the dishwasher to use a large bowl that looked relatively clean. After scrubbing it quickly with a sponge, I placed my food in it, ate my meal, and thought nothing of it. That is, until I finished my meal. At the bottom of the bowl I found a couple of tiny fragments of my husband’s cereal. He is a Gluteneater (my affectionate name for those who can eat gluten), and I place no judgment against his decision to eat gluten as part of his nutritional plan.
If you consider the actual amount that might have been on the bottom of the bowl and contaminated my food, it’s very likely it was less than 20ppm. However, I’ve been gluten free for almost three years, and I’m very sensitive to it. Hoping against hope that I wouldn’t react, I was dismayed to find several bumps on my feet, wrist joint, and fingers by the next day.
The following couple of days, I have noticed that there are spots on my skin that are extra sensitive to fabric touching it, red and chaffed areas that normally aren’t red and chaffed, and peeling skin. The dancer in me who used to have glowing, soft, bronzed skin that reflected light, was dismayed to spend time tediously removing flaking pieces of scale-like skin from the bottoms of her feet that weren’t present the previous day.
Goof #2: Too Much Sugar
Since the start of this blog, I’ve been committed to sharing some of my best recipes, tips and tricks, and work-arounds for making food fun again at home. Even I know that when you take out the sweetness in the form of added sugar, the fun factor tends to drain away. It’s a balancing act.
We all have our “cheat” foods and beverages, and mine is an occasional glass of wine or gluten-free liquor. Saturday evening, after a long day of training on the bike and running, I stopped in for a tasty dessert of lemon and basil sorbet and a glass of high-quality red wine. And I really do mean this is a treat, an infrequent food and beverage combination.
By 1 am, I came to regret that I chose this treat. Way too much sugar on my otherwise clean-eating regimen, and my guts weren’t having it. When 5am rolled around, it took every ounce of mental and physical strength to move my backside out of bed and prepare to swim for two miles in a local lake. I honestly thought I might have an accident while swimming, and then what? I’d be swimming in it, and the idea of it put the fear of “Poopy Pants” in me.
I try not to have to take any kind of OTC remedy for diarrhea unless it’s necessary, and I deemed this moment one of those necessary times.
Sugar is an inflammatory substance in the gut, which is the main reason why alcohol is not allowed on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) and most food allergy Elimination/Provocation cycles.
Against what I would rather be able to do — i.e. have a celebratory glass of wine here and there — I’ve decided that I need to remove all alcohol and any sugary treats from my diet from now until my A-race in August. After the race, it may very well be that my body will have adapted so completely to a low-sugar diet that won’t want alcohol or treats if it continues to mean that I feel yucky. It’s like built-in negative reinforcement.
My last word (at least for now) on the subject of why I chose to drink a glass of wine and have a sugar-filled treat is this: I fell prey to the deprivation argument. It’s this silly debate I host in my head, when for a moment I declare that I don’t want to be disinherited from something I think I should be able to have. I mean, it’s wine! I’m an adult! I like having a glass of wine with some food. And I like a cold treat after a warm day!
It’s not an argument based on logic or science, but on emotion. And emotions can change from one moment to the next. When I make decisions based on the deprivation argument, I usually lose. In this case, I get my wine and my treat, and horrible, cramp-filled, gut-wrenching day or two that deprives me of joy, vitality, and health.
Oops #3: Is There Such a Thing As Too Much Bacon?
My fallback food is bacon.
There. I’ll let that statement stand by itself.
When I am traveling, or I’m asked to accompany others for a meal outside my home, I can usually count on bacon to be something I can eat safely (although now I have to check and see that the bacon was not coated with spices or alliums, or cooked in certain oils).
One weekend I had some left over bacon grease, and I decided to use it to cook another meal. After I ate the meal cooked in the leftover bacon grease, Grumpy Tummy let me know that it did not like. No no no.
There is such as thing as too much bacon, especially in the form of grease and oils in your food. And while in the pursuit of adding more calories from fat and protein to my diet, my guts aren’t accustomed to digesting the extra hit of fat in the form of bacon grease.
Whoops #4: Checking Ingredient Labels Each Time You Buy
One of my tips is to always check ingredient labels every time you buy something in a package, and especially if it’s been awhile since you last purchased the item. I often buy things on Amazon.com in bulk, such as Paleo Wraps from Julian Bakery, so months can go buy before I need to purchase a food again.
I bought an EPIC bar, thinking that I had checked the ingredients in my last purchase. My “whoops” was that I chose a different flavor, and the one I purchased had two ingredients I wasn’t supposed to have. Rats!
The only EPIC bar I can eat is the Bison EPIC bar. If the manufacturing process involved in making these were to change, I will have to call the manufacturer to identify the changes and make sure the ingredients are free from cross-contamination with my other allergens (sunflower seed oil, onion, garlic, and nuts are used in most of the other flavors).
You might argue that EPIC bars don’t look very pretty, and I won’t argue against you there. It is a bar of animal meat protein that looks a lot like SPAM (thanks to my friend — you know who you are! — for pointing that out). But when I’m traveling and on long training rides, an EPIC bar is fuel for me, and one of my adages is this: FOOD IS FUEL. Eat real food, and you will be able to fuel yourself for the activities of a lifetime.
In less than 45 days, I’ll will be taking on one of the biggest physical challenges I have ever attempted: Ironman Mont-Tremblant. With so many restrictions to my diet, I’ve come to accept that my food does not need to look even remotely beautiful in order for me to be grateful to have the calories I need to participate in this amazing journey of self-discovery, physical accomplishment, and broadening of possibility.
I will eat it if it is safe. I will eat it if it will fuel me. I will eat it if it will keep me healthy. And I will keep eating it if the food product does not change to include elements that aren’t on my safe list.
If you are new to the journey of discovering your food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities, or adopting a brand-new food lifestyle for a variety of health reasons, I want you to know that mistakes happen. You will want to kick yourself, feel depressed, withdraw from others who don’t understand how very real your struggle is, and lash out in anger because it seems so hard to navigate our food-obsessed culture that has you pressing your nose against the display window of the foods you can’t have and keeps you from the social events that limit your participation because you aren’t allowed to bring your own safe food.
There are millions of us who are just like you. And I’m here to keep doing my best to help you make food fun again, to try again, and see where the resolution of your toughest issues with food will take you next. Next time you have an “oops,” come back here and read this again. And if you feel comfortable, please share so we can be a part of supporting you.