Please help me welcome Chef Christy, our guest blogger this week. Enjoy part 1 today and come back to read part 2 on Monday.
Not All Calories Are Created Equal
I have struggled with my weight all my life. I went on my first diet at age 5 when my Mom joined Weight Watchers for the first time. I can remember watching my mom make her own ketchup (with saccharine!) and how bad it tasted. Since I was a teen I have been experimented on with liquid protein diets, measured the size of my portions, used colored plates, adjusted my eating times, made food logs and oh yes, counted calories.
Most of these methods resulted in a minimal weight loss for a limited amount of time. Many of them stopped working while I was still doing them, and certainly none of them had any lasting effect at all except watching portion sizes of particular calorie-dense foods.
It took a paradigm shift in my thinking about food to start seeing any lasting results. It took shifting away from the concept that all calories are created equal.
I suffered a severe back injury in 1999 that caused me to be an invalid for 5 years. I was under the tender care of Workman’s Comp, so I had all of the finest medical care that Western allopathic medicine could offer. I am a rare case in that I had a fantastic insurance adjustor and felt I was treated fairly.
I had back surgery and was released in January of 2004 after my settlement. Unfortunately, I was deemed permanently partially disabled, which doesn’t mean much except that I live with a constant low grade pain level that occasionally flares into something more extreme, and have no option now but to ‘Work Smarter, Not Harder’.
When I finally was able to choose my own care options, I decided to start with a Cleanse and an Elimination Diet. I read several books including The False Fat Diet and The Daily Detox Diet by Dr. Elson Haas. He does a great job of describing food sensitivities and allergies (and their differences) and how to go about an elimination diet.
An elimination diet can be approached in a variety of ways. You can start out by eliminating just one food for a specified period of time – say two to six weeks, and then try reintroducing that food in a controlled way and observing any reactions you may have. Or you can start out by eliminating the most common allergens (soy, eggs, fish, diary, nuts, sugar, caffeine, gluten, artificial colors and flavors) and then reintroducing them into your diet one at a time.
I chose the latter, since I was aiming at taking control of my own health again, and at the time I was living on a steady diet of narcotic pain killers to deal with what looked to be a lifetime of pain. I started with a cleanse that included a two-stage herbal product and a diet of brown rice, steamed vegetables, and grilled or baked chicken and fish. I certainly didn’t try to starve myself or worry about calorie or even portion sizes. I wanted to get full, and with such a restricted diet, I ate all I wanted of the foods I allowed myself.
After two weeks, I started with something that I thought would be an easy one: sweet potatoes. Much to my surprise, I got a reaction immediately! The tip of my nose started itching uncontrollably while I was still eating my plain baked sweet potato, to the point where I had to stop. I was amazed! I tried regular white potatoes and did not get the same reaction. (10 years later I have been able to introduce sweet potatoes again and am ok with them, but I still eat them only on an occasional basis).
Something I learned early on was that different foods caused different reactions. While sweet potatoes made my nose itch (as do some other foods – often ingredients in a new food that I can’t identify will set my nose off, enough to warn me that I need to steer clear), other foods like dairy will aggravate my mucous membranes causing stuffiness and aggravating severe dust allergies. Giving up dairy means I can vacuum my house again without setting off an asthma attack!
My biggest discovery however, was gluten. When I reintroduced gluten, my back pain increased 10 fold, increasing my need for more pain meds. I realized that it had calmed down in the weeks while I wasn’t eating it.
I have since been able to stop taking the pain meds on a daily basis thank goodness, and only rarely use them if I do something drastic that causes a temporary tweak in my injury sites. The effect that gluten has on me isn’t so much gastro-intestinal, although I think it has cleared up a mystery stomach issue I’ve had since I was a teen, but more importantly, it causes inflammation.
When I accidentally ingest gluten now, I can feel the areas around my injury sites swell up painfully, and that will last for several days after one exposure. Talk about your negative reinforcement! Becoming gluten-free has allowed me to get back to work and take control of my life again. I am still partially broken, but I can cope with that injury much more effectively now.
Check back on Monday for Part 2 where Chef Christy shares some helpful tools in determining your own food sensitivities.
Christine Seelye-King is a Chef Instructor, food blogger, and co-author of “Easy Gluten-Free Entertaining”
You can check out her website at: askchefchristy.com/