I haven’t always been a healthy person. Even as a little girl I made a lot of excuses about why I was a little overweight. The people around me led me to believe that my weight was healthy, and as I passed through adolescence into early adulthood, I had resigned myself to believe that I would always be a bit heavy. No one expressed much concern that I was headed down a path that would have led me toward obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and possibly even cancer. The sad truth is that some of my loved ones remain convinced that this is still their fate.
I first started getting sick during the fall of my first semester in college. Like many normal college students I slept little, studied hard, attended parties, and ate poorly. By Thanksgiving my body had had enough. I came down with mononucleosis. As most of the symptoms subsided with time, GI distress remained an ever present part of my life. Throughout the rest of my college career I frequently visited the doctor’s office. My family physician prescribed one medication after another for everything from acid reflux to stomach motility. Few of them had much positive effect. After a few months had passed, I recognized a pattern, and after an elimination diet, realized I was lactose intolerant. Cutting out all dairy helped, but it wasn’t the only answer for me.
Like many individuals who become frustrated and disillusioned with the Western medical system, eventually I sought the advice of a chiropractor. The second chiropractor I tried recommended a gluten-free diet for six months. In the meantime I also stopped eating all other animal products. It was like night and day for me, at least initially. I felt so much better than I anticipated I would. I had more energy. I didn’t feel bloated or nauseous after every meal. I finally found something that worked. After that first six months I tried to go back on gluten. I felt terrible again. I didn’t know why, but gluten and my body just didn’t get along.
So I learned to manage my diet in a way that made sense to me. Between my diet and new found love for long distance running, which I discovered the summer of 2009, I started shedding pounds. For the first time in my life, and without expressly intending to lose weight, my weight reflected a normal body mass index. I felt great, I looked incredible, what more could I want?
I made the decision to revisit the Western medical establishment for a number of reasons. Both my grandfathers passed away as a result of heart disease. I watched my father go under the knife for a triple bypass when he was 56 years old. My mother’s family has struggled with obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension for longer than I care to recall. If that wasn’t enough, a close friend of mine about my age had a health scare of her own. She put off going to the doctor because she felt fine. Then when she didn’t, she adjusted and made due. She’s fine now, but must continue to be vigilant about her health to avoid complications in the future. We were out to coffee one morning when she convinced me, “Even though you feel fine and you think you’ve got it figured out, it could be something else entirely.” I felt certain I had gluten and lactose intolerance. I had my own system worked out, and I thought it was working. But what if it was something else entirely? I wouldn’t know unless I sucked it up and took serious charge of my health.
A standard physical revealed normal levels for the physiological markers for heart disease and type II diabetes. That part was expected, but given my family history for these largely preventable diseases, my doctor and I both wanted to begin establishing a baseline for future comparison.
My next stop was a referral to a gastroenterologist. Part of me expected that he would dismiss my symptoms like most other physicians had and chalk them up to acid reflux, IBS, or worse, tell me it’s all psychosomatic. Instead, they took me and my symptoms seriously. Before I even got to the office, though, I had to go back to eating gluten for at least a month. At first it was liberating, eating all this food I had ruled out of my diet but sorely missed. I threw caution to the wind, and I paid for it.
I always find it a little ironic that I had to make myself sick again to find answers. That month before my first appointment was one of the worst of my life. My work suffered, I stopped running, and I felt too ill to spend much time with my friends. Worst of all, I dreaded eating. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I never imagined I would develop food aversion.
The day of my appointment finally arrived. Much to my relief, the staff and my physician took me seriously. They ordered the full work-up. Not only did they test for gluten intolerance, they also suggested testing for fructose malabsorption.
I had never even heard of fructose malabsorption, but as soon as the doctor suggested the possibility a light bulb switched on in my brain. Not only was I eating gluten in preparation for my appointment, I also ate a lot of processed foods that contained added fructose. Suddenly everything fell into place, and the test results confirmed the diagnosis.
Fortunately for me, further testing revealed no other significant or long term damage, which excluded Celiac sprue. However, that is not the case for many others out there. My diagnosis and continuing struggle to find a sustainable, nutritious diet has only strengthened my resolve to pursue a career in dietetics and help others with their special diet needs.
So what do I eat? Well, it’s complicated, but fortunately the recipes don’t have to be. My mission here is to provide recipe solutions for individuals and families who must also follow a fructose-restricted diet, as well as those in search of gluten-free and vegan recipes. The recipes I post here work for me, though individuals may have different levels of sensitivity to the ingredients I use, so please modify the recipes according to what you are able to tolerate.