Monday, May 30, 2011

How to Cure a Headache

It happens to all of us sooner or later.  That nagging, insistent pressure in your forehead, or just behind the eyes, or sometimes in the top of your head. 

Maybe not a full blown migraine.  Those are blessedly rare (whether sufferers can believe it or not).  But even a run of the mill headache can be miserable. 
If you have no food intolerances, your course of action is simple.  Head to your cupboard, or check your purse.  If you're out of pain killers, simply ask if anyone around you (preferably work or social friends) happens to have any Tylenol or Motrin.  Choose from the assortment offered. 
If you are sensitive to some ingredients, simply head to the corner store any hour of the day or night.  They won't even check your ID.  Choose from an entire display case full of extra strength, migraine, tension, PM, non-drowsy and many other variations of a formula for pain relief.  Read ingredients, choose what's appropriate, and you'll be out of their in under $10.  Even if you have a dye allergy, there are a few options available.  The most obvious are the dye free liquids for the 6-12 year olds, but there are a couple adult configurations as well. 
However, if you have a corn allergy, things get sticky.  If you've run out of your supply of safe meds, or it's your first headache since starting this journey, you need to start at the beginning.  Contact your medical doctor.  Weird, I know.  But it's the vital first step in the process of obtaining the simple, Over the Counter variety of pain relief the rest of America pops daily without inhibition.  You need to obtain a prescription that reads (your choice of pain killer, acetaminophen or ibuprofen) NO CORN DERIVATIVES.  Then you need to contact your local compounding pharmacy.  Or one that will work mail order with you, suck as Francks.  Ascertain that they are capable of obtaining the pure, unadulterated drug of your choice.  (There are a few compounding pharmacies that start with the ready made pills and just adapt them.  You want to avoid these pharmacies.)  Ensure that they understand what corn free entails (and that they believe microcrystalline cellulose can be derived from corn rather than always from trees)  Then drop off or fax in your prescription. 
In a few days to a week, you should be able to pick up safe pain killers.  The exact same dosage and active ingredient as the ones available at any drug store or supermarket, for only a few times the cost. 
It doesn't seem fair sometimes.  To keep an eye on the expiration date, and budget for a $100 bottle of something that so many can purchase for a 10th of the price.  To think and plan in advance, second guessing flu season and headaches and menstrual woes.  But, then I take one. 
Fortunately, the trade off of having meds that will kill off a headache at it's start is priceless. 

(And companies...if you stumble on this...we'd love more 'pure' options.  No dye.  No gluten, lactose, or corn.  Including microcrystalline cellulose.  We don't mind the less polished looking capsules, or paying a little extra for something with a shorter shelf life and fewer ingredients.  And although we may be in the minority right now, at least you won't have to compete for our business, at least at first.) 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Is it safe to go allergen free?

There's a new slew of "all in your head" diagnosis coming out.  First up, doctors have supposedly identified an eating disorder known as orthorexia.  Essentially, sufferers believe that certain foods are pure evil and begin to restrict their diet to the point that it is unhealthy and dangerous.
Next up is a spin-off of anorexia.  People with eating disorders begin to blame gluten or other food allergies as the reason that they can't eat what is put before them, or offered at parties, or why they aren't eating at social functions. 

"Whether confirmed as celiac disease through blood tests or self-diagnosed as intolerance...the condition requires treatment by way of a highly restrictive diet. ... it also requires monitoring trace elements of protein present in foods or its preparation becomes necessary lest upset stomachs, painful GI tracts or other debilitating symptoms strike." (emphasis mine)

In the article I site above, this paragraph disturbs me even more than this upsetting practice.  Because it indicates that even if one has a documented, medically rational reason for complete and total avoidance...the worst that can happen is a stomach ache (the word debilitating is in there, but I doubt most people really comprehend how debilitating physical GI symptoms can feel)  The truth is that with the (albeit relatively rare) true IgE food allergies, which are NOT limited to the top 8, even a small crumb can cause anaphylaxis.  If a peanut falls on the salad, and the cook immediately fishes it out and sends the salad out to a nut allergic individual, their throat can swell shut before the rest of the party is done commenting on how delicious the first course looks.
If someone with celiac accepts a plate with toast on it, and simply removes the toast and brushes off the crumbs...not only will they suffer from debilitating stomach issues for a few days, their intestines will sustain physical damage that can be viewed and verified by endoscopy.  This damage leads to malnutrition, along with a host of other related problems and, worst case scenario, even cancer.
I don't doubt that there are some people who are afraid of food for unhealthy reasons.  Nor do I doubt that there are people with unhealthy obsessions about food, or avoiding too many foods.  But is the best way to address that fear to label restrictive eating as a psychiatric disorder?  Or is it to do more research?
I firmly believe that most people seeking a restrictive diet are motivated by physical symptoms.  Maybe they have an intolerance or allergy.  Maybe their bodies are just fed up with soda and fried foods.  Maybe they just need a little help balancing nutrition.  Regardless, identifying the motivation should be the first step.  And then rule out causes.
And if an individual is adament about avoiding foods, then it seems likely that they may not need to reintroduce those foods.  Instead, therapy or medical support should focus on identifying what one *can* eat.  And instituting a balanced diet.  So many people these days do not know how to cook, or find vegetables...or what to do with them when they do, that if they decide to give up gluten and nightshades they feel like they're stuck with white rice and carrots.  There are a host of little known veggies out there...and others that are just scary looking.
Maybe the orthorexic would be more adventurous if they learned how to prepare and eat an artichoke, a salad, their own dressing or sauces.  Those with anorexia and other eating disorders obviously do need counseling toward reaching a healthy body image.  But it might be easier if any digestive problems (like bloating, which can make a teenager feel inexplicably "fat") were addressed at the same time. 
At any rate, when someone has a valid reason for total avoidance, their choices need to be respected.  And they will be less likely to obsess over their food choices if they weren't concerned with mental health labels.  At least in the long run.  It seems reasonable and healthy to me for someone newly diagnosed to spend a little time obsessing about food, since they quite likely have been told to drastically change their way of looking at food.
As someone with a unique allergy, I don't want to be blown off and made sick or worse because of a 'trend' in 'it's all in your head' diagnoses.  As the mother of a food allergy sufferer, I don't want her labeled as eating disordered just because a few of her peers use the word 'allergy' inappropriately.  I see her eat a wide variety of fruits, veggies, carbs and protein every day.  What we don't eat doesn't matter nearly as much as what we DO eat.  And I sincerely hope the medical practitioners diagnosing these conditions, as well as the laymen labeling them, acknowledge the difference.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sick food

Sometimes, even if you are eating safe food, stomachs get upset.  And that can be a challenge.  It's tough if you're caregiver to a food allergic child, it's even tougher when you're the one with allergies, and you're the one with an upset stomach.  (My husband is all for cooking...but he's heavy handed on the spices and can't quite figure out the difference between "tastes good" and "gentle on the digestion") 
The BRAT diet is easy to follow.  Bananas (Green University from WF if you have a corn allergy), Rice (Lundbergh or unenriched from Thailand if you have a corn allergy), Applesauce (All natural, no citric or ascorbic acid...with a corn allergy, I use Trader Joe's), and Toast.  Since I'm gluten free, I follow a "BRA" diet. 

But sometimes, you want something even lighter.  Recently, my doctor suggested I go on a liquid diet for a few days.  Liquid. 
I'm sire she was thinking Ensure, and protein drinks, and soup and milkshakes or smoothies. 
I looked in my cupboard and sighed. 
What did I come up with?  Well, it wasn't totally liquid.  We made a huge batch of broth.  I mashed some of the carrots.  I know, I know, there's no nutrition left in them.  But I was hungry.  And they filled me up and set gently.  I had warmed applejuice with cinnamon, fork mashed sweet potatoes and parsnips with broth, and when I was starving...a scramblled egg (It's soft, not fibrous, which seemed to be what the dr wanted to avoid).  I also made gelatin. 
In fact, the first thing I thought of was gelatin.  Good old J-E-L-L-O, as the commercial used to sing.  Of course, the brand name and store bramd flavored gunk is full of corn derivatives and artificial gunk that I really don't want in my, or my kids, bodies.  So, I used Knox. 
Honestly, I don't care much for the thick Knox Block recipe that's on the back of the box.  I wanted something that wiggles and jiggles and tasted...Jello-like. 
Here's what I came up with:
2 cups applejuice, warmed on the stove. 
While it warmed, I dumped a cup of cold water into a small casserole/baking dish and sprinkled 1 packet of Knox gelatin into it. 
When the apple juice was done simmering, I whisked it into the water/gelatin mixture. 
Then I chilled everything. 
And enjoyed it. 
No, I didn't cut it up into cute little squares.  I did it the way my mom used to do it, scooped it out into my bowl.  Oddly, it tasted better with just a sprinkle of salt (I think my electrolytes were off balanced, since I was also chugging plain water to eradicate a kidney infection)  My husband's opinion?  It tastes like sick food. 
Which is exactly what you crave when you're sick. 
And my version included no additional sweeteners, no artificial colors or flavors, or anything else undesirable. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Does cutting out corn hurt?

A lot of people notice that when they cut out corn, they feel better overall...and begin having much more severe reactions to things that only used to bother them a little.  It makes it look like cutting out the corn has hurt them in some way. 
Here's the thing.  If you're allergic to corn (or gluten) then you've been ingesting something you're intolerant to at almost every meal for most of your life.  Of course, your intolerance or allergy has probably developed over time...but throughout that time period of intolerance, your body has essentially been a battle zone. 
So imagine a battle field.  Things suddenly calm down, the enemy just...vanishes.  Are your soldiers going to take a nap?  Of course not!  They're going to band together, and go on high alert, watching for intruders or any sign of renegade activity. 
And, seeing as there's very little to attack when you've cut the corn out of your diet, there are a lot more 'soldiers' available to attack any perceived threats. 
When your body attacks a perceived threat, you feel rotten.  It's a defense mechanism, digestive issues are your body's way of flushing a toxin from your system.  Rashes sweat a toxin through your skin.  Swelling increases liquid to make it easier to flush that toxin through.  Except, of course, that food isn't really toxic. 

Eventually, your body will calm down.  It'll stop attacking those invaders.  The SCD recommends a broth diet to jump start your allergy free dieting because it gives your digestive tract and immune system a chance to calm down and adjust.  I think that's a great (though not always plausible) plan. 

At any rate, if you are diagnosed with an allergy or intolerance and start noticing worsening reactions, don't despair.  Take it easy, eat lightly, try to rotate foods so that you won't inadvertently create a new intolerance, and eventually your body will relax and (hopefully) slip into "normal" mode.  A newer, healthier...BETTER normal for you!  :-)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Real life is like Webkinz

Last night, Penguin and I used the online grade book to look up her grades.  She told me how much she hates grades, because they don't help anything.  They just feel like a punishment, when they aren't good, and normal when they are. 
So we looked at the percentages.  And what happened when a paper didn't get turned in (or at least recorded yet)  And then I told her that all I care about is that she does her best work. 

It wasn't reassuring for her.  So I tried a different tact.  When you see that you have an A+ in Social studies, but you only have a B- in English, it means when you have extra credit from both classes, to do the extra credit in English first.  And it means you might be in a hurry to do homework...but you need to take a little more time with English, to double check spelling and stuff. 
Suddenly a light bulb went on. 
"It's just like webkinz world!" 
Webkinz World?  (For those who don't know, it's an online virtual pet community, accessed by an "adoption" code you obtain by purchasing a plush Webkinz toy.  it's full of games and several once a day activities.) 
"Yep, webkinz.  Like when I'm doing the acadamy and having trouble in one class, I keep working on it so I can level it up." 
And she went on in more detail about how this improves her pet's performance. 
But I thought it worthy of blogging. 
Real life is like webkinz.  You need to work on the areas you're weaker in, so that you get caught up to your strong areas.  And then it's all around more fun. 
Who says we don't learn anything from computer games? 

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Potluck Power

I always say the hardest part of food allergies is the social aspect.  It's downright uncomfortable to go into a situation where food will be the center of activities...and then refuse to partake.
Potlucks can be particularly difficult because everyone wants you to sample their wares.  And if you have certain food intolerances, especially mild ones that consist of the top 8 or easily recognizable items, then you might be able to partake.  In fact, if your intolerances are might not even be reading this blog, because you probably don't care about potlucks.  But, if you have severe reactions...or you react to something particularly difficult to avoid (corn or gluten or dairy), things get trickier.  Avoidance really is the easiest option.  Of course, being human, we all want to be honest.  And we want to enjoy ourselves.  And we want to fit in.

So, the best policy seems to be multifold.  Eat first, bring safe snacks, bring a safe dish that will get rave reviews (so you can busily field compliments rather than questions about the lack of variety on your own plate), and wander frequently.  Come late, unless you feel confident enough to sample the other which case you want to be early and first in line to avoid cross contamination.  And have some easy catch phrases that shield you from the spotlight.  
So here are a few sample phrases to get you through the most trying of spotlight events...the family (or work) potluck.
"Oh, everything looks delicious, I don't know where to start!"
"I'll grab a plate in a minute, first I want to catch up with so and so."
"I couldn't eat another bite, but thank you, everything is lovely!"

And when someone insists that you sample a signature dish, you can distract them by calling it divine and asking them for the recipe.  If they insist on a sample, excuse yourself for a moment.

When it comes to buffet style eating, sometimes moving around frequently is your best combat against questions.  Everyone will think you've eaten, that your empty plate was once full.  They won't necessarily note that the only thing ever on it was the dish you, yourself, contributed.  Or the crackers you surreptitiously retrieve from your purse.  Be vague, but sincere.

Often, you can get away without repeated explanations.  Just be prepared to distract people.  If they won't let the food go, compliment their jewelry.  Or some knick knack on the shelf.  Or worst case scenario, turn your napkin into a fan and exclaim that it's getting warm.
Everyone in the vicinity will begin discussing the weather, it's changing patterns, and whether or not they believe in global warming.
It may not be stimulating dinner conversation, but it will get the spotlight off of you!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Cook Naked

This was the theme of a post in honor of this article, which sheds a little more light and awareness on food sensitivities.  Although I must say, the title and the article weren't as developed as I expected.  The concept rings true.
I find with food allergies, my goal is simplicity.  Simple flavors.  Texture.  Few ingredients.  I don't have a lot to work with, and the more we use at one time, the more risk there seems to be.
Spices, the salt of life, are still limited here.  After all, the best way to stop them from clumping is to add corn starch.  And some of them, of their own accord, bite back.
Sauces...a common and easy way to spice up just about anything old and boring are a powerhouse of hidden gluten, corn, preservatives and artificial colors.  Not to mention other possible allergens.
New ingredients, new flavors, bring new fears.  Anything can cause a reaction and when you have confirmed food intolerance, your food fears are founded in experience and have little to nothing to do with taste buds.
So for us, when I think of cooking with food allergies, "cook naked" makes perfect sense.  It's not about avoiding specific ingredients, because only a person who is allergic to an ingredient truly understands their own level of tolerance.  Some people with Celiac Disease only eat certified gluten free products.  Others simply read the label. 
For me, "cooking naked" means cooking simply, transparently.  Enjoying the full flavor of foods, without having to disguise them.  It's peas, simmered and dressed with a bit of oil (or the table) and salt.  It's sweet potatoes, roasted in their own juices and a touch of approved oil.  It's brown rice parboiled in water or homemade broth.  And broth that is made with just carrots, celery and boillion cubes or MSG or autolyzed yeast extract.  It's what you see is what you get. 
Cooking naked is all about letting food speak for itself.  Several months ago, a child was spending an afternoon with Bumblebee and they clamored for a snack.  I offered celery or apples.  The child looked at the celery and said "That looks like a PLANT!"  To which I agreed it still had the leaves at the end.  Her eyes got wide before she said "My mom will not be happy if I come home and say I ate a plant!"  
Penguin felt immensely sorry for the child as soon as the statement was spoken, and has mentioned the incident several times since.  I think shame (of our abnormal diet) and horror that the child didn't realize that vegetables and plants are one and the same are equally disturbing to her. 
And that, perhaps, to me is the heart of cooking naked.  As much as I want Bumblebee and Penguin to fit in...I want them to know what real food is and where it comes from.  And so, we will continue to have celery in it's natural state, attempt to grow a few fruits and veggies in our yard, eat undressed sweet potatoes and place more value on the nutritional value of food than on it's looks. 
Maybe, if we didn't have food allergies, we wouldn't have thought so much about what we eat, and what's in what we eat.  But that just means that food allergies has done us a favor by making us more aware, not just of the content of our food supply, but of the nutritional content (and lack thereof).  It's made us want to know what's in our food, so we can appreciate it more. 
Besides, the simpler our meals, the less time we have to spend preparing them.