I read a quote the other day that your spouse influences your health habits, like diet, exercise and whether and how much you smoke or drink.
A few months ago, Jess spotted a Groupon for allergy testing at a place called Therapy State of the Art Wellness Care in SW Portland. We both purchased one and had our appointments in the middle of May.
As a long time fan of sugar, dairy and carbs, among other things, I have been avoiding just such an appointment for many years. I often joke that I’ve never been to a naturopath because I already know what they’re going to tell me: “Just stop eating everything you like.” For the most part, I’m pretty healthy and I feel pretty good, though my seasonal allergies have gotten worse over the years. I suspected I had some sensitivities to certain foods, and I suppose now that I’ve entered a decade (40’s) that practically screams responsibility, it was time to find out what they are.
Jess had her appointment a week before me, so I went in with a good idea of what to expect. They generally put everyone on an anti-inflammatory diet (AID). Jess had been stripped of sugar, soy, gluten, (processed) corn and beans. They left dairy on the table because Jess is vegetarian and there’s only so many proteins you can strip out of your diet.
Since I did most of the cooking that week, I ended up sort of on the diet by default, though I was free to eat whatever I wanted at work, and I was graciously finishing up the sweets left in the house.
My appointment was a week before my birthday.
“How committed are you to going through with treatment?” my intake specialist asked.
“I’ll commit after I’ve had my birthday cake, I told her.
“Fair enough,” she said.
“Watch them tell me I can’t have any of the things you can have, just to make meal planning hell,” I had said to Jess.
Sure enough, both the muscle testing and the biofeedback testing revealed that I was highly sensitive to eggs(!), nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers), and vitamin C, of all things.
I felt a disturbance in the Force, as if all of my New Mexican breakfast burritos at the sunday farmer’s market suddenly cried out, and were silenced.
Every Jess-legal meal I’d planned featuring potatoes and/or eggs was now off limits to me. I complained that they were forbidding me the only proteins left for her to eat and I knew that trying to make separate meals for this diet was not going to be practical. Jess is vegetarian but can’t digest soy or beans well, and she doesn’t like mushrooms (the go-to food for carnivores trying to feed vegetarians at a party), or tempeh. That leaves dairy and eggs as the major protein sources left to her. To make things even more interesting, we were about to head to Bend for the weekend for three days of mountain biking and we could forget about (legally) eating at restaurants.
After I complained, they left me dairy but said definitely no eggs.
Here’s the list of things that were now forbidden:*
- Artificial sweeteners
- Processed Corn
- Food Additives
- Vitamin C supplements
*(See ‘everything I like’).
Fortunately, Jess loves to research. While I was at work, she came up with egg replacers for the recipes we had planned. Chia seeds with water for a spinach gratin from 101 Cookbooks that we love, and applesauce for our favorite gluten free pancakes.
I made my birthday cake early so I could start the diet and not have to cheat in the middle. It’s always the same thing: Lemon cake with cream cheese frosting. I get Duncan Hines mix and Betty Crocker frosting. Between the two, it’s choc full of artificial flavors, chemicals, hydrogenated whatever– I love it.
So Jess didn’t have to have my cake shoved in her face, I made it early in the morning and took it to work to share with my coworkers. After work I had a meeting and I shared a bit more. Over the course of the day, I ate three pieces of cake.
I woke up in the middle of the night, hacking in a full on phlegm attack. It lasted a while and was not pleasant. Hmm, I guess maybe there’s something to this food sensitivity thing, I thought.
The next day I composted the rest of the cake and started my diet. I took my lunch to work. When my coworkers asked if I wanted to head to the food carts, as we often do, I let them know that I probably wouldn’t be joining them for at least a month. I ate a generous share of the bananas that are always in stock at the office and tried to pretend the also always available Hostess cupcakes didn’t exist. I didn’t have coffee (I won’t drink coffee without sweetener).
That weekend, we headed off to Bend with a giant cooler full of food. Fortunately, we were staying in a house with a full kitchen and could do all our own cooking. We abstained from going out to eat except for one trip to Chow, my favorite restaurant in Bend. Even then I altered my order to mostly align with my diet limitations, except for one pumpkin ginger pancake (it was delicious).
Some of the egg replacer experiments worked better than others. Our favorite spinach rice gratin recipe was somewhat ruined by chia seed replacement method, though in fairness it could have been the addition of mushrooms, the lack of tofu or both. Still I decided I’d wait to make that again until I was cleared for eggs.
The pancakes with apple sauce instead of eggs tasted great. The only problem was that they stuck to the pan so much, it was impossible to flip them over without losing the entire outer coating, leaving you with a warm dough-y ball. Not so great. At first we blamed the cheap rental house cookware, but the same thing happened in our good stainless steel pans when we got home.
Thanks to our friend Zan, we even had totally legal cookies to satisfy my inevitable craving for sweets. That more than anything probably made the abrupt transition a bit easier for me. And they were totally legal: No butter, sugar, gluten or dairy. With a name like Heart Healthiest Chocolate Chip Cookie in the World it sounds a little too healthy to be good, but it was actually delicious. Not just ‘good for a ____-free cookie, but actually yummy. Per Zan’s recommendation, we subbed agave for brown sugar (but still followed the boiling instructions) and also used gluten free oats.
So my first week of dietary restriction had some bumps in the road, but was mostly a success. I knew there would definitely be a learning curve, and we probably wouldn’t be going out for the next month, but when I got tired of being constantly vigilant about food, I would just tell myself, it’s only for a month.
I also credit my sugar snap pea addiction, which I’ve had for years now, for helping me to resist unhealthy sugary treats. I eat them by the pound when they’re in season, and schedule my days around which farmer’s market I’m going to hit next to keep my supply going. If they had tried to take them away from me, they would have had to pry them from my cold, dead fingers.