How I Beat My Food Allergies


I ate a piece of bread this week for the first time in two years. Sourdough, lightly toasted, extra butter. It was glorious.

Prior to February 2013, I lived in a perpetual state of exhaustion. No matter how much I slept, I craved more sleep. No matter how much I rested, I never felt energized. Most days it took everything I had just to get out of bed in the morning. It wasn’t only physical fatigue, either. Every little decision required me to pull from a very limited reserve of mental energy as well. It’s similar to when you’ve had the flu and your symptoms are gone, but you feel like you’ve been hit by a train and all you want to do is lie down, forever if necessary. For more than a decade, this was my life.

What’s sad is I assumed everyone else felt the same way I did. I couldn’t understand how people worked so hard or stayed consistently positive about life. I concluded that I was just inherently lazy, and I grew increasingly cynical. When your life’s goal is to expend as little energy as possible, every challenge becomes a burden instead of an opportunity. Whimsy is an annoyance and adventure an impossibility. Eventually, I began to resent life itself.

Josiah Sleeping
Christmas 2012 — I spent the majority of my vacation sleeping in this chair

Finding a cure

Over the course of six years I went to several doctors seeking a cure. The first was our family physician, who responded, “You’re in college, right? That’s normal.” The next few doctors simply prescribed antidepressants and various other drugs, none of which helped me at all. When the last traditional doctor I found tried to convince me I needed an antidepressant, I stood up and walked out of his office.

Finally, I tried a naturopath. He had me lie back on the table while he pressed firmly along my abdomen just below my rib cage. He asked me if it hurt and I replied with a resounding “Yes!” Apparently my intestines were inflamed, which is an indicator of food allergies. We ordered a blood test and confirmed that I was highly allergic to wheat, eggs, and almonds. I removed those foods from my diet and noticed a difference after a couple of days. Within a month I felt like a new person.

Living with food allergies

Living with food allergies can be tough. I’m sad to say there were times when I cursed the world and swore I was going to give up. Honestly, if it weren’t for Amy I probably would have. She’s amazing. She became a food allergy expert overnight. She read all the labels. She asked the servers about cross-contamination. She threw out all of our gluten-tainted wooden and plastic kitchen utensils. And yes, I was that sensitive. I once got sick by drinking from a Camelbak bottle I used before the gluten exodus, even after it took a trip through the dishwasher.

The most difficult times were when I was traveling. Eating well on the road is hard enough, but have you ever tried to find food in an airport or gas station that didn’t consist of, or come in contact with, gluten or eggs? Good luck. I already turn into a huge grouch when I’m hungry, but when there’s food everywhere and I can’t eat anything, I fully succumb to the worst kind of low-blood-sugar-induced rampages.

Slowly, though, I learned to accept and even embrace my plight. Amy and I curated a list of go-to restaurants and recipes, most of which were so good that I didn’t miss my allergen foods at all. I also formed the habit of keeping “Josiah-friendly” snacks on hand for those times when I was out and couldn’t find anything to eat. As I began to learn more about how what I consume affects my body, I started working toward healing my gut by taking restorative supplements, drinking aloe, going on a juice fast, and even becoming (mostly) vegan.

Josiah drinking green juice
Drinking some freshly squeezed green juice for the first time

Was It Worth it?

I took another blood test a few weeks ago and received the results on Tuesday. My gluten and egg allergies have dropped almost into the green!

Gluten and Eggs 2015
All four of these used to be on the far end of the red section

As soon as I got the results, I walked into the kitchen and ate a piece of bread, which would normally have thrown me into a zombie-like state within 20 minutes. I waited a couple of hours—no effect! After that, I took Amy out to celebrate with our first pasta date night in 2 years.

Josiah eating fettuccine alfredo
Fettuccine alfredo with shrimp — Mmmmmm

Many people have told me that they could never stick with my diet. I would have said the same, except it’s made such a difference in my life that I’m happy to eat whatever I need to continue feeling well. I’m still a fairly low-key person, but I’m finally able to get out of bed and do things I never dreamed I’d have the energy to enjoy.

Sailing on Bellingham Bay
Jonny and I taking our wives sailing on Bellingham Bay last summer

What’s next?

When I cut out my allergy foods, I think I made the mistake of waiting too long to try healing my gut and I slowly built up allergies to the foods I was compensating with (I’m looking at you, rice and corn!). Here is what my new food allergy list looks like:

Summary of Foods 2015
I didn’t include the levels here, but the “avoid” foods are barely in the red

My next challenge is to bring all of my new yellow/red foods down to green. I admit it’s a lot more to keep up with, but the good news is I’m no longer so sensitive to any of them that I need to worry about cross-contamination. That was by far the most difficult part. Amy and I now have the task of coming up with a new food strategy, which will likely include some kind of rotation diet, but we’re very hopeful and encouraged by these new test results.

Thank you to all of my friends and family who have supported me in this journey. I couldn’t have done it without you!

PS. Remember to sign up for email updates to stay up to date with my progress!

Photo credits for this post go to my lovely bride, Amy.
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