If you’d spent any time around me during meal times over the last year, you would know that I was a very, very finicky eater. “What do you mean you can’t eat olive oil, Neely? That’s ridiculous!” I know it’s ridiculous. Olive oil is delicious. It brings out the Italian in any meal and what’s ridiculous is that until recently it made me itch immediately upon ingestion. “What do you mean you can’t eat rice, Neely? I’ve never heard of such a thing!” You wouldn’t eat rice either if it made you feel wasted drunk, hot and itchy.
Over the last 5 years, I’ve weeded out the foods that I am sensitive to – that my immune system doesn’t like. A lot of people know that certain foods give them headaches, heartburn, or bad gas, but they just choose to deal with it and eat the food anyway. I, however, am a Taurus. And we do not like to be uncomfortable. Whether I’m wearing 3 coats to insulate from a frosty 70 degree day or avoiding a climbing area because of a 15 minute hike, I like to be comfortable. This tauracity, as I will call it, extends to food as well. I will avoid any discomfort-causing culprit until the day that I die so as to maintain my bubble of relative ease.
My body is a real joker, though. See, I think that my life’s greatest challenges are 1) becoming less identified with my ego, and 2) not bingeing on sugar. The way that I know this is that whenever I let one of those things get out of hand, my body smacks me down with some heinous symptom. Here are some examples by category:
I started rock climbing pretty well and started thinking too much about how awesome I was and how not awesome the frat boy next to me at the gym was and immediately got a finger injury that rendered me less awesome at climbing than the frat boy.
2. Bingeing on Sugar
After a 6 month surge of diligent, conscious eating on my part, during which I enjoyed being the strongest and healthiest I’ve maybe ever been, I started basically bingeing on dates and cashews. I don’t know if you’ve ever delighted in putting two cashews and one bite of date in your mouth at the same time, but you should try it. It tastes like crack.
Day after day the amounts I consumed of each increased. I started to gain weight. Then came the skin problems. And finally I started to have (dun dun dunnnn) joint pain – not good for a rock climber – which once again rendered me way less awesome at climbing than the aforementioned frat boy. Some days it was my right elbow, some days it was the other elbow, then my fingers started to hurt – every one of them. I went to sleep with pain. I woke up with pain. I wondered if I’d somehow broken all of my fingers in my sleep. I certainly couldn’t climb, so I got lazy, out of shape and slightly depressed (although it turns out that watching too much TV on the weekends, instead of frantically driving to climbing areas is really enjoyable).
Finally, I pulled the plug and did what I knew I needed to do. I was not going to let my fingers and elbows get in the way of an upcoming climbing vacation, so I stopped eating my beloved cashews. I actually cried over this loss. Why take out the cashews and not the dates? I needed to take one out at a time so I could figure out if it was one or both or neither that was the cause. It took a few days, but the pain abated and I slowly started gaining on the frat boy.
The moral of the story is this: When you have discomfort (headache, rash, belly ache, joint pain…), you may want to think twice about taking something for it or slathering some weird cream on it to make it go away. If your body doesn’t like a certain constituent in a certain food, it will do whatever it takes to get your attention – hives, tingling lips, stomach pains, gas, acne, eczema, headaches, dizziness and fatigue, joint pain, or whatever. You name it. Your immune system can conjure awful things to do to you, so listen to your body when it talks to you.
While eating a Paleo diet can work WONDERS for food sensitivities (and I’ll get more into what food sensitivities are soon), sometimes it’s not enough. Grains, dairy and processed sugars are very common triggers for immune symptoms, but your body can actually be sensitive to any food. Raspberries, almonds, beef, chicken, carrots. I mean any food. So if you landed on the Paleo diet because you have some symptom(s) that make your life uncomfortable, and the diet alone isn’t quite taking care of it, you may want to consider having yourself tested. You can blood test, fecal test or do it the old fashioned way with trial and error.