My favorite food as a child was macaroni and cheese (put that on the list of "not at all unique facts I've learned about this blogger"). I ate tons of bread, pasta, ice cream, pizza, and cereal growing up. I felt great, and had a stomach of steel.
Then, in college, I started to feel a little nauseous when I would eat. It wasn't major, so I mostly ignored it. Then, my last semester of law school, I started getting physically ill and having debilitating nausea. All. The. Time. My eating hadn't changed, but I was spending at least a few days a week lying on the bathroom floor, and feeling generally awful. Eating Cream of Wheat when I was really nauseous seemed to help, so I carried a baggy of dry Cream of Wheat in my purse. I finally went to the doctor, and was essentially told that stomach issues are tricky, and it was probably stress-related, and maybe I should keep track of what I had eaten right before I was getting sick. The problem with this advice was that I was in the middle of the least-stressful semester of law school (I only had to take a few credits to finish) and I was headed into a career in a big law firm, so my stress levels were only going to go up. If stress was the problem, I was screwed. So, I did keep track of what food I was eating before I got sick. But it was different every time. I couldn't find any correlation between types of foods I ate and how I felt immediately afterward. So, I went on with my life--the periods of feeling sick came and went, and I got through them with a lot of saltine crackers. Then, at the end of 2014 I heard about the Whole 30.
The Whole 30 is a 30-day experiment, where you remove potentially-irritating foods from your diet for a month and then add them back gradually to see how they affect you. It's basically a paleo diet without any added sweeteners (so, no grains at all, no dairy, no legumes, no added sweeteners whatsoever, even if they're natural...no alcohol, no additives). You can read more about the program here. On top of my nausea and digestive issues, the migraines I'd had since I was twelve were getting worse. So, I decided I would give the Whole 30 a try. Worst case scenario, nothing would change, right? So, in January 2015 I did the Whole 30. And I didn't get sick once that whole month. I thought maybe it was a coincidence--I'd had periods where I felt fine before, maybe this was just one of those. But, after the 30 days were over, I started reintroducing foods into my diet. A few days in, I had some whole grain toast for breakfast. In the middle of the night, 16 hours later, nausea woke me up. What I discovered in the months following the Whole 30, after lots of trial and error, is that I have problems digesting gluten and dairy. Gluten is much worse than dairy for my body, and will almost always make me ill even in small amounts--dairy I can tolerate in small amounts, but certain kinds (particularly yogurt) cause stabbing stomach pains. The trick is that I don't usually feel nauseous right after I eat gluten. For me, the nausea and digestive problems don't show up for 12-24 hours after I've eaten the piece of bread. Which explains why I could never tie my sickness to whatever food I'd eaten right before I got sick. It wasn't what I had just eaten that was the problem--it was what I'd eaten the meal before that, or even the day before that. And, because I was settling my stomach with wheat all the time, my system was basically constantly irritated.
In some ways, this was a terrible revelation. I love glutenous foods! And dairy! You guys...macaroni and cheese! But in other ways, it was miraculous. For the first time in about a decade, I was consistently eating food and feeling good afterward, instead of feeling ill. Now, over a year later, I've settled on a "mostly paleo" diet. I eat a ton of fruits and vegetables, lots of fish, nuts, eggs, and chicken and some red meat and pork. I eat gluten-free grains (like rice, corn, and quinoa) a few times a week, some legumes (mostly peanut butter, and some beans) and have a few servings of dairy a week (usually cheese, which doesn't seem to bother me in small quantities). I also eat foods with sugar fairly regularly, but try to keep my sugar intake down (because I have a huge sweet tooth and no self-control with sweets, and also because I've found that lots of sugar makes my migraines worse). I try to eat pretty well, but there's definitely still space in my diet for potato chips, chocolate, gluten-free pizza...I could go on. But then I'll just be hungry.
Eating this way, and exercising regularly, has made me feel and look the best I have since I was a teenager. I've figured out fast and easy meals that fit this template, and also had fun experimenting with more complicated recipes (all of which are kid-and-husband-tested and approved). It's also been hard. I don't like inconveniencing people with finicky dietary requests, and I don't like discussing the fact that I don't eat gluten (mostly because of the stereotype of the "gluten-free fad diet" and all the air-headed connotations it brings)*. So, mostly I don't talk about it.
In a lot of ways, the last year has been one big food experiment--figuring out what works well for my body and fine-tuning that knowledge over time. This journey has made me really passionate about nutrition, and I'm excited to share that passion and the recipes I love on this blog. But, those posts wouldn't be grounded without the backstory of my dietary history. And there you have it.
*A word about dietary judgment: there's no place for that here. I believe in eating in a way that will make me feel my best--if you can eat five slices of pizza, four donuts, wash it down with a few glasses of wine and top it off with some ice cream and feel good, get on with your bad self. If you feel terrible after that meal and choose to eat it anyway, that's all you. It's taken me a long time to get to these choices and I feel good about them, but it's important to be clear that I don't believe in judging other people's choices, particularly when it comes to something as personal as the food we eat, at all.