A few weeks ago, I went for a sunrise run, feeling energized in the breezy almost dawn. Toward the end of my usual 3-mile loop I noticed the pretty play of pink sun rays against yellow flowers on the trees.
As I stopped to take a photo, I realized something: I was running outside, during allergy season. Right above me, dogwood trees were in full bloom. I took a deep breath in and realized the following:
-My eyes weren’t stinging.
-My chest wasn’t congested.
-I was breathing in what felt like broken glass.
-My sinuses were clear.
-I had no headache.
At one point five years ago, we lived in Mesa where the trees bloomed against a man-made lake. For a few consecutive weeks every April, both my husband and I had to sleep with pillows propped behind us, halfway upright, with an inhaler near by. I could not breathe otherwise with severe allergy symptoms, which seemed to get worse every year. Runny nose, cough, trouble breathing, horrible headache and watery, red eyes.
Many people suffer from allergies in Arizona when the trees bloom, and we just get used to it. We push through what should be a magic time of year before the weather heats up for the summer: pool season, patio dining, early morning runs, barbecues and long evening walks.
Hard to enjoy any of those things when you can’t breathe well.
I put myself through an elimination diet in September 2015, to figure out why I couldn’t get to my goal weight, why my skin remained congested, why my stomach hurt in a vague but constant state after I ate. I guessed that dairy would most likely be the culprit, but I wanted to be sure before I cut out this beloved food group.
I journaled, first cutting out gluten, then egg, then dairy. I wrote down symptoms, thoughts, reactions. Before I started dairy, I got on the InBody scale at Protea. I work out 4 times a week, do yoga, consume lots of veggies, eat about 75% clean and drink a ton of water. I felt healthy, besides allergies, skin issues and low grade headaches.
When I got on the scale on 9/1/15, I weighed 157.2 with a body fat percentage of 19.3.
Five days later, I weighed in at 151.4 with a PBF of 17.8.
I couldn’t believe it. Not only did my stomach feel less bloated and my skin considerably less congested through my cheeks, but my stomach didn’t hurt. At all.
It wasn’t allergy season, but I imagined that if it were, I wouldn’t be as inflamed. In researching this phenomenon, I started to realize something powerful: an inflammatory response to food can trigger a myriad of health concerns. Our immune systems are designed to recognize an invader and rally troops, as it were, to attack.
Severe allergic reactions, like some children have with peanuts, are easier to spot. The low-grade ones can be tricky. If we are in a constant state of immune irritation from foods that our systems can’t process correctly, we will experience inflammation. An inflammatory response can present as swollen joints, headaches, skin breakouts (since skin is our body’s largest organ), and IBS, to name a few.
Many doctors don’t look to food as a possible source for allergies. Seasonal allergies come straight from air-borne particles, which trigger immune response a few times a year until the pollen dies down. But if your system is overburdened by eating something almost every day that irritates the lining of your gut, causing the inflammatory system to activate, your body is already taxed.
Working overtime to react to an inflammatory food, the immune response to airborne particles goes into hyperdrive. Reactions against an invader substance has already been engaged, as in my case with dairy. Like the adrenal system, our immune system when working correctly elevates when it senses danger and calms down when things return to normal.
Being systematically inflamed on a constant basis is not a state of normalcy. Something will break down, and our body tries to correct this breakdown. But if we can’t isolate the trigger, we can’t eliminate it. Without eliminating it, the cycle of an overburdened immune system continues.
Something as simple and effective as an elimination diet can illuminate what we may miss in our normal day-to-day eating: a slow build up of immune activity based on a food you can’t process anymore.
Maybe as a kid you were able to eat dairy or gluten, before your system began to react against it. As you get older, with adrenal fatigue, stress, hormones, etc, the immune system takes a hit. And suddenly you have bloating, headaches, inflammation that may seem out of the blue. In reality, your body may have been signaling you for a long time.
My life changed once I eliminated dairy, as I realized that day this Spring during my run. I have no more seasonal allergies, even though the trees continue to bloom every year. My immune system functions better without the constant burden of dairy intolerance. I can keep those pounds off with my normal exercise and eating routine, give or take a few splurges.
When I do have an occasional slice of late night pizza or eat eggs fried in butter (the standard in most restaurants) I feel the effects immediately. They go away after a few hours or sometimes a day, depending on what other stressors I put on my system. I can’t deny my body’s reactions, which keeps me away from dairy even on days when I am especially tempted to reach for some brie or sprinkle parma over my pasta.
It just isn’t worth it. I like breathing clearly in the Spring, my clothes fitting better, and going for runs in the morning, allergy season or not.
Have you wondered if you have a food intolerance? Do you feel bloated when you eat certain foods? Have you gained a few pounds and can’t figure out why or where they came from?
Elimination diets can be customized for your life, done over a period of one to two months or faster if you start first with the top 5 inflammatory food groups: dairy, soy, eggs, gluten and nuts. Start there, and expand out to other foods if you still seek answers.
We’d love to help guide you towards a less inflamed life, with better understanding of your body’s reactions to the food you eat. Knowledge is power, and food holds the key.