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Too Much of a Good Thing

Too Much of a Good Thing - Part 1

When thinking of allergic reactions, sniffles and rashes spring to mind. But food allergies and sensitivities can do so much more - like contribute to chronic pain, ADHD, ADD, seizures, brain fog, joint pain and stiffness, trouble with coordination, and a long list of other ‘chronic’ difficulties.  But it’s not just the commonly known reactions to gluten and dairy. Any food, even very healthy food, can cause symptoms. It all depends on genetics, of course, and how often that food is eaten.

The foods you eat the most, that taste the best, and that you crave are high on the suspect list. An allergy can be self-inflicted if you eat it daily or almost daily over a long period of time. My story shows how I self-inflicted food sensitivities while thinking my diet was extraordinarily healthy.

I had been eating organic since my 20s, and became a vegan because I was fortunate enough during my post-doctorate Integrative Medicine training program at the Andrew Weil Center of Excellence (University of Arizona School of Medicine), to be required to sit with different integrative physicians over the 2-year program. I sat with one physician 5 hours a week for 5 months. He is a big advocate of a vegan lifestyle and the utterly astonishing results I saw weekly in his patients convinced me to become vegan as well.

The organic vegetable beds at my home outside Philadelphia (at the time) yielded the most delicious vegetables, especially tomatoes - organic, heirloom varieties that burst with flavor. My lancinato kale was so healthy it seemed to have an aura. It was perfect for making a vegan version of Dr. Weil’s Tuscan Kale Salad. Not only did I have tomatoes almost every day, having dehydrated them for the winter, I also had an overly virtuous serving of kale salad daily. My blood test results after eating like this became textbook perfect.

About 10 years ago, while sitting in the allergy testing room as the new physician in a clinic in Charleston, South Carolina, I asked them to test me blind (not tell me what they were testing for), so I couldn’t use wishful thinking to ignore any reaction if it turned out I might be reacting to avocado, etc. The last thing I told the technician before starting to test was “by the way, you are going to pry my dead fingers away from my homegrown tomatoes.”

Well … pride goeth before a fall. The fourth item tested suddenly brought on an irresistible hunger. I thought to myself, that’s not possible, you must be going mental, Bettina. Don’t humiliate yourself at your new position. Finally it got so strong I blurted out, “I’m so hungry I want to chew on the chair!” Then I looked down, waiting for the laughter and ridicule.

The senior supervisor matter-of-factly said, “Inappropriate hunger is a sign of allergy.” The substance they had tested was tomato.  What an eye-opener that was!  

I had self-inflicted a food sensitivity to tomatoes by eating them almost every day for many years. This explained the urge to harvest a second very large tomato when I had just finished one for lunch. Marching out to get that second tomato came not from real hunger, but from the hungry urge generated as a reaction to tomato.

Saddened, I stopped eating tomatoes in any form. After 3 months and once again after 6 months, I tested my reaction by dipping tortilla chips into tomato salsa at a Mexican restaurant.  The ‘addiction/allergy’ was still so powerful that I literally didn’t remember eating most of the basket of chips.

Another attempt was made after 9 months sans tomatoes. This time I ate 2 chips with salsa and was done. The lesson learned is that the tomato salsa no longer tasted better than anything else. It just tasted good, at a level that other foods might taste good. None of this “pry my dead fingers away from my tomatoes” feeling any more.

My self-inflicted allergy had resolved.  

I can now eat tomatoes and kale again, but they no longer taste better than any other food.  When something starts to taste too good, it’s time to back off and take a break from eating it.  

When I told this story to my gentleman friend, Charlie, a true southern boy born and bred, he looked at me and said, “You made yourself allergic to kale?! You got skills, girl.” The point is that any food, even a very healthy food, if eaten too often, can trigger a response.

This doesn’t have to be a big change, just something as simple as alternating types of protein powder (think morning smoothies), varying grains, and rotating what fruits and vegetables you are eating so that they are celebrations of a season of the year.

Stay tuned for Part 2 - the many diagnoses that may be made worse by food allergies and sensitivities.


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