Tag Archives: AllerThrive

A Survivor Story

This week, I am turning over a new leaf.  I am getting back to the basics of why I started this blog and my commitment to help those with food allergies and intolerances. I would like to start with the story of Denton, a truly talented and inspiring individual that I have been blessed to know for over a year now. Those of us with food allergies or intolerances know that food issues can be related to a host of immune system and/or digestive issues. While many of us know someone with food allergies, there are many other immune system and digestive ailments that share a common thread: food. I know that many of you will relate to Denton’s story and my hope is that you will also find encouragement.
It all started my junior year in high school. At the time was playing 3 sports, led in numerous clubs and organizations, and somehow managed to keep a 4.0 GPA. One day, the school held it’s annual blood drive. I showed up eager to donate to the cause. When it was time to draw blood, The nurse pricked my finger to check my iron levels. With a look of motherly concern she eyed the screen, then me, then the screen again. She tells me not only am I iron deficient and anemic, but I have the lowest reading of all the students she tested today.
Then came the fatigue. I went from straight A’s to was now nodding off in class, grades slipping. Athleticism began to wane. Then came the stomach cramps from hell that kept me up many nights. This was much more than your average tummy ache and it was time visit a doctor.
Several colonoscopies and months later I was diagnosed with Chron’s disease – An incurable, unpredictable form of Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Not the best news for a kid one year away from attending college. A kid who is more than ready to fully experience the “college life”. This made hiding my Crohn’s from others seem like the most viable option.
Throughout the rest of high school and into my early college years, I longed to just be “normal” person. My remission periods provided a tantalizing glimpse of this normalcy making it very easy to forget I even have the disease. Crohn’s was knocking at the door and instead of answering, I waited for it to leave, Unfortunately, Crohn’s was not playing ‘ding-dong ditch’. Late in the fall of my junior year, the disease kicked down the door.
I woke up feeling extremely bloated and nauseous. I skipped class that day and decided to get rest. I made sure not to skip any meals because refusing to eat exacerbated issues in the past. Dinner rolled around and I was still feeling strange. I felt so full and started developing what some like to call a “food baby”. This was particularly strange because I didn’t eat much that day. It grew larger as time passed and with it, more pain. I ended up being rushed to the emergency room that night for a complete intestinal blockage. The doctor said it was so severe that if I had waited a few more hours the toxins would have caused my liver to fail and my heart to stop. As I lay there in the hospital bed I realized than in order to live a long and prosperous life, I must control Crohn’s and refuse to let it control me. The most useful tool in any fight is realization that you’re not alone in it. That is why it’s important to join a support system full of people that are going through your struggle. That is also why, even though I don’t necessarily have a food allergy, I fully support Alanna’s vision with AllerThrive.
I’m happy to admit my days of hiding are over. I keep a food diary now which helps me determine what foods cause my flare-ups. I also joined the Colitis and Crohn’s Foundation of America in hopes of starting a chapter at my college to spread awareness for IBD. I’m doing a better job of saying no to my trigger foods, even when tempted with warm, southern-fried cooking I was raised on. But this growth wouldn’t be possible without the influence of people like Alanna. She has this optimism about her food allergy that is infectious and inspiring. That kind of resilience is to be commended.
I hope you have enjoyed Denton’s story, and I look forward to reconnecting with many of you in the months to come. If you have a story to share, contact me at allerthrive@gmail.com.

My One Year “Soyversary” Is Here!

To kick off the celebration of my “soyversary,” I am publishing before and after photos and more about my story throughout the coming weeks. I have had food allergies for years, but the discovery of my soy allergy on February 23, 2014 changed my life in ways that are nothing short of a miracle. I want to publish photos and information so that you can also be encouraged in your food allergic journey.

The photo comparison below is an important one for me, and both of these photos are from Cade’s Cove in Tennessee. The first photo is taken in March 2009, one year after my husband and I were married. The reason why this photo is so important is because it was taken before my six miscarriages and during a time when I thought of myself as reasonably healthy. This photo shows that even though I thought everything was OK, I look back now and see a very tired and low-energy gal.

Now, take a look at the photo I took last month. I not only see an energetic, vibrant person, but I see pure joy, and that is something that I cherish more than anything. I see hope for a healthy future and the energy to enjoy life.

If you are just beginning your food allergic journey, you should know that it took me years to get to this place, but that does not mean it has to take years for you. Your miracle could be right around the corner with a team of qualified and educated friends, family, and professionals that can help you get there. An AllerCoach should be one of those people.

Cades Cove Collage

Travel Report: Pigeon Forge, TN

My husband and I recently had the opportunity through my husband’s work to take a little winter vacation to Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN and also spend some time in Pigeon Forge. A year ago when I found out about my soy allergy, I honestly thought I would never be able to travel again, and especially not to somewhere like Pigeon Forge where there are very few grocery stores. Now, almost a year later, I am happy to report that we had a great time and a reaction-free vacation.

There are a few things that made our trip a success. First, my packing included my sheets and towels washed in my own detergent, my preferred toilet paper, snacks and non-perishable food. My food included dried apples, dried mangoes, chips, nuts, and Rudi’s soy free bread/almond butter/bananas to make sandwiches in a pinch. We stayed at Sunrise Ridge Resort, and they offer full kitchens and incredible views of the mountains.

SunriseRidge

Before we left, I did some research on the local Kroger grocery stores in the Pigeon Forge area. There is one in Sevierville, TN and one in Pigeon Forge, TN. The thing about Kroger is that they have a separate section of freezer and also non-perishable “natural” foods. They include a few of the brands that you would see at places like Whole Foods as well as some local foods. I picked up some Amy’s meals and some local, grass-fed yogurt. Another idea that I had was to defrost some cooked shrimp from the freezer section and add some celery and carrot sticks.

Pigeon Forge has also changed a lot over the years. If you haven’t been in the past 3-5 years, you will be surprised to see many more chain restaurants that you will recognize from your hometown, and of course the Sevierville Tanger Outlets are some of the best outlets in the Southeast.

If you do eat out, remember to always call ahead, talk to the manager, and eat at times when the restaurant is less likely to be busy. There were many restaurants that I spotted that have allergen friendly options such as Olive Garden, Mellow Mushroom, Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse and Longhorn Steakhouse. TGI Friday’s also has an allergen menu, but there isn’t much on their published menu that doesn’t have soy in it.

We chose to eat at Olive Garden, a place where I have had good experiences at home and also in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I called ahead and spoke with the manager immediately before arriving, but unfortunately this experience was not as good as I had hoped. I ordered a plain salad with no dressing and no croutons, and the server brought my salad with dressing in the salad. Fortunately I realized it before it was too late. I also ordered the baked parmesan shrimp, which was listed on their menu as soy free. I asked for them to leave off the bread crumbs just to be sure. This is my go-to dish at Olive Garden, but unfortunately the regular pasta they use also had fettucini pasta mixed in. This made me a bit nervous since I did not know why and where the fettucini had been. I did not have an allergic reaction, but I would not necessarily recommend this restaurant as an option.

On the next part of our trip, we had the wonderful opportunity of staying for two nights at Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN.

BBFRoom

This is something that we would not have otherwise have been able to do, and it was truly an incredible experience. If you are not familiar, Blackberry Farm is a beautiful hideaway resort with gorgeous rooms and cottages that boasts farm-to-table meals from some of the country’s top chefs. To top it all off, it snowed just enough to make everything beautiful and keep the roads safe for travel.

BBFarmDining

 

Not only was this a breathtakingly beautiful resort, but the chefs and servers were incredibly meticulous in providing me with safe meals. Usually when you visit a restaurant, you are given a couple of options to choose from on the menu. At Blackberry Farm, I was able to look at the same menu that my husband was using and pick what I wanted. The food was at a level at which I had never experienced before and may never experience again unless I have the opportunity to return. We all know as food allergy sufferers that we must cook almost everything we eat, and to be able to go somewhere and have someone cook for me that I could trust and make to-die-for food was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.

I am glad that I took the chance and traveled to Tennessee, because it will become one of our best vacations ever, and I can’t wait to return again soon.

Vibrant Health = Eliminating Allergic Foods

Alannaswing

Almost every year at New Year’s, I think over the past year and take stock of the good and the bad. Last December, I was so sick that I had just quit my job, had choking spells in my sleep that made me think that I was going to die, had suffered my sixth miscarriage, and thought that I would never beat the sinus infection that I had been battling for over a year.

Fortunately this story has a very happy ending, because in February, I discovered a new food allergy (soy.) Now, I can say that this year has been the best year of my life!

  • I have lost 50 pounds since June 2013, and 30 of those pounds happened after eliminating soy in February.
  • I have incredible energy levels. I never feel the exhaustion that I previously felt every single day, and I generally work way more than 40 hours per week.
  • I have not been on antibiotics in almost a year, and I previously took several rounds per year for sinus infections.
  • For the first time in my life, I sleep through the night without needing to go to the bathroom.
  • My acid reflux has gone from my doctor recommending extensive surgery to completely eliminating one of my reflux medications.
  • I have stopped taking 3 other medications/supplements.
  • The “chicken skin” that I had on my upper arms is gone.
  • It feels great to have people tell me that not only look thinner, but I look years younger.
  • I actually know what it feels like to just go to the doctor to check in and ask questions instead of constant “sick visits.”
  • My doctor no longer feels the need to check my cholesterol, which needed regular monitoring before.
  • Instead of eating out several times a week like I previously did, I can now cook easy, delicious meals that are just as good as any restaurant.
  • I have learned to work around my demanding and ever-changing work schedule and still have a home cooked meal at every meal.
  • I have found a handful of restaurants that can cook for me.
  • I am able to travel again.
  • I have an incredibly supportive family that has rallied behind me, cooked for me, and listened to me go on and on about food allergies.
  • I always listened to other people talk about their “calling,” and this year I finally found it through food allergy coaching!

In this new year, my wish for you is that your food allergies will become one of your greatest blessings, and you will look back next December and have your own list of miracles and transformations!

Holiday Parties: Safety vs. Social Expectations

I have served as a mentor for college students for many years. One of the hard questions that that comes up often is “Would you rather be right or would you rather get what you want and need?” There are many general situations in life when our egos can get in the way of getting what we want and need. For instance, I may argue way too long with someone just to prove I am right instead of working towards a solution that gives me what I needed in the first place.

Food allergies can complicate these situations even further. We all have a need for others to understand where we are coming from, not just because it makes us feel better, but because it also ensures our safety.

The holidays bring up all sorts of issues that we may not have to deal very often at other times of the year. For instance, if your holiday work party is coming up, do you stay silent and hope there will be something you can eat, or do you speak up and make sure your needs are met? Do you bring your own food to Aunt Sally’s party, even though she does not understand food allergies and will be hurt that you won’t try her great-grandmother’s stuffing recipe?

You may even have other allergies or family members that have other food allergies. For instance, I have a serious poinsettia allergy (those bright red flowers you see everywhere during the holidays) which makes it impossible for me to spend any length of time at a grocery store or many restaurants. When I attend a party, I struggle with whether to talk first to the host about my food allergies or my poinsettia allergy.

There are some tough decisions to make. For those with food allergies, “being right” is not necessarily about ego. It is about being safe and staying well. At the same time, when what you want most is to make a good impression at that work party or spend some quality time with Aunt Sally, how do you find the balance between being right AND getting what you want?

First, it is important to think about what you want to say before you pick up the phone, but it is also important to respond very quickly. You want to try to respond within a day or so of receiving the invitation so that you and host have plenty of time to prepare. The more time you both have, the more likely you will be safe and also have a great time.

For me, one way I have dealt with host conversations has been to start with the fact that I am struggling with balancing what I want with what I need AND show that I have already spent some time thinking about the solution. 

I will usually say something like, “What I want most is to spend time with you without causing any complications for you. I have some serious food allergies, but I have some ideas on some solutions that could be fairly simple and allows me to spend time with you.” In this scenario, I have stated twice that I really want to spend time with this person (which is the most important to me) and also reiterated that this situation is feasible for both me and for the host. At this point I usually suggest bringing my own food, bringing a dish that everyone can eat, or eating beforehand.

When it comes to allowing the host to cook something for you, I would say that this is a very individual decision. I only have a couple of people in my life that I trust to cook something for me, and that is only when I have approved the ingredients beforehand. However, that does not mean that there are situations that could work for someone to cook for you.

All of these situations are things that an AllerCoach could help you with, such as deciding what to say to the host, what to bring to the party, or deciding if the hostess can provide food.

I have had success in working with hosts so far, but there are situations when your suggestions can be met with rude comments or even dismissal of your needs. In this case, your need to be right (and safe) may be more important than getting what you want, because you don’t want to end up with an allergic event as a result. This is a great opportunity to reiterate what you want (“I want to spend time with you!”), state again that you have a serious medical condition, remind them that there are solutions, and perhaps give them some time to think about your request. In most cases, a little time can be what is needed to turn the situation around.

Calling All Soyvivors: What situations have you dealt with over the holidays?