“I’ll have the chicken, but it has to be completely plain, no marinate – can’t have any soy, with, wait, what kind of vegetables do you have? [Pause] Ok, with spinach, zucchini, and carrots – No, absolutely no broccoli. And I’ll have that over gluten-free pasta, no cheese, with oil and garlic, wait is your gluten free pasta homemade? No, ok, I can’t have eggs…And again, no cheese – I have a dairy allergy… Severe.”
“I’ll have the hamburger over salad, no onions, with gluten free fries — no, no onions on the burger or in the salad…No, no bun, that’s why I want it over salad. Please make sure the fries are gluten free. I have a gluten allergy.”
“I’ll have steamed chicken with vegetables – no onions, no sauce. No absolutely no tofu or sauce. Wait, does the dressing you use on the salad have soy? Ok, yes, no I don’t want the dressing. I have a soy-allergy. No no, there can’t be sesame seeds on my avocado. I have a sesame allergy.”
“No thank you, I don’t drink coffee. But even if I did, I shouldn’t. I have a coffee allergy.”
Oh, F*CK it! I’ll just have a glass of wine!
I’ve always been a picky eater. I eat what I like and I eat it well, but I never had a widely varied diet. For many many years, I ate zero meat, just chicken. I went over eleven years without eating a french fry in an effort to “stay healthy.” I went through the whole “no-fat” phase, the “weight watchers” phase, the “nutritionist phase,” the “low-fat” phase. And then I fell in love. In love with a man that LOVES food. And suddenly, I found my plate becoming varied. I forcibly ate sushi (vegetable rolls of course) and I was hooked. I ate hamburgers because he thought I “looked better” – “more vibrant” – after eating red meat. I took bites of steak and ate french fries and indulged. We got married, I cooked more, I fine-tuned my recipes. I learned that some fats are good fats and I started to enjoy eating with less weight-gain guilt. I indulged (to a degree) during all of my pregnancies, and I enjoyed food with my man.
Fast forward to my son’s milk-protein allergy diagnosis and I was thrown for a loop. I needed to avoid cooking with soy, dairy, eggs, nuts, and I was at a loss. I cried for my ice-cream. But I never once waivered in my decision to continue nursing. And I vowed, if my son couldn’t eat these things, I certainly wasn’t going to eat them (at least never in front of him!). And you know what happened? After a few weeks of research and revamping recipes to fit my new allergic mold, I was hooked on my new diet. I was cooking more and enjoying my food and seeing the baby eat the healthy, tasty things I made was priceless. And for the most part, even my foody-husband enjoyed MOST of my meals.
It’s not to say that it was all easy once I got the hang of the new diet. Going out for dinner often became tedious versus enjoyable. I dreaded ordering at restaurants. I hated going to catered affairs (I actually brought bagels and animal cookies to my cousins’ and best friend’s weddings so I would have snacks to eat alongside some vegetables). Going out to dinner with other couples was painful. And forget holiday dinners with the family. I either needed to cook my own food or dictate an exact “safe menu” for the host. None of that was enjoyable.
I always envisioned an end to all this madness. That one day I would once again be eating ice cream and the occasional chicken parm, although I doubted I would, but knowing I could would be nice. The baby responded well when I introduced nuts and eggs. He approached his first birthday and with that came immense pressure within the family to “just let him try dairy already.” But then he got an ear infection and I held off from introducing anything new and when it cleared up, I was once again feeling bombarded to “just give him the yogurt!”
And in the midst of all of that, I found out that I am allergic to gluten. And that became the adjustment from hell. Everyone said, “No, if you are already so many other things ‘free’, going gluten free will be the easiest because there are so many gluten-free options available.” So I joined a Gluten-Free support group on Facebook and began substituting in my recipes and with my purchases. I’m still struggling with the baking aspect – I love to bake and I don’t find Gluten-Free baking to be as easy or as enjoyable, especially after finding out I am also allergic to millet and tapioca starch (two ingredients found VERY often in gluten-free products.) Oh and let’s not forget casein. Stay away from dairy! It’s been an arduous process. I am loving how “clean” my recipes are with good-fat ingredients, less carbs, and lots of flavor. Snacking is difficult – I love desserts and I am often at a loss for what to eat for snack. When the doctor advised I try to lower my sugar intake in addition to everything else, I nearly punched him. Step-by-step doc or you may have a wheat-crazed, sweet feening, give me my ball of mozzarella cheese psycho on your hands.
Then yesterday, I decided to go for it. I gave the baby his first taste of cow’s milk whole fat, plain yogurt. I wish I could say it was a euphoric hallelujah moment of joy for him, but he shoved the spoon away from his mouth with gusto. I managed to get a few small bites in and much to my husband’s delight, he didn’t throw up or break out in hives. Much to my husband’s displeasure, the photo of a bloody poop diaper he received via text this morning on his way to work. So the baby is going to stay dairy-free for a little while longer before we “give it another shot!”
Never in my life, have I had more appreciation for the poor mothers that have to spend so much of their time worrying about their children’s allergies. I know several of these mothers personally, and from what I can string together from their stories is that it is a full-time job just managing allergies (cooking, researching, shopping, worrying, doctor appointments, etc.). Although it truly sucks having to overhaul my entire diet, I am weirdly grateful for the awakening to the world of allergies. It’s forced me to be more mindful of others, more aware of what I am putting into my body, more conscious overall. I enjoy the challenge of cooking meals with substitutions, fine-tuning to make them taste great and not just acceptable. Because as I said, I enjoy eating. My husband loves food. And much of our relationship is centered around a good meal enjoyed together.
So while I continue to deal with anxiety about ordering out at restaurants, tirelessly explaining my allergies, watching the waitress scramble to write it all down (or look at me with blank stares or tell me “you could just do like I do and drink a protein shake before I go out to eat, so I don’t have to worry about eating and allergies while I am out” – swear to G-d that happened), or the momentary spousal eye roll when picking a place to eat that has “safe” options, I’ll just be grateful I’m not allergic to wine… At least for the moment.