I wrote an article that was published in Living Without magazine, which came out this month. In it I mention that I have a food intolerance to oils.
I haven’t been diagnosed as having a food intolerance. In all the literature I’ve read about these kinds of food problems, allergies, celiac, food intolerance’s they talk about going to your doctor before eliminating something from your diet, but at the time I ‘discovered’ my intolerance I didn’t have medical insurance and even now I have yet to discuss it with my doctor because it seems to me, very little a doctor could tell me to do except what I’m already doing. Avoiding oils.
It started Christmas 2010. I felt awful. I had belly cramps, cold sweats, nausea and then I started throwing up. I thought it was the flu or perhaps I’d eaten some bad food. But it didn’t get better. The vomiting abated somewhat but the nausea continued. It was worse in the mornings, but if I didn’t eat I felt weak and faint. If I did manage to eat a few soda crackers it would be a few hours before the nausea abated enough that I could eat real food. This went on and on. All through January and then into February. People wondered if I was pregnant. The test came back negative. I didn’t worry that much I’d had a mysterious ‘flu’ a few years before and nothing had come of it. I hunkered down to weather it out.
The only thing was my parents were threatening to send me to the doctor or worse the emergency room. But when I’d gone to the doctor about the former ‘flu’. He had scratched his head, run some expensive tests and given me anti-nausea pills to help me get back to work. He’d had no clue and I couldn’t see what good it would do to consult another doctor except to spend lots of money. I was sure it would pass.
The solution came like many do, not with a blinding epiphany but with slow detective work. Many seemingly unrelated facts formed a pattern that up till now I had been unable to see.
I have known since I was ten or so that when I ate Crisco, canola oil, and vegetable oil I would have cramps, gas and diarrhea. I have no idea how my mom figured this out but she did. I thought that I was very good about avoiding those oils. I used only butter and olive oil when cooking at home and avoided anything that listed canola oil, or vegetable oil as an ingredient.
I believe my first hint was when I got horrible gas after eating a bagel a few months before this illness started. My mom and I thought it was a terrible thing that something like a bagel that generally dose not have any oil in it would set off my ‘allergy’. I didn’t think too much of it. Then in the middle of February my mom read the ingredient list on the box of Bagel Bites that I had bought to try and tempt my appetite. Canola oil. It was right there on the box. I hadn’t checked. I stopped eating them. Soon after that I found the recipe I’d photo copied for the popovers my aunt had made for us all at Christmas. Shortening. When I showed my mom we decided that it was very possible that she had used Crisco, and then we wondered: could my ‘allergy’ of childhood have gotten a thousand times worse? Could it have mutated into causing vomiting without the diarrhea? And could I without realizing it be consuming the very things that were making it worse?
I started reading labels religiously. All the breads listed soybean oil, I wondered if I had a problem with soybean oil. After all it was a vegetable oil. I stopped eating store bought bread and started eating only bread I made at home. I read the label on the soda crackers: soybean oil, had I been unintentionally making my nausea worse by eating the very thing that caused it in the first place? After three weeks of avoiding all processed foods. (tortillas had shorting. Crackers soybean oil, bread canola oil) I started feeling better. Not just better, amazingly better.
I didn’t need a nap in the afternoon. I didn’t feel exhausted from waking up in the morning. It was as if I was a different person, a normal person. A person who could go for longer than two hours without eating. Someone who could make it through a whole day and feel tired at the end and get up the next day and do it again without being sick as a dog. It was amazing. Then I made a mistake. I went out for breakfast. Within hours I felt tired, my guts began to cramp, the cold sweat broke out, and I wanted to sit down and cry. It was clear to me that I’d been doing something right. It took two days to start feeling better. My next accident I was not so lucky, it took me five days to recover.
I’ve done some research and technically what I have is not an allergy. Allergies require the presence of a chemical IgE. The classic signs of the allergic response are hives, itchy skin and/or throat, swelling, wheezing, trouble breathing, and sometimes blocked airways. It’s usually triggered within minutes of exposure. What I have seems more like what the medical world is calling a ‘non-allergic food hypersensitivity’. There are many reasons why my body could be reacting the way it is. Unless a doctor runs tests I may never know weather my response is due to an inability to digest the oils or because I have a non-IgE immunoglobulan response. Frankly I don’t care why I just don’t like being sick.
Since I stopped eating the oils I’ve noticed my joints don’t hurt all the time. This may be related to the fact that I can get more exercise and therefore can create more endorphins so I have a higher pain threshold but it could also just be that they aren’t as inflamed. I have fewer yeast infections, and I seem to heal faster from scrapes and bruises, actually I bruise less in general. I used to be black and blue all the time from barely brushing myself on chairs and furniture.
I’m not as anxious, and I have a lot easier time making decisions and handling stress. I learn faster and more thoroughly. Unfortunately this gos away the minute I’m exposed. It feels like having holes in my brain, information just leaks out.
I’ve had many screw ups since I figured out that I have this food sensitivity. But over time I’ve learned to avoid them most of the time. One of the more difficult to figure out exposures were from my boyfriend. I would get sick from kissing him if he had eaten oils in the past few hours. We’ve managed this by him not eating oils and having a Celina safe meal before spending time with me. I feel so high maintenance, but now I don’t get sick so I feel it’s worth it. Thankfully he does too.
It turns out the only oil I can eat without causing a bad reaction is peanut oil. Among the products that I have had a direct bad reaction to are butter oil, coconut oil, olive oil, palm oil, canola oil, soybean oil, Crisco, vegetable oil, hydrogenated oils, and mono and diglycerides. I also seem to have a problem with milk that has been homogenized.
The fats I can eat are unprocessed lard, beef fat, duck fat, bacon fat, butter, and chicken fat.
I avoid all other fats including ghee that I haven’t made myself. I’m not willing to experiment with my health to find out if any other oils are ‘safe’. Its just too painful to be sick.
I chose to write about my food intolerance, because its something that I think about a lot. I’ll admit that the very fact of it confounded me, and to this day confounds me. I’ve learned to accept it as a fact of life but the fact that my body can react to something that everyone commonly eats is something my mind had a bit of trouble grasping, hence why I think about it.
In my mental meanderings I contemplated the best way to talk about my allergy to explain it and how I deal with it to others, I must have written a hundred different articles in my head and discarded all of them. Finally I learned to cook mostly because of my allergy. Cooking gave me a handle on the food intolerance in a way that nothing else had. I started combining my thoughts about cooking and how cooking had changed the way I looked at my allergy how it had empowered me to take control of what I put in my mouth. The idea for my article was born.
The other reason I wrote it was I was hoping that at least one person who read my article and say “That’s me! I have problems with oils too!” and write to me here on this blog and prove that I am not alone in my problem.
There are more posts about food intolerance on my blog that you can access from the menu at the top of the page on the black menu bar.