How to Live (Happily) with Food Intolerance

With increased awareness and understanding, over 17% of the Australian population (that’s 3.7 million people) are avoiding particular foods due to allergy or intolerance. Whenever I meet someone new, one of the most common things I am told about or asked about is that person’s (or their friend or family member’s) food intolerance or allergy, and how hard it is for them to find out what to eat or for them to actually stop eating the food that gives them their symptoms. Often, people are unwilling to completely remove said foods from their diet (I certainly was) and have an emotional attachment that makes them feel like they are missing out or feel that the food is a comfort to them, so continue to eat the food, or even worse – binge eat the food.
With this in mind, I thought that I would discuss my tips on living with a food intolerance, mixed with a bit of tough love, because you may not really realise, but by eating the food you are intolerant to, you are setting yourself up for a lot of damage.

Firstly – accept the things you cannot change:

You can’t change the fact that the food you have an intolerance to gives you symptoms. And while it can be difficult at first because it tastes so gosh darn delicious sometimes and it feels so good to be bad, every time you eat that food it is damaging your body. The inflammation associated with this can reduce your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients from the foods you can actually tolerate by causing inflammation and damage of your intestinal lining – the site where nutrients are absorbed – and left untreated, has been associated with a host of disease states that once apparent are even harder to heal than the original inflammation, such as Crohn’s disease, Coeliac’s disease and cancer, to name a few.
This is why acceptance is key;
"My name is Miranda Partridge and I am lactose intolerant."
By accepting that yes, you may feel that said food is your favourite, and yes, it may really piss you off that you are intolerant to it, it will be best for you in the long term. The reality is that if you want to feel better, you know you have to cut it out of your life. Like a bad ex, remember the good times and MOVE ON!
A gluten-free, dairy-free, additive-free, nut-free breakfast that I made that tasted so much better WITHOUT the toast!

A gluten-free, dairy-free, additive-free, nut-free breakfast that I made that tasted so much better WITHOUT the toast!

Avoid ‘Alternatives’

There are a lot of alternatives available on the market these days, especially of the gluten-free variety. And while I do understand that these are there for you to feel like you aren’t missing out on something, there are a few reasons why I encourage you to be more open to changing your eating habits instead;

Firstly, just because something is gluten-free, dairy-free, lactose-free, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, fat-free, sugar-free or even organic, etc, does not mean that it isn’t completely processed, full of chemicals, high in sugar or full of trans fats. I like to think of these foods as a “filler”. They fill you up, fill the space of the food you can’t eat, but displace the whole foods you could be eating instead that are full of vitamins and minerals. For example, instead of a gluten-free pasta, why not eat your Bolognese sauce with a garlic and cauliflower purée, or layered as a lasagne with thin sheets of sweet potato and layers of spinach? Or instead of cheese and sour cream on your tacos, make a nice lime mayonnaise from scratch (easy, I promise!) on shredded carrot and cabbage slaw and guacamole. This way you get much more flavour (and nutrients) without that sickly feeling. Most Mexican places these days serve their tacos in this manner already and it’s easy enough to ask for no sour cream and cheese – you wont be the first person to ask (especially here in Brisbane, as I will have beat you to it!)

Another issue with the alternatives is that you are still stuck in the mentality of basing most of your meals around the one product, and as a result you aren’t getting much variation in the foods you are consuming, which in turn reduces the variation of nutrients that you are eating. Getting stuck in such a habit often means you are eating a high amount of corn and soy, products that are commonly genetically modified, and are found in a wide range of products in an array of various forms. Again, this reduces your nutrient spectrum, but also, when products are genetically modified, there is no way to be sure your body can adequately break them down because they are not in their natural form.

Instead, take some inspiration from one of my favourite cookbooks, Mr Wilkinson’s Favourite Vegetables by Matt Wilkinson and build your meals around a vegetable instead of a carbohydrate (bread, potato, rice, pasta, etc) or protein. By doing this, you are taking yourself out of your comfort zone and increasing the variety in your diet. If this sounds intriguing, I do encourage you to check it out, I adore that book!

Tuna, avocado and roasted carrot make this gorgeous, vegetable-filled salad filling, without the need for gluten or dairy. With a fresh tangerine and mustard dressing, it really hits the spot!

Tuna, avocado and roasted carrot make this gorgeous, vegetable-filled salad filling, without the need for gluten or dairy. With a fresh tangerine and mustard dressing, it really hits the spot!

Eating out

Eating out can often pose challenges of its own. You may only find one option that suits your preferences, or maybe you’ll try to eat something where the food you are intolerant to is the hero of the dish, but order it without that ingredient, almost to fill that void. I’m here to tell you, this route will only lead to disappointment.

Instead, opt for a meal that traditionally does not contain that ingredient. A lovely chicken salad with colourful vegetables is without the inkling of bread or cheese, yet still delicious, while a plate of roast beef and vegetables with mustard and mint sauce instead of gravy (yes, this is a traditional way to eat it) is full flavoured and often comes with steamed broccoli to boot! Sounds much better than a pizza without cheese, doesn’t it?

If in doubt, scan the menu of the restaurant you intend to visit on their website, and don’t be afraid to try somewhere new, especially if they market themselves as a whole food aficionado – you are much more likely to get meals that taste great and just happen to be gluten/dairy/soy/egg/meat free, almost as a cherry-on-top afterthought, rather than as a “crap, let’s just chuck on some soy cheese, that’ll do” mentality.

Think of the Positives – on a Global Scale

Here’s the thing, when your intolerance is getting you down, think of all of the positive things you are contributing to the world you live in;

For example, by eating vegetarian, vegan or simply dairy-free, you are reducing your impact on the carbon emissions of the agricultural industry. The water usage, methane release and clearance of rainforest for agricultural use accounts for most of the environmental destruction of our planet – the carbon emissions alone collectively account for more emissions than all transport in the world combined (for more information, educate yourself by watching the documentary ‘Cow-spiracy’). Now doesn’t that make you feel better?

Not only this, but by taking foods your body can’t properly process out of your diet, you are giving your body the chance and ability to heal itself (especially if you are replacing said foods with whole foods and vegetables like I mentioned above – this is called “Food As Medicine”). This means that your gut will better absorb nutrients because when the tissue heals, the available surface area for nutrients to be absorbed will be larger, and also for the friendly bacteria in your gut to find themselves a nice, clean and inflammation-free home, building up your immune function. Those symptoms you would usually get will subside, your skin may clear, your belly may flatten, your eczema may heal, and your reflux may disappear.

In the end, just remember that the only person who can make a change to your health is you. And the only person that will really be at a detriment or benefit by your choice when it comes to your health is you. No one can do this for you, and no one will. In the end, we are all responsible for our own happiness, our own health and our own wellbeing.

So what will you choose?

How do you live with your intolerance? Is it easy or difficult? What is the best tip you’ve gained through this experience?

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3 thoughts on “How to Live (Happily) with Food Intolerance

  1. I have a problem with onion, so I avoid it at all costs and this keeps me happy and healthy. However, what pisses me off is when OTHER people don’t or can’t accept that it’s a real problem for me. I’ve been told by people the following:
    “There’s no such thing as an onion allergy”
    “There’s only a little bit of onion in this, you’ll be fine”
    “Oh my god, you can’t have onion! How do you live?!”
    “I can’t believe you don’t put onion in your bolognese!”
    “You should get that checked out”.
    Grr!!

    Like

    • People can sometimes be so frustrating, can’t they? I mean really, in what way does it affect them if you can’t eat a certain food?

      I’m glad you’ve managed to identify the food and take it out of your diet, these are usually the two hardest parts. I used to live with someone who couldn’t tolerate onion, but I substituted for celery and we still had plenty of delicious meals.

      Unfortunately, I think the only way to deal with it is with confidence;

      “My body can’t tolerate onion. I can’t help that”
      “Onion is still onion. You’d feel bad giving meat to a vegetarian, and they choose to eat that way. This is not a choice”
      “See me breathing with my heart beating in front of you? That is how I live”
      “My Bolognese is the bomb-diggedy, I bet you wont even be able to tell!”
      “You should get your face checked out… Yeah!” (probably not a mature response, but seriously, what is it to them anyway!)

      Like

  2. Pingback: FIVE Ways to Get Your Five-a-Day | Miranda's Wellness

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