My so called diet…

March 12, 2010 at 3:29 pm (Uncategorized)

I recently felt moved to write something about my ‘diet’. Half in response to some of the misunderstandings in relation to people who don’t eat gluten, dairy etc and half by way of explaining why you’ll never hear me utter the words, “surprise me” in relation to food.

Its also the reason why I cant attend fellow underground restaurants/supper club nights. Set menus are a no no.

I’ve been on one restricted diet or another ever since I came to the UK in 1987. From stone age to prehistoric age. I sought help because of recurrent episodes of ‘food poisoning’, which had plagued me since my time as a laboratory technician working in microelectronics research.

When I started work I was ok, but after 3 yrs of forced exposure to various organic chemicals, I was very sick. Initially it was diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome but after shaking 10 tins of Lindane containing flea powder all over our flat, it progressed to full blown Candida.

I wasn’t working in the environmental field at that stage and thought like every other consumer ‘if its on sale, its safe’. It was during one of those long hot London summers. Our old flat had previously been a squat for dogs and all the fleas had been bedded down cosely in the floor boards waiting for a nice long basking heat wave.

It was quite cartoon like the way several hundred pinged off the floor when you walked across it, but become untenable when the cat started going insane and the fleas turned on the humans.

And so I started to balloon up, crave sugar, wine, anything yeasty, mouldy or fungusey. Its strange how the body craves the exact things that make us ill. The theory is they give us a temporary ‘high’ before we start to feel the ill effects.

My diet is not a lifestyle choice, or an option, it is a health regime. By following it I tend to remain the wrong side of healthy but the options of neglect results in some painful consequences.

Currently, I don’t eat; sugar (processed or too much fruits sugars), yeast, gluten, dairy, butter, yogurt or milk, acidic things like lemon, lime or orange juice, vinegar (particularly that yucky balsamic stuff) and no overly mouldy things, and now add mushroom risotto to that as well!

I have candida, in my gut. The medical establishment is currently ‘out’ on that diagnosis. That diagnosis was confirmed in the Homeopathic hospital after the glucose solution I was given to drink converted to a massive blood alcohol level in less than an hour.

Candida occurs naturally in the intestine, but we can get an overgrowth, from being exposed to too much yeast, toxic chemicals, antibiotics, or by having our immune system compromised in some other way, for me it was through my occupation.

With candida you get all the symptoms of over indulgence in alcohol without the actually feeling of being drunk. The headaches & migraines, the forgetfulness, the ‘head in a bag’ syndrome, the confusion, the nausea, the vomiting, and the worst kind of hangover and also what I call a liver overload which gives me chemical sensitivities mostly to perfumes, aftershaves, cleanings products, paints, and solvents of various sorts. All in all it pays to stick to this diet and avoid all these things, when and where ever possible.

I had various theories put forward over the years as to how to overcome this particular infliction, one friend thought if I didn’t know what was in the food then I wouldn’t feel sick afterwards….that was blown to shit, literally, when I spend an hour on a beach in the sand dunes not feeling the effects of the milk that had been in an omelette I’d eaten earlier.

By way of an experiment, I was fed digestive enzymes in Canada by one friendly woman, and then everyone watched as I ate dessert. I don’t know if they worked as I puked it all up a short time later.

I used to travel a lot with work, and hence know the word for butter, flour, sugar and milk, in several different languages, and have nearly been arrested several times from the length of time I spend in shops scrutinising labels.

I have to forgo culinary delights, if I don’t know exactly what’s in them, or if I cant get across the vagaries of my diet in my pidgin attempt at a particular language.

I remember one trip to Brussels, then far from a culinary experience, and…even now…..anyway, it seems they eat bread or some combination thereof for breakfast, dinner and tea. Having had boiled eggs for breakfast three days in a row, and served sandwiches for every meal there after, I was ravenous. I’d have eaten the horse and chased the jockey.

There was no such thing as the V word in Brussels at that time, either varieties of.
The dinner I attended had no provision for vegetarian, or vegans or those allergic etc. Food was place in front of you and they looked fierce insulted when the plate was returned full.

Having to sat embarrassingly thru the first creamy, buttery course. I explained quietly to the waiter what I couldn’t eat, after several muted conflabs he returned form the kitchen with the only thing they had I could eat, a boiled chicken breast. Lovely!

While this kind of offering maybe acceptable 6 yrs ago. Anywhere that offers me a plate of food striped of any sauce and food I cant eat cos of my diet without any replacement extras, and then has the cheek to charge me full price, gets a big black mark and a comment on their website.

Food and eating can be a very emotive issue and as a fairly shy person its hard to ask for what you need especially when there is an unsympathetic reply.

Over the years the response have varied from utter incomprehension, to totally unsympathetic, and downright rudeness. Food has been removed with a snippy glare and returned with the offending butter scrapped off (and left uneaten as a result), chefs have refused to serve me particular combinations of food together if its not on the menu, I have been reduced to tears on many occasions when they think I am just a ‘fussy eater’.

The unfortunately growth of nut and sea food allergies has heightened awareness and understanding considerably. And while I don’t need to carry an epipen, the better labelling of ingredients and heightened awareness benefits all of us with intolerance’s and allergies.

So what happens if I do eat something I shouldn’t’? I will spare you the disgusting digestive details, suffice to say they run to polar ends of the digestive spectrum.

After eating sugar, I liken the intestine sensation to that of a small creature, dressed in a wetsuit, with razor blades on the outside crawling through my digestive system.

Depending on what I eat I get different reactions: lemon juice and vinegar – severe pain; milk or dairy products – severe pain and a path worn to the toliet; sugar- migraine, pain and dulling of brain, tiredness; bread – dulling of brain, pain & tiredness. And all accompanied with rapid weight gain in the form of water retention – I have two sets of clothes. And adding even more to the unsocial nature of this ailment, eating any of these gives me an intolerance to synthetic chemicals, phthalates, fragrances (perfumes and aftershaves, yuck) etc. But that’s for another blog entry.

I do, of course, when cooking, taste my own food. I mean the food I cook for the supper club. I just couldn’t eat a whole one. But my taste buds are more sensitive not having been overrun with overly sweet, creamy and buttery food.

When out with friends it’s a running joke that I will stick my finger into whatever they are eating to get a taste. An unhygienic practice I know, but makes me feel like I am normal & can participate. I also have a great memory for how things used to taste.

I have had some wonderful meals in restaurants where they have been so nice in relation to what I can and cant eat, they make me cry with appreciation because of their thoughtfulness. More recently this happened in Ottolenghis, but also in Café Paradiso in Cork and Otto’s in West Cork. I’ve had the best meals of my life in Hotel De France in Riberac, which is alas now closed. The chef there delighted in making such amazing food and sugar free desserts it would leave you guessing all night what was in them. Always the sign of good food in my book.


So what do I eat.

Well, I adapt recipes using soya milk, non-dairy marg or sometimes goats butter, various gluten free flours, mostly maize, millet, & gram. I eat pretty well at home. I can tolerate the odd bit of Italian bread (no dairy) and have the odd square of chocolate which keeps me happy. I wish there was more understanding given the increasing incidence of food and other allergies. I do love good food, and I love been able to eat and drink like every one else. I do realise its a hassle to cook for me, and others like me, but sometimes its nice to feel part of the herd and graze normally.

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