Monday, December 9, 2013

Why I'm Happy to Have Food Allergies

I've had breathing issues my entire life.  I was born with pneumonia.  I was told I was weak and fragile and had bad lungs.  I never participated in sports (although I could somehow play the oboe).  I had childhood allergies (never defined, but treated with prescription medications) and exercise-induced asthma.  And then, as an adult, I smoked cigarettes for nearly a decade.  Not the makings of a cyclist, but somehow, I found myself on the bike.

When I got serious about cycling, I visited the pulmonologist, who confirmed that I'm allergic to just about everything in the world, that I have temperature- and exercise-induced asthma, and early signs of COPD.  But, I wanted to race my bike, so I endured years of allergy shots (treating environmental allergies but not food allergies), allergy medications to counter the symptoms, and an inhaler to clear my lungs.  But never did this doctor recommend that I eliminate allergens from my environment.

A few years ago, I started working with a different allergist, who recommended I remove all allergens from my environment.  This included eliminating certain foods, my dog (I couldn't do it), carpet, and covering my bed and pillows in anti-allergen cases.  I do the best I can.

The foods were the easiest to eliminate (although this takes very conscious decision-making, especially if eating in a restaurant).  My home is as allergen-free as I can make it.  I struggle when traveling (motel rooms are filled with allergens like dust, dust mites, and mold) and mountain biking can aggravate my allergies to grasses and trees.  But all in all, I've been able to relieve my symptoms by making some lifestyle changes.

Interestingly enough, when I removed my food allergens from my diet, amazing things changed in my health.  My immune system seemed to improve, maybe because it wasn't constantly being stressed by my diet.  My lungs were stronger (proven through breathing tests).  I no longer needed to use an inhaler for cycling, except in very cold temperatures.  My weight stabilized.  My energy increased as did my sleep quality and my mood.  I no longer suffered headaches and a stuffy head.  My skin cleared up and the hives that had plagued me for many years disappeared.  And my recovery time on the bike improved dramatically.

So, why am I happy to have food allergies?

  • I learned to cook.  My most significant food allergy is wheat.  Wheat is in everything, not only obvious foods like bread and pasta, but also hidden in things like salad dressings and sauces.  To eliminate wheat, I needed to learn how to prepare foods from scratch.
  • I learned about great foods I had never tried before.  When I first started eating wheat-free, the gluten-free trend wasn't popular and GF foods were not readily available.  So rather than substituting GF bread or pasta for regular bread or pasta, I substituted other foods.  I discovered corn (tortillas, polenta, chips) and I embraced the humble potato.  
  • I became acutely aware of what I'm putting into my body.  I rarely ate pre-packaged foods, but when I did, I learned to read labels and evaluate the ingredients.  I also started to pay attention to how I felt after eating certain foods.  Did my energy level spike or drop after eating?  Did I feel full?  How did I feel the next day?

Because I'm also sensitive to oats (and many times oats are contaminated by wheat), I had to find a substitute for my favorite breakfast food -- oatmeal.  After some research, I decided to experiment with quinoa.  While many consider quinoa a grain, it's actually a seed, very high in micro-nutrients and is a complete protein.  Quinoa is high in calcium, magnesium, and iron, and is a valuable source of fiber.  It can be cooked in much the same way you would cook rice and can be prepared as a cereal, a pasta, or added to other foods (like salad) to give nutritional value and texture.  All hail the super-food quinoa!

I thought I'd share my favorite breakfast.  It's pretty easy and very filling.  It keeps my energy levels super-high and it's really yummy.

Caveat, I like texture foods (and this is no exception).  I like crunchy peanut butter; not creamy.  I prefer a smoothie to juicing.  I like chunky soups.  I like Almond Joy (not Mounds) and peanut M&Ms (not plain).  I'd rather eat food with a crunch than those that are smooth.  And my breakfast is no exception.

I prepare this in the rice cooker but it can also be prepared on the stove.  It takes 20-30 minutes to cook so you can set it and shower or pump up your tires or walk your dog.

Lorri's Happy Morning Crunchy Breakfast Quinoa (approximately 600 calories):

Prep Time:  10 minutes

Cook Time:  20-30 minutes


1 tsp coconut oil (optional)
1/4 cup quinoa
half an apple (cubed, skin on)
handful of raisins
cinnamon to taste
1 1/2 cup water
coconut milk
raw coconut flakes
chia seed
sunflower seeds

Coat your rice cooker with coconut oil.  Add quinoa, apple, raisins, cinnamon, and water and cook.

When cooked, add coconut milk, coconut flakes, chia seed, and sunflower seeds to taste.

Enjoy your day!

the main ingredients

the toppings

ready to go in the rice cooker

the finished product!


Glamazon Barbie said...

Dear Lorri,
Thank you so much for sharing your story and a yummy recipe.

I too have lived my entire life with horrible lung issues. I was constantly sick my entire childhood which kept me small and frail (I was 5' 3" and 72lbs when I started High School). Then 9/11 happened and living under that toxic cloud for weeks destroyed my lungs, making me sicker. In 2009 I was going into Respiratory Arrest and spent a week in the hospital. All the prednisone and other steroidal medications made be balloon up to almost 240lbs.

When I got back on the bicycle in the summer of 2012 my health improved rapidly. I tell people that my bicycle saved my life. Today I don't use my inahaler a six times a day, I've lost 60 lbs, my pulmonary function tests look amazing, and my blood pressure is around 110/60.

Cycling is not just a ton of fun. It's so very very good for you too. Mind, Body, and Soul.

Happy Holidays!
~ Becca

Darn Yarn Needles and Thread said...

I was and still am allergic to everything including food. And like you, I did my own research and thought it through, if I eliminate foods that anger my immune system the hives, earaches, stomach issues, headaches, and more are lessened, if not eliminated. I still have "bad allergy days" but that's because, like you, I refuse to live in a bubble. I simply do the best that I can and deal with it.

Lorri Lee Lown -- velogirl said...

Thanks for sharing your stories, ladies! I love reading success stories of how changes in physical activity (especially riding a bike) and nutrition can improve overall health. Keep riding and making good nutrition choices!


Eunice said...

Ack! I'm torn! This looks so yummy, but how can I make the mental jump from savory to sweet quinoa!!? I'll try to build enough courage by month's end - wish me luck!

Lorri Lee Lown -- velogirl said...

That's funny, Eunice! I've never prepared a savory meal with quinoa and I have a hard time thinking about it that way since it's my breakfast staple. Just goes to show that quinoa is a delicious, nutritious, and VERSATILE food.