Adult Onset Food Allergies. Bummer Turned Opportunity.

This is a guest blog post by Marisa McStravick.

Up until the summer before my freshman year of college, I truly had what my dad calls, an “Irish stomach made of steel.” I always had a strong and healthy appetite. For example, after a hard swim practice, I’d have a grilled cheese sandwich, eat a full dinner my mom prepared, and then have some ice cream for dessert. My parents used to joke that I had the appetite of a growing boy and that I was very lucky to have been blessed with my mother’s revved metabolism.

My parents became concerned when one day I started losing weight rapidly and was no longer hungry for my mom’s meatloaf. It took a while, but I soon began to notice a trend. I was becoming sick after eating. After almost every meal I would get so fatigued that I would literary have to crawl into bed. After discovering food was the culprit, I began avoiding food almost  entirely. No more pizza with friends after school, hiding from whosever birthday cake we were celebrating at work, and trying to keep busy during lunch hours in the cafeteria.

I should inform you that this was all happening during Mary Kate Olsen’s public battle with anorexia and while Nicole Richie was famously making tabloid headlines for shrinking to an unhealthy size. My sudden and huge weight loss was not going over so well at home or at school.

“Marisa, we’re worried about you,” I remember my mom saying to me as she and my father sat me down at the kitchen table one evening.

“I just don’t feel well after eating,” I said, knowing that I sounded like the poster girl for an eating disorder.

“If you don’t start eating, we’re sending you to a counselor,” my father said firmly.

Often thought of as a childhood problem, food allergies are more commonly occurring at any point in a person’s life. Incidents of  adult onset food allergies are  rising at an alarming rate in adults. Some individuals who develop food allergies as adults have experienced some sort of allergy earlier in life, such as eczema, hay fever, or seasonal allergies. However, in other instances, individuals with adult onset food allergies have no history of allergies or sensitivities at all regarding food.

The problem with adult onset food allergies is that their symptoms are frequently overlooked because most adults don’t even realize that they can develop food allergies later in life. When adults with symptoms do reach out to doctors, their specific food allergy can be hard to diagnose and identify.

Had I know that my symptoms were caused by increasingly worsening food allergies, I would have never gone for two years continuing to eat the way I did. And eventually the continual aggravation I was causing my body caught up to me and my symptoms worsened.  One particular afternoon, towards the end of my freshman year of college, I was sitting at my desk typing away. I slurped down a bowl of chicken noodle soup and some crackers when boom…

The next thing I knew, I woke up with my head on my keyboard. It was 1:30am.

“What happened?” I thought to myself. I felt terrible and got into bed, not waking up until late the next day.

Scenarios like this persisted and then worsened quickly. Fatigue turned into passing out, my upset stomach turned into the complete swelling of my abdomen, face, throat, and tongue and I even started to develop painful hives all over my body.

These very long and very uncomfortable experiences came to an end when doctors finally diagnosed me with having Celiac’s disease as well as a sulfite allergy. My sulfite allergy requires me to avoid preservatives, meaning no artificial flavors, high fructose corn syrup, or a plethora of other additives found in foods. This has been especially difficult because preservatives happen to be in just about everything these days.

In order to prevent an allergic reaction I eat clean, real food, and try to eat 100% organic as much as possible. My Celiac’s diagnosis requires me to avoid gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. These are grains that are found in many everyday foods, so that has been a challenge for me when it comes to eating as well.

Developing these food allergies have not only changed what I eat, but they have also changed my entire perspective on food as a whole. Since being diagnosed, I have developed an enthusiasm and passion for finding out about the best and healthiest foods to put into our bodies. Of course, when I enter the grocery store I scrutinize food labels for my allergies. But I also take into consideration how much nutrition the foods I purchase pack. It’s important for families to load up on good-for-you-foods so that everyone can remain their healthiest. What I’ve found during my many food adventures, is that even foods I once thought were “healthy” contain added preservatives that no one should put in their bodies. “Healthy” foods like hummus, yogurt, even protein bars, can contain high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, outrageous amounts of sugar, and other ingredients that are best to avoid. It’s important to read nutrition labels to avoid bringing some of these not so nice ingredients into your homes and most importantly your bellies.

Another not so healthy habit that I know many people do is skipping breakfast. Never a good idea! Below is a fast and healthy omelet recipe I make often during the warm weather that is sure to please anyone in the morning hours and keep them energized until lunch. It’s colorful enough to cheer up a child on their way to school and a fun alternative for adults who usually have cereal or toast. Most importantly it’s packed with nutrients and good-for-you ingredients. Enjoy!

A Fruit-Filled Omelet (serves one):

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 avocado
  • 3 nice-sized strawberries
  • 1 Tbsp. of goat cheese
  • Drizzle of Agave Nectar (optional)

Instructions:

In a small bowl, crack the two eggs and whisk together with a tablespoon of water or milk until completely blended. Next, slice up the avocados and strawberries. In a non-stick skillet set at a heat setting just above medium, pour in the egg mixture and let cook until the base is set. Arrange the cut up fruit over the soft top of the omelet and sprinkle on the goat cheese. Loosen the omelet in the pan with a spatula and carefully fold in half. Slide the omelet onto a serving plate and drizzle with a tiny bit of agave nectar for a sweet addition. Yum!

Marisa McStravick is a 22-year-old journalism graduate from Drexel University in Philadelphia. Her adult onset allergies have turned her to a foodie. She writes about her dining out adventures for the online magazine Tablematters.com and provides   yummy recipes, nutritional tidbits, and healthy habits on here blog I’m Allergic.

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  • Tamara

    I am SO GLAD this story was shared! Its not nearly as bad, but my son has allergies to soy, and that also is found in just about everything. My husband and I actually thought my son might be allergic to preservatives, but didn’t think it was a true allergen. So crazy to know it is.
    What can we do to make companies change the way their food is made?
    I know not every possible allergen can be erased, but there has to be something.
    I personally don’t know what to do. I don’t have the time, ambition, or energy to hand-make every meal. He can’t have storebought pizzas, he can’t have most chicken nuggets, and so on.
    I know this site is mostly to help eat healthy, so I’m sorry for bringing up unhealthy foods. :)
    But, even healthier foods have it – organics, Kashi, “O” Organics, Cascade’s new line of organics, and so on.
    Anyway, I really feel for this woman, and thanks, again, for sharing.

  • Angela

    O-M-G, I’m like so jeals over here. A food allergy to my mo’s casserole would be so spam. Be really coo to got school with all my specialty food.

  • http://the50besthealthblogs.blogspot.com/ The 50 Best Health Blogs

    Interesting. I seem to have developed some new food sensitivities in recent months, especially when I eat bread. It’s a little confusing, because there is often chest (heart?) discomfort involved. I’m scheduled for a heart stress test tomorrow to help find out what’s going on.

    Jim Purdy

  • charity

    I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease at the age of 31 and I too find it a blessing in disguise. I am totally obsessed with finding super healthy food for not only me, but my kids too. Had I not been forced to read labels looking for gluten, I might still be eating crap!

  • http://imallergic.wordpress.com/ Marisa

    @Tamara
    Hi Tamara,

    I feel for your little one too! A soy allergy must be so difficult to manage because like you said, it is a hidden ingredient in so many products! You may have heard of a sulfite allergy, which is essentially my perservative allergy. It took a very long time to figure out what was at the root of my problem. So many individuals are developing food allergies these days, soy being one of them, so hopefully the food industry starts to take that into consideration.

  • http://imallergic.wordpress.com/ Marisa

    @charity
    I agree Charity! Thank goodness for places like Whole Foods Market! They have everything I need and more :)

  • http://www.livingitupcornfree.com kc

    My kids and I are allergic to corn and soy we eat nothing that we don’t prepare ourselves. They are teenagers but are learning to cook like no other children. Interestingly enough, adults think we are strange when they find out about our way of life but my house is a neighborhood hangout for teenagers. They enjoy coming here and hanging out in the kitchen, harvesting herbs from the backyard and learning to cook. You can’t imagine the smiles when they make their first pizza from scratch or drink mint tea that they harvested and brewed! I believe these kids must be hungry for something they aren’t getting at home and it isn’t just the food.

    For Jim Purdy: If you are eating minimal processed foods, you may be reacting to the free glutamic acid additives found in commercial bread. These are the same additives found in canned soup, sauce mixes and processed foods but if you don’t eat those things bread may be the only place you encounter them. You might want to make a trip over to msgmyth.com to find out more.

  • Siskkenneth

    The best info I have found in 10 years of having problems

  • http://twitter.com/bradfordspowell Bradford Powell

    Thank you for your blog, Marisa, which I just found when searching for sulfites in Agave. Sulfite intolerance affects ~1% of the general population and 100% of me and my twin sister! Have been learning much about sulfites by necessity since acquiring intolerance recently. Although the FDA coined the sulfite “allergy” explanation shortly after the 1970s-80s salad bar deaths, the condition is now (slightly) better understood and centers on a metabolic deficiency instead of an immune hyper-reaction (think of lactose intolerance versus gluten allergy, only far worse as you know). The list of ingredients to avoid is long (vinegar, wine, most corn-based products, most modified food starches, bleached ingredients, dried fruits, coconut,…), so I now hand out a home made flash card and politely question the chefs when dining out. What I really want to share for other sulfite sufferers is the following list of ok foods/ingredients. These have been vetted through careful personal experimentation and are known to be ok for me and my sister: 1. Japanese Sake and Japanese/Korean rice wine vinegar, which means that authentic sushi is a fairly safe choice for dining out. 2. Organic sea food is NOT preserved by sulfite; but regular shrimp (e.g., from Costco) can be soaked in salt water and rinsed to remove sulfites. 3. Organic dried fruit does NOT automatically mean safe unless also labeled as Sulfur free. However, sulfites in dried organic figs and prunes can also be washed off using the salt water soak. 4. Some fresh frozen coconut powders can be used for cooking or shakes. Tapioca powder substitutes very well for corn starch to thicken sauces. 5. Organic, dry milled corn meal and corn flour are fine. I use Bob’s Red Mill brand who’s telephone support folks were very helpful and friendly in checking for sulfites. 6. Frey Vinyards (Mendocino County) produces and markets sulfite free wines. Regardless of the push back and disbelief I receive by staff and vendors of other wines (non of whom have I met actually had a sulfite intolerance), I personally know that Frey Vinyards wines do not produce the sulfite-related effects of other wines. Safe and happy meals to all.