This post is about my health journey – what happened to me, why I think it happened, my long search for answers, and what I actually did to try to fix my situation. So here goes……
About six months after I moved to Chicago, I developed asthma – which apparently was a rare event at the time for an adult. Was it caused by living/working in the city, air pollution, the stress of a new job, allergies? Most likely all of the above, according to my doctor. (For my take on why it happened, read this post, I Was a Bad Vegetarian & Vegan.) I was put on meds (an inhaler, a couple of pills) and weekly allergy shots. No biggie, I thought. I can live with this.
But my symptoms weren’t improving. In fact, they were getting worse. Substantially worse! Over the course of the next few years, my sinuses became so inflamed that I could no longer breathe out of my nose. Not a problem, I thought, since I can still breathe out of my mouth. But try going out to dinner and not being able to breathe because chewing food takes longer than you can hold your breath.
My Breaking Point
Then while I was at the allergist’s office getting my weekly shot, something went horribly wrong. I had a massive allergic reaction to whatever they gave me and I basically stopped breathing. They rushed me into a back room and injected me with enough epinephrine to revive a dead elephant. Although my lungs started opening up enough so I could gasp for air, my heart started racing as though it intended to leap out of my chest. My hands were shaking so violently I couldn’t hold a glass of water. I had beads of sweat and tears running down my face and neck. My legs were trembling so badly I couldn’t stand up. After about an hour, I had recovered enough to leave.
I immediately went to my primary care physician, relayed what happened, told him my goal was to wean myself off all medications rather than to keep taking more (by that time I was up to 3 inhalers and 5 pills daily, plus the weekly shots), and what plan could we develop to meet that goal? He stared blankly at me and said, “Asthma can’t be cured. All you can do is control it with drugs which you’ll be on for the rest of your life.” I tried to press him further but he got up and walked out of the office.
My five minutes with my assembly line HMO PCP were up. Clearly, I was on my own.
I can’t remember ever being so angry. The dismissive look. The roll of the eye. The arrogance. The unwillingness to even discuss something new. This is my life we’re talking about!
Looking back on it, had that crisis not happened to me, the opportunity to completely change my situation probably would not have occurred. I’d still be suffering and taking a ton of meds. But luckily I hit my breaking point instead. Nothing like a jerk of a doctor and a near-death experience to light a fire under you!
Making the Change
The first thing I did was read everything I could get my hands on. This was 1997, by the way, so no easy Google search for me – just libraries and book stores! I was lucky enough to find an integrated medical practice with a physician who was well-versed in alternative therapies. After discussing the options, I decided to work with a nutritionist. Adding a few salads a week should be easy, right?
The nutritionist suggested I try a macrobiotic diet. Okay…….what on earth is that? (See the Resources section.) Let’s just say everything I was supposed to eat was totally foreign to me. What is miso, nori, bancha tea, kombu, daikon, seitan, kale? Remember this was before kale was ubiquitously known as the king of all superfoods – before there even was the word “superfood”.
I was absolutely clueless how to proceed. I felt like Alice going down the rabbit hole – no idea where I was going, what I’d find once I got there, and where I would eventually end up.
Luckily, there was a restaurant nearby that offered a macrobiotic plate. I ate there every day until I learned enough to start cooking for myself. A Whole Foods had just opened so I was able to buy all of these new-fangled ingredients – many of which were not sold in “regular” grocery stores at the time.
Within two weeks of following a strict macrobiotic diet, I felt fantastic! I was off every medication and the allergy shots – permanently (except one inhaler). My energy level soared through the roof. My skin glowed and the tiny, red bumps that had been on the back of my upper arms all my life disappeared (what were those anyway?).
So I’m thinking why doesn’t every doctor know about this? Why aren’t the insurance companies all over this? This “cure” was relatively easy and fast – and far cheaper than meds, without the side effects!
Over the course of the next 16 years, I continued to hone my diet, experimenting with various types of foods until I came up with a hybrid diet consisting mostly of vegan/vegetarian fare with small amounts of organic animal products. However, I still had trouble with seasonal allergies and was not able to get off that last inhaler. I had cleaned up my diet so much that I thought eventually I wouldn’t need it anymore. But my use of it was minimal enough and I was light years ahead of where I used to be, so I decided to just live with it.
Rabbit Food & The Last Piece of the Puzzle
Over the years, I was the subject of more than a few “rabbit food” jokes from friends, co-workers and family. I used to get somewhat defensive when people referred to my meals as “rabbit food”, but now I fully embrace the term — thus the Down the Rabbit Hole and Rabbit Food titles in this section.
Perhaps one of the biggest skeptics of our vegan/organic diet at the time was my mother-in-law – a devout and enthusiastic meat eater. However, as information about good food, health and nutrition started making its way into the mainstream, thanks to shows like Doctor Oz, she completely changed her eating habits – perhaps even more drastically than I did.
In fact, a few months ago, she suggested that I read a book called Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD. I almost didn’t because I have read so many health and nutrition books over the years that I thought there was nothing new left to learn. But I read the book and realized the ONE thing I never tried to cut out of my diet was grains. Not just whole wheat breads in favor of the gluten-free stuff, but ALL grains and products derived therefrom.
Are you kidding me??? After everything I’ve given up over the last 16 years, now I have to give up my beloved pasta, pizza, bread, bagels, rice, oatmeal??? After the initial horror of the proposition passed, I sucked it up and cut out all grain-containing foods (well almost all – I’m a hard-core carbaholic, so I need some time to wean myself fully).
After less than two weeks of going basically grain-free, I nearly eliminated that last inhaler. On top of that, my ever-present post-nasal drip completely disappeared. And this is the first Autumn that I haven’t suffered near-debilitating allergies. I never tied those two problems to food – I thought allergies and a runny nose were caused by animal dander, dust and ragweed. I think I finally found that last piece of my nutritional puzzle. (Look for a future post on my grain elimination experiment.)
So why am I telling you all of this? Do I really expect you to do what I’ve done? Absolutely not, although I think changing one’s eating habits is easier now than it was 16 years ago when resources were scarce and information was hard to come by. And just because this worked for me doesn’t mean it will work the same for everyone else. I had to go through a lot of trial and error, experimenting with food to find out what worked for me – like kale is my miracle food, and there is life after cheese (okay I still eat some cheese – just not in the quantities I used to).
I’m telling you this because if you, like me, grow tired of taking meds, and feel like you’re losing control of your body without any other options because your doctor doesn’t know or isn’t telling you about them, then you have a choice to make. Either choose to live with your condition(s) and take your meds without complaint, or choose to take ownership of your body and health. Get a second opinion. And a third. Do some research. Experiment with your diet. See if you can find something different that helps.
Everyone has their breaking point. Do you know yours? If you hit it, what will you do? Raise the bar higher to avoid a call to action, or will you say enough is enough? The choice is yours. No one is going to take better care of you than YOU.
Thanks for reading. Eat well and be happy!