Sunday, March 4, 2012

Fructose Intolerant

When I first started my blog, I chose windycitycooking because that's preciously what I was doing: cooking in Chicago. I didn't want to make it uniquely gluten and lactose free, even though that is what everything here is about (except for the occasional mention of goat and sheep cheeses which I tolerate). The hope was that the lactose intolerant issue would go away after being gluten free for a few months. For one of my long time lactose intolerant friends who went on the gluten free diet, that was exactly the case. He can tolerate dairy now. Me? My reactions are milder than they were before, but I have still noticed when I took the wrong hashbrowns from my mom's fridge (one was cooked with butter, the other in olive oil) or when the restaurant used butter on my dish.

Going dairy free was emotionally challenging for me. I was a hot mess removing dairy from my life. I started the diet in the spring and eliminated obvious sources of milk and cheese but kept some things that incidentally contained milk in my diet for a few months. As time went on, my reactions grew stronger, so by Thanksgiving, I was 100% dairy free - even off of butter which has the lowest amounts of lactose. I was angry. So many foods were off limits. Crackers, cookies, ice cream, milk, string cheese. Milk was hiding in all the packaged foods, put there simply to mock me.

By the time we figured out I was gluten intolerant, I was so low and so desperate that I had no choice but to embrace it. I was walking around in a fog. Later on, I realized the connection between Dunkin Donuts bagels and leaving work after 30 minutes for feeling so sick. My only saving graces were skipping breakfast and eating rice and meat for lunch. Somehow, I saved the gluten for dinner most days so I was able to keep working without greatly effecting my output. Initially, the gluten free trial was supposed to be a week off gluten, a week on, then a trip to the doctor. I went from feeling 15% to 100% in less than 5 days. When I went back on gluten, I crashed so low again that I barely made it through the day. I had my final meal of ravioli and said goodbye to gluten. Everything from that point happened so fast in my gluten education. I had no choice but to fully embrace the diet and learn everything I possibly could about how I was going to be eating. If I had to do it again, I would have started reading cookbooks and blogs about a week before starting the diet so I had more recipes and meal ideas in my back pocket. When I went to the doctor for my appointment, I was a completely changed patient: no longer looking near death, I was vibrant, knowledgeable and full of life once again. Throughout the past year and nine months being gluten free, I've had several reactions that send me spiraling downwards over the smallest crumb or cross contamination or poor label reading. I fully accept that one day I'll be in a nursing home quizzing the poor nurse about whether or not my meal is gluten free. It is a large part of who I am at this point. Without health, you have nothing. And now my health is largely dependent on eating delicious gluten free foods.

A few months ago, I started feeling "off". It was the diference between feeling 95% and feeling 100%. I knew how fantastic performing at my healthiest was and I was determined to do whatever I could to reach the top again. Each month, I started slipping a little further. Once at 90%, I gave up and called the doctor. I thought I was having reactions to corn: my symptoms got worse when I had things like powdered sugar (made with corn starch) and my mom is allergic to corn. Meanwhile, I switched to having a large glass of juice every morning and eating more fruits and veggies than before. The doctor ran a bunch of tests, including a hydrogen breath test for fructose intolerance. A week later, I received a phone call.

You tested positive for fructose intolerance.

At first, I was thrilled to have answers to my questions right away. This was by far the fastest turnaround time for identifying my food intolerances. But sugar free? Could I do it? Then I chatted with the dietitian and
received a one page list of what I can and cannot have. There were a lot of delicious staples in the "no" list, including all fruit, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, bacon, honey and so much more. The "yes" list looked pitiful in comparison: salt, pepper, 10 vegetables, and a few more things. I would go completely fructose free for two months then start trying to reintroduce foods.

The day after hearing my diagnosis, I went to Michaels to sign up for the next Wilton class. I have no idea how long my fructose free lifestyle will last and I wanted to take the class and eat the cake. I decided that the day after the final class, I would have a slice of chocolate cake and say goodbye to fructose. With a tangible end in sight, I was emotionally prepared as I started my research.

This is not going to be an easy road for me. Already, I had a few big warning signs that weekend that worried me:
  • The day I got my diagnosis, I was invited to see (and eagerly attended) Accidental Rapture at 16th Street Theatre. A play about the end of the world (literally) at the theatre where I missed my only performance as a stage manager ever since I was recovering from my appendectomy that brought on my food intolerances.
  • The next day I wanted to get some Jamba Juice and have my full of fruits. But there was a helicopter in the way. In the loop in Chicago. Seriously?
  • When I called my health insurance company to see if a dietitian would be covered, the hold music while the friendly associate tried to find a loop hole in the plan was Over My Head by The Fray.
Will it be easy? No. My spare room is currently holding 5 full brown paper grocery bags with everything containing an offending ingredient of has 2 or more grams of sugar per serving. I'm depressed by even that fact.

Am I up for the challenge? Some days. Other days it is just hard. It makes gluten free look like a cakewalk in comparison. I have plenty of foods I can eat in my fridge and cabinets, but there is difficulty in coming up with meals. And snacks. After my two months on a very low fructose diet, in an ideal world, I'll turn into someone who cannot have fruit juice (every day). But I could be like the woman who can have one strawberry every other day. So many fructose low/free resources use fruit but my dietitian has me completely off it. No lemons or lime for my fish.

I fell behind in blogging the past few months as I started looking into this new way of eating. If you stumbled upon my blog as someone with fructose malabsorption, please make sure to look for the Low Fructose label at the bottom.

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