I got here by getting sicker as soon as I tried to get healthier.
In 2009, I was not at my heaviest (which was ~220-230), but I was still over 200 lbs at 5’5″. I “felt fine” other than the uncomfortable feeling of being heavy. I was on my first full year of being cigarette-free, and regularly walking the 0.8 miles to work every day. However, I was also rapidly approaching the dissertation-writing-and-defending portion of my graduate degree in chemistry and eating all of my feelings about the experience.
Then, I watched my first episode of The Biggest Loser, which quickly turned into a weekend full-season marathon, and it was a great motivator. Watching people overcome weight issues that were much worse than mine was my indication that it could be done. I currently have a whole new set of thoughts about The Biggest Loser, but that is another story. So, I started running and eating what I thought was a healthy diet. Breakfast usually included Grape Nuts cereal with yogurt, lunch varied from frozen Lean Cuisines to whatever I could purchase (slice of veggie pizza, Subway sandwich, Qdoba burrito), and dinner was usually pasta with mixed veggies or more purchased food.
Then one day I started reacting to dairy. First, only soft cheeses gave me hives and migraines. Then, it was hard cheeses, so I switched to goat milk cheese (mmmmm, raw goat milk cheddar, mmmmm).
And then, it was all over. All dairy from cows and goats (and likely other mammals) gave me hives, a migraine, and major asthma 😦 Thankfully (or not), allergies were not new news in our house. My girlfriend has had severe allergies since birth. We were already keeping a peanut-, treenut-, and shellfish-free kitchen, with a few other items that we just avoided. (Check out the About the Chemist page for a full list.) So, dairy was out, but nothing else changed about my diet. Milk became soy milk. Yogurt became soy yogurt and eventually coconut yogurt.
Summer in St. Louis can be pretty brutal, so in 2010, as soon as it started to warm up, I picked up a gym membership, which I was quickly using five days a week. Strict portion control, a steady gym schedule, and the stress of writing a dissertation and finishing my Ph.D. helped me slim down to 140 lbs pretty quickly. (Stress was pretty easy to come by in our apartment that summer. My girlfriend completed her Ph.D. in June, and I completed mine in July.)
After that, not much changed. Stress stayed pretty high as I completed a 9-month teaching postdoc (my longest working day during the week was 7am-11pm and often until 2am). I went to the gym less often as I quickly ran out of time, but managed to lose weight even as I ate more due to the long days of running around.
Several months of job-searching after the end of my postdoc, I landed a position that was great for a number of reasons: my responsibilities fit with my interests in education, it didn’t require moving out of our apartment, and I could still walk to work every day. The down side was what comes with most office jobs–a lovely, ergonomic office chair that was my new constant companion. I also got health insurance (the good kind!) and an allergist. I tested negative for a milk allergy, but my allergist just recommended that I continue to avoid milk. I started getting allergy shots for my animal and environmental allergies.
Office life was–and still is–nice. I liked what I was doing, but I was still not going to the gym, and my visits to the vending machine and the bagel shop were not paying off. I gained some weight back, but not enough to require a new wardrobe.
But near the end of November 2012, things started to change. A busy week led to several visits to the bagel shop. I started to get bloated every time I ate a bagel–a reaction that I ignored. Obviously, I was imagining things. By the end of that week, my body had had enough and gave me full body bloating, puffy lips, asthma, and numb hands and feet. I rushed myself to the allergist and was given steroids, antacids, and orders to stay wheat-free for a week in order to be tested for a wheat allergy. Wheat free turned into gluten-free after reacting to oats.
That allergy test (looking for IgE antibodies against wheat) came back negative. When I asked what I should do, the nurse replied, “Well, you can eat bread. Just don’t eat a lot of it.” Completely frustrated (and now constipated with acid reflux from my grain-heavy, gluten-free diet) I headed to my regular doctor and got a referral to a gastroenterologist.
I am currently on a 90% grain-free diet that also excludes dairy and everything else on our household allergy list. I’m doing much better, but worried about the possibility of having Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth. I see the gastroenterologist for the first time next week, and I’m hoping for some guidance about my diet.