Working And Living Under the Influence of a Really Bad Allergy
Most of what applies to Coeliac disease applies to any allergy. The difference for Coeliac is that you quite often do not know that you have it and continue to consume food which you are allergic to. As you do it regularly, you have a sufficient Gamma Globulin titre to ensure that you do not visit the hospital every time. You still experience lots of nasty side effects without knowing where they come from. You just come to think of them as a part of you. And they really are not.
: I am not an MD. I have done, however, the larger part of an MSc in Molecular Biology and a complete MSc in Chemistry before I went to the dark side of IT. So, do not take any of the following as advice - it is a description of experience and an opinion. If you want advice - talk to a proper allergologist.
So here is a short, but not by any means exhaustive list of the "funny" parts of living with an allergy to something you consume regularly - gluten, milk, etc:
- Mood swings. Oh boy, you might as well be bipolar. In fact, I would not be surprised, if a few of the people who carry a bipolar diagnosis, will test out for allergy to something they regularly eat. It is not just me - I have observed it in quite a few other people as well. The improvement of quality of life and work from not having this one is worth making sure you do not eat things that do not agree with you. Similarly, as far as the common advice of "eat a little bit of this to keep your immunity". You know what - stuff it. Do you fancy being dumped or being fired because you went off the rails after eating something you should not eat. Sure, "continue to keep your immunity".
- Being stupid. This one is fun. I used to flunk interviews on a regular basis while performing stellar in most jobs I worked. What makes a difference for an interview is that you go somewhere to have it and you nearly always have a quick bite before it. Some junk food or sandwich as you are not familiar with the area and you do not know where to get something proper. What you do not realize, is that you have just started giving massively retarded answers, not remembering trivial things or just behaving as a complete and utter idiot. It is however, quite visible from the outside. Combine it with the rumours following you around because of the mood swings and your job hunt becomes beyond entertaining.
- Not being able to lose weight. No matter what you do, 10kg of beer gut follows you around until you stop eating whatever disagrees with you. While children with intolerances have a problem to gain weight and grow, adults who have gluten, lactose or other intolerance, which they do not know about, tend to carry a beer gut around. I lost 10kg the moment I went completely gluten clean. I have colleagues who have had similar issues with allergies to cow's milk or other common substances.
When You Really Need To Go and Get Tested
Ticking these three alone improves your quality of life enough to be well worth it. So, when and why should you suspect you have an intolerance (especially to gluten). Yeah, I know - if you are reading this you probably already suspect it so all of the following are just for completeness.
- Beer knocks you over. Probably one of the most reliable first signs of gluten intolerance in adulthood. If your system starts to disagree with beer and you get hammered with a couple of beers, you should get tested. It is quite likely that you have developed intolerance to gluten or yeast without knowing about it.
- Atkins works too well. Atkins means no gluten. If you immediately lose 10kg+ from going on an Atkins diet and it works way too well, you should get tested. This is really important, because if you have hidden gluten intolerance and you go off gluten for a period of time as in Atkins, you risk your life trying some bread or pasta after that. This is not a joke, if you want to try the Atkins diet it may be a good idea to test yourself before you do.
- You hate Imperial Lather. This one is entertaining. Everyone loves their shampoos, soap, etc. Now read the label - it contains significant amount of barley extract. While you are not likely to have a reaction every time, having a shower with their shower gel and doing exercise after that is likely to lead to some very nasty irritation. The same goes for Aveeno and several other popular household cosmetic items.
- Mood swings, bouts of stupidity, etc - as above.
What to do about it
Allergy is not a joke. You can die - especially if you combine eating something you are allergic to with exercise - that's how I got my diagnosis. A couple of attempts at Atkins dropped my tolerance to a point where eating some pasta and playing basketball after that ended up in a meeting with the blinking blue lights brigade.
The best is to eliminate it from your diet and to train yourself to recognize that you have eaten something wrong early on.
Recognizing it is actually fairly easy. The "stupidity" part is nearly instantaneous. It happens long before you get any of the more common symptoms. The best description of a bout of "allergy driven stupidity" is: "I am reading this and I do not get any of it". After finding this one out, I have gotten into the habit of reading while eating. It does not matter what it is - news, book, anything. It is better to read it in a foreign language too, as this requires additional effort - the bout of stupidity is easier to notice.
If you have even the slightest suspicion - stop right there, wait for a few minutes to see if the symptoms persist and/or are joined by any of the more typical symptoms. I have to travel on business and have to eat outside. So doing this has saved my skin tens of times. Sure, people sometimes find it annoying that I am reading at the table. You known what - I do not care - it is my means of staying alive. By the way - talking to people, etc does not have the same effect. It takes much longer to notice that you are sprouting rubbish, than to notice that you cannot figure out what is written on the page in front of you.
And of course, nothing beats experience. I have learned more about food in the 7 years since I have been diagnosed than in the previous 40 years of my life. I also keep an extensive collection of mental notes of what, how and where to eat or not to eat in the various places I have been during this time. I have decided to share some of it here
- 21 Jan 2017