Seeing the positive results in my life in the past month, many friends have been asking me about the process back to health. As a follow up to a previous post about stress and nutrition, I will share in more detail the process of discovering intolerances and how it has helped me. Please bear in mind that this is only my process, and I am still very much living this journey. Always consult a doctor and/or naturopath when considering healing approaches.
Before I dive in, I want to share a photo of a recent meal from Havana Café, in Old Ottawa South. I had this amazing plate – fish with tomato and garlic sauce, purple rice and beans, grilled vegetables, fried yucca and plantain. There was nothing I could not eat on this plate and I felt great afterwards. It is so wonderful to not have my body break down after eating.
Before meeting my naturopath
I had been thinking about finding a naturopath for about a year, but it wasn’t until my friend Megan saw one and reported amazing results. She told me after her naturopath-guided detox, that she felt “like a million bucks” and no longer had daily headaches. I was finally catapulted into action by her positive review. I promptly made an appointment and downloaded the pages-long intake form. It is similar to a family doctor’s intake form, asking for information about my current and past health issues, from head to toe, inside and out.
The form also asked about habits like what foods I eat, how much, when, how much water I drink, etc. What was different from a family doctor’s intake form was it also had detailed and probing questions about mood and stress issues. There was a question that was something like, when was the last time you felt relaxed or at ease. When I broke down crying, stumped with that question, I knew stress would be something I would have to tackle. The form also asked me to summarize and list the issues that I want to tackle with the naturopath, and prioritize them. This came in handy later.
The first meeting with my naturopath Dr Jaclyn Smith was about an hour, where I was given a brief introduction into naturopathy – as I understood it, it focuses on preventative approaches as well as enabling the body to heal itself. This approach really aligned with my family doctor’s approach as well as my personal beliefs,
We went over my intake form, and the doctor asked clarifying questions and follow up questions, while taking notes. We also did a physical, just like you would with a family doctor. Then, came the part which felt more like seeing a counsellor. Really talking through the issues on my list, exploring where I wanted my healing process to take me. Although it was a serious conversation the doctor kept the mood light and I felt really comfortable unloading my physical and emotional burden with someone I just met.
After some analysis, the doctor was quite certain that I had to deal with my stress, and also deal with whatever was making me feel like an 80 year old. She was sure that it had to do with food, so she suggested that either I could take a blood test to test for food intolerances, or I could try to find out through trial and error. Being a hypochondriac and one who needs scientific certainty to rule out my crazy theories, I opted for the blood test. It’s certainly not cheap, and I was a bit skeptical when I had to whip out my wallet, but three months later I am still so glad that I did it. Because it turned out I was sensitive and intolerant to a LOT of things.
All I had to do for the test was give up 3 big vials of blood, shell over enough money to get a pair of new Fluevogs, and wait 5-6 weeks.
I went in to my second appointment with the naturopath with not so much trepidation but a morbid sense of curiosity. I was putting bets on how many things I was allergic to, and just hoping that gluten was still ok. Because cake.
As soon as the formalities were over, the doctor handed over a booklet. She explained that the test was for antibodies in my immune system – the way I understood it was we were testing which foods would cause my body to raise the alarm bells for an attack. She made it clear that the test did not test for anaphylactic allergies, so nothing that could kill me (I think I would know by now if I had a serious allergy).
The industry name for the test is ELISA (Enzyme linked Immunosorbent assay) and tested for the antibody types: IgA, IgE (allergy), and IgG (intolerance). IgG antibodies turned out to be what was causing me trouble – because IgG reactions are variable, and can take up to 48 hours to manifest, it would have been very difficult to pinpoint the causes of my body pain and migraines without doing a blood test.
Results for each antibody type for each food tested was presented in multiple tables grouped in dairy, meat/fowl, fruits, seafood, grains/legumes/nuts, vegetables, and miscellaneous.
The level of reaction is indicated in six classes. Any class reaction in IgE (allergy) will have to be avoided (I only had one, beef). For IgG (intolerance), anything of class IV or higher was to be eliminated from my diet. I ended up with a list of 18 things to cut out of my diet. I was also instructed to limit class III reactive foods because they could turn into full on intolerances if I am not careful. I had 5 things in that list.
And then, came the hard part. Dr. Smith directed me to take a 30 day detox, during which I cut out every single thing on my list of intolerances. It turned out to be a complete change in diet and life style for me, because I am a vegetarian who can’t eat soy, almonds, eggs, dairy of all kinds. The easiest thing to give up was, surprisingly, coffee!
If I can only tell you one thing, it would be that the first week was hell. I felt even worse than I did before I started the detox. I had a fever, I was weak, I could not get out of bed, I could not concentrate or work, and I had a persistent rumbling headache. I frantically reached out to my naturopath, and she reminded me of a thing called the “healing crisis”. My body was allowed the space to clean out its system and play out its epic internal battle.
Knowing is half the battle
By the end of the detox, I felt great. I didn’t need so much sleep anymore, I no longer needed pain killers. I was happy, my body felt like its age. One question that my loved ones consistently asked me was, will I ever eat any of those things on my “forbidden” list again? Because cake!
Finding out what my body reacts to and cleaning up my system is really only the beginning of the journey back to health. The next years is going to be exploratory – finding out more about the specific symptoms of each intolerance through trial and error, and just living. Knowing specific symptoms and my load threshold will allow me to venture outside of my limited diet once in a while, to enjoy the odd slice of cheesecake, or make informed decisions when there are limited options. There is also the chance that new intolerances will form, but now I am at least armed with the experience and knowledge to recognize the symptoms of food-related reactions.