By Chantel Lott
No one argues with healthy eating habits, but what if eating healthy were detrimental?
After 15 years of my body battling an unknown enemy, I was forced to redefine “healthy eating” in the fall of 2011 upon the diagnosis that exposure to chemicals, molds, and common, everyday foods had triggered chronic activation of my immune system.
REWIND TO THE BEGINNING
Something began to change for me physically at age 17. I began struggling with fatigue; but, being a stereotypical, invincible teen who had never battled anything more than allergies, I never stopped to consider that what I was feeling might be serious.
A year and a half later, though, I had grown worse and began to seek help.
But I wasn’t to get a true diagnosis for more than a decade—long after my years as a college student who visited the campus health center so often that I was on a first-name basis with the staff and well into my career in public relations, after I had accepted that “functioning” would be the best I ever felt.
I learned to live with lethargy and worked to hide it. A planner by nature, I managed a full-time job and regular responsibilities as a single woman and homeowner. I joked with those around me that my energy level had two settings—on and off—though no one ever saw my true “off,” which began immediately after the workday in my car and concluded the next morning in the last seconds in my car before work.
I had no energy for much else other than work, though I yearned for more. Being active enough to rightfully earn a paycheck was more than I could handle. Everything else waited on the backburner. Every. Thing.
Deluded, I managed my symptoms with routine, decreased activity and increased rest when not at work.
FAST FOWARD TO CHAPTER 30-SOMETHING
After trudging through my own 30-something birthday weekend celebration with two of my dearest friends, I returned home with a mess of ill health that kept me home from work for three full weeks and sent me to the doctor where I was given a diagnosis of pink eye, bronchitis, and other ailments. On top of having no appetite and no energy, I also had an allergic reaction to the pink eye medicine that left me with cornea damage and 20/100 vision for six weeks!
And things only worsened from there.
I stood face to face with my own custom-tailored nightmare. Hopelessness and fear filled me, suffocated me. To awake and shower required sheer will and determination. To press the towel against my wet skin took muscle strength. To wash my hair was a luxury. Who thinks about these things? What was my life about to become?
Since those first days of fatigue in my teens, I had received many diagnoses but no physician had ever been able to do more than mitigate my symptoms. I desperately needed real, effective medical advice but had no idea who to ask. This ceaseless brawl branded my life. Unbeknownst to me, I was sleep-deprived and malnourished, even though I slept countless extra hours and ate three square meals a day.
Then, in 2011, I learned of a woman at my church with chronic fatigue syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis). Her symptoms resonated with me so much that she gave me contact information to her health clinic, Enhanced Wellness. With nothing to lose, I secured my first appointment, where I blubbered uncontrollably through every syllable of the entire visit. Compelled, the dear clinician asked if I’d been abused. I hadn’t. However, this step-of-faith visit led to several rounds of tests, which initially revealed that I had four of eight major food allergies!
This revelation led to blood tests that measured—at the cellular level—a plethora of functional foods, food additives and colorings, molds, medicinal herbs, and environmental chemicals.
The test results were jarring.
A PERSONAL GROUND ZERO
I was allergic or had sensitivities to an enormous range of everyday, common foods. This meant I would have to relearn how to eat so that I could take in enough food in the right combinations for nourishment but not so much of any one type of food so as to trigger my sensitivities.
No lettuce—not romaine, not leaf, not iceberg. None. Also, nix anything containing flour (like bread and pasta). No dairy (like milk, eggs, and cheese). And not even any soy (so, basically any alternative to flour and dairy)!
My new diet was completely underwhelming as far as taste and entirely overwhelming as far as complexity.
Grocery shopping became a two-hour ordeal every other day, where I read labels line by line and explored the produce department for items that were on my “legal” list.
If something came in a box or package, it was immediately off limits…”illegal.”
Ordering from menus meant cataloging every ingredient, including spices, oil, and herbs.
I followed a color-graded chart of what to eat and when so that I could rotate the foods that had managed to make it on my “semi-legal” list. This allowed at least three days for every molecule of any given food to clear my system before I reintroduced it.
Items on the “illegal” list—like my beloved dairy—had to be avoided entirely.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner became identical for simplicity.
When there is nowhere to go but up, one’s perspective changes with ease! I mourned over this new menu mandate; but, after 72 hours, I was over it. There was life to live and I’d eat this way to get back to living it!
For nine months I followed this new way of eating to the letter of the law and was then retested. Though I was allowed to add soy, almonds, and beef to the “semi-legal” list, I was put on another nine-to-12-month period of strict menu-following.
It still wasn’t easy and I mourned a little; but, the pangs of change and denial were far less.
Little by little, my “legal” and “semi-legal” lists grew. I renamed days to the foods I was most looking forward to eating: Taco Day (a.k.a. Beef Day). Peanut Day. Canola Day. Corn Day. And Dairy Day!
On these days I was allowed to eat all I could hold of that particular food in that one 24-hour span. This led to me once eating 12 entire ounces of natural peanut butter and all the apples slices I was allowed in one day. (I would have finished the 16 ounce jar if I’d had a spoon or spatula with me.)
I chose (and still choose) to believe more deeply that “all things work for good for those that love the Lord, those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Honestly though, the change to my diet didn’t heal everything. There remain some significant issues.
About two and half years in, the feeling expressed by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge in their book, The Sacred Romance, boomed.
“’How long, O Lord?’ we whisper in our weariness and pain. Indeed, God calls us to battles where the deck appears stacked in favor of those who are his enemies and ours, just to increase the drama of the play. And there is the clear picture, even from God himself, that he does so to enhance his own glory.”
So, my life isn’t all about me. Bad things happen to good people every day. I’m not promised a life without trouble, but I am promised a hope and a future. The least I can do is find joy and thankfulness in the journey.
Part of my joy is being able to serve and help others who share struggles similar to my own: a young boy suffering with too much bacteria in his intestines, a college student weakened by years of inability to properly process food, and a plethora of friends with gluten intolerance and other allergies. These people challenge me to foster the highest levels of compassion and empathy I can offer.
Today I am healthier than ever before—physically and emotionally. I have accepted the things I cannot change and the journey (rather than the destination) to improved health.
Currently my journey continues with a new test that may help measure my gut’s ability to process enough of the food I consume.
It takes time to undo damage. And I’m learning patience, trust, and joy along the way…while feeding my dreams like never before.
Chantel is a homegrown Mississippi gal who can romp in Black Creek or dress to the nines for an international affair. However, she requires advance warning for both activities. She spends her days in Mississippi’s Capital City, fostering mutually-beneficial relationships among organizations and their peeps (a.k.a. public relations) and, in her free time, endeavoring to outrun her Siberian Husky, Levi.