Do you sometimes feel like your energy is low, you have differing levels of stomach pain, bloating, cramps or an excessive amount of unwanted “pop offs”?!
In the year leading up to Rio 2016 Olympics I had been getting all or sometimes just a few of these symptoms almost every day. Usually in the evenings, just before dinner...I would feel low on energy and with no idea what was going on, a little lost with what to do. I’d had blood tests, scans, doctor’s examinations. But all to no avail. I seemed, on the outside, completely fine. It was so frustrating and was starting to get me down, I would often stay in when everyone else was going out for dinner because my tummy was sore and I felt a bit sick, unbuttoning my trousers became a normal evening routine. I felt horrid. I had no control and no clear way forward.
I wanted to write this blog because I know food intolerances are very common these days and, although not life threatening, can have a significant impact on your life. However, with the right knowledge and understanding, you can get your life back on track. It took me over a year to figure out what was wrong with me…don’t let that be you!
Be proactive, be patient and be strict!
Be Proactive - it’s absolutely not just you, not normal and not how you should be feeling. Of course, there are cases where there could be something more than a food intolerance, so please make sure you get checked out by a professional if it’s getting worse and nothing you try is helping. Just don’t do nothing. I ignored things for so long just because I didn’t know where to turn and didn’t realize how bad it was getting. Slowly but surely, it becomes ‘normal’, part of your life and who you think you are.
I just wish I’d known more about food intolerances, how many people are suffering from them and what the most likely causes could be.
Be Patient and Be Strict – not always my strong suit! A chance encounter with a nutritionist just 3 months before the Olympic Games was my turning point. I’d almost given up on finding a solution before Rio and I was starting to think about how to manage it during the most important 2 weeks of my life. After explaining my symptoms in the car park outside the British Sailing Team gym in Portland, the nutritionist told me to cut out gluten and dairy for 2 weeks. (Gluten and dairy are the most common intolerances people have). Apparently, after 5 days you should start to see an improvement.
This doesn’t sound too bad right?! But I’m a particularly fussy eater, and dairy seems to be in literally everything, so it was quite the challenge!
Step 1 – Cut out gluten and dairy for 2 weeks
I kept it super simple to exclude any chances of accidentally eating dairy. Gluten free oats with almond milk for breakfast (I couldn’t deal with soy milk at all). Quinoa salad with ham or chicken for lunch, then plain chicken, rice and vegetables for dinner. Exceptionally boring... but I couldn’t go wrong!
After only three days, I was already feeling better. The bloating had lessened and my evening tummy pain was a lot more manageable. I can’t tell you how excited and relieved I was. Although, in the back of my mind in crept a little bit of fear…. I struggle with food. I hate fish, I love pasta, toast with butter and chocolate! I’m not very adventurous at all. Would I really have to eat like this for the rest of my life?
Step 2 – Bring back gluten
After the first week, my symptoms were gone. I had a chat with the nutritionist and the plan was to bring back either gluten or dairy, as it was unlikely that I would have a intolerance to both. So back came gluten! Another week later and I was still feeling good. I couldn’t have been happier. I had gone from accepting the pain, bloating and discomfort,, to finally feeling back in control of myself and my body.
Step 3 – Dairy or lactose?
The final step was to establish whether I was completely dairy intolerant, or just lactose. Apparently, lactose intolerance is much more common. I brought dairy back in – lactose-free cheese, lactose-free milk, lactose-free butter and so on. Another week passed by and all was still good. It seemed lactose was my problem.
I am excited to share my journey of living with an intolerance! What it’s like to be a fussy, unadventurous eater trying to source the right food and meal plans whilst abroad….finding new recipes that fit my diet...managing cravings…. and falling off the wagon! Sometimes you JUST WANT a chocolate croissant!!
I have had a few more developments over the past year with my stomach problems….but for now we shall stick with intolerances.
I’m always keen for ideas and thoughts from others, please share below in the comments section any tips, recipes or insights you might have :-)