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It all started when I was a freshman in college. The stomachaches so severe they would keep me up at night, the unexplained weight gain, then weight loss, and just the general sense I wasn’t healthy.
They tested me for everything.
Lactose intolerance. Chron’s disease. Ulcers. Gall Stones. Even Celiac — the auto-immune disease that renders some severely allergic to gluten. I was in and out of the doctor’s office for months. But all my tests came back negative.
No one could figure out exactly what was wrong with me.
Finally, during one of my very last appointments with the gastroenterologist, we discovered what the problem was — Dietary Fructose Intolerance (DFI), a rare but painful condition where your body can’t properly digest fructose. In order to improve my condition I would have to cut all fruits, many vegetables, and absolutely everything containing High Fructose Corn Syrup out of my diet.
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I went through the process I assume everyone goes through when receiving news like this. Confusion. Denial. Frustration. Defiance. Defeat. And finally begrudging acceptance of my fate —
I was going to have to change the way I ate.
I did the hard work of changing my diet, some of which was disappointing, and seemed unfair (who should be allergic to strawberries?) And some of which came as a blessing in disguise (at the time, almost everything packaged or processed included high fructose corn syrup, so it all had to go).
I remember feeling totally lost the first time I went to the grocery story with my new list of “can haves” and “can’t haves.”
What on earth am I supposed to eat? I thought to myself.
Slowly, this way of living became normal. Better, even. I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night with sharp pains in my abdomen. I didn’t get chronic headaches or heartburn after I ate. I started to have more regular... trips to the bathroom, if you know what I mean. And the sacrifice I made, which seemed so huge at the time, slowly started to pay off.
5 years later I met a woman who suggested I might not have to live with my “disease” (DFI) my whole life. She was a naturopathic nutritionist, and she believed it was possible to “heal my gut." It was the first time I had heard of such a thing.
But in order to do that, some more foods would have to go, for awhile at least.
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And I would have to be patient.
Truthfully, at first, I didn’t want to do it. I was happy with where I was, after all. I had finally found a rhythm and a groove with my eating. I didn’t feel perfectly healthy all the time (if I ate even a little bit of fructose, I would experience uncomfortable symptoms) but I felt so much better since I had made the changes. I had made so much progress. Why would I want to give up more food now?
But with her coxing, and tons of support from my family and friends, I decided to follow her instructions, which included giving up gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, caffeine, sugar, red meat and fructose for three months.
I ate rice and green vegetables, over and over and over. It was really hard
But one of the most important things I learned during that time was that there is a difference between relief and healing. While I had found relief from my symptoms, I hadn’t yet found healing for my body, and I’m so thankful I had people in my life who pushed me and encouraged me not to settle for simple relief, forever.
Since that time, I’ve reintroduced almost all foods except Gluten and Fructose, and I’ve seen so much healing in my body. I’ve seen my skin clear, my overall energy improve, and my mind become clearer.
I’m also able to tolerate fructose and gluten in small amounts.
I’m so grateful for the healing I’ve found. With renewed energy and better health, I can better honor God with my body (1 Cor. 6:19-20) and with greater energy pursue the work he has for me.
For now, I still choose to eat gluten-free and fructose-free most of the time (90%). This is in part because healing is slow, and in part because I’ve have to be realistic about the foods available to me (I’m convinced highly processed foods are what got me here in the first place). That means I choose to “cheat” mostly when I can eat high quality foods — those without GMO’s, added hormones or high fructose corn syrup.
But my life as a gluten-free girl really isn’t all that terrible. In fact, I’ve actually grown to love it. There are so many websites out there with good recipes and even restaurants are starting to get on the bandwagon (I love PF Chang’s).
And when all else fails, there are always tacos (so easily gluten free).
And for those who think going gluten-free means avoiding dessert for the rest of your life, one of the best gluten free recipes I stumbled upon recently is for flour-less chocolate brownies (from Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequest).
Not only is it gluten/fructose free, but it’s easily the easiest and most delicious dessert recipe you’ve ever tried. I’ll share it with you here.
Nigella’s Flourless Brownies.
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs beaten
1 1/2 ground almonds
1 cup walnuts
8Ounces semisweet chocolate (I use Trader Joe’s dark chocolate chips)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt the chocolate and butter gently over low heat in a heavy saucepan. Take the pan off the heat, mix in the vanilla and sugar, and let it cool a little. Beat the eggs into the pan along with the ground almonds and chopped walnuts. Turn into an 8 x 8 pan. Bake for 25-30 min, by which time the top will be set but the mixture will still be a little gooey. Once cooled, cut into 16 squares.
Do you have food intolerances? How have you coped? Will you share your favorite recipes?
Allison Vesterfelt is a writer, managing editor of Prodigal Magazine and author of Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage (Moody, 2013). She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband Darrell. You can follow her daily on Twitter or Facebook.