Why Attend IFBC 2017

Food Bloggers Conference

 

Disclosure : As an IFBC Citizen Blogger, I received a reduced conference rate in exchange for sharing three posts about my experience. This is the first of three. 

If it wasn’t for a little race called Ironman, I would have attended the International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) 2016 conference, held in Sacramento, CA. But wait! What does an Ironman race have to do with interfering with plans to attend a food blogging conference?

Well, actually, Ironman training made a great many decisions for me in 2016, from what available time I had, who I socialized with,  how much and when to eat, and yes — even determining what conferences I could attend.

Last year, I spent 15-20 hours a week on top of my hours in the office as a private practice counselor, training for Ironman Mont-Tremblant. Every spare hour was spent in the pool or in the lake, riding my bike on a trainer or up and down hills, and running for hours. To do all those things, I also had to grocery shop, prep, and cook all my own meals and make my own race food.  Over time, my needs grew to the point that I could not eat outside my home, and could not spare even a day of food sensitivity by making inferior food choices. When the IFBC 2016 dates were announced, I realized they were just too close to the dates of my race, creating some risk for the Celiac athlete to try new food combinations or sample beverages. It didn’t make sense to put my race in jeopardy, so I took the conference off my plate (pun intended).

When I heard that the IFBC would return to Sacramento in 2017, my mind was made up: I would come back again. This was an exciting development, because I was really kicking myself for having missed the 2016 conference at that specific location.  This post is about why I’m attending IFBC 2017 as a “citizen blogger” for the second time. And it’s also about why you as a reader should care.

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Neutralizer Drops for Tummy Issues

Dropper bottle with label with golden brown liquid sitting on a desk.
4 ounce dropper bottle of Neutralizer for “Tummy Issues” compounded by Hidden Alchemist. Photo by Imei Hsu (Dec 2016)

How many times have you had one of these “tummy days”, when you’re even too tired or embarrassed to admit that you’ve been struggling with diarrhea, cramping, flatulence, and digestive problems?

Anyone who has mild to severe intolerances, a gastro-intestinal disorder (i.e.Crohn’s, IBD), or an Autoimmune Disease that creates a whole host of sensitivities and intolerances knows the painful reality of how many hours and days we lose in a battle against “Tummy issues”.

The reality of living with these symptoms often enough that you can no longer call them occasional should have you thinking that the best remedies aren’t always grabbing a bottle of Imodium. So what is a food-sensitive person to do?

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Living in the Land of the Gluteneaters

Gluten | Gluten-Free Living | Home | Health | Food Allergies

Stack of Kirkland pizzas in pizza boxes on the corner of a table
When gluten is all around, how do you figure out how to cope when you can’t eat it but must be around it?

In 2014, I entered my first race Olympic Distance race as a relay, the Victoria BC Subaru Saunders Olympic Distance Triathlon. I took on the 0.9mile swim event, M took on the 27 mile bike event, and a fellow runner friend Rosie took on the 10 kilometer run around Elk Lake. When it came to giving our team a name, I ended up submitting the team name, “Imei and the Gluteneaters.”

Three seasons later, and an Ironman Finisher now going on for her first Ultramarathon, I’m reflecting on what it means to live — and I mean fully live — in the Land of the Gluteneaters.

If you must be gluten-free for medically necessary reasons (meaning: you must avoid gluten or you will become seriously ill or risk severe complications or death), avoiding gluten in your food is a complex enough task by itself, since much of our food supply in westernized countries are embedded with gluten and cross-contaminated as well as cross-reactive ingredients. What happens if you live with others who eat gluten? What happens if you live with others who eat the foods you are most reactive to, such as nuts, dairy, gluten, soy? What if you have multiple food allergies, and your partner/spouse does not?

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Eat Like You

During the holidays, we think about what we're eating more than ever (or, we try not to think about it!). How do you navigate the world of food when you have food allergies, intolerances, or a GI disorder)? Photo credit: Imei Hsu (2016).
During the holidays, we think about what we’re eating more than ever (or, we try not to think about it!). How do you navigate the world of food when you have food allergies, intolerances, or a GI disorder)? Photo credit: Imei Hsu (2016).

Stop trying to eat like everyone else. Just STOP.

On any given week, I receive well-intended yet unhelpful suggestions from people who believe they can “help” me. Sometimes it’s from a well-meaning Vegan person who thinks my Paleo options are not only immoral and cruel, they are unhealthy for me. As usual, I kindly ask that person to design me a minimum 1538 calorie meal plan free from nuts, dairy, seeds, soy, legumes,  beans, gluten (including no corn), alliums, goards (pumpkin, squash, cucumbers), and certain oils,  certain sugars, plus more calories on my training days that are easily absorbed, do not cause my guts to rebel and fall apart, and deliver iron, protein, and healthy fat well enough that I don’t suffer a loss in cognitive processing.

Every person I’ve encountered who has looked at that list usually tells me it cannot be done without severely compromising my health.

And so, here I am again, stating the obvious: nutrition is an individual matter. Stop eating like everyone else.

Instead, eat like only you can, and only you should:. Eat like you.

Among my friends, they have a reply to newcomers who mean well when they suggest a food or new recipe to me: “That sounds safe, but is it ‘Imei safe’?

They say this because I am my own canary in a coal mine: if it isn’t safe for me to eat, it might not be so good  for them either. Why? Because while all of the ingredients in processed foods are FDA-approved for public safety, a good amount of them will still leave me writhing on the floor, vomiting, cramping, racing for the toilets, or leading to poor nutritional status over time.

Yet the real truth of eating well and transforming your life is a journey of discovery, trial and error, and extreme customization. What we’re learning more than ever is that a nutritional profile that works for one may not work perfectly for another.

The good news: there exists one shared food factor among those who have autoimmune disease and food allergies, one in which no health expert would ever argue against. It is a simple equation: eat a natural diet free from highly processed foods.

By doing so, you will not eat in the manner of everyone else.  You will eat like you.

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Gaffes, Goofs, and Sundry Oops

Siamese cat hiding behind a pillow while crouching on a red couch.
Made a mistake with your food and you’re not feeling well? The world of food can be a scary place to navigate, and it can even be scary cooking at home if you don’t take care to get your routines nailed down to reduce mistakes. Photo by Imei Hsu.

As much as I believe the last three years has given me an education on clean eating, ingredient label comprehension, and the dangers of cross contamination, I still walk in the same shoes as anyone who has an autoimmune disease, chronic GI issues, and severe food allergies.

I goof, here and there. And I pay for it.

If you think there is an expert resource who avoids all gaffs, goofs, and sundry “oops”, I challenge you to find him or her. As far as my research has taken me, I have not found a single respected expert in the field who has never been “glutened”, become ill due to cross contamination, or suffered from an imbalance of micronutrients or macronutrients as they experimented with all available options.

One great example is gluten-free oats. Most of us who were placed on a gluten-free diet had a steep learning curve. Some of us did fine with gluten-free food products such as gluten-free oats; these people dove into GF oatmeal cookies and lovely GF oatmeal trail mixes that could be baked into bars when mixed with nuts, seeds, and oils.

Others of us suffered “Swan Lake” death scenes, suffering long near the white throne in our households, and feeling horribly betrayed by safety labels and descriptions that declared these products safe for people with CD/NCGS.

You often don’t know which category you fall in until you try something and it doesn’t work for you.

This post is about goofs, yours and mine.

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A Menu Redacted

A Menu Redacted

When I first started talking to others about food allergies and Celiac Disease, I began by trying to describe what food allergies are. As in, “Here are the medical definitions, and here’s what to look out for, and by the way, here’s how to keep me and others around me safe.”

End of story. I just want to eat, feel good, and not be sick.

And really, if that was all this was about — this website, these descriptions, and what I can’t eat — there would be nothing left to share, and no discussion. By now, you know that there is plenty of discussion, thus the many blogs on the subject.

Yet time and time again, I run into people who are truly curious about how I, and millions of others, live with a medically restricted diet due to both multiple food allergies and intolerances, and an autoimmune disease such as Celiac Disease.

After I found out I had Celiac Disease, I saw some improvement on the standard GF diet, which focuses on a strict adherence to a diet free of barley, wheat, and rye. I still had a Grumpy Tummy that would react to foods such as corn, quinoa, chia seeds, gluten-free oats, gluten free baked goods and breads containing soy and xanthan gum. Eating these foods didn’t cause the same widespread inflammatory response in my gut that gluten did, but they kept me sick, weakened, and fatigued.

You can understand that I developed this mental complex that maybe I was just a food pariah: a one-off person, alone in my experience of food intolerance. The problem with that kind of thinking is that it was not only counterproductive, it simply wasn’t true.

There are millions of us. There are millions of YOU, if you too suffer from one or more food intolerances, allergies, or a medically-restrictive diet.

During the “Grumpy Tummy” months,  I encountered others who would be perusing the same aisles of the grocery store, turning items over to read ingredients, and putting them back on the shelves. We’d introduce ourselves, compare notes, and have these, “Me too!” moments after one of us would say, “I can’t eat anything with soy in it,” or “Gluten free oats make me feel sick when I eat them.”

It wasn’t very long before I realized there were tons of people around me, all of us feeling alone, isolated, and freakish for having guts that just couldn’t handle the same foods everyone else seemed to eat without any problems. And I remembered thinking that someday I would figure out a way to convey to all these people how much we have in common, not just by comparing food restriction lists with judgment and criticism, but in some kind of creative image that allowed people to see through my eyes.

Thanks to a friend’s suggestion, I present to you just one of those creative images. I present to you, A Menu Redacted.

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Best Gluten-Free Pizza Pie Crust. Evar.

Two pizzas side by side on parchment paper and a baking sheet, ready to bake in an oven.
Making gluten free thin crust pizza, even while away on vacation. Try baking them on parchment paper for easy clean up.

Ever since I ate a gluten free pizza in a restaurant  ( since rebranded, “gluten friendly”) and landed in the hospital, I have understandably been reticent to eat another gluten free pizza outside of the one I mix, roll, top, and bake at home under my watchful eye. Even with medical insurance coverage, my total out-of-pocket expenses from start to finish, including vomiting and diarrhea, low blood pressure, electrolyte imbalance, and six weeks of brain fog, fatigue, Leaky Gut Syndrome, low appetite, weight loss, muscle weakness, joint inflammation and rashes, and medication added up to nearly six thousand dollars.

That’s one expensive gluten-free pizza, don’t you think?

That’s not to say I didn’t eventually put my big-girl panties on and head back to the scene of the crime, confront my fears, and try again*. It took over a year, but I did go back, if but to embed in my brain what I think a gluten-free pizza should taste and feel like, only without cheese, emulsifiers, alliums, gluten, or corn. In that reconnaissance mission, I was taking notes for the future gluten pizza I would someday create.

Then I bade that crusty outer layer of bread farewell, and moved on. Let’s just say, I might have walked out the door while flipping the middle finger. It was the last good-bye.

When I think of pizza, I think of a thin crust with uniform edges, chewy in texture, with a mixture of crunchiness on the very edges and a slightly spongy softness that allows you to embed sauce and toppings in such a way that if you were turn a wedge of it upside down, very little of the toppings, if any at all, should rain onto your plate.

The agony and the ecstasy of gluten free pizza crust is the dry-flour crumble factor versus the chewiness of dough when you add an emulsifier. For people like myself, and perhaps the majority of the Hungry Minions looking for gluten free pizza because of a medically-restricted diet, an emulsifier just isn’t going to work. The most common one, xanthan gum, which is often added to commercially pre-prepared gluten-free pizza crust mixes, is commonly sourced with corn. And if I didn’t mention it to you before, you should know that many people who aren’t directly allergic to corn, but are food sensitive and suffering from Leaky Gut Syndrome, are going to struggle with a Grumpy Tummy when they ingest xanthan gum.

What if I were to tell you that I believe I’ve stumbled across the solution: an emulsifier-free gluten free pizza crust that you can top with your favorite ingredients, and can be made egg free if you wish?

Read on!

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