On August 21, 2016 I had the deep pleasure of putting in a long day of triathlon training and crossed the finish line of Ironman Mont-Tremblant. I can now say, “I am an Ironman!”, and not state wistfully, “Well, I hope after all this hard work to become an Ironman.” It’s now official.
Completing an Ironman race, as complex and amazing and difficult and painful and adventurous as it is in itself, is no small feat for the person with autoimmune disease and food “issues.” My Coach has reminded me all throughout the process of training that it’s important to respect the distance. Additionally, completing an Ironman race with autoimmune disease requires another layer of careful strategizing, testing, responding appropriately, and in my case, creating aspects of my training and fueling that are unique to me.
One of those aspects happens to be particularly challenging for the food-sensitive athlete, and that is nutrition and hydration across many hours. Because processed food, gels, and powdered nutrition have ingredients that make me terribly ill (either immediately, or over time), my Ironman journey necessitated my transformation into Food Scientist, Head Chef, Mobile Nutrition Strategist, and Hydration Manager. That’s a lot of hats (and helmets!) to wear!
The most common question I get from others dropping in on My Allergy Advocate or talking to me on Social Media is this:
“What is it really like living with so many food allergies, intolerances, AND also Celiac Disease?”
[Update: 09/05/2016 – I’ve added a few updates to this post because things have changed a bit for me since I wrote this, as it will for anyone with multiple food allergies and intolerances. As my diet became uber clean and more heavily restricted, the response became worse. -IH]
I know, O Hungry Minions, you are not just talking about how to read ingredient lists, or how to pick a safe restaurant (although both of these are very important skills to master). This question is potentially a much deeper question about how I live, day-to-day, with a lifestyle that is labeled too restrictive by some, and dismissed as, “I could never do that!” by others.
For those of you peering into the world of food allergies, intolerances, sensitivities, and autoimmune diseases, or GI problems requiring a dramatic change in how you feed and nourish yourself (or a dependent child or elder), this post is for you. If you’re “old hat” about this topic, I’m also thinking of you, and my hat is off to you for figuring it out, caring for yourself, and making food fun again. We can swap food stories, empathize, and share a good laugh or two.
And for those who are curious, who are attempting to try a Whole30 or paleo diet because of the potential health benefits, I’m thinking of you too! It’s been hard enough changing my lifestyle to avoid illness, and there is a sharp learning curve that actually makes it easier when you have so few choices. In many ways, having no food restrictions other than your own mind choosing to eat in a less familiar, more restricted manner is difficult because at some point, you can always convince yourself you can have a “cheat day” or a “cheat meal.” But a cheat meal isn’t something I can do without dramatic negative consequences, and in that sense, I think you have it way harder than I.
Still, I think most people look at my diet, my choices, and my lifestyle, and quietly thank their lucky stars that they aren’t me. I get comments like, “You poor thing!” and “I’d die if I couldn’t eat out as much!” If the tables were turned, perhaps I’d be the one with the secret thoughts of feeling lucky.
Where there is illness, there are these little deaths. And in the little deaths, there is new life and stories that I believe are valuable enough to be shared and passed on. Take a look at my typical weekend, from Friday to Sunday night, and see for yourself. It’s just one window into this challenging world of food allergies and autoimmune disease.
It does get better. It did get better. And the results are extraordinary.