The Great Food Experiment

It all began last year when the {slightly} deranged portion of my brain tackled the Whole 30. In all seriousness, I never would have tried the Whole 30 diet if a doctor hadn’t suggested it. Actually, let me back up a bit; it all began long before then!

Longtime readers likely remember that I’m an asthmatic. I was diagnosed when I was 20, so I’ve been off-and-on meds for almost 13 years. {So, I’m how old…?!} For the majority of the asthmatic population, there is two kinds of asthma: those that are triggered by allergic reactions and those that have exercise-induced breathing issues. According to my doc at the time, mine was neither. I have chronically inflamed lungs that put me at roughly 55% of what a woman of my height/weight should be breathing at. Fun stuff, huh?

Asthma

For the next 10 years, I operated with two inhalers: Albuterol for my rescue inhaler and Pulmicort for my medication. I was required to take Pulmicort twice per day, every day, and it worked. However, at one point, I actually Googled Pulmicort and realized how strong of a steroid it truly is. Yes, it worked but I sure didn’t love the idea of pumping all of that powder into my lungs. However, asthma attacks are scary and I sure didn’t want to experience another one, so drugs were my only option!

But, then– I realized I may have other options! In 2012, I was asked to be part of a campaign with Wellness FX through my affiliation with FitFluential. I had some blood drawn and analyzed, and in the end, the doc told me that while healthy, my internal inflammation was high {duh.} She mentioned that food could be causing this, and in particular mentioned gluten. Sadly, I was tested for gluten intolerance and it came back negative, so gluten was not the cause. However, she planted the seed in my brain: maybe food was a cause of my breathing issues?

Farmers-Market-2

Whole 30

Jump forward to April, 2013 and I was in a world of asthma-related hurt. I wasn’t having asthma attacks, but my side effects were driving me nuts. My throat was constantly draining, I was always wheezing and I even developed blisters on the roof of my mouth from swallowing the excess drainage. Not only was all of this annoying, but gross too! I went back into the doc to complain. She said that although I hadn’t tested positive for any food allergies, I could have intolerances that were undetectable with tests. She suggested an elimination diet, so I tackled the Whole 30.

In a nutshell, the Whole 30 is 30 days of no dairy, grains, legumes, alcohol, sugar or soy. In short, I could only eat proteins, fruits, veggies, eggs and nuts. And although it seemed damn near impossible at the beginning, I realized that it wasn’t too difficult to follow the diet. In short? Don’t eat anything that comes from a package!

As the 30 days progressed, I realized my breathing was improving and my asthma symptoms virtually disappeared {more details in the Whole 30 recap post}. The drainage in my throat disappeared and as a result, so did the blisters. I even quit wheezing! Because of the success of this experiment, I decided to gradually add foods back into the mix so I could identify my triggers. But then…it got tricky.

You see, nothing in particular caused my breathing issues! In fact, it almost seemed to be an all-or-nothing approach. If I added anything in, I couldn’t breathe. If I eliminated everything, I was fine. But with no middle ground, I struggled to maintain the diet. You see, I’m non-discriminatory when it comes to my foods and I hate restricting what goes into my mouth. I like to eat! As a result, I gradually weaned away from the Whole 30-style of eating and just kinda…forgot about it.

Until this past summer.

Lo and behold, the same triggers were rearing their ugly heads again and the blisters on the roof of my mouth were becoming downright painful. I was swallowing so hard that my entire roof was raw and eating crunchy foods like popcorn was excruciating. I decided to give the food thing a try one more time; maybe I could figure out which one was my problem this time?

Paleo

Instead of 30 days, I set aside a 60-day window, thinking a longer trial would lead to more conclusive results. I also decided to try a more sustainable approach: the Whole 30 was too darn restrictive for me to ever consider it for my lifestyle. Plus, legumes have never been much of a problem. In the end, I followed a Paleo-esque approach: no dairy, no grains and no sugar of any variety, beginning on July 1 and ending at my sister’s wedding in early September.

Was I perfect during those 60 days? Not at all. I’m a big red wine fan and had a glass or two per week {and all bets were off at my sister’s wedding!} I tend to meet my girlfriends for dinner a few times per month and while I would try to follow the plan as best as possible, I didn’t stress about the details. In short, I did the best that I could with what I had.

And you know what? {I’m sure you do since my story would be pointless otherwise!} All asthma symptoms = gone. Was my asthma totally gone and healed? No, but my breathing improved dramatically and all the wheezing/drainage side effects disappeared. Coughing and clearing my throat before bed is a nightly ritual that completely went away, which Will even noticed.

The catch? Just like before, a single food group couldn’t be credited with my issues. Once again, it seems to be an all-or-nothing situation. Or, there is the potential that maybe a combination of these foods is what causes my problems? I honestly can’t figure it out but have finally accepted that processed food doesn’t cooperate with my lungs. What type of processed? I have no clue!

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Skiing at Copper this past week, thanks to Will

What does this mean for me now?

Honestly, it’s frustrating. I see so much internet hype about various types of food restrictions and it seems {to me} that some of these people glamorize the restriction lifestyle under a veil of necessity. And even more terrifying are the few that I’ve seen who seem to disguise eating disorders through a “required” diet of restriction.

Moreover, I hate the stigmas that come along with styles of eating. I avoided telling people that I was following a Paleo diet because so many are ready and willing to jump on your case without understanding the logic behind it. “You’re just eating Paleo because you CrossFit, right?” When I would calmly explain that I managed CrossFit for two years without going Paleo and that this was for some breathing problems, I would get a smug response that indicated they knew better. So instead, I just started saying that I wasn’t eating processed foods. Easier.

I’ve also finally acknowledged that I don’t get to be the Human Trash Can anymore, a loving nickname bestowed upon me by my family. Growing up {or until 6 months ago!} I was the one person in our family who would eat anything. Aside from olives, I’m not a picky eater and will happily consume whatever is put in front of me. Sure, I moderate and all of that other healthy stuff, but I’ve never been one to turn down food. And honestly, it sucks. Watching Will eat ice cream annihilates me because I love the stuff, but it also happens to throw me into a breathing nightmare more than anything else. {And bless his heart, he avoids touching it around me unless I insist.} I had to give up my cherished creamer with my coffee in the morning, and that honestly about destroyed me! Fortunately, I’ve discovered alternatives that I enjoy, but none of them will ever replace my seasonal creamers!

And Greek yogurt?! Oh man, do I miss it!

I’ve basically had to restructure my diet in all categories, which is kinda tough when you don’t really know what you’re trying to avoid. We’ve made an effort to cut out processed food and that seems to be making a difference. Will and I both love cereal and that’s been replaced with eggs and turkey bacon and green juice and sweet potato smoothies for breakfast. As I mentioned, no more coffee creamer for me, but I’ve found that grass-fed butter and MCT oil with a splash of almond milk almost makes me as happy. Almost.

Bread doesn’t play nice and my lungs get really stuffy feeling, so sandwiches are a thing of the past. Fortunately, I can dump anything on a bed of spinach so my sandwiches have become salads with a ridiculous amount of toppings. Crock pots soups are a big hit too because I can pour anything in the one-button wonder and make it taste good! I’ve also discovered some roundabout concoctions that Will and I really love! For example, we found this pizza casserole dish on PaleOMG’s site and while it doesn’t replace pizza in my heart, it’s really good. We make it a few times per month!

And my running fuel?

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Recycled running photos from this review

Oh man, this has been a chore! When you think about the traditional running fuels, they are all heavily processed items…that wreck me. And trust me: you NOTICE breathing issues when you’re 8 miles into a run and a “light snack” closes your lungs! I’ve been training for the 50k using trial and error on my long runs to see what works for me and what doesn’t. Based on my minimal crewing experience. I know that the majority of foods at ultra aide stations WON’T work {i.e potato chips, nutella, cheese sandwiches} so I’m trying to figure out my own preferences so I can have plenty on hand in February. I’ve been testing a handful of different items over the past few weeks, so I’m hoping to run a food roundup soon – stay tuned!

In the End…

It’s not like I’ll die if I eat something wrong. My lungs won’t close off and I won’t suffocate; I’ll just be uncomfortable and hacky and gaggy for awhile. Not a crisis. In a way, that’s been nice because I can enjoy snacks when I want them as long as I’m aware of what is going to happen afterwards. Will wanted fro-yo last night and I immediately knew I would eat some too. It was delicious and yummy and worth every single cough and throat clearing in the following hours! Our annual Christmas cookie party is coming up and you better believe I’ll make some delightful sugar cookies…and just pay for it later!

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22 Comments

  • Reply Erika December 1, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Thank you for updating us on the results of your new eating plan. We’ve talked about this before and I’m facing growing allergy issues as I age. It’s scary! My body is covered in a rash right now and my inhaler is on my desk. I was about to reach out to you when I saw this post. Thanks for sharing! Now I have an idea of what to try.

    Erika

    • Reply heather December 1, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      Oh no! Is the rash related to the asthma stuff?! Ugh. Not fun, my friend. You bring up a good point though– wonder if ageing has anything to do with it? Let me know if any of this helps!

  • Reply Rachel @ Betty LIVIN December 1, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Isn’t it amazing how people think they know more about your food problems than you do? I HATE when people tell me to “just take probiotics” for my lactose intolerance or who roll their eyes and say that’s not a real thing when I say I’m gluten intolerant. I’m pretty sure that if I told a friend that she would lose weight if she stopped eating cheeseburgers I would be the worst person ever. Ok rant over. This is awesome and I’m glad that it helped your asthma! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Kovas - Midwest Multisport Life December 2, 2014 at 7:12 am

    That’s crazy that it’s an all or nothing thing for you. I just know I feel better when I don’t eat all the extra garbage – one of these days I’ll get to a food plan I can follow, adding in wine and beer because I just like them too much. 🙂

    • Reply heather December 2, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      Thankfully wine and beer seem to work for me (or maybe I’m just WILLING them to!) Beer can sometimes make me feel a bit off but I’m more of a wino anyway.

  • Reply Katie December 2, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Huma Gels and Endura Bites try those. Huma gels are the only gels my body can handle or I get GI issues (I too am following a loose paleo right now due to acid reflux that burns my lungs making it impossible for me to breath (yay me) and GI issues that make it impossible for me to eat). So I am with you girl! At least Colorado is pretty friendly to us restricted eaters :/

    • Reply heather December 2, 2014 at 3:30 pm

      ‘Tis true! And like I said, I just do the best that I can– if I want crackers, they’re going down the hatch! 🙂 I’ll have to check out those Endura Bites though– never heard of them!

  • Reply Jillian December 2, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Hmm. You have me thinking. I’ve been having some wacky issues over the past few years, and sure enough when I avoid many of the foods you just described… I’m way better. So far I know the worst of my triggers is dairy, but did you notice that any types of meats, dressings, sauces, etc. were a problem too? How about stuff with corn syrup (which is in absolutely everything)?

    Glad to hear you’re feeling better overall!

    • Reply heather December 2, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      CORN SYRUP! YES! High fructose corn syrup is in TONS of things that cause the problems so I’ve considered the possibility that it is the main culprit. But again, it’s in everything processed practically, so it’s easier for me to say no packaging rather than no corn syrup. I don’t notice any difference with meats or dressings really, although I made my own dressing during my 60-day trial: plain ol’ oil and vinegar. Let me know what you find!

      • Reply Jillian December 3, 2014 at 7:57 am

        Will do. My issue is with my sinuses and esophagus. I’m thankful to not have breathing issues, but instead I have food constantly getting full out stuck in my throat. The only way to get it to move? Chug 12 oz of water as fast as possible. Ugh and ow. The doctors don’t have the slightest clue why it’s occurring, but they think it’s some minute allergic reaction to something… but I can’t nail down what!

  • Reply Brooke @ wreckingroutine December 2, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    There is so much research out there for how food is affecting our health. I know with a few of my students, their parents took them off gluten and sugar to see if helped their ADD and aspergers. It did! It begs the question: what are we doing to ourselves?

    • Reply heather December 2, 2014 at 3:34 pm

      It’s definitely an interesting debate. I’ve been watching a lot of food-related documentaries and they’re really eye-opening, as long as you comb through the facts with a fine-toothed comb! And you know, I’ve heard from quite a few people that they found a correlation between sugar and ADD. My guess is that is becoming more prevalent?

  • Reply Jenna December 2, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    This article/list might help with some whole-food running fuel ideas: http://www.trailrunnermag.com/health/race-day-nutrition/article/325-no-more-gels

    Trail Runner has posted some other articles about making your own running fuel, but that’s the first one that popped up. Good luck! I’ve always wondered about alternatives to gels, because they seem sooooo full of chemicals and weird science-y ingredients…whole, unprocessed food seems like a better choice!

    • Reply heather December 2, 2014 at 6:50 pm

      Ironically, some gels work really well for me! I’m loving Honey Stingers organic gels in particular. Go figure! But thanks for that link– off to check it out!

  • Reply Alyssa December 2, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Very frustrating – as a fellow asthmatic I feel your pain! And almost lost my mind when my doctor repeatedly tried to give me steroids that I don’t need. But it sounds like you’ve found something that will work for you for now. Whole30 is certainly doable but it’s expensive and so so time consuming. I agree it’s not sustainable unless you have unlimited time, and who has that?

  • Reply Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb December 3, 2014 at 7:37 am

    I totally get the stigma that comes along with it. For so long I wanted to keep that I was vegan a secret because of it. Now it’s just part of who I am so it’s kind of hard to avoid. And at this point while I don’t want to say it defines me….it does…especially when it comes to my personal brand and such. I think you get what I mean. With that being said I get your frustration. I had the same issues with raw vs cooked and the all or nothing aspect. I’ve also learned I could probably be way leaner if I let meat back in….but that doesn’t necessarily mean that leaner is healthier. Been down that road. Gah. As frustrating as it is I think we’re both on the right track. All about moderation.

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  • Reply Ingunn January 29, 2015 at 9:15 am

    This is really interesting! I stopped eating gluten a couple of years back, and my chronic migraines just disappeared – I went from taking Maxalt 3-4 times a week to never having to take it at all. I hope you’re able to pinpoint what it is that sets you off.

  • Reply Misti October 21, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    This sounds just like me! I haven’t taken any asthma medicine in over 5 years, mostly because I have changed my diet. Dairy was a big culprit and not drinking milk helped a lot, though I still eat cheese and yogurt. I was constantly clearing my throat and having trouble breathing. I eliminating cheese and yogurt there for awhile but added it back in and it does not inflame me nearly as bad. I also typically do full-fat with that stuff now.

    however, like you said, random processed stuff will throw me for a loop now and again. Just eliminating the processed items has seriously helped.

    (found you via IG and my friend Patrice recently)

    • Reply heather October 21, 2015 at 2:16 pm

      HI Misti (and tell Patrice hi!) Yeah, it’s kind of a pain, but it seems to really help…if I have the self-control to watch what I eat!

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