Researchers estimate that over 15 million US citizens suffer from food allergies. The allergy can range in severity from mild examples of itchy mouth after eating a food, to life threatening anaphylaxis (closing of the airway). According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. Even though so many Americans are affected by food allergies, there is no clear reason for the massive increase.
While my lips swell up like Angelina Jolie’s after I eat a bunch of shrimp, I have never considered myself as one of the millions of Americans living with food allergies. However, I do work with many clients at The Center for Shamanic Arts who are working with food allergies and my go to shamanic practitioner for this support, is Nicole Lewis. Nicole is Certified as a Medicinal Aromatherapist, Health Coach and Energy Worker. I spoke with her this week to get some advice about how to really live with food allergies.
Natalie: So, how did you become passionate about supporting people with food allergies?
Nicole: For six months, I had been having slight reactions to foods that I was eating. Sometimes I would get hives, other times my lips would itch, but I wasn’t putting two and two together. Then one Easter, my mom made meatballs – really they are fantastic! She also made soy meatballs for my dad, who doesn’t eat meat. These meatballs were packaged together in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I woke up and popped a meatball in my mouth and a few minutes later, I noticed my breathing had become labored. By dinner time, my airway was so swollen due to an anaphylactic reaction, that I had to be rushed to the ER. That got my attention!
The doctors told me that I had an allergic reaction and I needed to go to the allergist. I had the Comprehensive Combination Panel test, and sure enough, they discovered I was allergic to soy and had a slight allergy to wheat – these allergies often go together. At first, I felt relieved to know that these strange symptoms had a diagnosis. Then a few minutes later I was having anxiety because I was afraid of how I might have to change my life. I was overwhelmed.
Natalie: Did you have anyone to guide or support you?
Nicole: The Allergist sent me to a Nutritionist. I know there are many amazing nutritionists out there, but this woman must have been tired or something because she gave me three recipes and said “Good luck!” as I left her office!
Natalie: Wow! How did you deal with the changes that became necessary for your health?
Nicole: I was sad and for a while I had a self-pity party! When you start to read the ingredients, that is when you realize that so much of what you love to eat contains soy or wheat and could potentially land you in the ER! I had so much to learn and much of it I learned by making mistakes.
The summer after the diagnosis, I was in the hospital 5 times. One time, I rolled a garbage can back to the house and it must have had soy on the handle, on a trash bag, I’m not sure, but I started to feel my throat close up and had to go to the ER. Another time, I was at restaurant and apparently they didn’t clean the grill between orders and there was cross contamination with a soy product. Even my shampoo seemed out to get me! Soy! In shampoo! I was back in the ER.
I realized that I couldn’t be the only person in the world with food allergies. There has to be info out there. So, I started researching obsessively trying to figure out what I could eat and what I couldn’t eat. I found that eating a whole grain, plant based diet with sustainably sourced lean protein worked best for me.
I knew I wanted to help other people who were struggling with the same process. So I enrolled in the Health Coaching program at Institute for Integrative Nutrition. My goal was to learn how to support others with food allergies and to help make their transition easier.
Natalie: How would people know if they have food sensitivities or allergies?
Nicole: People with food allergies generally feel immediate discomfort after they eat, which can present as any of the following: bloated, gassy, uncomfortable, or even a full blown anaphylactic episode. In our culture it is almost celebrated to be uncomfortable after we eat, but that isn’t what nature intended. Food should help us not hurt us.
Natalie: How best can we support ourselves once we know what we are dealing with?
Nicole: I always recommend making a Food Diary. Write what you eat, when you eat it, and how you feel afterwards. It is detective work about your health, not about a diet. You want to detect what is causing the reaction. When you have a food diary, you can work off of your own research when you partner with your Doctor. That way you can advocate for yourself and become a good leader in your own journey to optimal health. We are affected by our foods now more than ever due to how our food is processed in the US. It is important to know your own body.
Natalie: What resources are there to support people in really living with a food allergy?
When I work with clients I like to help them find the gift hidden in the allergies itself. Now I look at my food allergy as a gift in every way. I have the gift of health. I know how food is processed. I know about GMO’s and antibiotics in our food supply. Having food allergies has helped guide me on a path of eating organic food and eating a mostly whole grain, plant based diet. And it feels great! Now, I listen to my body. When my body wants meat I eat it. When it doesn’t, I don’t. I feel more empowered now than ever before.
Once you heal the fear and anxiety of having a food allergy, you can create a life where you can really enjoy food that is healthy, beautiful and make you feel good! Really living is about nourishing the soul. When I work with clients it is important part of the process to identify the many ways that we are nourished, including chocolate, conversation and poetry.
This is the key to really living no matter what your personal situation is, we have to create recipes for our own happiness. When we stop to think about it, our happiness is not food dependent so a full rich flavorful life is available to all of us!
Natalie: How can a person benefit from working with a Health Coach?
I want my clients to benefit from the time and mistakes that I made with my learning curve! The first thing I have clients do is create a food journal. I also equip them with various tools and practices from yoga to help them get in touch with their body and their moods. Our mental habits, emotional systems and energetic bodies are all connected to how we eat and what we eat. The healing has to happen on all levels for it to work.
When I work with people with food sensitive, I help them break down the process so they can see the gifts and the way forward. Once they see that they don’t have to eat twigs and leaves forever, my clients become more hopeful. For some clients the transition can be difficult due to beliefs about self and food that were inherited from family and from our cultural influence. I work with my clients with the underlying beliefs and energy blocks to taking care of themselves and their body. We work together to figure out a person’s “Power Foods” and build recipes from this foundation of power vs. suffering. We find meals that are delicious, easy and work for them and their families.
Natalie: Let’s talk about parties! If you are the host, what is the right thing to do when you know some guests are food sensitive? AND What if you are the guest? How can you minimize anxiety when going to a party where you know the host is not hip to reading labels?
Nicole: People that are not food sensitive can sometimes be intimidated by hosting someone with food allergies and this can leave the person with allergies feeling left out. As the host, never be afraid to reach out to the guests and ask for favorite recipes. Often people will offer to bring a favorite dish or gladly share a delicious recipe.
As the guest, always be prepared. Let your host know that you have a food allergy and offer to bring a dish that you love – either for yourself, or bring a dish big enough to share. To reduce anxiety about a potential ER visit, I recommend eating before you go, just in case the party doesn’t offer the kind of fare that you require. While at the party enjoy the company and focus on the nourishment available from getting to know people and being with friends.
In general, eat local and in season. Stay away from processed foods and find ways to nourish yourself with activities and relationships. Food is meant to fuel our lives and dreams, high-vibe food creates a high-vibe life!
Natalie Griffin is the founder of the Naughty Shaman Center for Shamanic Arts. A center dedicated to healing services that work with the natural elements of the earth to align the soul and reawaken purpose in your life. She is the Director of Dharma School – an energy medicine certification course. www.NaughtyShaman.com Nicole Lewis is a Certified Holistic Health Coach (IIN), Certified Medicinal Aromatherapist,, Certified Reiki practitioner, an RYT – 200 Yoga instructor, and a Certified Energy healer. She works with Natalie Griffin at The Center for Shamanic Arts in Glastonbury. You can reach her at Nicole@naughtyshaman.com and set up appointments by calling 860-430-1788.