My Experience With Food Intolerances - Part I / by lee tilghman

Today I want to talk to you about food intolerances and my experience with them. Just to warn you, I want to reiterate that I am not a doctor or a health trained professional, and I am only speaking from my experience only in the hopes that it will help someone.

Nearly three years ago, I made my first smoothie bowl. I was OBSESSED with them. How could something SO amazing for me, be so delicious? I thought I had found the magic key to happiness.

I began to eat one nearly every single day, for a few months on end. It's also important to note that I was training for a half marathon at this time, so I was running 4x  a week, between 10-22 miles per week.

Pouring a smoothie into my bowl was a great way to make the smoothie feel more like a complete meal, and less like a "snack". It also allowed me to top it with more tasty things like granola, bee pollen, coconut flakes, and pumpkin seeds.

I was smitten with the smoothie bowl. I loved the idea of eating a bunch of fruit in the morning. On average, I was putting about 2.5 bananas into my smoothie, lots of times adding more fresh fruit on top, such as more banana, blueberries, and strawberries.

And don't even get my started on banana "nice cream", or just frozen bananas blended up in a blender. It's the most delicious thing in the world. Sometimes, recipes for nice cream call for up to 6 bananas in one bowl! That's 84g of sugar in one bowl, and we're not even talking about toppings here.

I was really drawn to this abundant smoothie bowl lifestyle- I mean, they are beautiful, they are beyond delicious, and they are super easy to make. 

I continued to eat smoothie bowls very regularly (a few times a week) for a year or so. When I moved out to California last year, I started to notice a difference in my skin, energy, weight, appetite, and mood. I grew more tired in the afternoons, so much so that I would need to nap every single day around 3pm. I also started to get pimples just around my neck/chin area. I used a bunch of creams but nothing was helping. I gained a little weight around my midsection and I hadn't changed a thing about my diet/exercise routine. I didn't really know what was going on. It was really concerning to me.  I had no clue or reason to believe that it was maybe from eating too much sugar and bananas for breakfast every day. 

Around this time, my friend and former roommate Kacie Carter (soon-to-be-owner of a healthy cafe in Echo Park called Honey Hi) told me how she had had smoothie bowls for a few months straight, and her body came to flat out reject bananas.

I still thought to myself, "this couldn't happen to me". Bananas were good for me. They were full of potassium and fiber and....sugar! But natural sugar, so it was healthy. Right?!!?

I was never one to have allergies - I was always the girl at the party who could eat anything, anytime. I liked being flexible. This, I now realize, is called being stubborn.

As I did some more self-study, I noticed a sluggish, bloated, low feeling after eating smoothie bowls. They started to make my stomach hurt. I would also have trouble focusing on work, emails, or whatever else I was doing. Later, I would come to learn this is called brain fog, a common symptom from food intolerance (especially those who have banana/fructose intolerance). I got my blood checked, and my hormones were off, so I made an appointment with an endocrinologist and was diagnosed with a hormonal imbalance. 

I listened to my body and stopped eating so many smoothie bowls, but I still didn't believe that I was intolerant to bananas. 

It was not until I did the elimination diet in March of this year with a friend, where I eliminated bananas, dates, soy, peanuts, gluten, dairy (I had already been dairy free for a few months), and eggs for 21 days. From there, you are supposed to re-introduce the foods, one at a time, over the course of 3 days, and see how you feel.

I also picked up a copy of Alisa Vitti's Womancode, and read that front to back in 3 days. If you have been diagnosed with a hormonal issue, I definitely suggest picking up a copy. Her book also talks about the importance of a low sugar diet to get all your hormones back in check.

I was really worried about the elimination diet and how restrictive it was, but I knew I had to change something.

Within 10 days of eating no bananas/dates/soy/gluten, I felt INCREDIBLE.  I no longer had bloat. My skin cleared up. I had more energy in the afternoons and a thought of a nap didn't cross my mind once. The weight began to slowly creep away. I knew this was directly related to those trigger foods for me, so I decided to completely nix the bananas, dates, and gluten from my diet completely. 

However, after 2 months, I was still craving my smoothie bowls and nice cream. I felt great without them, but my mind was playing tricks on me and asking me, "Do you really think you're allergic to bananas, or are you just being dramatic? C'mon, just try some nice cream, once last time". 

So I did.

I had some nice cream with my sister in Florida in April 2016, and within minutes of finishing my bowl, ALL of my symptoms returned! My brain fog was so bad this time that I could not hold a conversation with someone. I had to stay in my bedroom for 6 hours with the lights off because of the migraines. All I could think of was, "wow, now I know that bananas are the issue".  That was the last time I've had nice cream.

Now, I am WAY more conscious of the amount of sugar I eat. I try to keep my sugar intake to a minimum, as most sugar now triggers incredible migraines, . And I'm not just talking about processed sugar, I'm talking about natural sugars, too. Yeah, the sugars found in most fruit, dates, and other natural sweeteners like agave, honey, and maple syrup. Things I once thought were really good for me and my body.

Luckily, I have trained my tastebuds to not like so much sugar. When I have a sip of a friend's latte and they've added sugar, I can tell and I don't like the taste. If I order a chai tea from a cafe and they sweeten it, I take it back and ask for it unsweetened or for something different all together. It's really important to me to not drink or eat a lot of sugar, since that triggers my brain fog, migraines, bad moods and poor sleeping.

I prefer unsweetened ice tea and look for the unsweetened yogurts and coconut milks at the grocery store. When I make my own almond milk I don't add maple syrup anymore like I used to. I just don't need it and I feel way better without it.

BUT WAIT, this doesn't mean I don't have dessert! I have dairy free ice cream 2x a week at least, but it's only about a half cup or less. Just a few spoonfuls normally satisfies me, and I only eat it if I'm hungry and really wanting it and tea/water doesn't solve the craving. And for some reason, ice cream never gives me a migraine, bloat, brain fog or anything like that.

I now eat soy, peanuts, eggs, and lots of plants and vegetables. I have savory breakfasts some days, and sweet breakfasts others. And my sweet breakfasts normally consist of unsweetened coconut yogurt or chia pudding with SOME fruit on top (namely figs and berries which are naturally low glycemic), peanut butter (no added sugar) and granola (I use low sugar brands like Purely Elizabeth). My savory breakfasts usually include eggs or avocado toast.

This is what's working for me right now, and I recognize that it can change again. I still cook with bananas and use them in my recipes, and will just give it to a friend or someone I work with to enjoy.

This way of eating may work for some people and not for others. What I want you to gather from this post is that our bodies are always constantly changing, and that it's really important that we listen to our bodies, always. Our bodies are our greatest teachers and will tell us when things aren't going well.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I will be interviewing 3 industry specialists about food intolerances and their experience with sugary breakfasts, coming soon to the blog. 

If you are interested in learning more about food intolerances and live in NYC/LA, you can become a member of Parsley Health by clicking on this link.  Parsley Health is a medical resource for those interested in functional medicine. A one year membership gives you 5 doctor's visits, and they are offering a special discount right now.