allergies, fitness, food allergies, health, lifestyle

Food Allergy Testing: Improving Health and Fitness through Self-Awareness

My fitness journey started around the beginning of 2016 but I only REALLY committed to improving both my overall fitness AND health at the beginning of 2017 when I started documenting my home-cooked dinners/daily workouts on my Instagram account @cook2lean. In terms of my goals, not a LOT has changed, but the @cook2lean Instagram is now dedicated primarily to food posts, since I now have this blog as an outlet to discuss fitness-related topics.

That being said, this year I officially got booted from my parent’s health insurance because I reached the tender age of 26 and had to get my own through my employer. Because my health was now fully in my own hands, I decided that this was the year I was going to take full ownership of it, and I was going address any issues that I’d been dealing with for the past few years that had gone ignored, including allergies.

I’ve always had a known allergy to pollen because when spring rolls around, I am in complete misery even though I WANT to enjoy the weather – itchy eyes, itchy nose, itchy/sore throat, stuffy nose, runny nose – I deal with all of these symptoms at the same time all day, and they are barely alleviated by Claritin-D. If I decide to go on a run outside without taking an antihistamine beforehand, I will end up having an allergic reaction which usually entails the symptoms above in addition to hives, facial swelling, and a hard time breathing. Good times!

Despite having a history of environmental allergies AND food allergies these past few years, I had never been formally tested for any allergies. All of the food allergies that I had knowledge of had developed over time and were discovered by accident or in complex situations where I couldn’t pinpoint the direct cause of the reaction. For example, when I was in high school, I had an anaphylactic reaction to (what I thought at the time) were apples. But I had also eaten Sabre Hummus before the reaction so I wasn’t sure if it was the apples or ingredients in the hummus after I had realized that the culprit could have been one of two things. It turns out it wasn’t the apples because when I got tested for food allergies last week I didn’t react to apples at all (more info about that in a little bit)! A few years later, my brother was snacking on almonds and gave me one  to try, and 30 minutes later, we were speeding through red lights as he tried to get me to a hospital because I was turning purple from being unable to breathe. I ended up being okay about 30 minutes after taking a few Benodryls, but I was in full panic mode during those 30 minutes thinking I was about to die from suffocation! In that case, it was definitely the almond I was allergic to, so since then I have stayed away from any tree nuts…actually, there were a few other instances of tree nuts I reacted to before I completely decided to stop pushing my luck but there are too many accidental anecdotes to list at this point.

During college, I ate peanut butter every once in a while thinking I was ONLY allergic to tree nuts (since peanuts are not tree nuts, but legumes – one of my favorite fun food facts) and I never reacted to peanuts previously. But after working out post-peanut butter consumption one day I had an allergic reaction which resulted in hives, swelling, and a hard time breathing. So I quit peanut butter altogether after that.

So after all these trials and errors, you’d THINK that I would have been smart enough to get tested for food allergies already to avoid further risk, but dealing with my parent’s health insurance and medicals bills and claims while I was in school and after college was always confusing – and as a result I avoided seeing doctors for a few years. Post-college I also had a job that wasn’t as flexible about in-office hours as my current job is, so that also deterred me from going and seeing any specialists about my allergy problems or any other medical problems I had. Now that I work for a company that allows me to work from home on an as-needed basis it’s much easier to focus on my health without having to sacrifice a vacation day, which is what I would have had to do in my previous job.

This year, taking control of my health is my main objective, and that’s why I recently decided to finally get tested for food allergies. It’s been a few years since I’ve had any food-related reactions, and I wanted to find out (1) If I was still allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, because if it turned out I have grown out of the allergy it would change my life and allow me to expand my adventures in the kitchen (spoiler alert: I did not grow out of the nut allergy so MERP) and (2) if I was allergic to any other foods that I wasn’t aware of. In the past 1.5 years or so, my nutrition and health has had a complete overhaul compared to what it was before, and as a result, I feel great when I’m consistently eating whole, unprocessed food. But now I also notice a HUGE difference  in how I feel when I eat things that I no longer consume in my every day diet such as wheat products and cheese, which is one of the reasons I wanted to get tested for food allergies/intolerances. I found that I would get super sleepy, foggy brain, and my digestion would be completely screwed for the next 24-28 hours after indulging on things like cheesy pasta or pizza – even in moderation.

A few weeks ago I finally decided to commit the time and money to getting  tested for food allergies, and last week I got tested for food allergies as well as environmental allergies. As it turns out, I am allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, and I am also allergic to soybeans and sesame which I was NOT initially aware of. I had actually been cooking with soy sauce and sesame oil quite often before being tested for food allergies without any noticeable symptoms after eating meals that contained either ingredient. But I also had several sinus infections back to back for a few months in the last few months during the time I was heavily cooking with soy and sesame, so it’s very possible that exposing myself to those allergens (without knowing they were allergens at the time) was causing inflammation, compromising my immune system and increasing my risk of getting sick.

Being equipped with this new (expensive) knowledge is definitely going to allow me to treat my body a little better this year now that I know what types of food trigger negative reactions. As a result I think it will make it just a little bit easier to meet my fitness goals. I can’t expect my body to give me the results I’m looking for if I’m constantly poisoning it, so I really want to start getting better at avoiding or at least limiting the intake of foods I’m sensitive to. I think it will be much easier to lose excess fat with reduced exposure to allergens since I’ll experience less inflammation. When your body is stressed, it doesn’t always do what you want it to do, so I really can’t expect it to operate in its prime if I’m constantly stressing it with allergens. I will probably never be able to 100% give up cheese, but I can at least decide that I will only have it in moderation or on special occasions without gorging myself lol.

Just in case anyone is interested in the time/cost of food allergy testing, the consultation and testing took about two hours total and I was billed $431 so it was not cheap in terms of time OR cost (Note: I’m in a high deductible plan with my health insurance which is the reason the cost was high, but this visit helped me reach my deductible which means I’ll no longer be fully eating the costs for medical-related visits moving forward. If you have a lower deductible or better coverage through your insurance this could cost you less…or more if vice versa). This particular visit was only part 1 of 2 visits though – I have a follow up appointment in a few weeks to complete testing for environmental allergies.

I will likely post an update blog in a few weeks about managing my newfound allergies and let you guys know if it’s made any difference in achieving health/fitness goals. Has anyone else had any experience with food allergy/intolerance testing and how has it helped you with your health? I’d love to hear from anyone else with a similar experience!

Speaking of fitness goals, I went to get my body composition/body fat percentage and resting metabolic rate analyzed at the University of Pittsburgh’s Neuromuscular Research Lab this past week and was really happy with the results I received! My next fitness-related post will go into more detail about the experience for anyone who would be interested in getting their body composition/fat percentage analyzed and happens to live in the Pittsburgh area! I promise that my next blog post before then will be some sort of food recipe to share with you guys though. 🙂

Feel free to check out my previous blog posts, leave a comment on this blog post, follow my Facebook page, or follow my Instagram page where I post pictures of my dinner daily! Let me know if you see anything you’d like a recipe for. Until next time!

 

Previous blog posts:

Experimenting with 5 Days of Reduced Meat Consumption

Crispy Pan Fried Tilapia (Gluten Free)

Fresh Mango Avocado Salsa

Positive Reinforcement: Staying Motivated During Your Fitness Journey

Zucchini Crust Pizza

Weight Loss and Keeping Weight Off – What Worked (and Still Works) for Me 20+ lbs Later

Pan seared salmon with creamy cauliflower mash and sauteed brussel sprouts

My Health and Fitness Journey: Cook2Lean

 

cooking, fitness, health, lifestyle, recipes

Pan seared salmon with creamy cauliflower mash and sauteed brussel sprouts

As promised, here is a step-by-step how to recipe for Pan Seared Salmon w/ Creamy Garlic Cauliflower Mash and Brussels Sprouts, so you can make this delicious meal at home! I posted this dish on my Instagram account @cook2lean earlier this week. It is gluten-free, high protein, with moderate carbs and fat. Perfectly balanced and a great post-workout meal option after a big lift!

IMG_1307
Macro Estimates per Serving: 73g protein, 30.5g carb, 24.5g fat

Note: I say “Estimates” because I do not own or use a food scale – I based the estimated macros on a combination of the Macros app that I use and trusty ol’ Google. Okay, that being said, let’s get started!

What You’ll Need (Serves 2):

For the Cauliflower Mash:

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets (if you’re not sure how to do this click here)
  • 1/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, depending on garlic-loving preference
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp parsley flakes
  • Large food processor
  • Steamer/steam basket/or creative alternative

For the Brussels Sprouts:

  • 2 cups brussels sprouts, halved and stems trimmed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp butter
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Garlic powder

For the Salmon:

  • 16 oz salmon fillet, sliced in half (or two 8oz fillets)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin (optional)
  • Olive oil

Making the Cauliflower Mash:

Fill about a quarter of a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Fill a steamer/steam basket with the cauliflower florets and cover to steam for 15 minutes.

Note: If you don’t have a steamer, you can try creating a makeshift steamer like I did. I used a large pan filled with water topped with a vegetable grilling pan, and covered with a pan cover to make up for the lack of kitchen inventory. 

IMG_1278

While the cauliflower is steaming, smash 3-4 garlic gloves, remove skins, and saute in a bit of olive oil for about 2-3 minutes until browned and fragrant, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat.

Once cauliflower is done steaming, transfer (in small batches at a time) to a large food processor.

Once all cauliflower is blended, add your 1/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, garlic cloves, and parsley flakes. Blend until smooth. Scrape sides of food processor down with a spatula to get an even consistency in between blends. Once it looks closer to the bottom right picture, it is ready to serve!

 

Cooking Brussels Sprouts:

Heat olive oil in large pan on high heat, add butter.

Once butter is foaming, evenly distribute the butter around the pan and add your brussels sprouts – stir and cook uncovered for 2-3 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and give it another stir at the end of the 2-3 minutes (the goal is to try to get them slightly browned even though my picture below doesn’t reflect that lol).

Cover pan and set flame to low – allow to cook for 12-15 minutes and then remove from heat. They are ready to serve!

IMG_1286

Cooking the Salmon:

Run salmon fillets under cold water to rinse away extra “fishiness.” Pat dry with paper towels.

Season the salmon with salt, pepper, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin (optional).

IMG_1248

Heat olive oil in a large pan using medium heat – enough to cover the bottom of the pan. I initially didn’t add enough oil and had to add a little extra after I had already put my salmon fillets down.

Once oil is HOT – place your salmon fillets skin side down in the pan and hear that nice SIZZLE!

IMG_1289

Let it cook for about 6 minutes, and then turn the salmon to cook the other side for another 6 minutes.

If the skin isn’t looking as crispy as you’d like it, do another flip and let cook for an extra 1-2 minutes and then remove salmon from the pan. It is ready to serve!

IMG_1293

Now put all your ingredients together on a dish and enjoy!

IMG_1307

Let me know what you guys think! Do you think you’ll try this recipe out? If so, let me know how it turns out for you 🙂

Since this was my very first step-by-step recipe post, I would absolutely love any feedback about the format of the recipe to help me improve the next post for you guys. Do you feel like you got all the information you needed or would more/less detail work better? Leave me feedback in a comment on this blog post, my Facebook page, or my Instagram! I’d also love to know what other types of recipes you guys would like to see. My Instagram is full of my past creations which I’d be happy to recreate for you guys!

I will be sharing my workouts from this week in my next blog post as well as what has worked for me this past year when it came to losing weight, keeping it off, and staying relatively consistent with fitness and health. I hope you guys will find it helpful if you’re just starting out your journey or are looking for ideas to help you stay motivated! Until next time!

 

 

 

 

first blog post, fitness, health, lifestyle

First Blog Post: Cook2Lean

IMG_7198

Who I am

Hi everyone and welcome to my first blog post!!! My name is Victoria, and many of you might be visiting this blog after being directed from my Instagram account @cook2lean or from my Facebook page. If so, thanks for being the real MVP and clicking the link! If you’re completely new to Cook2Lean, below is a little information about myself:

I am a 26-year old Pittsburgh-based health and fitness enthusiast/hobbyist who discovered a passion for cooking nutritious meals and weightlifting about two years ago. Since January 2016 I have lost about 23 lbs (SW: 156, CW: 133) thanks to heavy lifting, HIIT workouts, balanced nutrition, and consistency! I’m by no means at my goal physique yet, but I am still relatively satisfied with where I am physically, and I am even happier with where I am mentally after about 1-1.5 years of consistently making healthier choices. I’ll be using this blog to continue to track my health and fitness as I work towards my goals.

Why I am blogging
As much as I love Instagram for its quick “likes” there is only so much content you can put in a post before someone loses interest – most IGers simply double tap and scroll and the message you were trying to share gets lost/ignored (I myself being a culprit of this!)

One of my goals this year is to expand my personal brand on social media, so what better way to do it than to share more content and give more context to my newfound passion for health and fitness? I want my readers to understand WHY I love health and fitness and how it’s changed my life for the better, so maybe I can inspire them to take small steps towards a healthier life too if they haven’t started their journey already. And I hope to inspire readers who have started their health and fitness journeys to continue to work towards their goals.

What I will be blogging about
I will be blogging about the meals I cook, my workouts, staying motivated, my body transformation and what has worked for me, trials and errors, health, fitness, products I use, and life in general! My next blog post will be about how my interest in health and fitness came to be, so stay tuned! I’ll be writing about growing up, starting to exercise, the “freshman 15,” post-college weight gain, and how my weight loss/body transformation started.

Feedback/Interest
Comment on my post to leave feedback or email me at cook2lean@gmail.com if you have any questions or interest in partnerships/collaborations!