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

 

fitness, health, introduction, lifestyle

My Health and Fitness Journey: Cook2Lean

Why did I recently decide to finally embrace and commit to a healthier lifestyle?

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I mentioned in my last post that I would discuss how I got into cooking and weightlifting, but to do that I need to talk about the foundation of my inspiration. This a story that I think a lot of others can relate to – a long history of poor self-image growing up due to society’s beauty standards, which I was never able to meet. I was never skinny, but I always equated the idea of getting skinny to bringing happiness.

 

Quick Disclaimer: My future posts will never be this long but this journey was indeed a long one, and I want to give it the attention it deserves so I can be as realistic and honest as possible. Additionally, I am not claiming or consider myself to be a fitness or nutrition expert – I’m purely a hobbyist discussing my own experience and sharing what ended up working for me because it was a very long time before I started changing my habits. Okay that being said, let’s move on!

 

Growing up Chunky: The Early Years

I was always on the chubbier and less active side growing up and throughout elementary school – my mom did cook for our family a few times a week, but we also regularly ate a ton of processed food (Chef Boyardee and Kraft Mac & Cheese, I’m looking at you!) Inhaling a family sized bag of Lay’s Potato chips while watching TV was pretty much a weekly norm, and I was totally content with eating frozen, microwaveable dinners.

When I became more self-conscious about my weight in middle school, I started getting obsessive about trying to lose the extra weight. I would try to exercise at home sometimes (sit ups, push ups, eventually Windsor Pilates videos in 7th and 8th grade). I also started developing really unhealthy eating habits at this time and a terrible relationship with food. I would either try to practice “fasting” to lose weight quickly, eat very little, or eat once I couldn’t continue fasting and then purge out of guilt. Around this time I think my diet primarily consisted of Starbucks Frappacinos, Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Chinese takeout, and pasta when I did eat – clearly I had no idea what it meant to eat quality food at this point in my life so that didn’t help the cause, and that continued on into high school. Yo-yo dieting was a perpetual source of ups and downs with my self-confidence pretty much up until I graduated high school.

 

Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred: My First Experience with “Weightlifting”

I first started working out consistently when I was 18 or 19 – I started the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred and got pretty great results as a beginner. Jillian’s workout videos helped me get comfortable with the functional movements I still regularly use in my current workouts (squats, lunges, rows, push ups, etc.) and introduced me to HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). I would definitely recommend the 30 Day Shred for anyone who is an absolute novice to any kind of lifting and wants to lose some fat while simultaneously building strength and learning some basic, effective movements and good form.

Note: They have Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred available on Amazon for purchase (Amazon Video and the DVD) and I always see the DVD at Target, so it’s readily available if anyone is interested in checking it out. I also do believe they have one of the workouts on YouTube. However, I did not lose 20 pounds in 30 days, just sayin.

30 Day Shred

College Yo-Yoing

Fast forward to college (Undergrad years Jan 2012-Dec 2014) – I was drinking heavily, as was mostly every other student, binging heavily at night once I started living outside of the dorms and had closer access to late night food. I was still working out religiously (mainly cardio) but I did manage to gain (and lose and gain back) somewhere in the range of 10-15lbs because I was never consistent with my diet (and you know, drank a lot of booze).

During my last semester of college, I was working out regularly again (I’d either go to the gym, do an at-home Jillian Michaels workout, or both) and started cooking healthier food after discovering Trader Joe’s (I love you TJ’s!). This helped me get back down to a size I was okay with but not necessarily a body I was happy with – I was 5’3 and around 140lbs, busty, still a bit chubby around the middle, and had a pretty flat ass (to be quite frank) which didn’t complement a top heavy figure. See FLATTERING pic below.

2014

Post-College Weight Gain

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The year after college (2015), I went from being around 140lbs to 156lbs – my heaviest, ever. I am only 5’3 so that 16 lb weight gain made a huge difference, physically and mentally. By the beginning of 2016 I hated looking at myself in the mirror more than ever and just felt heavy/sluggish overall. It was that point I decided I really wanted to commit to exercising regularly, cooking at home, and improving my overall health and fitness. I was tired of being unhappy with how I looked and felt and really wanted to find out what it would be like to actually love every part of myself for once because I never really had before. I had been fixated on hating my body for so long though and wanting to “get rid” of parts of myself so it was going to require a lot of hard work – not only physically, but mentally as well. Weight loss was always viewed as a temporary concept for me because I could never maintain my weight loss. But learning about the benefits of lifting weights changed everything for me!

 

Getting Comfortable with Lifting

During the first half of 2016, I started taking group fitness classes 4x a week (Zumba 2x/week, Body Pump 2x/week). I also started following a lot of female bodybuilders/weightlifters which sparked my initial interest in heavy lifting. I was reading all this new information about how having more muscle mass helps you get lean and lifting heavy could help you build an ass! So I had my boyfriend show me how to use the squat rack at my gym and it was love at first squat. The first time I used the squat rack, I was only able to squat with the bare barbell (no weight loaded) but after learning the proper movements, I was really excited about challenging myself to build up my strength, use more weight, and transform my body (Google: body recomposition).

 

Lifting Promotes GAINS instead of LOSSES – Positive vs. Negative Connotations FTW

I started out by lifting during my lunch breaks and then doing group fitness classes in the evening after work. Lifting was so exciting and fun, because for once in my life I was focusing on GAINING something positive (strength) instead of focusing solely on LOSING or GETTING RID of something I didn’t like about myself. It completely changed my attitude and mentality towards fitness – I was becoming stronger, fitter, more capable, and my OWN progress became my motivation. Not someone else’s

Unfortunately, I ended up injuring my lower back pretty badly after neglecting to warm up one day and couldn’t lift for a few months. This set me back significantly that year. I ended up gaining back a lot of the weight I lost in the first half of the year, and by the end of 2016 I was fluctuating between 149-152 lbs which was really disappointing. But the whole time I was injured I was primarily concerned with recovery so I could return to the gym and start off where I left off. Thankfully when I was recovered enough I was actually excited to start working out again (I’d never been excited to work out in my life before I started lifting heavy!). Starting January 2017 I was lifting 5x/week and incorporating HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) into my workouts. By May, I was down to 136.5 lbs and stronger than ever. I couldn’t have done it without adjusting my diet though and I did track macros which I’ll get into more detail about in a future blog post.

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Cooking Adventures

I spent a lot of the last part of 2016 starting to cook at home more often versus eating out to save money. I also started meal prepping to save time and ensure I was making better choices at lunch. It turns out that I not only actually started enjoying eating healthier meals because I noticed a difference in how I felt and looked, but I also loved showcasing my food creations. I was so proud of them once I finished cooking and would always share pictures on my personal Instagram account. Getting into the Food Network show “Chopped” really inspired my passion for cooking (and food presentation)!

It was January 2017 that I created the @cook2lean Instagram page to share my meals, inspire myself to continue to cook healthier, and also post my workouts so I could track my own fitness progress and hold myself accountable. I stayed inspired by following other food/fitness pages and reading articles online about nutrition, diet, and weightlifting, and I continue to post regularly and do all those same things now.

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There were a lot of other things that kept me inspired, motivated, and on track this past year, and of course there were also a lot of times where I felt unmotivated. But I will be saving the motivation tips and tricks that have worked for me in a future post as this went on much longer than I had planned!

How about you guys? What sparked your interest in health/fitness? And what do you do to inspire/motivate yourself? Leave me a comment – I’d love to hear your stories!

 

P.S. My next blog post will be a step-by-step how to guide for this dinner I cooked last night! Pan seared salmon with creamy garlic cauliflower mash, and sautéed brussels sprouts! Stay tuned.

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