When Things Changed
In the Fall of 2007, I became very ill with an unknown illness. I'd had fleeting symptoms all through the preceding summer, until one week in early October it all got worse: Insomnia, flu-like feelings, headaches, abdominal and rib pain, gastrointestinal problems, body pain including pain in my hands so severe that made it hard to drive or grip a knife; pain and stiffness in my neck, constant throat infection and swollen glands, night sweats, rashes, muscle twitches, leg aches, brain fog, nausea, depression. No matter the combination of symptoms on any given day, I felt terrible nearly all of the time.
I’d begun seeing doctors and specialists. Mostly, the findings were “nonspecific”, which really just meant that no one had yet figured out what I had. I was seeing doctors at least once a week. I’d leave an appointment having learned little about what was wrong with me, but would immediately feel like I needed to go the doctor again. I researched endlessly.
During this time it was hard not to feel that everything was being taken away from me- my health and my ability to use my hands and body the way I needed to in order to work as a chef, not to mention that I hardly felt well enough to work. And the kicker was food, food! My very living and passion. I was in constant GI pain and nothing helped. It didn’t seem to matter whether I ate or didn’t eat, whether I cut out certain ingredients or took a given medicine, my stomach always hurt and my digestion wasn’t working properly. Of course, now I know that nothing would or could help until the underlying infection was addressed.
That infection turned out to be Lyme Disease. I was diagnosed by a LLMD (Lyme Literate Medical Doctor) about a year and a half after my first summer symptoms. It was only in retrospect that I was able to piece together the summer illness and eventual Lyme diagnosis. My doctor said mine was a “typical Lyme story”: In the absence of acute Lyme, i.e. high fever and flu-like symptoms coupled with a bullseye rash and/or actually finding a tick on your body, fleeting summer symptoms can become full-blown Lyme come September or October (or much later even). The tick is in its teeny nymph stage in May-June, and so many people contract Lyme during this time.
It’d be difficult in this one post to share the trials and tribulations of getting my diagnosis. Let’s just say it was difficult, painful and long, when- as it turns out- time was of the essence. When Lyme isn’t treated quickly and adequately it is harder to get rid of, and that has been the case with me.
The upshot of that diagnosis when it comes to food and eating is that it changed everything. I’ve entirely changed my diet to facilitate healing. Chronic Lyme (and other infections) can trigger autoimmune issues- including, for me, severe food intolerances. The necessity to change my diet has also changed the course of my career: As a personal chef, I specialize in working with people with food sensitivities and allergies, and people who just know they want to eat in a certain way, whether that be Vegan or Paleo.
Now, I eat a gluten, dairy, and corn free diet. I feel better when I eat less or no sugar, and am experimenting with less or no grains and other things. I haven’t gone completely grain-free or Paleo, in part because I’m not sure it’s right for me and also because I don’t like to eat a lot of meat. I’m concerned with both the environmental issues and animal abuse issues of factory farming, as well as that I don’t have much of a taste for it (indeed, I was vegetarian for many years). I do eat moderate amounts of poultry and fish, but not red meat or pork. But also, I’m a chef. I cook all kinds of meat for many of my clients. I buy meats sourced locally from farms that raise animals humanely, without the use of antibiotics or hormones.
When it comes to my diet, or anyone else’s, my outlook is to be very nonjudgmental. Healing requires finding what’s best for you, and it’s different for everyone. I experiment a lot with my diet in a continual quest for better health and will share that journey, and some of those recipes, with you here.