Picky eater because I'm autistic - check! Vegetarian but not really liking vegetarian food - check! Stomach issues - sadly, also check :( So what's a girl to do? Embark upon a 30-day gluten-free, casein/dairy-free journey to somehow get back to my picky eating lifestyle but without the stomach issues. Potatoes and tuna - here I come!
I've been picky forever, but when I was maybe in my teens, Mummy discovered that I had some sort of sensitivity to milk. This surely explained why I would get sick so frequently and my sister wouldn't (she has never liked milk). I eased off milk after that but sadly didn't get the memo on cheese so that continued. It wasn't until my autistic obsessions and compulsions kicked in though that my milk intolerance really started to blossom! It only took a month of drinking Nesquik everyday, or really overdoing with cream cheese (which, for some reason, was an absolute staple in my diet in 2018 and the concept of moderation was lost) that I declared myself lactose intolerant and Lactaid became my handy friend. Unfortunately, Lactaid has always been something of a hit-or-miss for me as it would not always work. And what's more, my symptoms after consuming dairy aren't in line with more typical.....um..."urgent" symptoms. In 2020 it got a bit worse (admittedly I have never eaten so much ice cream in my life, but that's lockdown for ya!) and I felt like whenever I had dairy I would feel dizzy and would experience something like a brain fog. Nevertheless, there has been more than enough evidence of bloating, discomfort, fuzziness, congestion or otherwise feeling unwell to convince me that my body does not like dairy.
My gluten demise seems to have begun in 2020, right around the time in lockdown when we were all into making homemade doubles and bread. I jumped right on this trend because bread is life! Most of my food choices have something to do with bread or grains (my typical food palette seems to be yellow foods). But something started happening that would literally stop me in my tracks while eating - with every bite, I would get a sharp pain, so every meal was uncomfortable to say the least. I also found I was roughly about 4lbs heavier than I wanted to be on some days. I worked out that gluten was the likely culprit and did a little experiment by cutting it out. Sure enough, my weight went back down to normal and my stomach issues went completely.
Problem solved, right? I found my triggers - gluten and dairy - and with both of those eliminated from my diet, life was good, right? Not quite! Remember I said I'm a picky eater? And autistic? So with gluten and dairy gone, my food choices were limited. What was worse was that even with obvious gluten and dairy out of my diet, I was STILL having occasional pain, stomach issues and brain fogs even when foods I ate didn't seem to have any gluten or dairy! Additionally, there's something called food jags, which is basically when you eat something so much that you get fed up of it and can't stand it afterwards. This had already happened to me with eggs in early 2020 (before then eggs had been a fairly solid part of my diet, but I made eggs one day and did not like it, so there went eggs), and was now happening with some of the few foods I could still eat. Needless to say, food has been (more) PROBLEMATIC for almost a year now and it has to change! There has to be some way to clear this up.
I kept telling Mummy that lactose wasn't the issue because sometimes when I had lactose-free products I still had problems. Around the beginning of March 2021 I had an epiphany late one night as I was trying to sleep: maybe I needed a gluten-free casein-free diet! I had no idea what casein was but only knew of this diet from the anecdotal evidence that it may or may not help autistic children. After reading a few articles it sounded more in line with my symptoms as opposed to lactose intolerance (casein is a protein found in dairy, where lactose intolerance means you don't produce enough lactase enzyme) so I went to sleep happy that night that I finally felt like I had some solid answers! The smile was only slightly erased when I saw a list of foods that contain gluten and/or casein: it's basically a list of everything I eat. Even condiments are potentially unsafe, which would explain why I still got symptoms even though I wasn't eating any obvious sources. One thing I held on to was that one article suggested that the stomach issues can be caused by inflammation or simply the whole system being put under pressure, but by backing off from gluten and casein and letting your system heal, there is a chance to resume consumption of these foods. BINGO! My 30-day gluten-free casein/dairy-free challenge was born!
But...me being me......I couldn't start a 30-day challenge randomly in the middle of the month! So I allowed myself the rest of March to "free up", take my little pain here and there with possible trigger foods, and start fresh from April 1st.
Here are the disclaimers: I am doing this to see how I react and to see if this can possibly mean reintroducing certain foods; this is definitely not going to be a lifestyle choice, and you will see why when I put up the post about what I can consume for the next month! I'm also not saying this can work for anyone else, but take from it what you will. Doubles are staying IN my diet! I eat doubles pretty much every Saturday after my triathlon training and generally don't get any issues (I do not want to know what they put in it, all I know is it tastes good and it's staying!) I'm also keeping vegan ice cream I very recently bought for two reasons: it's vegan (not sure about gluten-free but so far I've had it without any issues) and I bought 3 whole pints and I'm not waiting a whole month to finish them!
Medically, I have not been checked and think it is probably a good idea that I get a proper medical opinion. This challenge is my "last ditch" effort to see if it's really diet-related. So far, I have gone to one Doctor in late 2019 who recognised based on some other symptoms I was having that I had eating-related issues. I'd taken his recommendations on board (for the most part) and saw a difference, so I know that these issues have been brewing for a while, but I have not done a complete overhaul to reset my system, which I think I need. Depending on how this goes, I'll make an appointment with a gastroenterologist to get to the bottom of it.
Finally, although I'm super creative in other things, my creativity in the little bit of cooking I do does NOT serve me well, so I've asked Mummy to be my chef. She has a knack for coming up with the most random of dishes that are usually tasty. I know once I give her the list of things I can have, it will be like an episode of Chopped every day! Left up to me, I would eat some form of potatoes and tuna every day, for every meal; this way at least I can keep my taste buds happy!
The journey is about to begin...