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I Love Food, But Food Doesn't Love Me -- What's Behind Food Intolerance?

What happens when you find out that most of the food you enjoy is making you sick?

Over the last few decades the way we eat and prepare our food has changed drastically. The majority of the food we consume is either restaurant-made or store-bought, and we have become completely dependent on easily accessible food to accommodate our fast-paced lifestyles.

But what happens when you find out you can no longer eat most of these easily accessible foods because they are making you sick? That is what happened to me. Like growing numbers of people, I have come to recognize that I have food intolerances.

The number of people being diagnosed with lactose intolerance, gluten allergies, soy intolerance, and diabetes is growing at a rapid pace. A food intolerance exists when the body can't ingest or metabolize food properly, causing pain and discomfort that often prevents the body from absorbing important nutrients. A food intolerance is not the same thing as a food allergy, which is an overreaction of the immune system and can be deadly.

Part of the rise in food intolerance diagnoses stems from advances in medicine and a greater knowledge and awareness of the problem. But the drastic changes that have taken place in the Western diet are a major factor. Cyndi O'Meara, an expert nutritionist and author of Changing Habits, Changing Lives Cookbook, notes a 10-fold increase in the number of people with food intolerances in the UK in the last 25 years. O’Meara, along with scientific researchers, points to the large quantities of chemicals and processed foods and major changes in food preparation. Ingredients like artificial sweeters and modified milk can lead to a hyper-vigilant immune system that reacts painfully to more and more foods. As otherwise healthy people have delved into why they often feel unwell, “food intolerance” has emerged as a 21st-century health concern. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network and the National Institutes for Health  find that as many as 30 million people in the United States suffer from food intolerance --  four to five times the number with food allergies. Skin rashes, abdominal pains and even headaches can be symptoms of the body's struggle with certain ingredients.

Food intolerances can be extremely complicated. I went through years of embarrassing situations and extreme pain before I was finally able to realize that the source of my discomfort was the food I was eating. It has taken me another three years to figure out which foods are my friends and which are my enemies.

I found that even the best medical doctors do not know how to isolate food intolerances, and different nutrition experts have varying ideas about what types of foods make you sick and why. Fortunately, I finally found a nutritional therapist who discovered that I had an H. Pylori infection in my stomach and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). She explained to me that the symptoms I was experiencing (daily, extremely painful muscle spasms in my stomach being one of them) could be nearly completely eliminated with the right diet and natural supplements.

The six-week diet to cure my stomach infection consisted of a maximum of two fruits per day, no refined sugar, no deep-fried foods, no coffee, no alcohol, no cow’s milk or soy products, only gluten-free foods, and an extremely limited salt intake. But that six-week diet was just to cure my infection. To stay better in the long-term, I was told that I would need to have a similar diet for the rest of my life. I’m in my early 20s, so this felt like someone had whacked me in the face with a large frying pan. If there is anything that I really love, it's food, and if there is anything I hate, it's not being able to make my own decisions about how I lead my life.

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