by June Ramey
My journey into the world of food allergies began 9 years ago when I got a desperate phone call from my daughter, asking me to move in with her, my 6-year-old grandson, and her new husband, Bob. Within six months of their marriage, he had become increasingly ill with numerous ailments never fully diagnosed. She dearly needed another pair of hands with a driver's license.
As we researched Bob's bewildering symptoms to find ways to give him a better quality of life, we began with gradual changes. Good quality vitamins and probiotics were our first line of defense, and we then moved on to eliminate soy and gluten from our diet. We determined early on that any changes we made, would be for the whole family, as we were all in this together.
Bob's health improved a bit, and my daughter, Kris, noticed she began feeling better also. We continued to eliminate other common allergens, such as artificial sugars, ginger, peanuts, and tree nuts, and saw added success. However, it was too little too late, and shortly after that, Bob's health declined and he died.
Although Kris wasn't officially diagnosed until a couple years later, we knew she had Celiac Disease, IBS, and candida, a yeast overgrowth in her body. We continued on the diet and just when we thought we had Kris back on track and healing, her health took another turn. Through testing, we discovered we had to eliminate tomatoes, anything fermented, fruit, condiments, dairy, natural sugars, and yeast.
At this point, there were no packaged foods we could open for a quick meal, and we quickly learned the joys of cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients and herbs. With the elimination of each new allergen, all our favorite recipes had to be reworked with substitute ingredients. Especially in baked goods, when you have to replace more than a couple key ingredients, nothing turns out the way you expect it to. We fed the garbage disposal a lot, and joyfully celebrated the successes. We documented all the recipes that worked, and went on to design new dishes to give us a greater variety of foods.
Realizing there had to be a lot of other people who were struggling with multiple food allergies, we contacted a publisher. At the end of four years, we had published a 400-page cookbook called Celiac Creations For Multiple Food Allergies: How To Survive When Your Food Is Killing You.
As Kris' list of allergies increased, we noticed a correlating increase in the cost of our grocery bill. We considered ourselves blessed to be able to afford the great food, but wondered how people who are less fortunate, manage to feed themselves and their families. When I was asked to join the Board of Directors for S.A.F.E. Food Pantry, I saw an opportunity to make a real difference in a greatly underserved community, by helping to establish a food pantry that specifically addresses the dual problem of food allergies and food insecurity.
Food allergies are on the rise, and due to the increased cost of allergy-friendly foods, there will be more requests for safe foods from food pantries all over the U.S. We are establishing partnerships, raising awareness of this increased need on our local level, and invite interested people from all walks of life to join with us in whatever way they can to promote this important work.
June Ramey serves as the Board Secretary for the S.A.F.E. Food Pantry. She and her daughter, Kris Dzagan, co-authors of Celiac Creations for Multiple Food Allergies: How To Survive When Your Food Is Killing You will be speaking at this Sunday's Food for Thought session. Click here for more information or to RSVP for our free educational session.
June is a busy month at the S.A.F.E. Food Pantry. We are looking forward to the following upcoming events and hope you will join us:
Sunday, June 12 from 11AM-4PM
2016 Washington DC Gluten-Free Expo
DoubleTree Hotel in Bethesda
8120 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814
The DC Gluten Free Expo is a great opportunity to meet with over 70 gluten free vendors and attend 6 different educational sessions. Thanks to the generosity of the Celiac Disease Program at Children’s National Health System, the S.A.F.E. Food Pantry will have a table where we will be sharing our mission to provide gluten free and allergy friendly food to those in need. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children and can be purchased in advance on the DC Gluten Free Expo website or at the door.
This Saturday is the big day! From 11AM until 2PM, S.A.F.E. Food Pantry volunteers will be at the Giant Food in River Hill located at 6050 Daybreak Circle in Clarksville, Maryland to collect gluten free and allergy friendly food and monetary donations. We hope you will be a Food Warrior and bring your haul to the Giant on May 7. It’s not too late to sign up for the Food Warrior program on our webpage.
Thank you to those who braved the weather and met us at One Dish Cuisine on Tuesday, May 3 to donate safe food for our first food drive collection. Good news - One Dish Cuisine will now be a permanent food collection location. Look for the clear bin with signage just outside the door. For information on location and hours for One Dish Cuisine, please visit their website. We greatly appreciate their continued support of our organization.
Also, we are excited to announce our new partnership with the Community Action Council, who oversees the Howard County Food Bank. All food donations will be going to the food bank to help our neighbors in need that suffer from conditions including food allergies, celiac disease, and gluten intolerance. We need your help to fill those special dietary shelves at the food bank!
If you have any questions, please contact our Food Drive Chairperson, Margo. We look forward to seeing you on Saturday at the Giant Food.
by June Ramey and Kristine Dzagan
Each of us with food allergies has our own unique story to tell, our journey through the deserts, mountains of hardship, and the unexpected moments of hope and inspiration. We share a common bond—the insatiable drive for survival, and the compelling hope that we can improve our situation. The sum of our lives is not encapsulated in any moment when we might feel the most helpless, and where our restrictions seem insurmountable. So, how do we transition from victim to victor?
Embrace the challenge! Think about it. If life was always the same, never changing, it would be boring. (How many days in a row can you eat your favorite food?) This is a new adventure and opportunity for you to learn something exciting, to explore the unknown. It doesn’t have to be scary or dreadful. Find a way to make it fun.
When we first started down this road and I realized I couldn’t eat anything with gluten in it, I hated cooking. In fact, I would have rather done yard work and fixed the roof than spend an hour in the kitchen chopping vegetables and making dinner. I had lost my enthusiasm for eating, except for foods that were high in carbohydrates and sugars. I lived for that “instant gratification” and “sugar rush.”
Once I realized I either had to start cooking differently or starve, I accepted the challenge. In fact, I was determined that this setback wasn’t going to beat me! We started cooking from scratch, reading every ingredient on every label, and coming up with creative new ways to fix an old meal.
Make it fun! It became a family game for every member to rate the meal on a scale of one to ten, with one meaning you were going to throw up and ten meaning you would pay a lot of money for that meal in a fancy restaurant. Anything that rated six and under was either thrown in the “do not make again” pile or redesigned. Unless it was a unanimous vote that the meal was awesome, we always asked the question, “What would make this better?” When a meal rated nine or better among all of us, we knew it was a winner!
Another game was to try to guess the ingredients. We still play this game when we go out to a restaurant and like a particular dish. We will then try to reproduce the same taste in our kitchen. If we bring home leftovers, we will compare it with the dish we’ve created, just to see what we need to tweak in our recipe. We will brainstorm possible ingredients we can use as substitutes, do some research on that ingredient, and then try to incorporate it into a recipe to see how it responds in the cooking process. If we find something that works, we create variations that are different enough to tantalize the taste buds, but not cause us to reinvent the recipe. Each of us, including children and guests, provide feedback and suggestions based on our own individual preferences.
Accept who you are! You are wonderfully unique, even if you have siblings who were born on the same day as you. There has never been another person exactly like you nor will there ever be! Find ways to love who you have become and who you will be, even with all of your imperfections. Sometimes it’s the imperfections that make us beautiful! This includes loving yourself, even in the midst of your struggles. Food restrictions are not the sum of who you are.
Think about how healthy (or unhealthy) you feel at this very moment. You are beginning a wonderful journey toward feeling better and helping your body heal. Take a minute to imagine how much stronger and healthier you will be when you’ve made positive changes in your life. Keep this model in your mind every time you get frustrated or bored with your options. You are exceptional and you will overcome!
Get back to basics. What is it that you love to do? What motivates and energizes you? If you don’t know, figure out what you absolutely dislike and what drains your energy. Once you’ve identified those things, look to the opposite to see if that’s where your passions are hiding. Find time to do those things you love.
Stay positive! Always try to find the positive side of everything. Dare to see things in a new light. Okay, so you can’t eat some of your favorite foods. Give yourself a little time to mourn the loss, but then look at the positive side of the issue and find a way to celebrate the new you. What are the other wonderful options available to you? How good will you feel after staying away from foods that make you sick? Who ever knew that food could taste so good? Is this a good excuse to get one of those kitchen gadgets you’ve been thinking about buying for the last six months? What will you reward yourself with when you meet your goal?
No matter what is going on inside you or around you, practice the art of positive thinking and watch how your health will improve (And so will your cooking!). Situations that once seemed hopeless will become opportunities for success. Don’t fret if you try something new and it turns out to be a “failure.” Some of our best recipes were “failures” intended to be something else! Besides, you may be just one step away from success.
Seek out support! Eating differently is a lifestyle change. You are not alone in this effort—many people have had to make this change, just like you. Look at your immediate family and the style in which your family deals with problems. Is your family unit like the Three Musketeers: one for all and all for one? Or is your family more like independent superheroes: every man for himself? Adapt and adjust to find the support you need.
Do any of your friends or co-workers struggle with the same issues? Food is a wonderful way to connect with others. Bring in your favorite healthy recipe to that potluck lunch or going away party and see what happens. I once brought in home made to a going away party at work. Several months later, people were still talking about how good it was, and a couple people even asked for the recipe! You can use multiple food allergies as an icebreaker in a conversation with people you've just met. Doors of support and encouragement open up when two people share a hardship.
Look for formal or informal support groups. These can be found in local papers or newsletters, clinics or even on-line. If you can’t find one in your area, start one!
Give back to the community and encourage others! Research your illness or allergy and learn as much as you can about it. Share what you’ve learned. It’s empowering! When you talk and share with others, listen to what they are saying and encourage them to share what they know. Everyone has something to contribute. Even those people who are great in their fields of expertise, have stood on the shoulders of those who came before them. Build each other up so you are stronger together.
And this is just the beginning!
Perseverance through hardship builds character, and so does the joy and celebration of a new life! There is more awareness now about food sensitivities and intolerances than there were ten years ago—even five. Because of this, more alternative foods are available each year. Take advantage of all your resources and go for it! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!
From Board Member June Ramey and co-author Kris Dzagan - Celiac Creations For Multiple Food Allergies: How To Survive When Your Food Is Killing You.
by June Ramey and Kristine Dzagan
As you may have discovered, allergens can hide in the most unlikely places, and even products that have been safe before, can have changes in formula. Products often have fillers that are common allergens, such as soy. I admit that there are times when I feel bewildered by ingredient lists. I mean, why is a chemical sweetener (sorbitol) a necessary ingredient in shaving cream?
If your allergies are not severe, you may think a little bit won’t hurt you, or if you don’t break out in a rash, there’s no problem. But the truth is, you may not know what it’s doing to your body. Many of the effects of allergens can be subtle, but reactions may intensify with multiple symptoms that may leave you back at square one. It’s best to be safe and read all labels.
Be especially cognizant of anything that can be absorbed sublingually. When a substance is placed under your tongue, it diffuses through mucous membranes and absorbs into the vast capillary system. As a result, the substance has a fairly direct route into your bloodstream. (Connelly. Why We Take Medicines Under Our Tongue)
This is not an inclusive list by any means, but only meant to jog your brain to think in terms of your own lifestyle, and places you might not have thought to look for allergens.
• Suntan lotion
• Shaving cream
• Hair conditioner
• Hair coloring
• Perm solutions
• Facial cleansers
• Moisturizing lotions
• Foundational makeup
• Eye shadows
• Lash conditioners/thickeners
• Polishing agents dental hygienists use (insist on knowing--most agents have gluten)
• Body wash
• Hair spray
• Household detergents including dish soap
• Prescription medications (ask your pharmacist to see the inactive ingredients)
• Generic drugs as opposed to brand name drugs
• The hard coating encasing pills
• Ingredients used to make gel caps for capsules
• Lotion used in ultrasound (ask in advance and insist on knowing)
• Nonstick cooking sprays
• Natural flavorings (that obscure listing at the end of ingredients that can be anything)
• Products you’ve always been able to trust before (because formulas change without notice to the public)
• Laundry detergent
• Fabric softener
• Dryer sheets
• Moist flushable wipes
• Toilet paper
• Anything that goes on your body, in your body, or can be inhaled
Connelly, Thomas P., D.D.S. printed in The Huffington Post February 18, 2011 08:38 AM. Why We Take Medicines Under Our Tongue. Retrieved January 22, 2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thomas-p-connelly-dds/medicine-in-the-body-_b_823530.html
From Celiac Creations For Multiple Food Allergies: How To Survive When Your Food Is Killing You by June Ramey and Kristine Dzagan. Ms. Ramey serves as Secretary for the Board of Directors of the S.A.F.E. Food Pantry.
The S.A.F.E. Food Pantry is an all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) organization based in Howard County, Maryland.