In my last post, I discussed how using an allergy elimination diet can help isolate potential food allergies or a food intolerance. In this post, I wanted to take the time to relate a few of my experiences with this, and also share my sample diet as of right this moment.
I do apologize for the delay, but I am eternally busy doing everything from remodeling, business, family, and everything in-between. Okay, here we go…
History of My Diet & Cholinergic Urticaria Battle
Ever since I first began experiencing cholinergic urticaria symptoms, I had some (unknown at the time) symptoms of food allergy or intolerance. I was completely unaware of it at the time, but I would frequently get severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, and other symptoms. In fact, I can remember how these started happening about a year or so before I even got cholinergic urticaria.
I can recall sitting in high school and after lunch my stomach would be cramping so badly (almost daily), that I would get goosebumps on my skin. I just assumed it was natural, and everyone got stomach cramps like that. It never occurred to me that it was something that shouldn’t be happening (at least, not on a near daily basis).
Then my hives came out about a year later, and that started my saga with that. Then, my hives went into remission for a couple of years (perhaps from the corticosteroid shot I had received, or from fat-loss, or from diet changes–its hard to know for sure). When my hives returned a couple of years later, my body was in inflammation mode.
I was getting rashes, itching, hives, and all sorts of problems. My digestive system was a mess–constant bloating, cramps, diarrhea. My health was at a tipping point. It was around this time that I started to suspect that my diet could be the root of all of this.
So I began cutting out foods to see if my rashes, hives, and stomach issues would improve. I cut out dairy first, and it helped tremendously. I discovered that I cannot tolerate dairy at all (despite eating it my whole life with no issues at all up until my teen years).
While my food experiments seemed to pay off big for the rashes on my skin (and most of my stomach issues), I just couldn’t seem to get my hives to go away 100%. I would notice that my hives seemed to be correlated with my diet, but I could never pin it down to diet exclusively.
For example, in the past I even blogged about how I suspected the cholinergic urticaria and diet link. I could notice, for example, how eating a lot of milk and processed foods would cause my hives to get much worse about a week or so later. Likewise, when I cut back to a lot of fruits, veggies, and lean meat–my hives would significantly improve a week or two later.
But because I could never get my hives to go away 100%, I assumed that diet wasn’t the cause of my hives (even though the correlation was incredibly strong, it didn’t show signs of causation). So I continued to eat mostly what I wanted, so long as rashes didn’t appear on my skin and my stomach was okay with the food.
My Recent Fat-loss Experiment
As I have blogged about, my hives were excruciating this time last year. In fact, they were so bad I did something I never do: I went to the doctor to request a steroid shot. In a moment of pure desperation, I went to the doctor. I hate going to the doctor because quite frankly my experiences haven’t been pleasant (at least, not with cholinergic urticaria). But that just tells you how bad my hives really were.
I assumed I was eating healthy, and I couldn’t understand why my hives were going NUTS. I mean I would breakout in severe hives like crazy from head to toe. My body was in sheer pain and torture. Then this past spring, I made a decision: I was going to attempt to get into shape again.
I hypothesized that since I had gained a small amount of visceral fat—and there was some evidence that visceral fat can increase inflammation and autoimmune disorders–that perhaps losing weight would reduce the severity of my hives. I made the hypothesis, and I ran with it. I fully dedicated myself to losing weight.
And lose weight I did. I went from 170, to 150 in just about 2-3 months. I went from visceral fat to some pretty decent abs.
But in this whole journey of losing weight, something happened. My hives got dramatically better. I think losing the visceral fat surely helped, but now my focus has slightly changed. I don’t think the visceral fat was the top factor that caused a complete remission of my hives—I think it was my diet changes.
Because in my serious dedication to losing weight as fast as possible (in the hopes it would help my hives), I began the process of cutting out excessive calories. So I was actually removing many foods from my diet. It wasn’t because I suspected that diet was causing my hives, but rather, because I trying to lose the visceral fat as quickly as possible.
And it seemed to work. My hives slowly got better, until the point I was able to sweat. After that, my hives continued to improve to the point where I was essentially “cured.” Great! And so I attributed the significant improvement in my hives to mostly losing weight, although I did acknowledge that my diet changes also helped.
Taking a Closer Look At Diet Again
So all was going well after my experiment from losing weight. I got in great shape (and it gets better every week), I felt better, and my hives were gone. I felt so positive, optimistic, and happy. This was the best summer I’ve had in years. Figuring out how to lose weight by simply monitoring my calories was a godsend. But I got the wrong idea that as long as I kept my visceral fat down, I could eat what I wanted and still be free of any food allergy or intolerance symptoms. I was wrong.
This is how my focus started to shift: After my hives went away, I began to re-structure my diet in an attempt to get maximum nutrition and the appropriate number of calories. So I began introducing new foods into my diet to see what would happen.
I began eating oatmeal and granola bars. I love oatmeal, but after only a week or so, I began noticing those small bumps on my fingers and elbows returning. Bummer. So I cut out the oatmeal, and the bumps disappeared in about 2 weeks.
Next, I started eating peanut butter milkshakes (with no milk). They are delicious by the way! Just get about 2 frozen bananas, 1 spoonful of peanut butter, and about 1/2 cup of water and blend it. Yum. Tastes just like a milkshake.
But anyway, I began eating those on a daily basis. I realized that I would get a headache and be cranky after eating them. Then, those bumps on my elbows and fingers/hands once again started to come back. Grr. So I cut that out, and they disappeared again.
Here is where it gets interesting. I then added olive oil back to my diet, because I was struggling to increase my calorie intake (and oils are very high calorie). So I added olive oil back. But after about a week or so, I noticed my skin started feeling really dry. Also, when I was exercising it felt like my skin was wanting to do that prickly sensation that we all feel before hives come out. In fact, a day or two later, I did get a couple of prickles on my forehead, but it wasn’t severe and no hives actually formed.
So I immediately cut out the olive oil, and within about 2 weeks, I once again felt great and no signs at all of hives or prickly itching. This was by far the turning moment for me and this changed my thinking.
I began to ponder how all those other foods were causing inflammatory responses (itchy red bumps) on my hands. I also considered how the olive oil seemed to be causing my hives to want to come back out, and how all symptoms went away after cutting it out of my diet. I also thought about all those past moments where I strongly suspected that diet and hives were somehow connected, but I could never get them to go away 100% by diet alone.
UPDATE: I’ve recently made a couple of videos of my diet journey. Watch below for the latest update:
Considering How Diet Can Cause Exercise Related Issues
I also began considering people with exercised induced anaphylaxis (which I call our “cousins” in exercise reactions). What’s interesting is that Exercise-induced anaphylaxsis (EIA) is VERY similar to cholinergic urticaria. These people experience wheals, swelling, and itching when they exercise. The only difference is that they do NOT experience this with passive heating (like we do–with emotions, walking into a warm room, etc.). Instead, EIA people only seem to have reactions exclusively with exercise.
But here is what’s interesting: countless medical articles cite how food is now being connected with EIA. What some research is beginning to reveal is that if people eat a certain food (wheat, for example), that this will actually cause the exercise induced symptoms to appear. There are many food “triggers” listed in some articles for this, and most of them are your common allergens.
So I began thinking to myself: Okay, I know that a disease that is similar to mine (EIA) is being connected with foods, I know from my own experiences in the past how foods can seem to make my hives worse or better, and I know from my recent experiments that I have been able to eliminate my hives completely. Then, eating a food (olive oil) caused my hives to begin to return (only the prickly phase), and I cut it out and the early symptoms resolved after about a week or two.
At this point I am pretty much convinced that diet is pretty much the main factor for the cause of my cholinergic urticaria. My wife is convinced as well. My family is amazed at the difference.
Let me be clear: I have not had actual hives on my body since May. I have been able to fully sweat, workout, mow, remodel my house, shop, laugh, and everything else without the aggravation of that gnawing prickly and itchy feeling.
My Current Diet & Elimination Diet
So I have been doing an elimination diet specifically for about the past month or so. My plan is this: remove all foods that cause any type of inflammatory response whatsoever (stomach aches, rashes, itchy bumps, hives, prickly feeling, etc.).
Here is a brief list of foods I’ve removed so far, and have identified as “bad” for me: Oats, red meat, all dairy, wheat, peanuts, legumes, white sugar, olive oil.
I have basically divorced the above foods, and will probably be parting with them for the rest of my life. Here is what I know 100% for sure that I can eat right now, and experience no hives, no bumps, no stomach problems, etc.:
- White rice. Brown rice is more nutritious, but my stomach doesn’t tolerate it well. I eat white rice (no gluten, cross contamination, etc.). It is the 5 minute instant cook type. I then add maple syrup to it for a sweetener. It also helps add calories.
- Turkey breast
- Sweet potatoes
I also take a Centrum daily multivitamin, and I also take a calcium supplement since I get very little calcium without dairy in my diet. I also take a vitamin d3 supplement since I get only a little sunlight exposure.
The above foods are the ONLY thing that crosses my lips at the moment.
Yes, it’s annoying having to constantly turn down family for offers to go out to eat, because it is hard for them to understand. Yes, it gets frustrating having to constantly cook daily. Yes, it gets annoying having to eat about every 2 hours just to keep my calories at a proper level for the day. But it is 100% worth it.
Mistakes I’ve Made In the Past With Diet
In retrospect, I think the reason I was never able to eliminate my hives 100% in the past is because I wasn’t being scientific enough with my diet. I just assumed as long as it was “organic,” or “natural,” or if it was a veggie/fruit that it was safe for me to eat. Not so. I now realize my foolishness in my past thinking. The truth of the matter is that most people do have sensitivities to food. Most go unrecognized.
But now I have realized that if you can’t tolerate a food, you can’t tolerate it. It doesn’t matter if its organic, all-natural, or a vegetable. You have to take each food individually and see if you can tolerate it or not. If your body can’t tolerate peanuts, then it doesn’t matter if that peanut is organic, natural, or whatever. If you can’t eat peanuts, you can’t eat peanuts!
There are many veggies which I can’t tolerate, and some fruits as well. Mangoes, for example, are delicious. But they upset my stomach after eating them. Now I take each food as it is, and I see if I can tolerate it.
I have pretty much realized that my days of donuts, pizza, cookies, and other snacks are pretty much gone. But that is totally fine with me so long as my days of hives are gone too.
Diet Plans for the Future
Obviously I am going to eat more than the above listed foods. The problem is that this elimination diet thing takes a LONG time to work. When I introduce a new food, I have to eat it at least a week (maybe 2), in order to make sure it isn’t causing any symptoms or inflammation. That’s how long it takes!
I can only introduce 1 new food at a time (in addition to my other “safe” foods), so that I know whether or not that particular food is the problem. Then, once I remove it, it takes about another 2 weeks for any symptoms to disappear.
As you can imagine, I can only add about 1-2 foods at most per month. So it will take a year or two for me to rebuild my diet perfectly. However, I feel it will totally be worth it. Plus, I will probably live longer (all other things being equal), as this is about as healthy as it gets. Plus my quality of life will be so much better without constant rashes, hives, and stomach aches.
My Advice to Others Struggling With Cholinergic Urticaria
I cannot guarantee that diet is the cause for ALL people’s CU. I cannot guarantee the above diet will work for you, or even be safe for you to try (and it may not be safe if you are pregnant, nursing, have another medical condition, etc.)
But what I can tell you is this: I have now isolated diet as a major factor in my own hives. So far I have been able to bring about the early symptoms by re-introducing a food, and then eliminate it again by removing the food. Once I establish more foods in my diet, I will try to repeat the experiment in the future a few times and see if I can bring my hives out fully, and them make them fully disappear–which I think would be enough observational evidence to strongly suggest that CU may in fact be caused by diet in some people.
If you have severe hives, or desperately want them to go away, then I would highly recommend you look at your DIET. Changing your diet is free, costs you nothing but time and effort, and may lead you down a new path in life. You can use the basic allergy elimination diet (or my above diet) as a guideline, and talk to your doctor or nutritionist about whether or not it would be safe for you to try it.
As I stated previously, it takes about 2-3 weeks for symptoms to resolve.
If you only have a super mild case of hives, then maybe it won’t be worth the effort for you to experiment with your diet. But my hives were getting progressively worse, and my health was getting dragged through the mud with all the inflammation. It is more than worth it for me.
What to Do About Cravings or No Will Power
Its so funny because I was totally addicted to foods before. As I said before, allergies or an intolerance can actually bring about an “addiction” to food. When I read over the previous posts from a year or two ago (when I first started to try to restrict certain foods from my diet), then it was so hard for me mentally.
I would constantly crave foods, and whine about how I wish I could eat this or that. It was VERY difficult for me and a total shock to my body when I stopped eating those “feel good” foods. Oh how I used to love to eat pizza, M&Ms, cheese, cookies, brownies, and all sorts of junk food 24/7.
And I can remember how when the first time I restricted my diet years ago, I could only go a week (maybe two) until the cravings got so severe that I actually began rationalizing to myself, saying, “Hey, this hives thing isn’t so bad. I’d rather eat good food and have hives than to eat like this and have no hives.”
But no so anymore. I have done this for so long now, that I have no urge to eat like I used to. It makes me sick (literally) to eat those foods. I used to live to eat, now I eat to live. In fact, my wife eats all sorts of foods in front of me, and I have zero urge to eat them.
When I get hungry, I simply go warm up food and it satisfies my hunger. I don’t ever crave the foods I eat now. My stomach burns, and it tells me its time to eat. I go and stick the food in my mouth and swallow. It tastes good, but I never crave it. I eat to live.
If you are starting out on this diet, you may experience severe hunger cravings, and find it difficult to give up a certain food. Hint: That could be a strong sign that you are actually experiencing a reaction to that food. In fact, you should read up about food addiction in relation to allergies/intolerance, because it is rather interesting how that works. Once something causes inflammatory responses, it can cause addiction like cravings.
So that’s my post update on my diet experiment, and that pretty much ends this “series” of posts on diet, allergies, and cholinergic urticaria. Other than that, I have been remodeling my house (far too many things to name), exercising, and more.
I hope this information helps some of you (and if it does or doesn’t work for you, please share your experience on the forum). It has freed me. I was once a slave in my own body, and now I am free. I attribute that to God (I never stopped praying), my exercise (it does help some), and mostly my diet.
Again, if you feel desperate, perhaps you should take a bold look at your diet, and talk with a doctor about doing an elimination diet.