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Living a Soy and Milk-Free Life: 4 Month Progress Report

I started this blog 3 months ago. It’s time for a progress report on my health and what I’ve learned. Here’s a “before” the discovery…and “after”.

The Before

4 months ago, I discovered I had an allergy to soy, one year prior to that, I discovered I had an allergy to milk. I am in my late thirties, and after seeing several doctors about this, I am able to confidently attribute my newfound allergies to enduring 4 years of intense chronic stress. When I ingest anything containing milk or soy (even the smallest amount), my skin will itch.

Throughout 2011, my skin felt like it was on fire. The only relief I could get came from an application of cortisone cream to my entire face and back.

I had already worked to eliminate milk from my diet that year, but I was still feeling intensely itchy. Once I discovered my allergy to soy, I made drastic changes in my diet and cosmetics, and I felt instant and major relief.

The Discovery

Products containing milk seemed to be far fewer than those containing soy. Soy is in everything. EVERYTHING. Well, almost everything. It was extremely frustrating to learn that all my favorite foods and restaurants are not good for me. So, label reading ensued. I threw away bags and bags of products in my pantry containing the pesky culprits. [Check out this fantastic summary about soy allergies (thank you to my newest reader, Dania), which includes a list of foods that contain soy: Living and Eating Well with Food Allergies – Soy Allergies]. I stopped eating fast food (except for a special order at In-N-Out). I discovered it was quite difficult to find any entree at any fast food joint that does not contain soy, and near impossible to find an entree without soy AND milk.

Then, I learned about my body’s reaction when soy touched my body. Hoping I was doing something healthy for my skin after scratching it raw, it seemed reasonable to apply pure vitamin E directly onto the problem areas to aid in the healing. After 4 days, my skin felt worse than before. “What is in this vitamin E anyway?” Pure soy. Yep. Vitamin E gels are derived from soy. Ohh! Then I discovered that my makeup, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, razor blade, skin care products, and sunblock each contained soy (look for the ingredient tocopherol, which is the vitamin E ingredient, and is most often derived from soy). Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies…and my skin was absorbing a great deal of soy every day. See my post, “My Lipstick Contains Soy!” and Other Soy-Laced Beauty Discoveries”.

So. No touching soy. No eating soy. No eating milk products. Got it.
I soon discovered other foods caused my skin to itch. Almonds. Grapes (and all forms of it including wine…boo…). Some candies — I suspect it’s the food coloring, like red 40? Eliminating those foods have helped keep my skin happier. There are a few more foods that give me mild reactions, but I am in denial about them and someday I will have to pull up my big girl panties and admit I should cut them out of my diet too. Hmph.
Oh. I should also say…my chronic stress is gone and what’s left is a day-to-day normal level of stress. How? I’ve done my best to:
(a) eliminate the sources of stress (Actually, this part was largely out of my control, but I did make decisions to bring balance into my work/home life, and to make choices to not overbook my calendar)
(b) enjoy the people in my life (my son, my dear friends, my new sweet boyfriend (!))
(c) spend more time doing the things that give me peace (playing the piano, singing worship songs, praying, painting, doing photography, etc.)
(d) exercise whenever possible, and
(e) sleep more than 6 hours/night

The After

Relief. Sweet relief. I haven’t used cortisone cream in a couple of months. Woo hoo! My skin has healed from the intense scratching. My reactions are milder when I have an accidental bite of the no-no foods (OK, perhaps they’re not all accidental), and the reactions don’t last for days anymore. I suspect this is because my body isn’t being overloaded by the allergens anymore. Perhaps my liver needed some time to clean out. Today I ate an iced animal cookie (I couldn’t help myself) with full knowledge that it contained soy and dairy and that I would have a reaction. My skin itched instantly, but the itching went away after 30 minutes. So I ate another one. (OK, please. Stop laughing. I’m PMS-ing so I can’t be held responsible for my lack of self control.)

I’ve noticed I’ve been able to tolerate small doses of milk products again — like using butter in the pan for cooking eggs. It’s a good thing, because my 3-year old will not eat his eggs if I use any butter substitutes, like safflower oil or sunflower oil.

And here’s something unexpected: I’ve struggled with thinning hair since I was in my early 20’s. My hairdresser noticed last month that my hair is thicker than it was in December. Hmm…
I lost a lot of weight initially because I was afraid to eat and I hadn’t discovered many options for me yet. Now that I have plenty of options for meals and snacks, I’ve gained some of the weight back (and I’ve been told I look healthier now). I feel comfortable in this size, despite the fact that my new size 4 jeans I just bought in March don’t fit any more.
Hey people, I’m reaping the rewards of a soy and milk-free life! Tell me about your progress! Let’s encourage each other!

The Blog

I must mention something I find super cool: I started this blog in February, 2012. Since then, I have received over 2,300 hits from people in 42 countries. I haven’t written in 3 weeks (sorry about that), yet the blog now gets between 40-60 hits per day due to various Google searches and Pinterest re-pins. Wow. Just wow. I’m so happy that others are benefiting from what I’ve learned. I look forward to continuing this journey and learning from each other.

In Wellness!

A Handy Collection of Fast Food Allergen Statements

Sunset at the Pier

3 1/2 months ago, had someone asked me if I consumed soy, I would have said, “No. Except when I occasionally eat Japanese food…edamame and/or sushi with soy sauce.” I didn’t eat tofu and I didn’t drink soy milk or use soy-based products.

Yet, in January of this year, I figured out I was allergic to soy (after already dealing with an allergy to milk products for a year). Momentarily, I wasn’t too worried about eliminating soy from my diet, because I thought I didn’t eat very much of it. However, since then I’ve rapidly discovered soy is in nearly everything I used to eat regularly. I threw away bags and bags of items containing soy from my pantry. I am a very busy gal – single mom with a full time job – so cooking my meals at home was not always a convenient option…So…I guess you would have called me a fast foodie, even though I did my best to order the healthiest options at various fast food restaurants. Little did I know, I was allergic to ingredients in every meal I ordered at every fast food restaurant I frequented.

It turns out it is quite difficult to avoid soy and milk while eating at most of these joints. Soy is a common ingredient in the sauces, marinades, salad dressings, seasonings, frying oil, and breads. Plus, the meats are marinated in sauces with soy, and they likely come from animals that are soy-fed. I JUST learned that super-allergic-to-soy people can get anaphylactic and need an epi-pen from ingesting meat and eggs from soy-fed animals (Thank you, SprinklesandAllergies). Of course, most of the entrees also contain contain milk ingredients, making it even harder for many of us to order.

You will see, most fast food restaurants will not have a soy- and milk-free option for those of us who need it. However, someone pouring over the ingredients list and allergy statements at each of these restaurants (see below) might be able to get creative with what they order. You could really test the idea of them “Making it your way”, but beware of cross contamination with the grill and frying oil. I’ve only found one place to easily order a presumably soy- and milk-free entree: In-N-Out (see my blog about this: Hooray for In-N-Out! Soy- and Milk-Free Options).

Anyway, after spending WAY too much time figuring out how/if I could eat fast food anymore, I have collected nutritional and allergy statements for the major fast food joints I frequented. I thought I’d post these statements in one easy-to-access place in case someone else is on the same journey as I am. It turns out, after all my research,  I’ve found I really can’t eat at fast food joints anymore (save In-N-Out) and so I do my best to cook at home, bring my lunch to work, and order carefully at non-fast-food restaurants.

I hope this list is helpful to someone out there! This list will continue to grow as time goes on and I collect more nutrition and allergy statements (in pdf form – feel free to download and print these). I’ve learned that not all fast food restaurants have allergy statements on their websites…that really must change. Don’t you think?

For more detailed tips about eating allergy-free while dining out, I recommend the site, AllergyEats – Your Online Guide to Allergy Friendly Restaurants.

In Wellness!

Nutrition and Allergy Statements for Major Fast Food Restaurants

Arby’s Nutrition and Allergen Info – Also see my blog about Arby’s: Can’t Avoid Soy and Milk at Arby’s

Burger King Product List for those with Gluten Sensitivities

Burger King Menu and Ingredients List 

Carl’s Junior Menu. As of 4-29-12, Carl’s Junior has not posted a allergy statement, however, they do post “Alternative Options” which includes a gluten-free burger.

Green Burrito Allergen Info

In-N-Out Food Quality Statement – Also see my blog about In-N-Out: Hooray for In-N-Out! Soy- and Milk-Free Options

Jack In The Box Ingredients List – Also see my blog about Jack in the Box: “Welcome to Jack in the Box. May I take your order?”

McDonalds Ingredients List – Also see my blog about McDonald’s: McDonald’s Soyland

Popeye’s Nutrition and Allergens List

Taco Bell Allergens List

Wendy’s Allergens List