7 Day No Dairy Challenge




7 Day No-Dairy Challenge

 Welcome!  This is your quick survival guide for the week!  Thank you participating and please text me or contact me via Facebook if you need ANYTHING!

A few things to know:

  1. You will NEVER find a vegan cheese at the grocery store that tastes exactly like cheese. So please keep an open mind.  When I began my dairy free life, it was out of necessity.  My first purchase of Daiya brand cheeze shreds (not a fan of any of their products) was not only disappointing, it was down right disgusting.  Since then, I’ve had some amazing artisan nut cheeses at local veggie restaurants that inspired me to buy a book and begin making my own!

Here is the best sliced soy cheese I’ve found.  The kids really like it and my two little ones don’t like much!  You can buy it at Wal-mart and it melts well over medium heat.  Give it a little longer than regular cheese to melt.


  1. For me, cheese was definitely the hardest thing about being dairy-free. It was actually the rich creaminess that I missed, not necessarily the taste.  So…some of the recipes that I have included, use things like creamy cashew sauces, rich avocado garlic sauces, and I’ve even included a Vegan Alfredo (my favorite)!
  1. A word about Carrageenan: Carrageenan is commonly used to thicken and emulsify non-dairy based products.  If you suffer from any digestive/intestinal issues please avoid all products with Carrageenan in them.  There is a very strong link in the literature about the ingredient and gastrointestinal disease in lab animals, including ulcerative colitis, intestinal lesions, and colon cancer.  So please avoid it.

Here is a link for products that DO NOT contain Carrageenan.  Also, most “So Delicious” creamers are now Carrageenan free.


  1. You may feel kinda crappy. It is not uncommon to have withdrawal and detoxification symptoms when you remove any kind of food from your diet.  Dairy is particularly nasty because the casein protein binds to the same “opiod” receptor sites in the brain as heroin and other narcotics.  So when people say they are addicted to “ice cream, cheese, etc.,” they probably are.   You may have headaches, fatigue, mood swings, or what I commonly refer to as “The Bitch is Back”.   It will pass, hopefully leaving you more energetic and clear thinking! That is why I want you drinking water.  A LOT of water.
  1. We will start every morning with a glass of “ROOM TEMP” water with ½ of a squeezed lemon, and a pinch of fine ground sea salt. Water helps move things through your system.  When you detoxify, water is your friend.   So please stay hydrated throughout the day.  This is very important.


FUN FACT:  When your body loses just 2% of it’s hydration you begin to feel tired.   In the morning I drink 20oz of water, I have a smoothie for breakfast, and then a cup of coffee.  I am super hydrated in the morning.  But…by the afternoon I’ve slowed my water consumption, and I begin feeling tired.  So, I drink about 8-12 oz of water, and then BOOM, I’m fine!

  1. One final note. I would encourage you to write down how you feel.  What do you notice on day one?  Is it any different on day five?  Measure yourself, weigh yourself, so you have some kind of baseline.  My hope is that some of you will want to continue, making it a 14-day, or even a 21-day challenge!

GOOD LUCK!  Remember you are NOT denying yourself anything.  You are GAINING health benefits, learning some new things, and hopefully changing the way you think about food and health!  

Make Me Wanna Holler

We are in the midst of a national health crisis. As American’s we are fatter and sicker than ever before. The latest CDC report estimates that approximately 3 out of 4 Americans are overweight, and nearly 2/3 of those who are overweight, are obese.  To calculate if a person is overweight or obese, doctors use what is called a Body Mass Index or BMI measurement. Essentially, it’s the ratio of your height to your weight.  (At the bottom of the page I have included a link to the CDC’s BMI calculator.)

United States Rankings with Overweight and Obese as Criterion:

  • Percent of adults age 20 years and over with overweight, including obesity: 70.7%
  • Percent of adults age 20 years and over with obesity: 37.9%
  • Percent of adolescents age 12-19 years with obesity: 20.6%
  • Percent of children age 6-11 years with obesity: 17.4%

And it’s not just adults who are suffering. One in three children born in the year’s 2000 and beyond will develop type 2 Diabetes. (1)  And for the first time in our nation’s history, it is predicted that these kids will not live as long as their parents.  (2)

When I was a kid in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes among children and adolescents was extremely low, and quite frankly very rare.  Unfortunately, as processed foods and dollar menus at fast food restaurants have taken over that has changed.

The Wall Street Journal

And sadly, it’s not just children’s physical health that suffers.  In a recent national survey of overweight sixth graders, 24 percent of the boys and 30 percent of the girls experienced daily teasing, bullying or rejection because of their size. (3)  Tragic.


The United States is ranked number one in the world for crisis care. If you’ve been in a car accident, and you need to be put back together again, you’re in the right place. However, if you’re worried about your health, you may be in trouble.  

The United States health care system ranked dead LAST in the developed world.  (4)  Yet, we spend the MORE on health care than anyone else in the world, (5) and we are still the sickest nation on earth.  “We endure some of the worst rates of heart disease, lung disease, obesity, and diabetes in the world.” (6)

So why do we spend so much and get so little?  In his book, “The China Study” Dr. T. Colin Campbell says it best, “Health care is really disease care, and it’s big business.  Every year over a trillion dollars is riding on what we choose to eat and how we choose to treat sickness and promote health.” (7)

In the first quarter of this year, McDonald’s reported a profit of $1.1 billion.  Yes, that’s 1.1 billion dollars in 3 months.  Their gain equals our loss.

“The combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion). (8)


Drug companies rely on the fact that Americans will eat poorly, get sick, take drugs, then get really sick. The two biggest culprits are heart disease and cancer.  And guess what?  When you put yourself in harms way you run the risk that own health care system will kill you.

Medical errors, which include misdiagnosis, or not treating the root cause, adverse drug reactions or interactions, improper transfusions, and mistaken patient identities, (What???) (9) are all too common, thus making our own health care system the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. My own Dad spent 7 days in the hospital last month because of adverse drug interactions. One of the drugs he was given, he didn’t even need to take!  I was once overdosed on morphine, (by a nurse who didn’t read my chart correctly) even though the doctor’s orders were for Tylenol.  




We have a choice.  We can choose how to spend our money.  And we can choose what to put in our mouths.  We are busy people.  I am a mom of three kids, believe me, I know. Balancing school, work, sports, travel, and everything else we do, it would be really easy for me to drive thru somewhere and pick up food.  Or throw a pre-made processed meal in the oven because I’m too tired to cook.

What you put in your body HAS TO BE A PRIORITY.  What you feed your kids fuels their growth and their brains. It also sets the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating.  When nutrition becomes a priority, it becomes a conversation and a tool for learning.  By the way, did you know there is as much protein in a nut (peanut, almond, cashew) butter and jelly sandwich as there is in a McDonald’s hamburger?

My kids know how to convert sugar from grams to teaspoons.  When they want something sugary from the grocery store, they have to calculate the sugar content. Nine times out of ten when they know how much sugar is in something they voluntarily put it back.

I often hear people say that they can feed a family of 4 from the dollar menu way cheaper than they can feed them at home. Here’s why:  The reason fresh organic fruits and vegetables are expensive is because the government doesn’t subsidize fruits and vegetables.

A subsidy is a sum of money granted by the government or a public body to assist an industry or business so that the price of a commodity or service remains low or competitive. A cheeseburger from McDonald’s is only a dollar, because our government subsidizes the wheat, dairy, and meat industries.  They’re keeping us overweight and unhealthy.


But Americans are getting smarter.  Thanks to their Wild Oats Marketplace, Wal-Mart is now a viable competitor of Whole Foods.  Whole Foods is now lowering their prices because the demand for healthy foods is at an all time high. Sales of organic foods in the U.S. jumped 11.3 percent, to $39.1 billion last year, according to the Organic Trade Association. (12)  YES!!!

Doctors are NOT required to take courses in nutrition.  So find a GOOD nutritionist and do what they say.  I chose to adopt a plant-based diet, and in 4 months my blood pressure went from 126/170 to 116/58. My reflux and joint pain are gone, and in 6 months I had lost 34 pounds.

My doctor was amazed and asked me how I did it.  I told him I was tired of not feeling good and didn’t want to be a slave to pills. So I decided to change my diet and exercise.  I said, “No offense, Doc, but I don’t want to see you anymore.”  He laughed and said, “On one hand, I wish all of my patients were like you, but on the other hand, I have to pay my bills.”



BMI Calculator:


You Are What You Eat

Several days ago I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts by Naturopathic physician Dr. Stephen Cabral.  The topic of the day happened to be about all of the repellent things (like pus and bacterial cells) found in milk. The timing was fortuitous.  Since dairy was the “mother” of all inflammation for me, I figured I would give you a breakdown of what he said and draw the connection between dairy and chronic health issues.

By the way, if you’ve never listened to Dr. Cabral, I would recommend giving him 10 minutes of your time, at least once.  He’s a very smart guy.

I suppose there are ways to soften what I’m about to tell you, but I’m a firm believer in telling it like it is.  So if you don’t like where I’m going with this, or if you’re the squeamish kind, this may be a good jumping off point for you.


Before I get into Cabral’s podcast, I’ll give you a brief background on the Cow herself. On most modern U.S. Dairy farms when a Holstein (most dairy cows are of this variety) delivers a calf, her baby is allowed to stay with her for up to 14 days. Though the calf is usually removed within three days.  As the mother/calf bond intensifies over time, delayed separation can cause extreme stress on both cow and calf. (1) Because her milk is  for human consumption and not for her baby, the calf is either given a commercial formula, or milk that has been deemed unfit for human consumption.

All animals (humans included) bond with their babies, it is intrinsic to their survival. It is not uncommon to hear a momma cow bellow when her baby is taken from her. Noted psychiatrist and author Dr. Oliver Sacks, discussed a visit that he and Temple Grandin once made to a dairy farm: “When we arrived, we heard many cows bellowing, causing a very loud and unnerving sound.”  Temple commented, “They must have separated the calves from the cows this morning,” and indeed, that was exactly the case. (2)

Female calves are reared to follow in their mother’s footsteps, but male calves are either put in small “veal” crates or they’re culled.  Most veal slaughter comes from dairy calves, (3) and culled is a benign way of saying they are not deemed useful and they’re killed.

veal crates

Dairy cows are milked even during their pregnancy.  In the United States, the typical dairy cow is milked for 10 months a year, which is only possible because she is impregnated by artificial insemination while still secreting milk from her previous pregnancy. This process increases the estrogen in their milk upwards of 60%.

Studies have shown that elevated estrogen rates are linked to early onset of puberty, and higher rates of hormone dependent IgF1 cancers like breast cancer, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer in men.  (4)


We’ve all heard the saying, “You Are What You Eat.” But guess what, You Are Also What You Eat “Eats”.  This information is directly from Dr. Cabral’s podcast.

  • USDA allows 1.5 million white blood cells per ml of milk sold (cows get mastitis infection from constantly having to produce milk.)
  • Cows are given antibiotics to combat the mastitis infection.
  • Now we have the cow’s foreign white blood cells (immune cells) in our body and our own immune system is stimulated to turn on. There is an average of 322 million cell counts of pus in one cup of milk.
  • Cows are given steroids, estrogen, rBGH (Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormones) to increase milk production so they grow larger to produce more meat. Dairy stock is often used for both milk and meat production.
  • Increase in Type 1 Diabetes and other autoimmune diseases like MS, due to the size of a cow’s protein (casein) molecule.  Our body’s immune system doesn’t recognize the cow’s proteins and it begins to fight them off thinking they are intruders.

Cows are ruminants and should be eating greens like grass, clover, alfalfa, etc. Instead, they are fed GMO corn, which they were never meant to eat. They feed them corn and soy because it is the cheapest form of “calories” on the planet. Often however, this results in the cows becoming sick. Their rates of liver infections, chronic acidosis, and E. coli production increase dramatically. As a matter of prevention, dairy farmers throw antibiotics directly into their cow feed.

Cows are given over 85 different drugs, but the regulating committee that tests the milk only requires testing of  four. Studies have shown that 38% of all milk is contaminated with residues of antibiotics and sulfa-based drugs. (5)

A 20 year longitudinal study of women who drank 3 glasses of milk per day, were shown to have twice the mortality rate as women who drank only one glass of milk per day. (6)

Dairy has been shown to increase acne, ear infections and constipation. (Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Crohn’s disease are also linked to dairy consumption)  Dairy is also the number one allergen for infants and children in the world, (7) likely because of their immature immune system.

There are so many alternatives to cow’s milk.  You can get 50% more calcium in a nut-based or plant-based milk.  There are so many options available on the market today. “Ripple” milk at Target is my favorite, and the kids love Silk Original Soy milk.

Dr. Cabral recommends removing all dairy products from your diet for at least 21 days to see the positive health effects.   We removed dairy from our son’s diet and all signs of his hyperactivity disappeared.  My chronic inflammation resolved within 3 weeks and my cholesterol dropped 40 points in six months.

I don’t miss milk, but I sometimes miss cheese. Even though I can make a delectable chocolate cheesecake out of whipped nut cream, and a spicy cashew cheese “Rotel” dip that is out of this world… I’m not gonna lie, the smell of cheese pizza still gets me.  But I know what will happen to me if I eat it, and it’s not worth it. It’s not worth if for me, for my kids, and definitely not worth it for the cows.

Next time on “All Shook Up,” Healing the Gut

Milk Does Nobody Good

Before I get into this post, I’d like to clarify that food by itself is not something that is either “good” or “bad.” That’s subjective.  However, there are foods that are better for you than other foods.  That’s science. Though the title of this post might seem like a moral valuation, it’s simply used as a play on words from the dairy industry “Milk does a body good” campaign.  I will always include links to any information I’ve provided.  I want you to be able to trace the information back to its source and decide for yourself.  Ultimately, my goal with this blog is to inform… Nothing more.

It took a few weeks for the dust to settle after I got my IgG test results.  I stopped all dairy products and within three weeks, all of my sinus issues had resolved, and my reflux had vastly improved.  I began to wonder why milk, in particular, had caused such an inflammatory sh*t storm in my body. I vaguely remembered my mom telling me that as an infant I had a difficult time with my baby formula.  I also had horrible colic.  So I called her. She laughed and said. “Yes, you used to vomit baby formula out like a fire hose.”  It seems milk has always given me issues. As a teenager, it gave me severe stomach cramps, and ice cream, well we won’t talk about that. When Jason our son was a baby, he suffered from severe gastrointestinal issues once I quit nursing. We removed dairy and gave him hemp milk.  It tasted good, and he needed its high fat/protein content. Eventually we re-introduced cow milk, but when he got to Elementary school, we took him off of it once more, because he had symptoms of ADHD. (There is a large body of evidence linking ADHD and autism to the cow milk protein “casein”). Once he was free of dairy and gluten, all of his physical and behavioral symptoms disappeared.

Thinking about all of this, I felt like I was really on to something.  I sat down with a chopped salad and my homemade vegan ranch dressing, and Googled milk allergy. According to Google a cow milk allergy is “an abnormal immune system response to milk and milk products.” Aside from milk being one of the “Big 8” allergens, it is by most accounts the biggest allergen of them all.  Over the course of the next few weeks I spent hours and days, reading article after article about cow’s milk.  I realized something that gave me great pause: Did you know that humans are the only animals in nature who “voluntarily” drink the mother’s milk of another animal? Think about that for a minute… Yes, mother’s milk. We are the only animals that drink mother’s milk as an adult.

cow milking
Via bizaroo.com

When asked the question, “Are Humans The Only Animal To Drink Milk From Other Species?”  Oliver Craig, a specialist in bi-molecular archaeology from The University of York, replied that, “All juvenile animals can drink milk and that’s because they have the enzyme lactase to digest the milk sugars.  But the genome that makes the enzyme gets switched off when they get to a certain age, so as adults, they can’t drink it.”  They CAN’T drink it.  So was my response to cow’s milk really abnormal?

Dr. Michael Klaper, M.D., described milk as “The lactation secretions of a large bovine animal that just had a baby.” Yep. “Humans do not need baby cow growth food in any way.” He went on to say that the proteins, lipids, hormones, and the IgF growth factors in milk are meant to grow an 80-pound calf (birth weight) into a 600 pound cow (weaned weight @ 9 months.).  Milk is the primary source of nutrition for the infant mammal before they are able to digest other types of food.  Honestly, I had never thought about milk this way. Up until this point, all I knew about milk was that it was essential to drink a tall cold glass with my Toll House cookies, and my Cocoa Pebbles cereal turned it into chocolate milk!  Oh yeah, and it had a lot of calcium.

The problem with humans drinking cow’s milk begins with the actual milk proteins themselves. The two proteins contained in milk are casein and whey. Human milk contains these in a ratio of 40:60 respectively; while in cow’s milk the ratio of casein to whey proteins is 80:20.


­The protein content of cow milk is double that of human breast milk. And guess what? Excess protein in the body causes amino acids to convert into glucose and is typically stored as fat. Growing calves need more protein to enable them to grow quickly. Human infants on the other hand need less protein and more fat as their energies are expended primarily in the development of the brain, spinal cord and nerves.”(1)  A baby cow doubles its birth weight every 40 days. Baby humans on the other hand double their birth weight every 180 days.  In the first year of life a baby cow grows 180 times faster than a baby human. The casein protein in cow’s milk is also double the casein protein in human milk. (2) Casein is also very difficult to digest.  It is a sticky protein, and a baby cow comes with a special enzyme in their stomachs called rennet, which is designed especially to break down casein.  Humans do not have rennet, so casein is very hard for us to digest.  (3)

Casein has been linked to a range of diseases and allergies, including  Diabetes (type 1) ADHD and Autism.  Only one study that I could find showed no causal relation between casein (and gluten) to autism, but kids with gastrointestinal issues were not included in the study.  Yet, (this is important) according to Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization, Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders are among the most common medical conditions associated with autism.

Okay, fine.  So cow milk proteins cause problems for some people.  If you’re not one of those people and you don’t drink milk in excess, no big deal, right?  Uh, not-so-fast.  Dr. T. Colin Campbell and his colleagues examined, in the most comprehensive study ever conducted on nutrition and disease, the relationship between nutrition and Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases.  “Of those diseases studied in relation to nutrition, the consumption of animal-based food (especially cow’s milk) is associated with greater disease risk.”

And this, my friend is where things get weird, like really weird.  With food allergies, autoimmune diseases, obesity and cancer rates on the rise, I wondered what in the world was going on? I mean, we’ve been drinking milk for thousands of years, (13)  so why all of a sudden are we getting sick? I began watching documentaries about the food industry and modern day agribusiness. What I discovered made me sick, then angry, then scared.

Next on “All Shook Up,” Part 2: YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT







I Was Blind…But Now I See

It took about a week to get the results of my blood test.   My nutritionist’s office was kind enough to email me the results even though I wouldn’t meet with Dr. Olivia for a few more days. I wasn’t so much worried about the possibility of removing foods from my diet.  I was worried that I would have no allergies, and that I would be a slave to pain and pills for the rest of my life.

Before I go over my results, I want to give you the quick and dirty about the actual test itself. An “IgG” food sensitivity test, measures IgG4 immunoglobulin reactions. Bear with me here.  In the body, IgG antibodies attach themselves to food antigens and create an antibody-antigen complex. (Deep breath…) These “complexes” are normally removed by special cells in the body they call macrophages.  However, if there too many of these complexes, and the “reactive” foods are still being eaten, the macrophages can’t get rid of them fast enough.  The food antigen/antibody complexes accumulate and are deposited in our body tissues. Once they’re in our tissues, these complexes release inflammation causing chemicals, which play a role in numerous autoimmune diseases and conditions. (Think of diseases or conditions that end in “-itis.”) Such as:

  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Colitis
  • Sinusitis
  • Migraines
  • Ear Infections
  • Eczema
  • Lupus
  • Urticaria
  • And many, many more….

This test is different from an IgE blood test you might get from allergists.  IgE skin or blood tests look for histamine reactions, (think mold, cats, pollen, and peanut allergies) which can be life threatening.

My particular IgG blood test examined my body’s inflammatory reaction to 95 different foods.  Each food tested, has a “Mean Antigen Score,” with a reference range of low, moderate and avoided levels.   As you can see Dairy and Eggs were the big ones. In fact, Dr. Olivia told me not to even look at a cow.  I was surprised to find that “wheat” wasn’t in the “avoid” category.  However, Dr. Olivia reminded me that I hadn’t eaten wheat in nearly a year. Otherwise, she said I would have likely tested higher than I did for dairy.   (Side note: I also tested, highly allergic to wheat on an IgE skin test.)

IgG Test
Page one of my IgG test results

The results were a lot to absorb.  The mean “avoid” score for dairy was 450 points.  I was in 2000’s. The funny thing is I never really ate much dairy, but I’m so allergic that it doesn’t take much.  There would be no more Gruyère or Montamoré, and no more scrambled eggs or Sunday morning frittatas.  Oh yeah, I am also allergic to Almonds, Pineapple, Quinoa (WTH?), and Kidney Beans.   Remember what I said about wanting a food allergy?  Well, I was lying to myself. Or at least that’s what I told myself in the beginning.  However, my reflux had gotten so bad, most nights I slept in my husband’s recliner just to get to sleep. I was taking two Prilosec a day and it was only getting worse.  I had developed what they called Acid Rebound, a vicious cycle between the acid blocker and the body (whose natural response to no acid, is to produce more acid). So I took a deep breath and marched forward.

I met with Dr. Olivia a few days later to go over the results.   She was amazing.  Her candor was appreciated and her prognosis was hopeful. Her feelings toward traditional medicine were very much the same as mine, however, she was much more compassionate toward their plight.  “Nutrition is only a requirement in less than 2% of U.S. Medical schools,” she said. “They just don’t know any better.”   She shared a personal story about a local cardiologist who called her office wanting to schedule a lunch date with her. She agreed and met him a week later. The cardiologist explained to her that he had 5 patients who were not only healing, but healing at a much faster pace than all of his other patients. It was enough of an anomaly for him to investigate. After tirelessly pouring over their medical files, he realized the common factor among these 5 patients was in fact, Dr. Olivia Joseph. He had confided that in his 10 years of medical training to become a cardiologist, he had only taken one course in nutrition, and that was an elective, not a requirement.  He asked her to speak to some of his colleagues about her treatment protocols.  She is now teaching continuing education courses for this group of heart doctors.

On my way out she hugged me and said, “Don’t be surprised if your doctors or allergists think you’re crazy for meeting with me,”  They don’t give a lot of credence to what we do.” She was right.  My allergist all but called her a quack.  Physicians in the US are only allowed to diagnose and prescribe based on what the American Medical Association, (AMA) the big pharmaceutical companies and the insurance companies tell them they can.  (I will write an entire blog about that in the future.) Not only that, the average primary care doctor spends approximately 15 minutes with each patient, and guess what? Nutrition is not a part of the conversation.

I left her office and headed straight to Whole Foods. It had been a while, but I was back, back to the happy, hippie health food store of my youth.  I spent two hours wandering through the aisles.  I also spent the first year of Avery’s college fund. Nonetheless, I came home with a bounty of organic fruits and vegetables, a liquid iron supplement, and a bottle of Vitamin D 5000.  I also bought my first container of non-dairy milk.

Within 11 days, I had lost 9 lbs and my energy levels soared.  I learned that this was the amount of inflammation I was carrying around in my body tissue.   Within 4 months, I was down 24 pounds and all of my joint pain was gone. Within 6 months, the reflux was gone. People told me that I was glowing from the inside out.  I went from hiding behind Kevin in pictures, to standing in front of him. (((Tears)))    I also spent the next several months reading everything I could get my hands on about nutrition and chronic disease.  When I gave up those foods, I gained more than my health back.  I gained my life back.

Me at 156 lbs
Me at 132 pounds

A person’s weight isn’t everything, but it is a good predictor of health.  When looking over my most recent blood work, my primary doctor said I had the blood of a healthy 18 year old. I will be 45 in 3 months.  I am currently down 32 pounds from one year ago. My BMI is and my blood pressure went from 125/78 to 116/58.  My bad cholesterol is down 50 points and my good cholesterol is up 40 points.   Still no joint pain or reflux (unless I drink too much alcohol).  I take a good whole food multi-vitamin plus Vitamin D every day.  I am no longer tired during the day and sleep like a baby at night. We have one body, and one life, and is up to us to do the best for both.


Next up on All Shook Up: “Milk Does No-Body Good.”




From Bacon To Kale

To quote the late, great Erma Bombeck, “I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.”  In fact, I can still remember waking up as a child in my Grandma’s house to the intoxicating smells emanating from her kitchen. Sunday breakfast usually consisted of bacon and eggs, hand-cut hash browns, and Lord Almighty, her sausage gravy. Gravy so thick and full of flavor, it could have been a meal by itself.  The recollection of her pan gravy slathered over fried pork chops and buttered mashed potatoes, still leaves me weak in the knees. Truth is, I get a bit misty eyed when I think back on those meals.

My romance with food and cooking began in her kitchen. My maternal Grandmother was my muse, and I her sous chef. Beginning in the middle 1970’s, around the age of four, I got my first job cutting homemade biscuits with a “Sure Fine” orange juice can.  I rolled and cut the dough, while Grandma made the sausage gravy out of a slurry of flour and a few tablespoons of rendered pork fat.  My Grandpa made me a little wooden step stool, (which I still have) so I could reach the countertop and take part in her creations. I also had the job of setting the table for all of my aunts, uncles, or cousins who came to feast on Friday or Saturday nights.   I felt useful, loved, and proud.

It’s not that my Grandma loved to cook, in fact she hated it. Back then it was too expensive to eat out, there were no microwave ovens, and no pre-packaged meals ready in 30 minutes or less.  Meals required effort and getting your hands dirty.  What she did love was having her family around her. She had the satisfaction of feeding those hungry souls who gathered together, nourished by her food, sharing their memories and laughter.

In the early 90’s, I left for college and was one of the rare few (besides my friend Amy) who knew how to do more than boil water for mac-n-cheese.  For Thanksgiving, my junior year, my roommates and I decided to stay at school and have our own “Friendsgiving.” With a guest list of twenty-two, it was certainly the biggest crowd I had ever cooked for. While it was mostly a potluck,  I was in charge of the essentials: the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, (of course) and a sausage stuffing that was commensurate with my friend’s mothers and grandmothers.

The following spring, my roommate told me about a cooking position at a hip new brew pub in town and encouraged me to apply.  I went the next day and was hired as a prep cook. I was in heaven! Aside from keeping the front line stocked with their essentials, I became a ninja with a knife. I learned the difference between a Béchamel and Beurre Blanc, and became an alchemist of all things soup and salad. Within a few months I requested to move up front and become a line cook.  Chef agreed, and I became the only female line cook in the restaurant.

A few years later I left the fast paced, high stress restaurant business, and went to work at an awesome, happy hippie health food store.  Suddenly, I was learning about antioxidants, micro-nutrients and the healing power of herbs.  I stocked my kitchen with Seiten, TVP and Acidophilus.  I ate things like Keifer cheese, Spirulina, and rocked me some tofu burritos.  I learned that I didn’t need to eat dead animals for protein and iron. I became a vegetarian, and was reborn.

But as they often do, all good things must end. After college, I headed home to start grad school and moved back in with my folks.  My dad, swearing that I was “too thin,” took me to eat REAL food at a favorite barbecue restaurant. Begrudgingly, I gagged down a few ribs, and suffered through stomach pains for hours afterward.  I tried to eat healthy foods when I could, but working full-time and going to grad school full-time, I found it easier to run through a drive-thru and worry about healthy eating later.

That’s me at twenty-five with the sunglasses on my head. My husband Kevin is the one wearing the sunglasses.

So why am I telling you all of this?   Well, until my late 20’s, I was a perfect bill of health. I could eat McDonald’s, drink beer, and have a midnight snack whenever I wanted.  I never gained a pound.  And then at 29, I got married.  After two years of eating cheese and sausage for dinner, drinking boxed wines, and sucking down a many microbrew with my new hubby, I had gained 16 pounds! Two kids later, I had gained another 15 pounds. But it was baby number three at 41 that was the game changer. Suddenly the weight would not come off, and I began to get sick… Really sick.

After lots of Google searches, I discovered that I had “silent reflux” in my last pregnancy.  In other words, I had GERD, but didn’t know it was GERD, because the typical burning associated with it was conspicuously absent. The silent reflux (likely caused from a hiatal hernia) triggered my bronchial nerve, setting off severe asthma attacks.  I was put on an inhaled steroid and albuterol for the last few months of pregnancy.  I had my own nebulizer, and more than one trip to the emergency room because I couldn’t breathe.  But because it was undiagnosed “reflux” and not true asthma, nothing the doctors prescribed helped.  In fact, they made things worse. The steroids caused my blood sugar to skyrocket, leaving me with gestational diabetes and insulin shots.  I became a high risk pregnancy and had to be seen twice a week by a Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM) physician, with weekly ultrasounds.  In the end I delivered a healthy, 6 lb. 11 oz. beautiful baby girl.  But my list of chronic ills only began to pile up.

Me on the end holding Avery.

I suffered with a post nasal drip cough, and multiple bouts of sinusitis due to chronic sinus congestion.  I was often up for hours in the middle of the night (every night) drinking water just to clear my throat, leaving me tired and lethargic during the day. That first year after the baby was born, my doctor had prescribed me antibiotics four times.  The horrible joint pain I had in both knees, actually led me to have a medical procedure called PRP.  And the pain in my hands was so bad I could scarcely bend my fingers without recoiling in agony. I was told that I was likely on the precipice of having either Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) or Lupus.  My menstrual cycles were a crime scene.  In fact, I was afraid to leave the house the first day because of such extreme bleeding.   I soon developed a severe iron deficiency.  My nails were cracked and brittle, my hair had stopped growing, and I could hardly catch my breath when walking up the stairs.  I was miserable and had become a shadow of the person I once was.

Then one day while at my Chiropractor’s office office, I began coughing.  I apologized and explained to Dr. Bryan Joseph that I was constantly stuffed up and the drainage was worse when I was on my back. Dr. Bryan asked me if I had ever been tested for a dairy allergy and encouraged me to meet with his wife Dr. Olivia Joseph, a fellow chiropractor and nutritionist.  On my way out, I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Olivia, and another appointment to have my blood drawn for a comprehensive food allergy test.  Little did I know how that brief conversation with Dr. Joseph would change my life forever.

Next time on “All Shook Up”… The IgG blood test and my unexpected results.