Every week, along with my progress update, I’m sharing guest posts from friends who are making changes in their lives to live more healthily. This week my guest posters are Lauren Vargas and Leo Souza. Lauren was born with life-threatening allergies to dairy, they have one daughter with no food allergies, one daughter with life-threatening allergies to eggs, and Leo loves to eat and cook for all of them. I take for granted, every day, that my family can eat whatever I set in front of them without much thought. I am amazed at the way Lauren has always eaten and the adjustments Leo has made to be able to share his love of food and keep his family safe.
Growing up with a severe food allergy felt like I was always living without. Without pizza. Without rocky road ice cream. Without cheeseburgers. Without chocolate bars. Without. When I went to birthday parties, I could never eat the snacks the other kids were devouring and was relegated to a Tupperware container of safe foods. Living without felt more like the exclusion of food.
The doctors said I would grow out of my allergy to milk and all milk products. Two years. Four years. Six years. Now, thirty-one years has past and I am as severely allergic to milk and all derivatives as I was on Day One. Whether I touch or ingest milk products, I go into anaphylactic shock. Taking Lactaid or grimacing through stomach issues is not an option. The Epi Pen has saved me on more occasions than I care to remember.
Twenty years ago, people did not recognize food allergies as they do today. Having an allergy of this extreme was ostracizing. Very rarely did we eat out at restaurants as a family, and I could only eat McDonalds hamburgers plain without the bun. My mother made everything from scratch. We lived overseas and did not have milk replacements readily available. So as my parents heard of new milk replacements come into the market, my dad would fight to have them brought to our military base and my mom would have me try each one. Nasty as they were, we did try to cook and bake with these replacements.
As a young adult, I felt safe cooking with food at home. Unless it was a Chinese restaurant, celebrations were limited to Sonic. The same basic ingredient list of meat, potatoes, rice and pasta dominated my limited home menu. Until I met Leo and started to travel on business.
Two events opened up a whole new world of food to me. The first was our trip to Montreal. Leo researched all the surrounding restaurants and coordinated meals for me to eat. He just wanted me to relax and explore the city at his side. I have never eaten better. Well…perhaps we might have on our honeymoon to Paris.
The second food nirvana moment was in Las Vegas two years ago. A close group of friends got together for a delicious five-course meal. The friend who had organized (at this time I did not know him very well) ensured I could have each divine dish. I ate at a restaurant away from home. I felt safe. I laughed. I started to live with and not without.
Our oldest daughter does not have a single allergy, but a year ago, we discovered our youngest daughter, two years-old, is as allergic to eggs and I am to milk. For my husband, there was no option about Lyra ever feeling she had to live without anything. We discovered an online bakery called Divvies that sells dairy, gluten and egg free treats of all kinds that satisfies our sweet tooth. Also, we have modified our diet to high protein with vegetables. Out go the carbs (for the most part). We are eating healthier than ever. I have dropped several pants sizes and we are discovering fresh new foods. Since I am not the domestic of the two us, let me introduce my husband, Leo to explain.
Shocked. That’s how I was when Lauren told me about her allergy. I had heard of people with sensitivity to milk, but never ever had I heard of anyone with a milk allergy so strong that it could kill you.
You see, I loooove food, which is something that I acquired from my parents, who still enjoy going out for a delicious meal, as well as preparing some extraordinary recipes at home. Even when I was still living and working in São Paulo (Brazil), the main discussion at the office was always which restaurant we would go out to eat that day. Eating well to me is an integral part of fully enjoying life.
So when I heard about Lauren’s allergy, I took my main course of action when confronted with something new: research. I searched online for information about her allergy and also asked her a million questions to understand more.
I was never a boy scout, but I always liked their motto: be prepared. When we went to Paris, for example, my preparation included scouting online all the Thai and Chinese restaurants close to our hotel (always a good backup option) and also creating a portable list with all the ingredients that Lauren couldn’t have, written in Portuguese, English and French. Arriving at a restaurant, I would talk to the waiter, present the list and inquire about meals without those items. Not only did we eat divinely the whole time in Paris, but we also had the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever had in my life (and yes, completely dairy-free).
All fine when we were eating out, but how about cooking at home, which became a lot more frequent once we had our two girls to keep us busy (and one of them with a severe egg allergy)? We couldn’t just keep eating out all the time, so we would have to find a solution to cook at home. We had a few egg-and-dairy-free recipes that we would cook practically every week, for the simple reason that we were familiar with the ingredients to buy (chicken, potatoes, tomatoes, ground beef, etc.) and because they were easy to prepare. We would always say that “next week” we would plan a diverse set of meals for the week and buy the ingredients in advance, but this next week would never come. We had lost the “be prepared” motto somewhere along the way…
Until one day we heard about “Sara’s Supperclub” from some friends that live just around the corner from our house. The premise of their service is pretty simple: for a reasonable price ($125 at the moment), every Monday afternoon they deliver at our door a list with 4 recipes for the week, plus all the ingredients to prepare it. Not only are these recipes a combination of the delicious-and-healthy Mediterranean diet, each one of them contains enough for 4 adult portions, which means that between us and the kids we get a total of 8 meals out of them (sometimes even more). In just one act we:
- Eliminated the burden of deciding what to eat every week. The answer to “what’s for dinner?” is always “I don’t know, let me check the list of recipes”
- Saved a lot of time from not having to go hunt down every ingredient ourselves
- Provided us with recipes way better and more diverse than we would ever have planned (e.g. who would have thought that both of our girls would love mussels?)
Now what about the egg and dairy allergies? Before joining the service, I contacted one of the Sara’s and made an agreement that they wouldn’t send any dairy or egg ingredients in our bags. The only thing I have to do each week then is to check all the egg/dairy ingredients that will be needed and arrange replacements.
After doing this for a few months, I must say I’m almost an expert at replacing ingredients. My favorite: replacing Greek yogurt with a mix containing half Tofutti Cream Cheese + half Tofutti Sour Cream. It works like a charm.
Here are some other replacements:
- EnerG Egg Replacer (Wholefoods) – We have used this substitute for all of our baking and even fried rice!
- Silk Soy Milk (cooking and baking)
- Silk Soy + Lemon for buttermilk substitute
- Daiya for cheddar and mozzarella cheese substitute – No aftertaste and great for pizza.
- Countrycrock Sheddspread for butter substitute
- Toffuti Cream Cheese – Make a healthier and tastier cheesecake, yes, it is possible!
- Tofutti Sour Cream
Any recipe is possible!
Well, after last week’s mayhem, I was worried about this week. I haven’t done a stellar job this week, but it’s been substantially better than last week.
- I drank H2Orange every day. Not a full gallon, and maybe not even 60 oz, but at least some every day!
- I mostly got back on eating only when I was hungry, and eating slowly to better identify when I was full.
- Weight…I lost a pound, so I’m at 277! So, that’s 13 pounds since I started the program and 24 pounds since my high of 301 in August.
- Inches…lost 2.5 inches this week! That’s a total of 24.5 inches since March.
- I didn’t get all the way back in my routine, and it’s so much easier to make lazy choices when you’ve been off the wagon for a while.
- I didn’t get in all of my hydration and I know that’s what allowed me to eat when I wasn’t necessarily hungry and to give in to some sugar cravings.
How was your week?
Past Posts on my fitness Journey…