“I’m sorry. Are you in pain?”

I’m sitting in a meeting with an independent recruiter, preparing for an upcoming interview, when she asks this question. For some reason, I don’t think this is part of the preparation.

Staring back at her, blank faced, she continues. “It’s just that your eyes are so red. It looks painful. Is it?”

“I have food allergies,” I say. “I ate something that I’m allergic to a couple days ago.”

“Well, for your interview, I’d recommend putting some makeup on over it. It really looks awful. It would be a shame if you didn’t get the job because of the redness around your eyes.” At least we’re starting to get back on track. For a woman who has spent her entire career in various HR roles, she has some awful tact.

That was one and half years ago. Another 18 months before that, I had tested positive for multiple food allergies.

Wheat. Yeast. Buckwheat. Lactose. Asparagus. And a handful of other foods.

And so began my journey of treating my food allergies to take back my health.

Unsuspectingly, it also began my journey to rediscovering who I am and taking back my life.

It all began a year prior to the testing when I first started to develop asthma, eczema, and significant fatigue and brain fog. Initially, I blamed it on seasonal allergies and the two cats that I had adopted, only to realize I had a mild allergy to the cats. As my eczema grew worse, which would mainly exhibit on the inside of my elbows and neck, I knew something was not right. The skin on my neck and face was constantly dry and cracked. My skin around my eyes would become violently red, with the undersides swelling up.

If you have suffered from eczema, you know the excruciating pain that it can cause and the frustration you experience from feeling completely and utterly helpless. The symptoms, coupled with a hectic work schedule (consistent 80–100 hour weeks), caused me to live in a constant state of stress. This, of course, exacerbated the symptoms even worse. It was a dreadful cycle.

Stressed out and living in a constant state of pain and brain fog, I began to seek answers.

I had a friend who, at the time, had recently begun to see a naturopath to treat food allergies that she was suffering from. She immediately saw significant improvements. At her recommendation and endorsement, I made an appointment.

At my first appointment, my doctor immediately recognized my symptoms and told me I had food allergies. The first order of business? Cut out gluten and dairy for 3 months and follow that up with an IgG and IgE food allergy test.

About 2–3 weeks into the process, the effects were profound. It only continued to snowball from there.

A nagging cough that I continually had lessened. The swelling and redness around my eyes went down. And while I still had brain fog, I did begin to feel a little less foggy.

The allergy tests a couple of months later provided the information need to create an action plan of attack. Over the next several months, I would cycle through various natural supplements to reverse the effects the food allergies had on my body. First order of business was eliminating a Candida infection from my body. Then the focus was building up my GI tract and gut flora. After this, the focus shifted to treating the brain fog, replenishing antioxidants and other vitamins/minerals that my body had been depleted of.

This whole process continues today. I’ve been doing this regimen for well in to a year.

For just about all of my life, I was the guy who could eat whatever he wanted and barely gain a pound. I viewed health, or being “healthy”, as a default state, rather than something that needed to be carefully calibrated. I figured a cup of coffee and a couple packets of Sweet & Low could fix just about anything. Oh, how I was wrong!

Since I started this health journey, I’ve invested a lot of time in understanding the underlying causes of my food allergies and how to live optimally. I’ve spent countless hours listening to podcasts (for example, Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Radio), reading blog posts and medical journals.

One of the difficult things with food allergies is that symptoms typically present themselves days after you’ve consumed the culprit, making it hard to trace where your symptoms are actually stemming from. I’ve spent a lot of time measuring how my body reacts to foods that I consume outside of my own preparation (i.e., eating at restaurants).

My food allergies have caused me to reevaluate not only my health, but also my approach to life. Once driven by my career and being a workaholic, I focus now on a balance. I’m not a fan of the term “Work-life balance”. It’s thrown around too much.

Rather than focusing on work-life balance, I focus on a balanced life. Did I fulfill my obligations today? Did I go to the gym? Was I focused at the office? Did I spend time being present with my loved ones? Did I carve out at least a few minutes to just focus on me? If i answer no to any of these questions, I understand why I have answered that way. I readjust the following day and continue pushing forward.

I now understand the importance of recharging. Six to eight hours of sleep is more important than you think. So is taking time to unplug on nights and weekends. I avoid using my phone at least 45 minutes before bed. I’m working on getting this up to two hours.

I now understand the importance of nurturing my health, rather than simply eating food. A fish filet from McDonald’s is not healthy. It does not provide you with essential Omega’s. When grocery store shopping, if it has more than 1 ingredient that you cannot pronounce, you probably shouldn’t be eating it in the first place.

Working out and meditating are far more important than you think. The physiological effects these activities have on your body and mind are instrumental. Never let more than 3 days pass without going to the gym. Never let more than 1 day pass without meditating.

My journey with food allergies is far from over. However, it has fundamentally shifted the way that I approach life. Not just in terms of health, but in terms of my relationships and my work.

If you’re going through the same, feel free to ask any questions you may have. I’m not a medical expert by any means and do not pretend to be. However, I am happy to share my own experiences and the steps I have taken to combat my food allergies and get my body back to a place of homeostasis.

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Originally published at medium.com