A little over a year ago I went to see a dietitian at my mother’s request. She and my sister had been examined, and we appear to have an X-linked genetic predisposition to low magnesium levels. I never expected the rest of my life and diet to change so drastically from the experience.
I’ve suffered from heavy periods my entire life, and, as an adult, they actually caused anemia for one week of the month. Even with hormonal birth control my iron levels were erratic. I don’t have PCOS or endometriosis or any of the common reproductive issues that plague women. My body just doesn’t like estrogen very much.
I’ve also struggled with depression my entire life although I wasn’t diagnosed until I was nearly 18. I take a maintenance dose of Fluoxetine (generic Prozac) once a day, and that keeps me stable, but I was struggling with blood sugar issues that wreaked havoc on my moods. I would feel stable one moment only to become crabby and anxious at the drop of a hat.
Lea observed me while we discussed my history and any food aversions, etc. After getting lab work to measure my hormone, vitamin D, thyroid, and iron levels, she laid out a detailed dietary plan designed to reduce my monthly difficulties while keeping me as healthy as possible.
I now avoid dairy, soy, and caffeine like I have a full bore allergy to them. Technically I can eat goat and sheep dairy and drink green tea, but it’s easier to just avoid everything, so I don’t trigger cravings. Although it hurt to give up cheese again (for six months in college I gave up cheese because I had heard it interfered with St. John’s Wort, which I was taking instead of antidepressant medication), it’s a good time to give up dairy. Most grocery stores carry almond, soy, and coconut milk, and non-dairy ice cream and yogurt options have become more common. Most of them even taste pretty good! My stumbling block was the soy: soy is in almost everything! I have to read labels any time I purchase a new product because soybean oil, a very common preservative agent, shows up in almost everything on the shelves. I can only buy one type of tuna because most canned fish utilizes “vegetable broth” to add flavour, which contains soy. Bread products on the shelves usually contain soybean oil to help increase shelf life; corn tortillas are a notable exception. Soy lecithin is a common “smoothing” agent in spreads and other products where texture is important.
Giving up caffeine was a different type of problem: I love coffee. The smell, taste, and act of making a cup of coffee was a soothing and ritualistic part of my work day. I’ve been able to substitute herbal teas though, and I was fortunate to not suffer much withdrawal.
I also avoid non-organic meat (additional hormones, which my body doesn’t need), which means that I eat vegetarian dishes for the better part of the month. Unfortunately, tofu, which I enjoy, is off the menu, but dried beans are a cheap alternate protein source.
I also have to be careful about eating throughout the day. At work I schedule snacks and lunch time, so I don’t bottom out and become cranky. It’s not something I’m used to doing (I eat more than I ever did), but I do feel better.
I consider myself lucky to just have to deal with the hormones. My sister has full blown Celiac’s, and my mother has a gluten sensitivity. I have a lot more freedom in what I can eat because cheating doesn’t mean I’ll be sick for days. I do cheat sometimes, but overall I’ve done a good job following my diet. I’ve learned to make my own bread, cook dishes that avoid my hormonal triggers, and generally how to take care of myself a little better. I don’t love avoiding all these things, but it’s worth it in the long run. I feel stronger and more “me” on a regular basis, and a year later it’s become second nature.