It should be no surprise that family and friends who are not dealing with food sensitivities have no idea what we're going through. It's hard enough for us to understand and hunt out answers, and we're the ones actually feeling and living with it all.
All the same, not having someone with whom you can talk productively about what you're feeling is very isolating. Think of the conversations you have with your best friend - shared experiences, validation, support with empathy. All stuff that is so very much a part of our resilience in tough times.
With most health-related issues, even if family doesn't or can't understand, we can usually find a healthcare provider (HCP) who will at least walk the journey with us a bit. Unfortunately, I find that is really hard to find for food sensitivities.
Why? I have a few opinions on that one…
First, food sensitivities don't fit a clear clinical definition. If you look the term up, you will be redirected to food allergies and food intolerances, neither of which are the same thing. In medicine, we work off of definitions…especially now in the time of coding for everything so an insurance company will pay a bill.
Second, and this is one of my favorite things to say, there is not just one cause of food sensitivities. It's not one test, one treatment and you're fixed. To go along with that, the symptoms of food sensitivities can be nebulous and are likely very different from person-to-person. Doesn't mean they're making it up or they're crazy…but it does make it hard for a healthcare provider to interpret.
Third, because of the diversity of causes and symptoms, those of us with food sensitivities may be considered challenging patients. It takes time to listen to a story and start to put all of the pieces together. It takes curiosity and hope to keep looking for that key trigger for each unique patient. You can't do that in a 5-10 minute doctor's visit…even if you find an empathetic practitioner.
While we both could likely go on and on about the issues with our healthcare system, that's ultimately not the goal. Right? The goal is to figure out what is going on in the amazing body you're living in and how to help that body function and feel better so you don't have to be afraid to eat! So you can share a meal with friends and family and be part of your community. That's the goal.
To that end, how do we find a provider who will actually help? I have a few suggestions to get you started. (And this is definitely not the last time we'll talk about this topic!)
LOOKING FOR A NEW HCP or SUPPORT WITH A NEW SYMPTOM? Consider the first visit (or the thirty-first!) an interview and ask about their interest/willingness to discuss alternatives to conventional medicine. You’ll want to explain yourself here, so have an idea of what alternatives you are really interested in exploring. Just like any interview, it’s your chance to explain your expectations, listen to the other party and decide if it’s a good fit. Keep in mind, that requires you to have your health and wellness goals and values already established.
LOOK FOR A PARTNER IN HEALTH, not someone to tell you what to do. Being clear on what you're looking for in a provider and being intentional will change the way you walk into an exam room. Remember, your doctor can make all sorts of recommendations but you are the one who decides what you will and will not do when you walk out the office door. Be willing to discuss options and know what you will and will not reasonably do to address health issues.
SPEAK UP! If your HCP recommends a treatment plan that does not fit with your values or goals, tell your doctor. (This is actually part of the concept of evidence-based medicine - more on this another time!) Do not leave the appointment without being clear on what will work or not work for you. Again, you are the one implementing the plan when you leave, not the HCP – if you’re not going to do it, say something! Who knows, they may have other ideas that will work for you! This does require, in many instances, some compromise. Know ahead of time what you are willing to compromise.
No, none of these are a magic wand to suddenly get a provider to start listening, but they are the first steps in building a relationship. And, ultimately, that's what this is - a relationship. Biggest thing - don't give up. This relationship can end up being a huge part of your food sensitivity solution!
Sixty-second Self-care Tip…
We've talked about our health goals before, so let's focus on values today. Knowing your health and wellness values is half the battle! (I loved GI Joe!) There are multiple exercises out there to walk you through value determination and they may take anywhere from five minutes to three days. I like to keep things as simple as possible because I tend to overthink and look for rules and compare myself to others. You don't do any of that, right?!
I literally want you to set a timer for 2 minutes. During those two minutes, write down the values that come to mind for you as being most important to who you are and how you live. (Need some ideas? Just Google "values list"!) When the timer goes off, look at your list and pick your top five values.
You can stop there, but I really suggest you consider each of those five values and write down one sentence that ties it to your personal health and wellness. Example: If I wrote "compassion" as one of my values, I could then tie that into my health by writing "I value being compassionate with myself and how I feel each day knowing that every day is different and I'm still doing the best I can".
No one but you ever needs to read these but putting them down on paper will help enable you to communicate them to your healthcare provider. Know this - there are no right or wrong values or answers in this exercise. And be assured whatever you write down today could potentially change tomorrow - that's the amazing part of being human!
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