What does a fasting season menu look like for people with food allergies? We all have different needs, but from time to time, we will share what works for some of us. May these posts encourage you in your journey and to give glory to God in all things!
My Lent with Food Allergies and Health Problems
“Man does not live by bread alone…”–Jesus Christ, spoken in rebuke to Satan who was attempting to tempt him to passion.
I am not a well person, and when I am feeling well or doing well, it is in part because I am taking very very VERY careful care of my nutrition. I have multiple food allergies, fibromyalgia and autoimmune thyroid disease and reactive hypoglycemia. These conditions are being treated and managed and part of that treatment is through nutrition. In addition to all of this, I am in recovery for disordered eating. As such, traditional Orthodox fasting has, in the past, put me in a place of greater ill health, and has gotten me in trouble with compulsive over-eating as well: All my binge foods are lenten!
I realize that anything I share is not going to universally apply to ANYONE else, unless you also happen to be allergic to dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, sunflower seeds, shrimp and chocolate, or must be gluten free for health reasons (doctor’s orders!), or you ALSO must avoid all sugars and baked goods for health and eating disorder purposes. But with such a long list of food restrictions, I hope I have some relevant things to share with others and hopefully some encouragement to offer those in similar circumstances along the way.
Let me start by sharing how I fast. Since I am ‘always fasting’, I do modify my fast that goes with the Church calendar.
There are other health issues in our family (young adult people with autism spectrum issues, hypoglycemia, anxiety and a husband with terminal cancer) and so we do what we can to keep ourselves stable and able.
Furthermore, allow me to state up-front that because of my eating disorder recovery, I do weigh and measure all my food and share daily my intake with my 12 step sponsor. But that’s my asceticism, and yes, I do this even on Pascha or the Nativity Feast…no days off from abstinence or avoiding my trigger foods, even if they are wildly popular for feasting purposes. There are also no days off from avoiding the foods I am allergic to. I have epi-pens. I never want to use them.
So at our house, we ratchet the fast down to not eating red meat…along with the other things we must avoid. And I also will mostly forego the sheep’s milk cheeses I am not allergic to. About once or twice during a long fast I find myself getting run down and I do need to have a beef meal. But I do it prayerfully and carefully and unapologetically.
The only bread I ever consume is the Eucharist. I don’t take antidoron or Lytia bread ever at all. No Koliva because it contains wheat and sugar (and often nuts). No exceptions.
When I was first Orthodox, and learning the fasting routine in a parish that was 100% converts where there were no babushkas or yia yias to feed us and show us how it was done in the old country, I did it ALL WRONG. I ate SO much bread. All the bread. I binged on bread. It is, after all, lenten. Lenten cake, cookies, cinnamon rolls…all of it went into my body, much to my detriment. And Oreos and Frito Pie…ridiculous. One cannot eat that way half the days of the year and stay healthy.
There was one Pascha where I had to wear a maternity top because I was so bloated and distended. I was not pregnant. I thank God for my health care provider who set me in the right direction!!! I used to think that there was no way I could follow the fasting rules and not gain weight, but now I see that much of my problem was in the types of foods I was choosing, and the quantities I was eating. As it is, I do not perfectly or strictly follow the fasting rules, but I am doing as much as I can, and am the better for it.
Nowadays, I try to more closely follow the whole fast at least two meals per day, and then have some poultry or fish for that last meal. I think in terms of “one meal at a time”, and I do what I can. For myself personally I have a measured portion of carb food (grains or starchy food like sweet potato) at breakfast and at dinner, but all other meals and snacks are grain free.
A common breakfast is half a cup of dry oats, w/ 2 T. hemp seeds and half of a T. of coconut oil, for instance. Lunch usually looks like veg plus protein: steamed broccoli and can of tuna is a common choice. Dinner often finds us eating beans and rice, with a side salad.
So, strictly lenten pantry items that can help keep a nutritious fast, which Ihappen to not be allergic to:
Hemp hearts-I find these at costco and they are wonderful for adding protein to one’s whole grain breakfast cereal, or fruit.
Gerbs Pumpkin seeds (Amazon)
Gluten free Rolled Oats or Steel Cut Oats (Amazon)
Canned Coconut Milk-excellent for creamed soups. (Trader Joe’s or Amazon)
Lower calorie boxed unsweetened coconut milk (most any grocer)
Unsweetened Flax milk (good luck finding this, but it’s nutritional variety)
Vanilla Vega One Protein and Greens vegan shake mix. (Amazon or Costco)
All fruits and vegetables…seriously. (any grocer)
Nutritional yeast flakes (so good!) (Amazon, I like Now brand).
Organic Cornmeal for polenta
Coconut oil. All the coconut oil. (Costco prices are nice.)
Spectrum butter flavored palm oil shortening (Whole Foods, Meijer)
Truvia (yes, I’ve done my homework, it is acceptable to me, YMMV)
Guilty pleasure: Smart Balance margarine (it has canola…hence the guilt). (any grocer)
Curry Powder (must have), chili, cumin, cinnamon…all the herbs and spices, yes please!
Tomato sauce (check for sugar!)
So that’s my list. Any of the starchy foods I have to limit in quantity and frequency so as not to feel ill. In addition to this you will find chicken, canned tuna and fish patties and ground turkey on my table during the fasts…because we are run down, stressed, deathly ill or chronically ill, and it’s the best we can do. What you will not find on my plate: bread, anything I am allergic to, any baked goods, sweets or pastries, or anything with sugar or fried foods.
Glory to God for all things, even food allergies, which teach me abstinence and help me to stay humble.
Thank you, Alana!