GFAF EXPO To Treat “Free From” Foodies

I am very excited to announce that I have been accepted as an official member of the Gluten & Allergen Free (GFAF) Expo Blogger Team!

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If I remember correctly, I first read about the GFAF Expo on the Red Apple Lipstick blog back in March. Naturally, I clicked on the website link, saw that the expo would be coming to NJ, and filled out the blogger team application. At the time, I was not on any special diet, nor was I completely free from any of the “Big 8” most common food allergens. However, I had been suffering from food sensitivities and digestive issues for quite a few years.

Little did I know that within a matter of weeks of clicking that “Submit” button, I would be joining the ranks of those with food allergies.

I see this expo as a fabulous way to do three things: 1) embrace my new lifestyle and meet others who have dietary restrictions, 2) discover some healthy and tasty new snack options, and 3) find great allergen-free brands to feature on my blog!

Disclosure: As a member of the Expo Blogger Team, I am able to attend the show free of charge in exchange for exposure via my blog and social media channels prior to, during, and after the expo. However, all shared opinions and experiences are my own. Links are NOT affiliated. EpiPen photo is my own. All other logos and images appearing in this post are used courtesy of the GFAF Expo, Red Apple Lipstick, Enjoy Life Foods, Hail Merry, Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss, and Super Seedz. I am not a medical professional, so please do not use the content in this post to diagnose or treat any conditions that you may have. If you have questions about your health, please consult your physician.

Moving in 7-year cycles.

Being diagnosed with food allergies as an adult seems to evoke one of two responses from those I tell. The first response is, “That sucks. How come you used to be able to eat all of those foods?” And then of course I go into my whole spiel explaining that people eat foods every day that they shouldn’t, how an elimination diet works, and that I discovered my diet was slowly sucking the life out of me.

The second response I get is, “Well, your body changes every seven years.”

According to the philosophy of the Vedic Treaties Chakravidya, our lives move in 7-year cycles to correspond with each of the 7 chakra centers located in our light body. Now, although I have not studied this philosophy in depth, I do find it quite interesting and I do believe that there is truth to this school of thought.

During years 22-28 of my life, I dealt with quite a few ups and downs, including hormonal issues, escalated sensitivity to certain foods, frequent illness, depression, a breakup, a new relationship, leaving one job and starting another. As my heart chakra cycle came to a close and I moved into the first of the throat chakra years, I decided to stop procrastinating and get my blog up and running (the good). Unfortunately, around the same time, my body began to feel as if it was shutting itself down (the bad).

Symptoms and Doctors and Testing, oh my!

As I approached 29, I had no will to do anything other than trudge through my day at work so I could go home and sleep. I was suffering from a myriad of physical symptoms, including:

  • Illness every 1-2 months, lasting at least 15 days
  • Debilitating headaches 3-4 times per week
  • Sinus pressure behind the eyes, earache, and facial pain
  • Congestion, runny nose, and watery/itchy eyes
  • Severe bloating and abdominal pain
  • Extreme fatigue nearly every day
  • Burning and swelling of the lips after eating certain foods
  • Shortness of breath, chest tightness, and wheezing during sports
  • One isolated incident of localized, stabbing chest pain, made worse
    by breathing or coughing (I feared I was having a heart attack)

Over the course of a 7-month period, I saw 1 primary care physician, 2 allergists, 2 ENTs, and made one trip to urgent care.

I also had a heck of a lot of testing done, including:

  • Blood testing for mononucleosis and thyroid dysfunction
  • 2 rounds of puncture & intradermal testing for environmental allergies (my first round consisted of 50 punctures on my forearms and 15 injections under the skin and my second round was about 65 pricks and maybe 35 injections)
  • 2 rounds of initial lung function tests (I could not blow out those darn virtual candles!)
  • Several subsequent breathing tests
  • Tympanometry
  • Fiberoptic Laryngoscopy
  • EKG
  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan of the paranasal sinuses
  • Food testing (80 different punctures on my back)
  • Elimination diet for 2 weeks
  • 10+ weeks of food reintroduction
  • Nasal cultures (which FYI, are classified and billed as a surgical procedure)

Diagnosis, at last.

As it turned out, the isolated incident of chest pain that landed me in urgent care was caused by a condition called costochondritis. This is an inflammation of the cartilage connecting the ribs to the sternum, but luckily it healed itself rather quickly. The rest of my conditions won’t be going away so easily:

  • I am Asthmatic
  • I have narrow nasal passages with a slight deviation on the left
  • I have environmental allergies to trees (oak, birch, maple, cedar, poplar, and sweet gum), grass pollen, spring and end of summer weeds, indoor and outdoor molds, dust mites, cats, dogs, cockroaches, mice, and rats
  • So far, I have multiple food allergies to eggs, wheat, soy, dairy, nightshades (tomato, potato, bell peppers), rice, grapes/raisins, bananas, broccoli, almonds, and blueberries
  • MRSA is colonizing my nose

Needless to say, this means that I now carry an EpiPen and several inhalers with me at all times. I also have plenty of medications, but I will admit that I don’t use all of them on a daily basis. I have always been an advocate of combining both conventional and alternative medicines, so I will continue to keep an eye out for great natural remedies to try.

Things got very real when I filled my EpiPen prescription.

Things got very real when I filled my EpiPen prescription.

Everything is not completely worked out yet, but I’m getting there. I have to make a decision as to whether I want to get the immunotherapy shots that my allergist insists I need, and it has been recommended that I see an infectious disease specialist for the MRSA. On a bad day, or during a bad week, I do still have symptoms like exhaustion, headaches, sinus pressure, tingling in my nose, fuzzy vision, and trouble focusing.

Luckily, the good days are starting to outnumber the bad, and that is a positive step in the right direction :) It is all about living a little better each day!

Lessons Learned.

Before I get back to talking about the GFAF Expo, I’d like to share a few things that I’ve learned.

Listen to your body. My body was screaming for help, but I got so used to feeling horrible that I started to think it was my normal. I kept attributing my problems to stress, the weather, being tired from a full day at work, and having a bad stomach—pretty much anything to detract from the fact that these symptoms were not going away. In reality, I had a diagnosable condition that was knocking me out. Trust your gut—if you think something is off, it probably is.

Don’t be afraid to see as many practitioners as it takes. I am intolerant of doctors that immediately prescribe medications without really listening to my history, so I have gotten many second (and even third) opinions in my life. I also try to avoid taking antibiotics unless a microorganism or bacteria is actually attacking me. Ultimately, if you are unhappy with your care, it will only make your symptoms worse. Find a doctor, a group of doctors, or a natural practitioner that you trust and allow them to help you.

Elimination diets can be very enlightening. During my 2-week elimination diet, I felt significantly better. My bloating subsided, my headaches went away for the most part, and I was not falling asleep every night by 7 pm. When I began reintroducing foods, I reacted to things that I had eaten every day since I was a kid (I’m looking at you, bread!). And, I discovered that foods I had been avoiding because I thought they made me sick were actually not a problem at all. Keeping a diary of meals and symptoms is invaluable for tracking your body’s allergic responses. Revamping my diet has helped me greatly, so I would recommend an elimination diet to anyone, without hesitation. However, for those that have digestive issues or possible allergies, I would recommend being under the care of a doctor during the diet.

Don’t lose heart. Being chronically ill is frustrating. There will be times when you want to crawl into bed and never get up. There will be times when you feel bad and wonder why this is happening to you. However, it is important to remember that you certainly don’t have to deal with what life throws at you alone. Your family and friends will be there for you. And, the fabulous community that exists on the Internet and via social media will be there to support (and commiserate with) you as well!

Preview to the 2014 GFAF Expo.

So, by now I think it is quite clear that the GFAF Expo could not have come at a better time for me!

Awareness in regards to food allergies and restricted diets is so much better now than it was 10 years ago. Companies are coming up with great options for “free from” foodies and events like the GFAF Expo are providing a safe place for us to meet and eat! Having a support system at home is wonderful, but knowing that many businesses and restaurants are dedicated to making allergen-free food and beauty products is even better :)

I can only attend the event on Saturday morning for a couple of hours, but I plan to head back on Sunday for the majority of my taste-testing and networking. I’m sure I will visit many of the vendors over the course of the 2 days, but I’d like to share a few companies that I’ll be targeting specifically.

#1: Red Apple Lipstick

Logo and product image are used courtesy of Red Apple Lipstick.

Logo and product image are used courtesy of Red Apple Lipstick.

Red Apple Lipstick is no stranger to the green beauty world. I’ve read many a review and seen a slew of images on Instagram from those of you that have tried their gluten-free lip products and eye shadows. For those of you who have yet to try RAL, I’m sure the company has made it onto at least one of your current wish lists. Since I found out about the GFAF Expo on the Red Apple Lipstick blog, I think it is only natural that they be the first company on my target list. I picked up quite a few new lipsticks during the summer sale, but I am excited to check out the booth and possibly meet some of the red apple girls! I have been loving Rebel! so much lately that I definitely want to swatch some of their other reds.

#2: Enjoy Life Foods

Logo and product image are used courtesy of Enjoy Life Foods.

Logo and product image are used courtesy of Enjoy Life Foods.

Founded in early 2001 by Scott Mandell, Enjoy Life’s mission is “to make great-tasting allergy-friendly and gluten-free foods that nearly everyone can eat freely without worry.” All products are gluten-free and free of the eight most common allergens: wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish, and shellfish. Most of their products are also free of potatoes, sesame, sulfites, and casein. Scott and his team wanted to offer great tasting, nutritious foods for people on restricted diets. I love the company’s mission and I have used their baking chocolate (mini chips and mega chunks) on a few occasions. Unfortunately, I can’t eat many of the products that contain rice flour and potato starch, but I am hoping to be able to check out their dark chocolate bars and their seed and fruit mixes! I also look forward to chatting with the team.

#3: Hail Merry

Logo and product image are used courtesy of Hail Merry.

Logo and product image are used courtesy of Hail Merry.

Currently led by Susan O’Brien (founder), Sarah Palisi Chapin (partner and CEO), and Alison Brushaber (partner and CPO), Hail Merry exists to “help people achieve higher health.” Born out of the yoga culture, the company strives to create great tasting snacks using consciously sourced, pure ingredients to meet the needs of those with special dietary restrictions. They have four categories of snacks, including tarts, macaroons, granola, and nuts & seeds. Everything looks delicious! Many of their recipes contain almond flour or various tree nuts, so I wouldn’t recommend this company for those with tree nut allergy. I generally avoid almonds because they give me migraines, so again I am limited to what I can try. Chocolate macaroons, here I come!

#4: Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss

Logo and product image are used courtesy of Luna & Larry's Organic Coconut Bliss.

Logo and product image are used courtesy of Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss.

Luna & Larry Kaplowitz had both given up dairy, but were unsatisfied with all of the soy- and rice- based alternatives on the market. They didn’t like the taste, the feeling they got after eating them, or the ingredients. So, one day Luna had an idea—why not try coconut milk! It has a naturally rich and creamy consistency, as well as nutritional value. In 2004, armed with an ice cream maker from Goodwill (that only cost $1.50), the two tested their idea. Fast forward to 2014 and their products are in thousands of natural food stores across the US and Canada. And, lucky for me, they will be at the GFAF Expo! The best part is that I can eat nearly all of the flavors. I tried to pick up a tub at a local Wegmans that was supposed to carry the brand, but alas, they did not have it. If it turns out that I can finally eat “ice cream” again, Luna and Larry will be getting a big THANKS from me!

#5: Super Seedz

Can you tell that I am on snack withdrawl?

Logo and product image are used courtesy of Super Seedz.

Logo and product image are used courtesy of Super Seedz.

It all started when Kathie Pelliccio began making seasoned pumpkin seeds for her salads. She kept adding new flavors to her repertoire and because they were such a hit, she started selling her product at fairs and farmer’s markets under the business name of Kathie’s Kitchen. When Kathie met her (now) husband Joe Pelliccio, they became the seed king and queen and Super Seedz was born! I don’t normally like anything pumpkin and I must admit that I have never eaten a pumpkin seed in my life, but these super seedz intrigue me. With a lot of protein, zinc, iron, and magnesium, as well as no cholesterol, trans fat or gluten, how can you not at least give them a try? The seedz come in eight flavors: Really Naked, Sea Salt, Cinnamon & Sugar, Coco Joe, Tomato Italiano, Curious Curry, Somewhat Spicy, and Super Spicy. I will definitely be paying this vendor a visit, as I think they have some great flavor options and I’d like to pick up some samples for my boyfriend, dad, and brother. I also have to say that Kathie and Joe have done an awesome job with their website and packaging.

Not only will the GFAF Expo feature fabulous food vendors, but they will be running some great workshops. On Saturday, Stephen Wangen, N.D. will run a class about understanding gluten sensitivity and MeriTerese Racanelli, M.S. will discuss the gluten-free diet and its relation to other health problems.

The class that I hope to attend is one presented on Sunday by the Executive Editor of Delight Gluten-Free Magazine and author of two gluten-free cookbooks, Vanessa Maltin Weisbrod:

Nutrition and Gluten-Free Baking.

The description of this particular workshop asks: “Curious about the dozens and dozens of gluten-free flours on the marketplace?”

My response: “Why yes, I am!”

I tend to avoid cookbooks marketed as purely gluten free due to the fact that I have to avoid rice, and gluten-free products often contain rice flour. When it comes to baking, many recipes I’ve found use gluten-free all purpose flour (containing rice) or almond flour. I know that I can still use these cookbooks and recipes if I substitute ingredients, but I don’t really know where to begin. Lately, I have been researching flour replacements, but I am having trouble figuring out how the conversions work. Since all of the flours have different properties and act differently, I think this workshop will be very informational. I look forward to learning about the use and nutritional values of teff, millet, coconut, sorghum, and flours other than the popular rice, almond, and soy.

Show Details

Date: September 6 & 7, 2014

Time: 9 am to 3 pm

Cost for Adult One Day Pass: $15 (+$1.82 fee) in advance, or $20 at the door.

Cost for Kids One Day Pass: $3 (+$1.16) in advance, or $5 at the door (for children ages 3-10). Children under 3 are free.

Location: Meadowlands Exposition Center, 355 Plaza Drive, Secaucus, NJ 07094

Visit gfafexpo.com for more info!

Follow the Expo on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and Pinterest.

20% off a regular ticket price

As an official 2014 GFAF Expo blogger, I can offer you a discount code for 20% off a regular ticket price for the NJ event.


Follow this link and enter the code EXPONJ20 at checkout, or use this link, which automatically applies the discount.

If you plan to attend the expo and/or use my discount code, please let me know!

Are you interested in hearing more about any of the companies on the NJ GFAF Expo Vendor list? Also, what is your opinion on allergy shots? Let me know in the comments below!



♥ Link Love: Check out The Diary of Ana Phylaxis for lots of helpful information about living with adult-onset allergies. Kate shares great resources, recipes, and product reviews on her main site, as well as her blog.

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