When undiscovered, allergies and food intolerances may seem minor. But over time, as your body struggles to cope, health issues can build up begin to hinder your daily well-being and quality of life.
This week, we sat down with PurelyB co-founder and CEO, Jesrina Arshad to talk about her experience with discovering allergies she never knew she had, and how she overcame them while living in Asia.
How did you discover your allergies to dairy, egg, wheat and gluten? Sometimes I know I feel a bit off, but I’m not sure if it’s allergies or something else that is making me feel sick. Also when you realised you were allergic to these things, what steps did you take to overcome your allergies?
Sheila, allergies can be confusing — I know first-hand! Especially in Asia where, let’s face it, allergies are often just brushed aside. I’m going to take you through my experience step-by-step, and hopefully make it easier for you to understand what you can do here in Asia and learn how to heal your own body!
Identify The Symptoms
About 10 years ago I realised that my body was developing all these different types of allergic reactions. We’re talking breaking out in rashes and having really bad digestive issues (yup there was constipation — let’s not go into detail!) to the point these symptoms were causing migraines because there was such a big buildup of toxins in my body. I was also feeling nauseous and constantly had low energy levels.
Look for your warning signs.
Being unaware, I just assumed these symptoms were a part of my life and scarily enough, I became immune to the warnings.
Get Your Diagnosis
The most important first step is to get tested. Find out what it is you are allergic to, or at least intolerant to.
Six years ago, I was referred to a naturopath and osteopath in Singapore, who had actually helped my nephew overcome eczema naturally. With shellfish being the only allergy I was aware of as it was something I would react to instantly, I had no idea what to expect.
Using a non-invasive, all natural technique called NAET (Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination Techniques) I made a shocking discovery about the reality of my allergies. I was allergic first and foremost to eggs, followed by gluten, wheat and dairy — surprisingly, shellfish was at the bottom of my allergy list!
The Next Steps And The Struggles You May Face
When you’re told to cut out foods that have always been a part of your diet, it can be difficult.
After my diagnosis, for the next part of my treatment I had to cut out all sources of my newfound allergies for 30 days — so no eggs, gluten, wheat, dairy or shellfish. I asked myself probably the exact same question most of you would be asking too:
“How in the world is that possible? I’m going to have NOTHING to eat!”
In all honestly, it was the most challenging period that I had to go through. I had grilled or steamed fish with vegetables for 30 days straight and I was dying because I couldn’t have my beloved desserts!
Admittedly, I did have cheat days here and there and was still unknowingly consuming gluten through soya sauce. But even with these slip ups, I still experienced slight improvements in my health. My rashes started to clear up and my digestive issue began improving.
Despite experiencing positive changes, it’s easy to just go back to your old eating habits because it might feel too difficult to cut our usual food sources, living in Malaysia and Asia. Even I thought I couldn’t sustain this type of diet and lifestyle - I just love my food and desserts! Pretty much accepting that I would never be at my 100% health, I succumbed to my previous eating habits and learnt to live with these symptoms.
So My Efforts Failed... But Then What Changed?
In early 2015 I discovered health icons in the US and UK like Ella Woodward (the blogger behind Deliciously Ella) who were able to overcome chronic illnesses, including cancer, through natural and holistic living, cutting out processed foods and toxins and started eating clean diet.
What blew me away was that they were still able to eat their favourite dishes – pizzas, burgers, and chocolate cakes – which were all gluten free, dairy free, egg free and made from only natural ingredients.
This inspired me to take charge of my own health and make changes in my diet for the better.
Fired up, I started reading and educating myself. Although it was initially a challenge to source all the western health ingredients they were using, I learnt how to adapt their recipes in a way that was sustainable for me living in Asia.
So here’s what you need to know:
Looking back, had I known what I know now, I would’ve told myself that it’s not difficult as one would think! Although living with allergies in Asia may initially seem like an inconvenience, you’ll come to realise it may even be a blessing, as a lot of our staples are naturally gluten and dairy free!
My Tips For Coping With Allergies In Asia
Get Inspired To Take Control Of Your Health
With so many healthy food blogs and Instagrams out there, inspiration is just a click away! From wholesome natural recipes for all your favourite dishes to tips on how to substitute unhealthy ingredients for healthier versions, you won’t have to struggle to find what to eat like I did.
Discovering Deliciously Ella kickstarted my revelation and journey into healthy eating. My week of experimenting with her recipes even turned a kitchen-rookie like me into someone who loves making healthy versions of my favourite recipes!
In fact, this turning point inspired me to start PurelyB, so we could help those seeking their own health solutions in Asia. Find your own other inspiration sources on top of this and you’ll realise the options are endless!
Get Educated — Learn What’s Really In Your Food
Another thing health blogs and online resources are great for is helping educate you on what is really in your food. When I was told about my allergies I had no idea what gluten was, let alone how to avoid it.
Do your research but make sure you’re sourcing information from trusted experts in health and wellness. When you start reading food labels you’ll realise how processed everyday foods can be.
Find Local And Healthier Substitutions
Sure it may be hard to find gluten-free pastas and sandwiches in Asia. But the beauty is we live in a haven of naturally gluten-free foods (for the most part!). With rice as an Asian staple, think rice-based dishes such as bee hoon noodles and desserts made from rice flour. Just watch out for soya sauce as it contains gluten from the wheat (though tamari sauce is the perfect substitute for that).
Another tip is to make local versions of your favourite healthy recipes. Swap kale for Asian leafy greens like kailan or bayam (amaranth leaves) or how about making rice paper rolls instead of regular wraps — be creative!
But Most Importantly...
As your body heals with changes to your diet, you’ll experience improvements to your health. Whether slow or drastic, let the feeling of regaining your health be your motivation to keep making changes.
Trust me, it’s the best motivation that you can have.
Since making conscious decisions about my diet for my health, I have never felt better. I finally know what it is like to have my health at almost 100%. And let me tell you, once you get that, you never want to go back. My skin and body have never felt and looked better, and on top of that I have so much more energy!
This turning point gave me the motivation to really want to make a change I could sustain long-term because I now know being healthy doesn’t mean boring salads and bland food. It means eating REAL food – made of pure natural ingredients.
So now you’ve heard my story and the tips that have helped me get my health back on track, I’d love to hear what works for you! Leave a comment below on your experience with allergies. What are some struggles you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?