“What is wrong with my body and why is food attacking me?!?” These were my thoughts for well over a year. I couldn’t figure out why my body was reacting to food that way it was – food that I thought was good for me, or at least harmless.

It wasn’t.

Not only have I developed allergies to certain foods, but I also don’t process certain carbohydrates (enter the FODMAPs), which results in a wide variety of different foods with seemingly nothing in common being on my “naughty” food list.

It’s a frustrating diet, to say the least. It makes no sense to me that I can eat unlimited potato chips (not that I do, but I could) but I have to restrict celery and broccoli. I can never have apples or anything made with apples, nor can I have cauliflower (which I used to eat a lot of). I must avoid onions and garlic, which are among the worst offenders. I must avoid anything containing gluten, as I don’t process it, but on top of that, it turns out I’m allergic to most grains anyway – as well as all dairy. All my recipes that use prepared soups are out, since they all contain gluten or onions or garlic. I have to buy special broth online to make soup. Although I’ve managed to alter some of my recipes to make them acceptable, there are other favorite recipes I will never make again. And don’t get me started on gluten-free bread. There just isn’t a good one, anywhere, period.

So what are FODMAPs? It’s an acronym that stands for Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides, And Polyols. Technically, they are “a collection of short chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols found in foods naturally or as food additives. FODMAPs include fructose (when in excess of glucose), fructans, galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), lactose and polyols (e.g. sorbitol and mannitol).”

I only know they are a form of carbohydrate my body doesn’t process. Because there are different types of carbs that produce the negative reaction in my gut, that is why they are found in such a variety of foods that don’t seem to have anything in common, including vegetables, fruits, grains, and artificial sweeteners. This makes it more difficult to remember what’s okay to eat and what’s not. It’s not as easy as eliminating one food group, like all meat, or all carbs, or all dairy. In addition to knowing which foods are “safe,” I also have to read labels and avoid artificial sweeteners and things I never heard of, like “inulin.” As a result, most of the food I eat is natural and made from scratch from real ingredients – which isn’t all bad, though it is time-consuming.

So what do FODMAPs do to me? When I eat too many FODMAPs my abdomen bloats. A LOT. In the space of 20 minutes I can look like I either gained 10 pounds all in my stomach, or I have suddenly become 6 months pregnant. Needless to say, it’s very uncomfortable. So I do what I can to avoid this from happening, but I still “miss” on occasion, usually unintentionally, but occasionally deliberately (there are some things I allow myself once in a while so as to not completely limit my enjoyment of food – which has decreased significantly). If I do okay with the FODMAPs, sometimes I wind up inadvertently eating an allergen like soy, which is also found in many prepared foods. That makes me itch incessantly, so I try to avoid that as well.

The Low-FODMAP diet in addition to my allergies has made eating very restrictive. It has made grocery shopping difficult, but at least I no longer have the urge to cry as I go up and down the aisles, looking at all the foods I used to buy but can no longer have. I’ve started settling into this new way of life, and I am happy when I find something new that I can eat (that actually tastes good).

But the worst casualty of all this has been my social life. I can manage this well enough when I’m home, making everything from scratch. But eating anywhere else is difficult. When I get together with friends, or with my family, there is usually a meal involved. I haven’t gotten together with many friends in a long time, because every time I try to eat out (and those times have been few), it ends in a good deal of discomfort, and I know I have inadvertently eaten something I shouldn’t. I don’t know how dishes are prepared unless I’m the one preparing them, and I often find too late that something I thought would be okay, was not. And Mexican food; with no onion, garlic, gluten or cheese (or beans), there really are no options there. Even Spanish rice has onions and spice in it I can’t have. So my favorite cuisine is out, for the most part.

My main point in telling you this is not so you feel sorry for me. It’s to explain why I have been a hermit. It’s just too difficult to go out, when going out usually involves food. Yes, there are plenty of gluten-free foods to be had in restaurants now, but when you add to that the restrictions of no onion, garlic, soy or dairy (and there are more, but those are the big ones), it pretty much eliminates most things. Even when I think I’ve found something I CAN eat, it’s still a crapshoot, because I don’t know how it’s made or what’s in it. (And yes, I have talked to chefs, and asked servers how things are made, but it’s not always practical when a restaurant is busy.)

Of all the things on my “naughty” list, I still eat cheese once in a while. It’s a mild allergen but it’s low-FODMAP, so it doesn’t bother me that way. It allows me to have gluten-free pizza when I go out, so at least I have one option.

Irony of ironies, among the things I DO process well is the one thing I would PREFER to avoid, and that is meat. I never was a big meat-eater, and in fact I used to be a vegetarian! Now I eat meat, mostly because it’s one of the few things I CAN eat. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to eat it (especially chicken), but I don’t have much choice. I can’t be a vegetarian anymore, since most of my vegetables have been severely restricted or eliminated. I never could eat much fruit because of reflux, but many of those are out now, too. I am grateful that I can at least eat rice and potatoes. But most other grains, including quinoa, are out.

The other point to my bringing this up is to encourage you to please be considerate of those who have food allergies or other dietary restrictions for whatever reason. It may inconvenience you if you are trying to eat out with that person, but you have no idea how difficult it is on the person with the restrictions, who must deal with this every day, every meal, every bite. I have so many lists in my head of what I can and can’t have. I am affected by three different “naughty” lists (reflux diet, low FODMAP diet, and food allergies), and it’s up to me to figure out how they intersect, and what foods are left that are safe for me to eat. Even then, eating out is, as I said, a crapshoot.

And dating. I haven’t dated in a long time, but at some point I would like to again. However, I don’t know how to date with these restrictions, since dating usually involves food as well. I will have to figure out a way to be creative in suggesting things to do that don’t involve food, at least initially (most beverages are an issue, too). But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

I will figure out how to eat out successfully someday, through trial and error. I’m still working on what I can eat at home. But the one thing I have to remember is that even if I eat something on the naughty list, it won’t do me any great harm, unlike others who have severe allergies or celiac disease. It will make me very uncomfortable for several hours and I may not look or feel good, but that’s about the worst of it.

You might wonder how I finally identified what foods were bothering me. I had already figured out gluten, which was easy enough to do by trial and error. And some allergies were already obvious to me, as they caused itching not long after eating the food (soy and chocolate, yes, chocolate, are the big offenders there). But I couldn’t figure out what was causing the bloating, and no wonder; with such a wide variety of foods being part of the FODMAP list, there is no way I would have linked them together without the help of a gastroenterologist. All I did was tell him my symptoms, and he told me to go on the low FODMAP diet, and that was the key to putting it all together, the thing that had puzzled me for over a year.

As for the allergies, I found out what they were from taking an allergy blood test that measures the blood’s immune response to different foods. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. I went to my Ear, Nose and Throat specialist hoping for a skin allergy test, but he suggested this instead, and it’s more accurate. I gave a blood sample, and it was sent out to a special lab that does this kind of thing. After several weeks I received a printout of dozens of foods in various food groups, and an indication as to what I am most allergic to, somewhat allergic to, and not allergic to. I discovered allergies I didn’t even know I had. But after eliminating dairy, which was the biggest allergen on the list (and one that I didn’t realize I had), I can tell that I do feel better and that the cause of my constant congestion has been found.

If you are having issues with food and unexplained symptoms anything like mine, I urge you to also consult an allergist or gastroenterologist, or both. Things are not perfect for me, but at least now I have a fighting chance to eat healthy, and to avoid foods that cause me harm. And eventually, with any luck, I will have a social life again!

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I have a life coach. Not many people know that (actually, I don’t know if anyone knows that), but I’ve seen him on an occasional basis for probably close to ten years (whenever I feel the need for guidance). He is many things – he’s a life coach, mentor, healer, counselor, visionary, and friend. He tells me things I forget to tell myself. He helps me get “unstuck” when I am “stuck” in life. He reminds me to appreciate myself. He encourages me to break out of my patterns and develop new ones. And I’ll listen to him, because I trust him and because he is good and wise. He is one of the best people I know.

If you have read enough of my blogs, you know that I am a spiritual person, and I have ideas about life, death and spirituality that not everyone shares. But he does. I can tell him anything and not only is it accepted, it is confirmed. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to say anything without fear of disbelief or worse, being told I am wrong. What I believe is my truth for me, and it’s nice to find someone who shares in that truth. He is the right person for me to confide in. I have confided in others, but he has been the best fit overall.

Just as I found the right fit, you need to find the right person for you. It doesn’t have to be a life coach, but it does have to be someone whose opinion you value and whose advice you trust, and be someone who wants the best for you no matter what. Someone who will kick you in the pants to get you going, if necessary.

It could be a friend, mentor, teacher, counselor, family member, psychologist, psychiatrist, doctor, spouse, and the list goes on. I believe the right people come into our lives when we need them. I once needed a tremendous emotional healing, and the right person came into my life for that. She did wonders. She is still in my life, but not in that capacity. But she was exactly the right person with the right prescription that I needed at that time (it was a healing brought forth through guided meditation, and it was more powerful and more instantaneous than any drug could ever have been). I knew I was led to her, and she came through exactly as she said she would. It was the most profound healing experience of my life and I will never forget it.

The point is, when you are stuck, or when you need healing, look inside yourself and then look outside; the right people will be there if you are open to letting them in.

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This is not a political post, just an observation on humanity. When I look at ISIS, what I see is a bunch of people who are angry that not everyone is like them. So they kill those who are different from them, like so many other groups, religious or otherwise, who have done so before them (including Christians – don’t forget the Crusades). So imagine this reign of terror goes worldwide and they are successful in killing everyone who is not like them. Will that make them happy? No.

Then they will start finding differences among themselves. Smaller differences, but still differences. And someone, the person who is the most dominant, will decide that one way will be the “right” way and everyone else will be “wrong” and THEY will have to be eliminated. And pretty soon you have an even smaller group of people, and differences will be found among THEM, and the process will start over until everyone is dead but the last man standing who thought he was right and everyone else was wrong. Will THAT make him happy? No.

What is the endgame? There is no endgame. It’s the hatred and the fighting against others they revel in. It feeds upon itself.

I was observing the other day how we all drive a different vehicle and everyone accepts that we are all free to choose the vehicle of our choice. No one makes me drive a Chevy. No one says, “You have to drive a red car or you are wrong.” Some people drive big, loud, noisy trucks. I may not like them, and it wouldn’t be my choice, but that’s their choice and it doesn’t concern me. I drive what I like, and so does everyone else, and we coexist as we drive our different vehicles down the highway together.

So if we are free to choose the vehicle we want to drive, why are we not free to choose the life we want to live? Why must there be this desire to make everyone else conform to one way of thinking and believing, to have us all live the same life? If we all drove exactly the same car, we would long for more diversity in vehicles. So why is it so hard to accept the diversity in lifestyles that make up the human race?

I learn so much from people who are different from me, more than I could ever learn from being with people who are just like me. I get different perspectives I would never have thought of, and I better understand others’ life experiences. Our own life and the lives of those we are closest to are our only frame of reference, and that frame is often very small.

Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I love to travel to other countries where I only begin to scrape the surface of what it feels like to be part of another culture. And it feels amazing. I don’t understand why we as a civilization have made no advancements in thousands of years in how we treat each other. I keep thinking that as the world becomes a smaller place, more connected, we will learn to live with each other due to greater understanding and contact, but that does not seem to be the case. People are denying the existence of the Holocaust and even glorifying the Nazi regime while the last of the Holocaust survivors are still living. What happens when they are all gone and no one is left to tell the tale? How can we be so overwhelmingly brutal to each other, again and again, and never evolve away from this mindset?

It gives one a pessimistic view of humanity taken as a whole. No wonder we trumpet those acts of kindness we find so rare, when a white police officer goes over and above to help a poor African-American woman. We cry and we cheer when we see such stories on the news or on Facebook, but the truth is, this is what should be happening EVERY DAY, EVERYWHERE. This should be the NORM, not the exception. It’s hard for me to understand why, in thousands of years of evolving as intelligent creatures, with all the technological advances we have made in the last century, we remain so emotionally immature. How is it that part of us has not evolved?

I have no answer, for there is none. For myself, I can only shake my head at a world that is full of hate and senseless violence; celebrate such acts of kindness that can be found; and do my part to make this world a better place.

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Relationships can be difficult even in the best of times, but if you know your partner’s love language (and understand your own), you’ll have a better understanding of what makes each of you “tick.”

After I read “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, I understood my failed marriage much better than I had. My husband and I were not speaking the same love language, nor did we realize what the other’s love language was. Had we known, we would have understood each other better. It likely would not have saved our marriage, since there were other variables, but it’s better to understand your relationship when you’re in it than after it is over.

Before we separated, I had no idea whether he loved me or not. He didn’t say it, he didn’t show it, at least not in a language I understood. I didn’t find out until we were in therapy that he did in fact still love me. But that’s what it took. I realize now that he WAS showing it; I just wasn’t translating it.

The five love languages are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.

Words of Affirmation are words of love and encouragement. Partners are more apt to respond when you thank them for the good things they do rather than nag at them for what they are not doing, or are doing “wrong.”

Quality Time is just what it sounds like, spending good time with each other without distractions (having “date nights,” undistracted conversations). A partner to whom this is important would rather have your time than your money, if the pursuit of “getting-ahead” consumes all your time.

Receiving Gifts will be explained below, as will Acts of Service. And Physical Touch speaks for itself, though it doesn’t just refer to what you think it refers to, but also the bonding brought by holding hands and hugging.

I didn’t realize until too late that his love language is Acts of Service. So all the time when he was doing things around the house, he was doing them FOR ME, to show that he loved me. I thought he was doing them because they needed to be done. I appreciated all he did for us, but I had no idea it was his way of showing love. So when he built a shelving unit in the basement, it was not only functional, but a way to make my life easier – it was a show of love. I did not understand that until years after we were divorced.

I think my love language is Receiving Gifts. Not meaningless gifts, but gifts from the heart.

He once spent many hours making me a beautiful picture of a hummingbird, all made out of wood. I still have it hanging on my wall, because it reminds me that someone once loved me enough to spend hours making such a gift for me. To me, THAT is a true show of love, and that is why I treasure it still.

I am not generally materialistic or one who goes looking for expensive gifts from her man. But one thing that always hurt me in our marriage was that while he would buy me flowers, they were always the cheap grocery store kind. They were lovely, and he would buy them for no reason, and I did appreciate them, but he would never buy me flowers for Valentine’s Day. They were too expensive and it was a “made-up holiday,” he said. And that hurt.

While other women were getting bouquets of red roses at work, I knew I would never be one of them. When I was in the hospital after having our son, he bought me a beautiful bouquet of pink roses. And as lovely as they were, and as thoughtful as it was, I remember thinking, “What on earth do I have to do to deserve a dozen red roses?” As unreasonable as it sounds, this meant something to me. It was the thought behind it I was looking for. He was adamant about not spending that much money. And I was made to feel that I didn’t deserve them, and I felt that reflected on me as a wife. I knew then, and I know now, that it was the wrong way to look at it and that I was being unreasonable and selfish; but it still hurts that, in my mind, he never considered me worthy enough. And of course he would be clueless as to my interpretation. That’s the type of disconnect that can only be bridged by communication.

Later in life when I DID finally receive a dozen red roses, the occasion, and the giver, meant nothing. It was someone trying too hard to impress me. He didn’t really care about me. It wasn’t so much the flower itself, and certainly not the money spent that I was looking for; it was the sentiment behind it, the validation that I, too, like other women, was worthy of receiving a dozen red roses. It was the sense of worth I needed (which, I know, brings up other issues, but that’s for another time).

My husband and I were speaking two different love languages and our relationship got lost in translation. When I look back, I realize he needed Quality Time that I wasn’t giving him. And, as much as it pains me to admit it, I was selfish then, and that didn’t help matters. I only hope I have learned to be more selfless now.

If you are in a relationship, contemplating getting into one, or still trying to understand why one failed, I highly recommend reading this book. It helped me understand my relationship much better than I did, and hopefully gave me the knowledge to forge a more successful relationship in the future.

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Everyone has faced disappointment of one kind or another. But a punch in the heart is the worst disappointment of all. It is not a feeling you want to feel often in your lifetime, but I have had my share of these. This is the feeling you get when you care about someone who you find out doesn’t care about you. This is the feeling you get when someone you cared about is with someone else. This is the feeling you get when you wanted something so much — a person, a job, a promotion, a chance — and it is forever out of reach. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world.

It is not your garden-variety type of disappointment; it is a disappointment that reaches into your very soul. It literally makes you feel heavier than gravity should allow. It is a deep sense of loss, of a future you wanted so much but that will never be.

There is nothing that will make this feeling go away except time. It’s a feeling that will not be eased by a change in circumstances; in fact, the feeling is there BECAUSE the circumstances won’t change. That’s why it’s so disheartening.

I wish I had some sage words of advice for getting through this period. I do not. All I would say is that the easier you can accept your circumstances, the easier it is to move forward and away from the disappointment that made you feel so awful. Try to concentrate on what is positive around you, on what you have, not on what you have lost. Even though you wanted something so much, it was not meant to be. It may be for a reason you cannot see, though in time you may; it might be because something better is around the corner.

Regret serves no purpose except to make you miserable. A lot of people get stuck in “woulda shoulda couldas.” That serves a useful purpose if it helps you learn what not to do in the future, but it does no good to dwell there. Regret is living in a past you can’t change but still hoping for a future that will never be. It’s a jail from which the only escape is of your own making. I no longer make time for regret. It’s much too harmful. I have at least learned THAT much in my journey through life.

So take a deep breath. Take a few deep breaths. Elevate your energy from that low place. There are still things that make you happy; think of those, even if they are just simple pleasures of life. And move forward.

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“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” — Unknown

A friend of mine asked me to write about forgiveness — or rather, unforgiveness. The situation she faced in her life is a painful one faced by many — her husband cheated on her with one of her good friends. She eventually forgave her husband; she can’t forgive her friend, and she’s struggling with that.

On some level, we are not necessarily surprised when spouses cheat. But we expect our good friends to have our back no matter what. We expect them to stick by us through thick and thin, not betray us in the worst way possible.

When I have had to forgive someone close to me, it helped to tell myself that they did the best they could with who they were and what they knew at the time. And I think that’s generally true. People act based on their beliefs, heavily influenced by the way they were brought up. If you know something about a person’s past, you can see it shaping their decisions, whether for good or ill, whether reasonable or irrational. It allows some understanding about why they do what they do, and that does help.

I have been able to forgive the people who have hurt me using this concept. I’m not saying it was easy, and it took time, but I also remind myself of the quote at the beginning of this post — that holding onto anger only hurts ourselves. By internalizing our negative thoughts, we don’t hurt the other person at all; we hurt our bodies, our minds, our psyches. At the end of the day, all those bad feelings don’t transfer to the person you’re mad at — in fact they may not even be aware of them — they stay inside you, damaging only you.

The other person will have to come to terms with their actions and find a way to live with what they’ve done. That’s not your job. All you have to do is find a way to forgive — not for their sake so much, but for yours.

Sometimes it’s easier to forgive others than it is to forgive ourselves. I rarely cut myself the same slack I’m willing to cut someone else. It took me several years before I could forgive myself for decisions I had made that I deemed “major mistakes.” But what I have come to learn is that there is no right or wrong; only choices. I had to repeat (and I mean repeat) to myself many times over that I, too, did the best I could with who I was and what I knew at the time.

I have found that to accept a difficult situation, it helps to look for the silver lining. There is always something good that comes out of something bad, even if what we learn is painful at the time.

In the case of my friend, she is remarried to a man who is a much better match for her, and they are very happy. That would not have occurred had her friend not cheated with her husband.

Forgive the person who hurt you for YOUR sake, not theirs; it doesn’t mean you are saying what they did was okay, or that you will forget, or that you’re giving them a free pass; it just means you understand they made a poor decision that hurt you, you realize they are human and make mistakes (like we all do), and that nothing is to be gained from staying angry.

You can choose your friends, and choose to cut out of your life friends who have hurt you. Not so with family; you are stuck with them.

As we in the U.S. embark on our Thanksgiving and holiday season, for those who have strained relationships with one or more family members, it may help to repeat my mantra to yourself: “They did the best they could with who they were and what they knew at the time.” Maybe it will help you to be more tolerant and understanding this holiday season.

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If you are a regular reader, you will notice I don’t post as often as I used to. And yet, my page views are as high as they ever were. Somehow, people are still finding my posts and reading them. They live on, even when I don’t add to them. Somehow, I am still helping people, contributing to some good in the world.

I’ve had people comment on my post about artificial sweeteners and how much better they feel once they stopped using Splenda, based on what I had posted about my own experience. I’ve had a few comments on other posts, too. But by far, the most comments I’ve had are about other people seeing hearts everywhere, like I do.

This is a worldwide phenomenon—comments on those posts come from everywhere.  People all over the world are seeing hearts in everyday objects. What is also universal is that no one seems to know what it means for sure. I still see hearts, and I still don’t know.  The people who find my blog are those searching for the meaning of this. I have no answers, but that doesn’t seem to matter; they are just happy to have found that they are not alone in this, that there are others all over the world that are experiencing this same phenomenon.

Even though I have no answers, I know I am doing some good in the world; if just to let someone else know that they are not alone in their experience. It may be a small thing, but it’s a significant thing.

I think we all must strive to do a little good in the world. To make it a better place. It doesn’t have to be by writing something that thousands of people will see; any small act of kindness to one individual can have ripple effects you can’t even imagine.

We tend to get so caught up in the busy-ness of our own lives, concentrating on going from one thing to the next, checking off our to-do list for the day, that we forget to look around us. We sometimes forget to think about others. I am certainly guilty of that. I’ll spend days in frenzied industriousness, and then I’ll suddenly remember that I meant to get in touch with someone a week ago.

Consider taking this challenge: this week, consciously take it upon yourself to do one small act of kindness for someone. Pay for the person in line in front of you; bake someone a treat; help an old lady get her groceries into the car. I can think of several opportunities I’ve had in my life to help a stranger who needed it, but in the split-second I had to make the decision, something held me back. I’ve regretted it each and every time.

So go out and do a little good in the world. It’s what we’re here for, after all.

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