woman writing in a journal

The power of peppers: my story

Part 1: Food is my hammer
Part 2: Seeing red
Part 3: The Weekend of Orange
Part 4: Why I’m passionate about what we eat
Part 5: Following the clues

If you think I’m a bit of a pushover—boom!—going all in on my doctor’s diet-altering suggestion—let me tell you why it made sense to me.

Thirteen years earlier, I was at work, writing at a computer, when suddenly my vision went wonky. It was as if I was looking through a windshield with a crack down the middle. At first I thought my computer screen had broken. But when I looked away, the cracked windshield came along. I realized what was broken was me.

Soon, the fingers on my left hand were going numb, one by one. I walked into the next cubicle and told a friend what was going on. She quickly hustled me out to her car and drove me to the emergency room. I was totally lucid, but given my symptoms we began to wonder if I was having a stroke.

After an exam, CT scan and the beginnings of a throbbing headache, it became clear that I was having my first migraine.

It wasn’t that surprising, given how I had been burning the candle at both ends. Ten months earlier, I’d quit my job as a newspaper reporter to move with my new husband across the country and enter graduate school. I also began working as a writer for the school’s University Relations department. I soon added on the responsibilities of teaching college English as an adjunct instructor.

My husband and I had celebrated the end of my first year of school with a trip to Japan and were settling into a slower-paced summer when this hit. They say migraines come at times of stress and at times when stress has been released. The latter was clearly what happened in my case.

I assumed this would be a one-off experience. But no.

More migraines followed, and one pattern was clear: They always occurred when I was looking at a computer screen under fluorescent lights.

Given my work—writing for University Relations publications (which was paying for my education)—I’d have to keep using the computer. But I insisted on working without fluorescent lighting.

Another almost more-pressing issue emerged: My vision had changed. The cracked windshield went away, but I was plagued with pretty severe photosensitivity, seeing floaters everywhere and sparkles when I looked up at the sky. I started wearing sunglasses. Outside and in. I quit going to movies. I quit shopping at Home Depot, the most ridiculously bright indoor place I’d experienced.

Because of all the visual strangeness, I consulted an ophthalmologist, a young guy who told me I had “something wrong with my noggin.” (Note to all medical practitioners: Never, ever tell a scared patient there is something wrong with her “noggin.”)

So off I went to the neurologist, who over the next few months ordered an MRI and, because he was mystified, an EEG. And perhaps most helpfully, a food journal.

Everything checked out fine, but the food journal showed at least one interesting pattern: Before every migraine, I had eaten something containing peppers, members of the capsicum family (not the black pepper found in a shaker, which comes from a different botanical family).

So I started staying away from peppers—whole, diced, canned and powdered, bell, jalapeno, chili and so on. There went Mexican food, Indian food and Thai food.

Then I started reading labels. Turned out peppers were everywhere—or at least in many of the convenience foods we ate—like spaghetti sauces and salad dressings. The more I read labels, the more packaged foods I cut out of my diet.

Migraines aside, I noticed my anti-pepper vigilance helped my vision issues. It didn’t clear them up (that’s a longer story), but my vision was definitely better when peppers were not part of my diet.

Fast-forward back to 2015. When my son’s doctor suggested removing things from his diet might make a difference in his behavior, I was all in.

I knew the power of eliminating a food.

Next: The Weekend of … something different


Meanwhile, think back. Have you ever stopped eating a certain food because you noticed you didn’t feel well afterward? Or the next day?

Today’s spoonful of sugar: A recipe for a pepper-free — and additive-free — salad dressing.

Funny thing: The photo I initially selected for this post was one of beautiful peppers … but looking at it made me woozy! (I still have an uncomfortable relationship with peppers. Truth.)

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash

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