Outsmart Food Allergies

Cougar Town’s Busy Philipps shows how you don’t have to sweat living a life without wheat.

Linda Childers

When she’s not starring as Laurie, the brazen assistant to Courtney Cox on the hit television show Cougar Town, actress Elizabeth “Busy” Philipps can often be found in the kitchen whipping up a creation worthy of Cake Boss. Baking is a passion of hers, which wouldn’t be noteworthy—except for the fact that she’s allergic to wheat (gluten) and soy. So while her husband, screenwriter Marc Silverstein, can indulge, and her 5-year-old daughter, Birdie, can have a sliver, Busy herself can’t stomach a bite.

The 34-year-old actress first began experiencing symptoms like bloating and stomach pain while filming Dawson’s Creek 14 years ago. She figured it was stress, but when the digestive problems wouldn’t go away, she made an appointment with her healthcare provider. The good news? Tests showed she was in great health. The bad? She still had no answer for her discomfort.

Although she took care to eat healthfully, Busy started wondering if certain foods might be a problem. She sought the help of an allergist, whose first step was putting her on an elimination diet.

For several weeks, she stuck to a meal plan consisting of “hypoallergenic” foods, which tend not to cause any reactions—fruits like pears and apples; most vegetables, beans and legumes (except peanuts); and “gluten-free” grains, such as rice, millet, quinoa and amaranth. Once her body adjusted and she was rid of her pain and bloat, common culprit foods—eggs, peanuts, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat, cashews and almonds—were systematically added back to her diet, one at a time, and she recorded any symptoms she experienced.

That’s how she discovered that wheat and soy (a source of gluten) were doing her wrong. “Not only was I able to determine the specific foods that triggered my symptoms, I also felt as if I had given my body an internal cleanse,” Busy says. “I felt so much better after I completed the elimination diet.”

Since then, the actress has been able to keep her symptoms in check despite a frenetic schedule. In addition to her role on Cougar Town, she’s been busy with movie roles in I Don’t Know How She Does It and The Reef: High Tide. And, of course, the wife and mom has her hands full on the home front. 

How does she do it? Here are her secrets for eating well and feeling great:

Eliminate the guesswork.
Before she goes to a restaurant, Busy calls to ask about the menu and makes a point to inquire about soy. Many restaurants cook in soybean oil because it’s the cheapest vegetable oil. And for grab-and-go peace of mind when she’s filming Cougar Town, Busy relies on a delivery service that brings gluten-free meals to her home. “Bringing healthy prepared meals to the set with me takes the guesswork out of making sure I get the calories and nutrition I need while avoiding foods that contain gluten,” she says.

Make it work for you: If a delivery service is out of the question, order gluten-free meals and products at sites like glutenfreemall.com and grandmaferdons.com.

Tame your tension. 
For Busy, who often works 14-hour days, taking a run with her husband is her preferred stress-buster. “It’s not only good exercise, it also gives us time to catch up on our day,” she says. She also attends spinning and yoga classes. While exercise may not be your chosen tension tamer, it’s important to find one that works for you. A study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found that people with digestive disorders, including food allergy and intolerance, have higher levels of stress and anxiety. And according to a study in The American Journal of Pathology, stress can exacerbate reactions.

Make it a family affair. 
Focusing on what you can eat, rather than what you can’t, helps put a positive spin on food allergies. It also encourages you to make healthier choices. Busy believes the whole family can benefit from better nutrition. “At my baby shower, a friend gave me a baby cooker, which makes it simple to blend your own baby food,” Busy says. “I buy fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market and use the baby cooker to make Birdie everything from baby food to soups to smoothies.” As a result, “Birdie has become a really good eater!” Busy says, and that’s not all: The strategy also reduces Birdie’s exposure to the gluten often used as a thickener in processed foods. 

February 2012