Student adjusts diet to help fight Lyme Disease

Germantown, Tenn. senior Kayla Long said she is strictly gluten free and dairy free. Keeping a strict diet helps her relieve the pain she feels from Lyme disease. Josh Aguirre | Multimedia Journalist

By Vivian Kwok | Reporter

Food can consume a large portion of people’s lives. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are major parts of people’s daily schedules. For some, however, finding the right type of food can be a challenge, especially people who have been diagnosed with Lyme Disease.

Germantown, Tenn., senior Kayla Long said she is strictly gluten free and dairy free. Her dietary restrictions also include low sugar and low amounts of nightshade plants such as tomatoes and peppers, and these regulations do not come without a purpose.

“Gluten and dairy are commonly known for causing inflammation,” Long said. “For example, it’s common for people with autoimmune diseases to avoid these foods. I have chronic Lyme Disease, so avoiding these foods help me feel better.”

Having a unique and limited diet to minimize inflammation is just one facet of living with Lyme Disease. According to, other daily challenges exist such as fatigue and headaches. The month of May is dedicated to raising awareness for Lyme Disease.

Long also said she was taking a lot of antibiotics in previous years and a low-sugar diet was beneficial to her treatment. Long said foods in the nightshade category also cause inflammation. Keeping a low level of nightshade consumptions helps her relieve the pain she feels from Lyme Disease.

“My doctor would say if your gut is inflamed, then your whole body will feel it,” Long said.

Long did not adapt quickly to her eating regime, and she said finding substitutions and other foods she can eat is a challenge. She said the most difficult food limitation to monitor was her sugar intake because of how much sugar is present in American food. She also said substituting dairy products like cheese is can be difficult as well.

“I guess I could say I had to rewire my brain,” Long said. “I really struggled with the change at first. Now, those foods don’t even register as ‘food.’”

Long said if someone handed her bread to eat, she would perceive it as if someone handed her paper to eat.

“I would just throw it away. That probably sounds weird, but it’s the only way I can think to explain it,” Long said. “It’s definitely something that takes time to get used to.”

To help ensure she is eating foods that are safe for her to eat, Long said she prepares most of her meals at home. She said going out to eat can be difficult, so she usually sticks to certain places or menus she knows are safe choices for her.

“For example, I’ve gone to get steak before to find a lump of butter on it,” Long said. “I didn’t want to say anything because it would be rude, so I scraped it off and ate around it.”

Pearland senior Rebacca Martin, who is a friend of Long, said she purposefully looks at menus when they go out for a meal. Martin said she and Long would often go to places like Pie Five.

“Kayla gets to choose all the ingredients on her pizza, which makes it easy to stick to her dietary needs,” Martin said.

Long said some of her friends will offer to cook or bake her treats, and that while it is a friendly gesture, it can be challenging for people to understand her diet and for her to maintain it.

“Probably the hardest is letting people make me food. I didn’t know anything about gluten before I cut it out, so I understand if others are unsure what it is in,” Long said. “It’s hard to find a balance between being polite and drawing the line where I really can’t afford to eat certain things.”

Martin said she often searches through Pinterest to find recipes and options for when she does bake for Long.

“I want to make sure that whatever I make her is both healthy and delicious,” Martin said. “The stakes are high for me so I don’t want to give her something subpar.”

Martin said she has learned from Long’s dietary restrictions how to take into account the needs of others and also to not be afraid to ask questions.

“I’ve had to ask her so many times the specifics of her restrictions and she has been so patient with me by repeating herself and explaining her needs to me,” Martin said.

Long said she hopes more people and restaurants begin to understand the magnitude of some dietary restrictions.

“It’s just frustrating and can be an added stress that I wish others would be more aware of, especially restaurants,” Long said. “I can’t even count how many times I have ordered ‘no cheese’ or ‘corn instead of flour’ but the order showed up without those requests.”