Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Food Journey, Part 2: Paleo - The Good, The Bad, and The Downright Strange

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of listening to your body when considering dietary changes. I told you I had tried the paleo diet for a couple of months, but decided not to stick with it. I did not give you the details, so that's what I'm going to do today.

Last year, I saw marked improvements in my health from following a gluten/dairy/egg/nut/sugar-free, low-amine diet. I was only eating low-glycemic fruits, no dried fruit, and no sweeteners other than stevia. It was boring as hell, but my weight stabilized, my bloating went down, and my chronic yeast infections went away. On the other hand, many symptoms, like my headaches, fatigue, and brain fog, lingered. I was eating a mostly vegetarian diet, with lots of salads, whole grains, and beans. Cottage cheese and yogurt were my only dairy sources. I was also doing kundalini yoga regularly. Looking back, I realize now that I was healing, and may have saved myself a lot of stress and doctor's bills if I had only stuck with that path and tweaked it a bit.

But life has a way of throwing curves ainto your road. Which is not always a bad thing. The question is how you handle it. In my case, this particular curve was a chance conversation with Brittany Angell of Real Sustenance. This led to a decision to write a cookbook together. We serendipitously connected with Triumph Dining, our publisher, and a due date was set. What happened next was a feverish eight months of baking. I took time off from school, baked about ten hours a day, and rarely left my house except to go to the grocery store. On the one hand, I felt like I was living a dream. On the other hand, I completely lost my equilibrium. I stopped working out, started tasting my baked goods - which meant eating eggs, nuts, and sugar - lost touch with friends, and missed my brief chance at getting some vitamin D in the summer. I was ecstatic and miserable at the same time.

Would I do it again? Heck yeah!

Was it the best thing for my health? Not so much.

My health problems came back with a vengeance: the headaches, fatigue, bloating, brain fog. I began to gain weight again, and my face felt itchy and puffy all the time. And the worst thing was that this time I couldn't hide behind the fact that I didn't know what was causing the problem. I knew exactly what it was. I knew what I was eating that I shouldn't be. I knew I was too stressed out and not exercising enough. But I didn't know what to do about it. I had no doubt that this opportunity would not come around again, and truthfully, I was willing to risk my health for it. I know that sounds awful, but it's the truth.

It was around this time that I got a bit of a wake up call. My latest blood tests revealed I was developing an autoimmune disorder (Hashimoto's Hypothyroiditis), and I knew something had to change. I thought going paleo (and probably eventually, GAPS) was the answer. Everything I was hearing had me convinced it would solve my problems. I wasn't wrong. Nor was I completely right.

On my version of the paleo diet, I was limited to fish, chicken, turkey, beef (yes, grass-fed), vegetables, fruits, sweet potatoes, and squash. No soy, grains or legumes, but for me, also no eggs or nuts. I was still trying to follow the low-amine diet, so I further limited myself to low-amine, low-glycemic fruits, like apples and pears, only certain vegetables, and no avocados. And no sugar in any form, again, other than stevia. I know to some of you this will sound extreme, and to others it will sound normal. The question is, did it work?

Well, yes. And no. Being paleo was something of a miracle. My bloating and face puffiness went away. My skin began to glow, and I felt like I was looking like myself again. The fatigue and brain fog disappeared. My carb cravings, something I have dealt with for as long as I can remember, went away completely. I still had cravings sometimes, but I was able to recognize them as emotional. Before, my cravings had been both physical and emotional, and therefore almost impossible to resist. But once the physical need to overeat went away, bingeing stopped being an issue for me. I felt like my blood sugar stabilized, and I no longer needed to eat every three hours or risk being overcome with hunger.

On the other hand, I was spending exorbitant amounts of money on quality meat. My already lame social life took even more of a nose dive. And my constipation wasn't improving, even though I was no longer feeling bloated. I was also stressed out about food, ALL THE TIME. I was quickly becoming afraid to even eat because I found my food sensitivities were getting worse. When I originally went on the gluten/dairy/egg/nut/sugar-free, low-amine diet, I thought my choices were limited, but this was worse. Then, if I ate something off my diet, I would only have a negative response if I continued to eat the food for a few days. Now, I was experiencing instant repercussions, and my choices were becoming narrower and narrower. I began having reactions to winter squash, cauliflower, turkey, stevia...  Eventually, I just began to feel like I was sensitive to all food.

At around this time, I was taking a class in school on mind-body techniques for stress reduction. I had to do a presentation on self-hypnosis that involved making a recording for the class to take home. One day I had the thought that I could make my own self-hypnosis recording (which I'll post for you once I figure out how). So without thinking about what I was going to say, I just turned on the recorder on my iPhone, and began to talk. I made myself a little meditation tape for healing my gut, and here's when things got really cool.

I began to think about food sensitivities. My body was overreacting to food and causing an inflammatory response. But what if I could teach my body that food wasn't so scary? That it didn't have to protect me? So when I reacted to something I ate one day and my face started to feel hot, I went in my room and listened to my meditation. About ten minutes into the fifteen minute tape, my face cooled down. From one second to the next, the flushing just went away. This was more of a miracle to me than the paleo diet.

I began to listen to my tape every day, usually after eating, and I began to experiment with adding new foods back in. Whereas before I had had a major reaction any time I tried to bring foods back into my diet, I found that with the help of meditation, I could eat many more foods again. The next week, I went to California for my sister's wedding. While I was there, I soaked up the sun (vitamin D!) and began to jog with my sister every day. I hadn't seen the sun in months, and I hadn't exercised in an equally long time. I was also camping, so I went to bed early, and got about nine hours of sleep a night. With the combination of the sun, exercise, sleep, and the continued daily meditations, I began to feel amazing. I began eating rice, gluten-free oats, chickpeas, and avocados regularly. I even did okay with eating pecans, although I could tell my body wasn't super excited about that. At my sister's wedding, I helped myself to the bountiful gluten-free options, and had not one, but two gluten-free cupcakes. And I could tell they weren't dairy- or egg-free! And you know what? I felt great that night and even better the next morning. My world suddenly seemed so very, very bright.

And guess what else? Within a few days of eating rice and oats again, I became regular FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE HIGH SCHOOL. You might not want to hear this, but I get excited sometimes when I'm going to the bathroom. I feel like Pinocchio proclaiming to the world that he was a real boy. "I can poop!"

I'm sorry. I just had to take a break to laugh at myself. Okay, no more talk of bowel movements. You get the point. (There might be a follow-up post for those of you who want to know more about how I've gotten rid of my constipation, but I'll warn you so you can choose to skip that post if you want!) To continue with my story, I learned that there are some foods my body still can't handle. Dairy, eggs, most nuts, and sugar are still out, as are a few other items. I tried experimenting with all of these things, and found myself with a bladder and yeast infection (and I will also tell you later how I got rid of the yeast infection naturally). It didn't matter how much I exercised, slept, meditated, or anything else. My body did not want those foods. But plenty of other foods that I had considered off-limits are now perfectly fine.

I have to thank the paleo diet because I am convinced it stabilized my blood sugar levels. It also helped me to realize that when I think I'm craving carbs, it's actually usually protein my body wants. I eat a lot more protein now than I ever did. I also eat more vegetables, and actually crave them if I've missed them for a few meals. But I also eat rice and gluten-free oats, buckwheat, tofu, and chickpeas, and so much more. And I feel grateful, every day, for the fact that I can now eat these foods. I feel like a great gift has been returned to me. I can feel that my body is healing. And food has been a huge part of that, and will continue to be my main medicine. But I overlooked the rest of the prescription for way too long.

This post could go on forever, because when it comes down to it, health is not ONE thing. There are so many factors that have contributed to my healing, and I've only pointed out a few of the major ones. I want to share them all with you, but I've written too much already, so I'll have to close this post for now and save the rest for later!


imi said...

Hello, I came across your blog yesterday and had to tune in today to find out what was working for you, even though i had already guessed at it. I was right! I too suffer from multiple food sensitivities that left me scared to eat, I remember crying to my boyfriend saying I wish i didnt have to eat I hate eating, which coming from a previously chubby, Love to bake, love to eat person was insane. horrible painful sickening bloating and gut pain were my major problems. For the last couple of months I have been following a hypnosis listenibg guide and my thoughts are more positive, I am reacting less, I am happier and going out more and i can't remember when i last cried, which used to happen daily. I am nowhere near the chilled out person I used to be and my diet is still very limited, but I know i am healing too, and I am much less scared. When I have a slip up I remind myself that a positive mindset really is the most important thing, and how far I have come since starting hypnosis. I am thrilled I predicted correctly and it is working for you too, because I know how limiting and frustrating and scary food can seem! I will become a regular subscriber, Its nice to know i am not alone and thank you for making it less of a taboo subject. It's amazing what the mind can do for your body isnt it xx

imi said...

Hello, I read your post yesterday and just had to tune in today to find out what was working for you, although I had already guessed at it. I'm the same, went through a lot of stress last October and found myself suddenly sensitive to so many types of foods, giving me horrendous gut pain and sickening bloating. I became terrified to eat and went from a curvy UK size 10-12 to a 6-8. Through fear and lack of calories. I've been following a hypnosis listening guide now for a couple of months and find i can tollerate a lot more food, bigger portions, more variety, I am socialising more, happier, in less pain and often find myself with the mantra in my head "i am calm and my body works perfectly". I am not the omnivorous food lover i once was, but i have so much more confidence and pleasure from eating again, and I now have a freer mind to think about things that are actually important again, instead of worrying 24/7. It's amazing how the mental and physical are linked. I wish you luck in continuing to heal, and thanks for making it all less of a taboo subject :) will become a regular subscriber! Imi xx

Tasty Eats At Home said...

Again, another awesome post. While I never had quite the restricted diet you did, I am just now finding that some grains seem to be key to keeping my tummy happy. I love the idea of the meditation. I think when we go through so many issues with food, we really do become afraid to eat. I know I get nervous eating at a new restaurant, or when someone else might be doing the cooking. That definitely plays into how well I handle the food, even if it's completely safe. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your experiences!

Jonathan said...

It is a brave thing to write so candidly about your journey, Iris. And in sharing your story, so many of us out there are reminded that we're not alone. So proud of you!

Alisa said...

I do think there is much more of a mind-body connection with things like this and am trying to get my husband to explore this more too. Awesome that it is working for you!

Vitamins for Skin said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story! I have severe food sensitivities, it can be very frustrating! But I like your approach to tackle some of them.
Nicole <3

Lydia at ForkYes said...

Wow. I'm really impressed with both today and yesterday's posts. I even talked about yesterday's with my boyfriend after reading it. I, too, went gluten-free, about three years ago, and had great results with dramatically reduced brain fog, headaches, chronic bronchitis, and PMS. I look back at the journal I wrote in about four times a year and saw that I used to be crazy tired all the time, too, and now that's not an issue.
But in the past few years I've had psoriasis crop up and still feel as if there's something else I could be doing. I just don't know what and, like most people, would really rather not deal with removing something else dramatic from my diet, even if the payoffs might be greater than I can guess right now. But your meditation move is something that never occurred to me in relation to diet, even as I occasionally thought I should force myself to do it every once in awhile (NOT easy to sit still and chill without having something to read at the very least). So while I generally don't have immediate reactions like you do, which can make sensitivities harder to diagnose, I can imagine that doing something like this could help immensely in all kinds of ways. Thanks for the great advice that I will definitely pass on to my own readers. :-)

Metta said...

For years I was a militant vegan who would give lots of unsolicited reasons animal products should NOT be consumed. I began having health issues in 2009 and after battling not being able to eat most anything without severe pain, feeling weak, and losing a ton of weight and muscle mass I began to reconsider my viewpoint. Although I never did go back to eating meat (it has no appeal as much as I wish it did sometimes), my whole view of food, the choices we make in what we eat, and our bodies natural desires/needs completely changed. Now I eat vegan as personal preference and health, and I no longer shun those who choose to eat meat or eggs (I still have issues with dairy consumption). I do encourage people to choose their animal products wisely, but I don’t disparage people who make a choice that is right for them. Even though the health challenges were not a fun experience, the gift of tolerance and a new perspective are definitely welcome.

Iris said...

Metta, Thanks for sharing your experience! I know that being gluten intolerant, it's hard for me sometimes to not judge others who avoid gluten but not as strictly as I do. I'm learning though that it really is a personal thing and I can't assume everyone else's body is the same as mine. Again, thanks for sharing your perspective!

Lemuguet said...

very helpful - would love to read the
yeast issues solutions

Dana and Scott said...

Good for you - the mind and spirit are a tool that many food sensitive people forget. :) I'm so happy you were able to enjoy your sister's wedding and it's all about bringing the pendulum back in balance - whatever balance is for you!!!!


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