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!