Because I Just Can’t Help Myself…Gluten Free Diet Take 2

21 Jul

Okay, I know what you are thinking.  At least, I know what you are thinking if you read most/all of my posts and have gotten a good sense of my neuroses. I thought you were done with diets that cut things out completely, because they turn you into a crazy binge monster!  This is very true.  However, as you probably already know, I also have food intolerances that interfere with my quality of life.  If I think I’ve come up with the next great plan for symptom improvement, you better believe I’ll all in.  I do have dreams of seeing a functional medicine practitioner for proper testing BUT I’m broke as a joke.  Self experimentation remains my tried and true approach toward healthier living.  Here’s 10 reasons why this time will be different:

1. Research suggests that even if it doesn’t fix me immediately, it’s a very good idea for someone with the type of health problems that I have to lose the gluten. Gluten containing grains: wheat, rye, and barley are high in fructans.  Whenever I eat wheat, I am either encouraging nasty symptoms or at the very least, lowering my ability to eat healthier higher FODMAP fruits and vegetables, such as cauliflower.  When it comes to FODMAPS, the does makes the poison. It’s true I will be depriving myself of seitan for the duration of the experiment. If you are anything like me, you are thinking Who wants to eat that anyway? or maybe even more likely What the hell is seitan? Google it.  You’ll see.

2. I am actually going to track specific symptoms to see if there is overall improvement after following the diet.  I will follow a reintroduction protocol to properly explore any connections between gluten and my symptoms.

3. Support! My FructMal ally will be doing the experiment along with me!  She was my inspiration for this endeavor. :) Having a partner in crime transforms the personal pity party into an intriguing topic of conversation.

4. Specificity – I will only be eliminating one category of food: those containing gluten. Yes, gluten is pervasive in the food supply.  However, compared to other elimination diets I have undertaken, this will not be as exhausting.  By focusing on one thing, I can better isolate gluten’s specific effects on my body.

5. Length – I will follow the gluten free diet for 60 days rather than 30.  Symptoms can take a long time to disappear when they’ve been around for so long.  My body needs time to heal the damage I’ve done.

6. I won’t be treating it as a free pass to eat all of the other foods I know make me feel terrible just because they don’t have gluten in them. This was what I did the first time.  I was on an elimination diet roller coaster. I ate a lot of sugary gluten free baked goods, because I could according to that month’s existing diet principles. Fructose is one of my worst triggers for feeling like garbage.  How was I going to notice whether or not gluten was making any difference while dousing myself in foods my body couldn’t digest?  Silly me.

7. I will look for the gray zones.  As a perpetual black and white thinker, I’m prone to missing the big picture.  When I follow a diet and it doesn’t fix me completely, I’m not satisfied.  For example, during my most recent experiment, the autoimmune protocol, my sinuses were a non-issue.  This is HUGE considering I struggle with sinus issues on a daily basis. But I was so disappointed that I still had other symptoms, that I didn’t really appreciate its awesomeness the way I should have.  If I feel better in any capacity, that’s worth an investigation into whether or not gluten needs to be a part of my life anymore.  Why add fuel to the chronic illness fire, eh?

8. I’m not dreading it at all.  I only eat gluten a few times a week these days.  I don’t expect the deprivation to be that bad.  So many of the diets I’ve done have made me feel so sorry for myself.  No chocolate?  No coffee? No tomatoes?  Waaahhh! Wheat tastes good, and it’s convenient, but it’s not my favorite food ever.  I can totally do this.  I mean, I’ve done it before.  Not to mention, I’m kinda loving life right now.  A. It’s summer. ‘Nuff said.  B.  I am working as a clinical dietitian and a nutrition technician per diem.  This means I only work a few days a week sometimes, and I get to switch up the things that I do. Not to mention I’m a nutrition nerd, and I get to apply my passion and knowledge at work finally.  Woot!  When life is good, eating garbage feels less important.

9. Because even if my symptoms remain after this trial, I am still making myself a sexier candidate for autoimmune disease every time I eat gluten.  Eating gluten (in EVERYONE) causes intestinal permeability.  Intestinal permeability = disease conducive.  Period.  End of story. I know you like bread.  Especially homemade whole wheat bread… fresh out of the oven…with butter…that just melts in your mouth…

Don’t try to change the subject!

10. The placebo effect gets a bad wrap, but it’s actually a fairly badass phenomenon. If I only feel better, because I think it will work, so what?  I just want to feel better, even for a couple of months!

I will be starting my gluten free extravaganza within the next couple of weeks (no specific time frame yet).  I still need to work out the details with my ally.  I’d also like to do some more research and planning before diving in, but it will be happening.  I will of course keep you updated.

And, in case you couldn’t already tell, I’m damn excited at the prospect of being a guinea pig again.


Avoidant Anxiety-Prone Obsessive-Compulsive Orthorexic Hypersensitive Dysthymic Introvert: That’s my Name, Don’t Wear it Out!

16 Jun

This info may be TMI, somewhat repetitive of other posts, and not (entirely) relevant to diet, but this is the only blog I have in which to share writing.  If psychology and weirdo mental manifestations don’t interest you, you might want to skip this doozy of a post.  For the rest of you, enjoy my varied recounts of being a slave to my brain.


Back before you could look up your symptoms online, there were books that connected the dots for you.  As a child, my family owned a medical book that listed various health conditions with symptom flow charts.  It was one of my favorite books.  In fact, my mom even bought me my very own copy as a teenager.

As young as 10 years old, I was convinced I had cancer. What else could explain this constant stream of unremitting sensations?   I would get dizzy. Constantly nauseated, I had daily “tummy aches” that would lead me to the nurse’s office at least once a week. One day at school, there was a storm brewing outside. I heard thunder, and my heart leapt into my throat. What if there was a tornado? Would I be okay? Would my family be okay? I gotta get out of here!

The nurse started to catch on to my repeat visits. She would glance at me with a skeptical eye and tell me to lie down for a little while before making any rash decisions to call my parents. This was not part of the deal I had grown accustomed to. I wanted to be with my parents. They were the only ones who could untangle the knots in my stomach. I distinctly remember the small cubby attached to the nurse’s office. I squirmed about on the makeshift pathetic excuse for a foam mattress glancing at the large painted brick wall, feeling slightly soothed now that no one was able to gawk at me. There was a mirror on the wall that I would occasionally make faces in. Somehow, I lucked out during the storm episode. I had psyched myself up to the point of giving myself a mild fever, which meant I could go home this time.

Hoarding (“Jack thought it twice and thought that that that made it true”)

The thoughts came about suddenly and out of nowhere. In an instant, my waking experience started to involve startling obtrusive thoughts. The people in my head often warned of death if its demands were not heeded: death for me, death for my family. The closest comparison I can make is that I was taken hostage by my own brain in a new debilitating fashion. The requested actions ranged from not throwing things away, to air typing (using my fingers to mimic typing certain things on a keyboard), and shooting hoops until I managed to get the basketball into the hoop a predetermined number of times. I wasn’t allowed to quit until my quota was met. Otherwise, guaranteed chaos was sure to follow.

During my “can’t throw anything away” phase I started to collect used toilet paper, a disturbing yet blatant example of how powerful such thoughts can be. The fear I experienced was stronger than any ick factor I could conceive. I was so afraid of my family dying as promised by the big bad brain cells that I didn’t think twice about this behavior. Its hoarding 101: a necessary step to guaranteed safety. I wrapped the toilet paper in paper towels and stuffed them in my bag.

I carried on this behavior for some time before my parents started to catch on. When my backpack was unzipped, wads of brown paper towels from the school bathroom came spilling out. My parents exchanged concerned looks and inquired as to why I had started collecting disgusting/useless garbage. They had enough tact to not use the word “disgusting”. I explained to them that I was afraid they would die if I didn’t. I can only imagine the wheels that started turning in their heads when I confessed this. Is it too late to return this child? I think she’s defective.

Soon after this incident, I was told to clean my room, as children often are. Kids generally have no problem living amongst chaos, and (at the time), I was no exception.   My parents helped me, but this created a lot of anxiety for me. I wanted to determine what stayed and what went. Rather, I wanted to allow the people in my head to dictate what I needed to hold onto for ensured safety.

At some point in the cleaning process, my parents were starting to get the hint that something was very wrong with me and my priorities. I would exhibit stress over throwing stupid things away. A jar full of dirt and lint surfaced. I don’t remember where it came from. I suspect my parent rummaged around the garage for junk to test the limits of my newfound insanity. They asked if we could throw the jar away, if it would be okay. “Nooooooooooo!”   I bellowed. I cried and cried and begged them not to throw it away. They exchanged the same concerned look they adopted after discovering my paper towel collection. The next day, after a good night’s sleep, I had regained some sense. Maybe all I needed was a nap to see that a receptacle full of dirt was not worthy of keeping. I told my parents that I was just being silly and of course we could throw away that dumb jar. This was my first dose of exposure therapy, a known effective treatment for OCD. Resisting the actions that allow you to feel safe and observing the lack of consequences helps quell fears for the irrationally phobic. In this instance, I threw away dirt that I had deemed significant, and my parents didn’t die as a result. Maybe the voices in my head weren’t so smart after all.

These particular strange behaviors randomly decorated my elementary days and eventually died out. However, much like traveling vices, my brain would find other ways of ordering me around.


In 6th grade, I had a perpetually clean room. I created a daily checklist for me to complete every day after school:

* Eat a Snack (yes, I put this on a checklist…)

*Pack my lunch for the next day

* “Clean my room” (which was always already clean)

*Play with my hamster

*Practice my clarinet (to the exclusion of answering phone calls from friends, because I was “busy”)

*HOMEWORK (my biggest priority besides crush gawking at the time; only A’s would do)

I had a lot of postcards, posters, and magazine cutouts on my wall. When I “cleaned” my room, I would go around and press on the sticky putty found in the corners of each decoration. I also used a broom to sweep all the fibers of my forest green rug in one direction. I would scold my dad for stepping on it when he entered my room, ruining its perfection, exposing lighter green streaks. Only my dog could get away with it scot-free.   She didn’t know any better, and I could always re-sweep once she left.


I started shaving my legs and toying with makeup at 10 years of age. I wore foundation in the 5th grade when I still had pimple free porcelain skin. In early adolescence, I decided that I was ugly. Reading fashion magazines and going through puberty did its job. I was simply unacceptable. I knew what had to be done. I made a list of the things I needed to buy to become beautiful. I leafed through beauty magazines, studying every page intently. Featured products were added to the list. If a product was advertised, it made the cut. If a product was mentioned in a DIY beauty method, my pencil moved. Every time I was able to purchase one of the items, my anxiety ceased for a millisecond. I had extensive beauty routines. I would wash and moisturize my face every night. Every weekend, I gave myself a manicure and a pedicure. My toenails were always painted as I deemed them more attractive that way. I bought hot clay masks, shady infomercial products (Nads hair removal system anyone?), and expensive shampoos. Maybe my mom was satisfied with her cheap Suave 2-in-1 cleanser, but I was above that. I used my allowance to buy Herbal Essences. I was going to get all the boys with my fruity scented hair. Soon enough, I would be perfect. I was an advertiser’s dream. I bought into every single scheme. The people who use these products are beautiful, and I can be too if I just acquire all of them! Step right up, step right up!  All you need is an endless supply of money and zero self-esteem.

“True” Love

The first time I fell in love, I did it the way you would expect given my past behavior: with absolutely EVERYTHING I had. I stopped caring about my grades for a little while. I had a new interest to pursue. I made lots of terrible decisions and forgave the unforgivable in the name of “true love”. The star of my affections was an emotionally disturbed teenager just like me, but his baggage was heavier than mine. I became entrenched in the drama, possessed by the thrill of it all. I struggled with depression that made the highs and lows take away from the apathy just long enough to keep me coming back for more. We were obsessed with each other. Our feelings were intense and purposeful. We both feared the outside world, so we built our own, in which we were the only inhabitants. We were together…apart….together….apart….together….apart…together…apart. Unfortunately, that’s not an exaggeration. We really did break up and get back together a total of 4 times during our 4 year courtship. The danger of these types of relationships is that you begin to associate the ability to breath with their presence in your life, even when things turn irreparably sour.

School /Handwriting

I asked for Office Max gift cards on all of my Christmas lists as a young teen. One year, I actually received one and was beyond thrilled. Brand new office supplies are a dream for freaks like me. School was a regular outlet for my obsessive tendencies, as it was a constant in my youth. I distinctly remember throwing away several sheets of paper while working on assignments if my handwriting wasn’t perfect. To the credit of this horrendous compulsion, I now am complimented on my handwriting all the time. From being forced to write signs at work to being told by a teacher that I have “handwriting like an angel”, it’s a talent I unintentionally possess.

In 7th grade, a recurring assignment in geography was to fill in maps with colored pencils. On one occasion, I woke my mom up, sobbing because I couldn’t get the colors to blend correctly. I needed to start over but only had one map! My mom was outwardly angry at the fact that I was still awake at 2AM on a school night. She didn’t understand that my pursuit of perfection was my overriding compass. I was still being controlled by the demons that convinced me of the usefulness of hoarding a jar full of dirt just 5 years prior.

It was only in college when I used my scholarly obsessions to escape from real world trouble: a verbally abusive relationship, loneliness, and unremitting depression. I locked myself away in the extra bedroom of our apartment, studying every assigned reading with the precision of a lab chemist. I memorized and analyzed as if my life depended on it, which in a way, it did. Feeling anxious? When in doubt, immerse yourself in something… anything… as if it’s the reason you exist in the first place.


I am a devoted flosser and have been since high school. What convinced me to finally make this habit a priority? I didn’t want to lie to the dentist or get scolded for telling the truth. The only solution? Start flossing!

I was still playing clarinet in the school band by high school.  Everyone was given practice logs to fill in.  Just about everyone would lie, filling in most of the days with practice time that didn’t exist.  I couldn’t bring myself to do the same.  My inner martyr wouldn’t allow it!  I sat in a practice room with another student (let’s call her Lesley) while our teacher glanced at our logs.  Prior to this arrangement, Lesley confessed to me that she would just fill it in and hardly ever practiced.  My log was pretty pathetic in comparison.  I recorded just 2 or 3 practice days over a 2-week period.  My teacher scolded me about how she wanted to see a log more like what Lesley had provided.  Lesley smirked at me with a guiltless smile.  I was appalled at the injustice of it all but kept my mouth shut anyway.

The name Justine means “just; upright; fair; righteous”, but I prefer what the urban dictionary says about me…

“Individual and artistic, Justine usually doesn’t give a crap about what anybody thinks of her.
Innovative and sincere, a Justine is a jack of all trades and appears to succeed in all that she puts her mind to or at least appear to.”

Health: Diet, Exercise…and Orthorexia…and Binging

When I packed my lunches as a kid, they were always “balanced” by my definition: a sandwich , a salty snack (such as pretzels or chips), a fruit, a vegetable, and something sweet (usually a Snickers bar that I would purchase out of the school vending machine upon my daily arrival). It’s as if I was meant to be a dietitian.

When I was 15, I asked for and received a Brita water filter for Christmas. Instead of acquiring mascara and Glamour magazines for my path to enlightenment, I delved into all of the “sposed to’s” of healthy living, a little at a time. It started with the water filter, went into hiding while obsessing over love and school, and then resurfaced after cutting ties with my high school sweetheart. I was older and sophisticated now. I wasn’t buying into beauty schemes anymore. No sir, health was where it was at. If you wanted to be guaranteed a long life, all you had to be was healthy!

I gained the junior 15 in college. When I was a freshman, I was too preoccupied with class and the daily drama of my relationship to care much about my diet. I ate reasonably healthy for a college student: lots of oatmeal, Subway sandwiches, trail mix, and fruit. However, toward the end of the doomed unity with my ex, I started binging. Stress was certainly a factor, not to mention my “what the hell” attitude toward diet failures. I didn’t calorie count. I just put foods into “good” and “bad” categories, the way a perfectionist views the rest of the world. It’s all black and white, all or nothing. I would resist eating the “bad” foods but eventually fail. As predictably as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, my endorphins and belly shot out over time.

My weight gain didn’t bother me too much at first. I was eating healthier now by my newly discovered eating standards. Michael Pollan taught me that processed food was the root of all evil and that butter was good for me. I ate a lot of farmer’s breakfasts: 2 eggs fried in butter and oatmeal made with organic whole milk and maple syrup. Lunch was a huge chunk of homemade barley bread with homemade trail mix butter and an apple. I was living life. I had finely removed the shackles of my dependent relationship and was living in an apartment above my best friend. We often took shots of vodka, biked to the bar in a delirious state, and milked a drink or two the rest of the night, partying on the cheap. I was having a lot of fun.

It wasn’t until my wannabe dietitian classmates and I were assigned to assess each other’s body fat compositions that I started to wonder if I should lose weight. My body fat was above that deemed as healthy. I looked around at all of my other classmates. Most, if not all of them, were smaller than I was. I had never really noticed before. Probably because it was irrelevant and not terribly obvious until we were we asked to strip down and have our bodies scrutinized by calipers. At first, I was defensive about the fact that my weight should be considered unacceptable. It’s a common characteristic of a perfectionist to have an intolerance of criticism. However, through research I discovered that my distrust was warranted. There is a real lack of evidence that being slightly overweight (which I was just on the verge of according to my BMI) is a real health threat. I found out that those in the slightly overweight category actually have lower mortality rates. Take that skinny bitches! Not that that changed my new found focus: losing weight. It was about time, really. I am an American girl after all. The shiny pictures from the fashion magazines I once worshiped and later discounted would come back to haunt my thoughts once more.

“Fixing” Myself!…and Orthorexia…and Binging (Weight gain…loss…further loss…gain….further gain)

I came to the conclusion that if I exercised excessively, there was no way that I wouldn’t lose weight. When it comes to exercise, more=better, right? That summer, I biked to my job, worked on my feet for 8 hours, biked home, and did 40 minutes-2 hours of Tae-bo when I got home, even if I was hungry or tired. You know, those pesky signals your body tries to send your obsessive brain when it needs a break. Hush now! Billy Blanks is on!

I am 5’2. I started out at 136lbs, which was the heaviest I had ever been. I got down to 127lbs that summer. I was fairly satisfied with my progress but was surprised that I didn’t lose more given the amount of effort I was exerting.

I still binged regularly. It was an emotional answer to my unresolved and uncomfortable feelings. I also had a lot of malabsorption issues contributing to insatiable hunger. I was eating very healthy foods that were actually making me sicker, but I wouldn’t come to this realization until suffering through several years of trial and error.

I couldn’t handle the daily tummy aches any longer. I became obsessed with the idea of finding all of my food intolerances, of curing what ailed me. List time!  Various lists of foods to avoid and food diaries starting cluttering my notebooks.  I experimented with cleanses that resulted in heart palpitations and panic attacks, raw food diets that hurt my insides, and a self-imposed elimination diet that lead to several weeks of 2lb/week weight losses. I dropped down to 118lbs in a short period. Soon after this initial stint of self-discovery, I would take things one step further. I would name myself the Hungry Guinea Pig and begin experimenting with numerous diets for health AND science. I started wasting away in the name of these odd pursuits. It wasn’t a typical vanity-induced eating disorder, but the results were the same.  A need for control is a common prerequisite.  I dropped down to 109lbs at my lowest, experienced amenorrhea for several months and learned a lot of lessons along the way. Interestingly, I was still at a BMI defined “healthy weight” when I started to notice that I was developing the shape of a sickly girl/young boy. After the official experiments were over, I started to slowly and predictably gain the weight back and then some. Currently, I weigh in at about 138lbs. I am right back where I started plus 2 pounds. This is typical for extreme dieters. Once you go back to life as usual, your weight adjusts accordingly.


The term “Orthorexia Nervosa” was coined by a doctor named Steve Bratman to label a special type of eating disorder he felt victim to.  A person with orthorexia exhibits an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.  He/she may skip out on outings with friends to avoid eating anything processed and cut so many “unhealthy” choices from their diet that they end up malnourished.  Not everybody is convinced that this is a real disorder, but I believe there’s some truth to it.  When I worked at Subway, I started to bring in my own homemade bread and organic cheese.  Every shift, an employee would get a free sandwich, but I became savvy to all of the harmful chemicals in the bread and cheese, so I would only take the free vegetables, thank you.  I always tell people that I know too much about food, because I do.  Once you find out that no food can be labeled “healthy” with indiscretion, it’s a real headache for a person with an obsessive personality.  Ever since learning about the health benefits of a whole foods diet and the illness that can surface from eating a diet chock full of processed foods, my brain has stayed tuned into the “best” and “worst” foods.  I want to store things away into the proper brain compartment, but it’s not so cut and dry.  It’s a daily battle I still face.  Depending on my state of mind on any given day, going to the grocery store can be real torture.  I have to spend ridiculous amounts of time scrutinizing and comparing foods.  Milk can be healthy, but the cows must be grass fed and the heat applied during pasteurization destroys vitamins and minerals.  However, unpasteurized milk can cause severe food poisoning, so you’ll want to stay clear of that!  Also, dairy can cause inflammation for a lot of people, so really it’s best to leave it out of your diet entirely.  But you don’t want to cut anything out of your diet entirely!  That will just make you want to binge on it when you feel overwhelmed with deprivation!  If you have IBS, lactose may be a problem for you, so stick to hard cheeses…but not if you have a histamine intolerance!  Yogurt is really healthy for you, but if you have a yeast/mold sensitivity, you must avoid fermented foods of all kinds!  But you don’t want to cut anything out of your diet entirely!  That will just make you want to binge on it when you feel overwhelmed with deprivation!…  Not to mention the ethical considerations: Is it fair trade?  Is it cruelty free?  Is it better for the planet to buy local dairy or coconut milk from thousands of miles away?   I have to avoid certain foods as much as possible to keep my tummy pain under wraps.  Once you add up all of the criteria, there’s not much left to eat.  The same anxiety that stirred up inside me when my parents wanted to help me clean my room surfaces when I go grocery shopping with my husband.  He wants to be in and out of there.  I can’t handle the pressure, so most of the time, I go shopping alone.


As I got closer to answers during my guinea pig dieting endeavors, it became clear that I was as interested in getting better as I was with having something new to obsess over. Once I started to put the puzzle pieces together, I began to experience that familiar feeling of loss. My sights must be set on a mystery/challenge at all times, or those bastards in my brain will rebel with all they’ve got. As an adult, I don’t worry about my parents dying or WWIII. I am simply reminded of the fact that my life is often painfully boring and meaningless in the macro sense, and that just brings me down.

The best tool I have discovered to deal with being an avoidant anxiety-prone obsessive-compulsive hypersensitive dysthymic introvert is mindfulness. “You are not your thoughts” was the best news I ever received. That one phrase removed a huge burden from my shoulders, helping me reanalyze whether or not things really HAD to be done a certain way all the time. I finally understood that the demons in my brain were really just neurons with an affinity for mischief. I could pay attention to their shenanigans or not. As a parallel to growing up, I stopped caring what people thought, and that included my own thoughts at times. I am still wired to gravitate toward these thoughts.  I still obsessively check the alarm on my phone about 3 times before heading to bed, and I still flirt with the idea of extreme diets, but I now have the knowledge and power to tell my brain cells to “get a job”.

Diet as a Religion (Or filling my God-hole with doughnuts)

16 May

Springtime makes me restless.  While I impatiently wait for the sun to makes its grand appearance, I defy the gray skies through eating and eating schemes.  I have the same conversations with myself about the next diet I could try.  Making anything off-limits will trigger my disordered eating habits. VS I should give up sugar 100% again.  It was really cool when I did that that one time…  My ongoing ability to create cognitive dissonance after repeating the same patterns multiple times never ceases to amaze me.  I am a normal eater now.  Of course we can keep unlimited sweets in the house!  I never learn.  The ultimate problem boils down to 1 inevitable conclusion I come to again and again: Well, I’m bored and life is meaningless anyway.

I’m not trying to be melodramatic.  I honestly believe that life is what you make it and nothing more.  Some people may actually find this inspiring.  At the end of the day, I do not have an ultimate purpose to grasp hold of, and sometimes for the life of me, I can’t think of a damn thing to do that would cure my boredom.  What’s a girl to do?  Distract herself with pastries of course…

Bum Bum Bum, Another One Bites the Dust…

You’ve probably gathered by now that I do not adhere to any religion.  I am happy for those who find solace in their beliefs, but I’m actually comfortable with the concept of an afterlife consisting of nothing but dirt.  I believe we create meaning while alive by enjoying/bettering ourselves, our planet, and/or the lives of those around us.  I am not claiming that there couldn’t possibly be a God.  I just get slim to nil fulfillment out of the idea that there is.  You can’t pull faith out of thin air.

I am most content in life when I have so many interests keeping my attention that what’s on my plate is not the primary focal point of my day.  Does this sound like dietitian blasphemy?  Perhaps.  Of course health matters, but it’s not everything.  Now I’m really smiting the diet gods.

“How easily the wind overturns a frail tree.  Seek happiness in the senses, indulge in food and sleep, and you too will be uprooted.” – Buddha

I use diets or the lack thereof as a distraction when nothing else sounds appealing.    I enjoy both approaches in different ways.  When I am eating anything and everything that sounds good, I can temporarily tuck away the guilt-ridden thoughts just long enough to get my brownie high.  It’s short lived and intense.  Sugar is my crack and food is my savior.  Hallelujah!  Sacred scripture is often ignored: “Eat Food.  Not Too Much.  Mostly Plants”.  Bless me Michael Pollan, for I have sinned.

It looks like the fashion industry isn’t solely responsible for our unhealthy attitudes toward food…

“And put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite.” (Proverbs 23:2)

“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous -” (Surat Al-Baqarah 2:183)

Intermingled with my sinfully joyful binges are periods of repent: fasting in various fashions.  NO SUGAR!  NO GRAINS!  NO DAIRY!  NO CAFFEINE!  NO FUN! ;)  I am rewarded with compliments “I could never have that kind of willpower” and self-righteous thoughts I am so above those treats that everyone else is a slave to.  My higher power is dictated by a society that has created meaning out the meaningless.  As if the ability to retain a thin figure or resist a sugar cookie suggests you’ve passed the ultimate test, rather than finding just another way to kill time.

“Eating disorders, on any level, are a crutch…a way of avoiding the banal, daily, itchy pain of life.  Eating disorders provide a little drama, they feed into the desire for constant excitement…And they are distracting.  You don’t have to think about any of the nasty minutiae of the real world, you don’t get caught up in that awful boring thing called regular life…”- Marya Hornbacher, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia



Hi. My Name is Justine, and I’m a Yo-Yo Dieter

5 Apr

This pattern is getting really old.

I recently tried a very strict Paleo diet (the Autoimmune Protocol) to see if I could make any strides in symptom management for my fibromyalgia.  My dedication and determination was met with another disappointment: not a whole lot changed.  My sinuses did clear up quite a bit, but everything else was as unpredictable and uncomfortable as usual.  My intestines were wishy washy, my sleep was a nightmare, and my pain/tension headaches still made random visits.  I followed the A.I.P. for about 3 weeks and then began reintroducing some whole foods that I assumed would be “safe” for me.  My grand plan was essentially ruined.  I wanted to gauge how individual foods affected me, but since I never got around to feeling better, the whole thing was kind of a wash.  I gave it a good month of clean eating before getting to the next inevitable stage: “Screw it!  Where’s the ice cream?!”

I did figure out that coffee makes me flare up big time.  I’m pretty bitter about this, because I don’t even drink it that often.  I can’t even enjoy an occasional cup without feeling sick all over.  I also learned that bananas (despite being a lower-fructose fruit) always make my belly feel rotten.  My theory is that the large amount of resistant starch+fructose causes a bacteria feeding frenzy.

I also had one of the worst colds I’ve had in awhile during my trial.  Since the diet was meant to calm the immune system, I wonder if my defenses went into sleep mode and let things get out of hand.  It’s possible that my body was just in the process of adjusting and didn’t have the energy to fight off a bug simultaneously.  My histamines were out of control.  My eyes would water to the point of continuous involuntary crying.  It was truly bizarre.  Weird hospital critter or strange diet response?  Who knows!

The past few days, I have been overeating/binging again.  This hadn’t been a problem for a long time.  It’s not uncommon for restriction to lead to feelings of deprivation which develop into binge eating of “forbidden” foods.  This may be an underlying factor, but I think it’s more likely that I just slide back to my old habits when I’m feeling defeated.  I put all of my effort into a new approach and when it fails, I give myself permission to stop giving a shit for a little while.  I gravitate between mental and physical battles.  Sometimes, it’s just easier to stop trying and allow daily stomach aches back into my life.  It really doesn’t help that overeating makes me feel better temporarily.  It gives me a nice serotonin boost which means I sleep like a baby and have less pain.

On the diet, I wasn’t feeling particularly deprived.  I just got bored and am frustrated with my results.  My Paleo meals were delicious and satisfying, but you can only make so many lettuce burgers, stir fries, and stews before wanting to shake things up a bit.  If I didn’t have so many limiting factors (histamine & FODMAP intolerances, reflux, history of disordered eating), a Paleo diet might actually be a realistic template for a health nut like me.  I have no problem eating fruits and vegetables in lieu of pasta and Cheetos.  Unfortunately, a lot of “healthy” foods make me feel like death.  Onions and bananas make me sicker than potato chips.  A bowl of mineral-poor oatmeal sits in my stomach better than a plate of vitamin-rich sweet potatoes.


Perhaps it’s a cliche, but I get really sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I also feel sorry for myself and believe most people are unable to grasp how terrible it is to have such a malfunctioned nervous system.  I have received insensitive comments such as “Coffee is amazing!  I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to drink it everyday!” after already explaining how sick I feel when I have it.  Thanks for rubbing it in though!    Fibromyalgia is gaining ground as a “legitimate diagnosis”.  It always has been “legit”, but similar to IBS, it has a reputation for being one of those illnesses that people assume is “all in your head”.  There’s no actual damage taking place, so how bad could it be?  It can be really horrible actually, thanks for asking.  Sometimes it seems as though my intolerances are an inconvenience for people and are not taken seriously just because they are not life-threatening allergies.  Sure, an onion won’t kill me.  However, it can give me such bad brain fog that I feel like I’ve been drugged.  Neuroticism breeds illness breeds enhanced neuroticism.  I keep trying to fix my brokenness, because I refuse to accept that I may be broken forever.  I may have to bite the bullet and have some testing done to see what my (non-diet!) options are, because…

This pattern is getting really old.

Holistic Ebony Shout-out, Calories Schmalories & the Autoimmune Protocol

9 Mar

I recently secured an internship with  If you haven’t yet, check out my staff writer bio here:, my first article here:, and my newest article here: Holistic Ebony is dedicated to the pursuit of holistic wellness (right up my alley of course).  Feel free to check out the rest of the site!  Let me know if there are any topics you would like me to explore in an article/blog post.  I will take any excuse to research an interesting topic that I can get!


Towards the end of February, I was undergoing a 3 week calorie counting quest.  By the end of the second week, I had almost lost another pound (0.8 to be exact).  Instead of charging forward for a third week, however, I decided to throw in the towel.  I have come to the conclusion that calorie counting for a short period (say a week or 2) is a nice way to get an idea of how many calories are in the foods you commonly eat.  It’s a good reminder to see that a slice of your favorite pie has enough calories to constitute a meal.

But beyond that, I hated it!

My original guidelines for calorie intake were derived from my current weight, creating a deficit intended to lower it at a predictable rate.  As mentioned, I was feeling hungry and as though my body knew more than what the formulas decided for me.  Imagine that, inner wisdom vs conventional wisdom!  I increased my calories accordingly.  The calorie counting approach isn’t really compatible with the Appetite Awareness Training I just went through (check out January 2014 archives:  I’m not sure a person can eat according to their appetite while trying to reach a specific calorie goal set by somewhat arbitrary measures.  Many people with eating disorders use calorie counting to fuel their methods.

I was told by several current/former calorie counting women in my life that their goal was 1200 calories/day.  This is the bare minimum number of calories recommended for women seeking weight loss.  If you go too low, your efforts will be counterproductive, because your body will assume starvation and hold on to every last calorie you feed it.  I’m not a fan of this 1200 calorie goal.  I feel it’s far too low for the average woman.  Perhaps weight loss is possible with such restrictions, but do you really want to spend the rest of your life eating 1200 calories?!  Your metabolism will follow suit when eating so little.  It will likely set you up for greater weight gain in the future should you decide that a life restrained by 1200 calories per day is not a life worth living.

I’m just proud of myself for sticking to calorie counting for 2 whole weeks now that I’ve decided it’s a stupid waste of time! ;-)  To each their own I spose.

The best thing I gained from calorie counting was the motivation to exercise (so I could eat more calories)!  I started making regular exercise a habit, and it’s been incredibly beneficial.  My arm muscles feel stronger, so my neck muscles are less ravaged.  This translates into less tension headaches (one of my biggest nemeses).  Yes please!

My new weight goal goes something like this: meh.  I’d rather just focus on balancing happiness with dietary freedom/restriction & feeling well.  Whether this equates to stuffing myself silly with corn chips and dancing until the sun rises or eating Paleo stews and sleeping for nine hours, so be it.  Life is too short.  My weight is no longer a burden, because I’ve decided it doesn’t matter.  I wanted to tackle my unhealthy relationship with food, and I’ve been doing a good job of that.  If eating normally doesn’t mean fitting into my wedding dress ever again, so be it.


Currently, I am following the Autoimmune Protocol created by Sarah Ballantyne, the blogger behind the Paleo Mom:  The diet is outlined on her page and in her new book:’s very restrictive.  Basically I can eat meat, most vegetables (no nightshades), fruit in moderate amounts (aiming to keep under 20 grams of fructose per day), certain fats (such as avocado and coconut oil), and some herbs/spices.  For more information as to why such a diet could help alleviate autoimmune disease, check out her blog and/or book.  You’ll find plenty of info! (Hint: It’s those damn leaky guts again!)

I am 1 week in and feeling so-so.  Anytime I cut back on carbs, I can count on feeling fatigued and cranky.  I’ve also been sleeping poorly.  Eating carbohydrates boosts serotonin production.  Serotonin is a precursor for melatonin, a vital sleep hormone.  Paleo advocates often recommend circumventing this problem by adding more carbohydrates to your evening meal or eating a Tbsp of raw honey before bed.  I haven’t been skimping on carbs too much.  I eat squash and/or sweet potatoes at least once a day.  Maybe I just need to focus on better timing.  These symptoms are supposed to be temporary, but I hope my patience can hold out.  I want to follow this diet for 2 more weeks, and then start reintroducing foods to see if I notice any correlations with fibro flares: 

Autoimmune disease refers to a condition in which the body attacks itself.  Diagnosis is dependent on where/how this occurs within the body.  Multiple sclerosis suggests an attack on your myelin sheath, rheumatoid arthritis strikes your joints, Crohn’s disease wreaks havoc on your digestive tract, etc.  For a complete list of autoimmune & autoimmune-related diseases, check out this link:  There’s a lot!  Currently, fibromyalgia is not classified as an autoimmune disease, but it has been speculated to have autoimmune origins and often coexists with autoimmune illness.  For example, Raynaud’s phenomenon: (which I experience) is common in fibromyalgia sufferers, and it’s considered an autoimmune disorder.

The first few days of a restrictive diet are usually the hardest.  I’ve survived 7 days.  Can I make it 14 more?

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

Calorie Counting is a Bummer, but (Un)fortunately it Works

16 Feb

We’re 1 week into my calorie counting experiment and right on schedule.  I felt pretty hungry during the first couple of days, even though I was eating up to 1700 calories.  After a couple of nights of attempting to sleep on a fairly empty stomach, and sleeping terribly as a result, I started to add a snack before bed even if it meant going over my daily calorie goal.  Sleep is probably THE most critical factor in my fibromyalgia flares.  Without sleep, I’m toast.  Anyway, after 5 days I couldn’t resist the urge to weigh myself, because my work pants got noticeably looser.  I had already lost 2 pounds.  I only meant to lose 1 pound during the first week, so I loosened up on my calorie restrictions, aiming closer to 2000.  I would rather lose weight slowly and NOT be hungry all of the time.  It makes a lot more sense to me. :)  This morning, I weighed 132lb which is just where I want to be.  By the end of this week, I would like to be at 131lb.

One problem with calorie counting is that you are often making an educated guess based on ingredients.  If one source says that an egg has 70 calories and another says it has 80, these slight variations can mean a lot over the course of a day.  Also, the definition of “moderately active” is a bit subjective.  It is my belief that these 2 inconsistencies are what lead to my hunger and subsequent rapid weight loss after those first few days.

Calorie counting feels a bit like being in a secret club.  After mentioning my current experiment, I had several people either tell me about their experiences with the process or come at me like moths to a flame.  What are you doing?  Could I do that too?  I really should do something to lose weight…  I even calculated calorie needs for 2 curious coworkers.  The universal language among American girls is that of body dissatisfaction.  Even the most intelligent, low-maintenance women in my life have made comments to me about what they would like to change about their appearance.  Often, rather than clinging to a stick model ideal, they yearn to be where they once were.  If a woman knows they can and have been at a lower weight, they strive to get back to that magical place: when I was in high school…; before I stopped playing softball…; before I got pregnant…; before gaining the freshman 15…  It looms over our everyday thoughts: one of these days, I’m gonna buckle down and lose this weight.  When one woman takes the initiative, others stare in awe and want to jump on the bandwagon.  There’s definitely a “we’re all in this together” vibe whenever a woman brings up her weight goals.

I am not in the market to be a public service announcement but rather view this trend from an observational perspective.  We’ve been exposed to propaganda since birth about how we should look.  Even though we may be smart enough to see that it’s propaganda, our desires are the same.  We want to look good.  Looking good often correlates with feeling good (in theory), and who doesn’t want that?  Many psychological manifestations show up in very different behaviors/compulsions but often stem from similar causes: the desire to be in control.  Controlling our diets is one  way of feeling powerful in a world in which we often feel powerless.  If I can’t change the world, at least I can change myself.  Weight loss is an intoxicating fantasy to work toward, a distraction from the everyday blahs.  When these concepts are taken to the extreme, an understanding of eating disorders is pretty straightforward.  Some people NEED to turn a light switch an even number of times and some NEED to see a specific number on a scale.  Finding a balance between control and obsession can be tricky for some, but it’s where healthy weight loss often lies.

Appetitie Awareness Training Wrap-up and Calorie Counting

9 Feb

The last week of AAT was pretty uneventful.  Truthfully, I ditched the forms and switched over to mental monitoring.  Things were going so well that I had decided to only write down any unusual circumstances, such as binges or non-effective emotional eating episodes.  That never happened.  I was always mindful enough to determine whether or not a choice would be worth it.  When I knew it wouldn’t be or would mean stuffing myself, I didn’t eat it.  I’m not going to pretend this is how things will be FOREVER now that I’ve completed this program.  The idea is to come back to it whenever I find myself slipping back to my old habits.

After 1 month of utilizing this method, AAT accomplished the goals I had in mind.  I wanted to make myself more accountable for my food choices and dump mindless eating.  During this experiment, I willingly ate high FODMAP foods when I knew the discomfort would be “worth it”, but I also stayed tuned into my tummy during every meal and almost always conceded when it told me “ENOUGH!”  I learned to question my victim approach to “trigger foods”, realizing I had more power over my eating choices that I was giving myself credit for.  I had fallen into the mindset that my environment was more responsible than I was.  I know that I am more likely to give in when the situation makes it easy, such as having a whole pie in my freezer.  However, I also know that I can choose to eat just enough to feel non-deprived rather than tell myself “I should probably hurry up and eat all of this, so it won’t be here tempting me tomorrow!”  My black and white thinking has started melding into gray.

Yay healthy relationship with food!  The trick will be to keep it up while I attempt to make diet changes.  I wasn’t restricting ANY foods during my AAT, making success fairly easy.  Binging is the most seductive while restricting.  A person only has so much willpower.  However, there are further elimination trials I want to try in effort to reduce my fibromyalgia symptoms.  On an (almost) daily basis, I suffer from one/more of the following: neck pain, brain fog, tension headaches, dry eyes/eye pressure, post-nasal drip/cough/stuffy nose, shortness of breath, depression/anxiety (though mood disturbances have become less common since I started eating & sleeping better!),  & body aches.

I have certain diet ideas in the works for March but wanted to use the last 3 weeks of February for a different experiment: calorie counting.  I have never tried using the calorie counting approach for any extended period of time in the past.  It’s a pain in the butt for someone who doesn’t eat a lot of prepackaged foods with the nutrition info plastered right on them.  When you eat mostly homemade items made with real food, there’s a lot more measuring and headaches involved.  Calorie counting is not something I would ever do long term and doesn’t work for everyone with underlying health/hormone issues.  BUT since this is the method dietitians recommend to average folks trying to lose weight, I thought it would be interesting to give it an official try.

After the first week of AAT, I lost 2 pounds.  I didn’t lose any additional weight but managed to keep those 2 off, so I’m calling it a victory. :-)  I am currently at 133 pounds.  The goal is to be at 130 by March 1st.  This is slow progress, which I prefer.  I was always taught to encourage people to lose weight slowly, because they would be more likely to keep it off.  However, a 2010 study of over 200 obese middle aged women showed that those who lost weight at a faster rate lost more weight overall and kept it off longer.  Perhaps for people with a lot of weight to lose, 1 or 2 pounds lost after a week of hard work is not going to impress them enough to motivate their continued efforts.  Whatever the reason for these results, I intuitively feel like slow and steady wins the race.

So, what am I doing exactly?  I used the Mifflin St. Jeor ( & Harris Benedict ( formulas.  These were the equations taught to me during my dietitian studies.  You only need to use one of them, but they are slightly different, and I wanted to find a calorie range to work with.  I calculated my BMR (basal metabolic rate).  This is the rate at which your body burns calories just to function.  Basically, it’s the fuel that’s required for you to maintain your weight while lying in bed all day.  Then, I multiplied my BMR by a moderate activity factor (explained on the Harris Benedict site linked above) of 1.55.  This gave me the number of calories I would need to consume per day to maintain my current weight.

Since there are 3500 calories in a pound, the logic goes that I need to deduct 500 daily calories through diet & exercise to lose 1 pound in 7 days (7X500=3500).  Since I need approximately 2100-2200 calories per day to maintain my current weight, I will be aiming for 1600-1700 calories per day.  As an alternative option, I could eat 1800-1900 calories on the days that I burn 200 calories through exercise.

I’m on day 2 and only slightly annoyed, more by the calorie counting process than the calorie restriction itself.  Wish me luck!



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