2015 Diet Shenanigans

19 Dec

Howdy blog followers!

I have been carefully dissecting my diet experiment ideas for the next year. Here’s what’s in store (so far) for 2015:

January -

Virgin (Plus) Diet – Based on this elimination diet: http://thevirgindiet.com/ with additional tweaks on my part. Don’t worry. I won’t be eating any virgins. In short, I will be removing the foods that I suspect will make the biggest difference in my pain levels based on foods that are the most common irritants and/or inflammatory:

1) Sugar/sugar substitutes (Virgin)

2) Corn (Virgin)

3) Gluten (Virgin)

4) Dairy (Virgin)

5) Peanuts (Virgin)

6) Caffeine (Plus)

7) Alcohol (Plus)

8) Processed Oils (Plus)

9) Soy (Virgin)

10) Eggs (Virgin)

After feeling better on the Perfect Health diet, I mentioned in my previous post that I hoped to stick with it for awhile. I stuck with it for a whopping 2 extra days until I got one of my awful neck migraines and thought “To hell with it!” The next day I walked to the grocery store to buy Rice Chex & vanilla soy milk for breakfast. For whatever reason, that’s what I wanted to eat to reintegrate back into my most recent “I’ll eat whatever I want!” phase.

Sooo it’s back to square one. On the plus side, my sinuses are relatively normal these days. They rarely flare up the way they used to even when I eat high histamine foods (which seemed to have been an issue in the past). I have no idea what I did/didn’t do to fix ‘em, but it has greatly improved my quality of life. Feeling like you can’t breathe is a very unpleasant feeling. At least there’s SOME lasting progress to show for all of my efforts.

I had to stop taking my antimicrobials as they were not agreeing with my digestive system. Add it to the pile of failed experiments I guess. <Sigh>

One thing that is nice about my Virgin Plus diet approach is that it is far less restrictive than a traditional Paleo diet. In January, my ally is going to be following the VERY restrictive Paleo Autoimmune Protocol per her doctor’s recommendations now that she’s been diagnosed with Celiac’s disease. I told her that I didn’t have it in me to go through that very restrictive diet again anytime soon (see April ’14 archives for my experience). However, I will be with her in spirit in the name of deprivation by following my Virgin Plus diet (which isn’t crazy restrictive for an elimination diet veteran such as myself…but not a whole lot of fun either!) I intend to use this altered approach to assess whether a long-term Paleo template is necessary to feel better. If I notice improvement by simply removing the most potent irritants, I will have a better idea of what I’m dealing with. Perhaps the improvements I noticed while following the Perfect Health Diet can be realized with less effort and deprivation (I hope).

Here’s why I don’t expect I’ll ever be successful following a long term Paleo diet unless I absolutely HAVE TO:

1) I love BEANS!

2) I am addicted to sugar.

3) I am fussy about the meat that I eat. Most of the time I prefer vegetarian options when I go out to eat, because non-factory meat is hard to come by. I try to avoid factory meat as much as possible for my health, the taste, and my conscience. High quality meat is more likely to be out of stock when I shop for it and gets really expensive!

4) I am lazy. Making EVERYTHING from scratch is work and can be a real bore.

5) I get sick of meat for breakfast, meat for lunch, and meat for dinner. Bluck.

6) Following a low FODMAP Paleo diet is even more depressing. Having to limit/exclude many fruits & veggies, most sweeteners, all legumes, all dairy, AND all grains tests your limits pretty fast!

Beyond January I have but one grand plan for the rest of the year: no added sugars/artificial sweeteners at all in the year 2015. Am I crazy? Probably. I feel that cutting out my vice for an entire year will lead me to some interesting lessons. Think Lent…all year long. I have given up sugar for months in a row before and felt pretty great (minus the emotional deprivation). BUT I always allow it to sneak back into my life. I get all cocky about how I can just “treat” myself on occassion from then on since I had officially conquered the sugar demons. Ha! Like a smoker who has quit 10 times in the past and has warped ideas about their new perceived superabilities to suddenly teach their brain moderation, the addicition is reawakend quickly. It gets ugly fast.

I am hoping to recalibrate my taste buds. Learn to drink black coffee (after January) like a grown-up. Stop obsessing over dessert. Be more mindful of my food choices (which happens by default when you cut something out that is as pervasive as sugar). As far as restaurant options go, I’m going to do the best I can. Do research ahead of time when possible, and use my hyperaware noggin when I am unsure (for example, avoiding salad dressings even if they aren’t sweet as sugar is likely hiding in there). It’ll be oil & vinegar for me. Even if I get an accidental gram of sugar here or there, the overall goal will be achieved when I skip the dessert!

Further updates on my January diet to follow. Stay tuned!

Perfect Health Diet Wrap-up

19 Nov

Today marks 30 days since starting the Perfect Health Diet. As usual, I have had mixed results with this diet experiment. However, contrary to the disappointment I generally feel after completing my experiments, this has been one of the most successful trials yet!

Here is a summary of my experiences:

-I have had significantly less body pain. When I do have pain flares, they last for shorter periods of time!

-I feel less fatigued overall.

-My sleep has been wonky, but even so, it doesn’t seem to interfere with feeling rested the next day. I fall asleep just fine but rarely sleep through the night anymore. I tend to wake up in the middle of the night, generally 4-6 hours later. During my second attempt at sleep after I wake from these shorter chunks, I toss and turn a lot (or at least feel that strange sensation of being half awake, half asleep) and have better dream recollection when I wake. How could I get less sleep and feel more rested? I suspect my sleep QUALITY has improved. As is the case in most areas of life, quality trumps quantity in terms of sleep’s rejuvenating effects. This is why a lot of people with fibromyaliga can sleep for 9-12 hours and still feel exhausted upon waking. One of the defining characteristics of the condition is the dysregulation of sleep cycles. The brain of a person with fibromyalgia wires us in such a way that it’s harder for us to reach the delta (slow wave) portion of our sleep cycles, the section of sleep where the most repair and restoration is done.

Along with changing my diet which removed a lot of irritating & inflammatory foods, I tried a few sleep hacks along the way recommended by various Paleo gurus. I purchased a pair of amber tinted glasses to wear an hour or two before heading to bed. Research has shown that wearing blue-blocking specks a few hours before attempting slumber significantly improves sleep quality. The mechanism behind this phenomenon is that blue light interferes with melatonin (sleep hormone) production. Because we live in modern times and it’s normal to sit in front a computer screen that blasts you with artificial light in the evening hours, many folks have trouble convincing their bodies that sleep is on the way. Wearing amber tinted glasses is one way to get your eyes on board with winding down. I have been wearing a sleep mask for the past few years and LOVE it. However, I recently learned that your skin can sense light as well. So even if your eyes are covered, the light that touches your skin can slow down melatonin production. My bedroom is on the second floor and has 2 higher windows where the street lights like to pour in. So, I finally purchased some black-out curtains for my bedroom. I also covered the light of the carbon monoxide detector with masking tape to eliminate its green glow. As a result, my skin gets to sleep in the dark as well as my eyes. My body seems to be able to tell the difference, because I’ve been sleeping more soundly (or at least feel that way upon waking) ever since!

-My intestines went through some adjustments. At the very beginning, I had a difficult time digesting lean meats. I started to take Betaine HCL with pepsin and noticed an improvement right away. After a period of taking it, my digestion went nuts. I am no stranger to bloating, but this felt like an alien was going to pop out of my stomach at any given moment. Not a good feeling. In exchange for reduced body pain, my stomach decided to be bloated at all hours of the day with painful distension to boot. (It’s as if my nerves like to take turns assaulting various locations. “No, no intestines I insist, it’s your turn!” exclaimed the debilitating neck pain. “Why don’t you give her some stabbing abdominal pain for awhile? You know, mix it up a bit.” I never knew that nervous systems were such sadists!) I was in the midst of experimenting with a few different supplements and wasn’t sure what the culprit was, so I stopped taking all supplements for a few days until my tummy calmed down. I still don’t know exactly what the deal was. It may have been that I was having increased symptoms from the shift in my gut flora (which can happen when you change your diet and/or add digestive aids to your daily routine) or just a simple reaction to a specific supplement. In any case, I have decreased my intake of Betaine HCL. I only take it when I am eating something I suspect will need a little help being broken down instead of with all meals/protein sources. For example, I had ground white turkey with dinner last night. Since I have a history of maldigestion of lean meats, I took 2 Betaine HCL pills. No reflux! It’s good stuff.

-I have gained about 2-3 pounds. I attribute this to get a little carried away with butter (okay, a lot carried away ;) ) and to a decrease in activity now that winter is here. Back in October, I was still taking the bike trails and making more of an effort to go to the gym. Now that it’s cold and dark outside, I have settled into hibernation mode. Also, I think the nasty bugs in my belly have something to do with it. When people make drastic diet changes, such as cutting out gluten or dairy or (especially) sugar, weight loss is a common (though not guaranteed) occurrence. For me however, nothing changes. A nice reminder that the big bad bugs may still be in charge and that calories do matter. Dammit.

I have been caffeine-free for about 3 weeks. I suspect this has helped relax my muscles and improve my sleep quality.  However, it has not helped with the chest discomfort mentioned in my previous post. Yay! Chocolate only hurts me in other ways. :( Boo! Now, I have to explore dairy removal. Anecdotally, removing caffeine and dairy from the diet can help with hormonal chest pain.

Cheating? Always…

For the most part, I stayed true to the tenets of the Perfect Health Diet. I ate supplemental foods and shunned all of the foods I was told to (for the first 3 weeks). I never did get around to thawing out any liver. Well, maybe once. I was supposed to eat liver weekly, but I definitely failed at that. I said I’d get there! I got a little carried away with “pleasure” foods at times. I ate more dairy and nuts, for example, than would be considered ideal. I ate more baked goods (even while using PHD friendly starches) than is recommended. I learned that eating dry carbohydrates can contribute to bacterial overgrowth. Grrr! During the past week, I also reintroduced sorghum, which is a gluten-free grain. All grains are meant to be removed while following this approach, but I wanted to use up the gluten-free flour that I had rather than spend more money to purchase isolated tapioca and potato starch products, for example.

What’s Next?

I would like to keep following a similar dietary approach, but I’m sure I will stray from this template, especially as the holiday season approaches. However, I will take the lessons learned with me. I will wear amber tinted glasses before bed (even if I look like a bug that my husband likes to make fun of :) ) , sleep in a dark room, take Betaine HCL as needed, and make more of an effort to swap out horrible foods for bad foods. For example, if I want potato chips I will purchase chips made with avocado or coconut oil. No, this doesn’t make them health food. However, by avoiding traditional potato chips, I will be lowering my exposure to inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Every little bit helps! I also plan to use dextrose in lieu of sugar for home baking. Dextrose is pure glucose vs sugar which is half glucose, half fructose (FODMAP!). Does this mean that I can eat a pan of brownies made with dextrose and be healthy?! Of course not, but it means I can eat a pan of brownies and feel less terrible and do less damage than if I had made those brownies with regular sugar. Baby steps…

As much as I love the inconvenience of following a restrictive diet ;) , I will be focusing on a new approach to healing over the next couple of months. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, I suspect that I have SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). I came across some research that suggested that people with fibromyalgia often have SIBO and some have even noticed a decrease in symptoms by treating for it. The traditional treatment route is to take antibiotics. However, a cheaper and potentially safer approach is to take herbal antimicrobials. I will be experimenting with an herbal antimicrobial regime over the next couple of weeks to see if it improves my digestion and overall wellbeing. In addition, I will supplement with a new probiotic to replenish the “good” bacteria while the herbs work on wiping out the “bad”. I also want to shift my emphasis toward more light physical activity, such as daily walking & regular yoga (moderate/intense exercise tends to cause fibro flares) & better stress management (specifically, starting the regular practice of meditation). Wish me luck!

Sources:

http://chriskresser.com/is-fibromyalgia-caused-by-sibo-and-leaky-gut

http://www.medscape.com/medline/abstract/7932424

http://www.thepaleomom.com/2014/02/regulating-circadian-rhythm.html

http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2013/01/muffins/

http://www.siboinfo.com/

Perfect Health Diet

28 Oct

I have been following the “Perfect Health Diet” for the past week. My ally (recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease) is joining me again this time. It’s definitely a lot easier to follow a restrictive diet with a partner in crime.

The Perfect Health Diet is a book written by a married couple: Paul Jaminet, once a Harvard astrophysicist and his wife, Shou-Ching Jaminet, a molecular biologist & cancer researcher. Combining their saavy research skills with Paul’s experience overcoming a chronic illness, the following diet was born…

http://perfecthealthdiet.com/the-diet/

The main idea is to avoid the foods that have been found to be the most toxic to mammals: legumes, sugar, grains, & vegetable oils & to emphasize nourishing foods including “safe” starches, meats, nonstarchy vegetables, & healthy fats. As shown by the picture, pleasure foods are encouraged in small amounts, including full-fat dairy, especially fermented dairy, nuts, dark chocolate, fruit, fructose free sweeteners (such as brown rice syrup, which is mostly glucose), & alcohol. It’s a fairly nonrestrictive approach to healthful eating. There are also chapters dedicated to regulating your circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle), healthy exercise, intermittent fasting, & which vitamins & minerals should (& which ones SHOULD NOT) be supplemented for optimal health. For a science nerd/dietitian/chronic illness sufferer such as myself, this book is nothing short of fantastic.

The first couple of days on a new diet are always rough as you try to get into a new rhythm and learn to replace old staples with new staples. On the 2nd day, my sugar cravings were pretty intense. I had heard about supplementing with L-glutamine (an amino acid) supplement to ease sugar cravings and thought it was worth a shot. I took just one pill, and it actually did seem to help. Now, of course this could have been a fluke. I haven’t had any sugar cravings since that day, so there hasn’t been another testing opportunity. I always find letting go of sugar insanely difficult in the beginning but second nature soon after. Eating sugar makes you crave it all the more. Once you mostly (or entirely) cut it out, there isn’t (generally) as much of a pull to consume it. More often than not, it’s an emotional/social void I am trying to fill when I reintroduce sugar after an established period of elimination.

This diet requires a bit more effort than the gluten-free challenge I recently completed. The biggest initial obstacle for me was getting used to the idea of cutting back on sugar (my drug of choice) again. For the most part, I have been trying to keep up with the daily & weekly recommended supplements. It’s expensive to follow a Paleoesque diet (when you insist on buying only the highest quality animal products). Therefore, I have only been supplementing with items that I already had on hand. I have been taking magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin C daily. The daily recommended supplemental foods I have been eating include 3 egg yolks, a bowl of bone broth, potassium-rich fruits/veggies, and dark chocolate. A daily chocolate recommendation? Who couldn’t love it?  Even coffee is allowed on this diet…

Well, unfortunately, I have decided to give up all caffeine for awhile again. This includes dark chocolate. I just ran out of the last of my stash last night, so as of today, I will be embarking on a new self-inflicted caffeine-free hiatus. I don’t do this because I am a masochist, I assure you. :) The reality is that caffeine (even the small amounts found in decaf coffee & dark chocolate) tends to make my fibromyalgia flare up. Sore muscles & foggy brain fuel? No thanks. I am also curious to see if removing caffeine will make my PMS symptoms better (in particular, a new trend of having sore boobs for WEEKS before I get my period.  Not cool).

The weekly supplements that I have been taking are: B12 & Zinc, and the weekly supplemental foods: salmon & red palm oil (for vitamin E). I have a huge stash of lamb liver in my freezer (thanks to previous Paleo experiments). I will be adding this next, but I keep “forgetting” to take it of the freezer to thaw. Let’s be honest, liver ain’t that tasty, but it’s incredibly nutritious. I’ll get there.

I have tried intermittent fasting twice since beginning the diet. This means that I go for roughly 16 hours without eating. For example, if I finish eating supper at 7pm the night before, I wouldn’t eat breakfast until 11am the next day. Calorie restriction in lab animals has been linked to longer life spans. The basic premise of intermittent fasting is to reap all of the benefits of calorie restriction without the downfalls (stunted growth, disease vulnerability). Short fasts may actually protect us from intracellular infections.

If this is boring, I’m sorry. If you can’t get enough, read the book!

I have started to notice a trend that certain meats give me reflux. Lean meats in particular, such as poultry & fish, give me indigestion. I know from my own research that most cases of reflux come from situations in which stomach acid is too low (NOT too high as conventional pill pushers insist). As a result, I have also started taking Betaine HCL with pepsin at meals. Hydrochloric acid is the acidic medium in your stomach that allows food to be digested properly. Pepsin is a digestive enzyme designed to break down proteins. For a person such as myself who typically eats a mostly vegetarian diet, it’s quite the shock to your digestive system to start eating a bunch of animal protein at every meal without some extra help. In fact, eating a vegetarian diet (which is low in zinc & high in antinutrients) can even cause low stomach acid. So far, I can definitely tell a difference. However, it’s clear that my digestive system is still getting it all figured out.

I plan to follow this diet for at least a month. I will let you know how it goes.

Sources:

Jaminet, P. & Jaminet, S-C. (2012) Perfect Health Diet

http://perfecthealthdiet.com/the-diet/

http://chriskresser.com/what-everybody-ought-to-know-but-doesnt-about-heartburn-gerd

A Week’s Account of Dietary Rebellion Post-Restriction

23 Sep

Going off the Rails –

As per tradition, after following a diet to the letter like a good soldier, it’s time to reward myself for my deprivation. This is what happens when I get a nasty case of the “fuck its”, when the FODMAPS diet and cooking everything from scratch bores me to death, I feel disappointed with the results of my efforts, and my inner rebel comes out screaming. What makes me so angry looking over this naughty snippet from my food diary is that compared to the “average” American, I still eat pretty damn healthy most of the time (except for those times I’m shoveling ice cream down my throat). And yet, for me, the following account tells the tale of an epic fail in the health department for my needy 27 going on 80-year-old body. Enjoy!

Day 1:

(After ending the gluten-free challenge a day early to make my cookie dough cravings shut up!):

Breakfast: 3 eggs fried in butter; 1 gluten-free homemade zucchini muffin; blueberries with dark chocolate

Lunch: ground bison with zucchini “noodles”, chopped red pepper, & tomatoes; banana with walnuts

Supper: “Creamed Tuna” (condensed mushroom soup mixed with a can of tuna, served over gluten-free chow mein noodles – don’t knock it ’til you try it!), a few baby spinach leaves; 12 oz DQ cookie dough blizzard (diary notes indicated that I had craved ice cream 11 out of the previous 22 days – my addiction alive and well 50% of the time!)

I usually eat organic ice cream with less nasty ingredients. My digestive horrors are always less when I eat that kind of ice cream. So why DQ? #1: Forced portion control – I WILL eat the whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s. I know this ahead of time when I buy it. It’s not about taste. It’s about the drug effect I get from eating it. Whatever amount of ice cream is in front of me, I will consume it regardless of fullness. #2: It’s cheaper. #3: There’s a DQ right down the street from me. I can only find organic cookie dough ice cream at a grocery store that’s way across town. #4: DQ uses soft serve ice cream which means less fat, more air and therefore, fewer calories. #5: A drug is a drug. There’s schwag (low quality) and chronic (top choice) weed, but they both will get you high. Ice cream is no different. As long as there is fat and sugar involved, fo’get ‘bout it.

Day 2:

Breakfast: 2 gluten-free homemade zucchini muffins with butter; banana with walnuts; 1/3 cup decaf coffee with homemade coconut milk

Lunch: “Creamed Tuna” leftovers + baby spinach

Supper: salmon stir fry with red pepper, red jalapeneo, radishes, broccoli, baby bok choy, baby spinach, germinated brown rice, toasted sesame oil, green olives; zucchini muffin; 4 chunks dark chocolate & blueberries

Day 3:

Breakfast: 2 gluten-free homemade zucchini muffins with butter; ½ banana with walnuts; 1 cup decaf coffee with homemade coconut milk

Lunch: salmon stir fry leftovers – (Started to feel uncharacteristically exhausted towards the end of work – did receive a flu shot the day before which may have been a contributing factor. I have a history of this kind of reaction.)

Supper: zucchini muffin; mini Kit Kat bar; 3 pieces of vegetarian thin crust taco pizza from Godfather’s (black olives, cheddar cheese, taco sauce, lettuce, tomato, onions) – (I felt like garbage after the pizza, which is typical. I actually wanted to get a salad from Qdoba but my husband was sick of burritos and is as addicted to pizza as I am to ice cream. After eating pizza, I often feel like I’m starving (because the meal is so high glycemic) and stuffed (because of all the empty carbs in the crust) at the same time. The flavor of the pizza was not amazing enough to make it worth it for me.

Day 4:

Continued exhaustion, uncharacteristically irritable/crabby, feeling depressed/antisocial – assuming an exaggerated case of PMS thanks to the ice cream. If you want to mess with your hormones, fill up on pounds of sugar and dairy (which is hormone heavy, regardless of whether or not it’s organic)

Breakfast: 3 fried eggs with dill & baby spinach leaves; small bowl of blueberries with walnuts; cup of strong decaf coffee (sounds like an oxymoron, I realize ;-) ) with coconut milk & a spoonful of sucanat

Slunch: corn on the cob; 1 piece of a Kit Kat bar (gave the other half to my husband – just like the commercials!); medium rare lamb chop with butter lettuce leaves; 12 oz DQ cookie dough blizzard (Ice cream monster back in the hizzzouse!)

Before bed: ½ bag lightly salted Snapea Crisps

Day 5:

Slept poorly

In the words of my good friend when referring to how to proceed once bad food decisions have already been made “Let’s just make it a shitty day!”…

Breakfast: Chocolate raised doughnut with sprinkles (I wanted to have coffee with it, but I was headed to work and apparently none of the coffee shops in my neighborhood like to open before 6:30 on Sundays – #firstworldproblems)

Snack: remaining ½ bag lightly salted Snapea Crisps

Lunch: 2 eggs fried in sesame oil with baby spinach leaves; small glass of orange juice; decaf coffee with homemade coconut milk & spoonful of sucanat

Supper: Naked vegetarian salad from Qdoba (with lettuce, black bean salsa (corn, red onions), brown rice, black & pinto beans, green salsa, & guacamole

After work: small soy caramel Tutti Fruity frozen yogurt with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, & sliced almonds; small dark chocolate w/ caramel salted candy

Before bed: (My food diary notes preceeded with “BECAUSE I HADN’T EATEN ENOUGH TIMES TODAY. ALSO, STARTED MY DAY WITH A FUCKING DOUGHNUT”) ~1/3 sleeve of Saltine crackers with homemade red pepper hummus

Day 6

Slept poorly again

Breakfast: glass of orange juice

Lunch: Hoagie Hutt veggie sandwich on rye bread with lettuce, baby spinach, tomatoes, green peppers, red onions, pickles, banana & jalapeneo peppers, oil; plain kettle potato chips; 6oz DQ cookie dough blizzard (Just in case I have a severe ice cream deficiency. Your body only craves what it needs, you know!)

Raw red onions are probably my biggest nemesis. I was feeling extra adventurous and was curious to see how my body would respond, because I’ve done a pretty good job of cutting raw red onions out of my regular diet. I used to eat them EVERY SINGLE DAY on my subs. Yikes! My body responded a little better than usual. I had less brain fog afterwards. Unfortunately, that’s not saying much. My body ached, my eyes burned, I had a noticeable drop in energy, my stomach felt bloated as hell, and I got a headache. I also had facial flushing (the way your face feels when you drink too much wine). I assume the flushing was from the histamine of the pickled veggies (which I normally also avoid – Isn’t my life fun?! You’re jealous, I can tell.)

Supper: buffalo saffron soup with tomatoes, baby spinach, red & jalapeneo peppers, & purple cabbage.

After work/before bed: Ate ¾ pack Saltine crackers with LOTS of homemade red pepper hummus; glass of orange juice

Just call me Bloaty McGhee!

Day 7 (today)

Slept poorly again, again – 3rd time’s a charm! I think I’ll write a book entitled “Sleeping like Crap for Dummies” in case any of you are missing out on the insomnia fad and want to impress all your friends by getting with the times. Chapters will be dedicated to the following ways you can ruin your sleep: Stress/Anxiety, Poor Eating Habits, Lack of Exercise, Caffeine/Alcohol, Prescription/Natural Drugs/Supplements, Ignoring your circadian rhythm, Following a piss poor sleep schedule, & Hungry Incessant Meowing Cats/Barking Dogs/Crying Babies. The good news is that you don’t have to limit yourself to just one approach! It’s going to be a best seller. I can feel it.

Breakfast: 3 eggs fried in toasted sesame oil with baby spinach & dill; 16 oz (pulling out all the stops!) french vanilla cappuccino with heavy cream from Caribou Coffee (time to clean house, if you catch my drift).

Lunch: leftover buffalo saffron soup

Supper: not sure yet…it depends on how hungry I am after work & whatever sounds good

My intestines have, of course, been up in arms over the past week – horrible bloating, irritable bowel butt syndrome in full swing.

I assume some/all of my recent stint with insomnia can be attributed to blood sugar swings. My body be like Where did all of the glucose go? Panic! We are going to starve to death! Wake her ass up right now! I don’t care if it’s 5:30AM! This is an emergency! I KNOW I have sensitive blood sugar, and when you drink orange juice and eat almost an entire sleeve of refined flour crackers before bed, you’re just asking for it. That’s fair. I am asking for it.

Mind, body…can’t we all just…get along? I occasionally go on these mental vacations where I have to stop caring about how my body will respond to food and just eat whatever sounds good. How’s that turning out for you, you ask? Meh. It is what it is. My body is an annoyingly delicate flower and sometimes eating whatever the hell I want while accepting the consequences is just a part of my life. It’s also a way to measure and appreciate how far I’ve come. Now to get back on track…

Gluten Free Challenge Day 57…

15 Sep

I started my gluten free challenge 57 days ago!  I spoke with my ally the day after posting my most recent blog post.  She was ready to get started right away, so I joined her. We agreed to cut out main sources of gluten rather than attempting the full-blown nit picky approach I dove into the first time. For example, oatmeal (though often contaminated with gluten) could be consumed this time around.  This was a welcome challenge for me.  This allowed me to be less neurotic about my food choices.  I focused on the big picture.  If I ate a sandwich, it would be on gluten free bread. If there were pastries around, I would choose fruit instead. This approach would not be practical for a person with celiac disease. A very strict approach is necessary. However, if fructan malabsorption was the main issue, this change would likely be sufficient to relieve symptoms (presuming other fructan sources, such as onion & garlic, are also removed).

My ally ended up following a stricter approach. For example, she swapped out her regular soy sauce with gluten free soy sauce.  Remarkably, after cutting out the regular soy sauce, she was able to detect a connection to her symptoms when she decided to test the borders by using the regular soy sauce again. My ally also ended up in the ER with severe abdominal pain after eating Saltine crackers (which she reintroduced just recently). This scare was sufficient to warrant further testing.

She had already received a negative test result after the standard tTG-IgA test. This blood test is estimated to be positive in about 98% of patients with celiac disease who are on a gluten-containing diet. Notice the caveat there. I had also received a negative blood test result when first starting the deep investigation into my tummy troubles. My understanding at the time was that my blood test was negative, so I must be in the clear.  Unfortunately, this does not always prove to be the case. I can’t remember if I was eating gluten at the time of my testing, but my ally was definitely not eating enough gluten to trigger a positive result. She rarely ate gluten, because she struggles (as I do) to digest the fructans in wheat. The standard tests used to diagnose celiac disease generally require a person to still be eating gluten at the time of testing to receive an accurate result. Some people have such advanced cases that they will still have a positive blood test even after having cut gluten out for a period of time, but this is the exception and not the rule.

After the ER incident, my ally went through genetic testing. Her detailed history of symptoms combined with the strong genetic link suggested by her test results was significant enough for her doctor to diagnose her with celiac disease. To receive an official diagnosis, you generally have to confirm these results with an endoscopy/biopsy. However, for a person who has already benefited from cutting out gluten, it’s just not worth it to many folks to disregard what they’ve already learned and poison themselves for a few months with further gluten exposure just to be ABSOLUTELY positive that they in fact have full blown celiac disease. She’s opted to avoid the invasive procedure for now and start ridding her environment and diet of all known sources of gluten. She must purchase a new toaster and become EVEN MORE saavy at ingredient analysis.

Of course this means I must follow suit and have further testing done. My gut feeling is that I do not have it but am likely genetically predisposed to developing it. And oh by the way, you can develop celiac disease at any age. Even if you are not born with the disease, it’s no guarantee for life. Her gut feeling was that she had it. It’s always good to listen to your “gut”. The prevalence of celiac disease is estimated to occur in 1 out of every 133 healthy people. My ally is a second degree relative, bumping my risk up to 1 in 39! Yikes!

Have you read Jennifer’s Way yet? It’s a wonderful new memoir about a celebrity who struggles with celiac disease.  My ally read it and encouraged me to do the same.  My ally saw herself in a lot of Jennifer’s symptoms, which is where the whole gluten-free challenge idea came from.

It’s interesting to note that during the first 2 weeks of this gluten free challenge, I experienced  an unusual amount of  unprovoked/unexplained anxiety.  This was a similar experience noted by the author of Jennifer’s Way when she finally gave gluten the boot.  I’m not suggesting that this proves I have celiac’s disease.  I just think it’s noteworthy. It seems to at least suggest that my body noticed something was different, and that this change was significant enough to alter my symptoms.

One possibility could be that by cutting out gluten (a huge source of carbohydrates in many people’s diets), the overall carbohydrate load has been reduced enough to upset serotonin balance.  A common symptom experienced by newbie low carbers is an increase in anxiety due to this relationship. I may have upped my histamine intake simply by swapping out sandwiches for chili. High histamine levels are correlated with anxiety.  Finally, the phenomenon could be explained by some sort of exaggerated healing response by the body.  It’s common to feel worse before feeling better as your body tries to sort out what to do with itself now that it doesn’t have gluten to react to.

My ally felt significantly better while following a strict gluten free approach. For me, it was less clear. My stomach seemed to flare up at the start and then normalize more than usual a week or so after. I believe this to make perfect sense whether or not I have celiac disease. Fructans are a FODMAP. I malabsorb fructans. Therefore, removing a large source (wheat) of fructans from my diet was likely to offer some symptom relief.

Oh yea! I forgot to mention that I integrated additional challenges along the way for further clarification. For example, I gave up dairy for 10 days and processed oils, sugar, & caffeine for 7 days. While following a gluten-free, dairy-free, processed oil, sugar, & caffeine free diet, I felt the best. Boo! Of course, right?!

Since 2008, I started having strange tension headaches/migraines. I don’t know what to call them. The gist is that muscle tension will build up in my neck, back, & shoulders and become so horrendous that I am debilitated. I become nauseous & worthless as a human being. The only thing I can do to fix it is go to bed and sleep for several hours straight. As I’ve gotten older, this has progressed to sometimes needing 2 nights of a full night’s sleep before I feel normal again. It’s not a traditional tension headache, because those stem from your head and do not cause nausea. It’s not a traditional migraine, because I don’t get the searing pain on one side of my head or the crazy light sensitivity (hard to tell, because I’m generally pretty light sensitive anyway…). It feels like my whole body is having a migraine. Basically, I’ve claimed it my “weird neck thing”. When I tell my best friend or husband that I’m having my “weird neck thing” they know it’s code for, I may have to leave the party early to barf or go to bed. Tylenol rarely helps, Ibuprofen doesn’t touch it, & massage is often helpful but not enough to keep me going. A muscle relaxer is something that would likely prove effective, but these are only available by prescription, and I haven’t gotten around to asking a doctor about this yet.

There have been blissful periods of time where my “weird neck thing” has disappeared for months at time. During my year as a guinea pig, I had a significant reduction in these episodes. Even now, they occur less often that they used to in their prime. I used to have it just about EVERY weekend!  Woo college life! (Sarcasm) Removing gluten has not been sufficient enough to get rid of these bastards. I am almost always visited by these demons around menstruation. However, I happened to be following my super strict approach noted above (no sugar, dairy, etc) during my last period, and my body felt pretty damn good. Not to mention that the symptoms diary I have been keeping over the past 2 months showed a major improvement when I took things further than just removing gluten. My pain, sinuses, anxiety, etc. were all improved when I got serious about cutting out other common offenders. Sigh. We both know what this means…

Another Paleo challenge! My ally has already agreed to undergo a strict Paleo diet with me once she’s done some more research. Her doctor encouraged her to cut out as many potentially harmful foods as possible while her body attempts to heal the damage that’s been done by previous gluten exposure.

This has been the best and most rewarding elimination challenge yet. Because of our efforts, my ally learned that she has a condition in which eating gluten not only causes her stomach to revolt, but can contribute to cancer development and further autoimmune complications down the line.  Serious stuff! Knowledge is power, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of this revolution in her life.

I said this time would be different, didn’t I?

Sources:

http://www.uchospitals.edu/pdf/uch_007936.pdf

http://www.uchospitals.edu/pdf/uch_007937.pdf

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/celiac-disease/basics/complications/con-20030410

http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/CeliacDiseaseTests/a/Why-Not-Get-Diagnosed-Celiac-Gluten-Sensitivity.htm

http://celiac.org/celiac-disease/diagnosing-celiac-disease/diagnosis/

http://celiac.org/celiac-disease/diagnosing-celiac-disease/screening/

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.

Hypochondria

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.

Cleanliness

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.

Beauty

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.

Honesty

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.

Orthorexia

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.

Mindfulness

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”.

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