I recently turned 49. I’ve been reflecting on some things and I think they should be shared.
When I was a kid, my beloved Nana (grandmother) encouraged me to ‘eat the rainbow’ of fruits and vegetables, my grandfather grew a lot of vegetables, we hunted and bought beef on the hoof – a LOT of meat. My childhood was healthy physically – I was strong as an ox. However, I was the nerdy kid who read the then-surgeon general’s statement that a certain soda pop and a certain candy bar were perfectly ‘fine’ snack foods. I went down that road, the road paved with the ‘good intentions’ (yeah, right) of the government. Later, I was very interested in the new Food Pyramid (I now call it the Triangle of Tastiness (And I won’t even go into the Grain Lobby and how they worked the govt to get their pet products into the biggest section of the triangle of tastiness)). And to be honest, it seems to me that the closer I followed the ‘recommended’ food intake values, the sicker I got. No, I’m not saying that everyone who follows the ‘recommendations’ will be sick. But I do believe people get hung up on macronutrients instead of micronutrients. Fat isn’t going to make you fat and wheat isn’t necessarily ‘healthy’.
Ten years ago…
– I lived through a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung) – this is very often fatal. Indeed, when the clot first ripped through my lung, my diaphragm seized then convulsed and I couldn’t breathe. Still not sure how I got it to slow down and draw a breath. My extremely anemic state probably saved my life as the clot was only about the size of a nickel.
– I was SO very anemic – my hemoglobin was just over 7 and my ferritin was ZERO. During my stay at the hospital for the PE, a doc walked up to me, put his face so close to mine, his nose nearly touched mine and said “Did you know you’re anemic? I have to ask – How are you walking around upright? I really want to know – people with these numbers are usually not walking around talking.” I then confessed my picas – cocoa powder straight out of the box (no sugar) and very, very hot sauce on everything else I ate. He wrote that down in his notebook and I didn’t see that guy again.
– I ran out of breath walking to the mail box (and the mail box is not far from the front door!).
– My skin was fish-belly white with a bluish tint, very thin and delicate; had such thin fingernails that they hurt if they got bumped.
– I was losing my hair (seriously – my husband kept asking me if any of my relatives had gone bald!) – my scalp was very visible through my hair.
– My Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (an autoimmune state that attacks the thyroid) had just been diagnosed. When I inquired ‘what can we do about this’, the response was ‘nothing’. Hmmmm… I didn’t believe that.
– Hypothyroid Diagnosis. The first doc checked my labs every six weeks and adjusted my dose nearly every time he checked my TSH. Every time the dose changed, I would have migraine headaches, one after another – the last time, it was 5 in a row and I was so very sick – he’d given me migraine meds, but none of those touched the migraines I’d have with these dosage changes. Found a new doc as soon as I recovered from that 5x migraine.
– Every time I tried to work out, I’d get sick for two full weeks (adrenals/anemia). TWO FULL WEEKS!
– I had many deficiencies, iron deficiency being the worst at the time, but my body was deficient in many minerals and vitamins.
– My hands and arms were constantly ‘falling asleep’ and tingling, sometimes going numb. My research indicated Raynauds, but I never mentioned these to my doc – I didn’t want a diagnosis of MS or Raynauds. I knew in my heart that being diagnosed with yet another autoimmune (because once you have one, you’re prone to others) and then getting a prescription to ‘try’ and treat the symptoms wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. I wanted to find out what was causing these and then I wanted to heal it, not just treat it.
– I wouldn’t eat much because I was already overweight and didn’t want to get heavier. Two things happened – deficiencies were exacerbated and it caused metabolic syndrome.
– Acid reflux so bad that I would wake up from a deep sleep with a mouth full of acid. Betaine really did help that.
I was in BAD shape. In fact, if I hadn’t made the changes I’ve made over the last 10 years, if I’d stayed on that course, there is no doubt I wouldn’t have lived to see my oldest child turn 16 and go to college. She did them at the same time last year.
But I did change. One small step at a time, one food, sometimes it was as small as one thought. Because my doctors wouldn’t give me IV iron (they didn’t think my veins would be able to handle it – yes, I was THAT FRAIL) and I had leaky gut, I not only took many doses of iron, but I ate liver EVERY DAY FOR TWO YEARS. The empty iron and vitamin C bottles would probably make an interesting display had they been saved.
During my healing time, I experimented on myself and lived with the successes or consequences of those experiments. It’s been a learning experience and I have gained much knowledge. I’ve learned a lot about herbs (especially adaptogens) vitamins and minerals and which systems they affect or heal. It’s amazing how many disease states can arise from deficiencies.
In early 2009, I gave up wheat. Then, late in 2009 we went on a road trip. After a long day, at the only place for at least 50 miles, we stopped to eat and the only food available (that looked edible to me) was a sandwich and I ate wheat. This was followed almost immediately by an inflammation storm all over my body that lasted a week. I knew wheat was not for me. At the end of 2009, I went to an ancestral diet. My family resisted for years. I can’t take my carbs to an extremely low point – for some reason, keeping my carbs super low just doesn’t work for me (I know some people CAN, but my body WON’T…) so I make sure that my carb intake doesn’t slip below 90 net.
We finally figured out that our daughter had a sensitivity to wheat – however, she also had a complete addiction to wheat products. That was a monumental struggle – I worked so very hard to make foods that were wheat-free that she would eat – she’d gotten so very thin and persnickety – if she didn’t like what was on the table, she simply wouldn’t eat. She could not afford to do that – she could not gain weight. I was so very, very worried. Turns out she is celiac. We’ve had to figure out how to deal with that and optimize food to best nourish her. She hasn’t lost 10-15% of her body weight per year since eliminating wheat from her diet. My husband and son were the last ones to go wheat-free, but they made the change and have fared well for it.
One of the best things I’ve done recently has been an elimination diet. My daughter and I went through this together. Our health care provider suggested she do the diet to see if there were other foods she had a sensitivity to – even though both of us had made great improvements in our diet and health up to that point. We’ve been primal (similar to paleo) for some years now. I decided to go on it with her for support.
It was shocking to me to discover how many foods caused an inflammatory response in my body. But it was a great time to be able to isolate responses to certain foods such as peanut butter, wheat and white sugar. I did experiment with foods a bit – just to observe my body’s reactions. Some foods hurt me and they hurt me a LOT. The one that caused the most surprise: coffee… ouch. Goodbye old friend.
A few times, people have said to me “Oh, I could NEVER give up my _______ (insert food here)!” I think if it made you hurt ALL OVER YOUR BODY for a minimum of 4 days after eating it, you might rethink that statement. But here’s the sad part: a lot of people DO have that reaction and they hurt all over, but they don’t realize that the food they eat is contributing to or causing the pain.
It is interesting to note that while I’d have my reactions to foods very quickly after re-introducing them, my daughter often wouldn’t have a reaction until a few days after and sometimes not until after having consumed some foods a few times. We had to only introduce 1 food per week there for a while with her. (BTW, I think that a very common mistake after doing an elimination is to re-introduce many foods at once – if you ever do try an elimination, please re-introduce very slowly so that you can clearly observe the body’s reactions)
In 2011 and 2012, I was harshly criticized for ‘letting a disease state define’ me. Yes, I completely immersed myself in the WHYs of my health or lack thereof. The WHYs led me to the HOW(s) to heal and restore my health.
I cook every meal that is eaten in this house. I make our gluten free and grain free bread one to two times per week. I am ancestral and Grain free, but the rest of my household is currently considered Gluten Free most of the time, but they do eat my grain free stuff, too. I ferment and culture foods, condiments and beverages. There are 2 to 3 places we feel comfortable eating out and we do eat out about once a month. My husband and children have all learned how to read labels and they do so very diligently (it’s amazing how much ‘crap’ can be hidden in innocent looking foods such as tuna, oils or nut butters).
I make our treats, sometimes even ‘candy’ – although people who haven’t given up sugar wouldn’t recognize it as such! LOL
Pre-made foods are very rare in our household. Since my kids are still teenagers, the most often purchased pre-made food is: chips. Yes, whole food, organic potato and sweet potato (sweets n beets) chips. I am mostly OK with it – at least they aren’t those toxic neon orange, chemical-laden chips. My kids eat kale chips and collard greens, they love sauerkraut – with all the super-healthy food that goes on in this house, a bag of sweet potato chips here & there isn’t going to kill and it lets them be…. kids.
At this point, today, my entire family’s health is improving and I feel so good that it is worth every minute of that effort.
But the point of this post is this: it hasn’t happened overnight. There were times I took a triumphant two steps forward only to be knocked back five steps, times I was brought to my knees and times I took half a step forward with no knocks, no negativity, all progress. Hey, half a step in the right direction is always better than stasis or moving backwards! My own healing is what inspired me to study herbal medicine.
– My body is no longer making any antibodies, my thyroid is working.
– My hair is thick and curly again. Fingernails aren’t thin, they grow like weeds.
– No more deficiencies
– I work out very hard and don’t get anything but sore, then muscle grows.
– My skin is skin color! LOL Its a sandy brown in the winter and darker in the summer (no, I don’t use sunscreen – I’m more concerned about vitamin D deficiency – vitamin D is EXTREMELY important and the skin is made to make it!)
– hands and arms are no longer tingling and falling asleep – in fact, that was one of the first symptoms to disappear.
– have lost weight. While I’m not at my ultimate goal, I’m within 10 or so pounds and that will go as I get fit.
For ten years, now, I have been rebuilding my physical self. One prayer, one thought, one herb, one vitamin, one exercise, one food, one action at a time. I’m grateful – grateful for my failings because I learned so much more when I fell; grateful for my successes because each one was a step toward true healing and optimal health; grateful for my tenacity because to be sure, lesser souls would have given up long ago, but I believed in myself and knew deep in my heart that I could conquer this.