Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My Health Story- Part 3- How Diet Healed My Health Issues

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I didn't want it to be gluten. I didn't want it to be gluten. I didn't want it to be gluten. I didn't want it to be gluten. And I'll say it a hundred times. I REALLY didn't want it to be gluten.

The Serenity to Accept the Things I Cannot Change
I mentioned in my previous posts in this series, for most of my life I was living in near constant stomach pain, as well as having a series of other health issues that I'd come to accept as normal, even though my gut (pun intended) told me that things weren't as they should be. As a defense mechanism of sorts, I got very out of tune with my body; had I tuned in to every ache, pain, and other message of pain my body was sending me, it would have been so overwhelming to the point of being debilitating.
But tuning out messages from my body, getting out of touch with my body, caused further problems, as I'll explain soon.
In short, though, I accepted these health issues as normal, something immutable, that would likely remain there my whole life, accepted that this was the healthiest I was going to get, this was my lot in life.
But you know the serenity prayer?

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference."

I had assumed that my health issues were something that I couldn't change, and had begun to accept it... But apparently, I was lacking the wisdom to know the difference between what could be changed and cannot be changed. And assumed that I was doing the right thing by coming to terms with my share in life, instead of actively seeking the cause for my issues, and trying to heal my body.

The Wisdom To Know the Difference
The more I've been involved in the “real food/traditional food” movement, the more I learned about the criticism “real foodists” and other similarly minded people have of the medical establishment- that they feel that standard medical care often just treats the symptoms instead of trying to find out the underlying cause and to heal the body, not just mask symptoms.
Real foodists believe that all disease begins in the gut, that with proper diet and nutrition, our bodies should be healthy, and that if a body isn't working as it should, the first place to look is at the gut- are you eating enough nutrients, is the gut absorbing nutrients properly, or is the gut allowing toxins into the blood stream? Lack of nutrition can cause many organs in the body to not work as they should. Toxins in the body can cause other issues, as the body is being slightly poisoned.
Because of this, when something is going wrong, real foodies go back and analyze the gut, and don't try to just treat the symptoms, the pain and other ailments.

Take eczema, psoriasis, and other skin issues, for example. You go to a doctor, and usually he'll prescribe some cream for the patient, very often steroids, which are especially bad for you.
But do the steroids actually heal the body? Do most creams? No. They generally just alleviate the symptoms, allowing people to function with as little discomfort as possible. But even with the creams, often the rash remains, albeit less seriously, and once you stop using the creams, the rashes return.
Traditional foodies are likely to look for the root cause of the rash. Is the gut absorbing toxins, which then are being expelled through the skin, in the form of a rash? Does the person in question have a permeable gut, which is allowing undigested food particles to get into the blood stream, causing the body to react, and attempt to remove the toxins via the skin?

When I saw my son, Ike, was having a persistent rash on his hip, that wasn't going away despite creams, despite changing my diapering methods (switching from cloth to disposable diapers didn't help, nor did switching back to cloth), and I learned that it was eczema, my curiosity got piqued as to the natural method of healing skin issues. Maybe those would actually help, and stop him from having a recurrent rash.

I decided to put him on an elimination diet, cutting out most known allergens, and since I was nursing him, and allergens can get passed on via breast milk, I put myself on this very strict elimination diet as well.

And it worked.

And it was the start of my healing myself as well.

The Courage To Change the Things I can
Let me go back to the first paragraph of this post.

I didn't want it to be gluten. I didn't want it to be gluten. I didn't want it to be gluten. I didn't want it to be gluten. And I'll say it a hundred times. I REALLY didn't want it to be gluten.

One of the criticisms I got that inspired this little mini-series was a comment that I just seem to be cutting out more and more and more things from my diet, that it sounded like an eating disorder, etc... and I have to say, that couldn't be further from the truth, especially if you knew what my attitude was towards cutting out these foods at first... and why I continue to cut out other foods as well.

If you've been a blog reader since the start of my blog, you'd know that not only did I not used to be gluten free, I even ate a lot of pure gluten, in the form of seitan- a vegan meat substitute made from the gluten part of the wheat.
I used a lot of seitan because it was cheaper than meat, but still gave you the feeling that you were eating meat. I also used to prepare ground seitan and used it to stretch my ground meat when I'd make it.
I got some criticism on my blog for talking about seitan, especially on a blog that promoted “real food”, and I even wrote a blog post defending my use of seitan, and why it wasn't a “fake food”, a “processed food”, and why I didn't feel it was unhealthy. (I still am torn on the issue, still have reservations about saying seitan is unhealthy, given its traditional uses... but my thoughts on gluten and seitan are more complex than can be addressed in this post, but suffice it to say I'm still not sure its the evil people make it out to be- I just think modern day guts are so messed up for so many reasons that most people can't tolerate gluten, especially not seitan.)
I liked seitan.
I liked gluten.
But I had a sneaking suspicion that no, gluten wasn't good for me.
Why did I suspect that? Because my dad knows that he's sensitive to gluten, but won't go off it because he doesn't feel like it... and because every time I'd eat seitan, I'd feel funny. But I didn't want to be sensitive to gluten.
I remember one time eating a bowl of seitan sloppy joes, after which I felt nauseous, like I'd throw up, and I was telling myself “You're not nauseous, its not gluten, you're imagining things- it's all in your head!”
Giving up gluten was certainly not on my to-do list...

But then when I went off gluten and dairy while my son was on the elimination diet- which worked to cure his eczema, by the way- and then went back on gluten afterward because I was pregnant and all I wanted was gluten... I started feeling terribly, tired all the time, nauseous all the time, stomach aches, which of course I credited to my first trimester of pregnancy.
However, it was the hardest first trimester I had, the most nauseous and most tired I ever felt during pregnancy. After consulting with two doctors, who both said that these symptoms were likely because I cut out gluten and dairy and then reintroduced them, and that I should cut them out again, I did so. And from 10 weeks on, despite the fact that I was still in my first trimester, I had my easiest pregnancy of the three.

But other than just an easier pregnancy, I had so many differences to my health since cutting out gluten and dairy. Remember my “base-line” chart from my other post? That on a scale of 0-5, with 1 being mild discomfort and 5 being debilitated to the point that I felt like dying, I never got below a one, and usually ranged between 1 and 4, with the occasional level 5 flare up?


Well, since cutting out gluten and dairy, I have changed my baseline! Instead of living always with a low level of discomfort, a 1 at best, I now am typically at 0, feeling perfect, no discomfort whatsoever, no bloating, no gas, no stomach issues. In other words, for the first time in my life, I feel normal, I feel as a healthy person should feel! It was sooo weird the first time that I noticed that. It was like “hey- I am not noticing my stomach now. I can forget its there, because it's not even giving me the slightest bit of discomfort. Its just functioning as it should!”


And no, my stomach isn't perfect now. I have a sensitive stomach still. But the thing is, when I occasionally get flare ups, they usually get to one or two, and even that isn't common. And on very rare occasions, they get to a three. The only time they've reached a 4 was when I accidentally ate gluten.

Health- At Last!
It's amazing.
Life changing.
And another thing that has happened, since I'm not living in a constant state of pain, I no longer am out of touch with my body. I pay attention to what is going on, to how my body is reacting to different things I am doing and to different foods I am eating. And because I now am in touch with my body, when I notice a slight discomfort (a 1 or maximum a 2) after eating certain foods, I am able to tell which foods those are, and therefore try to cut those out as well.
So in addition to gluten and dairy, I've also discovered that I get issues from cabbage and coconut solids, but not coconut milk or fermented cabbage. Small amounts of coconut oil I can handle, but too much bothers my stomach. I suspect egg makes me feel nauseous.
I haven't figured it all out yet. I suspect that there are some additional foods that cause me some discomfort, such as some gluten free grains, especially if they're unsoaked, but since this whole “being in tune with my body” is new for me, I'm working by trial and error now, trying to figure out what those foods are. I have an appointment with a nutritional counselor tomorrow to help me figure that out, and I hope she has some tips for me that will be able to get my stomach functioning at optimal levels.

No, I've come to terms with the fact that my digestive system doesn't work perfectly, and I've accepted that fact. I am happy to cut out irritants from my diet; its a small price to pay, because now I'm feeling better than I ever have in my whole life.

In addition to finally getting my stomach issues taken care of, since going off of gluten and dairy, I no longer have constant congestion, or what my doctor called “non allergic rhinitis”, or as I'd call it “an allergic reaction to dairy that causes stuffiness”. I am able to easily breathe through my nose, something that my whole life was hard for me, because my nose was always stuffed.
I haven't had a single sinus infection since going off gluten and dairy.

I see my immune system is also working better than it has in the past, and works the best in my family as well. I'm the only one in the family, other than my baby, who is strictly off gluten and dairy, and I rarely ever get sick. Since cutting out gluten and dairy, even when a bug is going around my family, I'm the one person who doesn't seem to catch it.

Another thing that I didn't mention in the previous posts, but I have always had a pretty bad tendency towards depression. Clinical depression. Always have my whole life, and I think its a “genetic predisposition”.
Since going off gluten, I haven't had any depressive thoughts, and its hard to understand why exactly I was depressed. The same issues that used to get me so down in the dumps before seem so silly to me now. Its clear to me that it wasn't the issues that were making me depressed, it probably was something chemical going on in my brain, and since going off gluten, my brain seems to be functioning better, because I don't have a tendency to depression anymore. I'm happier than I've been my whole life.

Of all my health issues, my nerve issues are the ones that haven't gone away completely. I still occasionally get nerve pain in random patches on my body, and I suspect I know the reason why. First of all, my vitamin B12 is incredibly, incredibly low. Its supposed to be between 150 and 700, I think, but ideally no lower than 300. Mine is around 95. As I said incredibly, incredibly low. I have to see about starting to get B12 shots. Your body needs vitamin B12 for optimal brain and nerve functioning, and with such low B12, its no surprise that I have nerve issues.
There is a connection between low B12 and gluten sensitivity. Its really, really, really hard for your gut to absorb vitamin B12, and if you have any gut damage, which eating the wrong foods will do for you, you're likely not absorbing vitamin B12 at all. Most celiacs have a B12 deficiency.
I suspect years of gut damage that I had from eating the wrong foods for me is making it really hard for me to get the vitamin B12 that I need via my gut, and I'm going to look into getting vitamin B12 shots. There's also a possibility that I have this certain genetic mutation which can affect vitamin B12 levels as well- I have an appointment made to see a hematologist about that, which, if it turns out I have, I'll write more about it, but since I only suspect it, I'm not going to share details yet...

So, there you have it. Why I've cut out the foods I have so far.

As for my kids' health...

My kids teeth is the first topic that I want to address. Teeth are formed while you're still in utero. My kids teeth, especially Lee's, but also Ike's, came erupted from their gums already with weak spots, not completely formed enamel, etc... This probably has something to do with the bad diet I was eating when pregnant with them, a diet extra high in gluten and dairy, which means that I likely wasn't absorbing nutrients properly, which means I likely wasn't able to give them the nutrients they needed to form healthy teeth. I feel really bad about that, that possibly their teeth issues are my fault, but hopefully their adult teeth will be much stronger than their baby teeth, now that they're on much healthier diets. (P.S. In case you were wondering, it was a dentist who “diagnosed” them with ultra weak teeth, already when their first teeth were coming in.)

Second is Ike.
While I love my 3 year old son Ike to pieces, he hasn't always been the easiest child to handle. He was my most difficult baby by far, a huge screamer that I couldn't get to be happy, it seemed. And as he got older, he became even more difficult, not easier, as I hoped he would. He regularly would throw hour long tantrums over absolute stupidity, falling down on the floor and screaming, when things weren't going exactly his way, and it was impossible for them to go his way. He stressed me out, he made me mad, I felt I was losing my mind. And despite having lots of issues with the school system here, and the concept of school in general, I very, very, very strongly considered sending him to school this year, because I simply couldn't handle having him at home- it was bad for the both of us. And then I cut out gluten for him. Very strictly.
I didn't recognize him anymore.
He doesn't tantrum anymore. No more screaming fits. No more impossible Ike. No more “Oh my gosh I'm going to tear my hair out and I can't handle this kid!!!”
No. Not anymore.
I fell in love with my son, finally, because for the first time, he was actually easy to love. It actually makes me want to cry writing this, because its hard to admit that I found him difficult to love before, even more so when I realize that it wasn't that he was a bad kid, it just was that gluten made him cuckoo.
And on the days that he cheats and does eat gluten without permission, he regresses and becomes that impossibly difficult child again.
I read this article called “The gluten made her do it: How going gluten free saved my daughter's mental health” and it resonated so much with me- that exactly was Ike's story. He has a behavioral reaction to gluten, and without gluten, he's a much happier and calmer and more lovable kid. It pains me to know that if only he'd been off gluten from the beginning, we possibly could have had a much less rocky beginning. Its hard not to feel guilty about it.
But you know what? I'm not surprised about Ike's reaction to gluten. After all, he's the reason I did that elimination diet in the beginning- to help heal his eczema- which, yes, did go away after cutting out gluten.
When he cheated with gluten for 2 weeks straight, he got a type of rash on his elbow. He cut it out and it got better, and then cheated again and it got worse. When I took him to the doctor, she confirmed for me that it likely was a reaction to gluten, and that I should take him off of it. Going back off gluten, the rash went away for good. So now Ike is good about staying away from gluten, because he has something tangible to remind him why he can't eat gluten. Its hard for him to understand “gluten makes me act cuckoo”, but he knows “gluten gives me a booboo”.
I was so proud of him the other day- he slept over at his grandparents, and Lee reported back to me that when they were offered a certain food, Ike asked “Does it have gluten? Because gluten gives me a booboo!” and when he found out that it did contain gluten, he voluntarily decided not to eat it!

So yes, I have gone off gluten and dairy with the consultation of doctors. 3 doctors, total, in fact, have told me that I should take myself and my kids off gluten. Standard medical doctors, not naturopaths or alternative medicine doctors, in case anyone is curious.

Before I end this post (and yes, I know, it's long already, I just didn't want it to be more than 3 parts!), I just had to share a few more things.

Our Family Vs Other Families
First of all, I wouldn't say my family is “unhealthier” than most families, despite (or maybe because of) our diet.
We rarely are sick, rarely need to go to the doctor, etc... The biggest difference is that I just blog about my life, while most people don't share their various health issues. (And as for why all three kids of mine were hospitalized as babies, I already wrote a post on that subject.)

The other thing is that since I'm trying to heal our bodies instead of dealing with symptoms, I pay attention to little things that other people often just ignore. If I see a small rash, even if most people would say “It's no big deal” or “Just use this cream”, I try to figure out why the kid is having that rash, what foods are likely causing it, and cut those things out. I don't ignore it because I think it's a message from our bodies saying “Please take care of this issue; I'm hurting inside”, whereas plenty of other people wouldn't even notice the rash or other issue, and if they did, they certainly wouldn't do anything like change their diet to attempt to heal.

As for the GAPS diet, I'm still not 100% sure we're going to do it. The reason why I think I have so many stomach issues, etc... is probably having to do with the fact that I took so much antibiotics as a kid, which messes up gut flora, and can cause long term gut damage. A diet heavy in gluten and dairy probably didn't help, and made my already sensitive stomach even more sensitive. (At the risk of sounding like I'm bashing formula feeders, I also wonder if the fact that I was given exclusively soy formula from the age of 3 months and on played any role in my lack of gut health..)
The purpose of the GAPS diet is to heal the gut, make sure there is no more “leaky gut” causing health issues, and it is supposed to heal the gut and stop there being so many food sensitivities. It sounds tempting, but I've read too many stories about GAPS not working for people that I'm not 100% sure I'll do it, but its something I'll be discussing with my practitioner tomorrow. But either way, my goal is to heal my gut and my family's gut, and while GAPS may not be the way we end up going, the goal still will be gut healing.

I hope you found this little mini-series informative, and hopefully it will have inspired you, and given you hope that maybe what you thought were chronic and permanent issues are actually fixable.
No, I'm not a doctor and I'm not telling you what to do. I'm just sharing what I did and why, and why I am happy to be on the strict diet that I am. Because for the first time in my 24 years of life, I feel terrific, no health complaints whatsoever! And all without medication! This strict gluten free, dairy free diet is totally worth it!

P.S. I just wanted to point out one more thing- someone said “Maybe it's the types of frugal foods you eat that give you stomach issues- if you ate normally you probably would feel fine.” I ate “normally” the first 19 years of my life and felt terrible. For the past two years, despite eating extra frugal foods, including foraged and “rescued” foods, my health has been better than ever. Yes, I occasionally do get stomach aches, but they have never been after eating “rescued” fish or foraged veggies. They've been after eating “normal” foods like dairy or foods that had bits of gluten in them. If I went back to eating “normally”, I'd once again feel sick. My current way of eating works for me, is healthiest for my body.

Have you had any health issues that you managed to cure, or do you currently have any health issues that you're looking to cure? Has diet helped your health issues at all, or has standard medical care helped you with your issues?
Any questions?
If you've gone off gluten or dairy or any other foods, what health issues were you attempting to cure by doing that, and has that worked for you?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, I made crepes last night for 'pancake day'/Mardi Gras...up all night! I don't know if it's gluten-intolerance, which I understand is quite rare, or something added to or used to prepare white flour in the US...anyway I think that's the last Fat Tuesday I follow my old English customs.

    Re sugar- I did notice buying the traditional 'Christmas' products and consuming them over the holidays- way more joint pain and stomach upsets. There's still half a traditional British Christmas cake with marzipan and white icing in the freezer, but I won't buy it again. Or most of the chocolate or sweet stuffs.

    Dairy- I've noticed a problem with congestion especially during cold season, though it's not unbearable except when combined with other allergies like perfume/ pets/ pollen. Cheese I have always loved but I can only eat it once or twice a month without getting upsets...

    The best foods for me are very simple one two or three ingredient meals or soups, for example I cannot eat Mexican/ Tex-Mex and combine all the protein/ dairy/ carbs/ veggies/ spices without suffering later.

    If I am having problems I revert to plain boiled white rice, Ramen noodles ( without the flavor sachet ) or dried mashed potato mix ( made up with plain water )

    I was vegetarian for a few years but started suffering regular anaemia so a couple of times a month I eat red meat- often on its own as I seem to digest it better.

    Foods I cannot seem to eat at all- ham and cured meats, bacon, eggs, butter or artificial butter spreads, most fast foods...

    Foods I do best with- white rice, plain ramen, banana, plain Greek yoghurt ( small amounts )

    Almost nothing I can eat in large quantities any more- which has dropped my weight significantly.

    I can't see any pattern that makes sense for me...but I do know I don't have much faith in doctors either- especially in the US where it's all about them making extra profit.



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