I grew up on a diet of Kellog’s cereal, skim milk, white bread, deli ham, peanut butter and jelly, Twinkies and Hostess Cupcakes, Fruit Drinks, Campbell’s soup, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Hot Dogs and canned beans, Oreos, Pinwheel (marshmallow) cookie, Hershey candy bars, Ice Cream, Doritos, and soda (in other words- junk!). On a special occasion, my mother would make “greenbean casserole” of which the directions were found on a Campbell’s soup can. We also had a box of Dunkin’ Donuts on some Sundays. If we ever ate “out”, It would be at MacDonald’s or Papa Ginos. I ate this way for 18 years. By the time I graduated from college, the fanciest restaurant I had ever eaten at was a Chinese food restaurant. I grew up on the campus of a private high school and when in session, my family would often eat our dinners in the cafeteria. This is where most of my “nutrition” came from. This diet, along with the criticism and lack of love I was receiving on a daily basis, formed my constitution. Suffice to say, I had a lot to overcome.
I was speaking with a woman who attended my talk recently about our gut issues and she mentioned that 80 year olds are not suffering from these problems (and don’t understand why we are) because they grew up eating real farm food, which provided them with strong constitutions. Until she said that, I hadn’t thought about the role the diet I consumed in my formative years was playing a part in my current state. My heart sank a little more.
After college, living on a very low income, high in college tuition debt, and not yet having learned to cook, I continued to eat cereal, soup, bread, dumplings, candy and cookies as my staples. I lived in a room in an apartment in which I did not feel comfortable. It wasn’t until I moved into my own apartment that I tried cooking fish and other meals for the first time. Ten years ago, feeling heavier than I wanted to, I bought a no carb diet and workout book and began making the recipes from it (as well as following the strength exercises). This was a deprivation diet, and after the initial 2 weeks, I had a hard time sticking with it. However, three meals from the book became my staples over the next years. I would cook batches of turkey chili, Basque chicken, and ratatouille on the weekends, and bring portions into work to have at lunch. One of the recipes was for tumeric chicken strips. Unfortunately, there was a mistake in the recipe, calling for WAY too much of the spice. When I tried it at work the next day, I felt like I was being poisoned! I could not take more than 2 small bites. Since that time, I have not been able to eat tumeric spice again (which is unfortunate as this is a highly anti-inflammatory food!)… The memory of that incident remained too strong in my body. My breakfasts since that time have also been based on a recipe in that cookbook: egg whites (which turn out to be the bad part of the egg for those with autoimmune diseases!) with shitake mushrooms and tomatoes, and turkey bacon. I went back to drinking coffee and eating cookies and chocolate daily to satiate my sweet cravings. I’ve always felt that I needed to have something sweet after every meal.
Since returning home from the PCT, I have not felt like cooking at all (aside from the same breakfasts I just mentioned). Transitioning back to this other life is very, very difficult (today I was thinking about how that time felt and I am very happy that I am no longer in that space!), and cooking for one person is never fun anyway. Because of my continued stomach pain, I was eating Greek yogurt with berries for lunch. And I would buy soup, or already cooked food from the Whole Foods hot bar for dinner. I thought miso soup was a healthy thing to eat throughout the winter.
In the last few weeks, I have discovered that most of the things I thought were “good” for me (eggs, tomatoes, yogurt, miso soup, turkey chili) were actually slowly killing me!
For the last three weeks, my diet has consisted of:
-A smoothie with spinach, ginger, turmeric, berries, a bit of green powder, a bit of brown rice protein powder, and goat kefir.
This week, I will start to add in some celery, cucumber, and papaya.
-Plantain Chips (LOTS of them! This is my new snack since I can’t have any nut butter, bars, or chocolate). I eat two 9 ounce tubs per week.
-8 ounces of Bone Broth per day
-Usually a sauasge
-(On days where I feel REALLY awful, I allow myself to eat some cacao covered coconut pieces)
-Salmon, chicken, or turkey, kimchi, an array of vegetables consisting of any of the following: collard greens, broccoli, avocado, sweet potato, roasted butternut squash, and occasionally a brussel sprout (blech!)
(A Thanksgiving dinner every night!)
-1/2 bottle Ginger Kombucha
I am following the Auto Immune Paleo diet (an anti-inflammatory diet), with a few exceptions.
Kefir is not approved on this diet, as it is dairy. However, I believe that goat’s milk kefir is okay for me at this point, as it does not contain the harmful components that cow’s milk does.
The brown rice in my protein powder is not approved as it is a grain. However, I personally feel that I need some protein in my smoothies to make them more substantive, and of all the possibilities, brown rice is the safest protein powder base for a person with digestive issues.
My green powder contains goji berries, which are not approved, but I am really not worried about this!
For the first four days of my diet, I ate some sliced bell peppers (gasp!) with my mid-day sausage.
I’ve also eaten sausage with unapproved spices such as paprika and chili, simply because I could not find an alternative.
Cacao is not approved as it is a bean. Sometimes, a girl needs a treat!
The Auto Immune Paleo diet (like any diet) is not a one fits all plan. It has only been around for 2 years and clinicians are now seeing patients who have strictly followed this plan (and are down to 10-15 foods) for a full year or more who are still not healing. There are many possible reasons for this result. One is that every individual has food sensitivities that are specific to them. Some of these foods are on the approved list for the AIP diet. Some people are allergic to the gelatin in bone broth, for example. Despite being told that bone broth should help them, it is actually hurting them! Food allergies and sensitivities cause inflammation in the body and inflammation causes disease. At this time, there is only one fully comprehensive food sensitivity test available. It is performed by Cyrex Labs and is called Array 10. Unfortunately, insurance does not cover any of the cost. A health care provider must order the test and the patient pays the $680 cost. Most of us suffering from chronic diseases are not only not able to work (or work minimally) and can not afford even our basic cost of living, but unfortunately, aren’t able to pay for this kind of information that we need to heal ourselves. Other factors that may cause a person to not get better are hidden co-infections (also a new frontier). For example, a person may be under the attack of several active chronic viral infections that they are not aware they have and which aren’t helped by diet. The science behind these diseases is very, very complicated (immunoglobulins, antigens, antibodies, etc)! Sometimes, a person who is being treated for gut issues will not heal because the brain component of the brain-gut axis is impaired and not included in treatment. The vagus nerve might not be properly communicating to the abdomen. Other people have histamine sensitivities. Because the number of tests to be done are overwhelming, and due to my lack of finances, I am going to do everything I can on my own first. It is also extremely hard to find clinicians who are at all aware of these issues. I can’t reiterate enough how insulting and hopeless it feels to be told by doctors that a person who is physically suffering so much is simply depressed and needs talk therapy. (It is actually NOT helpful to verbally repeat the trauma that has happened to you in the past… This only serves to prolong the cycle of suffering… But that is a topic for another day!)
I have now completed 21 days of this diet, and I am very proud of how well I am doing with it! I do not miss coffee (or chocolate for the most part!) and I do not feel deprived (the key to a lifelong diet)! When I do start to crave foods that I am not allowed to have, I tell myself to settle down, settle down. Usually they dissipate. One major caveat to this type of diet is that you must always stay close to home (at this point, I don’t even have the option for anything else!). I dropped 5 of my extra 10 pounds that I have put on over the course of this last year (yesterday marked the day that my knee fully gave out one year ago) in the first 17 days and am now holding steady. The other five will have to wait until the inflammation in my body subsides (this takes a LONG time) and until I have the ability to work out again. I’ve already noticed an improvement in the inflammation in my brain (if left unchecked, the disease will change the myelin sheath surrounding the brain and progress to early dementia…). I am starting to think more clearly, remember things, and I have finally read my first book in a very long time! (I think this is only the second one I have read this year!). It was “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: The Hidden Epidemic”, which was excellent, just as my friend had said. I highly recommend it for everyone to read. (It is not being published anymore, but you can still buy it used). It not only helps one understand what it is like to have this condition and how to go about healing it, but it offers great advice for everyone on how to prevent such a disease from happening in the first place. As time goes on, I fully believe that more and more people will struggle with autoimmune diseases due to the poisoning of our food system, and the amount of stress we carry in our lives.
Although this book was published in 1992, the authors fully knew then, as many clinicians are discovering today, that diet and supplements are only ONE part of the healing process. All disease is really an opportunity to examine one’ beliefs about life and make changes that will last a lifetime. It also allows one to examine the stress issues that led to the disease. Changing patterns in the subconscious mind is really the root of healing. Often, people who suffer from autoimmune diseases find it hard to love and forgive themselves. I feel that I have a strong intellectual grasp on what I need to do to heal (and have had so for a long time), but as of yet, I have not been able to actually make the deep changes that I need to. Over the course of these next few months and years, I must undertake the hard work of changing my subconscious beliefs about myself and about the world. Before one can heal their illness, they must first heal their life. This is the journey that I am about to embark on.