Welcome to the first installment of my weekly wellness posts! This is going to serve as an introduction of sorts. So, I’ll forewarn you that it’ll be long. If you’re brave, or just bored and have nothing better to do, keep reading. 🙂 Since I plan to post these on Fridays (note: I know that by the time you’ll be reading this one, it will be Saturday. I know, I know. I told you to keep your eyes peeled. But Friday is coming to a close—at least mine is at 10pm, and, I love you all, but I realllly just don’t feel like leaving my warm house and walking out in the cold to the library in order to catch some wifi to actually be able to post this. Alas, it will have to wait until morning. Yes, yes, I did plan to have this done in enough time to make it to the library today, but it just did not happen. Such is life.), I had originally thought of naming them something catchy, like “Foodie Fridays.” But, I decided against it. Why? This is about more than just food. While the purpose of these posts will be to chronicle my journey to healing through diet, I realize that encompasses more than just what I put into my mouth. We are whole beings, made up of heart, soul, mind, and body. All are intertwined and affect one another. My mood affects how I’m feeling physically, and vice versa. So, I could not adequately capture the healing process and talk only about food, or the physical aspect. What I put into my mouth affects not just my body, but my mind, soul and heart as well. And, a lot of the time, what is put into my mouth is driven by what’s in my heart. For example, I often overeat when I’m sad or depressed. This reflects that my heart believes the temporary pleasure and comfort offered by that, or those, brownie(s) will soothe the pain and satisfy my longings. The choice to eat those brownies is not simply a choice to eat brownies because they taste good. It is fueled by something deeper. It is fueled by a wrong belief that eating will provide what my soul is really longing for—which can actually only be found in Christ.
So what does all of this have to do with my new diet? (I should add that my new “diet” is not a weight loss plan; it’s simply an eating regimen designed to help me get well.) Well, a lot. You see, my emotional eating—or lack thereof (when I’m depressed, I eat; when I’m anxious, I don’t), is likely a large contributor to my current circumstances. While I don’t believe my diet or eating habits were entirely to blame (I think a lot of it was also me getting stressed out and allowing my external circumstances to overwhelm me and drive my emotions out of control—and thus my body), I do think they played quite a role in landing me where I am now. Thanks to youth and genetics, for me, weight gain hasn’t really been a significant consequence of overeating. My body, however, has paid the price for that and other poor eating choices in other ways. So, just where exactly did that land me? While I had been battling fatigue, headaches, and stomach issues off and on for quite some time, these all became exacerbated a couple of months ago, on top of other issues that developed. My mood was all over the place, I was having panic attacks with increasing frequency (again, not necessarily the fault of food, but another indication that I needed to make some serious changes for my overall health and well-being), and I was having trouble sleeping, which was unusual for me. My mind, body, and spirit were all such a wreck, and things seemed to be getting steadily worse. I began to catch on that perhaps my issues were, at least in part, food related, and began to do a lot of research. First I cut out gluten for a time, but when issues seemed to remain despite its absence, I started to think there was more to it. So, I did more research. Then I thought maybe the problem was yeast related when I stumbled upon a book at a rummage sale called, The Yeast Connection. It was an interesting read, but written in the ’80’s, and a little outdated. So I took my search back to the internet. I found a few different “anti-yeast” diets, which eventually led me to GAPS. I had never heard of anything like it, but it fascinated me. So I kept researching. And researching, until I drove myself crazy with an unhealthy obsession, and became overwhelmed with all the information out there. Some swore by GAPS. Others claimed negative long-term effects. Still some others touted Paleo as the way to go, and others, SCD, just to name a few of the more well-known ones (or at least they seemed to be in the natural food/health blogging world). So, which one was the route for me? How would I know? I was beginning to become more discouraged than hopeful by all the information out there, and felt a growing sense that I would benefit from the help of a professional. One of the sites I found had confronted this very issue, stating that a one-diet-fits-all, or a one-supplement-fits-all approach is not going to work. It was there that I first saw the term “functional medicine,” and googled it to find out just what the heck it was. Oddly enough, one of the first links to pop up was labeled something like, “Functional Medicine Maine.” No way! I thought. To boot, the office was in Scarborough, a couple towns over from Portland. And, the guy’s a Christian. I felt hope for the first time in this whole process. When I had first begun to sense that working with a professional would be helpful (and that a doctor in the traditional sense wasn’t going to be the best bet, because I had tried that route and just ended up with no real answers, and just band-aids for my symptoms that didn’t even really seem to work), I had looked into alternative medicine and holistic healing. However, I was concerned about the spiritual component. So when I found Dr. Sholl, I felt such relief. When I met with him, we discussed my entire health history, and current symptoms. He suspected leaky gut, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and low stomach acid. His prescription was a list of supplements, and that I go on an elimination diet to identify possible food allergies. What that means is avoiding common allergens like eggs, dairy, wheat, nuts, beef, corn, and soy, among other things, for three weeks. After that time has passed, I can begin to reintroduce one food or category at a time and monitor my reaction to it. So in the meantime, what can I eat? Most fruits, vegetables, poultry and gluten-free grains like rice, millet, quinoa, aramanth, etc.
Annndd here I am on day five. Almost a whole week down! Has it been easy? No. But I have already begun to see the pay-off. Before I started (my doctor and I had decided on waiting until after the holidays to start), I kept indulging myself in all the foods I already knew were bothering me, but I wouldn’t be able to eat once the diet began. I figured I’d enjoy them while I could! But I wasn’t even really enjoying them because they just made me feel awful afterward. And while I had decided that I was also going to wait until after the wedding I was in last weekend to start officially, it came to a point where I just couldn’t take it anymore. So, for the five days leading up to leaving for Bangor, I ate essentially diet-legal. And I felt better. I knew it would be hard to try to stick to it in Bangor, so I didn’t plan to. But I think eating the way I did leading up to it made it a little easier. That said, when I officially started this Monday, it wasn’t so hard because I had already had a practice run, so to speak, and had the benefit of seeing the results it yielded. Even after indulging all weekend, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be to avoid sugar and bread, essentially the two things that my body usually craves most. And while I’m not out of the woods yet, I have noticed a difference. My mind seems clearer, my sleep has regulated, and I’m not having these intense episodes of brain fog accompanied by fatigue, dizziness, and twitchiness that I was having essentially every time I ate. Sometimes I feel a little funky, but it’s not as bad now.
If you’ve stuck with me thus far, kudos! Treat yourself to a piece of chocolate or something and enjoy it for the both of us. 😉 With all that being said, why write about all of this? Well, I hope that by sharing some of what I am learning—about myself, life, food, health, God—throughout this process, I can be of help to others. One such thing I’ve learned so far is this:
-Life is so much more enjoyable when I focus on the good I do have, rather than gripe about what I don’t or can’t have. For example, right now, I can’t eat ice cream. But I can eat this coconut stuff I found at Whole Foods that tastes like ice cream, but doesn’t have dairy or sugar or other things I can’t eat. Hooray! This principle applies to other areas of life as well, and this small example dealing with my diet reminds me of that. And it reminds me that God is good and gives good things; we will merely miss their goodness if we remain focused on the lack of other seemingly good things.
I also need some accountability. And committing to writing through this process requires me to be transparent. I need that. Remember what I said earlier about how this whole external issue of food is actually one way of revealing the internal issues in my heart? One of my friends, when I told her about beginning this process, warned me against becoming obsessive and controlling about it. I kind of brushed it off, thinking that developing an eating “disorder” wasn’t going to happen to me, because I love food and eating way too much to let that happen. But then I remembered that eating disorders come in different forms, not just anorexia. And having an unhealthy relationship with food was partly what got me to where I was in the first place. And, I have to confess that when the doctor first suggested I go on the diet, even though I knew the intent of the diet was not to lose weight, I was actually kind of excited about the prospect of that. Prior to seeing Dr. Scholl, I had already lost about 10-15 pounds in only about a month’s time, which is a lot for me. A couple of big things happened/were happening that I let totally stress me out, and I was hardly eating anything. You know I’m really stressed when I’m not eating, because usually I am an eating machine. People kept commenting on how thin I looked, and I kept saying that I wasn’t trying to lose the weight, and didn’t want to. I wasn’t trying to, and I didn’t want to, at least not that way. But when I looked in the mirror, as much as I didn’t want to admit it to myself, I liked what I saw. I wasn’t pleased with or proud of how I got there, but I was pleased with the result. After regaining my appetite and indulging in holiday treats and sweets, I gained back probably 5 of the pounds I lost. When Dr. Sholl suggested the elimination diet, I had a hunch that by eliminating a lot of the sugary treats and breads that I was eating, I’d likely lose that again. And I was excited. I was excited because I was happy with the way I looked, and was tempted to find my validation in that. But what I’ve already learned, once again, is that it is not what validates me. Christ defines who I am, and established my worth long ago when He decided to create me, and even further, died for me when I didn’t deserve it. And, that a diet or eating plan isn’t going to fix the issues in my heart; they will still be there. The me that indulged in brownies still is tempted to indulge now—like on the 8 mini sweet potato coconut blackberry muffins I ate the other day (which, by the way, were totally delicious, and I’ll be posting the recipe for them as well). Fixing my diet won’t fix my heart. But it can be used as a tool to steer my heart in the right direction. I want to follow this diet because I want to get well. And I want to find out what things to avoid if it means getting and staying well. But part of that process means addressing and uprooting unhealthy habits. While I’m not trying to count or cut calories, I still need to tackle, with the Lord’s help, this issue of overeating, whether it’s brownies or carrot sticks I’m indulging in. Granted, if I’m going to indulge, the carrots would be the healthier choice…But that’s beside the point. If I’m stuffing myself to try to satisfy an emotional need, something is still off-balance. So I need to write about this, because it helps keep me in check, and forces me to take an honest look at where I am with the whole thing. It would be easy to stay silent and get swept up in either feeling sorry for myself for all the brownies and pizza and ice cream I can’t eat, or fool myself into thinking I’ve really got a grip on this thing when I might actually be slipping into an unhealthy thought pattern or habit. So, you can expect me to be brutally honest in this process. And, if I start to get silent and you don’t hear from me for a while, it may just be because I’m busy. But it may be because I’m struggling and I don’t want to be honest about it. So, do me a favor? If it’s been a couple weeks since you’ve heard from me, shoot me a text/email/whatever, and ask how it’s going? Like I said, I need the accountability. So, even if I resent you for a second for calling me out on my silence, I will ultimately love you and appreciate you for loving me enough to reach out.
Okay, so honesty. Lessons. What else can you expect from these weekly wellness posts? I also plan to include recipes (like this one for gluten-free, egg-free and sugar-free sweet potato coconut blackberry muffins! Yummm) and other exciting finds that I discover along the way—like my newfound looooove of coconut oil! I was already turned on to its many wonderful benefits and yumminess (call me crazy, but I like to eat it by the spoonful! I usually have at least one a day), and then found this list thanks to a friend posting it on facebook. The one about removing eye makeup? It works! And it doesn’t sting your eyes. Hooray! Cheers to not having to spend money on a separate eye makeup remover. 🙂
I’ll leave you with that little tidbit and say good night, as this has been long enough and I’m sure you’re ready to be done reading by now, if you’ve even made it this far! If you have, thanks for keeping up. Til next week,