Monday, November 21, 2011

Meet Me Halfway


On Sunday I finished my second half-marathon.  It was bittersweet as the anticipation of the race (race days feel like Christmas to me) was coupled with a fear that I was setting myself up for a possible injury.  I had signed up for the race back in the summer before experiencing several set-backs to my training.  I needed to take antibiotics in September for an infection, which left me weak and in bed for ten days.  I was instructed to change my food plan to a low-carb diet and reluctantly re-introduced meats.  I hated my new diet as it left me further weakened; I lost a bit of weight, which for my frame was a big deal.  I subsequently stopped exercising because I couldn't increase my calorie intake to accommodate running.  My energy was nonexistent and running became the furthest thing from my mind.  But I couldn't completely rule out the race.

I managed to get a couple runs in that included an 8-miler about a month before the race.  Given that I hadn't really trained for 8 miles and finished fine, I figured doing a half marathon wasn't that unreachable.  And in the days leading up to the race I cheated a bit on my diet and added some lentils and beans for extra carbohydrates.  It would have been impossible to run without proper glycogen stores.  I learned this during one of my longer training runs where my muscles completely cramped at mile 6 and I had to walk home.  A week before the race, and still recovering from fatigue, I had images in my head of someone having to scrape me up off the pavement.  But the carb-loading over the weekend paid off and my energy increased quickly.  I decided on race day that I would go for it and run.  In the back of my mind I still wondered if I was doing the right thing. 

My friend Robert gave me tremendous support, running the first two miles with me and surprising me at different mile markers.  I only started to struggle during mile nine.  It's amazing what crowds, fun signs (Zombies Are Behind You, Run!, My Mom Runs Faster Than Your Mom, On a scale of 1 to 10, You're a 13.1), and high-fives from kids can do to keep runners energized.  For not having run much lately, I was impressed by getting to mile 9 and feeling great.  And then painful side stitches, presumably from the gu energy gel, and severe cramping in my one calf set in.  There were two moments where the pain almost forced me to stop.  My pace slowed.  I was gearing up for the final stretch and felt it would be silly to stop after everything I had done.  "Why walk?  I'll get to the finish quicker if I run" I thought.  I kept thanking my body for giving me this experience and believed that it would sustain me to the finish.  It was like I was bargaining with it.  "Please get me to the end.  I just want to finish.  I promise to be nicer to you in the future."

The crowds at the finish line were amazing and I had never before experienced such energy at the end of a race.  I usually feel as if my shoes are filled with lead and typically struggle to cross but my body just wanted the race to be over.  It gave me a much-needed jolt to finish quicker.  I was proud of finishing given the circumstances of my health and diet in recent months.  But I wondered if I had done more harm than good to my body by running yesterday.  While I've given up many things (mostly food related) for the health of my body, on race day I put love of racing before it.  Maybe the cramps would have happened regardless of my training.  Who knows?  Runners suffer injuries even when training properly.

After the race I decided to put those worries out of my mind and celebrate with friends; I vowed to train better in the future knowing that this experience was informative and will make me stronger.  But Sunday evening my worries resurfaced and my heart broke to hear that two runners, one half marathoner and one marathon participant, died at and near the finish line.  I wondered what was going on in their minds during their journey: their anticipation, their hopes of finishing, the signs they might have enjoyed seeing on the course, the high fives they gave, the family members they saw or visualized cheering them on, their highs and lows, and if they were wishing away warning signs to stop, bargaining with their bodies, as so many runners do, to get them to them to their destination.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Plenty of Fish

Give a [gal] a fish and you feed [her] for a day. Teach a [gal] to fish and you feed [her] for a lifetime. 
Chinese Proverb

Today I was given an amazing gift.  My friend Robert, a macrobiotic counselor, made a house call this morning to go over my diet and make some revisions.  Currently my doctor has me on a fairly strict diet to starve a slight overgrowth in my GI tract.  This meant going off of all sugar and most starches and taking a hiatus from my vegan diet.  It also meant eliminating any foods that might be triggering a leaky guy - soy, corn, caffeine, alcohol, fermented foods, and gluten (dairy was already out of my diet).  Daily meals have consisted of small amounts of non-gluten grains (like brown rice and quinoa), lots of green vegetables and salads, select nuts and seeds (sesame and almond for the most part) and some organic chicken, turkey and wild fish.

Despite eating foods with higher amounts of protein and eating more greens than I had been as a vegan, I was low on energy and not meeting caloric intake requirements for my half-marathon training.  So I eased up and was only running once a week.  Robert, being an avid runner, wanted to get me back on the running trail, on track with health and with just simply feeling vibrant again.  And what an inspiration he was.



He rolled up to my street with three bags of goodies: a tailor-made list of 7 different breakfast recipes, generous samples of various grains to try, supplements to consider, samples of protein powders, and a couple new brand products to add to my diet.  We went over all the recipes and samples and then started to cook.  He made 5 recipes in less than an hour:

Pressed Salad
Millet Porridge
Veggie Stew
Blanched Greens
Mochi Melt



The foods were delicious and the lessons were invaluable.  There's something so special about a person sharing his time, knowledge, and experiences to help improve someone's quality of life.  And it came at a much needed time.  I felt like one lucky duck today.  Thanks Robert!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

From Here to There



Whenever someone is facing a health issue, be it large or small, chronic or acute, a question that quickly comes to mind is "How did I get here?"

*Was said health issue courtesy of the gene pool?

I had a family history of a GI immune disorder.  Although it's currently been ruled out, it's not clear as to whether or not this disease will develop.  Everyone is born with a certain body constitution.  There's no way to know if my current issue will change.   It might improve but it might never completely go away.       

*Was it a result of my food choices and, subsequently, from sensitivities to certain foods?

That's a "Was it the chicken or the egg?" question.  A weak GI system can lead to food sensitivities; food sensitivities weaken the GI system.  No finger-pointing was going to erase the fact that I had to cut out dairy, sugar, caffeine, starch, yeast, and gluten until conditions improved.  Zero tolerance for now.  I've read that once a GI system is healed and attended to, issues like lactose intolerance might actually be reversible.

*Was it my body's way of saying "f you" and "wake up" to the antibiotics that doctors had prescribed?

It still amazes me, looking back, that doctors never suggested taking probiotics after a round of antibiotics.  And I'm still kinda pissed that one of these doctors nonchalantly wrote a prescription for a "low grade" three month supply of antibiotics for a couple blemishes on my face.  I took them for a month before realizing, low grade or not, it was a bullshit move for my body.  There was never any talk of repopulating the good bacteria that ultimately got wiped out with antibiotic treatment.  And guess what?  My recent test results that actually got to the root cause of my symptoms showed that I was lacking a lot of good bacteria.  In fact, one important strain was nonexistent in my system.

*Was it stress related?

What stress? :P  Stress and stress management play a HUGE role in wellness.  When your body goes into "fight or flight" mode digestion stops so the body can focus on the fighting or "flighting."  This always happens when my nerves get the best of me.  Not healthy. The nervous system is also shaped from birth, which affects one's body constitution.

At the end of the day finding answers to these questions doesn't change where I am.  It would be nice to know the cause, to know that what I'm doing will improve my condition and to know how to avoid issues (if they are preventable) in the future.  But for now, I am here, eating a highly restricted diet and hoping my next test will show signs of improvement.  I'm particularly eager for insight into what my food future holds.  I'm pretty sure a vegan pizza is waiting for me there. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Club C

I'm two weeks into a three month venture of cleaning up my gut.  It took five years to get to the root of my symptoms and I think I'm finally on my way to healing and finding a balance.  It has been really helpful to know people who have gone through similar experiences.  Enter one groovy health nut rock star named Jane.  I turned to her immediately for resources on what to eat on an anti-candida diet.  I was also curious about how she got her diagnosis and what recovery path she followed.  Did she struggle like I had to figure out what was going on (as the symptoms can really apply to a plethora of health issues)?  Were doctors knowledgeable and receptive?  How did she heal her body?  Knowing that she was trying to live a raw foods/vegan lifestyle, how did she reconcile with having to eat meat?

Her story was very helpful to me and I have no doubt that it can help others who may suspect they have candida or are already diagnosed and dealing with it.

When did you first receive a diagnosis for candida?  What were your symptoms and how long did it take to get the diagnosis?  Who diagnosed it and how?


I received a diagnosis for candida in March of 2009.  I met with a holistic nutritionist, Ben Briggs, at Lionville Natural Pharmacy.  I was at the end of my rope with dealing with migraine headaches.  I was making the decision of whether or not to enter a doctoral program, but I was worried that given the frequency of my migraines (4-5 times per month) I would be unable to keep up with the work load.  My husband was missing a lot of work to take care of the kids when I got a migraine.  I started to have a lot of anxiety because I was in constant fear of when the next migraine would hit.  My energy was low, which I attributed to having two young children,  I had frequent headaches, sinus issues, low sex drive (again, attributed that to the kids), and was feeling out of sorts.  I wasn't really depressed, but I wasn't feeling like I was on my A game either.  I had been to medical doctors, chiropractors, homeopathic doctors, but never received any relief.  Before I went in to see Ben, he gave me a questionnaire to fill out.  Based on my symptoms, he gave me the diagnosis.  He said that the candida probably came up after a long term course of antibiotics I had been on for Lyme’s Disease the previous summer.  I got the diagnosis at my first appointment.  It was 1.5 hours (unheard of for a regular health care professional) and did not have to have any intrusive testing to get the diagnosis.  We went over the history of my symptoms and discussed the game plan in depth.

Did you have any support (literature, meal menus, tips, etc) from your nutritionist (and/or others) when you had to make the transition to an anti-candida diet?

Ben gave me a ton of information about what I could and could not eat.  At the time, I was eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) and the thought of cutting out sugar was horrifying to me.  That night when I got home, I polished off the end of a pint of ice cream and said, "Fuck it.  I'm done feeling like shit.  I quit.  Whatever he says, I will do."  My husband was an amazing source of support.  He was my number one cheerleader.  He would run to the store and get me whatever candida-friendly snack would pacify a sugar craving; he helped me come up with recipes, kept the junk out of the house, and was a total hero during the transition.  I felt horrible for the first two weeks.  I felt like I was a crack head.  I was constantly pacing the kitchen trying to figure out something I COULD eat that I actually WANTED to eat.  I remember the first relief I got was when I mixed 2 packets of Sweet Leaf Stevia with some fresh lemon and lime juice.  It tasted like heaven!!!  Then my symptoms started to clear and I was feeling so much better. 

What was your eating pattern like prior to the diet and during the diet when you changed the foods you ate?  Could you provide a typical week or days’ worth of foods you ate on both diets?


I thought I was eating healthy before my diagnosis.  That was laughable.  I ate a lot of healthy food, but I also ate a ton of crap too.  I loved sugar.  Sugar was a serious issue for me in general.  I ate lots of homemade organic brownies, breads, grain-based foods, protein bars, meat, cheese, cereal.  Pretty much the SAD diet but organic.

An anti-candida diet day might look like this:

Breakfast foods:  Eggs with spinach and onions cooked in organic butter, Fage Greek yogurt with blueberries, or an egg white protein shake.

Lunch foods:  Chicken on a salad with olive oil and avocado; Applegate farms lunch meat; leftovers from dinner the night before; celery with almond butter;

Snacks: nuts and seeds (no cashews or peanuts).

Dinner:  Usually a meat and a veggie.  Last night we ate grilled Salmon and Chicken with broccoli slaw dressed with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

How long were you on the anti-candida diet?  Did you have antibiotics as well as probiotics?  What was your doctor's prescription for wellness?

Ben’s prescription was to follow the diet and a supplement regime.  I took probiotics, but not antibiotics.  At first, because I was so nutrient deficient as a result of the candida, I had to take a ton of supplements, but we eventually weaned off of most of them and now I'm down to a multi-vitamin, iron B12 supplement, and Migrelief (for migraines).

Have you had any recurrences of candida?  Have you had and do you test for it or just intuitively go back on the anti-c diet?


I intuitively go back to the diet.  I have been experimenting with the raw vegan lifestyle because I want SO badly to follow it, but my candida symptoms always come back after a few months.  Once I became in tune with my "health baseline," I can tell almost immediately when symptoms are starting to reemerge.  It will usually manifest itself emotionally with me.  I will get anxious, sad, and depressed.  Then I know it's time to clean house again.

Did you have any "die-off" symptoms that followed the cleansing diet?  If so, was there a time frame on that?  Did it last through the entire diet or just at a certain point in time?


I had TONS of die off symptoms: fatigue, irritability, weight loss (a happy symptom for me, but not for others), and just generally felt like shit.  It lasted for a couple of weeks. I really started getting relief when I purchased a Needak Rebounder and started rebounding. My nutritionist and I both agreed that doing that really helped move the process along.

Have you eaten quinoa, brown rice (rice and pasta), or amaranth as part of the cleansing diet?  I've seen them listed as "ok foods" because they are non-glutenous.  I'm so confused as some sites say yes to them and others say no.  Conflicting info is so frustrating! :)


There is SOOO much conflicting info!  I cut those foods out for about 3 months when I first started, then gradually added them back in.  I still can't eat a lot of them, though.  I don't really eat grains at all unless it is in the form of brown rice protein powder (Sunwarrior brand).  I had to cut out almost all fruit too.  I ate grapefruit, berries, and granny smith apples and in very limited amounts (like 1/2 grapefruit a day) which sucked.

Reactions are so individual; I think that is why the info is so conflicting.  What heals one does not seem to heal another.  What worked for me is cutting out all of the crap completely and eating meats, veggies, nuts, seeds, and a little bit of dairy (Greek yogurt and butter).  I did a little fruit too.  Then, as my symptoms started to clear and after a couple of months of being symptom free, I started playing around with things.  When I would notice symptoms coming back, I would fine tune things again.  I'm still kind of in that phase with my bouncing back from raw to meat.  I end up eating too many fruits when I am on raw and seem cool for a couple of months and then my symptoms come back.

But it's a weird, strange journey and you start to become very in tune with your body.

What is one piece of advice or nugget of wisdom you'd impart to people going through it or those who think they have it?


Change your diet and do NOT look back.  You will get over sugar.  As a former sugar addict and dealer, you think you won’t be able to walk by desserts and not think about it, but you will.  You will get over it and it takes time, but stick with it.  It is well worth the results.  From personal experience, I also need to be constantly reminded by my decision making that the diet works and to stop messing with it.  Even if my personal ethics don’t align (wanting to be raw/vegan but having to eat meat for my health), I can’t live my life feeling like shit.  Sometimes I have to be my #1 priority.

Well said!  Thanks for your contributions, Jane!
Editor's Note: That last sentence is now my mantra.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Judgment Day

With a new diagnosis to inform my health concerns, I was instructed by my doctor to cut out all sugar, grains and beans this past Saturday.  I emptied my cupboards, which surprisingly had some extra-sugary foods I had talked myself into buying.  It's funny how even when I read labels I sometimes overlook sugar.  I had been eating more of it, mostly by way of fresh fruit, when I gave up coffee again last month.  Everyone needs a vice.  But my new vice was making my condition worst.  And now, I had full proof that sugar was one of the culprits.

After cleaning out the kitchen I set up a free grocery "store" in my house and asked friends to haul off the pineapple, oranges, the peanut butter and jelly, oatmeal, wheat pasta and other starchy foods.  I saved some of my favorite non-perishables for the future, with fingers crossed.

But a few days into the diet, I realized it was going to be hard for me to get all my calories met with the now very limited options I had in front of me.  Life as a vegan was do-able but restrictive enough.  And now, for the sake of repairing my body, I had to cut out my vegan staples of most grains and beans.  Fermented foods were out too.  Deep down I felt I was going to have to do something I thought I'd never do again.  Eat animals.  

My doctor, a vegan herself, even asked me on my first appointment if I was opposed to meat for ethical or health reasons and if I would consider eating it under any circumstances.  She asked this before any testing was done but I think she suspected I would have to eventually consider it.  I said no.  Some fellow vegans I told took offense to this.  "How could she ask that?  There are ways to get your nutrients without eating meat."  But I knew what her point was.  If it was a matter of improving health and restricting foods that I commonly ate, which were only making my health matters worse, would I consider eating meat for a short-term period?  After going through a few days of making my meals and trying to plan a variety of dishes and thinking of all the food scenarios (raw diet, etc), I made the decision to put meat back on my plate.

Instinctively for health reasons, which is ironic given that I don't believe it's healthy food, I came to the decision fairly quickly.  Emotionally, it was difficult.  When you choose not to eat meat partly on account of ethics and seeing horrible footage of cruelty to animals, it makes a walk down the meat aisle that much more foreign.  I started getting teary-eyed at Whole Foods as I stared at the meat for a few minutes, reluctantly picking out turkey and chicken, types that I never fancied back when I ate meat.  Poor birds. I was sure to get the meats labeled "antibiotic and hormone free" because otherwise it would probably mess further with my situation.  The label said they were raised humanely but who knows?  I certainly hope that was the case.  But can you really ever trust a sticker or a company?

Earlier in the day I considered trying the chicken at Chipotle, given their statements on "Food with Integrity."  But even their website wasn't giving a guarantee that all their chickens were antibiotic-free.  Oy!

I keep thinking that this meat-eating stint is only supposed to last for three months and when all is said and done I can resume my vegan diet.  For now, there's a little disappointment and self-judgment.  Perhaps yet another thing I need to cut out.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Last Hurrah

For the past six years I've been on a mission to improve my health, especially my energy levels and my skin.  Both, when less than stellar, can show signs of an imbalance and mine certainly were indicating a health issue.  I visited many doctors, took countless notes, ran a bunch of tests, changed my diet several times, embraced a regular fitness routine, and procrastinated on a mind/body practice.  And on Friday I finally got my answer.  

I recently started seeing a new doctor in the city who specializes in functional medicine.  I had a health care specialist in FM a few years ago but she moved her practice after my first visit.  And these doctors are hard to come by.  My current doctor ran the test that confirmed what I believed was ailing me.

This story, told in the non-TMI version, is meant to inform in general and be a resource for anyone facing similar issues.  It is not meant to offer advice on a means of diagnosis nor treatment (that is always to be determined with one's doctor).  With that said, my test results confirmed an overgrowth of not-so-great bacteria in my gut.  Everyone has this particular strain in their system but the "how much" is what can make or break health.  It never helped me to see what I call "mainstream" GI doctors because none of them that I met recognized Candida overgrowth as a possibility.  But practitioners with a focus on functional medicine do. 

So what did I need to do in light of this recognition and my test results?  I'd have to starve this overgrowth...by refraining from sugar...all sugar.  Period.  This would include large staples in my diet: glutinous grains like wheat and oats, all fruits, and beans.  And it would include removing alcohol and caffeine.  The plan today is to keep these items off my table for a minimum of 30 days.  Supplements will also be used to help accelerate removing the bacteria from my system and building up the good bacteria (one important strain was completely missing from my system - YOWZA!).

I woke up today feeling a little bummed by having to do all of this.  First of all, it's isolating.  Everyone else eats fun food while I'm chugging a green juice or salad.  I'll miss most of my comfort foods.  I also expect to go through some sort of withdrawal phase from not having sugar in my system. 

The good news is that all my friends are supportive and they are on full alert that I might, from time to time, get jealous of their food and look like I want to punch them.  Many people who have detoxed have attested to these feelings.  Some of my gals have also gone through this specific detox and diet, so having them as a resource is a HUGE plus.  I'll be getting more vitamins and minerals because the foods that are "allowed" on this diet are mostly veggies and tofu and nuts.  Prior to this diet, when I had the option of eating out and having a vegan pizza or Chipotle over loads of veggies or home-cooked meals, I always picked the former.  With this diet, the veggies finally win.  Yay for them.

The timing on all of this is perhaps perfect as I just started a nutrition course and the class resources will help down the road.  All good things.

After reviewing the results on Friday morning, I decided to have a last hurrah before starting my diet on Saturday.   

Favorite vegan pizza for lunch.

Dinner at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant.
 
YUM!

More on the diet later.  Good eats to you!

P.S.  Here's a great video that describes Functional Medicine:


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Heavenly Greek Salad



Thanks to my roommate Claire, I've been inspired to try out more new recipes.  She is always cooking up a storm in our kitchen and luckily that motivation has started to rub off on me.  My return to the kitchen has also been aided by Abbey and Susan, friends who are a constant source of free rides to Whole Foods.  Translation: no 15 minute walks with heavy grocery bags.  Score!


I didn't know it could get better but I recently stumbled upon a salad dressing that changed my life.  Yes, it was that profound.  It has an amazing blend of herbs that reminded me of the flavorful pizza dough of my ex-favorite pizza place, which doesn't serve vegan pizza :(.  When coupled with tofu, this dressing also reminds me of feta.  It also masks the tofu taste!  Here's how you can healthfully rock your Greek salad.


Heavenly Greek Salad

6 Romaine Leaves, chopped
Handful of small tofu cubes, crumbled
2 tbsp. Herbes de Provence Vinaigrette
4-5 marinated artichokes
Small handful of kalmata olives, halved
Small handful of red onion, chopped

Toss, enjoy, make more salad.