My Relationship With Food – A Journey

Food.  Something we contemplate, curate, and consume every day.

Well, perhaps some of us contemplate.  Most of us just consume.  And I have been an unconscious consumer for about thirty years, yet about seven years ago when I decided to get in shape (by working out at the gym) I coincidentally learned something about eating – a way of eating that reduced inflammation and water retention.  My trainer offered me a food plan suggestion, and I followed it to a T. For three whole months.

Then life happened.

I had to travel for work.  I got off schedule.  I was following someone else’s meal schedule (on someone else’s budget), and could no longer eat small meals every two and a half to three hours.

And my gut was not happy with me for choosing to eat differently.

Eating “normally,” most would say. I was eating out at restaurants.  With the sauce. And the fried stuff. And drinks. And dessert. And… Oh, man.  Why do work trips turn into over eating and drinking every night?

Eventually, after returning home, getting back into eating my small meals, mostly sticking to the plan, I self-diagnosed myself with a wheat intolerance problem.  I was bloated, had intestinal pain, and generally not well when I ate wheat (something I avoided on the suggested meal plan, unless it was whole-grain sprouted and only first thing in the morning).  So, I decided to eliminate it from my diet.

This was right around the time that gluten became a thing people were intolerant to, and celiac disease coming into the open. When I learned of these things, I got a little worried and had a blood test done. My first score (I had the test done twice) was 303 on a scale of 0 to 310.

My doctor told me I was fine. 

I ran through the external factors (and facts) in my mind:
1. I had not been eating wheat for months.
2. These scores are determined by the number of antibodies in your blood stream.
3. No wheat had been introduced into my body for months to irritate my system and get my immune system all up in arms.
4. My score was nearly at the top of the chart.

There was no way in He** I was fine. 

A year later, after avoiding wheat as much as possible (although, I would test myself every once in a while), I asked for another test.  Negative again.

Then one day at a market, I met a gluten-free Celiac-diagnosed baker who told me: “You probably need just one more test – those tests have a 75% false negative rate”.

75%??? Why even give a test if you know there’s a 3 out of 4 chance you’re going to get a negative result and it is probably wrong?!?!

At this point, I gained resolve. I decided that I needed to be a “Gluten-Free” person. And this choice has served me well.  I am still not 100% strict, but as time passes, I am growing more certain that I will be soon.  Between my own research, and conversations with others dealing with similar digestive issues has taught me there is only one way to get real results on any of the Celiac tests:
You must eat wheat and gluten for three weeks before taking the test.

Which means, if you DO have Celiac disease, you are quite possibly, literally causing yourself more harm to find out 100% if you can give your problem a name: Celiac.

I have decided that is not for me. A self-diagnosis is enough.
(Although, I have to admit, it would be nice to know for sure what I was up against if this really is a thing I have.  Some interior struggle is going on.  My advice: If you suspect you have wheat/gluten intolerance, do not stop eating these items until you can have the test done.  I no longer want to feel the symptoms to find out. Catch 22. Check out WebMD, or even Celiac.org for more resources on this topic).

And then last year… At my annual check-up, I was filling my doctor in on some of the issues I had been having with digestion (ahem… gas) and allergic reactions to food, and she said: “I think you may have leaky gut syndrome“.

Um… What??? Am I DYING?!?
(Seriously – this name makes this ‘condition’ sound worse than Celiac Disease!!! Please know that I am in no way belittling the giant challenge that Celiac is for those who have the condition. It is a monster to tame, and a battle to eat clean Every Single Day).

So I learned that a whopping 70% of the American population has Leaky Gut and that it is caused by a build-up of yeast in the intestines that blocks nutrient absorption, allows food particles to get through the intestine and into the bloodstream, and then your body attacks the food like an invading pathogen. (Yep – check out WebMD again, if you like).

So, besides some flatulence and bloating (by yeast-produced gas), you actually can develop more sensitivities to foods as your body starts recognizing these as invaders.

I wanted to stop this. Now.

I took the suggested items to avoid list, along with the suggested items to ingest, looked up the referenced website The Candida Diet, immediately got on Amazon and ordered The Candida Free Cookbook, purchased green powdered probiotic, and two weeks later, after mentally preparing (and stocking my cupboard and refrigerator), I committed to following the guide and eliminated ALL sugar from my diet. (Because the sugar feeds the yeast, so it must go).

Yes, ALL sugar. Including fruit. For three whole weeks.

Admittedly, the first couple days were… interesting.  I was having fun cooking (it was easier, really – a restricted shopping list). The second day without sugar, I went out for a run, and found I could not get myself to run more than a block before I would need to walk. After three-quarters of a mile, I wanted to lay down on the pavement at the waterfront and take a nap. The feeling of all this was entirely ridiculous to me, I had no idea what was wrong with me.

(Fast forward to three weeks later when I belatedly read the introduction of the book, referenced the website again, and learned that when the yeast in your body die, they release toxins, and your body has to process and eliminate these. I went cold-turkey off sugar, and experienced these symptoms pretty dramatically. Most instructional books advise easing off of sugar, slowly taking it out of your diet – which I apparently skipped over, and dove in head-first. In hind-sight, it may be more sustainable to slowly reduce the sugar intake, and then eliminate it from your diet. Just a little tip from me to you).

Five days in, I felt amazing.  I was more awake, alert, my body felt good – stronger (I was also in Yoga Teacher Training – this definitely contributed to strength). Within a week my tummy started deflating.  No more bloat. By the end of week three, I was afraid to touch any sugar ever again.  I knew how great I felt (and might i add – looked?) without it, and was terrified to eat an apple.

Fast forward to today, and here is my dinner:

Now you may look at this and wonder at if this is good or bad.  It’s a vegan dish, all healthy, colorful vegetables. But let me tell you, there are only three things in this picture allowed in the Candida free diet: tomatoes, onions, and garlic.  The squash, carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes are high in sugar.  Also very high in fantastic nutrients, but … very high in sugar. And I can feel it in my belly again.  The bloat.  The unhappy intestinal cries of “what are you feeding me?” 

I have a confession: I have a problem. My body does not process sugar well. And I continue to hurt myself by continuing to eat foods that are high in sugar.

For years, I have been one of the “healthy eaters”.  No, I don’t mean I eat a lot of food.  I mean, I eat what other people perceive to be healthy foods.  A lot of whole fruits. Some vegetables. Baked sweet potatoes! Unsweetened, whole-fat yogurt and granola. Dried fruit. Nuts. And more fruit. (And sometimes ice cream).

Yes, compared to the usual diet you see your average friend (without food sensitivities) eating, I am eating very healthy foods. But that is where it stops.

It is incredibly easy to eat gluten-free in my home town.  There are at least five dedicated bakeries, and almost every restaurant you may choose to dine at has some option for the gluten-sensitive crowd. Unfortunately, most gluten-free bread substitutes are made with simple carb flours and starches (rice, tapioca, corn starch) which quickly convert to sugars (and later fats) in the body.

So I have to make my own protein and fiber rich bread. Like the one below …
with raisins. 

Interestingly enough, I listened to a web interview on the Hay House World Summit with Joan Borysenko, Ph.D and she described that as a populous, we are split 50/50.  Half of us can process carbs very well, and the other half can process fats.  Well, I know which team I’m on, so what am I going to do? 

Today, I find myself at a turning point.  A crossroads.

I am at a place where I am no longer willing to sacrifice my wellbeing for something that might taste good.

Self-care is not just exercising 30 minutes a day, taking a bath, making time to read a book, or getting your Vitamin D. For me, I have learned it quite literally starts with food.

How we nourish our bodies affects every single thing we do on this Earth. 

Without proper nourishment, our mind is less able, we contract disease more easily, and our bodies eventually fail us (sooner than later).

I have been fortunate enough to be given the option to choose what I feed myself. Organic, Non- GMO, Vegan, Gluten-Free all readily at my disposal, and I seek items with these particular labels often.

Now, I am about to embark on a different kind of journey.

Against my nature (of eating food straight from nature) I have committed to a 30 day cleanse. Going through each day with a shake substitute for two meals, and one healthy whole food meal. There will also be two 2-day cleanses – where I will only consume liquids and small snacks to give my digestive system a break.

It’s funny, I felt really shy about telling my sister that I have chosen to try this cleanse  (many would think of this as a diet – currently, I still see it as a dietary experiment). As an afterthought, this is exactly the kind of thing I would (and do) choose to do.  I’m conducting an experiment with my body to see how it reacts to different kinds of inputs – once again.

Why now? Since I cannot run (the broken toe), and honestly I’m feeling slightly detached from my body of late (yes, I have been eating all the foods – except gluten), I felt this was a great time to try something … different. I won’t be worried as much about my eating schedule and amount of protein consumption because I am not on my regular (running) training schedule. Additionally, this specific program is very high in protein, minerals, vitamins and other nutrients which alleviates some worry that I would not be giving my body what it needs.  Since I have never tried a cleanse before, now seems like the perfect time. Besides…

You wouldn’t go 30 years without giving your car a tune-up, right?  

Time to give this body’s digestive tract a rest.  And you can bet you will be getting a play-by-play. If this program is as effective as it claims, this very well may be life-changing.

Please share with me, my athlete and health-food conscious friends:

Have you ever done a cleanse?
Did you enjoy your results?
Were you able to keep working out while you cleansed?

Thanks so much for being here with me on this journey,
~Alaina

Commitments: Heart, Soul, and Feet – Time for Some Nourishment

Over the past few months, I have found myself (finally) making commitments to do the things that are enjoyable for me on a semi-consistent … let’s say, weekly basis.  Tonight, for example, a lovely weekend-eve Friday night, I got home around 5:30pm after work, put on my Pj’s, poured a short glass of white wine, and snacked on a random assortment of foods including cheese, apple, gluten-free pretzels, carrots, prunes, and salami.  Okay, and a little ice cream.  I was relaxed, comfortable, and just enjoying the peace of being home.  

To be honest, I knew I wanted to write tonight, and I did not want to spend time cooking… and in the end, did not eat a very healthy meal by my standards.  (Can I even call it a meal?)

Truthfully, I eat this way frequently.  Although, generally in a more organized “here is the pu-pu platter” kind of assorted fruits, veggies, meats, and cheeses manner.  Chopping and not cooking is easy, delicious, and I have to say, I think there is something to eating raw that I might like to explore.  I have so much energy when I snack on whole foods!

I do not know when or how it happened, but at some point in my young adult life, I started fantasizing about eating healthy foods.  I was terrible at it in my teens, and my early 20’s.  Dorm food and low budgets do not make for choice selections in the grocery aisle.  I find myself now, reading the ingredients on any food that comes pre-packaged (or on any health and beauty item – there are so many unrecognizable items in face cream!  I mean, really! Do you want …. “whateverthatis” on your face and in your body???)

My turning point came in 2009, when I signed up with a trainer at my local 24 Hour Fitness.  I was relieved when I found out I would be training with a woman – a girl, in fact someone my age.  She had spunk, was super cute, strong, funny, and knew just what to say to get me to do what she wanted.  In less than two weeks, I was on a very regimented work-out schedule, keeping a food (and “how are you feeling”) journal, and pushing physical boundaries I never thought I would be touching.

It’s true, in two months I had lost a significant amount of body fat, gained 7 pounds of lean muscle and I was working out with such focus and intensity, the only time I was approached by a man at the gym it went like this:  Him  – “You look like you’re working hard.” (slight smile on his mouth).  Me – “Yes, I am.” (Matter-of-factly)  Him – ” . . . (crickets) . . . ” (turns and leaves).  I scared him away.  …Must learn how to appropriately engage in conversation with interested men… oh, well.

Over time, I lost my enthusiasm for the gym.  The things I really kept in practice are in regards to food.  Portion size, variety, the importance of having lots of colors in your food, frequency of meals to keep up the metabolism… all of these have had a tremendous impact on my energy level, how I feel in my body, and combating tiredness.  The greatest impact was unintentional – I was instructed not to eat carbs (ie: bread and wheat) except in the morning. Oatmeal or sprouted wheat toast were ok in the early hours when you are kick-starting your body.  By following this advice, I learned how much my body dislikes wheat, and I am so grateful to have been given this knowledge before any number of physical consequences reared their ugly heads.Despite all my training and the lessons I have learned, I am constantly striving to eat better.  I want to eat more vegetables.  I want to eat less sugar, in fact, perhaps eliminate all processed sugar from my diet.  I want to cook more of my meals.  I want to eat local foods that I purchase at the farmer’s market to support local business, and make Earth-healthy choices (closer food equals less fossil fuel consumption in shipping goods).      Making these changes takes time, energy, planning, prepping, and spending time at home cooking rather than choosing social occasions eating out.  Lifestyle change – difficult, important, and definitely possible.

So this month, I am choosing to Nourish my heart, soul, and continue to honor and nourish my feet and legs with running (especially with a Marathon and a 50K coming up in the near future).  For my heart, I am participating in a 30 push-ups/day for 30 days challenge inspired by a couple of very cool ladies over at It’s A Marathon AND A Sprint, Colby and Tina (arm and core strength are good for the heart, right?).  For my soul, I am committing to writing every day for the month of May, following the BlogHer prompts for “Nourish” NaBloPoMo.  I love that they have put together a “Write Your Heart Out” theme for every month!  Whenever you decide to pick up the pen, you can find support of other writers, getting their Blog on.

Here’s to writing, running, pushing-up for dynamite shoulders, and eating like we’ve always dreamed so we can feel that good.

Happy Nourish-ing…
~Alaina