Nine days into a cleansing diet

Today is a cold rainy day here in Austin, and I’m in a great place right now as I write this — in bed, where it’s warm and cozy. I hear drops hitting the trailer roof with that satisfying sound that metal roofs provide.

I’m in the 9th day of a cleansing diet.

Usually sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas every year, I get the strong idea that I want to eat simple food — once the holidays are over.

Don’t get me wrong — I partake of feasts and many holiday goodies. I don’t eat gluten ever, if I can help it, but I indulged in gluten-free muffins, bread, and cookies, not to mention sugar, mostly combined with chocolate. And wine. And a delicious Wensleydale cheese with cranberries.

The richness is delicious, of course, but it just gets to be too much. I start making lentil soup to simplify and make plans to really clean up my eating in January…

Now the holidays are over and we’re into January, and I’m doing the strict candida diet that I first did 5 or 6 years ago. That diet includes very limited grains (only quinoa, millet, and a few others), no dairy except plain yogurt and kefir, no fruit except lemon/lime/pomegranate, no sugar in any form, no fermented/pickled/brined foods.

You can have a lot of non-starchy vegetables, meat/poultry/fish/eggs, nuts and seeds. The only sweetener you can use is stevia.

I remember the first time I did it. I followed it so strictly. I had read that with candida, if you messed up and ate any of the forbidden foods, you could lose all the progress you had made toward clearing excess candida out of your body, and you’d have to start completely over. That’s because the forbidden foods contain sugar or become sugars that feed candida.

So my idea then was that this change in eating was so painful, I wasn’t going to mess up, because I never wanted to do it again.

Now here I am, doing it again. Not because I have candida again, but because I remember that after about two and a half months of eating so cleanly like this, I realized that I felt different.

I couldn’t describe how I felt.

After checking in closely and realizing that I had many fewer aches and pains, more energy, and no issues with my digestive system, it gradually dawned on me that I felt well.

And I’ve built on that for years.

And that’s what I’m going for again. Feeling really well. It’s not that I’m sick. I actually feel pretty blessed to have good health and be able to work 20-25 hours a week doing massage. But I could feel better.

I figured that I might as well ride the impulse to clean up my diet in January and really clean it up. And it’s not that painful, just another adventure in learning about the relationship between the food I eat and my well-being.

This might be something I do every January. It’s hard to maintain perfectly, and I miss certain foods, which I usually indulge in in moderation. The diet is like a baseline to go back to, and it has influenced my food choices quite a bit.

The book I used the first time was The Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates. It explains the whole inner ecosystem idea (balancing the gut flora and fauna) pretty well without being overwhelmingly scientific and walks you through doing the diet, including recipes.

I lent that book out afterwards and never got it back, but I remember it pretty well, and some of that material is available online.

In the interim, I discovered green smoothies, which I can make differently every time, using different greens and adding fresh mint and other herbs. I’ve been making those (anyone got a Vitamix they want to sell cheap? my blender is wearing out) for breakfast, lunch, dinner.

I’m also planning to make cultured red cabbage!

I’ll report back after January ends on whether I experienced a surge in well-being and how I want to move forwards.

Meanwhile, I’m feeling pretty good, except for some aches and pains from doing massage.

How to get smarter

A couple of Facebook friends (thanks, Nelson and Jacqueline!) posted links to this guest blog post from Scientific American entitled You can increase your intelligence: 5 ways to maximize your cognitive potential. The author, Andrea Kuszewski, who has worked with children with Asperger’s syndrome and helped them increase their IQs, posits that IQ isn’t something that’s genetically predetermined.

Rather, we can get smarter.

I agree with this from my own experience. Clearing excess candida and getting gluten out of my diet resulted in the dissipation of a brain fog that I hadn’t even been aware of — because I had a brain fog! I remember realizing with joy that I could focus on reading difficult texts that I would have given up on before, and I could retain what I learned.

I also read the book Buddha’s Brain and take most of the recommended supplements for brain health. I’ve noticed a difference from that. My brain seems to be humming along more contentedly, and I feel more integrated.

Tell ya later about brainwave optimization!

Of course, this is anecdotal and not scientific evidence, but it seems to me that that’s always where good research starts — from noticing differences. And if it’s true for me, it’s true for me, and that’s good to know.

Kuszewski’s post draws on research findings published in 2008 that stated that you can increase your intelligence significantly through training. And she says if you can live your life by these five principles, you’ll be smarter:

1. Seek novelty. Be open to new experiences.

2. Challenge yourself. As soon as you master something, move on.

3. Think creatively. 

Creative cognition involves divergent thinking (a wide range of topics/subjects), making remote associations between ideas, switching back and forth between conventional and unconventional thinking (cognitive flexibility), and generating original, novel ideas that are also appropriate to the activity you are doing.

4. Do things the hard way. Use your skills — don’t let technology (calculators, GPS, cars) erode them.

5. Network. Expose yourself to new people, ideas, environments. Everyone benefits.

On becoming gluten free

I was inspired to write this post by the blogger Gluten-Free Girl. She invited people to share their symptoms. They were so all-over-the-place, including migraines, arthritis, random crying, fatigue, menstrual difficulties, infertility, canker sores, peripheral neuropathy, Hashimoto’s, and many more types of suffering, that I wanted to share my story and let anyone who’s just found out about candida and/or gluten-intolerance, or whose story is similar to these, know that there’s hope.

Life can be so great when you have your health. And the food industry and restaurants are increasingly becoming aware of the need to offer us alternatives.

If you have a gluten-free story, I urge you to share it at the link above. It makes a huge difference to have a lot of stories in one place. There are millions of us (18 million out of 307 million Americans, by latest estimate, have celiac or gluten intolerance), but most of us experienced feeling like we were the only one. We have lots of company!

And…in my opinion, this post and all the comments should be required reading for health care practitioners.

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When I was a child, sometimes on weekends, my father would make pancakes for breakfast.

Halfway through a stack of two pancakes buttered with margarine and smothered in fake maple syrup (because that’s how we ate back then), I’d start to feel not so good. Not really sick, but not well, either.

I guess the best description is that my usual vibrancy disappeared. I felt a little woozy, a little queasy, somewhat clumsy and sluggish. My belly didn’t hurt, but it didn’t feel good either.

It would last for a couple of hours, then  dissipate. I stopped liking pancakes.

Looking back, that was the most flour I ever ate at once. My family wasn’t big on bread. We didn’t eat much pasta or fried breaded food. But we did eat pancakes and sandwiches and cake and cookies and gravy, so I ate wheat if not every day, then several times a week.

In adulthood, I often had diarrhea, gas, and bloating, and less often, I had painful colon cramps that doubled me over, but I never reported it to a doctor. I thought I was just prone to stomach bugs.

In hindsight, I had no idea what good bowel health was. People just didn’t talk about it! That’s a good topic for another post… ; D

Generally, I felt dull and sluggish a lot of the time. Dissociated, not quite present, uncoordinated, depressed. (I also had PTSD, also unbeknownst to anyone. It’s hard to truly know what to attribute these symptoms to.)

I had skin problems — outbreaks of adolescent and adult acne. I had itchy, blotchy rashes at various times on my stomach and chest, my back, and my arms and legs. I would break out in a rash from sun and heat.

I took Seldane and later Claritin daily for allergies. I didn’t get the association between dairy and mucus, or between liver health and allergies, back then. I thought my allergies were all due to airborne irritants. I didn’t believe it was possible to care for my health so that I didn’t need pharmaceuticals.

I know differently now.

I often had low energy and was easily exhausted. I’d go out on Saturday mornings to run errands, and after two hours, I’d hit the wall energetically and have to go home and take a nap. I attributed it to the stress of being a working single mother.

Oh, yeah. I was told that I was a colicky baby, often screaming for hours. Hmm.

I did receive muscle testing and acupuncture treatment (NAET) for allergies in my mid-40s, when I first became interested in alternative medicine. I remember being told that my body reacted to grasses. I thought it was to grass pollen in the air. I never thought of grasses as foods. Of course, wheat and other true grains are grasses! As is sugarcane.

NAET helped. I no longer had an annual winter sinus infection, and I only needed to take Claritin 3-4 times a year.

I still had the occasional colon cramps and diarrhea, gas, and bloating. The colon cramps could be so painful, I’d become pale, break into a cold sweat, and feel weak and shaky.

It took me a long time to heal after a car accident in 1996. My body hurt. I had low back pain and was diagnosed with scoliosis (not sure when it started, and it’s now healed with chiropractic help). I had a couple of bouts with plantar fasciitis. My weight fluctuated by as much as 35 lbs., and I’m 5’1″.

The enamel on my teeth had gotten thin or worn away in spots, leaving me with sensitive teeth. I often had night sweats. I developed rosacea. I had canker sores. Sometimes the toes on my left foot went numb. I lost bone density.

I’m just today realizing that these health problems may have a connection with being gluten intolerant, after reading others’ stories. There are over 300 symptoms of celiac. No wonder it’s so often misdiagnosed. It’s enough to want to tell anyone with inexplicable symptoms to go gluten-free for a month and see if that helps.

~~

I grew up knowing very little about the relationship between food and health. I was never tested for food allergies. I had “hay fever”, and my digestive symptoms appeared when I was an adult.

One of my brothers had asthma and was tested, though. He had the traditional scratch test and was found to be allergic to a lot of things, both food and airborne. He reacted to cats, dogs, pollen, dust, eggs, dairy, nuts, and a lot of other foods, but not to wheat or grains. He took shots for years.

While going to Active Life Chiropractic in late 2006 for treatment, I was told that my health insurance covered food sensitivity testing (the Immuno 1 Bloodprint tests your blood for over 100 foods) and asked if I was interested. I agreed to be tested, thinking that I probably had some minor food sensitivities.

The results of my food sensitivity test came back a couple of weeks later. I was found to be sensitive to wheat, oats, two kinds of yeast, two kinds of beans, potatoes, tomatoes, and sugarcane. That was mind-boggling!

Because of the yeast and sugarcane, my doctor recommended that I be tested for candida. That test came back positive.

So I started my gluten-free journey with the candida diet, which meant no grains, dairy, any sweetener except stevia, yeast, fruit, juice, alcohol, potatoes, peanuts, legumes, mushrooms, chocolate, caffeine, condiments, vinegar, high-glycemic anything, cured or pickled or fermented anything.

(Hmm, isn’t it interesting that most of the foods I tested sensitive to were also banned on the candida diet?)

I cleaned out my fridge and pantry of everything with any forbidden ingredient in it. I didn’t want to be tempted or to make a mistake. It took over an hour to read the ingredients on every single label, and at the end, I had two paper grocery bags full of food to give away. Bye-bye, Michaelangelo’s frozen lasagna, Campbell’s tomato soup, soy sauce, mayonnaise, ketchup, barbecue sauce, coffee, honey, maple syrup!

My start date rolled around. It was by far the most drastic change in eating I’d ever experienced. It was so drastic, I decided to stick to it 100% so I would never have to do it again. Dang, it was rough, but I was determined to find out if I could feel better. 

I lost weight and went to bed hungry at times. Breakfast was the biggest problem because there were no traditional breakfast foods that I could have unless I wanted eggs every day. I often ate fish and salad (with Annie’s vinegar-free salad dressing — bless you, Annie) for breakfast.

Food was no longer inspiring — instead, it was plain and simple fuel. If I got hungry, I just waited until the next meal. Meat, fish, eggs, and non-starchy vegetables were my mainstays. Scrambled eggs were yummy with salsa verde on top. Little discoveries like that kept it interesting.

I took a supplement called Candex, which helps dissolve the cell walls of yeast. My poop smelled yeasty for the first few weeks.

After about a month, I discovered the book The Body Ecology Diet and began making young coconut kefir at home and  drinking Helios brand plain dairy kefir with FOS to get some probiotics into my gut. I slowly added grains like millet and quinoa and low-glycemic fruit like blueberries, Granny Smith apples, and kiwis.

(By the way, if you borrowed that book from me, I’d like to have it back.)

After two and a half months, I noticed that I felt really different. I felt physically good and my energy level had increased, and I noticed that I felt more present, like my brain was working better, like some kind of brain fog had lifted. I could focus better, read more difficult books, understand more complex thinking than before. My memory improved. I experienced myself differently. I felt smarter and more alive!

I stuck to the strict diet until my body told me I had cleared the excess candida, which was 3 months. The test had said I had mild candida. If it had been severe, I still would have stuck to it to find out if I could feel better. Anything to consistently feel better.

I transitioned from the candida diet to avoiding the foods I had tested sensitive to — the wheat, sugar, potatoes, and so on — and taking it easy on the other candida avoids.

~~

I was tested again a year later. Candida was balanced. I was sensitive to fewer foods (a couple of new ones too), but wheat and several other foods were still a no-no. My chiropractor had my blood tested this time for gluten. I wasn’t sensitive to it, only to wheat. So probably wheat inflames my small intestine.

Then my health insurance stopped covering the test, which was too expensive to continue on my own, so I haven’t been tested again.

Meanwhile, I read Eat Right for Your Type and noticed a strong similarity between the candida diet and the recommended diet for people with Blood Type O. Type Os should not eat wheat.

My theory is that people are born sensitive to certain foods and stay that way, and other food sensitivities come and go, based on stress and/or overexposure and sometimes maybe just shifts in body chemistry. Sometimes we crave the foods that make us feel bad, and sometimes we instinctively avoid them. That is some great learning there!!!

If you can’t afford to get tested but suspect you have food sensitivities, try the Blood Type Diet. I bet you’ll feel better — and it includes feel-good foods, not just avoids.

Also, I’d love to know how many celiacs, gluten-intolerant folks, and people with candida are Type Os and how many are another blood type. Please comment!

I was still in denial about wheat. I’d tell myself that every once in a while, I could have a burger or some birthday cake. I enjoyed those moments, but I eventually learned from experience that my body just cannot handle more than a quarter teaspoon of wheat without affecting my small intestine adversely, and that if I do “get glutened”, it takes 3 days for my body to get back to normal.

What I suspect happens is that the lining of my small intestine gets irritated by wheat, and it stays that way, interfering with absorbing other nutrients, until the wheat is completely out of my body.

That’s 3 days of malnutrition.

It’s just not worth it. I can now resist cake, cookies, burgers, and so on. I feel so much better consistently when I do. 

I’ve learned over the past five years that I can handle spelt and Ezekiel bread, but it also seems important that I don’t eat them often. In general, my body doesn’t do well with grains. Rice is my most tolerable grain. Quinoa is great. It’s a seed, not a grain.

~~

I have no idea if I have celiac disease, and it doesn’t really matter. Gluten-free means wheat-free, and I’m fine with describing myself as being gluten-sensitive or gluten-intolerant, as eating a gluten-free diet. My body doesn’t agree with wheat in particular, grains in general, potatoes, some legumes.

So basically, to cut to the chase, I spent over 50 years of my life consuming something that made me feel bad, interfered with absorption of other nutrients, and diminished my presence, intelligence, and vitality. I don’t like to dwell on thinking how much better my life could have been if only I or my parents had known. That feels tragic, and I can’t change the past. I want to feel great in the life that’s ahead of me.

I suspect my mother may have been gluten-intolerant. She often had gas, bloating, and bowel issues, low energy, took a lot of naps, had arthritis. She had anemia a lot as a child and young adult. She never knew.

I’m so grateful that I know and can act now. And if telling this story helps one person have better health, investigate, or stick to a gluten-free diet, it’s worth it.