Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A journey is exactly that

I've taken a hiatus from this blog for the past few months, but not from my journey. I enrolled in eCornell's Certificate in Plant-Based nutrition course in June and finished the course in July.  Here's the description: 

Plant-Based Nutrition represents a forward-looking view of nutrition that Dr. T. Colin Campbell has developed during his more than 40 years experience in experimental research and 20 years in public policy. This certificate program presents a different paradigm, considering the topic of nutrition both as a science and as a component of the practice of medicine. It is an expansion of NS 200, a successful Cornell course approved by the Department of Nutritional Science and offered for 7 years. This new online series offers the best of Dr. Campbell’s work, incorporating material from his best selling book, The China Study, as well as the latest information from leading experts in the field. This three-course certificate program was designed to introduce the general public and medical professionals to the vastly underestimated ability of properly executed nutrition to maintain health and prevent disease.

The first course in the series, Nutrition Fundamentals, identifies the true causes of degenerative disease - poor dietary practices - and offers scientifically based solutions to reduce disease risk. The second course, Diseases of Affluence, presents solutions to the crisis facing America’s health care system and a dietary solution for your own optimal health. The final course, Principles in Practice, demonstrates practical applications of plant-based nutrition in a variety of contexts illustrating the powerful effects of a whole food, plant-based diet on our society and the positive impact its acceptance could have on our future. Together, these courses present a powerful science-based approach to nutrition that can dramatically reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity and improve your quality of life.
AAAAAND, here's my certificate! 

I first found out about Dr. Campbell from watching the documentary Forks Over Knives, like I described in a previous post, and I found his work so inspiring and logical that I wanted to know more. I'm happy to share what I learned moving forward, since a lot of my current knowledge either confirms what I was discovering previously or moves in new directions which I hadn't considered. There is so much conflicting information online that I'm happy to have my current knowledge backed up by extensive research! 
For the experiment-lovers out there, not to worry: I'm still doing plenty of experimenting and will update about that too.:) 
First update to come: my adventures with water kefir! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Whatever you're doing, it's working...

“Have respect for yourself, and patience and compassion. With these, you can handle anything.” ~Jack Kornfield

I've been consistently hearing two comments recently:

"Whatever you're doing, it's working..." AND "You're getting so skinny! Stop losing weight." 

Being that walking to / from work and some light yoga are my only forms of exercise right now, the weight I've lost is more directly tied to the food I'm eating. I am sensitive to the weight loss - not because I think I look unhealthy or because people have commented, but because it's been a big transition which requires an eating balance moving forward. I remind myself occasionally that I didn't lose 20 lbs by eating lettuce for every meal or fasting until I was starving. Instead, it was a combination of increasing my intake of  fruits / vegetables / seeds / nuts and decreasing my intake of dairy / meat / refined sugars / processed foods. I don't feel hungry all day and I don't feel weak or exhausted. In fact, I feel great and think that my body has settled into it's natural weight range. Now: to maintain that weight!

I've been reading up more on healthy fats - not low-fat or diet food options, not the saturated / trans fats lurking in processed foods, but the monounsaturated / polyunsaturated fats which are a part of any diet (they help your body absorb nutrients). I've been seeing that while moderation is still important regardless of your fat intake, it also matters what type of fat you're consuming. Options for plant-based healthy fats may include:

  • Olives / Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
I was late to jump on the nuts / seeds bandwagon. Growing up I ate a processed version of peanut butter, but more likely than not avoided other nuts (processed or whole). I never considered eating seeds! Now, I eat a combination of Chia, Sunflower, and Pumpkin seeds, as well as Almonds and Walnuts (and almond butter!). I've been seeing tons of recipes for cashew spreads, which also seem intriguing. Like this one! 

How do you make sure you're getting enough fats in your diet? 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Always something new

Every time I have an appointment at the holistic doctor, I come away with new things to try.

This week: another tweaked diet and the knowledge that I have a strong reaction to pollen (not surprising, but I'm happy to have it confirmed). After all of my excitement about lessened allergy symptoms, I noticed over the past 1.5 weeks that my eyes were getting redder and more itchy and there didn't seem to be any end in sight. Sigh. This is around the time last year when my allergies became unbearable, so all in all these more mild symptoms are an improvement. Still, I want them gone.
Image via Leo Michels

The doctor suggested I take Stinging Nettle to help offset the allergies naturally. Some research suggests that the nettle has the ability to reduce the amount of histamine the body produces in response to an allergen - we'll see! What's interesting about the holistic approach, is that he tested my body's reactions to a few variations of Stinging Nettle supplements and one responded much better than the others (many were combinations of different extracts). In this way, saying that I should take Stinging Nettle is not enough and had I done my own research and picked a brand, who knows if it would have made a difference. His muscle testing technique allowed him to see what particular variation would work best with my system, so I'll see how it goes.

As for the tweaked diet, we're still figuring out what my trigger foods are and what can help my skin stay clear for good. All the progress I've made is still in place, though: food allergies have not returned; the candida has not returned; my liver has cleansed itself. As such, I'm now trying a more Ayurveda-influenced diet for doshic imbalance. I'm following the Pitta diet, which mainly avoids foods which are too salty, spicy, or sour, including hard cheeses, red meat, and fried food. Here's an interesting blog I found which goes into more detail about the Pitta dosha. I'm willing to keep tweaking my diet, especially since I can still eat some of my favorites like quinoa, sweet potatoes, and apples. Some favorites I'll have to give up for the next few weeks: tomatoes, onions, garlic, spinach. I've stepped away from Chia seeds and Almonds for the next few weeks and am trying Sunflower seeds and Pumpkin seeds instead - delicious.

Every time my diet changes a bit, I need to try new foods and new food combinations and I've been pleasantly surprised at how satisfying (and full of protein!) seeds and nuts can be. I had a simple, completely raw lunch today of mixed lettuce, cut up pear, and sunflower / pumpkin seeds. I feel full, which would not have been the case a number of months ago. Half the battle, I'm learning, is just a matter of shifting focus. :)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hectic Living

To say that my life is busy right now is an extreme understatement. Eric and I are moving soon and life at work is focused around getting a grant out the door. Weddings, birthdays, graduations, other celebrations - not only am I strapped for time physically, but my mental time for research, cooking experiments, and keeping up with a steady, healthy routine is diminished. It's easy to see how healthy habits can slip out the door as soon as you get busy. So, how do we combat this? First and foremost, it's important to identify and stick to a set of priorities: what main goals must you stick with no matter what? 
Here is my list of top 5 priorities when my life gets insane: 
  1. Have vegetable juice for breakfast: Juicing makes me feel great in the morning and gives my body the nutrients it needs to face the day. Easy on the digestive system, full of important vitamins, energy-producing - sometimes I really want something else, like pancakes and bacon, but I just remember how good I feel and power through. I only skip juicing when it becomes impossible due to travel. 
  2. Eat a raw lunch when possible: It's quick enough to throw together salad ingredients for lunch, and it's frankly exactly what our bodies want anyway. Today for lunch I had kale, walnuts, chia seeds, strawberries, and grape tomatoes. Why raw? Because high heat cooking can destroy or diminish important enzymes and nutrients - while I'm not pursuing a fully raw diet, I often aim to eat raw foods up until dinner time as a means of maximizing my food choices. 
  3. Stretch for 10 minutes per day: When you're busy and tired, exercising is often what gets left behind. I'm definitely guilty sometimes of skipping yoga so I have time to cook or do errands. I do walk roughly 2 miles a day on my commute, but the longer you go without stretching, the harder it can be to start up the habit again. Can you do 10 minutes? I've been experimenting with 10 minutes of stretching directly after I get home, as it doesn't seem to happen if I wait any longer. 
  4. Sleep: Our bodies need sleep to heal and regenerate. My mind needs sleep to calm down. Yet, I never seem to go to bed until after 11pm, with a daily wake up at 5:45am. In our new apartment, my goal is to have no technology in the bedroom (no TVs, no computers) as a means of creating a more calming environment and removing the distractions. . 
  5. Don't indulge: This past weekend I was at a party and decided to indulge in some of my old favorites: a glass of wine, a meatball sandwich, and salad with dressing / cheese. I can't prove that this combination generated a note-worthy reaction, but I spent much of Sunday feeling tired, feverish, and congested. Point taken. Whenever I'm feeling emotionally or physically depleted, one if my ingrained instincts is to reach for the comfort of certain foods and sweets. This is not to say that I'll never have another glass of wine or a piece of chocolate, but it is to say that cravings lurk below the surface no matter how long you've been eating well. Pay attention and indulge in small, more strategic quantities. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Baby steps add up!

I'm feeling excited tonight after my latest appointment at Live Well Holistic Health Center. I've been trying SO hard with the Candida diet over the past 1.5 months since I started seeing this doctor, and thankfully my efforts are actually getting me somewhere. 

The doctor was really happy with my progress - he said I'm now testing negative for the yeast, as well as for the food sensitivities. He also said my leaky gut syndrome has healed and that my skin looks SO much better than it did 2 weeks ago. What's left: continuing to cleanse my liver and monitoring the absence of yeast for a little while to make sure it doesn't return. I didn't really know what leaky gut syndrome was, but it's another one of those sneaky conditions which are often misdiagnosed. According to an article by Dr. Leo Galland found via the Foundation of Integrated Medicine, leaky gut syndromes "are clinical disorders associated with increased intestinal permeability. They include inflammatory and infectious bowel diseases, chronic inflammatory arthritides, cryptogenic skin conditions like acne, psoriasis and dermatitis herpetiformis, many diseases triggered by food allergy or specific food intolerance, including eczema, urticaria, and irritable bowel syndrome, AIDS, chronic fatigue syndromes, chronic hepatitis, chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, and pancreatic carcinoma."  

Ah, the intestines. They are so vital, and can affect your body in so many ways if unbalanced. If one organ is in distress, that distress generates symptoms in the other organs (and to think people still say that skin conditions have nothing to do with diet!). Of course, these syndromes are also triggered by pills, malnutrition, and toxins, increasing my interest in never returning to western medicines unless in an emergency. The doctor also said I can start to transition away from the candida diet and slowly reintroduce certain foods / vinegar, etc. He said I have to be very careful about sugar, though I'm allowed to eat a bit more fruit.  Yay for fruit! Since I haven't been able to eat as much, I've been truly appreciating the taste. Strawberries are divine after dinner. A ripe pear is a completely satisfying morning snack. Don't get me started on green apples.

Baby steps
While 1.5 months may seem like forever when you're making daily food choices, it's really not that long when you consider how many years we each endure chronic illness and other conditions. To think that I've been able to reverse severe distress in my organs, kill off yeast overgrowth, and begin to cure my skin conditions in under 2 months is amazing to me. Food is your ally and your power source. Juicing is an amazing gift. Because I'm feeling so good, here's a recipe for absolutely delicious roasted broccoli.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A documentary worth watching

I've been meaning to watch Forks Over Knives for a while now, but finally sat down yesterday to watch (free on Netflix!). The tagline reads: The feature film Forks Over Knives examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.

A still from the movie. Milk was once thought to be nature's perfect food

This is a profound claim indeed, and one I had not considered at all prior to my journey into healthy eating. Frankly I didn't even know to consider it, as my understanding of health was intimately wrapped up with conventional medicine. What do you mean traditional doctors don't always have the answers? What if I never had to take antibiotics again? I can feel my body healing - who am I to stop this healing process and once again increase my risk factors?

These questions have spiraled me further down this path towards plant-based eating, though my brain (deeply connected still to family / friend eating traditions which span my entire life) has thrown up road block after road block. Changing your traditions is hard and it's scary: avoiding birthday cake is one thing, but it's quite another to never have another BBQ as I've known it or to partake in lasagna and chicken parmesean. Avoiding processed foods and animal products means no hoagies, increased difficulty going out to dinner, and no more bacon / eggs. It also means huge lifestyle changes, learning to cook using different methods, and riding out wave after wave of (dwindling) food cravings. So, why am I here?

This documentary speaks to me as the findings just make so much sense. Following the stories of two pioneer researchers, Dr. T. Colin Campbell of Cornell University and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic, the documentary outlines how the doctors are following similar paths in their research before they meet, leading them to a similar conclusion: degenerative diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even several forms of cancer, could almost always be prevented – and in many cases reversed – by adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet. And what did their research show to consistently worsen these conditions? Processed foods and animal products.

These findings were put to the test by following a set of 'reality' patients as they embarked on nutrition treatment programs, hoping to stop taking multiple medications and lower risk factors for a variety of conditions. Did the nutrition treatment work? Of course - all patients not only lost tons of weight, but their numbers dramatically improved in a period of mere weeks. While I haven't tested my own numbers in the past few months to see what juicing veggies and eating better has done for my own risk factors, I can attest to how I feel and look: I've lost 20 lbs, my skin is improving, my circulation is better, I sleep better, and my energy has never been better. Plus, I've experienced minimal allergy symptoms this spring, I feel more clear headed, and I'm actually enjoying the taste of my food in a different way. While I state above that avoiding long-loved foods is scary, I should also mention that my cooking experiments have yielded some pretty delicious, healthy foods. For my birthday this year, I even want to experiment with making a raw, vegan dessert in lieu of cake.

All this is to say that you should watch Forks Over Knives and come to your own conclusion, but I can offer my own experience as another test case. I grew up loving dairy, but was lactose intolerant as a child and that was a warning that I ignored over time. I grew up loving meat, but am finding that I don't miss it as much as I thought I would when there are so many delicious vegetables and homemade sauces and grains and soups out there to discover. I also want to pull together lists of protein-rich plant foods and calcium-rich foods for all of you who hold on to the belief that meat / dairy are the answers to those needs. Believe me, that's what I thought too until I started researching and realized just how much sway the dairy / meat industries have in setting national regulations.

Watch, watch, watch! I was also excited to make the connection that Dr. Campbell, and his research "The China Study," lead the ecourse I'll be taking through Cornell later in the spring.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Unexpected directions

Image via the U.S. Department of Agriculture

As some of you know, last week I discovered a Certificate program in Plant-Based Nutrition through eCornell, a subsidiary of Cornell University which provides online professional development opportunities. The moment I discovered the course, I felt a tiny surge of energy - that pinprick of excitement which floods your body instinctually before you process anything else. We've all been trained to recognize those moments - where you feel instantly alive - but not what to do with the uncertainty that follows.

Can I spend the money on a class right now when I'm supposed to be saving? Where is this path leading me? Will I know enough to do well? Is this indulgent? 

When you're trying to save money, investing in yourself always feels indulgent. I rarely go on vacations or pamper myself as it is, beyond the new lifestyle changes I've been making lately. What convinced me to try the course, beyond the advice of my boyfriend / family, was that tiny pinprick I'd felt in my gut. It was as if my body was saying, "okay Elizabeth - I don't know where this is going any more than your brain does. Maybe nowhere. But will you just try for all our sakes?"

Point taken. Anything that makes your body wake up and pay attention is worth pursuing.

So, there are 3 courses as part of this program (each one is a few weeks long). The classes are designed to help you learn about the following:
  • A solution to the crisis in America's healthcare system
  • The largest study ever done on diet and disease
  • The scientific basis for plant-based nutrition
  • The depth and breadth of scientific evidence implicating diet in the development of a wide variety of diseases (from subtle to fatal)
  • The diet and lifestyle solutions that could improve public health
  • Why using this information to improve your health is complicated by biological conditioning
  • How the same plant-based diet benefits kids, the environment, athletes, medical care, businesses, individual health, and public policy
  • Some key social institutional, and practical obstacles to wide-spread acceptance of plant-based nutrition and lifestyle medicine
  • Common diet and health care misconceptions
  • Practical skills, such as understanding labels and food production  
Reviews from past participants have been uniformly positive, which is encouraging. The first class begins at the beginning of June, so I have a little bit of time to continue experimenting in the meantime.