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.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Patience, patience

"Patience takes courage. It's not an ideal state of calm. In fact, when we practice patience we will see our agitation far more clearly." -Pema Chodron
sugar, sugar, sugar!
I've always had willpower, but I've been testing myself at another level this month during the Candida cleanse. I don't think people give sugar enough credit - it's powerful, addictive, and incredibly hard to avoid. My cravings for sugar (in any form: cake, bread, wine, pasta, etc) were constant in the beginning and while they've lessened a bit, I still have hours where it's impossible to move my mind anywhere else. I've never had to quit anything addictive before, such as cigarettes, but I feel empathy in a new way for people struggling to quit. This is really hard! The more the yeast struggles to win, the more I recognize the importance of what I'm attempting here. Sugar is amazingly addictive, yet we don't fully respect what it does to both the mind and body (in the same way that we do certain drugs). Well, sugar: you win this round. I have a new respect for your power, though I'm a little tired of being the girl at the party with the restricted diet. So, where does this leave me? Well, I'm left to re-frame my attitude, haul my brain back to the positives, and remain outrageously patient.  
I went back to the doctor today and I'm not out of the woods: the yeast is not gone yet, though my allergies to wheat, corn, dairy, and eggs are indeed gone (could they come back? perhaps yes, if I'm not moderate. Must be careful). The doctor felt like there was something else at work here, and tested for weakness around my other organs. When he reached my liver, he paused and lit up like a light: ah yes, the liver. Sorry I wasn't good to you in college, friend. While I don't drink much anymore, the liver is another main detoxification pathway and can become clogged with toxins. He felt cleansing my liver specifically would greatly help in allowing the yeast to free my system, so that's the next step (no diet changes, just a supplement this time). I go back again in two weeks, where we'll see more improvement (let's hope!) I know the full solution is almost within my grasp, and I just need to keep working at this. Positive changes have already occurred and I need to have faith in my body's ability to heal. I can do this, whether it takes weeks or months. 
If anyone has a story which speaks to the things I'm experiencing currently, please share! One of the best ways I've found to strengthen my willpower is to communicate openly with other people. Have you had to be patient / strong-willed lately? I'd love to hear about it :)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Cravings and allergies

Now that Easter has come and gone, sugar is in the house (candy, cake, pie): I'm confronted with it every time I go into the kitchen and there's chocolate sitting in my room waiting for the day when I decide to eat it again. I had been doing pretty well with the sugar cravings, but this weekend of holidays has thrown me right back into craving territory. So, is it a coincidence that I'm craving the exact foods which I need to avoid? Of course not. Yeast feeds on sugar, after all.

And why is it so important that the bacteria in your body remains balanced? According to the information provided to me from my doctor:

"Sugary diets and the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics, birth control pills, steroidal drugs and even the chlorine in tap water, disturbs the good bacteria and encourages the bad organisms, especially yeast (fungus) to overgrow. This occurs commonly in our intestines and is referred to as 'candidiasis.' As the yeast multiply they send rootlets into the intestinal wall, release toxins, and create 'leaky gut syndrome.' This condition permits organisms and toxins to enter the blood stream and deeper tissues where widespread damage can occur. Because dysbiosis usually goes undiagnosed for a long time and so many organs and tissues can be affected, a wide array of conditions and symptoms can result. The list of symptoms are as diverse as nervous and mental disorders or food and chemical sensitivities." 

No allergies means I can enjoy places like this!
Included in the list of possible symptoms are allergies, food cravings, and food and chemical sensitivities. Being that my food sensitivities are going away with this new diet, I'm paying attention to why allergies exist and what I'm currently doing which might be making them worse. Therefore, I've been carefully monitoring how I feel as spring continues to the point where I usually have watery eyes and lots of head congestion. So far: no allergies! My doctor had said pretty confidently that we could get rid of my allergies (which last spring consisted of severe and constant eye problems for about 2 months - I've never felt that physically miserable!) So, what could be different?

I've been looking through a book called "Allergies: Disease in Disguise. How to heal your allergic condition permanently and naturally" by Carolee Bateson-Koch, DC ND. The book is from the 90s, but since I learned while in conversation with a retired chemist that allergies accumulate over time, I was interested nonetheless to see her description of detox and allergy symptoms:

"Frequency and extent of exposure plays a large role in allergy. Increasing exposure to a substance causes toxic load to build faster in the body because it overburdens the body's detoxification pathways. Thousands of new chemicals are released into the environment every year, increasing exposure to a variety of industrial pollutants, pesticides, and food additives. More than 6,000 new chemicals are tested in the United States each week. Over 7,000,000 distinct chemical compounds have appeared in scientific literature since 1965. All of these tend to work their way back into the human body. Today, the air, food, and water have all been altered, leading to varying degrees of toxic load."

Anyway, I bring all of this up as it was eye opening for me to realize that my allergy symptoms might be more complex than simply a response to an increase in pollen. Detoxing gives your body a well needed break. Obviously anyone else would need to see a holistic doctor to get advice specific to their bodies, but I'm feeling hopeful that I won't repeat last year's allergy hell. Yay! In the meantime then, I have to ride out these sugar cravings one at a time. I've almost given in a few times (just one piece of candy can't hurt, right?), but am staying strong at least until my next doctor's appointment next week. One day at a time. :) People keep saying cravings lessen over time, so let's hope that's true!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Altering your perspective one day at a time

I've been in a funk over the past few days, and with that funk comes the inevitable deluge of negative behaviors: circular and unproductive thinking, laziness / inability to act, general crankiness. I'm not immune to these feelings and have been battling the moments when I concentrate on everything which is wrong instead of everything which is right.

Do you ever have those days? Or weeks? The attitude isn't productive, clearly, yet it's so hard to break out of a funk once you're there. Sometimes it takes a while to even realize the funk is there - sound familiar? I believe whole-heartedly in our abilities to shift perspective and find the good, but the mind absolutely needs to be in a receptive state first.

Last night I mentally sat myself down for a talk. Half the battle means releasing stress and calming the mind, the other half requires discovering the root problem or emotion. Here are the methods I'm using and a little on why they're so important for me:  
  • Breathe: There's a reason why the first thing we're told to do when upset is stop and breathe. Deep breathing helps to calm anxiety, quiets the mind, massages the organs, and helps to eliminate toxins from the body. No wonder I feel better after yoga class! 
  • Clear away the clutter and make a list: Remaining organized allows me to truly relax, as I'm not in danger of forgetting appointments or breaking my promises. Something as simple as a list of weekly tasks and goals provides direction and clarity, plus you can look forward to crossing items off! If you're not in the habit of making lists, give it a try. Next: don't beat yourself up if you don't get to everything on the list - be flexible.
  • Communicate: Recent conversations with co-workers and family have put my thoughts into words and simply the act of voicing them released a weight I'd been carrying. Is there something you're holding on to? Even tiny admissions require bravery and vulnerability - the more you talk, the easier it gets.
  • Get outside: I don't get outside enough during the workweek and my body suffers. We're meant to soak in sun, to move our muscles, and to breathe in fresh air. My closed-up office and space heater don't cut it! Once you're in the office, inertia sets in and makes it hard to get up and move around - ignore this and walk around the block. I always feel refreshed after even 5 minutes outside.
  • Find the root of the problem: What exactly is bothering you? I often find that if I give myself some time before reacting, that the real issue is very different than the surface would suggest. I've saved myself countless fights (and time!) this way.
  • Nourish your body: Whenever I get stressed or upset, one of my impulses is to eat something sugary or end the night with a glass of wine. These choices feel like a treat in the moment, but do nothing to boost my overall feeling of wellbeing for the day. Lately with this new diet, I've been turning to herbal tea, green apples and almond butter, or simply: nothing! If you close your eyes and count slowly to ten, the food craving will pass.  
  • Do yoga: Focus, strength, flexibility. There are days when the last thing I feel like doing is exercising, but remembering my end goals help me get my butt on the mat and I'm always glad I did. Feeling strong in your own body is one of the most liberating, amazing feelings.
  • Get some sleep: Our bodies truly detoxify and repair when at rest. I'm certainly not alone in the fact that I don't get enough sleep. However, the fact that I've been sleeping through the night recently is a true testament to this new diet - changing your diet really does affect everything!  
  • Pat yourself on the back: It's much easier to focus on your flaws than to recognize and appreciate what you've done well. Give yourself a much needed pep talk to remember all of those amazing qualities. Also: think about how far you've come! When I remember what my life was like in November compared to what it's like now, I'm amazed at how much has changed and I give myself a break.
  • Let go: One of yoga's yamas (Aparigraha) states in summary: "Let go of negative emotions, actions, grudges, fears, beliefs." Our physical bodies take a beating when we're holding on to negative emotions. Breathe, breathe, breathe and the rest will follow. :)

Monday, April 2, 2012


One day at a time! 

I had my mid-cleanse doctor's visit today and am pleased to report that things are looking up.  The dysbiosis levels are barely detectable now and my sensitivities to corn, dairy, and eggs are now below detectable levels. My wheat sensitivity is still hanging on, but the doctor was quite pleased with the progress over just two weeks. He switched up my supplements a little bit and I have to go back in another two weeks.  He also gave me a list of foods to eat and avoid moving forward, which I'll share. This list is not the specific candida cleanse of the past few weeks, but rather a diet to follow from now on, essentially.

This diet is slightly less strict, but still challenges me to avoid the sugar, the meat, the dairy, the processed food. I've had some intense sugar cravings, but they have faded a little bit over the past week. Stay the course, stay the course! I've avoided more cake, more alcohol, more delicious looking cheesy food. Sigh.  I also had an encouraging conversation with the doctor's wife (who also runs the front desk): she told me how her own journey had taken months, how she had to do a candida cleanse as well, how she wanted to give up many times when her skin wasn't clearing quickly but persisted until her body completely cleansed itself. It's always nice for me to hear that when I get frustrated.

Here it goes: 

Eat Daily:
Green leafy vegetables (collards, romaine, etc)
Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, millet, etc) in moderate amounts
Beans (kidney, pinto, lentils, etc)
Seeds, nuts (raw sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, etc)
Vegetables (all kinds, but especially cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts; colorful vegetables like bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes; and avocados, garlic, zucchini, etc)
Fruit (a few servings a day: berries, apples, grapefruit, etc)
Water (filtered or spring (not tap))

Limit (occasionally, in very small quantities, or not at all): 
Chicken (preferably free range organic)
Low fat yogurt, cottage cheese
White rice
Whole grain bread
Food bars, chocolate, dried fruit

Best to Avoid: 
Refined sugar
White food (pasta, potatoes, bread, etc)
Hydrogenated oils
Artificial sweeteners
Artificial coloring or flavoring
Corn syrup
Soda, gatorade, juice drinks 

The proper meal ratio: 1/2 plate of veggies, 1/4 plate of carbs, 1/4 plate of protein