I am not a band-wagon person. I avoid reading the books everyone is obsessing over because I don't want to follow the crowd. I was never, and never will be, a crowd-follower. I like to do my own thing and if anyone pressures me to do something I will do the exact opposite just because I won't be told.
I get that the "Paleo" diet is pretty fad-y. I get that people are going gluten-free left and right and that other people are calling it another fad, which makes me mad because eating gluten-free is changing lives. Eating gluten-free changed my life. And you know what? I hesitate to say this, because I think it's a little early, but...
Eating Paleo is changing my life, too.
I have woken up every day of my life for the past, oh, 10 years, achy like I have the flu. I am exhausted every day. I wake up with knots in my stomach because the thought of climbing out of bed is horrible when you still feel so tired and sore. The only way I make it out of bed is by fantasizing over when I might be able to fit in a nap later. I know that sounds like depression, but it's not. It's simply the affect of a life filled with pain and fatigue, which (even though I am a generally happy and positive person) can cause its own form of depression.
When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in the fall of my junior year of college and stated eating gluten-free, my life was drastically changed in the course of about two months. My stomach aches went away, I stopped carrying Pepto Bismol with me everywhere, my skin became flawless, my joint point lessened. I stopped having what the Celiac community refers to as "brain fogs," these times where I was so completely, overwhelmingly, senselessly exhausted that I even slurred my words. I thought my life was changed.
Then, right after finals that years, I came down with mono. It was an extraordinarily bad case; I was hospitalized twice and had complications with my liver and spleen. It took my doctors awhile to figure out what was even wrong. When they finally diagnosed me, it turned out I had a particularly rare and severe strain of the mono virus. That virus completely wiped out my immune system, so much so that it kept me pretty messed up and reverted a lot of the healing I'd enjoyed from going gluten-free. However, the stomach symptoms remained gone, so even though I was still getting colds and flu's frequently and having joint pain, fatigue, headaches and more, I thought things were still better than before I went gluten-free.
For about the past 18 months (since I had my gall bladder removed) I've been feeling a little better in some ways. A little more energy, and way, way less colds and flu's. My immune system seems to have finally rebounded on its own. However, I still suffer from chronic inflammation (which means chronic pain) and chronic fatigue. Several doctors have written it off as fibromyalgia and wanted to put me on medication, which I have refused.
For the most part, I'm happy. We go and we do and we have active, happy, full (often over-full) lives. I don't let that stuff cramp my style. I try not to complain because I know there are people who suffer way, way worse in their lives and because I refuse to be defined by pain. But in my weaker moments, it kills me. It's frustrating. It hurts relationships and keeps me from doing what I want to do and being who I want to be.
Since changing my diet this month, I have a lot more energy. I am happy (happy!) to get out of the bed in the morning. My flu-like aches are greatly reduced. I have had only one mild "crash" so far this month ("crashes" are what I have named these weird times where, among other symptoms, I'm so exhausted it feels like my limbs are made of lead) and it think that crash was because I'd been enjoying my new-found energy so much that I ran myself ragged. I tend to go-go-go anyway in spite of feeling gross, so not feeling gross made me go-go-go-go-GO and it was great! I've had less headaches, less mood swings, and fewer afternoon slumps.
Now, as I said before, we already eat pretty well around here. I'm not a huge snacker or junk food eater, and we already don't eat anything with MSG. I don't eat a ton of sugary sweets, either. But I've realized this month that even little bits of "bad" foods- a soda here, a candy bar there- can add up to way more sugar and other junk than you realize. This month we have eaten almost no grain, almost no refined sugar, almost no dairy, and almost no caffeine. Zero soda. More organic. Almost no soy. Way more veggies. I had no idea how often I was filling up on carb-filled foods instead of a pile of veggies!
I say "almost" in front of everything because we found that in social situations it was next to impossible not to "cheat." Sorry, but I can't say no when my sister makes gluten-free orange cake and chocolate-covered strawberries for dessert on Mothers' Day. I also still had a couple of things around my house (like salad dressings) that had sugar and other junk in them but that I wanted to use up instead of toss.
So I guess we're going to stick with this. I'm still working on figuring out exactly which foods are inflammatory triggers for me, but I think for me it's sugar. I already know caffeine is one, too. At this point, I don't think dairy is an issue, but we'll see when I add some back starting tomorrow. I think that, for me, the issue may be that my body sees sugar and carb-y foods the same way. I think that if I limit both of those, I'll be good. So, for example, if I want to have a sandwich on gluten-free bread for lunch, then I can't have a gluten-free brownie later, too. If I want a chunk of chocolate after dinner, then I need to be careful not to eat cereal for breakfast and make sure I have lots of protein and veggies at lunch. Make sense?
Over-all, I am eating more good, healthy fat and way more protein. My mom has been trying to get me to be better about that for awhile now, and I always waved her away because I thought I was eating so well already. I truly didn't realize that I was still eating too many carbs and not enough protein.
For the sake of example, let me write out a typical day's food for me last month as compared to this month.
How we used to usually eat
Breakfast: Cereal, or a gluten-free bagel, or a banana, or nothing. Way too often, nothing.
Lunch: Almost always turkey and cheese on a gluten-free rice tortilla with lettuce and cucumber, or some variation thereof. Sometimes soup or leftovers.
Snacks: Potato chips, yogurt, a piece of fruit, popcorn or tortilla chips and salsa are pretty much all go-to's. I love salty snacks.
Dinner: Usually some kind of meat and veggie, but too often eaten with potatoes or rice or tortilla chips. Usually with salad on the side. We have gluten-free pasta of some kind almost once a week, and if you factor in stuff like pizza or pot pie or whatever, we're having a high-carb dinner probably twice a week.
Desserts: We love ice-cream, and I have a weakness for making gluten-free treats. Not every night, but often enough.
Again, it could definitely be worse. We don't eat really anything fried. I feed us a lot of fresh fruit and veggies. Some days I'm healthier than what I wrote above, sometimes worse. We don't keep soda or coffee in our house, but we grab those out and about a couple of times a week.
How we're eating now
Breakfast: Eggs or a banana with almond butter and raisins. I made some great "noatmeal" bars that were made with mainly coconut and almond meal, really high in protein and fiber.
Lunch: Salads with lots of fixings and turkey; turkey, avocado and lettuce wraps; leftovers.
Snacks: Nuts, plantain chips and guacamole, carrots and almond butter, or a piece of fruit. Sometimes dried fruit.
Dinner: Meat and veggies or...meat and veggies!
Dessert: I've been getting bars of 72% dark chocolate and eating a couple of pieces before bed. YUM.
Obviously, these lists are both generalizations. You can see though how eating the way we're eating now means we're eating more protein and more food fat, both of which give slower, longer-lasting energy.
We are NOT being perfect about this. We're okay with that. We are just trying to figure out what works for our family and what kinds of fuels make our bodies feel the best. My hubby, who has also been running regularly again for about four months now, has also lost about 15 pounds. In other words, he is even hotter than ever.
I don't know if this is going to work forever. I don't know yet what we're going to cut out for good, if anything. I know that I can't ever feel as good as a person with normal health, but I do know this: I'm feeling a little better. I think I'm close to stumbling on a combination that works, and I'm really, really happy about it!