Jan. 31, 2017

2017 - Onward and Upward

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

9:49 AM

2016….all I can say is "wow". What a year we just had. And if I am going to be completely honest, this last year pretty much put me on my heels. I guess that is not completely true, because even with all of the energy that made me want to hide in a cave, there certainly were some successes and forward motion.  If you follow Numerology at all then you may already know that 2016 was a "9" year, which is about concluding cycles which make room made for new starts. It was also my personal "7" year which is all about reflection, learning and self analysis. Well believe me, I experienced all of it this  past year. 

If you follow my blog or Facebook page at all, then you may have noticed a distinct lack of blog posts and food pictures. I have to say that I felt very uninspired to write and post this last year. If you recall, I started out last year with a bit of revelation about my ongoing health and diet challenges. I guess I have now learned to not get feeling too smarty pants with the idea that I have obtained mastery over the infinitely nuanced inner workings of my own personal universe. After feeling that I was finally on the correct track to feeling good most of the time, New Year 2016 knocked me back to the ground in a big way. I was left feeling baffled, knowing that I was obeying doctor's orders, watching my diet carefully (or so I thought) and taking all of my prescribed medicine. I spent the first few months following up with my gastroenterologist and tried to be compliant, yet explore the idea that we may be barking up the wrong tree. I had become very frustrated because I found that even though I was doing everything "right", I had protracted periods where food began to feel like the enemy rather than my medicine. Now my love of cooking had a big shadow cast upon it. I found that I ended up just making what ever would please the audience I was cooking for. If it was the adults in my household, it was rather pedestrian (non-spicy) comfort food, which I would attempt to interject as big of healthful components as I could. If the children were home, my mission was to attempt child friendly - stealth vegetable concoctions. But about half of my time is spent alone and cooking for one. Normally, this is my time to experiment and use wild spices from all over the world. I am always gluten free and typically have a very low meat and dairy diet. I don't mind eating my own vegan experiments and inventive substitutions for meat and dairy. By partway in to last year, it almost didn't seem to matter what I ate - I felt rotten. I poured through my brain to figure out what was setting me so far backwards and decided to add oats to my eliminate list (for now), after realizing a big bowl of oatmeal had preceded my biggest flare up at the first of the year. I became a little disenchanted with the gastroenterologists recommendations and felt like there had to be more to the story. 

I have always been interested in nutrition and health but I delved in even deeper and pursued all sorts of rabbit holes in effort to get some kind of answers. Fortunately, information about such subjects within the world wide web is vast, although, it is not lost on me what a sticky wicket it is. For every informative site I find in the ethers, there is another that would have us burying entrails every third cycle of the full moon… (just kidding). But you get the point: when you rely on your own research, you must attempt to vet your source as best you can. I am also a big believer in letting my "gut" weigh in on the veracity of the information. When it comes to herbal supplements, tinctures, homeopathic and mineral supplements, I treat them with the seriousness of a pharmaceutical. The reality is that any one of those things has the potential to be an effective treatment in health care if applied correctly. They also have the power to have undesired effects and / or interactions with pharmaceuticals. That is why my recommendation would be to always consult a professional- especially if you all ready take pharmaceuticals. I will say that I have added some supplements to my regimen which I have found to be beneficial. I also shared that information with my GP and GI docs, which was important since I was started on a new prescription medicine as well. However, I am a firm believer that you can not medicate or supplement yourself enough to replace good nutrition. I have discovered that some GI (gastrointestinal) systems are so sensitive that, even if you are eating a diet that would make a monk proud, you can still find yourself in a world of hurt (literally). 

I made several discoveries that have improved my personal health including; the SIBO (Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth) diet, Lo FODMAP (Fermentable Oligo-,Di-, Mono-sacchrides and Polyols) and the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet. It sounds complicated and it was to some extent. While each of these diets are intended for slightly different purposes, they had a lot of similarities. Sifting through all of the information to figure out what was applicable to me was very time consuming and there was a lot of trial and error. Ultimately I started to understand what worked best for me in acute phases and what helped maintain me once my intestines were healed. I gained a lot of knowledge about how intricately the digestive system is to every other system in our body. I had failed to appreciate the role that hormones and neurotransmitters, such a dopamine, have in the daily function of our digestive system. It turns out that our "guts" are so sophisticated, that some people are now referring to it as the "second brain". 

Previously, I had thought of the digestive system kind of like a factory assembly line - step one, step two, etc.,etc. Now I get what an elegant and "intelligent" eco system it is. In this modern day, it is a system under duress. I personally believe, this is the system where much of human disease begins and potentially ends. I know that is a pretty big statement that I personally cannot back up with scientific fact. Let's just call it more of an observation and "gut" instinct…pun intended. I have made some of these observation in my thirty five years (Good Lord that makes me feel old) working in health care and I have seen diet impacted health problems in my own family. 

In my own personal health, I now realize that while some of my symptoms have been directly caused by food allergies, another big component was unchecked inflammation from other causes. As I learned more about which internal environment wreckers can instigate and exacerbate inflammation, I also learned how to relieve the symptoms by creating a friendly environment so the system can run correctly. I still have flare ups from time to time and have to remind myself to tune in to see where I am out of whack. The benefits are not just with an improvement of belly pain but also with energy levels, joints, skin and mental clarity. It is an on-going daily juggle but I believe the good I am doing for my body today is preventing the environment that could host disease later. Our family got some first hand experience of disease and nutrition in 2016 when my mother had a heart attack after years of fairly good (or seemingly so) health. 

One of the things that has always concerned me as a practicing paramedic, is having to respond to one of my own family members. I have actually had to take care of several family members over the years but that fear was realized yet again this last spring, with a call that came in around 4:30 in the morning. It didn't take very long to diagnose that my mother was in the middle of having a heart attack and had to be rushed to the nearest cardiac cath lab,  about an hour drive away. She did well with the procedure that stopped her heart attack and placed a cardiac stent in the offending artery. Learning about the heart disease was one thing, but with all the standard medical testing that done, the hit list just kept on coming; Type II Diabetes, Hypertension, Thyroid disease, High Cholesterol, and Peripheral Artery disease, all of which were unknown to her. My mother had led a generally very healthy and active life for many years. Her diet had been fairly healthy, with farm fresh produce, meats and eggs being available for several decades. What I didn't realize was that over the last number of years, after her partner Jon had passed away, she really lost an interest in cooking and even food to some extent. I do get that cooking for one can often be uninspiring and she resorted to doing what a lot of seniors do and bought pre-packaged microwave meals. I also did not realize that she also developed a taste for soda. This really never occurred to me because I don't drink soda and typically do not offer it at my house during family gatherings. It just wasn't on my radar. Over time, the sugar in soda can have a profound impact on the body. Now I can not prove that it was the primary suspect in the development of the list of diseases. There is a family history of  heart disease which does factor in. But soda and sugary drinks really is on the "most wanted" list as far as I am concerned. Well, I am happy to report that with medications and a large diet restructure, Mom is doing very well. I felt a little bad for her when the dietician was telling her that she needed to be on a diabetic, heart healthy and low sodium diet. Wow! Now that is a big change all at once. But she did it by first cutting out all of the soda and sugar drinks. Learning to really monitor the carbs has got to be one of the hardest things about a diabetic diet. It's only when you become restricted in what you can eat that suddenly the enormity of all the "bad" foods that surround you, become so apparent. A little cookie here, a chip there…it all seems so innocent. How can something that looks so good, smells so good, and TASTES so good, be so bad? It takes some real dedication to completely change up your eating habits and create new habits, or in her case, re-establish good habits. She has lost over 20 pounds and seems much more energetic. I truly believe that had she just taken the meds but not changed the diet, there would not have been such a rapid improvement. Of course diet is only one component of one's health. The preponderance of your day to day mental attitude can help or hinder overall health as well. I know I personally have been affected, as well as some of my family, with the overall angst in our country this past year. 

I like to think I am a positive person. I tried really hard to not let the negativity and contention our country is engaged in, seep in to my psyche. But seep it did. I really hate to admit that I let the collective teeth gnashing get to me. It is a helpless feeling to watch strife take on a life of its own and collect such momentum. I felt like such a tiny speck in the grand scheme of the storm with little ability to impact anything in a positive way. The result was kind of a depression and "grey" kind of feeling that dulled my enthusiasm for my passions. I am shaking this off now and doing my level best to step back, think positive, act when I am moved to do so and ignore what I don't want to give energy to. I know that hand wringing does nothing positive and that each of us can be the change by living it. I also know (or re-remembered) that every individual part adds to the whole. It may be tiny but damn it, I am going to be all Miss Sunshine Happy Pants! Bring on 2017! Bring on the food pics! Onward and upward, yayyyyy! 

May you and yours have a happy, healthy and delicious 2017 - A "1" year of new beginnings. Never be afraid to pursue great health and live your passions.