Monday, August 1, 2016

The D Word

This summer has been one for the books. Like, literally. My book stack has never ever been so tall!
There's a lot going on in our life and in order for me to keep up, I must learn. A lot. Learn about the music industry (more on that later), on the college scholarship process (since we need to start applying for them like... yesterday), and also just about myself. I've posted about health stuff in the past, but my journey towards physical healing has been a long process. Here's my story:

Feeling rather dreadful I went to the doc and was diagnosed with a "thyroid problem". She mumbled something about it being related to elevated antibodies, but the solution was clear - lifelong medication. Sigh. I knew I didn't want to be taking meds for the rest of my life so I started seeing a naturopathic doctor. I tried lots of things - gobs of supplements, diet changes, colonics (TMI), fasting and cleanses.... but I never really saw much progress or felt any better. It was VERY frustrating given the time and $ I had put into it. After what felt like a total failure, I just went back to taking meds and living what most would consider a "normal life"- eating what at the time I considered healthy, exercising, etc...

Fast forward 5 years. In the spring I got a bad cold. I rarely get sick, but for some reason I could not shake this sickness. At the time we were living in Charlotte and Zach had seen a holistic doctor that worked wonders for him as well as a number of other friends. I went to see him for the cold (and he did cure my sickness almost immediately), but he also told me I had a lot of other problems that needed immediate attention. This is when I found out that what I really had was an auto-immune disease affecting my thyroid called Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. It's where your body builds up antibodies that attack your thyroid. This disease comes with a slew of other issues and is sustained by GI irritation and inflammation. I found out I had "leaky gut" which resulted in over 100 food allergies and explained my chronic tummy problems.

At this point I stopped medication, started supplements to treat my condition and rebuild my intestines, and did an elimination diet of all 100+ foods. This diet consisted of a Renewal Greens shake for breakfast, same shake for lunch, and a super simple dinner of grilled chicken, steamed rice, and steamed broccoli. I did this for roughly 10 weeks without any cheating. That year I had a birthday steak (doc approved) instead of a birthday cake. Ha! Although I ended up feeling/ looking better than I had in a long time (or maybe ever), eating that way was SO DEPRESSING. If you know me at all you know I love cooking and creating beautiful things in the kitchen. All of that - plus enjoying the foodie restaurant scene we loved, was gone. I knew doing that diet was not sustainable long-term, but my goal was to try to stick close to it and have one cheat day a week.

After this elimination diet, I began reintroducing food into my diet and slowly... crept back to eating almost the same way I had prior. I still avoided gluten and dairy most the time, but became rather lax about everything else.

My sister passed away from brain cancer and 3 months later we moved from Charlotte to Atlanta. Talk about trauma! Naturally, I was a bit overwhelmed and quickly my health fell to the back burner. Other priorities came first and now that my holistic doc was over 3 hours away, my built-in accountability from seeing him regularly also vanished. I still tried to avoid gluten and dairy, but even those things started creeping back into my diet occasionally.

Over the past 3 years I really backslid health-wise, feeling/looking worse than ever (and by looking worse I don't just mean weight fluctuation. I mean that + appearance of skin, hair, nails, tongue (yes, your tongue reveals a lot about your health!), swelling, frequency of headaches/backaches, etc.) and really just, not taking my auto-immune disease seriously. I didn't like the word "disease". In fact, I wouldn't even use the word "disease" and would often just kinda, nonchalantly say, "oh yeah.. I have this auto-immune condition thingy that is affected by gluten...yada yada..." and go on with my life like normal and act like it wasn't a big deal. But it was.

After our custody change and Allie moved in with us full-time, focusing on myself fell even further to the wayside and I knew this could not continue. In January of this year, I refocused on taking care of myself and not neglecting my own needs. One of the hardest parts about getting back on the health bandwagon was the elimination diet. The diet I had done before and seen success with was SO LIMITED and miserable. I just... couldn't find the drive within me to pull that off again. When I would try, I ended up just not eating and that wasn't helping anything either.

In May, my doc posted a link to an online summit on Healing Hashimoto's, sponsored by Hashimoto's Awareness. (I don't know why I never thought to look for online groups/support for my disease, but I hadn't.) During the summit I watched a lot of the speakers and for the first time educated myself on my disease. In the past, I had always just... taken my doctor's word for it without really digging in and understanding it for myself. These sessions taught me to take "the d word" seriously and realize that even when I don't see a ton of outward symptoms, this disease, the environment I am in, and the foods I eat are affecting me and my future - everyday, all day. I realized this wasn't something I could continue to take so lightheartedly if I really wanted to live a long, healthy life with my family.

Through this online event I discovered two people who have become invaluable resources to me - Sarah Ballantyne and Mickey Trescott. They talked about nutrition and the auto-immune protocol diet (AIP) that helps people find healing from auto-immune disease. I immediately bought both of their cookbooks (The Healing Kitchen and The Auto-immune Paleo Protocol Cookbook) and started experimenting.
To take on this lifestyle you really have to embrace food as fuel/medicine for your body. Although some would consider the diet very limiting, for me it isn't. There are many incredibly flavorful and beautiful dishes I can have and so far, Zach and I both have really enjoyed everything. All the recipes have been quite satisfying. This is first time I have gone completely grain-free as well as eliminating dairy, eggs, nuts, legumes, and nightshades. Eating this way is also teaching me about batch cooking so I'm making things in advance and trying not spending all my free time in the kitchen.

Although I am just a few weeks into it, I am feeling good about it and the possibility of this being sustainable for me longterm. Will I never have another H&F cheeseburger or bowl of Tonight Dough ice cream? Of course I will. There is a balance you have to establish between being healthy/pursuing health and being able to just enjoy life with those you love. For me, I just need to limit the indulging to very significant occasions and not make excuses for a cookie here or a piece of pizza there- even if they are gluten free!

Besides some initial detoxing symptoms in the first week, I have physically felt pretty good and have not experienced any intense cravings or even felt pressure to cheat. I feel less tired, am rarely hungry, never hangry, no bloating/upset stomach, and generally feel very satisfied in my gut.  I will say that one of the biggest challenges with this plan is the preparation. It is so time consuming! Every meal is homemade so there's no swinging through Chick-fil-a or picking up Chipotle, the latter of which is pretty devastating to me. Ha! Eating out is challenging and I don't often attempt it, but it has worked out fine the two times I needed to. Cooking this way- especially for a family, takes a lot of strategy, organization, and prep work, but I think it's worth it. Although Zach and Allie are not expected to abide by this meal plan 100%, I am glad they have access to healthier choices and will be benefiting from the healthy meals I make.

In addition to changing the way I eat I have also changed the way I cook. I finally took the plunge and replaced all my pots and pans with safer options such as cast iron and ceramic. You know you are a total freak when getting a new Lodge cast iron scrub brush in the mail makes your day. Ha!
I also threw out all my plastic food storage containers (because they are unsafe and also the bane of my existence!) and replaced them with glass. Really, the only additional kitchen item I needed to make some of these recipes work was a new blender and thanks to my BFF Amazon Prime, I got one in no time. :)

As for availability of recipe ingredients, a few items have been rather hard to come by, the most difficult being white sweet potatoes (Japanese sweet potatoes) and plantains in very specific phases of development - green, yellow with no spots, etc. I have found that Asian groceries usually have these ingredients.  Most of the pantry items - coconut flour, arrowroot starch, coconut aminos, cooking fats, etc. can be found at either Trader Joes, Sprouts, or WholeFoods. When it comes to AIP baking, there are very few ingredients, but they are all somewhat pricey. I also grow my own herbs and that definitely helps off-set some cost as well.
I have tried about 25 new recipes, 95% I ended up liking. Here's a glimpse into some of my favorite dishes so far!

Bacon + date + rosemary crusted salmon. This is SO GOOD. I think it's the best salmon entree I've ever made.
 Nectarine + Prosciutto + basil

 Shrimp + Green Bean Stir-fry (probably my favorite that I could eat all day, everyday)
 Emerald Kale Salad
 Roast Beef Skillet
 Honey Lime Chicken with Strawberry Salad
A bit crumbly, but getting any cookie is an awfully nice treat!
In addition to changing how I eat, I have also incorporated some healthier/cleaner personal care products such as natural deodorant (After half a dozen trys, I FINALLY found one that works!), natural toothpaste, natural skin care/sunscreen/makeup (BeautyCounter brand to compliment my existing Arbonne regime),
and non-toxic nail polish.
My next task is transitioning all my cleaning products to safe, natural ingredients. I just bought this book and nerd alert: I am so excited to get to work cleaning!
If you have questions about the AIP protocol, Hashimoto's or anything noted above, please feel free to reach out. I will do my best to help you and share what I know!


  1. That is so awesome that you are taking control of your health. I have recently started on a health journey.... What deodorant worked for you? I have been through 9 and I feel like I am always the smelly kid. Ha!

    PS... LOVE your blog!!!

  2. Ha! The one I have found that works for me is Alvera All Natural Roll-On Deodorant Aloe and Almonds. It rolls on kinda wet and the scent is really strong, but it dries/the smell dissipates quickly. Good luck!