(Read Part 1 Here: Life Without Bread: Part One)
I had finally reached my 30-day goal date and I never gave a thought to stopping. This was an unexpected development and, admittedly, mildly frightening. Thirty days was not a long enough period to get a handle on how to live a clean food lifestyle. I knew what NOT to eat... it was the positive side of that coin that I was struggling with. But there simply was no doubt about the results and I could think of no good reason to return to my previous food lifestyle. I knew I had to try but the thought of living this way for the rest of my life was a bit startling.
As I made my way through the first 30 days, it became crystal clear that my body simply would not tolerate certain foods and ingredients. Even the slightest introduction of wheat or soy would cause a stomach ache within minutes. Because my diet was so pure, I could tell, down to individual ingredients, what was causing the disturbance.
I never thought much about soy. I hate tofu but that's about all I knew. I quickly learned that soy or some derivative was in at least 90% of everything I was consuming. It has dozens of names. It is used in filler in all kinds of meats (particular cheap foods like fast foods), cheese, soups, beverages, candy, dressings, spices, etc. I learned that it is used because it is inexpensive and abundant and is also one of the most common allergies among humans.
I have learned to read labels and decipher them. Because when soy hits my gut, even in very small quantities, I have problems. In spite of this, I still do not have soy allergies that register on any test. But it remains one of my number one enemies of health.
I didn't think I had any issues with refined sugar initially, but this diet was all-or-nothing so out it went. What I have discovered when I reintroduce a processed sugar into my diet is that I end up feeling rather unwell. Full and achey stomach, uncomfortable, cranky, tired. I really have nothing personal against any of these foods but I am now very aware of how my body reacts to them. I eat plenty of fruits and naturally occurring sugars. But refined and processed is out.
If I can't identify it and be comfortable with it, I don't eat it.
I put this last because I want to focus on it. I suspect that many people are unknowingly reactive to soy, but this wheat can of worms is bigger. Here is an excerpt from a post I had previously written at the 30-day mark. In it, I detail the first reintroduction of wheat into my diet. I have had similar experiences since and it is worth recounting...
Reintroduction of wheat and sugar:
After the conclusion of the 30 days, I had no desire to start reintroducing forbidden foods... until Mother's Day when Cookie made my favorite chocolate dipped macaroons! I ate three of them with zero guilt, knowing that I made the choice freely. The cookies were absolutely delicious and I'm glad I ate them! That was my first and only departure from the diet in over a month. My observations...
~ By the evening, I noticed a slight swelling in my hands. I have been removing my wedding ring to play volleyball since the water weight loss since I do not wish to lose it... but I did not have to remove it that night.
~ I was feeling good during the exercise but woke up very sore and stiff. Walking was painful for the first few minutes in the morning. This was how I used to feel every time but had not during the 30 days.
~ By dinnertime, the swelling in my surgery knee had increased so much that I was limping. By evening, my entire lower body, from my hips to my toes, was on fire. This was how I was used to living. It used to be my normal... lying in bed every night with pain everywhere, from the tips of my fingers down to my toes. It is possible that this episode is unrelated to the reintroduction of wheat and sugar but I'm inclined to draw a strong connection.
~ I took Advil and Benadryl around 9pm and experienced improvement. Today, I am feeling much better. I'm somewhat disappointed that there appears to be such a strong connection between my diet and my health. On the other hand, it is easier to commit to a healthy diet when the negative symptoms are so strong.
Swelling, edema, generalized pain, headaches... all clearly related to any reintroduction of wheat into my diet. And again, I have no measurable wheat allergy. Since the beginning of this journey to health, I have read countless stories that sound just like mine and even more articles, papers, and books focusing on the idea that something about our modern food practices regarding grains is deeply flawed.
It's been approximately nine months since I first eliminated all grains, processed sugars, and additives from my diet. It took several months to be able to make this claim but I am finally able to say it with absolute confidence:
My dietary changes have cured my chronic health problems.
If you live with any chronic conditions, I don't have to convince you how incredibly important that statement is. Looking back, I can identify specific symptoms as long as 20 years ago. And they are gone.
I've been thinking about writing this post for a long time and I keep hesitating because no one wants to be preached at by a health nut. As a very wise family member said to me: "Most people will think it's great that you're better but personally, they would rather stay on their medications than give up the garbage they eat. And they won't appreciate you preaching at them." I agree with that assessment and so I've decided not to preach. I'm just sharing with you. I have no idea what your issues are or if you even have any. I don't know if your body will respond the way mine has or if you even care if it does. But I've reached a point where I'm ready to shout about the great blessing of this lifestyle change because I think that it is likely that I'm not the only one who can be blessed.
I want you to know that I'm no health nut. Even when I weighed 110 pounds at 5'6" I would feast on junk food and just exercise harder and cut down on my healthy food if necessary. I chose this current lifestyle as an act of desperation... and it has since grown into a lifestyle of conviction.
If the body is our temple of the Holy Spirit, then we owe the good Lord more than an occasional crash diet. Those of us who live in the United States are blessed with an abundant selection of foods. What are we choosing, why are we choosing it, and what short and long term consequences do those choices have for ourselves and our families?
Because it is difficult to modify a diet to be completely clean, I have found that it has led me to a more pure relationship with food. I have had to practice detachment from my cravings, my preferences, my comforts, my habits. This is a place I have never been in my life. I can walk into a room with a table of plenty in the center and not be moved emotionally. I'm not saying that I never have emotional twinges, but I am at peace with my way of life. I don't worry there won't be enough. I don't think excessively about eating. It is very freeing. And for those times when I am feeling sorry for myself, I am consciously able to offer this sacrifice to the Lord. It is a great gift that I take no credit for. A gift of detachment from something that has held me in it's grip for much of my life. If I can never eat another chocolate chip cookie in my life, I lose nothing. Jesus is everything. Thanks be to God!
WHERE I AM TODAY
After nine months of eliminating all grains, preservatives, additives, and refined sugar, I have experienced a complete reversal of a list of debilitating symptoms. The "extreme" diet that I undertook in an effort to reclaim my health has turned into normal for me. Easy? Heck no. But I cannot reasonably deny the evidence.
*Within the first 5 days of the elimination diet, I lost 5 lbs of retained water. The "puffy" was gone.
*Also within that period, I recovered full range of motion in joints that had been chronically swollen. This was astonishing. A relief I hadn't experienced in at least 10-15 years.
*Within the first week my natural hunger returned. I mean the kind of hunger you have when you're ten years old and have just been swimming all day. I had become accustomed through the years to feeling full even when I was hungry and to never feeling satisfied even when I was stuffed. This was a free and healthy feeling. Another bonus was that I didn't feel guilty about anything that I ate.
*Within a month, my physical bread cravings had come under control. The mental cravings continue to this day but it is no longer an internal fight to the death when I face a cookie. The feeling of "wanting" a cookie and "needing" one are very different. This has really brought home to me the often repeated idea that refined carbs can become an addiction. Now that I have lived on both sides of the fence, I know that it would be much more difficult to me to say no to refined carbs if I were trying to consume them moderately. It is not simply a mental addiction. I have an easier time refusing all cookies than I would have saying no to a second cookie.
*Also within that 30 days, I experienced an increased alertness (after the initial horrible "carb flu") and significantly decreased pain and soreness in joints and digestive system. It was at this point that I decided that I had no intention of reintroducing foods on any great scale. Even a very small reintroduction (for example, a piece of dark chocolate containing soy) would cause a recurrence of symptoms. I began to mentally prepare for a permanent lifestyle transition.
Nine months later...
It has taken several months for a total healing of my stomach and related areas... I'm not entirely sure that healing is even complete. But stomach and esophageal spasms and pain that I used to have multiple times a day have now been completely eliminated. Joint swelling has improved almost 100%. My focus now is healing the damage that was caused by the chronic swelling. The chronic fatigue has improved dramatically. I sleep better. Weight control is much easier because I don't have to battle with problem foods. I used to have to pay very close attention to what I ate in order to keep myself in a healthy range... now, I just eat. It really is a bit like being a ten year old again in some ways. (Fitness is another story but that has nothing to do with diet!)
This has not been an easy transition. One of the most surprising challenges has been learning to plan my day according to my new health. I have spent the entirety of my motherhood trying to balance my physical limits with the demands of my day. It seems like it would be natural to just embrace the new me and fly! But it has been a mental adjustment. New limits. New expectations.
One of the most difficult transitions, of course, has been planning and preparing food that meets the strict criteria of my diet. When shopping for myself, the great majority of grocery aisles are off-limits. If it's in a box, can, bag, carton, etc., I probably can't have it. Clean fast food eating is almost impossible. Eating at parties and family or friend gatherings is very difficult. I have never asked my family to follow my new way of eating. I just didn't think it would be a fair expectation. I focus instead on trying to improve the quality of the ingredients in their meals and on education so that that they can make excellent decisions as they grow.
Social eating is the next biggest challenge. Almost no one eats like I do. I wrote about my holiday struggles here: Lonely in a Food Centric Season
IS WHEAT "BAD"?
I never thought I would encourage anyone to consider eliminating a complete food group from their diet, but for the first time, I think it is possible. I am certainly willing to stand up and suggest that the desperate give it a try. But I do not believe that wheat is a "bad" food as God has given it. God gave us grains for our benefit and positive references are heavily sprinkled throughout the Sacred Scriptures. We also have the gift of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our Catholic faith, which begins with unleavened bread. But the bread of today is not what our Lord held in His hands at the Last Supper. I begin to find it entirely plausible that we have altered our modern foods to such a degree in pursuit of the pleasure of taste and texture and convenience, that we have severely damaged the nutrients and additionally, introduced harm.
Almost every food that the average American will consume today has been altered and added to chemically. An innocent can of plain corn is often also packed with corn syrup. Sour cream is often stabilized with soy. A bag of "healthy" nuts is often roasted in corn oil and sugar. The very innocent looking plain white grilled chicken breast on the salad bar at the grocery store... has been packaged and preserved with about 30 ingredients listed in small print. I know because I asked and they showed me the box. I have become a fanatical label checker. And if I fail to check, my stomach always lets me know.
Cheese is not always just cheese. I have to read the label to be sure. Ham is like a meat carrier for chemical additives. I finally found a deli turkey that doesn't have garbage in it but it costs an arm and a leg so I don't buy it. Spaghetti sauce, bullion, salad dressing... I'm learning to be a plain girl and to make a lot of things from scratch. My salad dressing of choice is balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.
This is my story but the more I learn, the more I wonder how many people, particularly women, are struggling like I was and just don't recognize the enemy.
I hesitate to recommend just one reading source because again, I'm not into fads or one-size-fits-all. My approach has been to find out what works for me and to become as educated as I can about what I am eating. That really is the approach that I would like to recommend to you. I will provide a short list of resources below.... places to start. From there, you will find endless sources to explore and ponder. But there is not one resource I list in which I place complete confidence or trust. I put them here because they have aided me in some way and helped me to think for myself and encouraged me to fight for my health.
To conclude, I want to emphasize again that I am not a health nut. I am not a food snob. I have never bought into the idea that any one food is "bad." But what I have discovered through my own journey is that Americans are living in a garbage food heavy society and we largely eat in ignorance.
Below I have included a very Small List of Resources. From this list, you should have enough references and links to keep you occupied for a very long time! Some positions may sound (or be) extreme but being challenged to consider and research those positions is not a bad thing overall if it helps us to become more educated and responsible with our health. My own personal choices have been formed predominantly according to my personal needs. I do not associate myself with any particular group or food movement. For example, I eat a lot like those who follow a Paleo diet and find Paleo resources and recipes helpful... but I do not consider myself "Paleo." Also, I eat a diet heavy in protein but I do not follow Dr. Atkins nor do I have a problem with healthy carbs.
It is my plan to write a part 3 to this post treating my "wheatless pregnancy." Because I have to tell you, I have never had a pregnancy like this before. It will be a shorter post that I will write with much gratitude.
Wheat Belly by William Davis
Against All Grain
Soy Dangers Summarized