Before I was diagnosed with celiac, I suffered quite a bit, which I had disclosed in prior blog entries. I assumed stomach pain was just par for the course after every meal and was simply used to it. But it wasn’t just the digestive issues that plagued me: I used to have horrible eczema, and as a child was teased quite often for being “contagious with a skin disease”. I also suffered often from terrible headaches and chronic sciatic nerve pain. On top of taking lots of ibuprofen, I was seeing a chiropractor THREE times a week but to no avail, nothing seemed to ease the horrible throbbing pain that seemed to plague me 24/7. I assumed that the rest of my life I would just have to endure pain no matter what I tried, and that was a bleak thought indeed.
Post celiac-diagnosis, it was like a whole new chapter in my life was opening for me, and I could actually move forward pain-free, happy and healthy. While it eased the usual pain-after-every-meal issue, I also noticed that my eczema that had plagued me my entire life gradually disappeared, even from my elbows (my biggest trouble spot as an adult), and the only time it ever cropped up was from being accidentally glutened. But despite the positive changes, I still had plenty of sciatic nerve pain and headaches quite often. My digestive issues still were causing me some strife: I still suffered from bloating, terrible irregularity (I know, TMI right?) and lower GI pain quite often, even when eating a strict GF diet. My GI specialist ran tests, ultrasounds and X-rays, and found nothing to cause any red flags. It was frustrating to say the least.
While I was eating a strict gluten-free diet, I won’t lie, it was still riddled with processed and high sugar foods. I ate somewhat healthy, but had PLENTY of days where I loaded my menu with high fat and high sugar treats, high fructose corn syrup, and other heavily processed foods with ingredients I couldn’t even pronounce. When checking labels it never went beyond cross-contamination issues with manufacturing and gluten-free ingredients. I figured hey, as long as it was gluten-free, it worked for my needs. Everything else was fair game!
When Chris and I decided to go on a refined sugar detox back in March, I noticed that slowly my sciatic nerve pain and headaches ceased substantially. I had read that sugar causes inflammation in the body, and assumed that eliminating refined sugar and HFCS obviously was doing me far more good than harm. Granted, the initial stages of detox were tough, but we overcame them within a week and never looked back.
Weeks after we started the sugar detox, I ran the Shamrock Marathon, and decided to eat an ovo-vegetarian diet for that week before the race in order to avoid any issues with irregularity and other digestive issues on race weekend. I still ate eggs, and after the race was over I had Greek yogurt in a couple of my meals, and still I noticed that I had some GI issues that cropped up, especially after I put dairy back into my diet. It was especially noticeable when I had made a vegetarian dinner for Chris and I the Monday after the race, and added a side of sour cream to the meal. I was up all night with horrible GI pain and bloating.
That incident sort of sealed the deal for me, I had to research vegan diets a little and see if I could actually do this diet as a celiac and thrive. I know when most people read the word vegan there is usually an immediate eye roll, but to be honest, I have always found that to be very annoying when people are vocal about someone else’s diet. After all, how does what I eat affect ANYONE? As long as I provide for my own needs I would never be militant, aggressive or pushy. What works for one won’t always work for another, so I would never push a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle on anyone, but I know for me it makes me feel good in many ways: I have always loved animals and felt a lot of inner conflict as a carnivore (even as a child I had my misgivings and anxiety about eating animals, and once even refused to eat lamb…I was like Lisa Simpson!); I have always had ethical concerns regarding factory farming, plus I know vegetarianism is good for the environment, as well as one’s health! For me, it makes sense, for another, it may be one of those “Give me meat or give me death” scenarios.
Adopting a vegan diet was actually far easier than I thought with some homework, and I noticed that almost, like magic, that a clean vegan diet was really benefiting me better than any diet ever had. My irregularity and gas pains (I know, I know, TMI) disappeared and my body was running like clockwork for the FIRST TIME IN YEARS. It was almost frightening! My skin had cleared. My headaches, even on high barometric pressure days, were gone. My sciatica…it’s so minimal that I don’t even notice it most days, when in the past I was taking Advil ALL DAY LONG to cut down on the throbbing pain. Even my afternoon fatigue and the naps that I seemed to ALWAYS need (or I couldn’t function), were no longer a necessity. My body was thriving in many ways I didn’t ever notice before.
Chris was certainly accepting of whatever I needed to do as long as I felt better, but requested we still have meat once in a while for his meals, and I absolutely had no issue with this! After all, I was a vegetarian for 10 years prior to my diagnosis and was used to making him separate meals once in a while, but he is so used to eating vegetarian for most meals he doesn’t even miss it at all. Sure, he loves a good steak once in a while, but he doesn’t need it in his daily meals.
As for the usual question of “How do you get your protein and nutrients?”, well, I can definitely approach it in another entry, but I do take several supplements that my doctor insisted I take after checking my bloodwork (PRE-vegan diet by the way) and noticing I was very low in iron, B12 and D. So I do take them in order to make sure those essential nutrients are met. I know it sort of goes against the whole “don’t feed your needs with pharmaceuticals” thing, but certain nutrients are harder to obtain naturally on a vegan diet (especially B12) and this option is far more appealing to me than the consequences I ran into before adopting the lifestyle.
This entry is not about being a vegan by any means. In fact, I can’t even call myself one since I still use honey and have plenty of leather and wool goods in my closet. The main point of this entry is this: when you suffer ailments that can’t be explained by medical testing, no matter how big or small, examine your diet. There are methods I have heard about like elimination diets that can help you pinpoint what might be causing your issues, whether it’s nightshade vegetables, corn, coconut, etc. But even before that, seriously examine your food sources: is your food made of five or less ingredients? Is it made of ingredients with names that you can’t pronounce and loaded with preservatives and chemical additives? In my experience, whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, healthy fats, and grains are the best sources for a healthy diet. I’ve even found ways to make it more economical by simply rolling up my sleeves and working a little harder by making my own homemade granola, hummus, bread, pesto and vegan burgers. Sure it takes a little work, but it truly is a fraction of the cost of store-bought by FAR. Plus you know exactly what you are getting because your hard work went into it! I find it to be truly rewarding AND delicious.
Don’t get me wrong, of course issues like environment, genetics and other variables can override diet and lifestyle no matter how hard you try. Chris’ cancer is a perfect example of this. He has to continue taking meds for the rest of his life and no matter how clean his lifestyle. But he also feels that he can help combat future cancer growth by living a clean lifestyle, and once he is in remission we are hoping he will permanently STAY in remission.
But, sometimes all it takes is a little self-examination of your habits. You may surprise yourself when you see that all you need is a dietary overhaul. I can certainly attest to this and it has been working for me.
Have you noticed any positive changes in your own health once you’ve changed your diet?
P.S. Just as a note, Chris underwent his surgical procedure on April 2, had some cancerous nodes removed, and recovered well from the surgery. Next step will be meeting with an oncologist to discuss treatment, and hopefully once he goes through that, he will be in permanent remission.