Changing your diet is a big step. Some of us do it out of necessity, some of us do it by choice, but all of us have a story. I was one of the out-of-necessity changers. I have chosen to share my story in case any of you are battling with health issues that you just can’t seem to cure and are thinking about trying a diet change. This isn’t meant to suggest that a diet change will cure everything or even anything, it is just my own personal experience. Everyone is different. That being said, I hope this will be helpful to some of you.
I’ve divided my story into parts because there were several different phases in this process.
I. Illness. In elementary school I used to stay home a lot because I got sick often and when I got sick I stayed sick. Mostly head colds, I think my sinuses were the most susceptible. In fifth grade I caught a cold that turned into a persistent cough that stayed with me for several years. I went to many doctors and was prescribed various medications for allergies, asthma, and acid reflux. A woman even came up to my mother on the street and told her I had whooping cough. Which I did not, btw. Obviously the doctors were not much help. Eventually my cough subsided in ninth grade, I don’t know why, maybe I grew out of it or my body grew tired of it, but I still got sick and stayed sick pretty regularly. Finally, my mom decided in my senior year of high school that, since my favorite food was bread, I wasn’t getting enough nutrients and that I should stop eating it for awhile. So I did. I improved a lot and I now rarely get sick. It might have been a combination of getting more nutrients and removing gluten, but I am sure that gluten was seriously suppressing my immune system.
But I do not think just shifting my diets to processed gluten free breads and packaged meals would have helped as much. These foods have very little nutritional benefits. If you are contemplating a gluten free lifestyle, aim for naturally gluten free foods. This will not only make you healthier, but will probably cost less as well.
II. Anxiety. Back to elementary school. In between sick phases, I would also beg to stay home because of bad stomachaches. Some might have been due to my gluten allergy, but I think many were due to the anxiety disorder I was diagnosed with in high school. During middle school I began having panic attacks that I dealt with throughout high school. But since my senior year, I haven’t had a panic attack. Not for want of stressful situations. Travel used to be my big impetus for panic attacks and after my senior year I was facing a move to the east coast for college, a month spent living in Norway with a host family, and a semester studying abroad in England. There was stress, yes, but no panic attacks.
III. Stomachaches. In college I started seeing a chiropractor because my upper back and neck often bothered me. He tested me for allergies (I don’t think most chiropractors do this. He has a few interesting methods…) and discovered I reacted to dairy. I was a little skeptical, but I tried it and the stomachaches I still occasionally had cleared up.
IV. Back Problems. After my chiropractor appointments my back would feel better, but it’s still an issue for me, I think because I am very sensitive to stress and my neck and shoulders are usually where tension lives. But during my freshman year I began to notice a new back pain, under my right shoulder blade, that made it difficult to turn. It felt like some things were sticking together and when I turned, my shoulder blade ran into them. It’s a little hard to explain. I’m not really sure what it feels like myself. When I told my chiropractor, he did some tests and, using his interesting methods, he decided that the pain was somehow tied to my right kidney, which, he explained, houses the emotions about male subjects (see what I mean? Interesting…). He also thought it might be caused by leaky gut and he prescribed a leaky gut supplement, which did make it easier. It didn’t really get much better, until at the end of my junior year it disappeared for a few weeks.
Being in a long distance relationship, I do have a lot of emotions regarding a male subject, so this theory might have some merit since the kidney spot (what I call the weird pain) began my freshman year when our long distance portion began and disappeared the week I got to go back home and see my boyfriend for our first long, uninterrupted summer. But I was leaving again in just two months for an even farther long distance semester in England, so maybe that’s why it didn’t stay gone. This theory’s still under observation. I’ll let you know if I feel different when I graduate.
V. Protein. Earlier in my junior year, the kidney spot had started to get worse and I began to experience some small abnormalities in my breathing. Sometimes it would just feel off, but I couldn’t really pinpoint why. So I Googled, because that’s what you do, even though you know a lot of the hits you’ll get will terrify you half to death. But I found out that too much protein can overtax the kidneys, which can affect your breathing. Now, if you’ve cut out certain food areas you’ve probably realized that you rely more heavily on the other options. Makes sense, right? If you go blind your other senses get stronger. But cutting out gluten meant that I was severely limiting my carb source. Most of the gluten free grains are high protein seeds, and the easiest gluten free snacks to buy are trail mixes or granola bars that are high protein. And it’s a lot easier to make a high protein gluten free meal than a high carb one. So, I realized that I’d been relying too heavily on proteins. I threw out the protein powder I used after my runs, I stopped ordering meat on my burrito bowl and I went for more carb heavy snacks. My breathing returned to normal and my spot got much easier.
This is the reason I do not believe in the paleo diet, even though it is gluten free. It may not as a whole promote protein over other nutrients, but if you look at most paleo recipes they are very high protein. Even paleo baked goods, which use high protein coconut and almond flour. Remember, the ratio of nutrients your body needs is around 54% carbs, 25% fat and only 21% protein. There are other reasons, including the fact that the paleo diet vilifies grains because they contain certain toxic nutrients even though those toxic nutrients are present in food sources allowed on the diet (which seems hypocritical and ridiculous to me), but that’s for another post.
VI. Weight. When I was younger I was never happy with my weight. I wasn’t overweight, I just wasn’t where I wanted to be. And I could never lose the weight no matter how much I exercised. Eventually I began to obsessively count calories, which basically turned into me starving myself and then every few weeks or so binging on junk food because I was so hungry. Calorie counting emphasizes calories, but not all calories are the same. I think we would all do better if we focused more on the nutrient levels of food rather than the calories. When I eliminated my allergies I began to notice that I could actually tell when I was full and so I could eat smaller meals. And then I noticed that without much effort I achieved a healthy weight and I currently rarely fluctuate from it, without starving myself or over exercising. I still avoid the scale because I’m afraid it will start the calorie counting cycle back up again, but I do pay attention to how my body feels and how my clothes fit and I have stayed pretty regular. I have an exercise routine and I eat several nutrient-rich small meals a day, but the key is that when you are feeding your body what it wants, it will tell you when it doesn’t want anymore. All I had to do was pay attention.
VII. Elimination Diet. My other food allergies were discovered following this Elimination Diet. I didn’t notice a drastic improvement, probably because I was already so in tune to what foods bothered my body, but I did discover tomatoes and sesame, which explained why sometimes meals would bother me even when I was sure they didn’t have gluten or dairy in them. I would recommend it if you think you may have a food allergy and aren’t sure what food is bothering you, but it is fairly difficult and does last a long time, so if you are new to diet changes I would suggest you ease into it.
I originally did this diet hoping my kidney spot was due to some unknown food allergies, but as it is still not completely gone, I’m hoping it’s emotions, like my chiropractor said, and that it will clear up next spring when I graduate.
On a side note: I did go to a doctor about my kidney spot. She found nothing wrong, other than that my right shoulder is slightly farther forward than my left, possibly from me fracturing the left in elementary school, and she suggested I see an orthopedic specialist. (If the spot isn’t cleared up in a year, I might). But she did get in a few laughs when I explained what my chiropractor thought, which, I mean, I get, but I didn’t appreciate. My chiropractor had more answers than any medical doctor in my past had.
If you don’t take anything else from this lengthy post, at least take the thought that medical doctors are not always right. I’m not saying, of course, they’re always wrong, because I definitely appreciate doctors and all they do for us, I’m just saying that if you think there is something wrong and your doctor says there isn’t, don’t take that as the final word. You know yourself and your body better than anyone else.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve said, please ask! But please also keep in mind, I am not a licensed professional anything. I have learned a lot about nutrition through my own experiences, but I am by no means advocating diet changes as a cure-all or that diet changes will be beneficial for everyone. Please consult a professional before taking any major steps.