The Down and Dirty of Clean Eating // The Budget

//This is the third post in a blog mini-series called “The Down and Dirty of Clean Eating.” To learn more about the DDoCE series, check out the intro post here and the DDoCE basics here. Everything I share here is based off my journey in clean eating. Check with your doc before doing anything crazy. //

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Anything in life that is worth doing requires a bit of hard work.

People in the blogosphere will readily tell you that eating a clean, unprocessed, healthy diet costs just the same as the frozen, boxed and processed version. That simply isn’t true. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend the bulk of your income on food. Making small changes will snowball into larger changes and greater benefits.

Maintaining a food budget has been the hardest part of our family’s clean eating journey. Although I have expensive taste, that part of me usually go hungry because I’m a stay at home momma and we have some very particular diets  and we’ve chosen to make our health a priority.

Eating a clean diet is a choice that you have to make and it will require sacrifices in other areas of your life – namely time and money. Most people can’t find a balance between the two and end up falling short on one or both. If you want convenience in your lifestyle and are short on time, it’s going to cost more money. Conversely, If your budget doesn’t have much buffer, you will need to spend more time preparing and planning to be successful. But it is possible.

We were thrown into a cleaner way of eating because of multiple food allergies so we needed a total kitchen overhaul quickly and easily and as a result, our finances took a hit. Convenience and simplicity was most important. For our family, the initial struggle wasn’t adjusting to a new way of eating but instead working to make this new lifestyle fit within our budget.

There are ways to stick to a budget and make a healthy diet work with your current financial situation. Sometimes this means sacrificing what is ideal for what is still good. I will always prefer to buy local, organic and sustainable foods but there are months when someone needs new ballet shoes and unexpected bills arrive and something has to give. This isn’t failing. It’s making decisions on what’s best for your family and selecting an option that is good, even if it isn’t best. Don’t be discouraged.

So, how do I make it work?

Plan meals – and stick to the plan. The easiest way to ensure I stay within budget is smart meal planning. I write down what’s needed for a week’s worth of breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, late night snacks (ahem) – everything. This ensures that I actually use what I buy with little waste and I don’t wander the store to find inspiration for dinner and impulsively buy half of the ingredients for something I hadn’t planned.

Stock the pantry. When coconut oil is on sale, you better bet your bottom I buy several. Yes, it’s more money upfront so only buy things you know you will use. This makes meal planning easier because I can shop my pantry before heading to the store for fresh ingredients.

Trade convenience for quality. Quality foods that are ready to eat or packaged cost a lot. Make food from scratch. Spend a bit of time cooking, baking and portioning foods instead of buying it that way. I spend a few hours each Sunday preparing breakfasts and grab-and-go lunch items like paleo muffins, cubes of cheese, granola, bread, soups and so on.

Buy in season… It’s apple season here in North Carolina. Guess what we’re eating? Lots of apples. It is not strawberry season in North Carolina and we can’t afford to pay $7 for a quart of organic strawberries. So much to my daughters’ displeasure, we are not eating fresh strawberries.

…And stock up. Stock up on fruits and veggies when they’re in season and preserve them. You don’t need to be an incredible homemaker with an impressive root cellar and canning skills. Freeze berries when they’re in season. Most anything can easily be preserved for later use.

Don’t fall for marketing. Forget about “all natural” and even – gasp! – some organic labeling. There is currently no regulation of the use of the phrase “all natural” on products so don’t pay extra for it. Research companies, check labels and make an educated decision.

Buy in bulk. Costco has an impressive selection of organic meats, produce and pantry items with a far lower unit cost. Alternately, talk to a local farmer and consider buying your meats in bulk. You will pay far less per pound for a quarter or half of a cow than you would purchasing meat a la carte.

Shop local. Truly free-range, organic eggs are ridiculously expensive if you’re shopping in a grocery store. Buy them directly from the farmer and they become much more affordable. Check out farmer’s markets and you-pick farms. If your living situation permits it, put in a small garden or make a home for some potted herbs on your windowsill. Nothing is more local than what comes from your own backyard.

Shop online. I know, it seems counterintuitive to my last point. Nut butters, allergy-friendly chocolate chips, specialty seasonings and oils are usually cheaper online than in your local specialty market.

Eating a clean diet doesn’t have to break the bank. But you do need to consider that real, nutrient-dense food will cost more than processed alternatives. I have found that we actually consume less food now than previously because we’re providing our bodies with the calories and nutrients it can actually use. So we are buying less food which helps offset the increase in prices.

Of all this advice, meal planning has been the best tool for keeping our budget modest. If it’s cool with you guys, I’ll talk more about that next time.

How do you keep your real food budget under control?

Shedding.

I’ve talked a lot about the chaos and stress of this past year. Tired of hearing about it? Me too. I’m tired of talking about it. I’m tired of thinking about it. Honestly, I’m tired of healing. It’s exhausting. But I am healing.

I had an appointment with an incredible naturopathic doctor yesterday and we went through my entire medical history. Among other things, we discussed my distrust in my body and myself and the way this manifests in my body. It was enlightening and inspiring.

As I’ve mentioned, my hair has been falling out. After yesterday’s appointment, I’m confident that stress and those wretched little pills known as birth control are the cause for the shedding. I had been working on my stress levels and healing and it was devastating to see my hair continue to shed in clumps, despite my best efforts to stop it. I loathed washing and combing my hair and seeing the fistfuls of hair swirling down the drain. Holding those mounds of hair was a tangible representation of the stress and heartache – literal and figuratively- that this year has brought.

A shift in perspective is all we need.

Shedding. It’s actually a beautiful thing. Discarding the unnecessary, the dead, so you can devote energy toward the new, the healthy. Pruning a vine. You can hold on to the past so tightly and devote all your time and energy toward trying to pretty it up that you miss the beauty in the present. The past will never be a comparable and worthy substitute for the present. I decided that instead of focusing on the volume of hair I was losing, I was going to consider the shedding a cleansing and embrace it. Instead of rehashing the astonishingly crappy circumstances of the past year, I am going to focus on the simple blessings of the present.

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Like a badass haircut.

It’s freeing.

October Unprocessed Challenge

When I started The Lambent Life in 2012, the site tagline became “Living Simply, Simply Living.” Living intentionally and with purpose for a greater goal. This isn’t a life of empty sacrifices for the sake of depravity. To me, living simply means eliminating the excess, celebrating the worthy and creating joy. I strive to spread this mantra to every area of my life and eating simply is one of the, well, simplest ways to get and stay on course. That’s part of the reason why I started the Down and Dirty on Clean Eating. Clean eating isn’t where it ends but it’s an awfully good place to start.

Last week, I shared my four basic principals for clean eating:

1. Eat more real food in it’s real form

2. Buy foods with an ingredient list you can understand.

3. Skip calories, count nutrients.

4. Eat with intention.

Sure, it makes sense and most people know this is how they should be eating but get caught up on figuring out exactly where to start. So I want to take a little detour from our Down and Dirty of Clean Eating series to talk about something exciting I found that I think can be a great jumpstart for many of you on your journey to clean eating and clean living. It’s all about eating simply. Andrew at Eating Rules is hosting an awesome challenge called October Unprocessed.

October Unprocessed 2014
The challenge is pretty self-explanatary – no processed foods for the month of October. Unsure if something it unprocessed? If your food doesn’t have a label (fruits, veggies, meats, homemade goods), chances are it’s unprocessed. If it has a label, are the ingredients unprocessed? As in, can the ingredient be created (ground, roasted, milled, pressed, dehydrated) or found in nature?  Could you actually go to the market and buy what you needed to recreate the recipe?
Here are two examples from my own kitchen pantry:
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These are organic animal crackers that I bought because my children were begging and we ran out of allergy-friendly samples at Costco. I cannot make “organic cane invert syrup,” “organic degermed corn flower” or “soy lecithin” in my kitchen. So, no bueno.
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First, Purely Elizabeth is my absolute favorite granola when I’m pressed for time and can’t make a homemade batch. Everything in this ingredient list is something I can identify and use in my own cooking. So this is acceptable.
I know life is crazy and sometimes convenience rules. I like this challenge because it isn’t barring packaged foods or meals on the go. Just make wise decisions.
When you visit the Eating Rules October Unprocessed page and sign the pledge, you also get highly coveted Bob’s Red Mill coupon which is, in my opinion, one of the best readily available product lines on the market.
Is 31 days too long? Set a short term goal and see how you do. Can you do a week? Can you eliminate just one prominent processed item from your diet? 

The lies we tell.

I’m a highly sensitive extrovert. My sensitivity is not to be confused with the weepy characters we stereotype; I am outrageously perceptive and influenced by the mood and emotions of others. And yet I crave the sense of community and camaraderie that comes with interacting with others. I need people. Recently, I find this unfortunate personality combination to be taking more control of my thoughts than I’d like and leaving me with feelings of negativity and self-doubt.

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and reflecting on the role negative thoughts play in my life. These little smidgens begin simply enough – a comment that was just slightly damaging. Not always outright but there was perhaps something in their tone or the awkward pauses that leaves me analyzing myself. Did I say something wrong? Did I come across as overbearing? Do they secretly hate me?

And like an ear worm, it festers and grows. It takes root and before I realize it, the negative feelings have strangled out my positive intentions.

Aviva Romm recently discussed the influence of Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs). How quickly I spring to an automatically negative response when faced with a challenge or opportunity.

You are not worthy.

You are not good enough.

You will fail.

You are not qualified.

You will be laughed at.

As I type this, I realize how egocentric and self-centered this is. How much of my life do I spend thinking about myself and how others perceive me? When I think of a narcissist, I think of someone who is arrogant and overly confident. Yet here I am, spending so much time thinking of myself and wallowing in my own self-doubt.

Weird, right?

I went to a yoga class this week. With all of the emotional and physical stress that has manifested recently, I took a month long self-perscribed hiatus from exercise and have gradually been easing my way back toward activity and yoga seems to be my favorite “I forgive you” gift for my body. As I’m laying in shavasana trying not to think, I’m overwhelmed by the thought of how absurd and incredibly selfish it is for me to spend so much energy thinking about the lies I tell myself.

My husband loves me with an unfailing, infallible love. My children think I am capable of anything. I have a healthy body and although it has faltered, it is strong and good. I serve a risen Savior who found me worthy of his own despair.

When I let negative, self-doubting thoughts take root and strangle out my joy and confidence, I am essentially telling those who love and support me that they are wrong. That I don’t believe them and that their confidence in me is in vain. I am discounting their confidence and replacing it with my own message of untruths. I am calling them liars.

When you start viewing yourself through the eyes of those who love you, you begin to realize that this life isn’t about you. You have nothing to prove. You have nothing to gain. What you need is what you have – people who love you unconditionally – and that there is nothing you can do, say, succeed or fail at that will influence their perception of you.

And if it they are so easily influenced, then they aren’t worthy of you.

You are worthy.

You are amazing.

You are good enough.

You are beautiful.

You are capable.

You are loved.

YouAreEnough

Please believe it. 

Down and Dirty of Clean Eating // The Basics

//This is the second post in a blog mini-series called “The Down and Dirty of Clean Eating.” To learn more about the DDoCE series, check out the previous post here. Everything I share here is based off my journey in clean eating. Check with your doc before doing anything crazy. // SONY DSC I am stoked, guys. I’ve been mulling over the idea to do a series like this for a few months and I’m so excited to see so many of you so excited about taking steps toward a healthier foundation of health. I want to reiterate that I’m not an expert and we don’t eat a perfect diet. I bribe my kids with cookies like the best of us. But we strive for the best diet without compromising sanity (which is a hot commodity in these parts).

I’m going to be upfront and say there’s a lot of debate around what constitutes a “clean” diet. There are different definitions and some items I consider clean maybe debated by others and vice versa. There is usually a good, better and best to all of life’s choices but starting a healthier lifestyle is based on where you are. At its most basic form, here is my list for clean eating:

1. Eat more real food in it’s real form. Fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, grains as close to nature as possible.

2. Buy foods with an ingredient list you can understand. Better yet? Make it yourself so you know exactly what is being used. Prime example? Bread.

3. Skip calories, count nutrients. Choose foods that are nutrient-dense which means they offer a lot of vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber or food fat in comparison the amount of calories.

4. Eat with intention. Food can – and should – be fun. But it’s primary purpose is to provide the body with the energy and resources it needs to function properly. The simpler my diet, the more it became something I believed in and a tangible reflection of what I believed about nutrition and health.

It sounds simple enough, right? Or maybe it doesn’t sound simple at all. Putting these principals into practice can be confusing. Nearly every person I talk to says they’d love to eat better but feel so overwhelmed by all the rules. Gluten is evil, organic is best, avoid GMOs, buy grass-fed beef, stay away from sugar, only rbst-free milk. Many of them overlap and/or contradict and honestly, it’s easier to stick our fingers in our ears and rationalize that they way we eat really isn’t all that bad.

I want to help you not feel overwhelmed. Start small. Those changes toward a clear diet will snowball. Or, you’re like me. I have an obsessive personality. When I find something that I’m interested in or a goal to achieve, I’m like a race horse out of the gate and work to master it quickly. While that passion is fantastic, I also tend to become easily frustrated and hard on myself when things don’t go the way I imagined. I preach patience and practice to my children and yet fail to do so as an adult.

The best way I’ve found to combat the urge to go out guns blazing without losing the motivation is simple:

Preparation and planning leads to consistency.

You don’t sign up for a marathon if you’ve never even laced up your running shoes. You prepare. Please don’t click out of this window and throw out everything in your pantry. Read labels. Read books. A great place to start? Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. In 2009, this was one of the first books that made me reconsider everything I thought I knew about food. Talk to people. Be realistic. Figure out your barriers.

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I wrote a post about this way back when but it deserves another mention. Don’t confuse dieting with being on a diet.

diet [dahy-it], noun: food and drink considered in terms of its qualities, composition, and its effects on health.   You should be on a diet.   I’m not talking about calorie restrictions or eating low-fat frozen foods (can we even consider that food?). A diet means thinking about your food – what it is, where it’s from – and eating with intention – providing your body with the forms of energy it needs to run optimally.   People would balk at the suggestion of putting dirty, unrefined gasoline in their brand new, shiny SUV. So what’s up with all the processed crap we eat?

Let’s chat. Do you find all the food rules to be overwhelming? What are your basics for a clean diet?

The Down and Dirty on Clean Eating

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When I started this blog, I did a mini-series called Dirty Little Clean Secrets that to this day are some of my most popular posts. This is amusing because I knew very little about blogging back in 2012 and was just writing what I cared about. What’s even more amusing is that two years later, I haven’t learned much about blogging – except that “dirty little secrets” provides interesting and unsavory search traffic. But I have gained a wealth of knowledge through experience about clean living and eating and I still love to share information to help others.

There are very few conversations that cause me to take a firm stance and they generally fall into one of two categories: faith and food. While I love to talk about my faith, I want to focus on the many, many questions about what I feed my family and why. I realize the food choices that are common for us seem odd to others. Straight away – pause the background music – I want to be clear that I am not telling you what or how to feed your family. Our family’s journey to a healthier lifestyle is ours – you need to be responsible for yours. In fact, our very definition of “healthy” is probably different. But I am telling you to be an informed consumer and make educated decisions and sharing ours.

Our journey to clean eating started when I was pregnant with Emery and has changed and evolved several times. But at the core, my numero uno food rule is to eat real food. One of my favorite quotes on this is by Dr. Alejandro Junger (yes, this same Junger) who says, “The problem is that we aren’t eating real food anymore; we are eating food-like products.”

Right?

I have yet to meet anyone who truly believes processed foods are better than the real deal. But we live in a culture that promotes taste over function and sacrifices nutrients for convenience. Before we started eating a cleaner diet, we were eating under the advice of a well meaning personal trainer who encouraged low fat dairy, artificial sweeteners, fortified grains and diet sodas. Josh and I were both working long hours and many of our food choices were based on convenience. We trusted that this professional knew more about our health than we did. We wised up and cut out the processed grains and started making our own bread. A few months later, we started thinking hard about organic produce. And then looking at where our meats came from.

I know what it’s like to be pressed for time, money and energy and pulled like a Stretch Armstrong between all the new “right” ways to eat. It’s overwhelming to figure out what a clean, healthy diet looks like – I get it. Paleo. Low carb. Vegan. Vegetarian. Organic. Local. Raw. Every supporter claims their way is the right way. Regardless of who is “right,” I promise you that making even small steps away from processed, empty-calorie foods will show a big return on your health. The journey to clean eating and natural living is a journey – it’s a process, trial-and-error, failures and grand successes. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. It’s taking baby steps that turn into bigger steps that eventually lead to a stride.

There are thousands of blogs that do a great job of highlighting the reasons why we should eat unprocessed foods. so why am I even talking about this?

A few reasons. My passion is holistic health. That means I want to help people life their fullest, most satisfying life possible. Eating a clean, unprocessed, organic, locally sourced – whatever you want to call it – is the most important piece of a healthy, natural lifestyle. It doesn’t matter how many vitamins, supplements, fermented foods, non-toxic cleaners, yoga sessions or essential oils you use – if your diet isn’t strong, neither is your health. It’s my goal to help others improve their overall wellness but a strong foundation in good nutrition is necessary.

Secondly, I’ve been there. And it wasn’t until food allergies forced us to examine our diet that we finally made serious, life-long changes. We had to do a dramatic overhaul of our diets – multiple times – and quickly. We were in for it, sink or swim, praying we would swim. Our first dairy allergy diagnosis forced us to make a change but that doesn’t mean it was easy and in hind sight, we made a lot of decisions then that I wouldn’t encourage now. But it’s a process.

Third, I’m not Paleo. Or vegetarian. Or anything. I strive for clean. Unprocessed. Nutrient-dense. I may subscribe to certain aspects of a diet theory but health is not a one-size-fits-all approach. That does not mean I’m perfect or in perfect health (obviously). We eat out. We give in to cravings. We live on a budget. We travel. I have kids who want sugar and junk and treats. I don’t make everything from scratch.

And although our diet is clean, my kitchen is messy. Like, really messy. Don’t stop over unannounced. Does anyone want to do my dishes?

So, what Down and Dirty of Clean Eating topics are we going to talk about?

  • What is a Clean Diet?
  • Making Time
  • Eating on a Budget
  • Eating on the Go
  • Clean Eating for Kids

Guys, I’m ridiculously excited about this.

I want to hear from you! What topics do you want to talk about? What stops you from eating a less-processed, nutrient-dense diet? What tips work for you? Please share!

Heart Stopping – a lesson in stress.

One year – and what a year it has been. One year ago, we found out we were pregnant with a baby we won’t meet this side of heaven. This marked the beginning of a full 12 months of chaos, upheaval, juggling, worrying, planning, celebrating, stretching and growing. Stress.

Stress can be a good thing. I thrive under pressure and a healthy dose of stress keeps me moving forward and focused. But after such a long period of intense, life-changing stress, it’s no longer a flame lit under me but a wildfire consuming my mind and body. Our bodies aren’t meant to endure long periods of adrenaline and eventually things begin to crack under pressure. Worst of all, I’d become so accustomed to feeling overwhelmed and overstretched that I no longer recognized these feels as abnormal or unhealthy. That season of life had become my life.

I couldn’t relax. Quieting my body made the chaos of my mind scream louder. I’d collapse into bed each night mentally drained and exhausted but would lie there for an hour before finally falling asleep, only to wake up several times a night after what I called “anxious dreams.” I’d wake up yelling at the caged dog for peeing on the carpet or calling out to my sound-asleep kids to stop before running into traffic. Until recently, this happened every single night, multiple times a night.

In the mean time, we’ve talked about how my health began to deteriorate. It becomes a game of chicken or the egg – was I ill because of stress or was the stress causing the illness? Truthfully, I have a hormone imbalance that caused the miscarriage. From there on, I truly believe much what I’ve dealt with has directly related to stress or at least greatly magnified.

Everything came to a head last Monday. During my routine – although there is nothing routine about the tribe at KadiFit – workout, my heart went a little berserk and my heart rate sky rocketed to the high 230s. No bueno. I walked around, drank some water, put my arms above my head but nothing brought it down. I felt fine – no pain, headache or dizziness. I made my way to the nearby fire station where they promptly called EMTs for my first – and hopefully last – ever ambulance ride to the emergency room. I was give three doses of a medication that actually paralyzes part of your heart so that the other part can pick up the slack and regulate the beating. In very layman’s terms, of course.

At the emergency room, I was observed for several hours and released with instructions to follow up with my primary care and a cardiologist. Everything looked great but it felt like my heart is beating so hard I can see my chest moving and my chest feels hollow. I go back to the cardiologist and they outfit me with a 48-hour monitor which, thankfully, comes back normal. If my heart is healthy, why did my heart feel like it was going to explode in my chest?

I’ve spent so much time reading, researching, praying and talking to those more educated and wise than I. I had recently gone off of the birth control that had been intended to balance those crazy hormones but was instead wreaking havoc on my body. I started a higher quality multi-vitamin and carefully tracked my iron and protein intake. All these things are good and right but because my house – mentally and physically – hasn’t been in order, I’ve been putting a bandaid on a broken bone.

I am stressed. I am so stressed that I the symptoms are physically manifesting. My hair is falling out. I can’t sleep. Dropping weight. The list goes on and on. I’ve had countless tests run and nothing seems horribly amiss. I am nearly certain I am suffering from adrenal fatigue, a condition that appears after periods of prolonged and intense stress. Adrenals play a roll in several other health conditions, as well.

So what do I do? Well, I’m currently operating under the assumption I have adrenal fatigue and am treating it accordingly. I am being selfish with my time – which isn’t always easy as mothers. I’m forgiving myself for the ways my body has failed me and for feeling like I am somehow responsible for that. I’m talking about it and acknowledging it.

I’m breathing. And sharing with you what little I’ve learned along the way. I’m not an expert on anything (yet) but I want to share what I learn with you. Okay?

Detox baths
The benefits of bathing in epsom salts are two fold – epsom salts work to draw out toxins while also supplementing your fatigued body with much needed magnesium. I like to add Young Living’s frankincense, lavender and/or bergamot. Frankincense is good for the skin and the soul and some research suggests it effects heart rate and stress levels. Meanwhile, the lavender is an adaptogen which are essential to the adrenal system and help during times of stress. Bergamot is citrusy and is good for the skin with an uplifting scent.

Magnesium
I’ve been reading a lot about the role of magnesium in our body processes. From anxiety to allergies and even hormones and arrhythmias – magnesium is necessary for so many functions. I had my magnesium levels checked and, surprise, they’re low. Magnesium also a recommended supplement for those dealing with adrenal fatigue.

Stress Away
I began using Young Living essential oils a few weeks ago and Stress Away is far and away becoming one of my most precious oils. I start each day with a drop on each wrist and the back of my neck. The scent is lightly citrusy without being overly feminine.

Give It Up
I wish this was as simple as taking a supplement or a relaxing bath but this has been the most crucial step for me. Why do I want to hold on to the craziness of the past year? Why do I internalize it? The problems of this world – my world – are not my own. I cannot control the world. After I was discharged from the emergency room, I was terrified that my heart was going to just stop beating. I realized there was no amount of force, not even a mother’s  will, that would keep it going. That’s a scary realization. I serve a God who is the Great Physician, the Creator of All and it is disobedient to assume my worry, my panic, my desire for control will affect His will and plan. And I know that going through this year has given me an amazing testimony.  When I let go and stop trying to carry a worry that was never mine from the start, the journey becomes far less burdened.

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Detoxing and Discoveries.

On the first day of Dr. Alejandro Junger’s “Clean” detox, I felt great. I loaded up with my morning smoothie and went off to exercise. I came home and had some chicken and roasted brussel sprouts for lunch – still feeling strong. But by 3 p.m., the headaches began. Oh, caffeine withdrawal, I loathe you. I don’t consider myself to be a coffee-addict but it’s incredible how much simple things affect the body. By 6 p.m., I went into Naked and Afraid mode. Have you ever seen the show on Discovery Channel? Basically, they lay around in the wilderness exhausted and hungry (and naked) and wait for their 21 days to pass. While I was fully clothed, my body was preserving calories and I was “mentally” hungry. That evening, Josh was running late and I still had to cook dinner, bathe and put the girls to bed. By the time it was all done, I passed out in bed too tired to brush the evening smoothie from my teeth.

My first day is exactly how you shouldn’t approach a detox.

Although I thought I had planned well, I wasn’t prepared for how tired I would be and the caloric deficit I would have because I was still exercising with my normal intensity.

This was my first and second mistake. I typically shoot for 300-400 calories for lunch each day but that is definitely not enough when it’s your primary meal. I should have added quinoa or rice for a starch. Secondly, Junger recommends lower impact exercise like walking and yoga while on the detox. He does mention that routine exercise can be continued if you add in an additional protein smoothie post workout. I didn’t do this and suffered for it. After burning upwards of 700 calories in an hour of boot camp and hip hop, my body was beyond exhausted and needed that extra energy.

As day two arrived, I went back to my Clean manual and approached it better prepared. I planned out my meals appropriately and significantly upped my fat intake in the morning. I’ve never gone through so much almond butter, raw nuts and coconut milk. I added a snack of apple slices and almond butter in the afternoon. I started adding protein powder to my evening smoothies.

Here are a few of my favorite Clean Detox meals:

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I began with the smoothie recipes provided on the Clean website but I began mixing and matching ingredients to create my own as the week progressed. Since the focus is on eliminating toxins, I made sure to use organic and local ingredients when possible.

Junger recommends getting plenty of sleep each night which is pretty easy . But I was surprised at the quality of sleep that week considering I’ve been dealing with insomnia and restless sleep for nearly a year. I woke up refreshed and awake – despite the lack of coffee. The caffeine headaches lasted until day 4 and then I felt great. I was still tired in the evenings because although I was giving my body a break on digestion and eliminated irritants, it is still working hard to detox which takes energy. Clean recommends Yerba Mate as a coffee substitute (coffee is eliminated because of it’s acidity, not necessarily because of the caffeine) so I had picked some up the weekend prior without really knowing much about it except that it’s tea-like and people used to drink it from gourds. I decided to brew a cup late one afternoon and much to my surprise, Yerba Mate is rather caffeinated. This normally wouldn’t be a big deal but when you’ve been off of caffeine for several days, the effects are much more obvious. Yowza. That was the only night I had trouble falling asleep.

When I started the detox, I decided to track my calories using MyFitnessPal for two reasons: 1. I wanted to make sure I was getting enough calories and 2. I was curious. I want to emphasize that although the Clean isn’t about caloric restriction, I’m sure most people end up eating less than they normally would because there’s no late night snacking, sugar, alcohol, convenience foods or packaged foods. On a normal day, I eat around 1,700 calories but was averaging around 1,300 while on the detox. This is hard for me. Having dealt with disordered eating most of my life, it’s a slippery slope for me to reduce calories. Because of this, I decided not to weigh myself during the detox. Most anyone gets a thrill when they see their weight decrease but this can be particularly dangerous for someone who used calorie restriction as a way to seek control. I had to frequently remind myself of why I was doing this detox – to discover why I have been feeling so miserable and find answers.

And I did.

While following the detox, my hives stopped. The burning sensation in my hand disappeared. My lip no longer tingled. My night sweats were gone. Despite being very tired and desperately wanting a glass of wine, I felt better than I had in many, many, many months.  The only reactions I had that week were after eating out and because both were stand-alone events, it helped me narrow down the offenders. The first was an apple pecan salad from Wendy’s with no cheese or dressing but I did eat the nuts. The second was when I ate a quinoa salad with chicken from Zoe’s Kitchen. I knew that both items were gluten and dairy free. I did, however, forget to check for other allergens…

When the detox ended, I had to reintroduce foods to determine if there was a particular food causing my reactions or if my liver just needed to detox. Junger recommends adding foods in slowly and tracking how you feel after each meal. Because the excluded list is extensive – eggs, strawberries, nightshades (peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, etc.), red meat, pork, shellfish, peanuts, pistachio and bananas to name just a few – it’s hard to not rush back into normal eating habits. So I went very slow. On Monday, I kept with a detox-friendly smoothie for breakfast and enjoyed a slice of gluten-free buckwheat bread from a local bakery. Soon, my hand began to burn. Interesting. Fortunately, the bread had an ingredient list. Rice flour, buckwheat flour, milk, cinnamon… soy lecithin. I went back and looked online for an ingredient list for the apple pecan salad – the salad itself was nothing more than lettuce and apples but the pecans – contains soy. Interesting. I checked out Zoe’s Kitchen’s allergen list and, sure enough, their chicken contains soy.

I’d say three makes a pattern, wouldn’t you?

I literally jumped out of my chair and ran to my kitchen and began pulling gluten free items out of my pantry. Glutino pretzels? Soy. My go-to Van’s gluten free waffles? Soy. Gluten free cinnamon thin cookies? Soy. Soy, soy, soy. It’s a common ingredient in gluten free items and considering I’d been eating them several times a day, it’s no wonder I felt worse since cutting out wheat. I’m embarrassed because prior to my wheat allergy, I was always aware of soy and avoided it when possible. Why? Some say soy can increase estrogen levels and I’m already estrogen dominant. Also, almost all soy is GMO. But when we began cutting out large food groups due to allergies, I relaxed because I could only cut out so much. Lesson learned.

I had a follow up appointment scheduled with my allergist and I shared my discovery. The doctor seemed less than interested but agreed to do another allergy test with wheat and soy. Wheat positive, soy negative. Which means I have a soy sensitivity that is more severe than my wheat allergy. And with that, the allergist passed me off to the next doctor to try and navigate the rest of my health issues. I love traditional Western medicine. Regardless, I was pleased with myself.

My biggest take away from the detox?

You have to take control of your health.

You know your body. You need to find the answers. If five doctors dismiss you, find a sixth. Don’t be dismissed as paranoid or a hypochondriac. Don’t write off your symptoms as stress or anxiety. And? The simplest solution is usually the best.

I’ve gone off my allergy medicine and now only take it as needed. I wish this was the end of my health journey but, alas, the road to discovery continues on. I’ve eliminated one problem but am now working on sorting out others – I promise to keep you posted as things progress and I make new discoveries.

Xoxo.

Doctors and Detox Prep.

// I swear I didn’t intend to leave such a cliff hanger and then disappear for two weeks. In my defense, we had an unexpected death in the family and then Emery started kindergarten last week. Big sobs //

Back when life was simple and less about my myriad of health issues, the hardest part of moving was finding a new hair dresser. Don’t get me wrong – a girl has got to get her wig busted. But once we got settled, I had to find a pediatrician, an allergist, a chiropractor, a dentist, an OBGYN, an ENT and a basic primary care doctor. And a hair dresser, of course.

Seeing that we move every few years and knowing what I learned working with medical professionals back when I had a “real” job, I know that I prefer a primary care doctor who is a D.O. – Doctor of Osteopathy – versus an M.D. – Medical Doctor.

Wow, Liz, I never thought about the difference before – enlighten me! 

Of course. According to Mayo Clinic,

“A doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) is a fully trained and licensed doctor who has attended and graduated from a U.S. osteopathic medical school. A doctor of medicine (M.D.) has attended and graduated from a conventional (allopathic) medical school.”

That’s crystal clear, right? Basically, in my non-expertise experience, D.O.s tend to be more hands on, looking at the body as a whole and not just treating the most obvious symptom. They have additional training on the musculoskeletal system and can perform manipulations (like a chiropractor) to alleviate other medical issues. They are not as thorough as, say, and internist or a functional medicine doctor but D.O.s have always suited my needs. I’m sure there are M.D.s out there that are equally awesome but looking for a D.O. has always been a beneficial search parameter.

So, I had my first appointment with a D.O. who was part of a large hospital system. I told him my (lengthy) recent medical history and went over my questions. Could my allergies be effecting my hormones? Could my allergies be effecting my Meniere’s? Could he offer support for this anxiety? Was there anything else I should be doing to help my body work to the best of its abilities?

:::crickets:::

So, the first doctor was a bust. Obviously not all practitioners are created equal. I did some more research and scheduled an appointment with another doctor – also a D.O. – but she is part of an internal and integrative medicine practice. I could give or take the “internist” part but was intrigued by the integrative medicine portion. Given my interest in natural living and my previous work in public relations at a hospital, I was familiar with the use complimentary and alternative medicine but hadn’t tried any under the direction of a medical professional. Integrative medicine is, to me, the best of both worlds as it uses homeopathy, aromatherapy, essential oils, massage, herbs and acupuncture to treat conditions or compliment Western medicines. On a “crunchy” scale, they are not as far East as naturopaths (who don’t and can’t deal with prescription medicines) but still far from their traditional Western MD counterparts who are typically in with Big Pharma.

Still following?

I’d seen three doctors in three months for these same health conditions and everyone thought I should just deal with it. I know, people live with really awful, debilitating illnesses and symptoms every day because not everything has a clear cause and solution and by comparison, I was still living a pretty full life. But why did I go from nearly perfect health to constant hiving, itching, insomnia, burning sensations, hair loss, blurry vision and on and on and all anyone could label was “allergies”? When my appointment finally rolled around, I was incredibly nervous. Unlike with the previous doctor, I was no longer concerned with whether or not I seemed crazy – I know I sounded a little batty because I was. No, now I was more concerned about what I was going to do if this doctor didn’t listen to me and try to help because this was my last viable option.

When we began the appointment, she listened while I talked. A lot. I laid out all the issues, when they began, what I thought was going on, why I didn’t think previous answers were adequate. And she went through with me, one by one, and addressed it all. She spent 50 – fifty – minutes with me.

Could my allergies be effecting my hormones? Probably not but inflammation can effect all body systems and it’s worth considering. Could my allergies be effecting my Meniere’s? Effecting? Yes. Causing? No. Could she offer support for this anxiety? Yes, what I feel is real and justified. Here is a non-habit forming medication to take as needed. Was there anything else I should be doing to help my body work to the best of its abilities? Yes.

Yes, yes, yes.

She suggested I look into Dr. Alejandro Junger’s “Clean” detox and diet. I picked up the book from library the next day and was a bit skeptical. Really, it sounded too good and too simple to solve the problem so many other doctors couldn’t. Regardless, I started reading the book that evening and Junger’s philosophy made sense. In a simplified layman’s nutshell, Dr. Junger’s 21-day detox concentrates on creating a balanced system within our body to help it heal itself. The liver is one of the body’s top organs for processing toxins but because our diets and environments are typically processed and contaminated, the liver has trouble functioning optimally and removing these toxins. This, in turn, spills over to other body systems creating a spectrum of issues like hives and allergies (hello!) to more serious conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular issues. Junger’s detox removes allergenic foods as well as foods that are harder for the body to digest. By giving the body a break on digestion and feeding it what it needs, there is more energy to dedicate toward healing. And because the detox follows an elimination diet, it is easier to recognize what foods your body is sensitive to as you add them back in.

Eating while on the detox meant a smoothie for breakfast, a full meal for lunch (a carbohydrate, protein and vegetable), and another liquid meal for dinner (either a smoothie or a pureed soup) – all from the detox-approved food list. Snacking and juicing throughout the day is encouraged as this isn’t about deprivation. The only stipulation is that you must fast for 12 hours between your last meal in the evening and your first meal the next day. So if dinner was at 8 p.m., breakfast is at 8 a.m. This  window gives the body enough time to digest all food and then flush toxins.

I made a plan to start the following Monday. Although the full detox is 21 days, I decided to try it for seven since we had company coming to visit the following week. Truthfully, I thought the detox wouldn’t be that much of a transition since we’re already wheat and dairy-free. I roughly outlined a meal plan for the week and I did my grocery shopping and picked up Junger’s suggested supplements. I had read most of the book and had the best of intentions – that should count be as prepared, right? I knew that if I was going to figure out why I felt so awful, I was going to have to do my own detective work.

Things Fall Apart, Part II

//If you’re just popping in, check out Things Fall Apart, Part I. Or don’t and be sort of confused//

In the course of four months, I went from a pretty boring medical history to chart that included a miscarriage, a hormone imbalance, an MRI, a VNG and now suggested allergy testing. I know, these aren’t life threatening things. But when you’re typically in superb health, you start to feel like you’re falling apart. We were in the midst of the most stressful time in our lives and I just couldn’t add one more thing to my plate at that moment. So allergy testing had to wait.

From what I’ve learned, allergens cause inflammation and in folks with Meniere’s, that inflammation also occurs in the inner ear and can exacerbate their symptoms. I knew I was probably allergic to something but couldn’t find a pattern. In recent years, I developed a fun party trick where I would begin sneezing uncontrollably within moments of sipping certain craft beers – but not others. Sometimes my feet and hands would get warm and red after meals but it was inconsistent. And yet, I stuck my fingers in my ringing ears and played ignorant.

It was evident from the first time I visited our corporate rental that I was allergic to something in the apartment. With tenants moving in and out every few months, I’d wager the apartment hadn’t had a thorough, deep clean in…. ever. Both Emery and I developed itchy eyes and blurry vision along with sniffles and sneezing minutes after entering the apartment. The problems cleared when we returned to Savannah but would come back on our next visit. When we shifted toward living in North Carolina full time, the sinus pressure and infections, headaches, hives and itching arrived. Guys, this was miserable. As bad as I felt, it was so much worse seeing my sweet Emmie girl constantly blinking her eyes and complaining about her head hurting. So I scheduled appointments with an allergist.

IMG_0730

//Aside, do you know how much fun it is to have a million needles stuck in your back while your two children fight over an electronic device?//

It’s never reassuring when the doctor reads your results and says, “Wow, this is weird.”

I reacted positively to:

  • Barley
  • Dust mites
  • Malt
  • Cockroach dust
  • Mold (1 variety)
  • Maple trees
  • Grass (1 variety)
  • Wheat
  • Sunflower

Guys, I’ve never had so much as a seasonal sniffle prior to this.

But – that beer sneezing thing. Barley, malt, wheat. You guys. I love a creamy witbier and a dark kolsch. The carpet in our apartment? Dust mites, cockroach dust, mold. Our Savannah home had hardwood floors throughout. Hives and sneezing when I ran? Mold, trees, grass.

It was far past lunch when we finally left the doctors office so I stopped to get the girls a bite to eat. I was starving but completely at a loss as to what would be safe. When Blair was diagnosed with her dairy allergy years ago, I researched everything.  I was empowered to be her advocate. And there I was, sitting dumbfounded in the drive thru incapable of figuring out how to feed myself.  What do you do when you’re allergic to everything? If you are me, you do nothing. You don’t think, don’t process.  I was miserably allergic to things found in nearly all commercial food and environmental allergens that were all throughout my living space – indoor and out.

I was overwhelmed and had questions no one could answer. Was I allergic to all malt or just barley malt? Could gluten-free foods still contain other parts of the wheat and barley plant? Was the severity of my reaction due to our temporary apartment and would it improve somewhere with clean carpets and a better air filter? Would an air filter help or should I encase my pillow and mattress? What about clothes in my closet? Our fabric furniture? Would medication help? Was I a candidate for allergy shots?

We moved into our new rental and things improved until we began unpacking boxes. Moving materials are notorious for containing cockroach dust and dust mites and I broke out in hives every time I opened a box. My ears rang louder than ever and I had more vertigo attacks in two months than I’ve ever had before. I tried countless nasal sprays, antihistamines, different antihistamines, homepathic alternatives and herbal tinctures. I was needing medications to deal with the side effects of these medicines. I’d vacuum and dust and wash our sheets every other day. And I was continuing to hive and deal with red, burning sensations in my hands and face.

I decided early on that eating gluten-free was the safest option but I was surprised at how few people took my request seriously. We’ve all seen the Jimmy Kimmel clip asking people about gluten. It’s funny, I know. Sure, some people are idiots and never educate themselves on why they make drastic health choices. But for some of us, it isn’t a choice. I wish I could tell you how many servers smirked when I asked for a gluten-free menu. Or, make suggestions that I knew were questionable. In fact, I had a bartender recommend Omission Pale Ale as a great gluten-free beer. After I drank half, I felt my feet started to itch and so I did some dinnertime research. It turns out Omission is a “gluten-removed” beer and is fermented with barley malt and may contain traces of wheat. I’m thankful every day that my reactions are not anaphylactic and I’ve never needed an Epi-Pen.

Allergy-related anxiety is a very real thing and yet so few people talk about it. Every time I developed a new hive, I went crazy. Did I eat something different? Use a new lotion? Did I touch anything unusual at the grocery store? I spent hours researching my make up and lotions.  Now I know why they mark these random products as gluten-free – because wheat is hidden every and people with allergies are insane.

I was a wreck by the time my follow up appointment with the allergist rolled around. I laid it all out on the table – patterns to the reactions, when and where the hives most commonly occurred, that I was waking up at night to itch, wondering if natural fibers could be allergens because I was sure I was reacting to my wool dryer balls and oh… by the way, do a lot of people with allergies have anxiety? By the look on her face, I know I sounded insane. She prescribed me two doses of 24-hour Allegra each day in addition to atarax as needed for hiving and anxiety. Last year, I hated to take ibuprofen for a headache and there I was taking enough antihistamines for a small army. And yet, I was still hiving and my hands showed no improvement. She ran blood work to rule out other conditions and everything came back normal with the exception of a high level of histamines hanging around my body – causing the hives – and that it was most likely due do high levels of stress for a duration of time.

What stress? Really. No Big Life Things happening here, at all.

I cried. I prayed. I medicated. I eliminated. I medicated more. I did everything I was supposed to do and I was more miserable than ever. I felt worse eating gluten-free than I did eating quality, homemade gluten-filled foods.

And then I saw a new doctor, who made a suggestion and empowered me to fix myself.

I know – what a cliffhanger! But this post is terribly long as it is and if you’ve made it to the end, you are a ROCKSTAR and probably a blood relative (hi, mom!). I’ll promise I’ll be back next week and will tell you all about the detox that has helped me solve the my most puzzling medical issue.