It’s the final moments that define a journey and the first ones that make it possible. Both, we have total control over. Just over a month ago, I took my doctor’s advice and made some drastic changes to my diet, in hopes of shifting my trajectory. I chose to embark on a new leg of my life’s journey, blindly trusting in the possibility of progress.
I’ve been spending an immense amount of time in the kitchen, where doubled and tripled recipes seem to disappear overnight. Catering to two completely different dietary profiles has been a fun challenge. While I’m following a modified paleo/AIP diet, my boyfriend adheres to a low-FODMAP, soy-free, ovo-vegetarian diet. There is surprisingly little overlap.
For the last five weeks, I’ve eliminated some former staples, including grains, beans, legumes, nightshade vegetables and soy. In their place, I’ve incorporated grass-fed chicken, wild-caught salmon and macadamia nuts, while supplementing several vitamin and mineral deficiencies. I begin each day with a tablespoon of cod liver oil, intended to stabilize blood sugar throughout the day. And I end each day with another tablespoon of fat to prevent the release of insulin overnight. I consume three robust, protein-rich meals per day and munch on high-fat snacks in between.
I still can’t ascend a half-flight of stairs without severe muscle cramps… but I’ll get there. I was referred to an outpatient toxicologist for the now-suspected heavy metal accumulations in the soft tissues of my legs, so I’m hopeful that by the year’s end I’ll regain the fitness needed to lift, run and complete a damn sun salutation without pain. I’m getting giddy just thinking about all the physical endeavors I want to pursue!
Before I adopted the paleo diet and lifestyle, I was told that I may see results within three to six months. It’s been five weeks and I’ve already noticed some undeniable changes. Could it be placebo? Absolutely! And yet, several of the changes suggest increased functioning within my damaged autonomic nervous and endocrine systems, which I’m sincerely hoping means that true progress is being made–slow and steady, like the tortoise.
I’ve always been a bit of a granola-wielding, tree-hugging hippy, thanks in part to informed parents who forbid sugar, fast food and plastic guns. In response to the onslaught of recent bodily dysfunctions, I’ve realized I need to embrace an even more holistic approach to wellness and recovery. Our home has been just shy of 100% organic and non-GMO for over four years, but there’s still clearly something environmental inhibiting my healing, so we’re stepping up our game.
First thing upon waking, I consume one tablespoon of cod liver oil to support stable insulin levels throughout the day. My doctor emphasized that this is hands-down the most important step I can take to promote recovery, based on my unique challenges. I’ve found Carlson’s lemon-flavored cod liver oil to be the most palatable.
Within an hour of waking, I consume 25g of lean animal protein and a generous helping of nutrient-rich, low-starch vegetables. Additionally, I supplement with a multi-vitamin, multi-mineral, potassium, antioxidants, B-12 with folate, and K2 with D3.
I carry snacks in reusable silicone bags, with favorites been macadamia nuts, chicken jerky, celery and a square or two of 90% dark chocolate. I snack on these little munchies in between meals and throughout the day.
For both lunch and dinner, I eat five ounces of lean protein–typically chicken or salmon–and a variety of vegetables, either in the form of a salad or stir fried. Since I’m supposed to consume fat with protein, I use cold-pressed olive oil as dressing or prepare cooked vegetables with coconut oil.
After dinner, I have a small serving of fermented coconut yogurt with blueberries, which is to die for! This is followed by my dinnertime supplements: a multi-vitamin, multi-mineral, potassium and antioxidant blend.
When I’m feeling up to it, dinner is followed by an evening walk. I still need to sit down to rest a few times along the two-mile path, but my strength and endurance are improving. I’ve tried yoga and light body weight exercises, but my muscles were unforgiving. The day I can do a pull-up or burpee again just might be the happiest day of my life.
I take magnesium glycinate and taurine fifteen minutes before bed to support sleep and reduce insulin sensitivity. Then, immediately before bed, I consume one tablespoon of fat. The coconut oil I started with was rough on my gastrointestinal tract, so I’ve moved to cashew butter, which sits far better in my stomach.
Finally, I aim for a minimum of nine to ten hours of sleep per night to help facilitate healing. For awhile I experienced sleep disturbances, such as muscle cramps and sudden bursts of energy, but those seem to have subsided after discontinuing the pre-bed coconut oil.
Yesterday, a bird flew in front of my car. My heart raced for about two seconds before the physiological response wore off. My boyfriend looked over and asked if I was okay, and my jaw dropped in awe. For the first time in over three years, my heart rate did not remain elevated following a minor stressful event. I simply felt startled and then I didn’t. For the rest of the night, I was not jumpy or skittish. I felt… normal. While, I’m sure this sounds laughable simple, the prolonged and elevated resting heart rate paired with tachycardia and dangerously low blood pressure have put me at high risk of stroke. The possible reduction of this cardiac risk is huge.
I no longer experience hanger. Labs showed that, though within the normal range, my blood sugar would spike and drop approximately 15 times per 24-hours period, leading to frequent energy crashes. While still generally tired, my energy level is more consistent across the course of a day, leading to increased productivity and a greater sense of capability and wellness. Perhaps my body is re-learning how to self-manage it’s insulin levels.
For years, I’ve navigated life in a dense fog, feeling my way through situations to the best of my ability, Within a few days, that heaviness in my head lifted. I feel sharper and my memory is gradually improving. After eight months in my job, I am finally able to focus and give my full attention to any given project again. This level of performance has been out of reach for so long that I’d forgotten what it felt like. I feel like myself again, and it feels so incredible.
The changes may be small, but they feel significant. After years of being told that I look healthy enough, that it’s all in my head and not to worry because everyone has high-SUV tumors (what?!), it’s been inexplicably refreshing to find a doctor who not only believed me, but backed up my ongoing symptoms with their biochemical explanations. Above and beyond that, he proposed a simple solution. And so, I adjusted my diet to supplement several glaring deficiencies and to offer my body the resources to slowly–very slowly–extradite numerous toxin deposits from my body. It feels like, finally, progress is being made.
In the last month, I’ve made the shift from 98% vegetarian to a diet devoid of grains, dairy, soy and legumes. For the first time in six years, I’m preparing meat at home. While it’s been a strange and, at times emotionally-jarring adjustment, coming from a place of concern for animal welfare has equipped me to approach this necessary shift from a place of respect and gratitude.
I feel better. The degree to which my health has changed may be small, but it’s undeniable. After five years of struggling, to notice any improvement feels life-changing, especially after just five weeks. For at least the immediate future, lean animal protein is going to be a staple of my diet. Thus, I choose to buy whole, ethically-raised chickens each week from Whole Foods, prepare them myself and use the entire animal (organs, bones and all), acutely aware that another living creature gave up it’s life to provide me sustenance.
There is still a long ways to go. I’ll be retested for mineral deficiencies in October, at which time we’ll be able to objectively assess the changes my body is undergoing. From there, we can further adjust. And continue to do so until balance and wellness have been fully restored in my body.
The last five years have been a roller-coaster and a nightmare with too many intertwined factors to understand what happened. I contracted a severe fungal infection in my lungs, said infection was mistreated and spread throughout the body. The five rounds of heavy-duty antibiotics destroyed my gut. Around the same time, I made the decision to insert a “non-hormonal” foreign object into my cervix to prevent pregnancy, which I’d later learn is constructed from material to which I’m highly allergic. During this same time frame, I adopted a vegetarian diet, replacing meat with the endocrine-disrupting soy and boosting my grain consumption. Finally, during this same period, I accepted a high-stress job and stuck around longer than I should have because of the pay. For the last five years, my body has been crying out that something is not right.
While I can’t undo the damage done by valley fever, I’ve been listening intently to my body for the last year, asking what it needs and actually following through on it’s requests. I took a 33% pay cut for a low-stress job with flexible hours, good people and a minimal commute; it’s been challenging financially, but I don’t regret it. I removed my birth control, which has caused a bit of anxiety despite my body currently being infertile. I feel empowered, as if I’ve reclaimed my body and put my health first. And, last but not least, I’ve reincorporated the animal proteins I gave up for ethical reasons. I knew from the beginning that I felt better when I was consuming meat, and I’m grateful that I’ve finally chosen to listen to my body and that my boyfriend–a vegetarian of 19 years–is so supportive of my decision.
I feel good. I am grateful. I’ve recently embarked down a new path, and I feel both hopeful and confident that this next leg of my journey, as well as the final destination, will be worth it.