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Thought for Food

Monday, April 14, 2014

This past week, I’ve been trying to figure out what my dietary needs are and how to fulfill them. I haven’t been doing a great job with eating, but I’m getting there. For now, I’m working out what I think I need, then I’ll figure out the portions later.

Food History

Before I delve into the details of my current thinking, there is my history with food. I was somewhat picky as a kid. I used to like my meat cooked beyond all recognition (almost burned). When I was in college, I developed some food aversions which eventually led me to become a vegetarian.

In the years after college, I learned how to cook vegetarian food. I read books about Ayurveda and it principles for cooking. I tried lots of recipes. I even found a few that I still like to make, modified over the years to my tastes and other food issues. I loved salad but hated making salad. I liked pasta and grains and beans, but didn’t like cooking beans because I worked too much to have time for extended cooking sessions. My roommate donated a pressure cooker to our efforts, and we made a lot more legumes for a while.

When I started to work a lot, I convinced various friends of mine who liked to cook to invite me over to help them eat their creations. This got me through a lot nights over the years, for which I remain grateful. But I didn’t control what I ate and I never had leftovers to bring for lunch the next day.

When I moved to NYC, I almost stopped cooking. I was out too late in the evening, usually working, to be able to cook when I got home. This led to a lot more restaurant and take out food. My mother even cooked for me sometimes. It was in NYC that I started gaining some weight. But at the time, I was also having a lot more Lyme symptoms, though I wouldn’t know that’s what they were until I was diagnosed later on. So a few extra pounds, not much control over my diet, random joint and memory problems.

Once I became disabled, I ate everything except meat and eggs. I was losing weight no matter what I ate, and I had constant diarrhea. It wasn’t the best attitude, but I enjoyed food. Eating was a distraction from the nerve pain and the nausea that I got whether I ate or not, and from the trouble walking and all the other strange symptoms of mysterious origins.

Shortly after the Lyme diagnosis, I went to get tested for food sensitivities. That was upsetting. My diet was already restricted by the Lyme doctor who was doing his best to keep me from getting a whole-body, multi-system yeast infection from the antibiotics I started taking. Then when I saw the list of foods I could no longer eat, I went into morning. Between the doctor and the naturopath, I couldn’t have any grains, any fruits, any red foods, any night shade vegetables, spinach, eggs, chocolate, dairy and on and on. I was left with broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, sweet potatoes, kale and a few other leafy green vegetables. I ate soy beans and tofu, powdered protein dissolved in almond or coconut milk, nuts and olive oil. Food was depressing.

Over time, I lost some of the foods on the yes list, like cabbage and avocados and almonds with skins, because I ate them infrequently enough to realize I had a reaction to them. I took my antibiotics. Then when I stopped, I started coiling. Then when I stopped being infested by yeast, I slowly started adding back in some brown rice and oatmeal.

In the past 6 months to a year, I’ve been experimenting with adding foods back in, then making them a regular part of my diet. I’ve gained weight, maybe a little bit too much, and possibly because of a hormone supplement I was taking (Vitex) rather than diet alone. My friends, the ones who see me with regularity, are actually happy to see that my body looks like it’s thriving rather than starving. I accept the idea that the weight gain may be overall a positive thing.

However, when I added the foods back in, the Lyme and Bartonella infections were on the decline. I had some reactions to the foods, but those diminished with coiling. Then as I’ve been triggering the Lyme and Bartonella infections back into action, I feel the reactions more. I’m getting used to feeling a little sick sometimes or being more inflamed, especially in my joints and digestive tract. I don’t feel as well as I’d like to, but I recognize that this is part of getting the Lyme out of hiding. The question remains, then, what should I eat and in what proportions, as I try to get rid of Lyme and then later, after the Lyme and Bartonella infections are gone.

Principles of Eating

I had the good fortune to work with doctors who took a holistic approach to healing from Lyme. They taught me a lot about food and about what to consider when eating. Some of the things to consider are which foods feed the infections (Lyme, Bartonella, Candida, etc.) and which foods help maintain a low blood sugar and deprive the infections of nutrients. They taught me to consider heavy metals in food, from mercury in fish to nickel in soy products, not by completely avoiding them forever, but by seeking out foods that are low in these contaminants and eating only moderate amounts. They taught me about how important fiber is to help eliminate toxins, both by absorbing the toxins directly and by keeping things moving in the intestines. They taught me about supplements and which supplements have different kinds of effects. The list goes on and on.

The ideas I understood for the years of being on antibiotics, were to avoid all sugars and simple carbohydrates, to eat a lot of protein in order to keep the immune system functioning at a high level, to eat a lot of “good” fats, like olive oil and nuts, to eat a lot of vegetables for fiber and nutrients, to take lots of antioxidant supplements (since I was restricted from eating many of the antioxidant rich foods) and to drink plenty of water.

I think these principles served me well. They reduced the amount of inflammation in my body, thereby helping reduce my symptoms somewhat. They kept me muscular, with the protein reducing the amount of muscle wasting I might have experienced, given my activity level. They slowed the inevitable candida from taking over my whole body and making me much worse than I already was.

As I mentioned above, I continued on this kind of diet for a more than 2 years after starting to use the coil machine. Then I realized that this diet was artificially pumping up my immune system and potentially preventing me from getting the Lyme out of hiding. It became important to me to begin going back to unrestricted food habits while I was coiling so that if the infections did flare up, the coil machine could kill them. However, I was waiting until the symptoms died down, so I wouldn’t be too disabled by any new flares or inflammation.

From October to now, I’ve been eating a larger variety of foods and taking no nutritional supplements. I still take one supplement for detoxing and another to regulate my menstrual cycle. But I no longer take vitamins or minerals or other things to make sure I get enough nutrients. I’ve been working on a new set of principles that go with the later stages of coiling.

  1. Maintain Low Sugar Intake. I’ve moved from a completely sugar-free diet to one that contains more fruit and grains. These contain more sugar than I’d been eating, especially the bananas and mangos. I also, occasionally, about every 10-15 days, eat something with actual sugar in it (e.g. ice cream). The reason I’ve loosened up on sugar is that I want to make sure that I kill off any bacteria from the tick-borne infections that become activated when my blood sugar is raised. This means I’m accepting additional inflammation from my blood sugar being elevated (though, I still assume in the normal range) after eating.
  2. Eat Plenty of Fiber. Fiber is very important at this point. As I continue to whittle away at the Bartonella infection, I tend to have irritated bowels. Fiber is good at keeping my ingested food moving, but not too fast, through my digestive tract. It also helps to absorb toxins that haven’t been absorbed by the bile in my digestive tract. To increase my fiber intake, I’m eating: berries; dried fruit including dates, prunes, figs, and plums (other varieties than what are used to make prunes); legumes including chick peas, lentils, and beans; apples and other fruits in season, and more leafy greens.
  3. Get Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants from Fresh Fruit and Vegetables. I’ve worried, sometimes, that I wasn’t really getting enough vitamins and minerals once I stopped the supplements. For a short time, I considered going back to juicing. I changed my mind, though, because juicing creates an overabundance of nutrients, enough to supercharge my immune system. It helped with detoxing as well providing many other benefits with all the easily absorbed vitamins and antioxidants. But, I think it was too much. I’ve settled instead on salads, raw fruit, and green smoothies. I usually add frozen berries to the smoothies, as well as some kind of greens, some kind of nuts or seeds, and a cucumber, banana or apple. This way I end up with something refreshing, filling and full of nutrients. It also contributes to my fiber intake and limits how many nutrients I get because the drinks are pretty filling.
  4. Eat High Fiber or High Protein, But Not Both in the Same Meal. I’ve read many times about ways to go easy on the digestive tract. One suggestion is to have vegetables with starchy, high fiber foods in some meals, and vegetables with high protein and low starch foods at separate meals. The way I’ve gone about this is to make sure I get some protein, through whole grains and legumes in the one meal, with plenty of veggies. In other meals, I eat concentrated protein, like tofu, tempeh, or fish, with vegetables and nuts or cheese, but skip the starch. I’ve already seen a difference in how often I get indigestion.
  5. Choose High Fiber or High Fat Snacks. High fat suggestions are not seen too often in our low-fat obsessed society. But nuts are a tremendously filling, very nutritious snack. I eat them and get full much faster than with pretzels or fruit. High fiber snacks are another good way to fill up, including dried fruit. With either snack, I make sure to drink plenty of water and to eat slowly so that I can tell when I’m full.
  6. Eat Trigger Foods and Satisfy Some Craving. This is a counter-intuitive decision. I’m choosing to eat red foods and wheat and other foods that mess up my digestion. I’m doing this because I know that they cause inflammation and activate the infections. I want to activate the tick-borne infections because the coil machine can only kill them in their active form.
  7. Eat Probiotic Foods. I’ve been eating probiotic foods for a while, fostering the microbial recolonization of my intestines after extensive use of antibiotics. This takes on a different kind of importance now, when I’m eating foods that trigger inflammation in my intestines and increasing the vegetable matter I consume. Probiotic bacteria and fungi help digest food and reduce intestinal inflammation. For now, I’m not taking a probiotic supplement, though I may consider that again at some point. Instead, I’m eating yogurt and live sauerkraut, and drinking miso and kefir.
  8. Eat Slowly and Stop when Sated. I used to eat fast. I slowed down when I started eating humongous bowels of vegetables, back when I learned about all my food sensitivities. I sped up again when I started eating grains and other easy to consume foods. It seemed that high fat foods, like nuts, made me feel full as I was eating them, but the lower fat foods don’t register right away. So eating a bowl of pasta and beans slowly means I eat less because I wait long enough to decide to stop before I’ve overstuffed myself.
  9. Drink Plenty of Water. I drink most of my water away from meals, though I usually have a glass with a meal. I used to drink a lot during meals, just to swallow all my pills! I’ve found that my digestion goes better with a moderate amount of water with food. When it comes to nausea or indigestion, too much water is just as bad as not enough.
  10. Avoid Highly Processed or Contaminated Foods. Highly processed foods tend to be high in calories, and low on nutrients and fiber. Even though I’m experimenting with some prepared foods, for example, Trader Joe’s frozen entrees or eating at restaurants, I’m opting for food that is not very processed. I look for things that are partially cooked but still look like the ingredients…and I go for ingredients that I can identify as food I would want to eat. In addition, when I eat seafood, I strongly prefer (though I might mess up once a month or less) animals that are low in mercury, PCBs, and the like, and are sustainably harvested.
  11. Keep Track of What I Eat. I won’t be doing a daily blog about what I’m eating. Although it’s important to keep track, this blog is focused on using the coil machine and on what I need to do to regain my health while I coil. However, when I have to write down what I’m eating, it keeps me honest. Sometimes it helps me decide not to eat something (chocolate) or to eat something I know I’ll wish I ate. Other times, it helps me notice cravings when I keep going back to the same foods. Finally, writing down what I eat helps me think about food because I return my attention to it over and over. I’ve dedicated a notebook to my food records.
  12. Enjoy Eating. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to eat every meal with other people, but when I can, I have food with conversation and companionship. I do my best to make meals and snacks that are tasty, smell good, have pleasant textures and look appealing. All this makes it a lot easier to eat, and reduces the aura of the dreaded “diet” from which I would want to escape as soon as possible.

Learning as I Go

Even though I’ve only been officially working on the food project for a week, I’ve been thinking about it intermittently over the past year. There are a few observations I can make at this point.

First, when I stopped eating sugar, fruit, and grains, I stopped craving them. I wanted to eat them sometimes because I missed them. I never quite felt satisfied emotionally by a meal of tofu, vegetable and nuts. However, I was full at the end of such meals and they didn’t bother my stomach as much as the foods I’d stopped eating. Now that I’m eating “sweet” foods, I want sweets all the time. When I buy dried berries, I have to ration them because I can eat them like candy. When I make a pasta (usually whole wheat or brown rice) dish, I have to set out the portions carefully and eat slowly. Otherwise I eat too much and end up feeling sick.

Second, I have more indigestion than I did on the super-strict diet. I think some of it has come from the portions or combinations of foods. Some of the stomach inflammation comes from eating foods that I have a reaction to (Lyme, Bartonella or otherwise). Some of it comes from stopping digestive enzymes and letting my body ramp up production of its own enzymes. Rather than taking Rolaids or Prilosec or some other drug, I drink a digestive tea. There are many brands available. My current favorite is Herbal Cup Digestion, which I picked up from the local grocery store on a whim.

Third, it helps to eat at home. I enjoy eating out. I like being at a restaurant, especially when my husband and I meet up with friends. Unfortunately, when I eat out, I spend less time thinking about what I will eat that day or the next. I let vegetables go bad in the fridge. I don’t balance my meals or portions well while I’m at the restaurant. And I run out of ideas about what to make at home. When we eat out less often, my creative juices flow at the counter top and I think of yummy things to make, things that will make me feel good, too.

Last but not least, my digestion is better when I do some exercise. I have some new thoughts on that for another day, but for now I’ll say that my appetite is better when I exercise. My digestion is better when I exercise. I may be more tired and less inclined to cook, but exercise really makes meals better.

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