Health Journey 2.0

I don’t know why I am calling this renewed healthy journey as “version 2.0” since it is by far more than my second attempt to take better care of myself.  However, so many of my other attempts have had similar flaws, so I am calling this 2.0 in hopes that it will send a message to myself that I can follow.

I wrote an incredibly vulnerable post back in October about some of my health issues and why I decided to take a step back at my current job.  I never expected everything to fix itself with taking this one step, nor did I think I’d turn things around overnight.  I just didn’t think I’d be so slow to make the additional necessary changes to help my health improve.

When I switched positions in work in October, I was not in a good place with my health.  My diet was all over the place, and I was in no way getting the proper nutrition from the food I was eating; I wasn’t exercising; I wasn’t sleeping well and was having intense stress dreams every night; I was having migraines at least weekly; my stomach was giving me problems all the time; I was fatigued beyond comprehension most days; my body would hurt from simple activity; my anxiety was out of control; and I was generally just incredibly unhappy.

Over the past couple months, I have dove into a few projects for the blog and have been working on my future plans for my career.  These have all been welcome ways to fulfill my spirit in this time of uncertainty and transition, but they didn’t really help me work on some of my physical health issues.  In fact, it was just further running me down and making it hard to make better choices for myself.  I was also becoming increasingly upset in the way my body looked and felt.  I really wanted to be done making excuses for why I couldn’t make these changes.

I was having some feelings like there was something more going on in my body that was causing me to be so fatigued.  I know I have been feeling pretty depressed lately, and that can really take a toll on my energy and motivation.  This felt different though.  It was as though during every waking moment of my life, all of the energy was being drained out of my body.  Every single thing I did from the time I got out of bed in the morning until I got back in it was incredibly labored.  This level of fatigue was becoming unbearable.  I spent all of my time just trying to survive day to day and basically no time enjoying my life.  I was pushing myself these last couple months to do all these projects for my blog, but even that felt like a chore.  That really frustrated me because my blog is supposed to be my respite.  So, I decided to seek out help from my PCP to see what was going on with my health because my motivation to live life has not been very high lately.

I got a bunch of blood work done to start this process, and the results were shocking.  Well, some of them at least were.  It was clear from the blood work that I had not been putting enough of the right nutrients in my body.  I had low levels of iron, vitamins B, C, and D, and a couple other things I am not remembering at this time.  My insulin resistance was also high.  These things (while they did cause me to really want to get my health in gear) were not that surprising.  I have taken such poor care of myself, especially when it comes to what I put in my body.  That was the other reason I came to my PCP.  I wanted to work with her on getting my weight down and get to a better state in my physical health.

What did surprise me though was that that I tested positive for six different food allergies.  I tested in the moderate range for sesame seeds and shrimp.  These foods my PCP said I should definitely avoid.  I also tested in the low range for wheat, corn, scallops, and peanuts.  My PCP said I didn’t necessarily need to give up these foods, but did note that this could explain why I have so many stomach/GI problems.

This news put a shock to my system.  I was expecting something along the lines of the other things noted, but I did not expect to hear this.  Honestly, I was PISSED.  Here I am trying to embark on this journey and switch career paths into the food industry, and I find out that I’m being made sick by my passion.  I felt betrayed, betrayed by my body for rejecting food, and betrayed by food for doing this to me.  For most of the fall, I sustained myself off of mainly homemade pasta because I live for pasta.  It’s no wonder why I felt like crap all of this time.

I know there are way worse problems to have, but that didn’t stop me from being really upset about this.  There may be nothing that gets me more excited in life than food and cooking.  Before I was even able to have a conversation with my PCP about what these tests meant for my eating, I started to run through all the negative scenarios in my head.  My two favorite cuisines are Italian and Mexican.  Well, one is very wheat heavy and the other very corn heavy.  It was very depressing to think of my life without these cuisines.

Then I thought, how in the world does someone eat in the US without corn and wheat.  Those are two of the US largest crops.  Those crops are so important to the US economy and food production that the government heavily subsidizes their production.  The idea of being able to go without wheat and corn seemed impossible, as I realized that a lot of gluten free products and flour blends have corn in them.

This started to really stress me out with just the concept of wheat AND corn free.  It took me a while to start processing through other things I may have to give up because I was still stuck on pasta and tacos.  I believe I wrote a post earlier this year about my love for tacos.  Tacos are made with either flour or corn tortillas, so I did feel devastated at the idea that I might not be allowed to eat tacos anymore.  It later occurred to me that I’d have to cross off some more of my favorite things: beer, bread, pupusas, tamales, pizza, and more.

It wasn’t until a week later that I started to think more about what I’d be missing out with sesame.  At first that didn’t seem to be a big deal, because I don’t even like sesame seeds.  I just thought I’d have to be careful when eating out at Asian restaurants, as sesame oil is common in many different Asian cuisines.  Then, I remembered about tahini.  How I just love tahini and its creamy goodness!  My friend shared this recipe with me a few years ago for this Tandoori-spiced chickpea kale salad with tahini dressing, and it is my favorite salad I’ve ever made.  I would make it so much during the summer months, but no more.  I also had to be reminded that hummus has tahini in it, and I had one of those “noooooooo” moments.  Please don’t take hummus away from me! Sure, you can make your own hummus, but tahini is what gives it its creaminess.  Needless to say, I was very upset as I started thinking about all the things I shouldn’t be eating.  Are there foods still left that I can eat? Yes, but this just seemed so limiting, especially since a lot of my favorite foods were being involved.

Now, I want circle back to the fact that no one is saying I can’t eat all these foods.  It is not like I am going to die if I do.  The thing I want to convey is that not eating them could really fix my stomach problems.  There are very few people who actually know how bad my stomach issues are, and even them only know about a fraction of it.  It’s not a comfortable topic to discuss with people, and the issues were so constant that I didn’t want to burden people with my struggles.  So, I don’t think people would really understand why I’d jump on a way to feel better.  I’ve been dealing with these problems for so many years now.  It is a huge hindrance on my life and something that takes a lot of joy out of me, but I learned to just live with the pain.

There is this episode of Grey’s Anatomy where Cristina is talking to Derek about Meredith.  She said that Meredith lives her life at an 8, that her pain on any given day is an 8.  That is how I feel about my life most of the time.  Between my mental health issues, my stomach issues, migraines, and some other physical ailments, I feel like I live my life at an 8.  It makes everything I do so hard, but I learned that I can do it.  I started thinking, I know I can survive life living at an 8, but what if I didn’t have to?  Just because you can endure something, does that mean you should accept that as your normal?  The whole point of seeking out this renewed health journey was so I could lessen some of those pains I live with on a daily basis.  So, if cutting out several major foods could help me feel better, I just don’t see a reason why not to try.  I think having mixed feelings about it is also completely valid, as I do derive a good deal of my joy from food.  It’s a hard situation to be in right now, and I certainly have feelings about it.

Flash forward to my next meeting with my PCP.  I knew I was going to be getting a new meal plan from her.  I’m not really sure I had an expectation other than knowing I would likely be making a lot of changes to my daily diet.  The meal plan given to me, though, seemed a bit strict.  It is very high protein and very low starch.  In fact, I am only supposed to be eating one half cup of starch per day, and only approved starches like quinoa, sweet potatoes, squash.  That means no wheat, corn, rice, potatoes, etc.  So that temporarily solved the question of whether I can eat wheat and corn because she didn’t want me eating that right now anyway.  Veggies are a big focus of the meal plan, but there are also a number of fruits and meat options that are off the table.  In a week’s time, I went from being told I was allergic to a bunch of food to being told there are a bunch of other foods I should not be eating.  My initial reaction was that this was never going to work for me.

I do feel I am someone who needs to think long and hard before being any sort of “diet” program.  As someone with a history of disordered eating, a restrictive diet is not the best idea for me, especially when I do it on my own.  I have a strong tendency to take things to the extreme.  I can’t count how many times I have lost 25-30 pounds in a single month, or how quickly I could lose significant amounts of weight because of restrictive eating.  When I first moved down to DC, I was basically starving myself.  I lost so much weight so quickly, but I convinced myself that I wasn’t “dieting” because I wasn’t putting any foods off limits.  I was just watching “portion control.”  Portion control is definitely a an important part of a balanced diet.  What I was doing wasn’t portion control though.  It was starvation.  I was not eating anything close to enough for my body to function properly; plus, I was exercising daily and burning even more calories from exercise alone than I was taking in through food some days.  I really didn’t want to do that again, but I figured that would be more unlikely to happen under a medically supervised diet.  Accountability works both ways.  It can keep you in check from eating to much and too little.

My main concern though was whether this would be enough food to keep me full.  Being hungry is what I fear most in dieting.  I don’t do well with being hungry.  My restrictive eating patterns almost always lead to binging again beca use I could no longer tolerate the feeling of being hungry.  It would continue for other reasons, but that was almost always why it started.

I really wanted to give this a try because I trust and value my PCP.  She focuses on providing a holistic weight management program and has had a lot of success with it.  I have done such a poor job at maintaining  on progress on my own before, so I really wanted to follow her advice.

I have been eating this meal plan for almost two weeks.  I really don’t feel hungry in between meals.  I feel sufficient fed from all the protein plus the fiber and carbs from all the veggies/fruit.  I have found it challenging to expand my variety of protein intake.  I have been trying so hard to convince myself to eat nuts.  I really despise nuts, the taste and the texture.  However, I have given pistachios and almonds another shot, and I am finding that they aren’t too bad.  Hopefully they grow on me more over time.

Once I got through all the negative thoughts about all the limitations of this new meal plan, I decided to really lean into it.  That is all part of my process.  I need to be able to react and express my anxiety before coming around to the conclusion that everything is fine.  In fact, I actually see this as a challenge for myself.  I have my food blog here where I am sharing a lot of the meals I cook.  I think this is an excellent opportunity to get creative and come up with fantastic recipes that meat these criteria and also that others might want to try.  So, that is what I am doing.

I have already shared a couple of my new recipes, but I am hoping to come up with so many more.  Crafting delicious recipes is what I want to do with my life.  It is just about all I can ever think about.  It really does mean the world to me when someone tells me they like what I have created.

Now, I want to say that I know I am not going to be perfect.  As I am embarking on this health journey (2.0) I am accepting that I won’t make the right decisions all the time.
That is fine.  No one is expecting me to be perfect, so I need to stop expecting that of myself.  I also don’t want to encourage myself to think that certain foods are “bad” and should never be eaten.  What I want to do is keep making and eating delicious food, and I am doing a great job at that so far.  Over time, I hope to achieve a better state in my physical and mental health.

I’ll end by stating that I’m not going to lie about this process.  I can’t sit here and say, “Oh yeah.  Just eat a bunch of green things and exercise more, and it will all work out.”  It isn’t that easy.  Making lifestyle changes is hard, and it requires a lot of energy and effort.  Humans are creatures of habit, so it takes a lot of work to make changes and keep at it.  It is so tiring to push myself to make these changes when I just want to lie in bed all day and do nothing.  I have to account for more timing cooking and more time packing my meals for work.  I just want to encourage anyone who has been here before or is there now to not be so hard on yourself but also believe that you can do this.  At least, that is what I am telling myself.

Check out some pics of the meals I have made in the past couple weeks.

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Chicken zucchini burgers with avocado and a fried egg
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Zucchini topped baked chicken with roasted broccoli
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Turkey burger with fresh mozzarella and pesto ricotta
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White bean dip with celery (a replacement to my beloved hummus)

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