At the beginning of the summer, I made five serious goals. My number one priority was simple: treat food as medicine. Finally, I’m going to explain what this means to me, why I do it, and how it continues to change my body and how I nourish it. Please know that I am neither a doctor nor nutritionist. I am aware of this. I just know that as I have mentioned it, people have been curious. So I am sharing parts of my story.*
Why is this important to me? In 2008, I had a seizure due to a medication a doctor put me on. It was fluke, one time occurrence. Little did I (or anyone else) know but this fluke seizure actually messed up my body. It caused my chronic auto-immune disease that I live with now.*
Over the next year, my body began to slowly deteriorate. Doctors would diagnosis me and I would return home from college worse. Clearly this wasn’t sudden IBS or then mono. By spring, I could barely walk and more serious tests were done. When I cam home for the summer I could barely move; laying down hurt, as if my whole body was one pulse of pain. I was fortunate that my whole family–Mom, Dad, Stepmom–devoted themselves to my diagnosis and treatment.
Because I could barely move throughout that summer (and I still did not have a diagnosis), I gained a lot of weight. Before the previous year of health issues, my weight mattered a great deal to me. I had an emotional attachment to food. And then I lost a bunch of weight–and not in the healthiest of ways. I didn’t have an eating disorder but I definitely had a disordered view of food happening to get my body down to a size zero. But in the summer of 2009, praying for a diagnosis, in so much pain, my weight or vanity didn’t matter to me at all. I just wanted to be out of pain. That’s it.
Finally, a month before my senior year of school, I was diagnosed and two weeks after that we started to see improvement with medications. We also found a doctor who practiced as an MD and very much in the western style but also used some holistic methods. He brought up the “Candida Diet” which is not a diet. It’s a way of life. Basically we all have yeast in our bodies (and I know when I say yeast, what you automatically think…that can be a symptom but the yeast is everywhere) and the idea is that yeast causes any health issue to be worse and that we are healthier without. So the idea is to kill the yeast (which makes me think of that part in Beauty and the Beast where they sing: Kill the Beast!). How do you kill yeast? By cutting out all sugar, including natural sugars in fruit (once the yeast is dead, you can add in natural sugars). This is the book I followed if you are interested. But I was doing all this under doctor supervision.
A few weeks ago in present time, my dad mentioned to me this memory he had and got a little emotional: “I’ll never forget the call I got a few weeks into the semester where you said, ‘Dad, I’m walking to class!'” I was taking my medications and following the Candida free way.
I lost weight but again it was just a perk. I naturally leveled off and I consider that to my healthy size (and guess what? It’s not a zero). Meanwhile the food I was eating wast improving how I felt (any day on below a four on the pain scale was amazing and a month or two in I was having days at a two level). Plus this way of eating took emotion and vanity out of it: I desperately wanted to feel as healthy as possible for me, as low of a pain level as possible.
Fast forward to this February, I was the heaviest I’ve ever been for a number of reasons. I don’t mind sharing but this is long already. I was also in denial over how much pain I was in. Imagine carrying dumbbells that weighed 70 pounds plus your healthy body while grocery shopping, going to work, cleaning, even just sitting…basically living.
Finally, I spoke to my parents and admitted things I didn’t even realize until I said the words. I feared that I would never have a normal life, let alone a social life, that I always downplayed my pain to them, that I was the worst I’d ever been–practically back to that place before my diagnosis. I felt defeated. My mom said she would travel to help me. My dad encouraged me with this, that still sticks with me, after I said that there will never be a day for me without pain: “Aren’t your best days better than your worst days? Compare you to you.” It kicked me in the butt and I stopped feeling defeated.
Enter my plan to treat food as medicine. It’s not paleo (though there are a lot of similarities); it’s gluten free for two reasons–gluten affects my IBS and once gluten is in your body it doesn’t necessarily add nutrients (medicine to your body…just hold on and I’ll get there). But it’s so much more than that. It’s what works for my body and just my explanation for the people who have asked.
I stayed on the Candida “Diet” (which is also supposed to be a lifestyle) for six months until I got swine flue and then a horrible allergic reaction to the medicine they put me on. It was a bad year. But I needed cheesecake at that moment. I just needed it. After that, it was hard to get back on Candida because my pain was better. For a long time (years), I could eat what I wanted and stay between a 4 or a 5 on the pain level (which when you are used to pain is so doable…it wasn’t noticeable to anyone but me so why not have cookie dough?).
I knew this time my lifestyle choice of Food as Medicine had to be different. Did I need to be so extreme? Can I enjoy fruit and stevia? Also can I please use balsamic vinegar (vinegars not allowed on Candida) because that plus Olive Oil equals how Italians make salads and it is so low calorie and so yummy?
I also have to have a serious mindset. I cannot forget how bad the pain can get. My pain has decreased a little over this summer as I’ve done Food as Medicine and it will continue. But I can never get to the place where cookie dough is cool. I am just not in the position for that, personally. It may or probably be different for you. But since the seizure God has just blessed me and protected my heart from feeling entitled to my health or anger at him. This is my reality. Aren’t my best days worth this?
2. The Weight of it All.
The extra 70 pounds I carried for months did a number on me. Moving was hard and even if I didn’t move the pain was so much worse than anything I’ve experienced since 2008-2009. I know that this extra weight I am carrying is the biggest piece of the pie chart called: Why has Nina’s pain increased. Period. Again, there is no vanity involved because things have been so bad. When I was at my highest weight and looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself, I should have cared but I couldn’t because I had just barely made it through the shower and I needed to get horizontal ASAP.
I knew I needed to lower my pain level for lots of reasons (sanity, my business, etc.) but the biggest reason was my pain level. I had to get it off as agressively as possible so I would feel better. So I don’t cheat. Ever. Even on vacation. The only time I have in the last two months was a butter beer at Harry Potter Land because that was a bucket list moment. But back to this being a lifestyle thing, for me, and my situation, vacations can’t be a reason to not treat food as medicine. (Some do fine with everything moderation and seriously good for you…For me everything has to be medicine, see below).
3. What I Already Knew.
I knew from previous experience that lean meat/fish protein and lots of vegetable, particularly of the green variety made me feel my best. I also knew that gluten just messed with my IBS. Also, I know flax is the cool thing to do but it messes me up. I can’t be descriptive about it.
4. Ask: How Can I Make This More Nutritious?
For example, I could technically be “eating clean” with my nonna’s sauce and rice pasta. But how can I make this more nutritious? What in this meal is actually not adding nutrients to the situations? The gfree pasta. Hence, the Spaghetti Squash with Nonna’s Sauce.
I talk about it as Food as Medicine. I don’t call it clean eating or some versions of it. I think of it as Food as Medicine. When I make a meal, I think of this food as medicine.
One thing I am sure not to do is reward myself with food. I just personally can’t look at food as a reward. It is not good for my mindset and and the whole It’s a lifestyle thing.
Should a healthy person do this? I don’t think you should do exactly what I am doing. I created a philosophy that is deeply personal but maybe that is important: to create your own personal food credo.
If you have any questions, please go ahead and email me.
*I got back and forth between sharing my illness here on the blog. Because I flip flop, I am not ready to share everything because once I do, it’s out there. And I don’t want to be judged by employers especially because my employers have never been able to even tell. I work to the detriment of my health, actually. I am nervous about even sharing this much to you all.
Also again let me emphasize that this is what works for me. I am not trying to push it on anyone. And, I believe this is important: I believe firmly in Western Medicine. If I miss a pill for some reason, my body feels it. The food I put in my body is like a booster shot to a system that is working while also changing my personal views on food. I believe in Western Medicine but when you’re in so much pain, you are open to trying some holistic medicine. Food as Medicine will not cure me and it will not remove my need to take my pills. But it does and will help me to have more days that are my very best.
I also have a Food as Medicine Pinterest Board…
or follow me on all my boards on Pinterest–I just reorganized everything.
Okay. Talk to me!