I wrote the following on the plane 2 weeks ago! Enjoyed a vacation filled with surfing, hiking and beach walks which was beyond my expectations. This is truly the best thing I have ever done for myself! So… here’s the back story:
“Six weeks ago I started a drastic elimination diet for the second time, with the goal of being able to take the trip I booked to motivate myself.
I have been sick for nearly 20 years and until this year, doctors were unable to find anything wrong. To sum it up I have an angry letter I pinned above my computer that I wrote to God in November that states – “I want to live my life instead of surviving it”.
I’m happy to say I’m writing from the plane having been 80-90% improved most days this week. I had so much energy today I not only packed, but didn’t get affected by the 10 degree cold (usually my joints flare) and I cleaned the house AND the basement!
Although I have been posting, I ran into someone this week who mentioned it might help others to talk more about what I’ve done. I resisted posting in depth early on because I wasn’t sure if it would work. Now I know it’s not a fluke because I haven’t felt this much better, consecutively in nearly 20 years.
Exactly a year ago I was in Hawaii.
I had just been fired from my job because I was incredibly tired from morning until night. Tired all day and unable to sleep at night is most accurate. The amount of caffeine/sugar I needed to even function had impaired my ability to groom dogs without making mistakes. It was impossible to stay focused. I loved my job but also suffered constant outbreaks of strep throat, chest infections and a gamut of conditions from pushing myself too hard that made finding another one seem like a wasteful idea. I needed to get better.
At age 30, after spending 18 years self-medicating arthritis, (developed age 12) persistent depression (unresponsive to Rx), sinus congestion, ADD, OCD, PVC arrhythmia, palpitations, anxiety, migraines, inability to sleep, fibromyalgia flares, unexplained rashes, chronic and debilitating fatigue, constant infections, pre diabetes, ‘hypoglycaemia’ and CFS (doctors were approached on many occasions but simply told me to rest more or prescribed drugs with damaging side effects) I had been defeated. A few people also told me it was in my head so I tried the Wayne Dyer approach and there was no progress. It’s also hard to think positive when you feel like you need to be put down.
I simply couldn’t hold a 40 hour job by drinking coffee and loading my system with sugar any more. However if I didn’t take them, I couldn’t get my eyes open. I was scared to fall asleep driving. I couldn’t live with, or without stimulants. I had raged internally as the years went by and my ability to do simple things like go to the gym or ride my bike started to slip through my fingers. I needed a new body.
Having booked and prepaid my trip to Kauai in January 2013 before I got the axe at work I decided to go anyway. Maybe the tropical air would be healing, I thought. The crash when I got there was terrifying. My entire body was so heavy I couldn’t move or enjoy any outdoor activities. I slept on the beach as much as I could and started reading. I have friends on the island who brought me soup and watched me sleep through a camping trip.
In my waking hours I looked up everything I could about fatigue and absorbed every story I could find. No matter what I did I had to beat this because going on disability and losing my dream home were not viable options. With a ton of pets, I couldn’t just check out and find somewhere cheap to live.
1. Exhaust Medical Options
My first step was extensive blood work when I came back from vacation. My panel the year before had ‘been fine’ apart from the infamous incurable Epstein Barr Virus (MDs are rarely helpful with fatigue) and this time Lyme came up. I jumped on the opportunity of a cure-all and enthusiastically took 3 months of Doxycycline.
What I wasn’t expecting was the change in attitude from my doctor when 3 months were up and I was still exhausted. She ran extensive tests (expensive too – over $3000 in OOP cost to me) and instead of taking my calls mailed me the results. 100% positive for Connective Tissue Disease, varying positives for a few other auto conditions and high cortisol. Sent a letter asking me to go for more tests that I knew I couldn’t afford. I tried calling a few times to discuss the ones I already took but there was no response. My insurance wouldn’t cover a Rheumy/specialist as the blood tests had used up all my benefits. The lady at Horizon suggested I wait until the new year. As it was now May, I wasn’t sure I could survive that long.
Having established that there was no immediate cure for Connective Tissue Disease, only steroid based management and at this point not even sure where I stood with the Lyme Disease I decided to try the natural approach. After all thanks to my insurance company I had until January to try anything before I could afford further testing and medical treatment.
Having addressed a bad case of arrhythmia 2 years prior brought on by Wellbutrin (it doesn’t contain stimulants, she said) with a 2 week juice fast inspired by Joe Cross’ Fat Sick & Nearly Dead movie I revisited a controversial cure.
2 – Diet
My introduction to the work of Dr Joel Fuhrman came in 2007 through a close friend. Thrilled with a week on greens, she gave me a copy of his book Eat To Live. She excitedly told me about a friend who had eliminated migraines. I had no idea food had any affect on health so fascinated I read it right away and did see great energy benefits by adding greens to my diet and quitting meat (I used to be on the candy/flour/ burger diet) but working in the restaurant industry made any strict adherence impossible. Plus when you are addicted to foods the withdrawal doesn’t mix with working with the public. I drifted through various yo-yo ETL cycles but only every managed a moderate version of the plan. Potato chips, french fries and candy were all still part of my daily routine.
However, I did have the book memorized. As soon as these 2013 health diagnoses started mounting I was well aware that my situation was exactly what Fuhrman talks about in his books. The reason my doctor couldn’t help me wasn’t because she sucked, but it was because my entire system had gone to hell and treating any one ailment may have masked the symptoms but wouldn’t have restored balance to such a broad spectrum of problems. I remembered that he had helped many patients with similar problems such as mine like Lupus, Fatigue and even some Lyme patients.
In the summer I embarked on a 2 week juice fast, (mean green – kale, celery, apples and lemon) followed by an elimination diet. (foods added in one by one, every 2 days) All my symptoms subsided after a short herx period and a simple diet of fruits and vegetables. No processed foods or sugars. Nuts, legumes, grains and most seeds created GI problems and flares when reintroduced.
Feeling fantastic, still not convinced about the science of nutritional healing, I decided to give in and enjoy vegan pizza. The pain was immense and immediately crushing brain fog, depression and sugar cravings returned.
For some reason I just couldn’t get back on the diet. In denial. I decided it could be the Lyme returning but a Lyme Specialist wasn’t in my budget. I was determined that there had to be a way where I could still enjoy my favorite foods in moderation. Dairy congested me immediately so I knew it was bad and gluten/rice caused intense cramps but I felt so depressed and miserable I kept eating bread products and sugar anyway. The only reason I didn’t gorge on dairy was ethical.
The result of this ‘moderation’ was spending Labor Day in bed with massive joint swelling, once again not wanting to go to the ER because of cost.
As they say in AA, half measures were getting me nowhere so after much research on GI issues I began to understand that my gut was most likely damaged from large amounts of alcohol, my poor diet, my ignorance to my own gluten sensitivity, the Lyme, the Antibiotics (PCP didn’t warn about the importance of probiotics). I also knew that the Lyme could still be hanging out, along with a Candida overgrowth characterized by a sugar addiction that would have me doing disgusting things like eating boxes of chocolates in one sitting and eating candy from morning until night. I used to eat entire boxes of Ferrero Rocher in one sitting, or a jar of Nutella.
I knew I needed to get back on the fruit/vegetable diet that soothed my symptoms and also detox and heal my system so I could potentially reintroduce nuts and seeds as a protein source.
Bill Clinton reversed Heart Disease with plant based. Venus Williams reversed Sjogrens with a raw vegan diet. Now it was my turn.
I picked my herbs/vits from journals online and Dr Fuhman’s immune boosting suggestions.
I ordered Herbastat, Haritaki and Samento to help kill the bugs. (nothing to do with Fuhrman – not on his plan)
To help my system heal I ordered L-Glutamine, D3, Zinc, B12, DHA/Omega 3, D-Ribose and an Iodene supp which is commonly deficient in vegans. Turmeric also goes in my soups which is an incredible anti inflammatory.
I ordered Primal Defense Probiotics and S Boulardi to help heal my digestive/immune system.
3 – Cold Turkey
I decided to start it all at once because I knew there was no point trying to heal the digestive system while poisoning it. Having just injured myself by eating inappropriate (but amazing) food over Thanksgiving, and having a break in my work schedule in December, I decided it was now or never. I was spending most days in bed, a shell of a person.
Fasting would have been too much on my system, but thanks to my elimination diet in the summer I knew what foods were benign.
For two weeks I was bedridden, taking my herbs and studiously adhering to a variety of whole, blended or souped fruits and vegetables. During the detox I felt so much worse so I found message boards to complain on. Everyone told me to keep going. I took it one day at a time, every ounce of me wanted chips, candy and pizza but I knew this time I couldn’t fail.
My digestion was so terrible I blended anything I could and can’t stress enough the importance of CHEWING FOOD PROPERLY.
An acceptance letter to TCNJ for graduate studies came in the mail and I pinned it up to stay motivated. I also stumbled across an incredibly low fare for the trip I am taking today and booked it with insurance of course. The idea of both overwhelmed me so much, but I remembered feeling good in the summer, better than I had since I was a small child. It was a huge risk to plan on anything when things had gotten so bad.
There was no sudden event or realization when the detox was over, I simply started spending more and more time out of bed. By the third week I was awake and feeling alive again. I switched to an all juice diet for 5 days with no detox symptoms which made me feel good about backing off the herbs I was taking. I tried reintroducing potatoes and within hours I had symptoms. Nuts and legumes still gave me stomach aches. Processed food knocked me out for a few days.
I didn’t go all organic but I did stop drinking tap water to help myself detox.
4 – Acceptance
I am learning to love my new diet instead of fighting it. I make great soups (using minimal Himalayan salt and coconut oil) and deal with my protein phobia (of all the things I have put into my system I don’t know why too many vegetables is a worry) with kale, green beans and bee pollen.
My average day starts hot peppermint tea with lemon (flush!!!) followed by fresh fruit, apples, bananas and avocados – I can blend them with greens or even just have a green romaine/apple juice.
Lunch is a salad with fruit/vegetables and dinner is almost always a soup or heavy vegetables like squash.
I don’t buy anything with a barcode (without having a reaction!) and if I have to eat out I’ll get something super plain like steamed vegetables. Salad dressings seem to be an allergen so I stuck with lemon and minimal oil.
As I have been mostly unable to work it’s been on a budget. Costco is a fantastic resource, as are Asian markets. My local Stop n’ Shop has an expired produce stand that is excellent. Blaming the cost of healthy foods is just an excuse, I can assure you that medical care is much more expensive. Avocadoes, Kale, Apples and Green Beans are all inexpensive when bought in bulk. One doesn’t need exotic super foods, acai berries or wheatgrass shots to regain health!
5 – The Results
I am only 6 weeks in but the reason I don’t mind giving up processed foods is because I literally feel like a new person.
Chronic fatigue had affected every part of my life to the point where I could no longer work and had spiraled into a myriad of health issues. If anyone has seen The Lord Of The Rings, you will remember when the King Of Rohan is cursed and becomes weak, unable to think for himself.
I literally couldn’t get through a day without feeling overwhelmed. I avoided people and friends because pretending to seem engaged when I was exhausted, was exhausting. I would snap at the people I loved and I couldn’t even think positive because it felt like there was a fog in my brain. This summer I cried watching people bike past my house because I felt so sorry for myself.
I didn’t want to live, so I killed myself. I changed my life and who I am. I stopped and listened to my body to find out what foods I could eat instead of binging on the ones I couldn’t. I bought an array of books to change my mindset and help me love myself enough to stick with this.
It doesn’t matter whether I was toxic and malnourished as Dr Fuhrman would suggest, allergic to harmful components in grains, nightshades and lectins as the Paleo crowd advocate or just so emotionally wounded that stress created this.
In 6 short weeks a laundry list of symptoms has been resolved by around 90% and growing depending on which days I adhere to my healthy diet. Now it’s the new year I don’t need a specialist after all, just a new PCP to help monitor blood work. I had to stop by the doctor to get a shot and it was fantastic to answer no when asked if anything else was bothering me.
I will continue to post and this is just my journey, if others do not believe in natural healing that’s totally fine – I just tried this as a last resort and thankfully it was a success. I am not advocating for anyone else to refuse or ignore medical advice and everyone may have their own route to wellness. I just hope everyone is as lucky as I am and that they can find their way.”
And at 8 weeks – at the time of posting:
Fatigue: 90% Improved – only issues have been associated with deviance from the diet
Brain fog/confusion: Gone
Digestion problems: Beans & seeds are now OK!
Joint Pain: Gone (took over a month)
Exercise ability: From trouble walking to heavy cardio such as surfing and intermediate hiking.
Headaches/Migranes: Not one since detox period ended.
Fibromyalgia/Skin Sensitivity: Gone, but flared when potatoes/tomatoes were reintroduced
Immune System: One sinus infection from dirty sea water, resolved in less than 3 days
ADD/OCD: Keen to keep house organized and clean, better focus
Dependence on coffee: Gone
Immediate tanning, instead of burning in the sun.
10lbs weight loss
Reduced muscle pain after exercise.
Sharp memory, eyesight & smell
To be continued…