Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Diet and Your Health, Part II

After an extremely long delay, here is my second post on eating a healthy diet.  I've been eating a relatively healthy diet over the years, but for the past year or so I have been more consistent and made some pretty significant changes that have made a huge difference in how I feel.  It's not easy, but if you plan ahead and really make a decision to give it your all, I think you'll really be happy with the results.  And, personally, I noticed a big difference in my energy levels (ie they tanked) when I "fell off" my daily green regimen and ate too many processed foods over the holidays.

And remember, it's not magic, so it's not going to work instantly. You have to commit for at least 10-14 days to feel the true benefit of a clean diet.  For the first several days, you may actually feel worse as you “detox” from all the addictive substances that we put in our body, like gluten, processed foods, and sugar.  So stick with it for at least a couple of weeks, even when it’s unpleasant in the beginning (you should start feeling less tired with less headaches around day 4 or 5), and then you can start feeling “lighter” and having much more energy.  And with those of us with an illness, every bit of energy makes a difference!  So once your energy starts to improve, the amount of work required to eat a clean diet will become easier as well and will be something you crave, instead of a chore.

So what have I done?  Well, I first based some of my changes on the recommendations of Terry Wahls, MD, a women with severe progressive MS that was able to reverse her disease through diet.  Pretty amazing story and if you haven't heard of her, I'd recommend you check out her TED talk and this article online at the Huffington Post for more information on what she recommends.  I also used (and highly recommend reading) The Blood Sugar Solution by Mark Hyman, MD.  I have personally tried his diets, and they are very sound scientifically.  He is also great about giving you most of the information online, not just so that you have to pay or buy the books.  Other books by Dr. Hyman include Ultrametabolism, and The UltraSimple Diet.

And overall:
  • Eat as many greens as possible.  I eat at least 3-5 cups of greens a day, including salad greens and kale or spinach.  This part is what I think has made the biggest difference for me.  I try to have a huge salad for lunch and add in a green smoothie with kale at some point during the day.  Kale is a nutrient powerhouse and well worth finding a way to work into your diet.  It takes about a week of doing this consistently, and you should notice an improvement in your energy levels. And, yes, it is possible to make a kale smoothie that you will actually enjoy!  I feed them to “nonbelievers” all the time. :) 
  • Add vegetables to everything!  The more vegetables you can eat, the better you will feel.  Try to add vegetables to every meal and snack.  Your dinner plate should be 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 starch or grain, and 1/4 meat or protein.  Add them in to anything you can think of…for example, if you’re making tacos or chili, add in finely diced carrots, peppers, tomatoes, and chopped spinach at the end.  You won’t notice the taste as much as you might think, and your body will thank you for it.
  • Eat the rainbow.  The more colors you can eat, the better.  Colors=antioxidants!
  • No more sugar.  I know, it's really hard.  I have been a sugar addict my whole life, so this was tough for me as well.  You may feel worse for the first few days without it because it really does act as an addictive substance, but it will improve as you stick with it.  I use fruit for "dessert" now, and may mix it with nuts and coconut, and that's a pretty satisfying dessert or snack that will help with those sugar cravings.  A program that people swear by is the 21 day sugar detox.  I haven't tried it specifically, but a lot of people have found it to be helpful for them.  Also, watch out for those "hidden" forms of sugar in everyday foods that you wouldn't think have sugar...like bread, salad dressing, mayonnaise, ketchup, etc.  Always read those labels!
  • No gluten.  Another tough one, but again very worth it.  I have been obsessed with bread for most of my life, but after being off of it for a while, I find that I really don't miss it that much.  The part that's hard is training yourself how to eat without bread, crackers, cereal, etc.  But once you do, it's really helpful, especially if you are someone who is prone to bloating as I am.  Being off gluten and sugar has made a big difference in how bloated my stomach is (and when I fell off my diet for a few days over the holidays, the bloat came right back!) and I feel lighter and less sluggish.
  • No processed foods.  If you're getting rid of gluten and sugar, that will eliminate most processed foods from your diet.  The components of processed foods are not good for you and can make you feel sluggish, not to mention the number of chemicals that they contain.  It may be easy to stuff your face with crap, but it won't help your health at all.
  • Stick to whole foods.  The less a food is processed, the better it is for you.  Less flours and sugars, more vegetables, meats, eggs, and fruits.  The closer your diet is to natural, the better.
  • Reduce grains.  I admit it, I was also addicted to grains.  When I looked at my diet, I saw that grains made up the majority of my diet...every meal had grains.  Cereal, bread, crackers, rice, etc.  I'm not someone that says that you shouldn't have any grains, because I find that having some grains in my diet has helped me feel satiated.  I bake a "bread" with millet (see recipe link below) that I often have in the morning, and sometimes add rice to my meals.  Just don’t have it be a part of every meal.
  • Reduce or remove dairy.  Dairy has caused minor problems for me over the years, so I made a decision to get off of it, and it has been helpful for me.  I'm not sure how much it has contributed to my increased energy levels since I did everything at once, but I think it has helped me, so I'm staying off of it.  There are lots of substitutions out there now that make it much easier to get off of dairy: coconut yogurt, coconut milk, almond milk, coconut oil (for butter), etc.
  • Don't stress about every gram of fat.  If you're reducing your grains, you're going to want to eat more fat to keep you full.  I eat a lot of nuts, seeds, nut butter, coconut, and coconut milk and that really helps to keep you full.  I was always obsessed with "low fat" growing up, but now I realize that most of the time low fat just means that they increase the sugar to take out the fat.  And sugar is WAY worse than fat!  And I have an easier time losing weight with higher fat than I ever did with low fat.
  • Try to go organic or grass fed whenever possible.  When you have existing health problems as we do, the last thing you need is added chemicals in your food.  Focus on organic foods and pastured meats.  Spend the extra money here that you won’t be spending on all those processed foods.
I'm sure you're completely overwhelmed by this now!  It seems like a lot, and it is, but you can do it slowly if that works better for you.  First remove sugar and wheat, then work on the rest.  Or, if you think there's no way you could ever do this, then at least reduce your sugar and processed food intake as much as you can and add as many vegetables and whole foods to your diet as possible.  But I really recommend that you do it all because it makes a big difference for me!  Below are some recipes that I have found to be useful for me in this health journey.  And don’t forget about those tips and tricks in Part I of Diet and your Health!

Recipes I use:

  • Easy Baked Chicken Thighs.  Very easy, very good.  Easy to make a ton and then keep on hand for several days.
  • Meat and Spinach Muffins.  A bit of a pain to make, but they freeze very well and are a good way to have greens for breakfast.
  • Balsamic vinaigrette. (1 part balsamic vinegar : 2-3 parts olive oil, then salt, pepper, and dried shallots or onions.  Place in a jar and shake).  I like to make a big batch of this and keep it on the counter to use throughout the week.
  • WHOLEmade bread.  It's quite a process to make it, but I try to avoid yeasted breads so this is the best option for me.  It also doesn't use flour at all, just the whole grains soaked and blended over 2-3 days.  I’m sure there are other recipes out there that are less work though if this is overwhelming.
  • Pumpkin custard.  Good for a satisfying dessert when you really need it, and it’s good without the sweetener too.
  • Green smoothies.  Try to work your way up to having more greens than fruit in the smoothie because too much fruit can cause problems of its own.  Coconut water helps add natural sweetness without needing to increase the amount of fruit.  I’m at the point now where I can use ½ cup fruit and 3-4 cups greens.  You can even add a few drops of vanilla stevia if you need more sweetness without having to add more fruit.
  • Baked Oatmeal To Go.  For when you want to have a bit of grain and a fast way to have breakfast, and good without the sweetener too.
  • Healthy Snack Bars.  Like Larabars, with some whole nuts; good for emergencies.
  • Raw Chocolate Brownie Bites Great when you need chocolate for a snack.  They keep well in the freezer.
Good luck and healthy eating!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Diet and Your Health, Part 1

Photo runthreeseven.files.wordpress.com

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season!  I'm sure many of you overindulged in holiday goodies like I did, so I thought now would be a good time to discuss how a healthy diet can help make you feel better.  I know that I have mentioned diet in passing in the past, but this time I'll go a little more in depth as to what I do and how it has helped me.  I thought I'd be able to do this as a single post, but the more I write, the more I realize that it's best to divide it up into a series of posts so that you won't get too overwhelmed with one massive, outrageous post.

We all "know" that we should eat well, but how many of us actually do it?  It's just so easy to scarf down convenience foods or go out to eat, especially since people are busier than they have ever been before.  And it's even worse for those of us with serious health conditions, because sometimes we physically can't fix a complicated healthy meal.  But the catch-22 is, those of us with health problems need healthy food more than everyone else because our bodies require more nutrients to deal with our illnesses.  So how can it be done?  Planning, planning, planning.  And this from the girl that HATES menu planning, but it's really the only way to consistently eat a healthy diet with my serious health issues.  It doesn’t have to be rocket science, it just has to help you make sure that you don’t have times where you are starving and end up eating something that you shouldn’t just because you need food fast and don’t have anything ready.  I’m not good about planning a whole week in advance, but I try to do at least a day or 2 at a time so that I have things a little bit more organized and am not panicking when 6:00 rolls around.  Below are some ways that you can make eating healthy easier, and assist with meal planning.
  • Prep foods ahead of time.  I peel and cut a bunch of carrots all at once so that they are easy to grab as a snack or to quickly chop into a salad without having to go through all the peeling every time.  Once you're already having to chop or peel some veggies for a recipe, it’s not that much additional work to just do a few more and save them.  Just keep the carrots in your fridge, and grab them as you need them.  You can also chop extra veggies when you're making a meal and keep them in the fridge for when you need them next time.  Many veggies keep well when prepped ahead (carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, etc).
  • Divide up your cooking time.  This one is specifically for people with health problems.  I never seem to have quite enough energy to make a whole meal from start to finish in one fell swoop, and if I do it, I don’t have enough energy to eat the meal!  The thing that I have found to be helpful is to break up the meal prep into chunks throughout the day so that I can get it all done without killing myself.  For example, I might chop several things, then take a break for 30-60 min, then chop some more, or sauté and then set aside, etc.  Just divide it up into chunks you can manage.
  • Wash all your lettuce and greens at once and keep them in bags with paper towels and they will stay fresh for when you need them for a salad (makes it much faster to grab lettuce for a salad if you don't have to wash it each time).  I recommend trying to eat a large salad each day with some protein so that you can get as many vegetables and greens into your day as possible.
  • If you're cooking a meal, make extra and freeze it!  You will have days where nothing can make you cook, so having meals in the freezer that you can grab and defrost will make a world of difference for you.  Make giant batches of soups or stews, chili, etc to freeze and grab for a quick meal.  Leftovers are your friend.  I make meals that serve at least 4-6, so even if it won’t freeze well, I’ll still have leftovers for a day or 2.
  • Make a large quantity of protein for use throughout the week.  If I’m roasting/grilling chicken, I’ll make a huge batch and keep it in the fridge for lunch or dinner during the week.  It doesn’t take any more work to roast extra, but it saves you lots of time in the long run.
  • Buy some good quality paring knives.  When I'm making a salad each day, it makes it much easier to just quickly chop them directly into the salad.
  • Have a protein source with every meal or snack.  This will help you feel fuller over the day.  Protein sources can be nuts, beans, meats, or eggs.
  • Buy high quality lunch meat (no fillers or crap in them) and use that as an easy protein on top of your salad.  Other options are making extra protein the night before with your dinner to use on a salad the next day.
  • If you need some quick convenience foods, make sure they are high quality without lots of junk in them.  Trader Joe’s has some good quality items.  Also, if you want crackers, Mary's Gone Crackers and Nut Thins are good options.
  • There are online meal planning resources that might help give you ideas on how to start planning (there are many on the web): 
·         Sources of healthy, gluten free online recipes:  
In the next post, I’ll describe what I have done recently that has improved my energy levels and made me feel better overall.  I’ll go into more detail about what I eat, and what I avoid.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A New Freedom

Hi Everyone!
No, I'm not dead (despite what you must have thought since I have been MIA for so long).  I've been doing fairly well lately, actually, just really busy!  Things have been improving for me over the past few months due to changes in my treatments for Bartonella and Protomyxozoa rheumatica (a weird protozoa that has been found to often be present in those who are infected with Bartonella).  I'm planning on doing a series of posts on Bartonella and my long battle with it since I've alluded to it in the blog but never really covered it fully.

Here's something that has been a HUGE change for me recently...I've started driving again!  I haven't driven by myself in over 7 years because of my extreme dizziness, but it's finally safe for me to drive now.  My dizziness has hugely improved and I don't have to worry anymore about having a problem while driving.  It's very exciting to have a little bit of freedom reintroduced to my life.  I only drive once or twice a week, but since up until now I have been essentially trapped in my house at all times, it's a wonderful feeling for me.  And, my husband was so excited that I'm doing better, that he bought me a car to drive around in!  He's the best, isn't he?  I chose a practical, yet pretty, CRV. :)  It's great and I really love it.

So things are going pretty well here!  I'm certainly not normal by any stretch of the imagination, but just having the freedom to run to pick up drugs at the pharmacy, or go by the farmers market, has been really great for me.  I hope that all of you will soon be at the place where you can leave the house by yourself, if you aren't already.  I'm not taking any of it for granted!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How to improve your toxic environment

We all know that our households can have some of the highest concentrations of toxins (indoor air is more contaminated than outdoor air because it is sealed inside our houses so well).  The EPA estimates that indoor air is 3 times more polluted than the air outside, and other sources suggest up to 10 times more.  The off-gassing of our furniture, carpets, paints, and cleaners can cause or worsen many health problems.  And those of us with chronic illnesses can have a more difficult time removing toxins from our bodies, so it's all the more urgent that we do something to help our bodies help themselves.

Well that certainly doesn't sound like the most ideal environment for healing!   But don't despair...there are lots of ways to improve your indoor air quality.

  • Have you heard that having plants in your house can help your health?  There are many indoor house plants that are amazing at detoxifying the air around them, purifying it, and increasing oxygenation. NASA did a study of 12 different indoor plants and rated their ability to purify the air of toxins, including benzene and formaldehyde. The complete study is at this website: NASA Indoor Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement.  A quick list of some of the plants includes:  Golden Pothos, Peace lily, English Ivy, Bamboo Palm, Janet Craig, Warneckel, and Gerber Daisy.  Other sources list philodendrons, ficus, spider plants, and mother in law's tongue (snake plant).  There are lots of choices out there, so find the best one for you and your house.
  • Use more natural cleansers. VOC's (volatile organic compounds) and other chemicals released when using cleaning supplies can contribute to chronic respiratory problems, allergic reactions, and headaches according to a 2009 study in Environmental Impact Assessment Review.  Choose cleansers that have reduced VOC's and low fragrance.  I like products by Better Life and Ecover, but there are many natural brands to choose from now.  Also, you can make your own cleansers using vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice to clean surfaces.
  • Avoid using air fresheners.  They have also been found to contribute to respiratory problems.  If you must have a fragrance, try using essential oils in a diffuser to have a more natural scent.
  • Use paint with no VOC's.  There are lots of brands now that offer low to no VOC's, so you should still be able to find the perfect color without suffering.
  • Buy furniture and carpets that are "green" and have reduced off-gassing, or buy used furniture that has finished giving off gasses.
  • Eat organic fruits and veggies.  Ok, it's not about air quality, but it's important nonetheless.  The less toxins you put into your body, the better.  Here's a list of what fruits and veggies to buy organic: the dirty dozen.
  • Use more natural beauty products.  We sometimes don't really think about the products that we put on our skin, but your body absorbs whatever you put on your skin to some degree, so make sure you put the best quality products onto your skin.  Avoid common carcinogens and toxins such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfates and Parabens.   Here's a list of a Toxic 12 to avoid. 
  • Remove your shoes when you enter the house.  Your shoes can have all kinds of nastiness on them, including bacteria and viruses.  It's best not to track that through your house if you can prevent it.
  • Vacuum and clean frequently (or make your spouse do it!) to remove dust and allergens and keep your respiratory system working at its best.  If you have to do it yourself, I recommend wearing a dust mask to prevent symptom flare-ups.  A HEPA filter for your vacuum is best, if you have one.
  • No smoking (duh!)
  • Change your air filters monthly.
  • Make sure your humidity level is below 40% and you have no mold growth in the house.
I hope these steps help you have a more healthy environment in which to heal.  We Potsies need all the help we can get!  Please feel free to post any comments about other tips and tricks that you have found to be helpful in your home.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Medical ID Card

For years I have been thinking that I needed to get a medical ID card, but for years I have been putting it off.  We all know how complex our medical conditions can be, especially those of us with dysautonomia, so it makes sense to have an emergency medical card in our wallets to identify our problems, drugs, and doctors.  My Dad recently found a website that will create a printable id card from information that you enter into their system.  The site says that they do not save or use any of the information that is entered on their site.  The card lists your emergency contacts, doctors, medications, illnesses, and any allergies you have.  You can print it out to a wallet size (front and back have info) and then laminate it for keeping in your wallet.  It is also a convenient way to save space on your medical ID bracelet, since you can write “see card in wallet” for extra information.  Pretty cool, huh? 

This is just the first site that I have come across, so if anyone has other sites they have used, please post them in the comments so everyone can have options. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Raynaud’s Syndrome and POTS

Winter is in full swing, and for those of us with Raynaud’s disease, that means frozen hands and feet. It seems that there are quite a few of us out there that have coexisting POTS and Raynaud’s syndrome. A few articles have found a link between autonomic dysfunction and Raynaud’s disease, but I haven’t been able to find much out there about how commonly they are seen together. I know many people who have both, however, so I thought I’d post about it. And, of course, none of this is a substitute for medical advice so be sure to contact a doctor if you are having any problems.

For those of you lucky enough not to know what it is, Raynaud’s is a phenomenon in which the small blood vessels of the hands, feet, and or tip of the nose “overreact” to cold temperatures and cause excessive narrowing and therefore restriction of the blood flow. This can then cause the extremity to become 1) white due to lack of blood flow, then 2) blue due to cyanosis (lack of oxygen in the blood in that area), then 3) red when the blood flow returns. It is an uncomfortable problem that causes numbness to the area, and pain and tingling when rewarmed (kind of like when your toes get too cold in the snow and it hurts to rewarm them). Raynaud’s can be primary (due to unknown causes) or secondary to other diseases (such as lupus, RA, scleroderma, carpal tunnel syndrome and others) and may be autoimmune in nature.

Much of the time, Raynaud’s is an annoyance without too much of a long term problem; however, if you are unlucky enough to have Raynaud’s and POTS together, you also have the problem of (usually) being put on beta blockers, which almost always make the problem of constriction of those blood vessels much, much worse. I had mild Raynaud’s prior to POTS, but after taking beta blockers to help with POTS, my Raynaud’s has become quite severe, especially in my toes. I was off of the beta blockers for a while, and it seems that my Raynaud’s is still pretty bad without them now, but much worse on them. Because my toes are so sensitive to any temperature change, I have to wear wool socks all year round, yes including summer (!) because otherwise the blood flow to my toes completely stops and is slow to return so I run the risk of developing ulcers without warming and massaging the blood back into the area. Here’s an example of my toes in the middle of the summer at the beach (ie it’s like 90 degrees out):
Looks pretty, doesn’t it? Usually it’s much more severe, but at least I can give you an example of what it looks like (this is the best picture I’ve been able to get of it).

What helps?
  • Keeping warm: Unfortunately, many of us need to wear gloves and wool socks to keep warm enough to keep from triggering an “attack”. As I mentioned above, I wear wool socks 365 days a year to prevent the very unpleasant attacks. It can also be helpful during the winter to keep toe warming packets on hand in case of severe attacks (I keep them in my purse). I also purchased a paraffin bath a few years ago, and that can be nice because it is warm and sort of “cocoons” your hand or foot to keep it warm (I’ve never used it during an acute attack though, just with mildly cold hands or feet, and the container is kind of big, and you have to keep it heated for the wax to stay liquid). I also always wear socks to bed, and have even worn thin gloves to bed when I’m really having flare ups.
  • Reduce stress: stress has been linked to an increased frequency of attacks
  • Avoid smoking- it’s been linked to an increase in constriction of vessels, therefore an increase in attacks
  • Reduce caffeine (I have to admit, I haven’t been able to try this one because I love my morning coffee!) as it has also been linked to increased vasoconstriction
  • Some drugs can worsen Raynaud’s, such as beta blockers, some migraine meds, some chemotherapeutic drugs, some over-the-counter cold medications and narcotics…drugs that cause vasoconstriction.
  • There are also some medications that may help with severe Raynaud’s, but are usually not required (see your doctor if you think you might need this kind of prescription)
What if I’m in the middle of an attack?
  • I find that warming the area is the most important first step. Try to place the hand or foot in a warm area (under your arm, knee, sit on them, whatever it takes!) I usually will try to massage the area to get the blood flowing again, which will eventually help it warm and improve. If it’s really severe, you might want to submerge the area in warm (not hot) water to rewarm the area. If the water is too hot, it will really hurt (think freezing cold hands in the snow then straight to hot water…not pleasant). If you can’t get the area to refill with blood after warming, it’s best to go to a doctor to make sure that you don’t run the risk of developing necrosis in the area, although that is rare.
Do any of you have any other tips that you have found helpful for Raynaud's?  I'd love to hear your stories.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    The Dorothy Shoe Project


    Michelle at Living With Bob has come up with a fabulous idea to bring some fun and awareness for people with dysautonomia.  In her post,The Dorothy Shoe Project, she discusses her idea to create a number of her iconic Dorothy shoes to send to people with dysautonomia all over the world…the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and more!  The project is open to anyone out there with any kind of dysautonomia (ie POTS, NCS, PAF, or any other kind), and apparently the numbers are steadily growing.

    The other thing that is so great about those shoes is that Dorothy was caught in a tornado in the Wizard of Oz, just like those of us with dysautonomia feel like we’re trapped in our own personal tornadoes.  So it’s fun and fitting, don’t ya think?

    I’m going to participate, and I have no ideas of something clever to do with them yet, but I’m sure I’ll think of something, right? So any of you out there with dysautonomia of any kind, feel free to email Michelle at Rusty.Hoe@thedorothyshoeproject.com to add your name to the list of POTSies ready to don some fancy new shoes!

    Who doesn’t love beautiful sparkly red Dorothy shoes?  Now if we could just get the heel clicking to work…

    To make you smile...


    Sweet boy

    Chloe Bear

    Chloe Bear
    Chloe as a baby!