Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Journey To Health Part 2: Food as Medicine

Click here to read part 1 of this series, Journey to Health Part 1: Symptoms & Diagnosis

After spending most of last year struggling with anxiety, stress, and worry, my health was wrecked. I had literally worried myself sick and was left with gastritis {inflammation of the stomach lining} and acid reflux disease. The advice of my GI specialist was to continue taking Zantac and Tums until I feel better, or possibly for the rest of my life. As a 34-year old in otherwise great health, I wasn't ready to accept that as my fate. Knowing that different foods can profoundly hurt or heal the body, I set out to change my diet in order to feel better, heal my body and eventually, hopefully, be able to go off of medication as a result.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid disorder. While researching ways to support my thyroid through diet change, I repeatedly came across recommendations for the Paleo diet. I decided to try a Whole30 challenge at that time and was very happy with the results. I even noticed changes in my children while eating a cleaner, healthier diet. After the 30 day challenge, I never went back to eating the way I used to and I continued to read and learn more about the benefits of a Paleo lifestyle and how food can heal the body. That background knowledge turned out to be my starting point on this healing journey.

According to my GI specialist my gastritis developed from high levels of stress which causes too much stomach acid which causes inflammation of the stomach lining. I didn't feel overly stressed, certainly not to the degree that it would affect my health. I'd always kind of been proud of my ability to handle stress without much suffering. But this time, as I stopped and looked around at my life and considered that I'm not a 22 year old college kid anymore, I realized my body might need a little {or a lot} more TLC than I usually give it. Time for some changes.

I did a little online research on gastritis and I learned it can also be related to other autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto's - red flag! As I began figuring out how to address this issue I decided to focus my efforts on stress management, acid reduction, autoimmunity, and of course inflammation. This would mean avoiding foods that were contributing to my problems, adding foods that could help heal my digestive system and reduce inflammation in my body, and then incorporating supplements and practices that could also reduce my symptoms and promote healing.

What I eliminated: Acidic & Inflammatory Foods
I started by addressing what would help me feel better quickest - the acid. My stomach was producing too much acid due to stress, which I don't directly have control over, but I could avoid adding to it. So I began my healing process by eliminating acidic and acid-producing foods from my diet. That includes- coffee, tea, soda {which I don't drink anyway}, tomatoes, citrus, and dairy. Avoiding those foods while continuing to take Zantac seemed to be a good start to reducing my symptoms. This should give my stomach a little break and hopefully a chance to repair.

At the same time I needed to reduce the inflammation in my stomach and avoid anything else that could be irritating it in addition to the acid. This is where my knowledge of the Paleo diet came into play. Paleo is a style of eating with the purpose of reducing inflammation, healing and optimizing the digestive system, and helping the body function at its best. Added to my list of eliminated foods would be grains, soy, legumes, processed foods/sugars/oils, and alcohol. I knew that sticking to Paleo guidelines would be gentle on my digestive system, giving it a break from irritating foods and would promote healing. It would also reduce inflammation elsewhere in my body {because stress and stress hormones like to do that}, otherwise optimize my body's systems and functioning, and help to balance out my hormones. There are many, many more health benefits to a Paleo diet and all of them work together to help you feel your best and function at your best. They're way too numerous for me to list here, but I highly recommend reading The Paleo Cure by Chris Kresser if you're interested in learning more.
This is not my graphic. I could not find a source to credit, but found it on Pinterest.

What I added: Healing and Soothing Foods
Besides eliminating foods that are problematic for my condition, there are other things that are  helpful for reducing my symptoms {or stopping them completely} and healing my body. While tea is usually acidic and not a good idea if you suffer from gastritis, green tea has such amazing anti-inflammatory benefits that they outweigh its acidity. Since gastritis is inflammation, I'm drinking one mug of organic green tea each day, nothing added to it. And if stress is truly the underlying cause of my problems, then there could be lots of other hidden inflammation in my body whose symptoms aren't as obvious. Green tea, for the win.

I've also discovered the amazing healing benefits of collagen powder. It is so good for you in so many ways, but most importantly for me- it is very healing for the gut lining. Collagen is the material that basically holds us together. It's a huge part of our skin, hair, nails, joints, and mucous membranes. The digestive tract has a mucosal lining, so consuming collagen helps to keep that lining healthy. Best part- it could not be easier to incorporate into your diet. It dissolves in any liquid of any temperature and is completely tasteless. I add 2-3 tablespoons to my smoothies in the morning, but it can easily be added to soups, juices, or the batter of baked goods. It doesn't change the flavor or consistency and it's super easy for the body to digest. I feel like this is one of the most important additions for me since it's directly addressing the health of my stomach lining. I absolutely love that it has so many other benefits, too!

Lastly, I'm tossing some chia seeds into my smoothies for a huge dose of antioxidants, extra hydration, and anti-inflammatory Omega-3s. Because those things never hurt anyone, right? Basically they're very nutrient-dense and I feel like the more nutrition I can pack into my diet, the better shot my body has at functioning normally and healing up. Chia seeds are also flavorless and easy to add to lots of foods- smoothies, soups, baked goods, sprinkled on salad, made into pudding, mixed into oatmeal, or just added to a glass of water.

Today, I'm a full year into this journey and about six months into the dietary changes. I'm happy to say I'm feeling a lot better now than I was before. My symptoms seem to be almost 100% controlled. Every now and then I'll have a day when I don't feel well but those are much fewer now. My anxiety has decreased significantly since I've started feeling better. Being afraid of your food is not a good place to be. And trying to be mama when you don't feel well is an entirely different ball game than when you can just go crawl into bed on a bad day. Our stresses are far from behind us, but being able to wake up and function normally on a day-to-day basis has made a big difference in lowering my stress level, which of course then helps me feel better and function normally. I am also continuing to take Zantac twice a day for now. As much as I don't want to be on a daily medication, I think it's important to support my body until it's fully healed. I want to give it plenty of time on the modified diet to adjust and get back to normal before I stop taking the Zantac.

Diet changes are not the only way I'm working on healing. In part 3 of this series I'll talk about all the other changes I've made to my lifestyle to help manage my stress and support my body's healing. Stay tuned :)

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