Monday, August 29, 2011

A New Way of Eating

I don't do well with extremes.

This is probably true of a lot of people, but as I get older it's something that I continually learn about myself. I'm not one to make drastic changes in my life - not if I want those changes to stick. I've never managed to stick to any real diet before as there are too many foods in my life that I like to eat to be ok with cutting them out for any real period of time. However, recently I have made a fairly significant change to my eating, and while ordinarily I would find myself slipping back to my "normal," I can't do it this time.

Every time I slip back to "normal," I find myself up in the middle of the night in pain. Did I mention I'm writing this at 2:32 am? Yeah...

A few months ago, I found myself awake one night in significant pain. I had no idea what was going on, as I don't recall ever having felt this type of pain before. I thought it might be stress (I'd just gotten married, I was still looking for a job, etc). Besides, it only happened the one night, so it was probably just a fluke.

But then approximately one month later, it happened again. And again the next month. And by now I was seeing a pattern and getting slightly concerned. Especially as the timing of the pain during the month right before I got my period started concerning me. At that point I was worried enough to go to the doctor to get an ultrasound to find out if that was the issue. On the plus side, everything with that came back totally normal. On the negative side, I was still in pain. Dang.

Finally, after I was awake for at least an hour at night for nearly two weeks in a row (and taking more pain killers than I ever had before), my mom suggested what I've come to believe is the most likely source of my pain. Gallbladder attacks. The symptoms that I read about matched mine almost to a T. 

Then I started reading more and more about how one's diet affects such attacks, and can prevent them from occurring. And then I found a program called the Whole30. This way of eating cut out many of the foods that supposedly caused gallbladder attacks (including dairy, all grains, and beans). Additionally this program prohibited all processed foods, any added sugar and alcohol. The plan was to follow this way of eating for 30 days and reset my body's digestive system. This sounded like a great idea to me (which was shocking given how much I love bread, cereal, milk, cheese and a beer or a glass of wine!). But, when it was affecting my health in such a direct way (pain or no pain), it was a whole lot easier to want to make a change.

I started this plan on August 1. And felt an immediate difference. No pain at night. None. And because I wasn't in any pain, I didn't need to take any more pain meds (I'm certainly not against the occasional Advil, but I was taking far too many doses of Tylenol PM, Advil and Aleve in an attempt to figure out if any gave me some relief. Nothing appeared to work on these attacks at all, except for drinking tea and sitting up until the pain dulled so I could sleep again).

Now that the end of the month is almost here, I wanted to reflect on how the changes in my diet have affected me. Overall, I feel great. I'm not in pain and I'm sleeping better (though I don't have as much energy as I thought I would). I've been eating a ton more veggies which makes me feel great, and only moderately more meat than I normally would have. Most of the time I eat eggs and a couple of slices of avocado for breakfast, a big salad for lunch, nuts and red pepper slices for snacks and then a meat, veggie and salad for dinner. The cravings hit hardest around week 2, but have subsided for the most part.

But, I should note that I have cheated. Especially more so toward the end of the month as we're moving and I'm just not eating as carefully as I know I need to. I've also had wine and beer more often than I should. And every time I've pushed the limit too far, I've ended up back awake at night. Specifically there were 3 instances this month (tonight is the 4th). And while part of it makes me really sad (no more greasy pizza and beer nights for me), on the other hand, as I see the changes that this way of eating has done for me, it's hard to argue that for me, this works. When I avoid greasy foods and lots of dairy, I'm not in pain. When I eat them, I am. I can't really argue with my body on this point.

Incidentally, I've also lost about 10 pounds so far. I have at least 20 more that I'd like to lose now, but weight loss wasn't even the primary motivation this time around (as it has so many other times). Truly this was about how my body felt. I honestly thought this plan wouldn't make much of a difference as I'd never had food intolerences before. Oh how was I wrong!

What I've learned though is that I'm pretty sure it's not any one food or group (though anything with a lot of grease - ie non-homemade pizza and hamburgers appear to be out for good), but that it's how I'm eating overall. So if I want a little bit of cheese, I'm probably fine. Or if I want a slice of bread, no problem. But I can't eat half a loaf of french bread and brie for dinner anymore. 

I haven't even tried cakes, cookies or brownies for over a month. I'm a little bit sad that when I do I won't be able to tolerate them well anymore. I'm currently awake now due to an ice cream binge I had after dinner tonight (though I'd like to note that "binge" means less than a quarter cup of Ben and Jerry's. Sadly, apparently that's even too much for me). Happily it appears that frozen yogurt is fine, though (too bad we're moving away from a pretty great place that just opened in Fremont).

But ultimately, this has worked for me. And it's shown me a lot of areas where I was adding sugar and eating processed foods not because I necessarily wanted them, but because I was just used to doing so. Like adding sugar to my coffee in the morning. Who knew I liked black coffee? I've also saved money as I'm now packing a lunch every single day. Before I'd try to bring a lunch 2-3 times a week and was more or less successful. Now I don't want to deal with finding food I can eat, so I just bring a salad. I'm happy that since I don't appear to actually be allergic to anything, I don't have to be as careful as some of my friends about avoiding certain foods totally. As long as I'm diligent in what I cook for myself, I can be more relaxed when going out to eat.

I was looking forward to the end of this month to start adding some foods back in, but given my few experiences with cheating already, I'm probably going to continue to stick fairly close to this way of eating for the time being. 

Which is all fine and good, but I'll miss my takeout pizza most of all.


  1. That is a bummer but it actually is probably for the best-like you said. The stuff you are cutting out is the stuff we don't really need. Good luck with the new diet.

  2. I'm so sorry about your health issues, but I'm glad that you found a solution for the pain! Like Frugalista said above, the stuff you cut out of your diet isn't anything we NEED, but I can certainly understand how you would miss your old diet. I wish you the best of luck on this new way of eating, and that you find great new alternatives to your favorite dishes!

  3. Luckily I have several good friends who actually are allergic to some of the things that I need to cut out who have already given me great ideas for substitutions! Plus even though making homemade pizza takes a little bit more time, it really does taste better to me! Just have to remember that... :) Thanks for the good thoughts!

  4. Sorry to hear you had to go through that, but glad you're feeling better. I've found that there's a lot I'm allergic to & can't eat now that I used to be able to eat when I was younger. My mom's the same way, she can't eat small seeds, etc. but she did have her gallbladder taken out many years ago as well. Glad to hear you found something that works for you. ;)


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