This month is always pretty meaningful to me. Not only is it my birthday month (!!!), but it means the worst part of the year is over and every month from here on out gets better and better!
But this year, in particular, is even more special.
Today marks one year since I began my journey in gluten-free eating. I can’t say that I’ve been entirely gluten free for a year, because that’s obviously not true. But one year ago this week I began my elimination diet which ultimately led me on a journey that has shaped me in ways I couldn’t have possibly imagined before.
On top of reducing (and eliminating over long batches of time) gluten, thus making my chronic and severe seasonal allergies virtually disappear, I’ve changed my thinking regarding proper nutrition, particularly in the treatment of my PCOS (which was diagnosed two months after the beginning of my elimination diet).
The turning point
Before last August, I followed something of a “flexitarian” diet. I eschewed most animal proteins in favor of legumes, nuts, and whole grains. Part of this was an economic choice, one I still have to balance, but I felt somehow more virtuous that way in my flawed logic. But what I was really doing was making myself sick, and after several months of this I realized that my body’s ache for more animal products was increasing dramatically. I would wake up every morning feeling like death. I seemed to have headaches all day, every day. My cycles were getting more and more irregular. I was cranky and irritable, and even more so during the weeks I ate no meat at all. After a very unhelpful discussion with my (now former) physician, I sought the advice of holistic practitioner, Kristien Boyle (husband of blogger, Caitlyn Boyle). Through email consultations he led me through a lot of discussion about my symptoms and ordered me a hormonal test panel which revealed several imbalances, most noteworthy being my high estrogen, high DHEA, low cortisol, and low 17-OH progesterone. He also is the one who ordered me to being the elimination diet and urged me to continue being gluten free when I had doubts that it was working. He was also the first to be convinced I had PCOS—even when I doubted him. I went back to my gynecologist and demanded to be tested for PCOS, despite his reservations. Suspicions were confirmed and I was officially diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Dr. Boyle then prescribed a number of lifestyle and dietary changes in order to treat my endocrine imbalances. He wanted to me drastically reduce my carbohydrate intake, and always start the day with a protein-rich breakfast, and to never eat a carb without a protein or fat source, in addition to remaining gluten free. My views on nutrition had to undertake a grand metamorphosis. No longer could I focus on calories and following some trend. No longer was it about keeping the same jean size. Everything revolved around bringing my body into a state of healthy normalcy. And these efforts have led to me to a “new” idea of nutrition. Instead of a semi-vegetarian diet, I’d say my diet pulls mostly from the idea of Weston A. Price and the Primal Blueprint.
A typical day, a year ago might have looked like this:
Breakfast: Overnight oats with banana, soy milk, and peanut butter OR a peanut butter sandwich on homemade whole wheat bread
Lunch: Canned black beans, sweet potato, and sauteed spinach
Dinner: Some dish with beans substituted for meat OR potatoes roasted in oil, steamed green vegetable, and a small portion of animal protein
Snack: a Clif bar, a bag of trail mix, and fruit. Yes, all of them.
And a typical day now (is there really such thing as a typical day??):
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with salsa and Monterey jack cheese, and a corn tortilla or two OR Omelet with spinach and mozzarella, side of sweet potato (3-4 oz). Eggs are cooked in either butter or rendered lard (local). Fruit optional, but not typical (I find most fruit too sugary that early in the morning). I also usually drink water for breakfast, or a water with a splash of apple cider vinegar and local raw honey. Other days, I drink tea, like this pictured chai, or mint green tea. I’ll also mention that I’ve gotten the corn tortilla-making down to a fast and furious art. I don’t use a recipe anymore and I practically don’t measure. They take as long to whip up as it takes to boil an egg.
Dinner: Some kind of moderately-portioned (4-6 oz) animal protein (or more eggs if budget is tight), green vegetable with melted butter and salt, and if we are especially hungry, a bit of potato (sweet or regular) on the side, served with more butter.
(Photo taken by John during dinner. Admittedly a light dinner, but we weren’t famished)
Snack: I’m not usually hungry, but I might roll a bit of turkey and cheese together if hunger strikes at work. If I have cherries or some other super-seasonal fruit, I’d eat it. Occasionally I blend nuts and unsweetened dried fruit together into a sort of nut-heavy larabar-type confection. Or I just down a spoonful of almond butter.
No longer do I fear saturated and animal fats (side note: yes, there is a distinction. Most animal fats are not more than 50% saturated. Pork and poultry fat are typically more than 60% monounsaturated—the same type of heart healthy fat found in massive proportion in olive oil and avocadoes). I have limited my starchy carbs to the normal context of a meal, in serving sizes that do not exceed the amount of protein on my plate. I feel like I’ve found a sort of balance of macronutrients that works best for me. Not too much carb (my cycles go crazy and my blood sugar roller-coasters), not too little carb (it stresses out my body and causes me to bleed erratically and highly abnormally). With exception of the month where my body was dealing with the results of too little carb, and the couple months of “recovery” since, I have found my body inching closer and closer to a real sense of health. My cycles are the closest to normal and regular than they have ever been in my entire life. My headaches are more of a rarity than a rule. I don’t wake up bright-eyed and busy-tailed, but within minutes I feel ready to face the day—rarely feeling like I need to take a sick day. My journey is still in a state of flux. I am constantly learning more and more about how to help myself without the aid of pharmaceuticals. I will continue to experiment, and I may take a few steps back sometimes, but it’s a learning process. The endocrine system is a strange animal. But so am I. So I’m up for the challenge.
How has your diet changed in the past year or two?