Category Archives: In health

9

The run

Since January I’ve been training for the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon on May 10. The race follows the 10-foot-wide asphalt bike trail from Holdingford to St. Joseph, Minnesota. Registration is capped at 450 runners. It’s a Boston-qualifying flat course, but life has me training for this one on my own. I’m running it simply for the love of running. In that spirit, here’s a little ditty about today’s 19-mile run.

Last night I prepped for the run. I love the ritual of it, setting out the layers, choosing the right socks, finding hand warmers, placing ID in the arm band and GU in my jacket pocket. It’s too cold to carry liquids, I decide, making plans to stop at the Caribou coffee shop for water on the way out and back. I know better than to take it for granted things will go well at this stage of training, and the anxious anticipation is like a quilt that wraps other worries for the night.

The alarm rings at 5:45. I tiptoe across the hall and slowly close the kids’ door. Breakfast is a carefully conducted orchestra, microwave and coffee pot buzzers meeting in crescendo. Weather still looks good, says Google. I briefly second guess the course. Should I just go out the door? No, no, the trails will be clearer over there. 19 miles is too far to mess with that.

I tie my shoes. Stress rises. I hate this part. The left is definitely slightly too tight. No good, my foot and ankle will ache. I redo it. Walk across the living room. Too loose. One more time. Okay, that’s better. I’ll test it again when I get to the club.

I open my hand warmers at the club, shake them, and place them inside my mittens. I pull the balaclava over my head, freeing several neatly combed hairs from their tight binders. Hat, armband, keys in pocket. The shoes. Always the shoes. I retie the left one last time. Okay, let’s get this thing started.

I run down the hill from the club toward the Mississippi River. I feel the sun on my face, briefly break my concentration on the icy sidewalk to look up and greet two runners. I hope they didn’t notice the shoulder roll, a bit of choreography that somehow made it’s way out from the dance scene in my head.

Huh, American woman, stay away from me
American woman, mama let me be

Don’t come hanging ’round my door
I don’t wanna see your face no more
I got more important things to do
Than spend my time growin’ old with you…

Mississippi River 3/8/14

Mississippi River 3/8/14

I cross the bridge over the Mississippi, feeling a light breeze on my face. The river is a sea of white dotted only by a line of red buoys down the middle. As I turn onto Minnehaha Parkway, heading toward the lakes, my left foot and ankle throb. Ugh, it’s going to be one of those. I know I’ll have to stop and shake it out several times in the first three miles, but then it’ll be gone.

Now woman, stay away
American woman, listen what I say

American woman, get away from me
American woman, mama let me be…

Worries run with me for a few miles. I’m still chilly. Did I wear enough for 19 miles of sweat in the cold? Caribou, Caryn. It’ll be okay. A little acid reflux bubbles in my throat. Shit. It’s been getting better, I reassure myself. Let it go. The icy sidewalk pulls my attention back to my footing.

You can reach me by railway
You can reach me by trailway
You can reach me on an airplane
You can reach me with your mind…

The music lifts my feet, like strings on a marionette. I’ve never included slow songs in a running playlist before, but had decided to go for it on a leisurely long run. Good move. Nice. I hear a voice in my head, the pleasant woman in the MapMyRun app, tell me I’m at 2 miles. I stop to shake out the feet again. It’s getting better. One more mile and I’ll be in the clear with this business.

I don’t care how you get here
Just get here if you can
You can reach me by sailboat
Climb a tree and swing rope to rope
Take a sled and slide down slope
Into these arms of mine…

I cross the street to the bike path that follows Minnehaha Creek. I think of the three 20-milers I did for Grandma’s along this route, each one on my own. I reach the part of the trail where, in a thunderstorm last spring, I’d seen the first runner in a couple miles and we high-fived each other as kin.

You can jump on a speedy colt
Cross the border in a blaze of hope
I don’t care how you get here
Just get here if you can…

Minnehaha Creek 3/8/14

Minnehaha Creek 3/8/14

Three miles, the voice in my head tells me. I take inventory. Legs, good. Feet, good. Spirit, soaring. “Dancing in Heaven” comes on, an ’80s pop song that I’d performed as a solo in a high school dance recital, choreographing it with a beloved dance instructor who died a few years ago. God that was a long time ago. It’s 1990 now and I’m in my 18-year-old body, dancing my heart out.

Dancin’ in heaven
I never thought

I’d ever get my feet this far…

Ducks on Minnehaha Creek 3/8/14

Ducks on Minnehaha Creek 3/8/14

The creek narrows, icy water giving way to a moving stream and…ducks! Can it be? A sign of spring! I’m running between the seasons. Suddenly I have the urge to write. Writing is dancing to me now.

Rhythm is a dancer
It’s a soul companion
You can feel it everywhere
Lift your hands and voices
Free your mind and join us
You can feel it in the air…

Lake Harriet 3/8/14

Lake Harriet 3/8/14

I reach Lake Harriet, where I started running 10 years ago after my first son was born. It was like a mini La Leche League with two girlfriends as we shared tales of breastfeeding, sleep routines, tender moments, and little scares in that early period of motherhood. Tender flashbacks halt when I suddenly realize I’m surrounded by green people. Oh that’s right, there’s a race here today! A St. Patrick’s Day race! I veer off at the Lake Harriet Bandshell toward Lake Calhoun.

There’s a fire starting in my heart
Reaching a fever pitch, it’s bringing me out the dark…

Lake Calhoun 3/8/14

Lake Calhoun 3/8/14

The voice in my head says 9 miles. Where did the last couple go? Back at the Bandshell I decide to risk the green people and run the rest of the way around the lake. The race hasn’t started yet, I gather as I run past the lines at the porta potties. The sight of a water stand makes me salivate. I skipped the Caribou stop and deep freeze still grips the faucets that normally punctuate the route. I need water. How bad would it be to ask for a cup…what are you thinking? Just run, Caryn. Caribou on the way back.

Throw your soul through every open door
Count your blessings to find what you look for
Turn my sorrow into treasured gold
You’ll pay me back in kind and reap just what you sow…

I round the lake without any green people catching me, and veer back on the Parkway when I see the lifeguard chair poking out of the snow like a cactus on a glacier. Excitement from the race lingers. Races always do this to me, even if I’m near them and not in them. The anticipation, friendship, laughter, goodness of volunteers. Stevie Nicks comes on, an old friend running beside me now.

 

No one looked
I walked by
Just an invitation would have been just fine
Said no to him again and again
First he took my heart than he ran…

 

I run past my friends from the run club. “Hey!” The connection lifts my heart, and I think of the warm day in May when we’ll be at Wobegon together. Caribou comes into sight, an oasis. I shove my sweaty body in the corner near the water jug, chugging a cup and then another. I squeeze Vanilla Bean GU into my mouth as the clerk comes over to change the trash. Suddenly conscious of my sweaty, chugging loitering, I squeeze farther into the corner and the last drops of GU. It’s not really like me to do this, taking up space where I don’t belong.

 

The headphones died just before I ran into Caribou, and I tuck them away in my jacket pocket before leaving the shop’s warmth. It’s just you and me now, I say in my head to the voice that used to be in it but will now come directly out of the phone on my arm. I consider sticking to the sidewalk as I head back toward Minnehaha Falls. The rhythm of my foot strikes pulls me out of any decision-making.

Thump, thump, thump, thump

Minnehaha Falls 3/8/14

Minnehaha Falls 3/8/14

They’re even, like a drum. I feel proud of this, given the unevenness of the terrain. It’s warming up now and the stretch that seemed so frozen in winter a couple hours earlier now begins to melt toward spring. I veer off when I reach Minnehaha Falls, the cherry on top that I saved for last. The power harnessed by a deep freeze will soon make itself known.

I observe my thoughts now, the openness, joy, confidence. This is me, the layers of worry and inhibition having been peeled like an onion. I breathe and feel the crisp air fill my chest. Authenticity rolls over me in a wave that will carry the day.

This was my 19-mile training run for the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon. Just a run, like any other.

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Contributed tips to StarTribune article on winter running

I contributed a couple of tips to this StarTribune article, “How to Be a Better Winter Runner.” The reporter, a runner himself, solicited tips from readers. Several of us met at Minneapolis’ Lake Harriet on a blustery winter night to take the group photo in the link (I’m 2nd from the right). It was a fun experience with wonderful people! I think the article offers helpful tips for new and veteran runners alike, and eloquent words that capture the spirit of what we love to do.

“The raw wind, biting cold, the ice and snow make the conditions challenging. But if winter running carries risks, it also offers unique rewards: the transcendent, still beauty of newly fallen snow; a sense of triumph for fighting the elements…” – Bob Timmons, StarTribune

Article citation:

Timmons, B. (2014, February 2). How to be a better winter runner. StarTribune, p. E1.

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Why you should dream of being a mediocre midlife athlete

When I was a girl I dreamed of being an Olympic gymnast. I lay in the back of my parents’ van on the way to gymnastics camp, back when you could lie in a moving vehicle, crying in anticipation of the time I’d spend away from my family. The next summer I’d probably be in Romania training alongside Nadia Comaneci. I’d have to learn how to do a back handspring first, but I had a few years until the next Olympics.

It could still happen. So I’m 41 and never did learn how to do a back handspring. Big deal. Training for gymnastics gold probably isn’t the best use of my time anymore, though. That’s because when I reviewed my Facebook posts from last year, I realized I’m now a national triathlon champion and elite marathon runner.

You probably haven’t heard of me, Caryn Mohr the Mediocre Midlife Athlete, because I haven’t set any records or even qualified for Boston. Or come anywhere near placing in any local race. I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen this year, though. What is the school of training that advises getting progressively worse with each marathon in your quest to PR? I’m sure there’s one out there. I’ll have to Google it.

USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships 2013

USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships 2013

I haven’t had a lot of time for Googling, though, what with my training for the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships last year. I’m serious. I went to Nationals. You can look up my time. I’d rather you didn’t, though, because then you would see that I brought in the bottom and you might get the wrong idea. Then you might ask how I even got there, and I’d have to explain that I barely made the top 10 percent of my age group in a qualifying race heavy on first-timers – on something like my 15th triathlon. It takes brains to compete at this level, you know.

But don’t get me wrong. Just because I’ve hit the big time doesn’t mean I’ve let it go to my head. There’s no vanity here. I have entire friend groups who have never seen me groomed (run club, Master’s swim team). Not to brag, but I let them see me looking really terrible.

That’s how it is with midlife athletes. There are no boundaries when you’re at Mile 18 and the only topic of conversation left unturned is the chafing of your underarms. This one time, at run club, I swore like a sailor. It was probably at Mile 18. I know. I was impressed, too. I guess they might have to give my movie a PG-13 rating.

YWCA Women's Triathlon, a favorite for the spirit, venue, & organization.

YWCA Women’s Triathlon – a favorite for the spirit, organization & venue!

Not that I need the movie royalties to pay for my racing habit. My husband and I did a cost-benefit analysis of midlife crisis options, after we finished the taxes and filed the Target receipts. It turns out that being a mediocre midlife athlete is the economical choice. Show me a marathon that costs more than a sports car, and I’ll show you the calluses on my feet. I kind of want to show them to you. Can I show them to you? I didn’t put much work into the gray hairs on my head, but I put a lot of work into those calluses. They’re real, and they’re spectacular.

You probably won’t need to have a midlife crisis if you’re a mediocre midlife athlete, though. Sure, there are some things you don’t have anymore, like gymnastics camp or smooth feet. But you have something better.

You still have the ability to dream.

Postscript: Although I’m poking fun at myself, I’m quite sincere in the gifts these midlife athletic pursuits give me (dreaming, not to mention joy, friendship, and health). I have friends who are seriously competitive at the sports, and you give me endless inspiration. Please don’t stop. I’m not sure what I would do if you did! Whether we’re striving for a finisher’s medal or a podium spot, there are great gifts in the fun, the friendship, and the dream. Midlife athletics is just one possibility. What’s your fun midlife dream? I’m gearing up for marathon #4, and the dreaming has begun.

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Whole30 wrap-up: Gifts & lessons learned

Whew. Twenty-nine days strictly avoiding sugar, grains, dairy, legumes, and seed oils was a marathon. I chose to add something back on the final day, and I’ll explain myself. It was a Whole29, and a wholly educational experience.

You know how the second half of a marathon starts at mile 20 of 26.2? I decided the second half of the Whole30 starts on Day 25. If my final days were the final 6.2 miles of a marathon, they’d have looked something like this:

By mile 20 I felt like I’d figured out what about the diet was helping me and should be continued. Other rules and restrictions seemed unnecessary by that point. But I stayed the course with the whole shebang.

At mile 21 I started to pay more attention to dizzy spells I was having, my low blood pressure even lower this month. But I wasn’t really concerned, and I stayed the course.

At mile 22 my husband confessed that he’s tired of Whole30 dinners for the family. I felt bad, but I stayed the course.

My wrist 5 days after my  last acupuncture appointment.

My wrist 5 days after my last acupuncture appointment.

At mile 23 I came home from the acupuncturist with a wrist that looked far worse than this picture taken five days later. I felt like pampering myself, and taking the night off cooking, but I stayed the course.

At mile 24 I looked at my family’s potatoes, and realized that swapping a potato (forbidden) for a sweet potato would be my idea of living on the edge at this point. But I stayed the course.

At mile 24.5 I baked gluten-free bread for my son, and it filled the house with a heavenly scent. I’ve watched the family try his fun new foods. I wanted to try them, too, but I stayed the course.

At mile 25 I looked at my tracking spreadsheet and realized I’m sick of it. It takes a lot for me to get sick of a spreadsheet. But I logged my data and stayed the course.

At mile 26, I got a second wind and started sprinting to the end. I felt good. I felt proud. And I stayed the course.

And then at mile 26.1, I experienced vertigo at swimming, and then later at the grocery store, and then in the car. I got scared, and thought of the 12-mile run scheduled for the next morning. I went home, laid down, asked myself what to do, and decided I didn’t need to stay the course just for the sake of staying the course one day longer. Other friends haven’t had this problem on it, so maybe my food ratios were off for my activity or it’s something about me. Maybe it shouldn’t have scared me, but it did.

I did a Whole29. I improved the medical condition for which I entered it. I learned lessons about how to journey that I will carry to other journeys. I tend to be rigid about finishing things – I’ll run to the end of a block to make sure a training run is exactly the planned mileage – but I had accomplished my goal and then some with this. I didn’t feel great at the end, and felt I made a prudent choice about the final day given the circumstances. Last night I let myself have some non-gluten grains and cheese. Yes, both at once, but I felt like my body needed something. And then this morning I got up, ate a Whole30 breakfast because that’s what I now associate with good runs, and knocked out 12 miles.

Reflecting on the journey

There's a lot of Whole30 in my 1st post-Whole30 day.

There will be a lot of Whole30 in my post-Whole30.

These 30 days were a poignant chapter in a long journey I shared here just over a month ago. I didn’t tell you then, but I was terrified to open myself up like that. That first post wasn’t published without countless affirmations from my husband.

That feels like a long time and a lot of sharing ago. I learned a lot this month, and the lessons will inform my diet moving forward. That’s what we’ll break down here: gifts from the elimination diet, and what I learned. The Whole30 was a journey in and of itself and warrants a big-picture wrap-up. That’s this post.

But I started it for a specific reason, to help with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). And it did. Oh my gosh, you guys, it did! It messily, imperfectly, and ultimately quite substantially did. My gratitude for this is more than one blog post can handle. My next post will focus on the GERD journey specifically, summarizing what I’ve done, am doing, and will do.

Before we unpack the Whole30 experience, there’s one thing I need to say. I said it early in this series, and I need to say it again. Diet stuff is too personal, too loaded, too painful, and too individual to project onto others. I know this all too well. I have worked hard to get to the bottom of what works for me, a 40-something woman who has gastroesophageal reflux disease, manages her children’s life-threatening food allergies and other special dietary needs, runs marathons, has the body type and cultural background that she does, and has recently learned more about her own food sensitivities. I have close friends who eat differently from me, and that is what works best for them. Let’s all be our own experts, and rejoice in each others’ journeys – however they look.

Top 3 Whole30 gifts

I need to do more than list lessons learned from the Whole30. I need to thank the experience, and all of you, for its gifts. Three gifts in particular warrant special attention and gratitude:

GERD improvement. The Whole30 locked me into an elimination diet for long enough to see if dietary changes made a difference in a health condition that’s caused great concern. My symptoms improved pretty substantially over the course of the month, more in the second half. The hope this raises improves my quality of life on a daily basis. I deeply hope this trajectory will continue. Lesson No. 1 below tells me it’s important to embrace the rest of the journey with optimism, dedication, and acceptance, whatever it holds.

This quote just popped in my Twitter feed. I had both.

Twitter wisdom. I had both.

Self pride. I’ve worked so hard to restructure my diet the past year. God, I’ve worked hard. I’ve always been health conscious, but I finally had to accept that what I was doing wasn’t working for me. Sorting through what could be contributing to my symptoms proved complex. I am the type of person who sees ways I don’t measure up far more easily than ways I do. Instead of seeing myself as a health-conscious person who was learning and adjusting, I saw myself more as…falling short. But something shifted in me during this journey, something subtle and powerful. Somewhere, during the latter part of the Whole30, I just got to the point where I was working so damn hard at all this that I took hold of all that work, held it close to my chest, and refused to let anything diminish my pride in it – in me.

Running benefits. The past few years I’ve had an issue off and on while running where the front of my ankles can feel very painful in the first few miles. I can usually count on it to happen if I run on a treadmill or later in the day. I’ve seen my doctor and PT for it, but never got to the bottom of it. It’s been a low-level concern, as far as running concerns go, but a nuisance nonetheless. So this wasn’t even on my radar in relation to the Whole30, until I realized during it that I wasn’t having the problem anymore. I haven’t had this once since starting the Whole30. And I recovered faster from my last marathon than others. Interesting. I believe that my former diet caused inflammation that affected me in more ways than I realized, and I believe my main problem was with gluten (more on this below).

What I learned on the elimination diet

I learned a lot on the Whole30, more than I set out to learn. Here are six takeaways for me, Caryn, in my personal journey. I give you my opinions here about factors influencing my condition, and that’s really uncomfortable to me. I’d rather stick to sharing facts and feelings – both above refute – but I can’t find an honest way to reflect on this chapter without sharing a few opinions about why I’m in this situation and what helped. With a few opinions and a lot of feeling, this is what I learned:

Expectations matter. I learned that expectations for the process of a journey matter and can heavily shape the outcome. I was lucky to learn this early in the month, from stories of inspiration and persistence shared by friends, and in time to get me through a couple of weeks populated by low moments. If I expected this to fail, those low moments could have provided all the reason I needed to quit. If I expected this to work magic, the messy nature of the progress could have provided another reason to give up hope. But I expected it to help and inform a larger journey from here on out, and that is what it did.

Gut health matters more. It Starts with Food spurred a lot of additional reading on my part, both online and in other books, about the importance of the health of our gut, and healthy gut bacteria. I believe my former diet cultivated too many of the bad bacteria and created an environment conducive to GERD. In addition to avoiding foods that might promote unhealthy bacterial overgrowth, I started taking a prebiotic/probiotic supplement and intentionally incorporating fermented foods. I thank the GERD for raising my awareness of the importance of gut health, which matters far more broadly than just this specific condition.

Gluten-free bread I made for my son. Been researching brands that are rice-free or providing good information on rice sourcing (and, goes without saying, nut-free for us).

Gluten-free bread I made for my son. Been researching nut-free gluten-free brands that are rice-free or give good info on rice sourcing re: arsenic concerns.

I can’t eat gluten. This makes me sad. I believe that, in addition to eating in a way that promotes gut health, eliminating gluten is the other primary reason I’m seeing improvement. I’m not a person who would give up gluten for the fad of it. In fact, I’ve pretty much lived on it most of my life. But I had undeniably bad reflux experiences with it pre-Whole30. Bad. I believe that totally, and I mean totally, eliminating it on the Whole30 is a key reason I’m doing better. The implications of that are just now sinking in. Everything felt temporary on the Whole30 – all the rules, rigidity. I’m done now, but this aspect needs to continue and my doctor agrees. Now I need to figure out how to manage this in the real world of restaurants and social events, and reinvent family traditions like Saturday pizza night. It’s a bit of a loss, and I think it’s okay to acknowledge that. That temporary sentiment can live with an attitude of appreciation and abundance that I’ve always had in approaching my children’s food allergies, and which this blog articulates more beautifully than I ever have. This bullet can’t end without thanking a long-time friend for the information and support she’s shared in this. xoxo

Healthy looks different to me now. I used to think it meant low-fat food and plenty of exercise. Now I see it as eating healthy fats, real food, clean, and in a way that promotes gut health and not inflammation. I think focusing on getting enough healthy fats is helping my running recovery, too. Coconut, avocado, olive oil, and ghee are my new friends (and perhaps butter again sometime soon now that I’m done with Whole30). I credit my redefinition of what it means to eat healthy first and foremost to my nutrition coach. I also now more fully appreciate the central role of stress management and mindfulness in health, and gut health specifically. Exercise has always been and is still part of the picture for me.

There’s a lot to eat even when you can’t eat a lot of things. Whole30 rules were so restrictive that I felt I could not eat at restaurants (save ordering plain salad greens and applying my own dressing) or essentially anything not made from scratch. Finding something cooked in a sauce that didn’t have sugar, soy, seed oils, or the various other forbidden things would have been extremely difficult. But for all that restriction, I still had a lot to eat. I branched out and found new recipes that I’ll continue to enjoy. This work came in very handy when, partway through this, we decided to put one of our sons on an elimination diet avoiding soy, gluten, and casein. I knew what to cook for dinner! It requires research and creativity, but there is an abundance to eat even when there are many things you cannot.

Take your health into your own hands. We learned this lesson time and time again with my mom many years ago. In that case her health was in our hands, as family care navigators, but the point is that you need to actively manage your care and condition. This lesson was brought home again by my experience with GERD, and now again by our experience with one of our children. In each case, we found doctors who feel like allies and with whom we maintain close contact, but in each case major breakthroughs have resulted from our initiative to try something, research we brought to the doctor, and resources we looked into when shared by friends. All three examples have been managed in close concert with trusted doctors, but in each case our initiative and research yielded major breakthroughs.

What’s next

So this poignant chapter in my GERD journey comes to a close. It’s more than a chapter, really. It’s a turning point.

I hope to continue making progress in managing GERD, and I’ll take stock of my GERD strategies in my next post. On the dietary front, I’ll continue learning to navigate the world of gluten-free, and paying attention to eating in a way that promotes a healthy gut. I’ll carry forward many Whole30 habits – clean eating, natural foods, and healthy fats – but I’ll also bring back balance.

Sugar-free gum, I think I missed you the most!

Sugar-free gum, I missed you the most.

You’ll see one more post on this journey soon, for those specifically interested in my GERD story. And I’ll probably check-in with you all on this journey down the road, as it certainly doesn’t end here, as much as I’d like it to. But I’ll turn the attention here to other topics now.

The next chapter in my story holds greater focus on mindfulness and stress management. That’s been another journey, and I’ll be working through this book recommended a few times by my doctor. I finally got myself a copy. There might be some blog posts on emotional well-being, and it could be inspiring to have some dialogue on here about what that looks like for each of us. I’d love to trade happy thoughts and practices with you all!

I need to end this post by thanking you for helping me in this journey. The power of a single comment or email to lift someone in a journey is remarkable. You got me through the low and questioning moments of this chapter, and brought me to a happy ending. It’s not a perfect movie kind of ending, but an ending marked by genuine progress and a hopeful beginning to the next chapter. You also gave me a better understanding of how to journey, and that is a tremendous gift moving forward. I hope I’ve been able to share some of that here. Even more than the moments in a journey, I share deep gratitude, hope, healthy expectations, and inspiration for you in yours.

Related posts

Eight posts precede this one in the series:

Grateful for the moments,

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Moments in my Whole30 journey Post 7: Progress & plans

This journey isn’t sexy. There are no enviable before-and-after photographs. The transformation will not bring any “You look great!”s.

That’s a terrible way to start a blog post. Way to grab readers, Caryn. But I know a lot of you reading this, so I know you’re still with me. I know we’re on the same page here.

JancalendarThis journey is about health. It’s about a condition that’s been hidden to the outside and wreaked havoc on the inside (certainly not all health issues are like that, I know). The resulting transformation brings health and personal power, but you might not see it. There are gifts in everything, and the gift of struggling with GERD has been laser-like focus on health in a far more holistic way than making sure I get in a run or don’t overeat. My future thanks you for that, GERD.

Who knows, maybe I will get a “You look great!” If I do, it’s because a weight is being lifted from my shoulders, a heaviness is being lifted from my heart, and a smile is spreading across my face.

Week 3

Twenty-three days of my Whole30 journey are behind me, and it’s feeling more comfortable to claim progress. I’m having GERD symptoms less frequently. When I do have them, they’re quite mild with the exception of swimming, but even that seems better. It’s scary to say that, though. I’m rereading this post with reflux I didn’t have when I wrote it, but I’m telling myself to trust the emerging trend.

My last couple of posts shared struggles that required a good amount of self-talk. I could see the GERD progress, but hormones ran high, energy ran low, and the best indulgences at my disposal were starchy veggies, kale chips, and coconut butter. But I held on, and turned the corner. Energy is back at its typical high level, and I feel good enough to celebrate the marked progress made on a journey that’s weighed heavily.

Journeys never happen in a bubble. The fam's got a full plate.

Journeys never happen in a bubble. The fam’s got a full plate.

I had a check-in with the gastroenterologist this week, and also began acupuncture. I’ll summarize the GERD strategies I’m trying and have tried in a future post, but for now just want to celebrate having been able to walk into that familiar doctor’s office and report progress. For once, progress.

I asked my husband to attend this doctor’s appointment. I’ve kept him closely informed of each appointment these past few years, but this was the first time he accompanied me and heard things straight from the doc. The gastroenterologist took time to detail the history for my husband. It was a nice review for both of us. And apparently a nice opportunity for my husband and the doctor to commiserate.

“Your wife is so damn stubborn.”

I refuse to believe I’m stubborn! Er, wait…

“She just needs to discuss theory and research gaps before she’ll do anything.”

Brownie points for husband.

“She minimizes things, but I’ve figured out how to get it out of her.”

I only minimize things a little. Er, wait…

“She puts us to shame!” said the doc, referencing my rockstar blood pressure and pulse. They agreed I could probably kick both of their you-know-whats.

Finally, something we could all agree on.

We discussed quite a lot, and strategies for when it happens moving forward based on how things look today. Unless something gets worse, he told me to come back in a year. We all know I’ll probably be in phone or email contact before then.

A little story

Let me tell you a story that I think will illustrate progress better than the data I’ve tracked, but we’ll look at that, too. The week before I started this challenge, I lay down on the couch to read It Starts with Food, the book that spells out the Whole30 framework, rules, and reasons. I positioned myself on my left side, because I’ve read that’s less likely to result in reflux, and propped my upper body in a way I hoped might help keep things down. I had just eaten a lunch that avoided all trigger foods, par for the course at that point.

“Please stay down,” I thought, cracking the book open. I could feel my body tense with nervous expectation for the reflux that would inevitably come.

I managed to read a couple of chapters with GERD in the back of my mind before symptoms brought it to the fore. The science summarized in the book made sense, and the testimonials about reflux and other health conditions struck the right emotional chords. But history told me not to get my hopes up about the potential for anything to help. Three years of failed interventions and mounting discouragement had taken their toll. It felt foolish, but I let myself feel hope rise with the acid in my chest. I had to.

After a while I set the book aside, and joined my son in LEGOs on the living room floor. I chose my position carefully, hoping to avoid reflux not because the symptoms were unbearable but because the fear associated with them had become so. I smiled and laughed with my son, highly practiced in hiding the discomfort and mounting fear of where this would lead.

That feels like a long time ago. There’s been uneven, gradual, and steady progress on GERD symptoms the past three weeks. This past week brings the most notable change, and it’s quite striking. The symptoms occur less frequently, and when they do they’re typically subtle. I notice it now for not being there, and my level of fear has dropped in direct relationship with the reflux.

A little data

I have some data to back-up my perceptions, but I’ll be the first to tell you my data are flawed. I wanted to keep things simple, so I developed a couple of simple rating scales. The symptoms ebb and flow, and I knew I’d drive myself crazy trying to parse small differences with detailed rating scales. Even with my crude scales, I worry about day-to-day inter-rater reliability issues with myself given fluctuations in energy and optimism.

Week3GERDfrequencygraphI’ve tracked whether I have reflux symptoms immediately or delayed following each meal. Based on this coding scheme, a total of six instances per day were possible (immediately after breakfast, >1 hour after breakfast, immediately after lunch, >1 hour after lunch, immediately after dinner, and >1 hour after dinner). I kept snacks out of it, although recorded everything I ate for my own review. You can see here that the number of times I’ve experienced reflux symptoms have ebbed and flowed but trended downward. I hope Week 4 follows the same trajectory.

I found some rating instruments online used in a GERD study, and it would have been better to borrow those. They parse symptoms and frequency. Still, I’ve had a lot on my plate, and kept the data tracking at a level that felt doable.

Week3GERDseveritygraphHere we see the severity of my GERD symptoms. This scale is the most problematic. Because it includes only four categories (none, low, average, severe), it takes a lot to move from one category to another. You can see progress, but it doesn’t do justice to the level of improvement I’ve experienced. I’ve been darn close to “none” several days now. If I were using a 10-point rating scale, you’d see a boatload of change here. My data pays the price for having kept the ratings overly simple, but it still shows progress if not the extent of it.

Planning for post-Whole30

Six days remain in my Whole30 after today. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re ready to be done with something it feels like a lot. I’ll stay the course with the 30-day challenge, don’t get me wrong, but I’m ready to be done. I feel like I know what’s produced the GERD improvements. I’m making plans for what I’ll re-introduce – sequentially and with careful monitoring – and what I won’t. And it would be nice to loosen the reigns. I don’t have any intense cravings, even though or perhaps because I haven’t had any added sugar for 23 1/2 days, but it would just be nice to have some popcorn if I feel like it, try some of the new food I’ve gotten for my son’s special diet, or chew on a stick of gum if it strikes my fancy.

But the challenge part of this lasts 30 days, and I’ll see it through. Even though I feel like I know what to take from it moving forward, who knows, maybe I’ll get some added learning or benefit these last several days. I’ll end the challenge with a post that recaps lessons learned, overall experiences with the Whole30, and how it will inform my diet and GERD management moving forward.

For now, I’ll stay the course, plod along, track data, and plan for post-Whole30. And I’ll try to take pride in three weeks’ worth of moments. I brought the full forces of my quiet, determined, researchy, reaching-outy nature on this thing. I’ve done that for my kids. I’ve done that for work. And this time I did it for myself. That feels really, really good.

The journey’s not over – I’m still working on this and need to keep the faith, focus, and progress – but I’m encouraged, relieved, and really proud.

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Moments in my Whole30 journey Post 6: Sometimes progress looks messy

Even my tuna patties look messy this week.

I’ve been waiting to update on my GERD journey until I had another string of definitively positive moments to share. I’m an optimist. Post 5 shared moments of struggle, so in my book of optimism that means my next post should compensate.

On the face of it, this post won’t do that. I hate that. It’s been another hard few days. But if you look deeper (Caryn says to herself), this post shines with progress.

It’s just that sometimes progress looks pretty messy.

The face of progress

I ate pulled chicken on lettuce. Hubby+kids on a bun. Easy tweaks make the same meal work for all.

I ate pulled chicken on lettuce. Hubby+kids ate it on a bun. Easy tweaks make the same meal work for all.

I haven’t felt very well this week, so I think I look pretty messy in general. It’s no fault of the GERD journey. It’s just part of messy me this week.

Everything is harder these days of the month. It’s always been like that. I’m almost 42, so I don’t want to get into a big thing about that. Just know that yes, I’ve tried that for it. And that. And also that. It’s just a harder week. I can deal. I know to expect it. I know it will soon subside. I’ve never, ever missed a deadline, appointment, commitment, or other beat for it. I just feel a little like heck in the process of meeting them all.

This time’s no different. I haven’t broken my commitment to the Whole30 and larger GERD journey. But I’ve felt a little like heck in the process. I haven’t done the Whole30 quite as well this week, being at the starchier and sweeter end of the spectrum, but I also haven’t eaten a single thing that’s not allowed on the Whole30.

Bugs me, though, because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. The imperfection in execution affects how I perceive myself right now. So I have to step back and credit myself for staying on track with the major rules of the game when the going got tough. The fact is, for the past 17.5 days, I haven’t had a drop of gluten or any grains for that matter, dairy, legumes, added sugar (real or artificial), processed foods, alcohol (not drinking alcohol is status quo for me – never cared much for it – but I’ll still take credit for it here), or the host of oils that aren’t allowed. That’s pretty major.

I try not to look at the face of much of anything about myself this week. It’s a healthy coping mechanism until the world predictably looks rosy again in a few days. But there’s something this week that I keep seeing out of the corner of my eye.

The GERD symptoms seem to be getting better. Gradually and gently better.

I notice the GERD for not being there sometimes now. It’s still there – don’t get me wrong. The initial post in this series describes the long road that brings us to this spot in the journey. I know better than to expect the journey’s going to end overnight.

But for the first time I believe I’m on the right path.

For the first time I feel encouraged.

For the first time, it’s getting better and not worse.

It ebbs and flows, so progress looks pretty some days and status quo others. The status quo ones bring discouragement, until I remember that I never used to have days when it was better. Until I recognize that even the worse days aren’t as bad as they used to be.

What’s keeping me on the train

I have a clear destination in mind with this journey. There’s no way, even in weeks like this, that I’ll get off the train. Here’s what kept me on it this week:

  • Accountability. I’m trapped by this dang 30-day challenge. I can’t break it. I’m accountable to myself and all of you for having embarked on it. And I embarked on it to help with exactly this issue. I’ve made a ton of dietary changes and then some the past year for GERD. I mean I’ve turned my diet upside down, inside out, and wrung it out a few times. But there had been breaks from the changes on holidays, work trips, and moments when I felt it wasn’t working and questioned the point. So I identified a way to be consistently accountable and give changes a real shot at success.
  • Preparation. I’m nothing if not prepared. Ask anyone who’s ever watched what I put into a public presentation in advance. (Some of you are laughing right now.) So when I had a lunch appointment last week, I scoured the restaurant’s menu in advance. I identified a salad I could order, without the dressing, and came with toasted pumpkin seeds and my own dressing in my purse. I also called in advance and asked a manager to read tea ingredients to me over the phone so I would know if I could have it. And I emailed my lunch companions to share what I was doing and why I was doing it. Result? A lovely, yummy, stress-free lunch that stayed on track.
  • Inspiration. Some of you have dealt with health issues at least as complex as this, and you stuck with it until you got to the bottom of it. Your fortitude makes me dig deep and find it in myself, too. You make me see what we are capable of. You give me faith in my own journey. And you helped me see that it might take a while, so I know better than to give up when the going gets a little rough.
  • Data. Sometimes it pays to be a geek. I’ve been tracking data on my symptoms after each meal. When discouragement clouds the picture, I can look at the hard data.
  • Support network. I think the number of people involved in the journey now give it a momentum of its own. The journey moved forward this week even when I didn’t feel like I was a very good driver. Friends email support, my nutritionist checks in, scheduled appointments suddenly arrive (acupuncturist and gastroenterologist later this week). The journey’s got momentum. Even when I slow down for a few days, it rides on momentum.
  • My 7-year-old son. He’s amazing. One thing I did this week, which I’m pretty proud of, is wrap my brain around a special diet we are trying with him over the next month. Wrapping my brain around how to do this was pretty huge, factoring nutrition, tastes, school lunch and snack practicalities, and life-threatening peanut and nut allergies. Let me repeat that. My son (and his brother) already manages life-threatening food allergies. And he’s eagerly taking on a little more.
Glutein-, casein-, soy-free school lunch in a fun new lunch container

Glutein-, casein-, soy-free lunch. Ushering in changes with a fun new container.

You know what he said when I raised the possibility of trying some additional dietary changes? “I want to do it!” You know what he did that evening at snack time? He asked what snack would be good with the dietary changes. And you know what happened when we served him a new breakfast today? He tried it.

“We’re making a lot of changes to my diet,” he rationally observed. And then he smiled, jumped on the couch, and played a game with his brother. I think my 7-year-old son is pretty amazing. And I think his 41-year-old mom can handle a few rough days in a journey.

The journey and the GERD of it

This series of posts focuses on the journey of it all. We all journey. But maybe a few of you journey with GERD specifically, like I do. One of these days, maybe in a few weeks, I’m going to write a post that’s a little more specific to GERD. I’ll summarize what I’ve done and what I’m doing for it all in one place. It won’t be for advice, just to add to the mix of GERD stories out there. I’ve soaked them up, and taken quite a lot from the lot of them.

But for now, I’ll just keep plugging away at the journey. The optimist in me is pretty sure a glass-totally-full post is just around the bend.

Oh, wait! Before you go…I’m noticing something out of the corner of my eye again. Yep, I see it now. I feel better about this week’s place in my journey now than when I started writing this post. Add “journaling” to that bulleted list up above.

Recipe link

Favorite meal this week was Curried Mango Tuna Cakes. Delicious! Here’s the recipe:

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Moments in my Whole30 journey Post 5: The Sugarpire strikes back

A short time ago in a galaxy not so far away…

Post V

THE SUGARPIRE STRIKES BACK

It is a dark time for the GERD wars. Although the army of symptoms has weakened, the sugar lord has escaped confinement. Imperial hormones have invaded the rebellion’s command center, threatening law and order. Bombarded by the emperor’s evil mind games, the rebel force sacrificed control over sweet potatoes and Larabars in a long battle yesterday that damaged troop morale.

But the force is strong with the rebellion. Evading day 2 of the imperial onslaught, rebel forces fled across the galaxy to Whole Foods, where they replenished supplies of healthy fats and protein. Pursued by the emperor’s sinister forces, the rebellion clung to the Whole30 mothership, custodian of the rules and framework that might restore proper digestion to the galaxy. Obsessed with defeating GERD, the good rebel lord has dispatched probes across the treatment galaxy…

(Yes, I am so shy that I have to talk about monthly girl stuff in Star Wars-speak.)

Sugarpire strikes back

I feel as though something's come between us.

I feel as though something’s come between us. (I did not eat these!)

I escaped Week 1 of my Whole30 relatively unscathed. It wasn’t even a battle, really. I felt good, aside from a headache on Day 2. I had it easy on the sugar withdrawal front, so I hear.

Maybe that’s why my defenses were down. Well into Week 2, I figured I had slayed the feared sugar dragon. I knew to expect it’s monthly strike, but expected it to be far weaker by now. I underestimated its power. In the middle of a perfectly structured meal day, on the heels of nearly two perfectly structured Whole30 weeks, it struck a damaging blow. Everything I ate yesterday was Whole30-compliant, but there was too much of it and the balance was off. There were too many sweet potatoes, Larabars, and apples, and not enough balance with protein and healthy fats.

The sugar demon is evil. Through history, it’s wreaked havoc with the consistency of my health efforts. It’s marred past efforts to eliminate foods that might exacerbate GERD. And it helped drive my choice of the Whole30 framework to instill consistency with positive dietary changes.

Expanding my arsenal

After yesterday’s demoralizing battle, I regrouped and expanded my arsenal. I successfully fought back today by incorporating more healthy fats and protein. I tried an organic raw coconut butter, which helped. Hormones had me similarly susceptible to the sugar demon today, but this time I did not succumb to overdoing on starchy-but-compliant foods. I think I did a better job of meeting my body’s real needs, which typically don a sugar mask.

I’ve expanded my GERD arsenal in other ways, too. I have an initial appointment next week to try accupuncture. My doc says existing evidence is slim, but I read an encouraging post about accupuncture treatments for GERD and want to try it.

I roasted raw pumpkin seeds to have on hand as one emergency snack.

I roasted raw pumpkin seeds to have on hand as one emergency snack.

I also finished reading Fast Tract Digestion: Heartburn by Dr. Norm Robillard, which prescribes a specific diet for overcoming GERD (more on this below). Based on this, I intend to make a few minor tweaks within my current diet. I want to minimize some fruits and vegetables that may be more likely to cause issue and replace with others.

As always, my GERD arsenal also includes my nutritionist and gastroenterologist. We’ve been in recent phone contact, but I look forward to next week’s office visit with my gastroenterologist and discussing positive changes. I think I’m lucky to have a specialist who’s been open to trying things like accupuncture and talking about possible big picture contributors like stress.

Using the Force

If anything, yesterday and today tell me I’ll need to tap into my internal reserves a little more than I might have hoped to stay faithful to dietary changes in this journey. The changes don’t stand a chance if I can’t be consistent with them. Because of the monthly Sugarpire which shall only be spoken of in Star Wars-speak, I’ll need to be prepared to dig deep to stay on track.

The self talk has been a huge piece of this journey anyway. I’ve needed to tell myself to be patient. I’ve needed to tell myself to have faith. And now I need to tell myself to stay strong. And I will.

Understanding the enemy

Self talk can be hollow if you don’t believe it, and I think it’s working for me because I DO. I believe in the path I’m on. I feel like I finally understand why I have GERD. In Fast Tract Digestion: Heartburn, Dr. Robillard presents an alternative to the trigger food theory. He explains the science of how difficult-to-digest foods can breed bacterial overgrowth. This bacteria, as he explains it, can create gases and in turn pressure in the small intestine and stomach that power GERD (Robillard, 2012, p. 6).

Kale chips are so simple & yummy: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/baked-kale-chips/

3/4 household members like kale chips.

The theory passes the gut check with me. It absolutely makes sense to me why I have this based on my diet for most of my life. That resonance gives me great confidence in the path of recovery I’m pursuing. The positive changes provide good reinforcement. Still, despite what feels like clarity to me in my own journey, I wouldn’t project it onto you. And I’d be the first to tell you to look at credible sources and take this or any other blogger’s words with a large grain of salt.

The good fight

So it’s been a hard week, and the trajectory isn’t strictly linear, but it’s trending up! The journey is trending up! I don’t need data to tell you that symptoms have been less severe lately. That gives me great hope. I’ll make some charts again in a week or two, once I’ve lived down Post 4, but for now I’m happy to leave it on this happy note.

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Links and references

Robillard, N. (2012). Fast tract digestion: Heartburn. Watertown, MA: Self Health Publishing.

‘Til the next moments,

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Moments in my Whole30 journey Post 4: Week 1 observations & data

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Chicken fajitas (I ate on lettuce, hubby+kids ate on tortillas)

Yesterday marked the end of Week 1 in my Whole30. Already! The beauty of doing a 30-day challenge in a busy streak is that it’s guaranteed to go fast. But that’s not to say it hasn’t also been fun. It has.

Let’s take a broad look at changes here. This series of posts aims to chronicle a journey, to share moments of resolve that might be transferable across journeys. It’s through the lens of my journey to manage GERD, but chances are that’s not your journey. So let’s look at Week 1, broadly speaking.

Sure, I tracked data on GERD, and you’ll see some graphs here. That’s my motivation in this. But I also observed other changes, and learned from friends more about what it means to journey.

Things I wasn’t looking for

It’s too early to call anything a trend, but I’ve seen some changes and their timing correlates nicely with my dietary changes. As I mentioned early in the series, Whole30 represents the latest chapter in a larger journey of dietary changes I’ve been making with my nutritionist, who has helped me tremendously. Outside of GERD, here are some changes I’ve seen:

  • Blood sugar. I haven’t had as many swings with low blood sugar. I’ve been able to go to bed some nights without a snack immediately beforehand. That might not sound impressive to those of you who are over 6 months old, but it’s big for me. Probably a credit to more protein, healthy fats, and no junk.
  • Sugar cravings. I haven’t had them. Outside of the occasional craving for sugar-free gum, it simply hasn’t been a struggle. I’ve learned that certain foods have a cascade effect on me. If I eat sugary and processed stuff, I also want diet soda, and it goes downhill from there. I’m not eating any junk that makes me crave other junk. I expect a hard week this way coming down the pike, though.
  • Running. I was told in the Whole30 forums that I might expect lead legs initially, followed by running rewards. I seem to be having less of an issue with the pain I often get at the front of my ankles early in a run, requiring me to shake things out several times. I’ve wondered if I could credit reduced inflammation, but that’s speculation. It’s too early to talk confidently of running impact, but you can move this item to the “things I’ll be looking for” list.
  • Self-perception. I expected to feel better about myself if I succeeded in my journey (more on that below). Turns out I feel better because of how I’m in the journey. My initial post in this series touches on some of the efforts I’ve made to manage GERD the past few years. It’s been a lot. Still, I’ve wondered if there was even more I could do. I now feel I’m doing everything I possibly can, and I can’t tell you what that perception has done for me. I feel really good about myself. Right now, in the moment, in the journey. I can celebrate that!

Things I was

I mentioned early on that I was tracking personal data during my Whole30 journey. This will bring us back to the GERD for a minute, but just a minute.

I spit out these charts from my tracking spreadsheet. They have some issues, and I have issues with charts that have issues. But they still tell a story about Week 1 and offer a glimpse until there’s more interesting data down the road.

graph1Here you can see that I experienced GERD symptoms after each meal each day, with the exception of Day 7 when I had it after only one meal (breakfast). I kept snacks out of this to keep it simple. It would sure be nice if Day 7 marks the beginning of a trend. Time will tell.

 

graph2I also rated the severity of my GERD on a daily basis using a 4-point scale: none (0), low (1), average (2), and severe (3). It’s a personal rating scale, and my “average” is persistent, bothersome GERD. I’m using that term to reflect my status quo. You can see that I had a mostly status quo week, but an encouraging day early on and two consecutive encouraging days at the end. The earlier graph showed that I also experienced symptoms less frequently on that last day of the week. Again, time will tell.

graph3

Going into this, I also decided to track my energy and happiness. My baseline for both is high, but I figured dietary changes could certainly affect them, and I wanted to keep track. I’m rating both factors daily on a 3-point scale: low, medium, and high. You can see that I felt good and had a lot of energy this week. The two lines mirrored each other, with only one “medium” day (Day 5) for each.

Reflections on the journey

The week yielded some early observations about the impact of dietary changes, but the bigger lessons I learned were about what it means to journey. These lessons reflect gifts from friends:

  • My journey is not mine alone. I thought you might connect to my journey. I thought I might benefit from sharing it with you. I didn’t anticipate the extent to which you would reach out. I didn’t foresee the emails, resources, support, and stories that would wrap, inspire, and carry me. I feel connected in our journeys even if they are not the same or we are at different places. I feel…wrapped. And so profoundly thankful.
  • Belief in the process is everything. What if this challenge works? What if it doesn’t? I realized my journey doesn’t hinge on that. It will be shaped by this chapter, and I have specific hopes for it. But I learned from you that it could take twists and turns and as long as I believe in the journey, I will get there, one step at a time. I learned to believe in the journey and not worry about the outcome of this chapter.
  • The journey is growing. You learn, you read more, and new resources come into your life. And they make you look at other parts of your life. I think my journey with dietary changes is growing. I see ways to potentially affect something faced by one of my children. I’m learning and thinking about that, if not writing about it because I don’t know that’s something I would write about. Again, I am thankful.

I wrote quite a bit this first week. I think I might need to take a break for a day or even several just to be in the process. But you never know. There could be a moment tomorrow or even still today that brings me back to the page. Mostly, I just hope I can succeed in giving something in return in one of these posts, because you have given so very much.

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Moments in my Whole30 journey Post 3: Discouragement, faith & a 14-mile race

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Pre-race, post-discouragement

Yesterday I got discouraged. I guess those are the moments I’m supposed to write about.

I still have GERD. The “What ifs?” started.

“What if I can’t even control it through this?!” I worried aloud to my husband.

Then I started a cry-baby thread in the Whole30 forums. I lamented that GERD is still with me on Day 5. I outright asked for words of encouragement. It actually wasn’t a cry-baby thread, just an honest account and reaching out.

Plus, I got hungry. Nothing ever looks very bright when you’re hungry. I realized I’d probably been a little low on protein the past day, if high on…sweet potatoes. I like starch. So shoot me.

Keeping the faith

Okay, so let’s unpack this. I got discouraged. I reached out to my husband. I reached out to the online community. I reread articles that reminded me why I’m doing this. I ate an egg and some chicken.

In return, I received emotional support, encouragement, analytical reinforcement, and an energy boost. And you know what? It worked. I’m back to a patient and hopeful place.

There was more to it than reaching out, though. I made a choice in there. There was a quiet moment when I went into the bedroom, closed the door, and lay down to reflect.

I’m a person who takes in all sides. Even when I’ve chosen a direction, I continue to read counterpoints. Conversations with my husband are similar. We’re both skeptics of sorts, always questioning.

There’s a place for that, for sure. But it’s not what my spirit needed yesterday. The problem with being a skeptic is that you risk never trusting anything enough to give it a fair chance. So I reminded myself that I made an informed choice. I reminded myself that without a fair shot I’ll question if it might have worked. My husband reminded me, too.

And I just decided to have faith.

I never questioned staying the course, but I did question believing in it. For the next 24.5 days, this is my course. I will not only stay it, I will believe in it. That doesn’t mean I’ll turn off my brain. It means I’ll give it a chance, take things as they come, and have faith in the larger journey.

A 14-mile kick in the pants

A bbbrrrisk but fun way to ring in 2014!

A bbbrrrisk but fun way to ring in 2014!

And then today I ran a 14-mile race. Given Whole30 rules and the weather, it required a fair amount of preparation. The prep took place on the day of discouragement, and frankly it was a nice distraction. Maybe it had a hand in lifting the discouragement, too.

There’s something to be said for distraction.

I posted another topic in the forums soliciting ideas for Whole30-compliant distance running fuel. Usually I squeeze Vanilla Bean GU into my mouth at planned intervals. I received a ton of great ideas that I’ll be trying on longer runs in the coming months.

The weather forecast factored into the type of food I wanted to carry today. I carried a Lemon Larabar in each pocket, the only ingredients of which are dates, cashews and almonds (not something I would eat in my nut-free house), lemon juice concentrate, and natural lemon flavor. They were easy to squeeze out of pre-opened packages with thrice-mittened fingers. Worked great.

Feeling triumphant

And you know what? I feel a little triumphant. Like I gave the discouragement a 14-mile kick in the pants.

Running did it for me, but I think the same thing could have been done with cooking a triumphant meal or finishing a triumphant project. It feels good not only to have worked through the discouragement, but to have come out the other side feeling a little sassy.

“Hey, Discouragement. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

I’m one for quiet reflection, but perhaps a little sassiness sprinkled in now and then doesn’t hurt either. This New Year’s Day is a moment I’d like to mark. I feel happy, peaceful, on the path, in the moment, and just…good.

Wishing you a happy new year filled with health, happiness, peace, fulfillment, and wonderful moments!

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Moments in my Whole30 journey: Post 2

It’s Day 4 of my Whole30. All in all, I feel pretty…fantastic! Happy, high-energy, well-slept, well-fed. This is all mixed up with life, which is pretty great.

CaptureAnd busy, so preparation has been key. I had done my reading, signed up with the online forum, and compiled a go-to spreadsheet. One spreadsheet tab links recipes, sortable by meal; another lists rules for quick reference; a third provides a template for personal data collection; and another spells out my data-collection codes.

I know. Embarrassing. I can’t help it. Moving right along…

There’s part that’s not great. The part that’s always not great. The GERD. You know I have a long history with it, and hope for good things to come of these dietary changes. There have been some better days, which encourages me, but generally it’s still the big issue it’s been.

Early moments

Going in, I framed this series of posts around sharing moments in a journey. You know, the moments of strength and challenge and whatever it is that gets you through. The initial moments I have to share are quieter than that. No major struggle. It’s early on, and I’m hopeful.

I’ll put my inner researcher to work and give you a somewhat representative sample of moments these first days:

  • Day 1, 12/27/2013, 5:15 p.m. My Whole30 affects the whole family, especially at dinner. I’ve been cooking this way for dinner lately anyway, wanting to improve nutrition for all, so it doesn’t feel very different to them.
  • Day 1, 12/27/2013, 9 p.m. Husband eagerly asks how the GERD was today. I feel disappointed to answer “status quo.” Chin up, we agree.
  • Day 2, 12/28/2013, 10:15 a.m. In typical fashion I’m not going to make it until lunch without a snack. Oh well. The program advises focusing on 3 meals a day, but I’m okay with needing a Whole30-compliant snack to get me to the next meal.
  • Day 2, 12/28/2013, 2:30 p.m. Ouch, headache. Post-Christmas sugar withdrawal?
  • Day 2, 12/28/2013, 3:30 p.m. Shopping at Whole Foods with my 10-year-old foodie. We’re branching out with some new recipes. He’s so excited. I love this!
  • Day 2, 12/28/2013, 5:00 p.m. Someone on the forums recommended I try kombucha tea for the GERD. It can’t have any sugar added after fermentation to be compliant with Whole30. My husband found something that tempered my enthusiasm, but I’m a bit researched out and tried it anyway. Loved it.
  • Day 2, 12/28/2013, 6:12 p.m. I just feel relieved, like most of the time. The GERD is still there, but the burden of wondering if I could possibly do more is not. That’s huge. I’m relieved to know I’m doing everything I can dietary-wise. I’m relieved that I dedicated myself to being faithful in the dietary changes I’ve been making these last several months.
  • Day 3, 12/29/2013, 12:45 p.m. I’m staying hopeful, GERD, but please go away. I’m scared you won’t.
  • Day 3, 12/29/2013, 10:15 p.m. Wait a sec, I actually feel like I can go to sleep without a snack right before bed. Seriously?! Same thing happened last night. This is good for me, GERD-wise.
  • Day 4, 12/30/2013, 6:03 a.m. Ugh, the reflux is always the worst when I swim. Especially breaststroke. That sucks because I’m on a Master’s swim team and love it. I tell myself to let the worry go, save it for the next doctor’s appointment. Been working on the stress, too.
  • Day 4, 12/30/2013, 8:54 a.m. Just got another reply to a topic I posted in the forums, requesting ideas for Whole30-compliant fuel during Wednesday’s 14-mile race. No sugary Gu this time. Have gotten a ton of a good ideas!

Recipe links

Trying new recipes has been fun, especially with a resident 10-year-old foodie scientist who likes to cook, try new things, and research stuff like the amount of tuna it’s safe to eat per week based on body weight. And I’ve got a resident sweetheart 7-year-old who is starting to proudly request things like salmon for dinner!

I took pictures of some of the meals I’ve made (top of post, credit to husband for the pictured porkchop). Several of them were based on Whole30 recipes I found online, in some cases slightly modified. Here are the recipe links:

Related posts

Two posts precede this one in the series:

‘Til the next moments,

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Moments in my Whole30 journey: Post 1

Today I began a 30-day challenge to eat cleanly and intentionally, and learn more about how my body reacts to certain foods. Throughout the month, I’ll periodically post moments that mark the journey.

I don’t want to debate how to eat. I’m glad for whatever works for you. I’m just trying to figure out what works for me. I don’t see myself in a particular camp, and I like it when people get along.

We all go through journeys, food-related and otherwise. What is it that teaches us and changes us? Let’s connect about the moments that make a journey.

Whole30 challenge

whole30For the next 30 days, I’m taking a journey with the Whole30, a 30-day clean-eating challenge. My goal is quite simple: feel better and learn more about how my body responds to certain foods. I’ve got a health issue, so it’s prudent for me to do that.

The program is pretty strict for 30 days. You heal, and see how you feel. Eliminated foods are then reintroduced one at a time to see their impact. The idea is to inform the way you eat the rest of your life.

Good food standards

Foods allowed during the challenge are intended to meet four good food standards the program established (D. Hartwig & M. Hartwig, 2012, p. 24):

  1. Promote a healthy psychological response.
  2. Promote a healthy hormonal response.
  3. Support a healthy gut.
  4. Support immune function and minimize inflammation.

Program rules

This brings us to the guts of the challenge. The four good food standards play out in program rules. I’ll give my own synthesis here, but you can read the rules in the program’s own words, connect with the online community, or start with the book on which it’s based like I did. Adhering to the Whole30 involves doing the following:

  • Eat real food. You heard it from Michael Pollan, saw it in Morgan Spurlock, and read it again in this program. It emphasizes minimally processed foods with few ingredients.
  • Eat meat, seafood, and eggs. Pay attention to where it came from and how it was raised (think organic, grass-fed, pastured). Create each meal around a protein source, and vary them from day to day.
  • Eat vegetables. A lot. And fruit. Fill the rest of your plate with veggies, and eat fruit once or twice a day. Eat a wide variety of both.
  • Eat healthy fats. Eat healthy fats like avocado, olives, coconut and their oils, clarified butter, and some nuts and seeds (‘cept no nuts in this mama’s nut-free house). Don’t skimp on healthy fats. Include one or more fat sources per meal.
  • Eat 3 meals a day. Include protein, veggies, and healthy fats in each meal, and fruit with some. Stop eating a few hours before bedtime.
  • Be present for meals. Eat at the table. Enjoy meals with your family not Family Guy.

Now for the part that puts the challenge in “challenge.” My inside voice sneaked into this list in a few italicized places. Adhering to Whole30 involves strictly avoiding the following:

  • No sugar, real or artificial. No table sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, Stevia, you name it. Expect a cranky moment or two.
  • No alcohol. No alcohol of any kind. Finally, I won’t be the only dork in the corner not drinking. Take that, college.
  • No grains. No wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, sprouted grains, or quinoa. Corn is also a no. Hoping for good things from this one personally, based on recent trials.
  • No dairy. No matter whether it’s cow or goat, no cheese, milk, kefir, yogurt, sour cream, etc. Like dairy. Never played around with it. Interested to learn how it affects me.
  • No legumes. No beans of any kind, lentils, or soy. Another reason to cook at home. I know a legume when I see one, but not if it’s in a sauce (same goes for sugar and gluten).

Tracking changes

Personal tracking spreadsheet

Personal tracking spreadsheet

I’m conducting some personal data collection this month. The variable I care about most is acid reflux. My body needs to heal, and I need to get to the bottom of it. But I’m also curious about how different foods affect my energy and emotions, so I’ll track that, too.

I made a spreadsheet to track this data on a daily basis. I’ll graph the results and share them here. Guess I’m still the dork in the corner.

Moments

The main things I plan to share, though, are moments in this process, and what I’ll take from it moving forward in my journey. This lovely winter break day is about moments with my kids, but it’s also been marked by beautiful moments in this journey, too, which has been a backdrop to everything else I do for some time now. Favorite moments so far today:

  • A hug and enthusiastic “You started it!” from my husband first thing this morning
  • Emails of guidance and support from a dear friend
  • A kind comment from another
  • A hug and happy family outing with a third

And so, in this moment, I feel happy, encouraged, and excited. Now time to get back to that Lego set. If you are feeling your way through a journey, I’d love to connect about the moments!

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Links and references

Frazier, M. (2013, September 16). Why vegans and Paleos should stop hating each other. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matt-frazier/vegan-paleo-diets_b_3934305.html

Hartwig, D., & Hartwig, M. (2012). It starts with food. Victory Belt Publishing Inc.

Whole30. (n.d.). Welcome to the Whole30. Retrieved from http://www.whole9life.com/category/whole-30/

 

 

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30 days in a journey

“We need to take a look at your inner beauty.”

I’ve come to appreciate how the gastroenterologist can make me feel dignified, even as he’s about to stick a video camera down my esophagus into my stomach and the first part of my small intestine.

When you’re 38 you’re not quite sure if you’re young or you’re old. I first saw myself as middle-aged when the doctor said the endoscopy found areas he needed to biopsy. It wasn’t Barrett’s esophagus, thank God, but I had myself a chronic health issue and a directive to get it under control.

“Did I do this to myself?” I had asked my primary care doctor when it finally occurred to me that perhaps persistent acid reflux is a concern and I should go in. The obvious risk factors weren’t present, so I could only wonder. I felt robbed thinking the eating disorder could have caused this. I deserved more time to like myself before paying a permanent price for not having done so.

But the gastroenterologist didn’t point fingers at the part of my young adulthood that hadn’t been perfect. “There are people like you who do everything right,” he had said, affirming my healthy lifestyle, “but they have GERD.”

And so the diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease came with a pardon. It’s funny the way our brains work, and the things that help you cope with tough news. I thought of my mom in the oncologist’s office, taking pride in telling jokes and asking questions about little things that were actually quite big because they were all that were in her control.

The journey begins

It’s hard, you know, the first time it’s not so-and-so’s dad or the older relative who should heed doctor’s advice, the failure of which to do so would be met with scornful whispers by the young and healthy. The person who needed to change her lifestyle was health-conscious, runner, triathlete me.

“I can’t tell you to lose weight,” my primary physician had said. There had to be some lifestyle changes I could make, but we were grasping at vices. I had only a Diet Coke and a half-a-cup-of-coffee in the morning habit to offer. Maybe my small, frequent meals could be smaller and more frequent?

I knew her to be the voice of reassurance, and I didn’t like the sudden change in our dynamic, her intent on raising my level of concern. The scene would soon repeat itself in the gastroenterologist’s office. I knew it could cause cancer, but weren’t the chances low? There was no pacification, only sternness about the concern of the history I had shared, the risks it raised, and the need to heal it now.

I didn’t expect that we’d still be saying “now” three years later. I didn’t foresee the trials with lifestyle changes, Tums, Zantac, the first proton pump inhibitor (PPI), the second PPI, dosage levels, supplements, the other things that I can’t remember right now because it’s really been a lot. The discouragement.

“I’m worried about the risks of taking a PPI,” I would plead, cursing my own propensity to research. Conversations weighed costs and benefits, and that never feels very good when you’re talking about your health.

Watching the nurse snap my broken wrist back into place, I thought of what I had read about possible risks of vitamin deficiencies and fractures with PPIs. I wondered how many other half-ironman dreams end lying attached to a bike in a front yard flower bed, wrist shaped like a V. It’s in the moments when you let your guard down, in the temptation to place inappropriate blame for a stroke of bad luck, that you see the toll of the daily stress of managing an ongoing health issue.

“I think you will need surgery someday,” the gastroenterologist said. My failed attempts to beat this are getting to him, too, I thought. I had read about surgery for GERD patients who don’t respond to lifestyle and medical interventions. Back to the office in time for a meeting, I made a production of firing up my laptop to divert attention from my teary eyes. I met the project’s needs, as I always did, chest burning with acid and heart smarting with fear because I couldn’t meet my own.

“I see it in your eyes,” the doctor had said. My stress level was a theme across our appointments, as present a character as the reflux. It could be exacerbating the GERD, he said, and it was a chicken-and-egg situation at this point. Bearing my weight on my forearms, kicking my feet up in a handstand against the wall, it was the GERD I thanked for introducing me to yoga.

It scares me. It scares me that the doctors were scared three years ago. It scares me that it’s gotten worse since then. It scares me how many things we’ve tried without success. It scares me to think of what he could see when he goes back down my throat in two years.

26666_1481492805379_3292466_nWhen they tell you you have to take your health into your own hands, I think well I am lucky because mine is in four. My husband’s searches in PubMed yielded the research on melatonin that I brought to the doctor. My husband made the spreadsheet to double-check supplement amounts against the Recommended Dietary Allowances. And it was my Western medicine-inclined husband who encouraged me to ask the specialist for a referral for acupuncture. His Google document delineating the approaches we have tried and might try, organized by mechanism, is the most beautiful love letter I have ever received.

Serendipity

It’s funny how you can work so hard, and then serendipity hands a breakthrough. I wasn’t looking for a nutritionist. But happy, healthy friends bring happy, healthy things into your life.

He has taught me more about what it means to eat well, and we’ve talked about it in a way that is really much more complex than a checklist of foods to avoid. I’ve learned about how our diet can affect how our gut works and how that can affect quite a lot. The endoscopy was only the first of a series of hard looks at myself.

I’ve made a lot of dietary changes these past few months, and learned more about foods that cause me problems. But I’ve also had a lot of life going on. So my next steps are consistency and focus with these recent changes, which have given us so much hope. It’s my husband’s journey now, too, you know. They’re healthy, promising changes that deserve a fair chance, and the attention that will tell us more about how my body responds to some foods.

30-day challenge

Frameworks are helpful, when you’re dealing with a mess of a thing. The next month, for me, will be framed by an elimination diet that focuses on clean eating and then intentional reintroduction of foods. When I learned of this 30-day challenge, by way of happy, healthy friends, I looked into it because it reflects some of the dietary changes I’m already making. The challenge framework will help me give them a fair go for a bit.

One of the foods that I’ve been avoiding, and is to be avoided on the challenge, is gluten. You think you’re an open-minded person, and then someone suggests to you, the vegetarian mother of two children with life-threatening nut allergies, that perhaps you should also try cutting out gluten and your reaction tells you well perhaps I am not. But you desperately try it, and some encouraging things happen. But there are no villains in this story, only the reflux.

Serendipity has been a recurring character, but she’s quiet and I don’t always notice her right away. I had an email out to the gastroenterologist, and he just called, at the beginning strokes of the last paragraph. “I’m excited,” I said, describing some severe reflux I’ve had after eating gluten a few times recently after mostly cutting it out. Funny, the things that feel like victories. He’s seeing more of this, he said. He agreed that I should eliminate gluten for a while and see what happens. We touched on my upcoming appointment and exchanged holiday greetings. I boasted of my family’s low-key plans, showing off my less-stressed state.

In my next post, I’ll explain the specific 30-day challenge I’m doing. A number of its followers claim help with acid reflux as well as other conditions, and the book on which it’s based presents scientific reasoning behind the guts of it. But a testimonial is not a scientific investigation, a book not a peer-reviewed journal, and my own challenge not a controlled experiment given other strategies I’m pursuing simultaneously.

And so I will stop here for today, separating my story from the description of the challenge.

In the moment of a journey

photoStories of people’s journeys fascinate me. But even in the arc of a well-written story I find myself wanting more of the journey. It’s in the struggle of the moments, when the conclusion’s not yet known, that the journey happens.

And so for the next 30 days, my posts will land you in the middle of this moment in my journey. It will help me, sharing this sliver with you. And maybe there will be moments of strength or struggle that speak to you, too.

My older son is sewing for the first time. He just brought his pillow into the bedroom where a comforter wraps me writing this post. He finished his final ladder stitches in front of me so we could share the excitement. My younger son came in and snuggled next to me, watching the finishing touches. I smiled through the burning in my chest, “I love you, honey.”

I thought of my mom as I wrote this. She was my age when a grand mal seizure awoke her in the middle of the night to a brain tumor with which she would live, work, and parent for the next 14 years. And it feels selfish and overdramatic to write about a health issue that has weighed heavily more for the what-if’s and doctors’ future concern than because they are in my brain right now scraping a tumor. “Address it now” is a lucky message to get.

“You are the only mom those two kids have,” my mom would have said. “Take care of yourself, listen to the doctors, do your research, get to the bottom of it. Write, if that helps. Others might connect to it, too.”

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