Once upon a time, (well, just over a year ago) I moved to a far away land (2300 miles in the car with my cat) to go back to school (not the 1st time) to study nutrition (the original plan) and rekindle some of my earliest passions (nutrition) in an environment I have always loved (school). I am an avid learner, needed a change, and was ready to return to my profession as an Acupuncturist after a several year hiatus tending to other things including being of service to help my mom through a rough year of sciatic pain, and subsequent back surgery.
That is the 'fairy-tale' beginning to another story, intertwined with the present inspiration to create this blog. I can get to that later.
Just over a year ago I met Don in his nutrition class, (definitely part of the fairy tale!) I have always been interested in and had originally registered to study nutrition as an undergrad (in 1980). I veered away, often to my regret. The past several years prior to my move were challenging on many levels. I did have a lot of time for self-reflection and some home study courses. I made a conscious decision to really investigate what was not working for me in my life, and reign in the inner dialogue that was contributing to my lack of ease and flow.
I no longer wanted to live with regrets. I decided to revisit any of my original passions that still seemed relevant. That is how I ended up in Don's class. Something 'called' me to the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts (SWIHA) where he was teaching at the time. Don taught out of the box. Precisely what I had been looking for. I checked out many schools over the years, and knew I wanted current material, from a thought provoking perspective, not just the same info being shared on morning television shows. Don spent his life devoted to self-healing through food. He experienced many years as a vegetarian, vegan, and teaching Macrobiotic cooking and philosophy, followed by the last 10 years eating a more 'Paleo' diet. He has a blog, 'Primal Wisdom' at www.donmatesz.blogspot.com
His nutrition class stimulated interest for me to revisit eating a higher protein diet that I had only recently fell away from. During the time building up to my move, I was trying to eat more grains and legumes, whole grains, and soy foods. It seemed like my severe 'hypoglycemic' symptoms worsened.
I put hypoglycemic in quotes because I believe now that a lot of the symptoms I felt were not actually caused directly by low blood sugar. A study was conducted where people had their finger pricked to test blood sugar levels while experiencing low blood sugar symptoms. The blood test indicated that everything was normal, there was not any low blood sugar. I believe this could be true, and will explain more as I go.
For me, the symptoms were feeling very shaky if I waited too long to eat, needing to snack or eat frequently, irritability, inability to concentrate, fuzzy thinking, blurry vision, and often what felt like a mini seizure, which really alarmed me. I could feel a sensation of the glycogen reserves dripping from my brain, things would go dark, and I would have to brace myself on the ground, feeling otherwise like I would fall. My brain just would feel abnormal, unable to really think clearly or have good recall. Like I would just go numb. Eating more protein really helped.
During the class, Don mentioned that the need to eat frequent meals wasn't the answer to low blood sugar, rather it was more indicative of a problem. He teaches intermittent fasting, based on studies of how our ancestors would have lived and eaten. He also taught to eat more fat, and why some fats we deem bad are not really the culprit of problems as many believe. Over-eating refined grains and sugars, and in general eating wheat, along with many other grains that contain gluten, and other anti-nutrients were the real offenders in many diseases including diabetes, and obesity.
Initially, I felt worlds better. Soon, I could do well eating 2 meals, with a snack each day, going up to 6 hours sometimes between meals, and 'fasting' by not eating the first meal of the day until at least 12 hours after the last meal the previous day. That was working for me. I was happy to eat meat and fat. Most people are, as fat has a certain reward factor for many accustomed to eating fat on a regular basis. I liberally cooked with coconut oil, butter, and olive oil. I began to eat more and more red meat, feeling very primal and carnivorous. We were hosting paleo potluck gatherings, meeting wonderful people, enjoying great food and stimulating conversations. I was fast adapting to our new tribe, happily being initiated as a Cave Girl.
Always, however, I ate lots of greens and veggies. Not long into the class, Don and I began to share meals. (Just for drama, I guess we technically were not supposed to be dating since I was his student.) I found myself challenged to feed my new paleo companion. We tended to eat a fair amount of protein at each meal, and I went crazy with the whole-fat cream, using it to top fruit for dessert. If ever I was living in denial it was during my glorious days naiively consuming cream, somehow managing to not register how much my entire caloric consumption, especially from cream alone, had tipped my scales in the wrong, upwardly mobile direction.
Many in the Paleo community feel very strongly about carbs...a few allow potatoes in their diet, but otherwise consider eating carbs to be practically sacrilegious. I understand that there is reasoning behind eating low carb diets producing significant results with weight loss initially, however, I now know that is not a sustainable long term diet to follow.
For some time, I felt eating primarily protein and veggies, minimizing carbs, especially wheat-based and refined baked goods was helping maintain a leaner weight without needing the amount of exercise I once engaged in. I tried strategies many others have tried, 'food-combining', the blood type diet, the Body Ecology Diet, and even earlier on being mostly vegetarian, sometimes without dairy as well. I also had discovered Macrobiotics while living in Grass Valley, CA during the late 80’s, early 90’s and was fascinated with the correlation between foods and moods.
Don and I continued to share many meals together, tending more and more to eat red meat. We started with grass-fed meat and lots of wild salmon. Changes to our lives and income triggered a period of down-sizing economically and subsequently for about a month eating ‘paleo on a budget’ to blog about and show it was possible to eat our 'healthy' way on the daily allotment per meal for adults using food stamps. We posted our meals, and some recipes.
I think the more we were eating this way, the more we seemed to need to eat. We would include a little sweet potato, or possibly winter squash. We really craved fruit, or chocolate after meals as well, often adding cream, or whole fat coconut milk, nuts, and shredded coconut on top.
The signs were there, waving us down, trying to get our attention just like in the movie, “Bruce Almighty” where Jim Carey’s character is driving while mentally consumed with his problems, praying for a sign while passing many signs, blinking in neon warning of upcoming danger, one after another, not getting the message, and finally crashing. Our bodies send us signals all the time. We, myself included are often too dense to ‘get’ the message, looking from the lens of the analytical mental ego’s eyes, which, unfortunately is often limited. Worse, it tends to think, or want to believe it is right. And when I say dense, literally as will be explained, our sensory gets dulled from our foods causing our blood to get sticky which effects blood flow, diminishing circulation of oxygen and nutrients.
Despite the physical symptoms, I did not connect the dots as much of what I was experiencing consisted of conditions that were ongoing at various intervals throughout my life, made more noticeable with time. I was so pleased to be off of wheat and grains, and no longer experiencing the chronic low blood sugar types of symptoms, that the rest of the discomforts seemed minor. It’s like having a history of migraines which are incredibly debilitating, and finding relief, only to get stiffness or aches elsewhere. Those aches and pains will seem minor relative to the migraine symptoms.
Some of the signs were a growing acheyness in my joints, right hypochondrial pain that would really be flared up in the mornings, or while constipated, which I was also experiencing with increasing frequency. I had tension on my forehead that really exacerbated the furrows between my eyes. I am very sensitive to those deep furrows looking as if I am angry and would constantly try to do shiatsu massage around my eyes and forehead to release the tension. It was getting uncomfortable. I felt sluggish and fatigued, with a difficult time waking up unless I really slept well through the night. I woke up and wanted coffee. My skin was dry, and allergy symptoms flared up with a lot of scratchy dry roof of the mouth and eyes. Eventually I put on weight, had more PMS headache tension, and most recently noticed that my breasts had cystic lumps and were very tender.
As some of these symptoms were experienced in my past, I did not immediately attribute it to the diet, such as the ongoing bouts of constipation, and a history of allergies since early childhood. My cycle was irregular, which it never has been, and I had ‘power surges’ or hot-flashes and night sweats, which could easily be diagnosed by a practitioner as peri-menopause. I was also going through emotional swings, feeling very indecisive, frustrated, and sluggish, all worse with the constipation. (There is little that is more satisfying then consistent healthy elimination.)
I was very sensitive growing up, always feeling very emotional. I attributed my emotions to my own 'flawed' wiring, and something to ‘fix’ via counseling or other modalities unrelated to diet. I mention all of this because there is an explanation for all of it, including the emotional state, from the understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine. These are all signs which I now view as being too yang, or congested.
The breast tenderness, and cystic lumpiness was the wake up call. We had realized for some time my condition according to Chinese medicine patterns had a liver imbalance at the root. I have a history of liver distress, contracting hepatitis A from eating bad shrimp. while traveling through the Yucatan in 1991. Don began to piece together the health history I had shared with him, along with the symptoms he had been observing over the last year eating Paleo, and all of my previous and present ongoing symptoms finally came to a head. Eating higher protein and fat was making me worse.
In Oriental Medicine, everything is considered at its core to be a relative degree of yin and yang. They have what is called the theory of opposites. Neither exists without the other. Each contains even in a tiny degree, the other. If taken to extreme, one collapse into the other, and they appear as their opposite.Macrobiotics discusses this as well, even if their interpretations of what is yin and what is yang vary from the original definitions of Oriental medicine.Yin is feminine, cool, dark, descends, clears, and drains.
Yang is masculine, warm, bright, ascends, strengthens, and can congest. It is active, while yin is quiet and reflective. Foods can be measured along a continuum of extreme yin to extreme yang.
Consuming an excess of either will lead to an imbalance, and relative states of dis-ease. Most Westerners eat excessive amounts of what are considered very yang foods, such as meats, fats, dairy, salty foods, fried foods, etc. The accumulation can make you feel congested and sluggish. Hence, the need for the morning coffee, cravings for sugar, or alcohol, or fruit only in the morning after a heavy meal the night before. Those foods are on the opposite side of the pendulum, and can temporarily help to relieve the congestion. The body attempts self-correction.
I love good strong, dark roasted coffee, and dark chocolate, and had no desire to quit, however recent changes in my diet have changed my tastes. I actually am not craving these foods. I never went shopping at Trader Joe’s without buying a bar of chocolate, and enjoying the sample coffee! Recently, however, after a strong, bitter Americano, I immediately felt the tension in my forehead. Excess turns into its opposite. The bitter taste is drying, adding to a system that is already dry from poor circulation and blood flow.
Don has since been piecing together the information available in Oriental Medicine that is unfortunately not taught in depth in the schools. He began to realize that yin and yang theory is at the core of everything in our lives. This realization has awakened in us a renewed devotion to paths we both separately chose. He helped me make sense of a life time of symptoms and emotional swings that always nagged at me, as nothing I ever did effected the full relief I hoped for.
In many ways, despite my licenses and certifications, I felt incomplete, often without the passion I strived for my entire life. He helped me see that I had a compass all along, I just didn’t see the pearl in the oyster. I felt limited in what I felt acupuncture could help emotionally. I began to study other fields of holistic health wanting to work more with the emotional and spiritual components that cause people to feel stuck, as I had. Don has helped me return to my own roots, in helping people with food, acupuncture, and using the energy healing and hypnotherapy as added needed as a supplemental tool.
I will elaborate on the emotions, symptoms and their connections in subsequent blogs. I am a newbie to the blog world, often 'write' from the hip, and have no doubt extended my welcome in just this one blog post, and am working with very limited technology until I can upgrade. Bear with me. But, I will post pictures of meals we prepare, simple recipes, along with a dose of anecdotes and personal experiences of my own healing journey. It is multi-dimensional, as I understand now my emotional nature which I considered flawed and needing to fix was a result of not being on track with my diet, despite my greatest intentions. Most who have known me have always considered me to be health-conscious. But I can see how much I was often not as healthy as I believed, looked, or even lived.
For more details on nutrition, and Chinese food therapy, follow Don’s blog. He will also be posting his history of symptoms in an upcoming blog post on The Food Way