Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Begrudgingly Beginning GAPS

I finally got the results from my Enterolab allergy test and they were NOT GOOD. I was reactive with every single thing they tested me for (about 14 things) including beef, pork, chicken, tuna, rice, wheat, eggs, soy etc. etc.

After a few days of moping around and crying in the shower while imagining my own funeral after I wasted away and died from being allergic to food in general, intermixed with daydreams of me brutally attacking FDA and Big Agriculture reps for bringing this on (yes, I fully blame the money-grubbing food companies and their reckless wanton use of glutens and sugars) I finally decided to pick up the pieces and figure out what the heck to do with my life (and digestion).

Enter Dr. McBride and the GAPS diet.

I read the book, the long FAQ page, and even wrote to her myself before starting, but then, as I seem to do all things, I decided to dive right in head-first.  I wrote to her to ask, what kind of broths can I eat if I'm allergic to all the usual meats? I researched around and found a store in my area (God bless it-the only one) that sells a variety of wild game meats, so I started with some rabbit broth.  There is no fat on a rabbit, so my broth was thin and weak.  Then I overcooked it (thinking I could just leave it going in the crock pot until I had eaten it up. bad idea.) I'm not sure if it was the rabbit or something else, but the second day on that broth and I got a migraine and threw it back up. No more rabbit. Ever.

I should add that the very night before receiving my enterolab results, I had gone out with my boyfriend to a fancy celebratory meal, and ordered scallops with rice (and I think a cream sauce) followed up with a GIANT ice cream sundae which we shared. I also had the soup at the restaurant, which in retrospect I'm sure had gluten in it.

I was puking all night. Celebratory night: ruined. The next day I got my Enterolab results and so now THIS is my memory of my last meal. Me sobbing and vomiting over the toilet in the bathroom with my poor (angel of a) boyfriend handing me cool washcloths. Gross.

So I'm on the broth. I will keep a journal of how this goes. I have very high high hopes. The reply I got from Dr. McBride (yes, she replied! Quickly!) was not to worry about the enterolab results and just focus on healing and sealing my gut.  So this means I can try regular meat broth? Hooray! It will certainly be more fatty too. Yum. Good and good FOR you. 

My first both was a lamb broth, made with lamb oxtail looking bones.  Deliciously fatty and rich. I ate it until I was sick of it.  Now I know there are a bunch of recipes out there for all kinds of designer soups and things you can eat on the GAPS into diet, and they all sound wonderful, but I work full-time and I just needed healing, nothing fancy. As easy as humanly possible. I couldn't have done this without my crock pot. I can throw some meaty bones in there, with filtered water (just using a Brita filter on the tap), a little salt, and some fresh seasonings from the farmers market (I've tried, Thyme, Parsley for it's anti-inflammatory effects, Sage, Mint) and hit go. Slow cook for 10-12 hours. I get home from work and I can sip broth all evening, then have some warm tea with honey right before bed. It's not fancy, but it's WORKING. I also bought a wide mouth thermos so I can pour the hot broth in there in the morning and take it to work and sip all day, which avoids the conundrum I found myself in at some point wondering how I'm supposed to have broth for every meal and avoid warming it in the microwave). The thermos is a lifesaver.  This is so easy in fact, that I can see continuing the nothing but broth routine at least for breakfast and lunch for a long, long time.

I also had to do the probiotics, but was terrified of dairy after the vomit-fest of my last meal/ice cream sundae. I researched probiotics, and since I couldn't afford the "bio-kults" I ended up buying "primal defense" and it seems to be doing okay.  I perused around the internet trying to figure out how to ferment my own vegetables, and it looks complicated. I plan to get around to figuring out how to do that (I took one stab at it and it was a complete fail-- it smelled too scary to put into my poor wounded tummy) so I've been using Bubbie's Saurkraut and Pickle juice.

The first week I had terrible die-off. I thought I had the flu. I was exhausted constantly. I haven't been that tired since before I went primal. I had migraines that wouldn't quit, and red irritated eyes. I think I was eating too much of the fermented veggie juice because it was the only taste alternative to broth. I don't know if it ended because I cut down on the juice a little or because I finally made some headway in my gut, but it only lasted about a week. One miserable week.

So I did stage one for a week, then started stage two. I added the ghee. So far so good. I added the raw egg yolks to the broth, carefully carefully carefully separating out the egg white which Enterolab had warned me I would have a reaction too. And two days ago I started with the veggies boiled in the broth and YUM.  The nice thing about this slow route to food again is that each added food seems GLORIOUS. Boiled broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts- Hallelujah!! So stage two lasted about a week and then I was chomping at the bit for stage three.

Which I started today. I have discovered that the best broth on the planet is duck broth. Super fatty, I add a lot of natural mineral-filled sea salt, and with an egg yolk in it, I swear it could be chinese egg drop soup. This morning, I had a whole scrambled egg, egg whites included, scrambled in heaping spoonfuls of ghee. I oversalted it, but other than that, it was pretty darn good. We'll see how it goes.

I have avocados standing by in the fridge to try as well, and am pretty darn excited about that too. I feel like I moved pretty quickly through stages one and two, but I've been pretty diligent, and I"ve been praying my fool head off, so I'm jut considering it a blessing. I will have no problem once I get to the full GAPS diet, because it pretty much looks like the primal diet that I was already enjoying.

On to Stage Three!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Problem-solving: Primal eating easy and cheap (ish)

I like good food, and I don't really like slaving away in the kitchen. Which is why going out to restaurants is such a hard habit to break for me. However, now that I'm trying to eat more primally, and in a way that makes me feel energetic and healthy (not to mention headache free) I'm forced to eat at home pretty much always. I'm still on the lookout for answers to the "how to eat out" question and once I have it figured out, I will blog it. I'm also on a pretty tight budget. Fortunately, it's usually just me, and I can use some portion control to keep my costs down (otherwise I could eat a pig in one sitting.)  When my boyfriend is over, he can eat up all my groceries in a matter of a few hours. Since he is NOT at all primal, despite my urgent requests, he often supplements the good food I will feed him with pizza rolls and PBJ sandwiches. I hate what I believe it is doing to his health, but it does stretch my grocery budget!

For now, the way I've tackled eating/cooking at home in a few different ways. In my area there is an organic delivery service that can't be beat. A lot of farms have something similar. I get the local farm box. My company is out of Livonia, MI and is called door to door organics. If you live in this area, I highly recommend them. It's just a little over $20 per week to have fresher than fresh local organic produce delivered to my door. Sometimes I get so much produce I have to skip a week (you can always put your delivery on hold), and I've never had a complaint about anything they sent. I ordered the local box because I've been watching too many post-apocalyptic shows, and figured it would be a good idea to identify and know how to prepare the kinds of foods that grow around me locally. Since I'm in Michigan, right now that means a lot of squashes. Eventually I plan to start my own garden, another reason I figured it would be a good idea to get to know my local vegetables.

Since primal eating is all about eating meat, even though vegetables are the main portion of what I eat due to budget, I also get some organic hormone-free, antibiotic-free meats at Whole Foods or Trader Joes.

Last but not least, because I LOVE how fresh veggies look spread out on tables, I usually stop by my local farmer's market on the weekend and pick up a few extra things.  My goal is to do all this, the organic delivery box, the farmers market, and the Whole Foods meats, for $50 per week. Not easy, considering on my most recent trip to Whole Foods, I paid $17 for a 4 lb organic frying chicken. $17!!! Someone around me recently commented how crazy it seems that we pay MORE for organic food or unprocessed food, when 100 years ago (or less) this was how every food item in the US was grown and prepared. I will save my rant about "Big Agriculture" and how we have allowed it to poison our food supply for another day though, today I'm talking about how to solve some initial "going primal" dilemmas.

I could see right away that first of all, to get me over the sweets craving hump, I needed SOMETHING. Something to look forward to that seemed like a treat, but wasn't the end of the world for my body if I indulged (or overindulged.)  My answer to this was tea with honey. If my Enterolab comes back saying my body is cool with dairy, I will add cream to that treat in a matter of seconds! I bought a jar of Raw Wildflower Honey from Whole Foods (about $4) after reading up on the best kind of honey to use, and honey vs agave, and honey vs regular old sugar, etc. Mark's Daily Apple actually had a really good article that convinced me that if I'm going to use honey, Raw Wildflower Honey is one of the best options. So I have some different herbal teas, chamomile, sleepytime, peppermint (I have some fancy-schmancy Teavana loose-leaf teas but I actually prefer the Celestial Seasonings) and a spoonful of Raw Honey, stir slowly, and yum. We have a yummy treat. I like this with breakfast, and also as an evening snack, if I'm watching TV or just relaxing with my boyfriend and talking (and I actually got him drinking tea too!)

The next step was to figure out an afternoon snack that worked for me to replace my old standbye, the candybar. I had tried a few things. First, I started with an apple and peanut butter, delicious. Although I haven't been primal enough to be able to choke down the unsweetened PB, and my JIF wasn't looking like a great alternative sadly. My next answer was veggies and hummus, which is good (although I read somewhere that hummus isn't primal and I have no idea why, the kind I eat is literally chickpeas, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice- which SEEMS primal) The problem is that that is an afternoon snack that still takes too much preparation for me (I am pretty lazy apparently). Most of the Paleo/Primal community seemed to be recommending nuts for this snack category. I, however, am not sure I can eat nuts.Whenever I do, I seem to get a little hivey/itchy and sometimes it seems they can bring on a migraine, but it's been difficult to assess whether that is actually from nuts or some other mysterious element.  I know nuts were listed as a migraine trigger in one of my lists along the way. I think it's because they have a high tyramine level which can be a trigger, if I am remembering correctly.  Then I read somewhere that when women are craving chocolate or ice cream (my big cravings) they are actually craving FATS. Interesting. I researched the health benefits of olives (lots), and headed on over to the Whole Foods olive bar. Olives for my afternoon snack- easy and delicious. Although, I'm a little worried about their potential to give me a migraine, right now I'm operating under the assumption that if I follow primal eating, I will lose the migraines without having to rule out everything on those old trigger lists. Fingers crossed.

For a quick breakfast, I found a little miracle at Whole Foods (and also at Kroger) in pre-packaged cage-free hormone-free hardboiled eggs that are already peeled in a sealed bag. Their are six in each bag, which means I can have two eggs for breakfast in less than five minutes time. No prep at all. I believe the bags were just under $4, and I bought two for the week. I'm going to explore the idea of boiling and pre-peeling my own eggs to save on some money too.  So eggs with a cup of tea and honey for breakfast- perfecto. If I have any veggie leftovers, I'll try to eat those too. The other day I had half a roasted acorn squash with my eggs and it was delicious. 

I know some people think when you are starting a Primal diet that it is best to severely restrict your carbs altogether (i.e. no veggies, no honey) but I'm looking at it as a lifestyle change, and if I don't have a few little yummy treats I will never stick to it. I also like baked fruit, though not big on raw fruit, other than apples.

Now, in order to keep my eating code and to keep costs down, I will have to be bringing lunch to work every day. I HATE packing lunch. I used to just throw a can of soup and a can opener into my work bag for lunch. So cutting out all processed foods, let me in a quandary. Last week I managed to mix up some Tuna with some safflower oil mayo, dried cranberries, and chopped celery (it's what I had around the house) and split it into two little tupperware lunch packs. I can't eat tuna all the time though, plus isn't there some issue with the mercury? What to do?

It's going to take a little more pre-planning but what I've set out to do is make a big batch of soup or stew on Sunday (which is house cleaning day for me anyway), and divide and freeze for the week.  Soup seems to fill me up better than other things, and I love having something warm at lunchtime. It feels more like comfort food than a salad does to me.

So this is week #1

In my organic grocery local food box this week, I got a Friday delivery of acorn squash, baby white turnips, carrots, delicata squash, green pepper, kale, sweet potatoes and green beans ($23). I then went to Whole Foods and bought a 4 lb frying chicken, 2 lbs of beef stew meat, and 1 lb of side pork (FYI: I had read that side pork is just bacon before it's cured. You can salt it and cook it like bacon.)

It's Sunday night and I will be making a chicken, acorn squash, and kale soup (recipe below). When the soup runs out mid-week I plan to make a beef stew with the beef chunks, carrots, sweet potatoes and some fresh thyme I have left over from last weeks run to the farmers market.

For a snack/lunch when I got home from the store, I baked some of the side pork (I bake all my bacon) 20-30 minutes in a 400 degree oven, and baked two turnips 40 minutes in the same 400 degree oven. The side pork is out of the world good! I just put it in a foil covered cookie sheet, salted and peppered it, and baked. The turnips, I just cut the greens off (will do something with those later this week) and washed and baked.  They turned out lovely. I ate them skins and all. No peeling or chopping necessary.

This week's lunch: "Colorful Chicken and Squash Soup" (taken from Taste of Home magazine in March 2007.)

1 fryer chicken (4 lbs)
Water to cover about two inches above the chicken
5 lbs of peeled and cubes butternut squash (I'm using acorn squash since it's what I have)
Just over a pound of fresh kale, chopped
6 medium carrots, chopped
2 large onions chopped (I'm only using one and saving my second onion for the stew later this week)
3 tsp of salt (I use sea salt, but any old salt would work, sea salt has more vital nutrients)

1) Place chicken and water in a soup kettle and bring to a boil. Then cover and simmer for an hour.
2) Remove chicken and set aside to cool (I tear it up with my bare hands, so I want it VERY cool!) I use a big bowl for this because it makes it easier to start tearing up later.
3) Some people will skim off the fat and strain the broth. I skip this step. I like the fat in my soup, tastes good, and makes it more filling I think. I do however usually take a few cups of broth out at this point and freeze it to use later in other recipes. I put it in a Nalgene bottle in the freezer.
4) Add your other ingredients (squash, carrot, kale, and onion) to the broth and bring to boil again. Once it boils, reduce to simmer for 30 minutes or until veggies are fork-tender.
5) Rip up the chicken. I kind of like doing this, it's weirdly satisfying to me somehow. Clean your hands well, and get ready to get them dirty again with chicken parts.  I use three bowls. I put the whole chicken in the first one, then I have a meat bowl and a "garbage" bowl.  Then I just rip it up, going slowly, and putting all skin and bones, and anything that looks icky into my garbage bowl, and all the meat parts that I will eat later into the meat bowl. The breasts usually come off in a big white chunk, which is nice (though I prefer dark meat!) and sometimes I'll freeze the breasts to eat in a separate meal and just use up all the small meaty bits in the soup.

One last thing about the squash. This was the first recipe I ever used it in, and it couldn't have been more foreign to me. If you use butternut squash like the recipe calls for, you just cut it in half the long way, scoop out the pulpy innards and cube it. The recipe says to peel it first, and you could do that with a potato peeler, but the skin has a lot of fiber and nutrients in it, and I didn't bother with it and my soup turned out fine (any time I can simplify things I will!)  Since I will be using acorn squash, I'm on the fence about the peel this time. I eat my acorn squash peel when I roast it, and again, it's very good for you to eat it, but I am not sure how it will hold up in the soup. I'll let you know what I decide.

This recipe says it yields about 14 servings, but I would say I usually get 5-6 meals out of it (I will probably eat about two bowls at each sitting, or pack one super big bowl for lunch) This should last me for five lunches this week though, unless I end up eating some for dinner since it will be already made and I can get a little lazy like that!

It All Began With the Migraines...

To anyone who suffers from migraines, this will, sadly, be a familiar story. I have been plagued by migraines since I was a child-- migraines of the worst kind-- the aura-dizzy, vomit your guts out, many times end up in the ER, and surrender half your life to a dark room isolated from your loved ones kind. For over twenty years I thought I had no choice but to be resigned to this rotten-luck "disease". Oh, I tried a lot of things. I tried tons of medication. Tons. I tried going of all medications and looking for natural alternative cures, downing cups of weird recommended concoctions, combinations of feverfew, honey, apple cider vinegar, parsley--you name it, I tried to ingest it, in a desperate attempt to make my head pain-free. I stopped drinking all caffeine, despite how I cherish coffee. I went to teeccino as a replacement, tasted great, but migraine city.  I read "The Migraine Diet" and compiled a list of possible triggers that ruled out so many foods that I was finding it hard to find something I actually COULD eat.

My family always considered me "sickly". I remember my dad telling an ex of mine that he had to take good care of me because I was "sickly". And it was true, EVERYTHING gave me a migraine. Waiting too long to eat, eating the "wrong" foods, not eating enough food, the weather, hormonal changes, stress, exercise or exertion, not enough water, too much water, and then the good ole no detectable reason just for fun kind. My poor friends and family endured not only my "down" periods when actually in the thralls of one, but also my hypersensitivity about all the things that "could" give me one. They have learned more than any non-migraine sufferer ever wants to know.  Doctors didn't seem to have any answers either, I went to specialists, neurologists, special neurologists that specialized in migraines-- they had very few answers. One along the way, suggested 400 mg per day of Magnesium Glycinate, and 100 mg per day of CoQ10- and lo and behold, this DID actually cut my migraines by about 15%, no small miracle. I went from having a daily chronic headache--where even on a "good" day I felt it lingering back there ready to step into the limelight at any time-- to having a few ACTUAL good days a week. But mostly doctors prescribed medications, many times medications with a side effect of headaches. I was on topamax for a few years and sure, less migraines (not migraine free by any means) but an increased number of what I can only assume were dehydration headaches.

Along the way, I had other weird symptoms that I wasn't sure was related to the pain in my head, but definitely didn't seem "right" and were also baffling to doctors. I would get intensely itchy ankle hives. They would only come out in the evenings, and no anti-itch cream would get rid of them. I couldn't sleep, I would get up standing in the tub with freezing water cascading around my feet. The stress of it would give me a migraine, I'd be standing in the tub with ice water running around my feet and a hot water bottle on my head and crying, sometimes screaming SOMETHING HAS GOT TO GIVE! NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO LIVE LIKE THIS!  Sometimes I would get weird itchy tiny hives that would randomly occur in various spots on my body too-- they would itch like mad and with no discernible cause and no real relief. Last but not least, I suddenly developed a weird tongue condition that doctors couldn't explain. I got second, third, fourteenth opinions-- again, bring on the specialist, ear nose throat guys, dermatologists, dentists, allergists. Most of them said "geographic tongue", and said it's just something people get sometimes, no one knows why, but it's harmless. It was NOT harmless for me. First of all, suddenly it eliminated a whole new category of foods: anything acidic, lemons, vinegar, oranges, orange juice. My already restricted diet (restricted from foods that supposedly triggered migraines) became even more restricted so as not to upset my apparently delicate tongue. If you don't get migraines, or hives, I probably sound a little over-dramatic-- and I may be-- granted it wasn't actual torture, no one was pulling out my fingernails, but it was the closest thing to torture I can imagine. Chronic daily pain in your head, fire burning my feet alive, and now painful ever-shifting spots on my tongue.  The tongue thing was also embarassing I might add, for a girl in her early thirties trying to have something resembling a dating life in between chronic migraines.

People started to think I was a hypochondriac, a boyfriend started joking that I "probably wasn't feeling well because earlier I had looked at something yellow". It was frustrating to those around me, and frustrating on several levels for me. I hated being "a picky eater", something I had NEVER been (I was the child that took a stool in front of the oven once just to watch lasagna bake, there are few things I love more in life than food.) I hated having to pick through what I could and couldn't eat, and STILL ENDING UP WITH A FREAKING HEADACHE, OR RASH, OR SPOTS ON MY TONGUE! It just didn't seem fair. I was diligently searching for answers, and every "cure" seemed to lead to a new problem. What the hell was wrong with me??

I did pick up some information along the way, bits and pieces that didn't quite make sense. For instance, my go to food when I felt a headache coming on was chicken and potatoes. As plain as possible, just a plain chicken breast, no seasoning, browned in a pan with a little olive oil, and a cut up potato cooked the same way. Eating this and retiring to my room for a four hour nap seemed to do the trick. Also, a long hot shower. Some people swear by ice on their head, but for me it was the heat that helped. I began to realize that foods that reduced inflammation (like parsley) seemed to help a lot. One doctor said it appeared to be dermatographic urticaria (hives brought on by pressure on the skin or an allergic reaction) and prescribed me a daily antihistamine (Xyzal) and that almost entirely eliminated the ankle hives and body rashes. That doctor said it could very well be hay fever causing the rashes. I seemed to have an answer to at least one of my problems, and the Xyzal really helped. When I ended up in the hospital they would give me the same combo every time, a painkiller, and a mega-dose of Benadryl.  I remember one ER doctor saying the combo seemed to work on most migraine sufferer's and they didn't really know why.  The wheels in my head were turning, how could this not be an allergy of some kind? Benadryl was for allergies, antihistamines like Xyzal were for allergies, hives was usually a reaction to having indulged in an allergenic food for other people, was it a food allergy? I went to the allergist and got the whole kit and caboodle back scratch fever. Negative. No allergies found. It even ruled out hay fever. I was back at square one.

I continued taking the daily antihistamine anyway, it was helping even if no one had any idea why. When a migraine started coming on, I learned to take my migraine meds along with benadryl capsules to head off that migraine-so-bad-I-ended-up-in-the ER, and that was working. I ate more anti-inflammatory foods, like tabbouleh (copious amounts of parsley), garlic, broccoli.  I started researching, to answer my primary question which was-- why did I have such overactive histamine? Is there anything I could do about it that didn't require taking loads of medication? Common sense told me that there had to be an underlying cause, one that made sense, one that would lead to a cure that was natural and organic and didn't involve being dependent on medications all my life. So I kept researching.

I have always been pretty slim (not being able to eat anything without fear of debilitating head pain will do that to you), but around the same time that my tongue broke out in spots, I also started putting on the pounds. I gained about twenty pounds, and all around my stomach. I felt bloated and just generally ill. I was having such trouble staying awake during the day that the doctors began to worry it was my thyroid. Which made sense because I was also losing a LOT of hair in the shower. Part of my job involves driving during the day, and sometimes in the afternoon, I was so tired I could fall asleep at red lights. I would often have to pull over to catch a quick fifteen minute nap because my eyes were rolling back in my head while driving.  Which hardly even helped. I came up, threw on sweat pants and melted into the couch after work every day. My ex thought I was depressed. I thought so too. I was also having pretty chronic digestive problems, I will try not to get too grossly descriptive, but food seemed to be running right through me. The doctors did all the blood tests, and once again, nothing was wrong with me. No thyroid problems. I have never felt SO frustrated to have positive test results. When you hear that nothing is wrong with you, it should be good news, but I knew something was wrong, this could NOT be normal.

Due to the increasing weight gain I started looking into diets. Which didn't make a whole lot of sense considering I wasn't really eating all that much to begin with, and usually healthy food. I would have a granola bar and some greek yogurt for breakfast, maybe a vegetable heavy whole-grain pasta for lunch, and usually a hearty dinner that consisted of a protein, a vegetable, and a starch. My biggest vice was popping chocolates during my tired phase in the afternoon. I swear to you, I tried to cut back on those, but it was an overwhelming craving--willpower didn't stand a chance next to that. It was also the only thing that kept me from passing out into my desk. Little cubes of chocolate from 3-5pm were keeping me alive. Admittedly, I was never one to say no to dessert at night either, cakes, cookies, ice cream. I had never really had a sweet tooth before, always craving salty things over sweet, but around this time, the time of the tongue spots and the weight gain, I began having uncontrollable sweets cravings. Just what you need when you already feel heavy and bloated, but, I reasoned, I was depressed, and my constant fatigue made my job really hard-- I deserved a treat.

I stumbled onto an answer by accident, and only thanks to my own vanity. The weight gain had me looking at food from a different perspective than I had before. No longer was I just concerned with what CAN I eat, but also what are the things I'm eating actually doing to my body? Somewhere in all my reading and researching I stumbled onto the idea of the glycemic index and the problem with insulin and weight gain.  I watched Food, Inc. one evening, and it spurred on a whole NEW round of research. How healthy was even my "healthy" food? I cut WAY back on meat, and started to look for protein alternatives like hemp protein.

A friend gave me the book "The Blood Type Diet". I am an O, so Dr. David recommended I stay away from grains and dairy. I didn't know how much I bought it, but tried it waveringly. I definitely didn't have 100% commitment, I still never said no to cake (which, in my office, was offered at least once a week) and I was still eating out pretty regularly, occasions to which I would just throw caution to the wind, I mean, no one wants to be that picky orderer hassling the waitstaff about what ingredients are in everything. I was shocked to find that cutting the wheat down in my diet changed my health dramatically. DRAMATICALLY. I cut the wheat out, and replaced it with rice and gluten-free rice products, and several miraculous things happened. First, IT CUT MY MIGRAINES DOWN BY ABOUT 60%, that was nothing short of a miracle. Also, my tongue cleared up! Sometimes I would catch myself staring at my healthy pink tongue in the mirror in some weird kind of wonder. It had been ages since I'd had a tongue like that. I was still getting the occasional bout of hives, and the occasional migraine, but suddenly my life was tolerable.  Also, much to my vain pleasure, my hair loss stopped, my hair started feeling moderate-to-thick again! Oh, AND I dropped a significant amount of weight (too much in fact.) I had energy for the first time in ages! I felt like a new person, one that could make plans socially without having to back out at the last minute due to headaches, or because I couldn't drag my bloated, fatigued butt off the couch. I still had the occasional migraine for unexplainable causes, at times I was convinced it was from eating eggs, or from eating bacon, or from eating nuts ( a previous no-no as they were on the aforementioned "migraine trigger" list, but from time to time I thought I'd give them another go)

I stumbled onto Dr. William Davis's "Wheat Belly" and tried to push it on anyone and everyone I knew. I decided to get more vigilant about my wheat-free lifestyle. My toddler niece was diagnosed with celiac disease, and it started the wheels in my brain turning. I asked my doctor about getting tested for celiac, he said there was no conclusive way to test for it. He could do an intestinal biopsy to see if I had damaged intestines from celiac, but many times people don't even have damage so it really wouldn't be a conclusive test. He said the best test was to stop eating gluten and see how I felt. He also said that I wasn't likely to have it if I was already in my thirties and had been eating gluten all my life. People with celiac disease have intestinal bloating issues that are unmistakable, he said. You couldn't get this far in life without knowing you have it, if you truly have it.

That made sense. My toddler niece couldn't have a smidge of gluten without suffering enormous amounts of pain. I didn't seem to have THAT kind of reaction. I called my neurologist to ask him if my migraines could be related to Celiac. Doubtful, he said. He had not seen any information that linked the two disorders.

I started researching gluten sensitivity and was astonished by what I found. People with Celiac and/or gluten sensitivity DO often have migraines, and hair loss, and digestive issues, and hives, and even sometimes hives on the tongue. I found an article specifically linking Celiac with geographic tongue. I was ready to consider myself gluten sensitive. But, I reasoned, it isn't like it's Celiac disease, and that, I decided, means I can still have a little gluten every once in a while, right? I can still eat out like a normal human being, and I can still enjoy the occasional piece of cake.

I tried a stricter wheat-free and gluten-free diet for a few weeks. Then I had a pizza with my carb-loving boyfriend, and had the WORST gas-type pain of my life in my gut. I had never experienced anything like it. That was enough to cure me of my desire to cheat with a little wheat!

I was still indulging in gluten free products though, the occasional gluten-free cupcake or pie, gluten-free hot dog buns, bread, breaded chicken nuggets. I went on a week long binge with a loaf of gluten-free bread, crusty french bread baked in the oven with fresh jam... I went a little nuts with it.  Then I had a hives attack on my ankles like I hadn't experienced in years. Benadryl was not getting rid of those suckers. Great. Was I allergic to something in the gluten free food now too? Come ON! Give me a break! I also packed on those same twenty pounds again. Everything I read told me this was normal, that my intestines were "healing" and food wasn't just running through me anymore, so a little weight gain was normal. I didn't like it, but I was feeling pretty healthy, other than the hives, and cupcake cravings, and didn't think I had any choice in the matter. I couldn't cut out all gluten-free food too, there would be nothing left to eat!  Right?...

I stumbled onto a Paleo/Primal eating website, Mark's Daily Apple, about this time too. He explained how all of these things tied together: insulin and weight gain, blood sugar and food cravings, that our bodies respond to wheat products the same way they respond to sugar products. It was like pieces of the puzzle falling into place, why not eating (sugar crash) led to migraines and fatigue for me, but also why eating (wheat and sugar) was giving me headaches too. Suddenly there was a comprehensible PATTERN to my various weird assorted illnesses. I started following this theology and very quickly, like within days, my ankle hives went away. 

I've been "Primal" for about three weeks now, as consistently as possible. I've been migraine FREE, lost seven pounds, had great digestion, and enough energy that I actually look forward to a little bit of exercise (I have never been an exerciser, so looking forward to a little bit is a pretty huge step for me.) The other day, at 3:30pm in the afternoon, I walked by a co-workers office and she had just put out a bowl of chocolates. I came close, but the craving was weaker, and I was able to go back to my desk and eat some olives, and the craving passed altogether.

Eating out is trickier than ever. I went out with my boyfriend and his mom, and we shared a gluten-free pizza. I was hoping to get away with a little cheat, in an attempt to get along and go along without making much more of a fuss than I had too (I had already put a cramp into the plans because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to eat anything all at "Noodles"). I had hives on my ankles before I even made it home that night.  Then, just a few days ago, I met my brother and his wife for dinner. I got a salad with the restaurants "home made" greek dressing. I didn't ask what was in the dressing, again hoping that if it were anything bad, it would be in such a small amount that my body wouldn't notice. Migraine the next day. Milder than those in the past, but strong enough that I had to pop some migraine meds and a Benadryl. Son of a gun.

On the Marks Daily Apple website, some regulars had posted comments about "Enterolab". A lab ran by a reputable physician, who were able to tell by a stool sample whether you were having a negative intestinal reaction to a whole host of food items: gluten, eggs, chicken, beef, tuna, nuts, rice, oats, and a bunch of others. It was pretty expensive, around $500 for the whole gamut of testing, or half that for half the testing. I checked with my doctor, was this real? was it a scam? It was very real, he said, in fact he recommended it. But, by the way, insurance probably will not cover it. I could have the results sent to him so we could discuss it together. I put the idea on hold, until I realized that I was wasting money every time I bought some food item that I thought I could eat and then suspected I had a weird reaction to it. It was time to KNOW once and for all, what can I eat and what I can't. I didn't want to spend the mental energy sorting this out anymore. I will be 35 in a month and it is time to have some answers. I ordered the test.

Last night I went to a wedding and the only entree option was a breaded chicken breast. I had to pass it along to my boyfriend in exchange for a double helping of his and my green beans. I had to pass on the salad too, as it was covered in some kind of dressing that looked suspicious to me. Two glasses of wine and a bunch of green beens, recipe for disaster (Did I mention this was the first time my boyfriend was meeting my parents?) I couldn't wait to get home so I could eat "safe" food.

So that is where I'm at, awaiting the Enterolab results for my list of can and can-nots, and trying to eat primally while I await them.

I decided to start this blog, chronicling my journey for one important reason. I know I'm not only one with this weird variety of symptoms who is desperately searching for any information that can help take them away and give them their life back. In my years of searching for an answer, I saw so many comments or postings at various sites on the internet saying "I just developed geographic tongue and doctors don't have any answers. Please help!" or "This is the third week I've been unable to sleep due to itchy hives on my ankles and no one has any answers-- any help out there??"  I'm not a doctor (though apparently being one doesn't guarantee you will have any of these answers either) and I'm still in the process of figuring it all out, but I promise to continue to journal-blog any health information I glean and hopefully together we can find some answers.