lymeoutlyndsey

My journey through Lyme Disease- Healing my body and mind.

The Truth About Diet

Guess what?! If you have chronic illness like Lyme, there is absolutely no need to follow a restricted diet.

SIKE! For any readers not familiar with that lovely term from the 90’s, “sike” means JUST KIDDING! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to not have to regulate the food we eat at all? Eat as much cheese, french fries, and ice cream as we could handle and not pay a price? Alas, that is just not the way the world works. The Universe is sometimes a very trying place where the things that we crave are actually not healthy for our bodies at all. WHHHYYYYY??!!! *crying and waiving fists at the sky*

Well, I’ll never figure out the nature of the Universe, but I certainly HAVE figured out (over and over and over again) that I must follow a restricted diet to thrive with infection. I am certain that is the case for many chronic illness sufferers and although sometimes I know you just want to say FORGET IT, you must dedicate yourself to the cause of recovery. Taking pills is not enough. Your food must also be medicine.

As clever as you are, you may have guessed that this blog post has been inspired by a week of me saying FORGET IT. It was wonderful throwing all of my diet restrictions out the door (okay, well not ALL of them; I remained gluten-free) and digging in on some gluten-free pumpkin pie, buttery gluten-free chex mix, greasy bubbly potatoes au gratin, pork, pork, and more pork. My taste buds and dopamine centers in my brain threw a serious party. But the rest of my body revolted. The price I paid for my taste bud party is as follows: brain fog; fatigue, joint pain; feeling of suffocating- can’t get enough oxygen, easily winded; sore, cramping, tired, slow-firing, and oxygen-deprived muscles; a feeling like my blood is literally thicker; poor circulation; and formation of sore, burning, stinging, what looks like blood blisters on  my toes.

Over the past two years, I have tested my “theory” that diet restrictions make a big difference in my recovery, by eating poorly and then paying the price. Sure, there are times when my body is doing pretty well and I can tolerate more falling off of the wagon; but I will always feel better if I follow a restricted diet. After reading the symptom list above that is worsened by poor food choices, it seems that eliminating problem foods would be simple.

Why is it so hard for us to restrict our diets?

There are lots of reasons why diet restriction is difficult. Here are 3 important ones:

  • Addiction: This is the biggest one. We have become literally addicted to certain foods, especially high carbohydrate (high sugar) foods. According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on June 26, 2013, the parts of the brain that regulate food cravings are the same parts of the brain responsible for substance abuse. We all know how difficult it is for folks with substance abuse problems to break bad habits. When you are struggling to maintain your diet, have some mercy with yourself, but also use your spirit to overcome your insistent brain. This is what I struggle with the most. There are days where I crave ONLY things that cause my symptoms to flare. It is a constant struggle, but I am not giving up.
  • Isolation: Following a restricted diet can lead to feelings of isolation. You may feel like a weirdo. You can no longer go have drinks with friends or go to whatever restaurant you chose. Even at home with family; you will have to eat different foods than everyone else. Just remember that although they may sometimes tease you about your diet or try to persuade you to eat a burrito “just this once”; the reality is, your friends and family want you to be well. So, be strong in your convictions and find other ways to spend time together. Have tea at happy hour. If you are confident in your decisions, everyone else will be also.
  • Convenience: Healthy food is not always convenient. Burgers and fries are convenient. Eating what everyone else is eating is convenient. Making your own food and planning ahead for vacations is not convenient. This is true. But, let’s ask ourselves, how many truly wonderful things in life are quick and convenient? It’s going to take some effort. We can do this!

Well, what SHOULD I eat?

There is no one perfect diet for everyone. To really learn what works for your particular body and your particular illness, you must do some trial-and-error. You can start with an elimination diet and eliminate all things that you suspect give you trouble for a minimum of two weeks. Then, slowly add those things back and take note of what changes in your body.

To really learn what YOU should and shouldn’t eat, you must first learn how to really connect with and listen to your body. Sometimes my body gives me small cues about food, like a slight increase in muscle pain or sinus congestion. Other times, the cues are loud and clear in the form of swollen blistered feet. If needed, utilize a food journal and make note of what you eat and the symptoms that follow.

Where should I start?

If you are just now starting to explore a restricted diet, keep in mind that starting slow will be your best approach. Quitting foods that you are likely addicted to cold-turkey doesn’t work for many. Slowly eliminate different foods over the course of weeks to months.

Spend some time researching different diets that sound like they may work for your body. Personally, I do best with eating mostly vegetables and lean meat or fish. No dairy, no sugar, no alcohol, no gluten, no soy, and very limited grains (quinoa, rice, and sprouted mung beans only). I also do best with a low-fat diet. The reason for this is not clear, but based on the research of Dr. Stephen Fry on Protomyxzoa Rheumatica, it is likely because this infection grows 100x faster in the presence of fat. Since I am active, I do need some fat, but it’s a fine balance.

Can I not WILL my body to accept food?

I have no doubt that our mental state can affect the physical state of our bodies. It’s true that if you completely flip out over the fact that you accidentally just ingested a small morsel of gluten, you will definitely phsyically suffer. If you, however, calmly accept that you ate something you shouldn’t have, but that it’s okay; you will likely not suffer consequences as severe. The connection between the mind and body is real. I think changing your attitude about food can change your bodies tolerance of some foods. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean that I can decide to tell my body that it’s okay that I am eating a pound of fried mozerella sticks with no harm done. There is a balance that you must strike. Sorry. It’s true.

Is it okay to cheat?

The amount that you can stray from your diet is dependent upon you. Are you someone who falls hard off the wagon and stays off for a while? Or can you put one foot off for a moment and then get right back on? I tend to fall off for brief periods, but when I fall, I fall HARD and may find myself eating an entire bag of potato chips without blinking. I am learning about myself and how I can set myself up to succeed more often.

Sometimes, I will have a month where my inflammation is minimal and I can indulge in some gluten-free treats now and then. Other times, I must be very strict and cling tight to that wagon. Learn your own habits and the severity of your own symptoms. Only you will know what is “worth-it” or not. Be honest with yourself.

Use Friends for encouragement

Just like overcoming substance abuse, overcoming food addictions can be difficult. If possible, find a friend that wants to dedicate themselves to a better diet and support each other. Celebrate your success together!

I, for one, will be on the painful road of withdrawal over the next month as I slowly get back to a more restricted diet. Follow me on Facebook here and tell me about your tricks and tips for sticking with a restricted diet. Love to all!

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