Finding Ease When I Eat

READ PART ONE - EATING IS HARD

Ease is a necessity in my life now. I'm done with hard. But getting there was a process. Long before my life-changing oral surgery (read PART 1), I married my fiancé and got my American green card. I settled into my new life far from my Canadian home, and I tried to get all of the basic necessities squared away so that I could have support as I continued healing. I was doing everything right. But I soon got an unwelcome surprise.

I couldn't get health insurance.

All of my preexisting conditions made me essentially uninsurable for anything we could afford, so for the first year and a half after my accident, I crossed my fingers and hoped no unforeseen complications would arise. Healing myself became my mission.

No insurance? Fuck it. NO PROBLEM (I hoped). I still believed I could get 100% better. 

I was fiercely determined and optimistic, and the book The Brain That Changes Itself showed me that miraculous healing was possible. I thought my brain injury was completely to blame for how physically bad I felt, so I didn't think I could do anything except fight through the fatigue, do brain exercises, and keep doing my correspondence coursework toward finishing my journalism degree. I hoped I would heal and feel stronger the more time went by. But I didn't.

A chat with my best friend, before the two-year anniversary of my accident, changed everything.

My doctors told me that the majority of my cognitive healing would happen in the first two years post-injury but I did not feel mostly healed. At ALL. So my girl, who had traveled by plane and by bus to get to me when I was in the ICU, had my back once again.

 With close friends in 2009, after going gluten free.

With close friends in 2009, after going gluten free.

It seemed, she said, that my symptoms lined up with having a gluten intolerance, so while we were still on the phone, I jumped on Google and looked it up. Sure enough, what I felt every day was staring me in the face from my computer screen. I immediately started paying attention to what I ate and how it made me feel.

Eating apple pie on a trip to the local mountains gave me a headache and had me passed out in the car minutes after we left. A "healthy" multigrain turkey wrap for lunch on a study break at home left me exhausted with debilitating brain fog only minutes after I ate it. That direct correlation was all the evidence I needed that gluten was hurting me; I cut gluten out of my diet completely.

Two weeks later, I actually felt like a PERSON again. I had more energy, I could do more, I could handle a full day of studying and I wasn't completely wiped after small outings with my husband. And I could suddenly feel where my body still actually suffered because of my injuries, instead of just feeling generally bad and tired all. of. the. time.

I still got tired often, and I still hurt. I cried. I had anxiety about my future. I still had the damn partial denture.

But it felt different. I felt lighter. Clearer. Hope for a full recovery surged inside me because now the possibility felt real. I felt so dramatically better from such a simple change, and I believed even harder that I could achieve a full recovery with gluten out of my life. I completed my final classes and received my journalism degree in 2010.

Discovering my intolerance to gluten led me to being my whole healthy.

But going gluten free wasn't the magical solution I hoped it would be. Eating was made even harder because I had to read every label at the grocery store and take every precaution to avoid gluten. I tuned into everything I put in my body, but the more I searched for healthy food, the more unsure I felt about what to eat.

Labels screamed health claims at me, trying to make me buy, and I didn't know what to believe. I knew I had to avoid gluten but it was a steep learning curve to learn all of the places that gluten hides. I leaned on pre-made gluten free meals that were "safe" choices I could microwave and eat easily without my front teeth, but I sacrificed nutrition for convenience. Overall, eating gluten free made me feel dramatically better, but I wasn't healing as fast as I wanted to be. I knew healing slowly was normal but I was so frustrated.

I lived online, craving social connection with far-away friends but also reading and learning as much as I could, hoping to one day return to a career in journalism. I was still passionately interested in current events, environmental news, and now optimal wellness and brain health. I learned about the benefits of exercise for the brain, and saw some things about meditation and mindfulness that were echoed by the way yoga seemed to help me. I started to learn about GMOs and the controversy there, too.

I began to really see that everything we eat is either fighting disease, or feeding it. 

I learned the horrific truth about factory farming, I watched FOOD, INC.,  and a rancher friend told me that most cattle are slaughtered before they're two years old because they are often so sick, they wouldn't live much past that anyway. 

Eating meat from sick animals couldn't be the way to achieve real healing,and  I decided that over-processed food was probably killing my recovery, so I turned my back on long ingredients lists, health claims, and convenience. I searched, what felt like the entire internet, for truly pastured beef, eggs, chicken and organic produce direct from the farmer.

Happily it wasn't hard to find these things called CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture, where you bought in bulk direct from a farmer, on a certain schedule, and you got a variety box of fresh produce, or different cuts of meat, delivered right to you.

As I got to know my farmers and saw exactly where my food was coming from, I knew I could never go back to buying meat at the store. Not only was the quality and flavor light years better, but I could feel the nutrient-dense food healing me. I still had bad, hard days, but I was happier, and being able to participate in my food was immensely gratifying. Plus having a freezer full of food meant less trips to the store, saving me time, energy and brainpower. Finally, eating was joyful.

I was getting micronutrients I'd been missing. Rebuilding my brain and bones demanded serious nutrition; I needed the right vitamins and minerals for proper function of everything in my body. Eating nutrient rich pastured meats and organic, local produce (we also planted a garden) gave me a huge boost and my healing took a few more leaps forward. I was able to be more social and go on more adventures with my husband, I went to regular yoga classes, and I built and ran a blog about the racehorse, Zenyatta, her stablemates, and her trainer.

I also talked to a holistically-minded Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) to see what else I could do, if anything. The doctor spent over an hour with me and recommended a series of supplements to take in addition to the healthy food I was eating. I was hopeful, and walked into the vitamin store as soon as I left his office, buying every single supplement he had told me to get.

 My probiotics and Fish Oil

My probiotics and Fish Oil

Then I jumped on the computer that same day to research WHY he had recommended these supplements and what benefits I could expect from taking them. I trusted him, but my journalist brain still wanted to know the who, what, why, and how of everything I was experiencing. I had to know that I wasn't just spending our minimal amount of money for nothing. It made sense that if I was burning calories at a crazy rate, then my body would be burning through nutrients, too, but I needed to see some facts. It didn't take me long to get the information I was seeking and a couple of supplements stood out with the science to back them up. 

Omega-3 fish oil and probiotics seemed to have the most overall health benefits to help me reach the level of wellness I ached for.

I didn't notice anything right away, but I kept taking them and soon, I noticed that my physical pain, that had been so constant, was almost gone. I have not been on a single prescription pain killer since I left the hospital but I owe that more to my pain tolerance than an absence of pain. Finally my aches and constant soreness eased. Then my mental processing speed got noticeably faster, and I didn't get dry eye when I wore my contact lenses anymore. Omega-3 essential fatty acids found in fish oil are vital for good brain health, and can have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Now, I was living proof.

Then there was the gut-brain connection. I've struggled with my digestion my whole life but it was never so problematic as the months and years following my lengthy hospital stay. I was never able to pinpoint a trigger food and I'm pretty sure the drugs and antibiotics I'd been given in the hospital totally upset the balance of my gut flora. I wanted to have normal, pain-free digestion and absorb as many nutrients from my food as possible, and when I started researching probiotics, I got excited. It seemed like it was THE thing I'd been missing my whole life and sporadically taking acidophilus when I was a kid was not nearly enough. And the more I learned about the effect our gut health can have on our brains, I wondered if healing my gut could help heal my brain too. 

Adding a high quality, multi-strain, probiotic to my supplements was a no-brainer, but soon my experience told me that there are many probiotics on the market that do not contain what their label claims or even work at all. I am so thankful to have fantastic probiotic brands now that really work because I totally wasted my money on brands that did nothing to help me.

Once I found a probiotic that worked, the difference in my digestion was dramatic. Going off gluten hadn't affected my gut at all and an endoscopy showed that I do not have celiac disease, but taking a powerful probiotic that actually worked made a difference within days. I could digest my food fully, and happily, and my bowel movements were total supermodel poops. They looked awesome (don't be gross, you know you look at your poop too. And if you don't, you should). My mood also leveled out and I felt a lot more emotionally stable. Probiotics eased every meal time for the first time in my life, so I take a probiotic every single day. If I have to go without, I feel the discomfort start to return. I don't let it go longer than a few days. 

Those two supplements are like my "foundation" supplements.

I don't need an expensive test to find out if I need them and they have broad, far-reaching health benefits to support my whole, healthy life. I take other specific supplements based on the results from the micronutrient blood test I do every year from Spectracell Labs, but I don't go a day without these two. Proper nutrition and supplementation has been fundamental to my healing.

As I write this, I am actually preparing to go to LA tomorrow to pick up my quarter beef from my dear friend Shreve and her Star Brand Beef. We make the trip once a year and come home with enough truly grass fed, grass finished beef to stock our freezer for the year and beyond. Her perspective is enlightening; read more HERE, and HERE.

 Playing today, the way I couldn't for 7 years.

Playing today, the way I couldn't for 7 years.

With dental implants and all the nutrition I need now, eating is something I love. I look forward to every meal, I smile often and easily, and I have the most energy I ever have (pre-injury included). I easily get up early every day when my toddler wakes up and spend the day with him, I work out, and I manage our house and my business. The hard stuff I experienced when I was injured was brutal. My recovery was long. But I know the healing of meditation, yoga, and exercise were made all the more powerful by getting the right nutrients into my body that allowed them to work. It's not complicated.
Eat real food.
Don't diet.
Pay attention.
Use the right supplements.

To find out more about the supplements I love now, click HERE.

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Maggie YountComment