Rewarding Yourself Without Food

As I’ve thought about my own struggle with weight it’s become clear that I have an unhealthy relationship with food. One could reasonably say an addiction to junk food. This shouldn’t be too surprising, it’s well known now that food companies use flavors to hit the pleasure center of our brain, filling us with empty calories and leaving us a craving more. Our broken food system is only part of the problem for me and many others though.

For me, and I’m sure some of you and others you know as well, our unhealthy relationship with food also started in childhood when junk food was used as rewards or for special occasions. Our parents, rightly, didn’t let us have these foods often, but when they did it was always a treat. We got to go out for dinner on the last day of school. We got candy for holidays. We’d get a gumball at the grocery store if we behaved well. We got cake or cupcakes for our birthdays. We got soda at big family events, like the Fourth of July picnic, or on those rare special occasions when we went out to eat. The circumstances of our treats added extra ties to the pleasure centers in our brains, above and beyond what was being created by the junk food alone. For me at least, later on in life, as I was able to make more and more of my own food choices, when I am stressed out I crave those “good feeling” foods like cupcakes, cookies, brownies, chips, fast food and soda, all the more because I’ve treated them my whole life as a reward. So if I’ve had a really rough day I’ve “earned” that cupcake, or two.

In addition to serving “real food” to ourselves and our children, avoiding processed grains, sugars and industrial fats, I propose that we also need to re-think the mentality of junk food as a “special” treat. It is okay to have such things as a once in a rare while food – but I have come to believe that tying it to the idea of a “treat” may be as unhealthy for us as the food itself.

It is harder to re-train those of us who are already adults, though not impossible. Our brains are fairly plastic, and if you stop allowing a reward loop to continue it will eventually go away – but it will take much more will power as an adult than what is needed for children. Because they are still laying down their neural pathways, it’s especially important that we come up with some non-food rewards for special occasions. for children. Here are some ideas I have come up with that are good rewards for kids (and adults) that don’t involve food. (Note that most of these are experiential, practical or educational – because we don’t want to replace gluttony for food with gluttony for “stuff” either).

  • A trip to the local amusement park
  • A family camping trip
  • A backyard camp out
  • A movie night with healthy snacks
  • Sleepover with friends
  • Trip to the local zoo
  • Trip to the museum
  • Going out to the movies
  • Hiking
  • A new book
  • A new educational toy
  • An extra half hour of internet or TV time
  • A trip to the library
  • New sports equipment
  • New article of clothing
  • A new cosmetic item like lip balm or body spray
  • New water bottle
  • Extra allowance into a savings account
  • A big hug
  • Words of praise
  • A card
  • A potted plant
  • A new journal
  • New crayons, colored pencils or markers
  • New supplies for a favorite hobby or craft
  • Music, dance or sports lessons

What would you add to the list? What non-food rewards do you find most meaningful?

What It’s Like to Live with RA

I should say up front, that my RA is mild to moderate. I am seropositive, which means my disease course is likely to be more severe, but I feel pretty good most days right now. And I have every reason to hope that diet changes (like trying AIP) and lifestyle changes (like hitting the gym and practicing relaxing self-care) along with medications will slow my progression and possibly even put me into remission completely!

Most days I wake up a little stiff, morning stiffness is one of the hallmarks of RA. For me it’s usually in my back and hips, which makes it hard to stand up straight when I first get out of bed. My joints also tend to pop and crack like crazy those first few steps in the morning. I’m like a bowl of rice crispies walking to the bathroom to start my morning routine.

Some mornings I skip breakfast and choose to fast, but when I eat breakfast I usually grab something quick like yogurt with berries or leftovers I can quickly reheat. I like to sleep in as much as possible. Sleep is super important and I am a person who needs a lot of it, even before my diagnosis. So if that means I don’t have time to cook my own breakfast every morning, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

I head to work around 8:45 am, and when the weather is nice, I’m fortunate to live close enough that I can walk to work! It’s just under a mile, so it’s a great way to get in some good movement and vitamin D sunshine at the beginning and end of the day. (I was so tired this past summer that I rarely did this, I have been feeling well enough to do this 2-3 times a week so far this year!)

I’m a librarian and I’m fortunate that my position keeps me moving throughout the day. I’m not on my feet all day, nor do a sit all day, I’ve got a good mix of resting and moving which is good, it keeps my joints from gelling up from being in one position for too long. One of my early symptoms was hip pain after sitting for an extended time. A couple times I even got up after sitting for a long time and thought I had sprained my ankle! But the pain went away by walking around for a little while.

Sometimes at lunch I walk home to let my dog out for a little midday break. (Just because she can be in her kennel all day doesn’t mean she likes to, so I try to give her breaks as often as possible). When I plan to stay at work for lunch I try to pack something healthy. Often leftovers or a salad with some protein (chicken, shrimp, hard boiled egg, etc.). Sometimes I also continue a fast through lunch. I actually try to fast a full 24 hours once per week, from dinner one night, to dinner the following night.

Afternoon is when my fatigue tends to set in, so I really try to “Eat the Frog” and try to get the highest priority or most difficult stuff done early in the day when I have the most energy.

After work I usually head straight home. Often my energy stores are zapped for the day, which is why meal kits have come in so handy for me. Not having to think about what to make for dinner, or spend much time prepping ingredients is so helpful when I’m exhausted at the end of the day. Still, I also try to use evenings as time to build community and challenge myself intellectually by going to Bible study, book club or taking classes at the local community college.

Before bed I’ve started an oil pulling routine (more on this in a later blog post), which is also a great time to pop in some ear buds and do a guided meditation. I wash my face and use organic witch hazel toner and then aloe as my moisturizer. If I am having any joint pain I use topical CBD ointment and/or Max Freeze to help alleviate symptoms without needing to take an NSAID. (Though I do take aspirin or ibuprofen when needed, and per my doctor’s instructions, I always try to take the minimum effective dose – so if I can spare my kidneys and gut lining by not taking an NSAID for pain, then I will. NSAIDs help with symptoms of RA, but they don’t halt disease progression).

Then it’s off to bed by 10:00 pm so I can hopefully have a full 8-10 hours of sleep to be ready for the next day!

If you have RA, or another autoimmune disease, what is your day like?

Now that was my usual weekday, but Saturdays are my me days – check out the new vlog to see what a Saturday is like for me!

How To Make a Health Log

This is a video of how I created a DIY health log. It’s a little bit bullet journal with a dash of traditional planner, but focused on tracking my health. If you are trying to make a lifestyle change or are dealing with a chronic condition I highly recommend making a health log of your own.

The resources I used to make mine are listed below.

Avery Heavy Duty 3-ring Binder

Plum Paper 18 month planner (monthly)

Symptom Tracker –  (as I mentioned in the video, mine is a personalized version of this tracker)

Avery Pocket Dividers 

This is not a sponsored post. I pay for everything I try out of pocket so that you know my reviews are unbiased. Though some links are affiliate links for products I would recommend.

The Crunchy Checklist

As I mentioned in my introduction post, I have definitely got some latent crunchy/granola/hippie genes. I value real food, even if I don’t always make food choices in line with those values. I value self-sufficiency, even if I can also be a pretty darn good consumer of things I could just as easily make myself. I value the great outdoors and conservation, but I do not always recycle or use the greenest products available to me. I value health, but I definitely have some chronic health issues common among populations in the developed world.

So how can I start living out these values I hold more consistently? How can I embrace my inner “crunchy earth goddess”? That is why I started this blog in the first place! To find out. To experiment. To try new things and see how living more in line with my values might help my overall health and well-being, but also my family, community and world too.

To that end, I have compiled a “Crunchy To Do List” of sorts. Based on information from other natural and holistic health blogs, books I’ve read, etc. I have created a list of things to do to fully embrace my inner crunchiness. They fall into a few main categories: Food, Hygiene and Health, Household, and Lifestyle; though some could easily fit in more than one, and others don’t quite fit where I’ve put them – that’s where they are listed all the same. So here goes …..

Food – Just Eat Real Food

  • Eat fermented foods
  • Eat real fats
  • Try offal (organ meats)
  • Make and eat bone broth and stock
  • Try raw milk
  • Try supplemental foods like cod liver oil and gelatin
  • Drink water without fluoride in it
  • Try a cleanse
  • Do a Whole 30
  • Cut out white sugar
  • Cut out all added sugars

Hygiene & Health

  • Try oil cleansing
  • Try oil pulling
  • Try dry brushing
  • Make and use my own deodorant
  • Visit a naturopath
  • Visit a holistic dentist
  • Visit a chiropractor
  • Try the “no-poo” method
  • Get rid of synthetic lotions and potions
  • Try essential oils
  • Try herbs and tinctures
  • Try a cleanse
  • Try CBD oil for pain and anxiety
  • Try cranio-sacral massage
  • Try accupunture

Household

  • Get rid of harsh chemical based cleaners
  • Make my own cleaners using natural ingredients
  • Try soap nuts
  • Try organic cotton bed sheets
  • Get a Berkey filter for tap water
  • Try a salt lamp
  • Acquire air purifying house plants
  • Acquire better quality pots and pans

Lifestyle

  • Read “crunchy” books
  • Try grounding
  • Try yoga
  • Try pilates
  • Go for hikes
  • Go camping
  • Try amber glasses to block blue light at night

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list but should definitely keep me busy for a while. There are some other crunchy things I would love to try but cannot yet. More may be added to the list over time.

Is there anything crunchy that you think is missing from my list? What would you add? What is the “crunchiest” thing you do?

Intro to Paleo

When it comes to overall health I have not yet found a diet that yields the same results as real food, and especially a paleo diet. I admit I’m not the most faithful paleo lifestyle liver, but I can say from past experience that the more faithful I am to paleo the better my health. My digestion is better, my skin is clearer, my allergies are less severe, my joint pain is practically non-existant and I am closer to my ideal weight range the stricter my paleo lifestyle. I’ve seen a lot of misinformation out there on the interwebs about paleo, so this is my attempt to cover the basics of what to eat, the most frequently asked questions, and to point you towards some excellent resources that have more and better information than I.

paleo-diet

What Do You Eat on Paleo?

Lots of real good food! Meats (preferably pastured, organic, humanely raised sources – it’s better for the animal and for you, I promise), fish, eggs, lots of vegetables, fruit (especially berries – yum!), nuts, seeds and healthy fats (like olive oil, pastured ghee and coconut oil).

What Do You Not Eat on Paleo?

No grains. (That means no wheat, oats, corn, yes corn counts as a grain, etc. No quinoa either). No legumes (No beans, no peanuts, technically no green beans or peas – but those are in a grey area). No dairy, unless you tolerate it well – and then you should aim for pastured, organic sources.

Is all that fat bad for you?

Heck no! It’s all that sugar, not the fat, not even the saturated kind, that is killing you. Some fat is bad for you – trans fats are good for no one. I repeat – No One. Omega-6 fats (the kind you get from seed oils like corn and canola) are bad for you if not in balance with your omega-3 fats. Saturated fat is also good for you when it is in balance. (No it won’t raise your cholesterol and give you heart disease – but sugar probably will).

Is all the red meat bad for you?

No. But if you’re concerned about it you can always stick with poultry, fowl and plenty of fish! Not to mention lots of fruits and vegetables.

Where do you get your carbs?

From all those lovely vegetables and fruits! Paleo is not necessarily low-carb. Yes, you can make it low carb. (And if you have metabolic syndrome that’s probably wise). But no, it doesn’t have to be. Sweet potatoes, bananas, mangos and papaya are just some of the higher-carb fare that you are free to eat on a paleo diet.

Where do you get your fiber?

From all those lovely vegetables and fruits! Really – and they come packed with many more nutrients and far fewer anti-nutrients than those whole grains that the food pyramid wants you to get your fiber from.

Okay, I’m interested, where can I find more information?

There have been so many paleo books published in the 7 years since I first tried paleo. Still, the two best books I’ve read on the paleo diet are Practical Paleo and The Primal Blueprint. Some other good ones include The Paleo Solution, Paleo PrinciplesEat The Yolks and Primal Body, Primal Mind. For more info check out these resources.

 

It should go without saying that I am not a doctor and while I am a strong proponent of the paleo diet because I’ve seen it work first hand, but I do not know your unique situation or medical history. Always consult a trusted physician before undertaking a new diet or exercise program.

Health Affirmations

On my crunchy journey I have discovered that a big issue I have is mindset. While I was anxiously going to doctors seeking a diagnosis I was convinced every pain was cancer and that I was going to die before 35. Once I got a diagnosis a lot of that anxiety went away, but there are still scary moments and anxieties, like when a new pain crops up, or lingers longer than it has before. Yet, while I want to track my symptoms, when I focus too much on my pain it feels much worse. On the other hand, when I decide that I am going to be healthy and happy I feel better, even if the baseline pain is essentially the same. Changing your frame of mind can make such a difference in your health! I am now working on making a habit of positive visualization.

Sometimes I repeat one image or mantra over and over again using mala beads or a rosary to help me keep track. Other times I read through a list or affirmations written out on index cards. Still other times I will listen to a guided imagery or meditation. Whatever method(s) you choose, I hope you will make time to for focused healing thoughts. Here are some general healthy affirmations to get you started.

  • My body is able to heal itself
  • My body knows how to work properly
  • I eat foods that nourish my body
  • I am able to move my body in ways that strengthen it
  • My body can do whatever I ask of it given the right tools
  • My body knows when to rest and digest
  • My immune system knows how to attack infections
  • My immune system knows not to attack myself
  • My body is whole and nourished
  • I sleep well and my body is restored each night
  • My muscles are strong and supple
  • My joints are able to move freely but safely
  • My liver and kidneys are able to cleanse my body
  • My digestive system can absorb all the nutrients my body needs
  • My lungs are clear and I can breathe easily
  • My heart is strong and efficient
  • My nervous system is clear and functions smoothly
  • I know my body is able to heal whatever illness I struggle with
  • My biome is healthy and in balance with friendly microbes who support my well-being
  • My emotions are balanced and healthy
  • I am not afraid of my emotions, nor am I controlled by them
  • My whole body, mind, emotions, environment and soul are healthy and work together for my well-being

For more information on how mindset can help heal and maintain wellness, check out these books.

Mind Over Medicine by Dr. Lissa Rankin

Self-Healing with Guided Imagery by Dr. Andrew Weil

Notes From the Crunchy Journey

So I went to see my first rheumatologist this past week. Overall I felt the appointment was good. The doctor let me just list all my many symptoms (mostly pain related) that have come on over the last couple year. Then we ran more blood work, took x-rays and did a physical exam. I was not sure what to expect, but I really liked that she let me just spew symptoms at her and at the end of our appointment she asked if I had any questions. Which I did (because I went prepared), only one of which was pressing.

All the tests came back a couple days ago and she called me to follow up. Not her nurse or a medical assistant, she phoned me directly. That was nice, and almost a first in my experience with allopathic doctors. She is pretty sure I have early stage rheumatoid arthritis and wants me to start taking heavy dose NSAIDs and a mild first line DMARD.

Even though I really liked this doctor, I am still planning on seeking a second opinion. With something like a chronic autoimmune disease I feel I have to do my due diligence and get at least two opinions. Once I get a second opinion I think I can move forward; decide which specialist to see long term as my rheumatologist and also really start chipping away at the lifestyle stuff.

For me the first step will be to move towards an AIP elimination diet. I have already cut out alcohol (not hard since I never drank much anyway) and coffee as well as diligently adding vegetables to every meal and eating fish 2-3 times per week. Next I will cut out gluten and dairy while adding bone broth and more veggies. I would like to get up to 2-3 servings of veggies per meal. Eventually I would like to do full AIP for a month or two, including weaning off my NSAIDs, followed by reintroduction.

I would also like to get back into restorative yoga once per week to help with keeping my joints mobile and help with mindfulness and stress management.

As part of this journey I would also like try acupuncture, visit a naturopath (and maybe even make a naturopath part of my care team), experiment with essential oils for pain, go on a spa retreat, work to reduce my toxic load with things like all-natural cleaning products, organic cotton sheets and even more all-natural body care and makeup. What things would you add to this list?

If you have an autoimmune disease, what things were most helpful for you to bring symptoms under control?

 

Updates on the Crunchy Journey

Six years ago when I first started paleo I did great! I easily lost 40 pounds (of which I have kept 20 off), had great energy levels, good sleep most nights. Then I moved and started a new full time job and after a few months fell off the wagon – I’ve yet to get back on for a sustained amount of time.

In the meantime I’ve struggled with GI issues, fatigue, anxiety and in the last year numbness in my extremities, muscle fasiculations, back pain, muscle and joint pain, and abdominal pain above and beyond my usual IBS symptoms. This started me down the path of blood tests and imaging studies, visits with neurologists and GI specialists, even a liver biopsy. Somewhat scary lab results (like a high ESR and CRP) and most recently to autoimmune markers that point to a strong likelihood of RA (though I have not yet had an official diagnosis of anything).

As somewhat scary as it is to have a probable autoimmune disease, I’m also happy that after four years of progressively feeling worse we are finally nearing some answers… When I told my mom that they found autoantibodies that pointed towards RA she commented, “I’ve never seen someone so happy to find out that they might have rheumatoid arthritis!” But when you have been feeling bad for years and are convinced something more than just poor sleep or being overweight is the cause of your issue, finally getting some evidence that you were right all along feels like a win!

Sadly, I know my story is the norm when it comes to autoimmune disease, because at first the symptoms are so vague and general that it really could be just poor sleep, life stress and/or lifestyle factors… (even with autoimmunity those things are super important)… Symptoms are also often systemic, and there are not really any autoimmune specialists, rather patients must see specialists for all their varying symptoms. A GI doc for their digestive issues, an endocrinologist for their thyroid, a rheumatologist for their joint pain and of course their GP for general wellness check ups and to get referals for all the specialists. According to the AARDA it takes an average of 5 years (and five doctors) before a patient receives a diagnosis. By that metric I am right on time to be (hopefully) nearing a diagnosis.

Now again, I don’t know for sure that I have RA, there are still other tests to do and the autoantibodies they found in my bloodwork can also be present in other autoimmune conditions and even non-autoimmune conditions (like lung infections and cancer). Once we have pinned down a more firm diagnosis I will definitely follow up. Nevertheless…

I’m thankful that my healthcare providers believed me when I said my troubleshooting wasn’t helping and I still wasn’t feeling well. I’m thankful they were willing to order tests even if the likelihood was low that anything would turn up. I’m thankful we are working to find answers and not just fix symptoms. I’m thankful that I have insurance and even though the bills have been pricey, they have so far been manageable. I’m thankful that I have a job that has allowed me to take the time off of work that I have needed for doctors’ appointments, testing and PT. I’m thankful to have a job I enjoy which makes it much easier to come in and find meaning and pleasure in your work even on days when you aren’t feeling great.

Best Real Food Products Available Online

With working full time, taking classes part time and trying to make time for rest and relationships – shopping for groceries is something I like to get done quickly. I love the option to order pantry staples online, here are some of my favorite products of the moment….

Vanilla Ghee – Yummy! Perfect for paleo/keto desserts and sweet fat bombs. (Also available in Himalayan Sea Salt for your salty/sweet and savory needs).

Sprouted Pilli Nuts. These creamy fatty nuts are a great snack to stash when you need something on the go or to tide you over until your next full meal.

Paleo Angel Power Balls. These AIP friendly nuggets really hit the spot. I loved the lemon and vanilla flavors best, but they were all tasty. Try a sample pack to discover your own favorites!

Wild Cocoa Butter Wafers. Cocoa butter is super versatile! Use it in homemade soaps and lotions – or melt it into your tea or coffee for a rich, nutty hit of healthy fat.

 

What are some of your favorite online real food discoveries?

 

Ditching the Scale

When you are in an abusive relationship with a partner who tells you that you are worthless, it’s time to break up…

In early May I started a new weight lifting program and along with that I had weighed and measured myself, establishing yet another “before” baseline for comparison. Then as I finished the first month of the program I realized that I did not want to weigh in as scheduled.

Like many I can have a love-hate relationship with the scale. On the one hand I love data. This isn’t an n=1 lifestyle experiment for nothing! And weight is one of the easiest data points to collect. Plus when I lose weight it can be very motivating, even though weight loss is not my primary health goal. On the other hand if the scale doesn’t budge it can be very defeating.

girlfriend-fat_rotator

I remember when I was doing CrossFit regularly and after months of going to the box to WOD with the crew 3 times a week the scale had not budged. (In fact I don’t even think my body composition changed much either since my clothes fit pretty much the same as well). Even though I was setting PRs and clearly getting stronger those victories were obliterated by my not losing weight.

But worse than that are the times in my life when my weight actually over-shadowed my health. The social stigma of being fat was so great that I would do almost anything to get rid of my excess weight. I wished to be anorexic. I was jealous of (my perception of) their will power.  If only I could just stop eating! Life would be better, people would love me, I would be happy if I just didn’t have to eat! Failing the will power to develop an eating disorder I even wished to be struck by a serious illness. You know who is skinny without even trying? People with Crohn’s disease. People with cancer. Maybe I will be struck with cancer! (Lord knows I have the family history for it). I might be dying but at least I would look good doing it!

This type of thinking is perverse, and yet I doubt I am the only fat person who has ever had these thoughts. Such is the state of our culture and the collective shame at our perceived deficiencies as human beings, that a person would rather be a truly ill skinny person than the mostly healthy fat person they are.

So I quit.

I have not weighed myself in months, and if my clothes are to be believed, I weigh about the same now as I did then. I did not suddenly drop 10+ pounds (only the weight of the scale itself), but neither did I balloon up. And you know what? If I remain overweight for the rest of my life but continue to pursue movement that I enjoy and do it regularly, to eat as much real food as possible and avoid the junk, then I will be content. I may yet lose weight or otherwise alter my body composition on this journey. But that is not the goal. The goal is health, at whatever weight that looks like. The scale is no longer a useful data point.

So good bye, scale, if I ever see you again it’ll be too soon.