The story of my chronic health disorders, and why I no longer have them.
Researching For Answers
I first became interested in reading about health when I was as young as nine. My mother read me health-related articles out of Reader's Digest fairly often and I found those to be the most interesting stories. I did research papers for school on health related topics whenever I could choose my own topic. One was called "The Cause & The Cure for Cancer," because all of my reading led me to believe that cancer is not only preventable, but curable. Another article for school was all about Candida.
Candida is a name for a body-wide yeast infection. Most people don't realize that yeast is naturally always present in the body. The issue comes from yeast becoming too dominant in our body. Yeast flourishes when fed lots of breads, pastas and sugars. The symptoms of Candida are many, and I had all of them.
* Frequent stomach pains and digestion problems
* Skin problems (skin infections, eczema, psoriasis, acne)
* Foggy brain / Trouble concentrating / Learning Difficulties
* Constant Tiredness / Exhaustion / Fatigue
* Anxiety / Panic Attacks
* Mood swings / Depression
* Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
* Angry outbursts
* Headaches &/or Migraines
* Intense cravings for sugars, sweets, breads & pastas
* Itchy skin
* Abdominal gas and bloating
* Alcohol cravings
* Vaginal & rectal itching &/or burning / Thrush
* IBS / Diarrhea / Constipation
* Sinus Inflammation
* Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)
* Poor Memory
* Persistent cough
* Ear infections
* Muscle weakness
* Sensitivity to fragrances &/or other chemicals
* Sore throat
* Acid reflux
* Chronic pain
The crazy thing about this? Almost everyone who eats the Standard America Diet (S.A.D.) has those problems. And it's very serious, and very life impairing. Let's explore for a moment how some of these affected my life:
My first love was often raging angrily at me that I "never remembered" anything important. He would tell me things, romantic things, and I would forget them. He would make plans with me, and I would forget. Often I forgot so completely that I didn't even recall after he told me about the event in full.
Frequently when I read blog entries from my teenage years I can not actually remember the events I was writing about.
I forgot school assignments even when I used memory techniques to try and remember them like repeating them to myself, writing them down, and talking about them.
I forgot special events and occasions and continually missed out on things I wanted to do.
It made me look like I didn't care about others or myself.
Beyond not having the energy or stamina or make myself stronger, all throughout my childhood and schooling years I was unable to carry a backpack with books in it without causing such severe muscle pains that I would be unable to sleep that night, and even worse off the next day.
Over and over again I tried. In sixth grade there was so much homework involving books that I literally walked around in constant back pain from the heavy backpack, and actually left the school for home schooling after only two months.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
But at the age of seventeen I knew what the cause of all of those issues were. It was a body-wide over-growth of yeast caused by my diet. The first thing I did (which may have actually happened when I was sixteen) is I cut out all high fructose corn syrup entirely. That first step may have actually been the hardest. There were so many things with HFCS in them. Candy and soda was just the beginning.
No more coffee because the creamer I loved had HFCS.
No more thanksgiving stuffing because the croutons my mother used contained HFCS.
No more of my favorite salad dressing; it contained HFCS.
No more Doritos, or many of my other favorites; HFCS.
No more deviled eggs; my family used Miracle Whip; and guess what's in it?
No more A1 sauce, my favorite steak sauce.
And the list just went on, and on. The frozen chicken that liked, the meatballs I liked, the pasta sauce, the ketchup, the canned ravioli, the granola bars, the everything. I was shocked when I started reading labels. What was all this junk?!
The more labels I read, the more curious and desperate I became. How could I have spent my entire life so in the dark about what I was eating? I literally cried time and time again when reading labels. How could they put it in everything I ate? How was it possible?
What was hydrogenated oil, coloration, artificial flavoring, mono sodium glutamate, and other things that I couldn't pronounce doing in my food?
After high fructose corn syrup, I learned about hydrogenated oil. A chemical process used to increase shelf life. I've learned since then that anything that increases shelf life of food is a scary, scary thing and should be avoided like the plague. In fact, things that "increase shelf life" may as well be the plague. (The best natural alternative to typical shelf-life-extending junk is lemon or lime juice. It's very effective for use at home, delicious and healthy.)
While becoming aware of those two poisons did improve my quality of life by a noticeable amount, the chronic burps I wrote about in part four continued. Perhaps there were more poisons in my food I needed to watch out for?
At some point during my discoveries about the poisons in our food, I created a site called "Real Poison" to illustrate how much of what we eat is really poison! That site still exists: Real Poison. (Although I now feel that the site is an incomplete guide to health, and I rarely do any further updates to the site.)
Hunting For More Answers
Scouring the web for answers became a daily activity. I learned more and more hauntingly disgusting things about the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet).
Margarine will never mold, never rot, and no animal will touch it.
Cellulose is often added to products to add "fiber" but the body can't do anything with it whatsoever; you might as well go eat sawdust.
Those were some of my early discoveries.
What really made the first dramatic change in my well-being however was when I discovered Dr. Mark Hyman's blog. His blog doesn't have all of the answers I've come to today, but it was the first step to a road of happiness and health.
In Dr. Mark Hyman's blog, he talks about minor food allergies that generally are not traced. You can have a reaction to something you ate up to three days later. Thereby you can not tell what you're reacting to because you have too many symptoms and too many possibilities for the cause.
In order to discover your own food allergies, he suggests the following:
Stop eating all breads, pastas, meats, dairy, corn, wheat, gluten, soy, eggs, and refined forms of sugar for one week. Then, from there, add one single food item back into your diet for the second week and see how you react. If no reaction, accept the food, and then add another on the third week, and so forth, until you discover all the problem foods.
I tried it for myself.
After one week the burps and stomach pains were gone. My head was clearer, and I felt much better. I did this so shortly after the time that I left my second love (the abusive relationship that involved too much pot), and the combination of quitting weed simultaneously was a huge jump-start to my level of well being.
I felt better than I had ever felt in my life.
What Am I Going To Eat?
Then I hit a brick wall.
"What the hell am I going to eat for the rest of my life?"
I added corn chips back into my diet first. They were filling, cheap and delightful for a time. I didn't appear to have a reaction to plain salted corn chips.
I tried adding milk back in after a month but I discovered that I no longer liked the taste. Besides that, the single cup I tried caused my stomach to hurt for hours afterwords. (This was conventional pasteurized whole milk, incidentally, the same milk I had been drinking my entire life.)
I tried adding meat back in, but my body rejected that as well.
How could it be? Why was I reacting to something I had been eating my entire life?
I learned from further research of various sites combined with reading Dr. Mark Hyman's blog that I had damaged my intestinal lining. Years of eating junk, years of Candida, years of poison that is marketed as food, destroys your intestinal lining. Your gut starts leaking into your intestine. This is called "leaky gut syndrome" or "irritable bowl syndrome" or "IBS."
You can find out more about how that works if you want to on Dr. Mark Hyman's blog here.
The only way I could go back to eating some of the things I was used to eating was to first heal my intestines. I had to continue the strict diet for at least three months for that to happen.
And so I did.
In the first month I lost thirty pounds. At my heaviest I had been 153lbs, and I got down to 123lbs at the end of that first month. I was thinner than I had ever been in my adult body, and I was receiving complements left and right.
People told me that I looked "taller" and "healthier" and "happier."
I was not going back. I decided after that first month that I would attain the highest level of health I was able to attain, regardless of what I had to give up.
Faltering & Floundering
Yet even the strongest of resolutions wavers. There is always a relapse. Relapsing is part of recovery. In my case, I needed to recover from an entire lifetime of bad habits. My memory didn't include any time previous without these bad habits.
Chips taunted me. My mother's roast. My favorite desserts. I didn't even like salad with croutons and dressing!
Discovering New Foods
I couldn't just give up everything I was used to without discovering new ways to eat. I can't stress this realization enough: you can't change your lifestyle or your diet permanently without discovering new foods. Try learning a new recipe every week! I wish I had just done that to begin with!
The internet had brought me so far. Perhaps it would bring me further.
I looked up how to make my own vinaigrette and tried it. It turned out that it wasn't even that difficult.
Making my own vinaigrette may have seemed small, but it was a monumental step towards where I am now.
I didn't learn to boil a pot of water and put potatoes in it until I was eleven. My idea of "preparing food" up until I was ten was pouring a bowl of cereal.
From age ten to fourteen my idea of "preparing food" was frying bacon, frying eggs, baking tater tots, baking french fries, boiling potatoes or making buttered noodles.
At fifteen I learned to deep-fry and that just led to more french fries and chicken wings. "Making something from scratch" meant I pulled it out of the freezer, put it in boiling water, and made meat balls separately in a canned store-bought sauce.
I was clueless about food preparation growing up. And I hated salads since I disliked almost all vegetables. Especially raw vegetables. I had never even tasted a real salad of course. The salads I eat today are so much more complex, satisfying and healthy than what most people think of when they think "salad."
The vinaigrette experiment branched out. Soon I was trying different oils and different vinegars. Soon I was insisting on organic oils, and organic red-skinned potatoes. (I learned that potatoes absorb toxins more than almost anything else and are very important to get organic.)
I learned to cook carrots with my potatoes each and every time so that I was always benefiting from more flavor as well as more vegetable. I became more and more experimental with seasonings.
I took it a step further and found a bread that didn't contain any sort of sugar (they do exist! and they don't taste bad at all!) and learned to cut it into squares, cover in my home-made vinaigrette and then bake to create my own croutons (since the organic sugarless croutons at the store cost a small fortune.) I learned to add more things to my salad; a very small amount of spinach I discovered was tolerable after all.
I learned to make my own muffins from gluten-free wheat-free flours made from chick-peas and other beans. I sweetened them with honey and no other sugars whatsoever.
I baked apples and yams together without adding any meats (as I used to) and discovered I still loved it.
And then I met someone new and fell in love for the third time. I became truly happier than I had ever been previously in my life. I was thinner, healthier, and discovering new things. It was really a great period of my life, and it's what I think of as the beginning of my adult life.
Of course, it was only a brief reprieve from the trials and tribulations in my health. Some of the imporvements were permanent, but many problems remained, and others kept coming back.
Several months after I turned 18 I quit drinking. I realized that every time I drank my stomach would hurt the next day, and that I always acted like an idiot when I drank. It was a great life choice, and three years later, now that I'm legally able to drink, I have no temptation or interest in it whatsoever.
(Age twenty-two, currently editing this for readability and accuracy, and yes, still no desire to drink.)
My intestines had healed and so I occasionally ate a little meat or cheese, but I discovered fairly quickly that if I over did it I would be right back where I started.
I no longer touched HFCS in any degree, nor hydrogenated oils. I had learned that organic preservative-free nut-butter was much more delicious anyway. I occasionally indulged in expensive sugarless organic breads, but mostly substituted rice cakes (plain, not sweetened of course) or rice crisps for anything I used to use bread for. I had discovered the world of organic snacks and treats. Why did people say health-foods were disgusting? They were delicious and exciting to me. Organic Kettle chips had so much more flavor that regular chips. They were more satisfying.
I got sick only once when I was 18. It was a nasty cold I had for a week and a half. I drenched my entire bed in sweat. I was tired often after I recovered, and dizzy the entire time I was sick. But it was just once. Previous to that year, I had never been sick just once in a year.
I was impressed with myself.
I was satisfied.
...Until I met someone else a year younger than me who was starting college.
I was year into my relationship with my third love, and I was (for the most part) happier than I had ever been before. I was now able to walk a twenty minute walk without getting sick. I could even walk for forty minutes on a good day. I was stronger than ever before. Everything was good, right?
This boy that I met turned my perspective up-side-down. Let's call him Henry.
Henry was starting college, which made me incredibly jealous. I didn't have the money, and neither did my family.
He biked around the city visiting friends, going to classes, running errands for his siblings or parents every day. I asked him how much he biked daily, and he calculated it out. Over ten miles. I couldn't begin to comprehend what it was like to use my own body to travel that far.
I told him about my life and my struggles and he didn't understand. Sometimes he just didn't believe me. Other times he told me my life was "tragic." He used that word. It was like a slap in the face to hear that my life was tragic.
Often I felt like he was being mean to me, but that was his way of motivating me.
Henry was, in some ways, the first friend I'd ever made in my entire life. My poor health before that had preventing me from being outdoors enough to meet people. It had preventing me from being upbeat enough to attract people. My previous health conditions had prevented me from living. And just when I thought I was starting to live, I met someone who was doing everything, and discovered I had only just begun.
I began to wonder why my third love wasn't as motivating. I began to wonder why I wasn't reaching an optimal health. I began to wonder what more I could do to improve.
What was the next baby step towards gaining the health that other people, like Henry, had?
Previous parts of this article:
Birth to age 9
Ages 10 to 13
Ages 14 & 15
Ages 13 to 16