Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Symptom Tracking and Nutritarianism

I'll be short with my update today, friends. Work has kept me busy and I'm taking a short break between tasks to bring you this update. My meals today were great so I'll share that information below. Also, the reaction to my Remicade continues. I can't seem to get these hives to go away right now, so I have called the doctor to see what he suggests. I am doubtful that much can be done given that this is a reaction to an IV drug that remains in my system. I think that this issue is occurring independently from my diet due to the residual medications in my body. In any case, here is an update on the information I'm tracking:

  • Weight: 163.7 - down some. My return to veganism has resulted in lowered weight, which is within the healthy range. Truthfully, I could probably lose another 10 lbs or so before it would become an issue or be considered a symptom of Crohn's as opposed to the result of dietary changes and exercise.
  • Current Symptoms: Hives-like rash on arms, legs, small of back - really annoying
  • Energy Level: Good - sufficient to carry me through my long work day.
  • Exercise: Average with lots of work related walking.
  • Supplements: Dr. Fuhrman's Men's Daily
  • Sleep: 8+ hours
  • Medications: Remicade (Crohn's Disease); Allegra (hives)
  • Meals: For breakfast I had a banana and some organic decaf coffee. Nothing too exciting. For lunch, I had a veggie wrap with hummus and some veggie sushi with brown rice from Trader Joes (excellent). Dinner consisted of steamed baby broccoli, organic and unrefined basamati rice, and a pan seared mix of asparagus with mushrooms and onions, seasoned with Mrs. Dash. I drank this green tea. 
What did you eat today?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Nutritarianism with a Busy Schedule


It has been a few days since I last posted due to a very busy schedule with work. I thought I would take the opportunity to address the question of how to follow a nutritarian diet with a busy schedule. One thing that my wife and I learned when we started down this road is that a diet like this requires a lot more time in the kitchen. At least, it can. However, with a little planning and some good tools, you can really make it work. As of late, though, I have been eating out in combination with my prepared meals due to  the demands of my job. As a community-based therapist, I am often on the run during meal times. To help with this issue, I have a medium sized soft cooler in which my lunch meal, and sometimes a snack, is stored. Usually I pack a large salad covered with mushrooms, bell pepper, raw sunflower seeds, tomato, ground flax seeds, and any other vegetable that I desire. I use a variety of vinegars or other homemade dressings most of the time. I also usually have an apple, pear, banana, or other type of fruit stashed in there. I keep a bag of raw mixed nuts in my desk drawer at work, which also helps stave off hunger pangs during the day. 

Some days, though, I just simply run out of time. Rather than going hungry, which I could argue is worse  (sometimes) than skipping a meal, I will choose a meal at a restaurant that is mostly nutritarian. For instance, at Subway, I might choose a veggie sub on flat bread with no cheese, no mayo, and loaded with vegetables. I try to stay away from any animal products, and I use the flat bread to reduce the carbs and other less healthy ingredients in the bread. I also might eat similar options at places like Moes. The trick is to remember the principles of the diet, which you can read about in Eat to Live, and make the wisest decisions when options are limited. The best option of all, though, is good planning which allows you full control of your diet when your meals are prepared at home. In a future post, I'll share some of the tips and tools that I use in the kitchen to make nutritarian cooking a little easier, especially for the busy beginners like me. 

What do you find to be the biggest obstacle to healthy eating?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Nutritarian Diet Update

Dear readers, it seems that the day got away from me so I'll make this post short(er). Today I had intended to give an overview of my kitchen tools, but I'll get to that soon, perhaps when time isn't so short. Before I post my update below, I'd like to give a little perspective on what my day looks like. Hopefully this will give you an idea of why my daily habits (should they come up in discussion) might seem unusual to some of you.

As a community based therapist, I don't always have the luxury of eating full meals at normal meal times. I do try to limit my snacking during the day, but sometimes that's not possible given the demands of my job. I often work late hours, and sometimes have to eat while I'm on the road. It would not be unusual for you to see me in a grocery store parking lot scarfing down a salad (that I packed at home) some days. Today was one of those days. So, here is my update for today:

  1. Weight: 165.4 lbs.
  2. Current Symptoms: I've noticed a small, itchy rash developing on my arms and stomach. This is nearly exactly the same thing that happened to me a few years back when I was previously on the Remicade. This is most likely a reaction to that medication. It's not a big deal...just mildly irritating. 
  3. Energy Level: Pretty high. I've been able to function well during the entire day.
  4. Exercise: Normal. No specific exercise outside of my normal daily routine, which includes walking, a few hours behind a desk, a couple of hours of driving, and session activities that require minimal physical activity.
  5. Supplements: Dr. Furhman's Men's Daily Formula +D3
  6. Sleep: Very adequate; restful; 8.5 hours
  7. Medications: Remicade infusion, last administered 11/30/12.
  8. Meals:
    1. Breakfast: A handful of red seedless grapes, two clementines, decaf organic Earl Grey tea
    2. Lunch: Large spring mix salad; 1 cup or so of vegan broccoli salad with this recipe (with a few modifications)
    3. Moe's Joey combo with all vegetables, tofu, no cheese, no meat. This is probably the most processed meal I eat out when I do restaurant food. Unsweetened tea to drink. This meal may not be the best in terms of nutrition, but it's far better than many other options and does follow most of my dietary guidelines. 
What did you eat today?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Nutritarian Lifestyle

In my last post I explained the health conditions that I’ve experienced over the past several years, which have led me to what some would consider to be a radical approach to treatment. As I said before, I have tried the spectrum of anti-inflammatory drugs. I am now attempting to treat Crohn’s Disease through diet and excellent nutrition. My goal today is to give you an overview of the diet plan that I’m following, and to set the stage for future posts by explaining what you can expect to see. So, let’s get to it.

At the end of August 2012, I was watching Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead when something clicked for me. I realized for the first time that my diet probably truly could be the key to unlocking better health and a better quality of life. Yes, I know…any idiot should know that. The thing is, my doctors have been telling me for years that my diet won’t have much of an impact on my symptoms. Of course they recommended healthy eating, but healthy eating instead of medication…never! Don’t get me wrong, my doctor is great, and I truly respect his opinions. But I don’t think they put a lot of faith in my approach to treatment. However, back in October I had some lab work done after I’d been on the diet for about a month, and the results were amazing. My lab work suggested that I was healthier than I had been in years! My suggestion to my doctor that it was due to my diet was met with skepticism and a small lecture on how far my meds have brought me. But I digress…

After watching that movie, I started to think that I might actually be able live a quality life, and live longer than I expected too. You see, folks, due to the high risk of cancer and associated side effects of my medications, I had come to a place where I truly didn’t expect to live into my 60’s. But something changed after watching that movie. And the more research I did the more hopeful I became. I discovered the book Eat to Live (ETL), by Dr. Joel Furhman. In it, he describes a paradigm shift. He described a way of thinking about health and nutrition that transcends diet trends. The jist of the diet is this: eat foods with a high nutrient per calorie density, foods like greens, onions, mushrooms, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fruit.  The diet, the Nutritarian diet, is also low meat, dairy and animal products, and low salt and sugar. Processed foods (boxed, instant…goodbye Hamburger Helper!) These are some of the basics. For a detailed explanation, I highly recommend his book. However, I’m not here to sell any products or ideas. I’m just chronicling my journey, and so far, I stand behind this approach based on my own experiences with this diet. Dr. Furhman makes some recommendations based on certain health conditions or issues, and it so happens that a vegan diet seems to work best for most people with irritable bowel diseases. So following his principles, I launched my journey into this new way of living the weekend of Labor Day, 2012. This was no new diet; it was a new lifestyle. With my doctor’s permission, I began a juice fast (fresh vegetable and fruit juices, made right here at home) to help break the cravings and addictions of unhealthy foods, sugars and caffeine. My diet is as follows (including the ETL principles out lined above):
  • Vegan (except I do eat small amounts of local honey from time to time)
  • Low salt
  • No sugar
  • (Almost) No processed foods (unless I processed it myself here at home!)
  • Low caffeine
  • 90% green (at least that’s the goal)
  • Low starchy grains
  • Gluten free (as often as possible)
  • Organic when possible and affordable
  • Water and black and green teas to drink 

When people hear all of that, they look at me like I’m insane, or perhaps some sort of hippie. Well, so be it. That’s a small price to pay (figuratively and literally) compared to the physical and financial drain that traditional pharmacological intervention has been. And even if this doesn’t work to fully eliminate medications, my hope is that it will at least lessen the amount that I’m taking. After starting this diet back in September, within a month I was off all but one medication, and that medication is an infusion-based drug that stays in my system for months after receiving it. Also, when I started the diet I weighed about 176 lbs. I lost about 15 lbs. before I cheated my way through the holidays. In addition, I’d like to point out again that my lab work was proof enough that the diet was helping.

Before I wrap up today’s post, I’d like to make one last point. Many diet plans come with a built in “incentive” where you get to have a “cheat” meal or two every so often. My thinking as a therapist comes in to play here, but I don’t advocate for that approach. My experience tells me that for most people, if you leave yourself an open back door, an escape route, you’ll probably take it. Your commitment level isn’t likely to be enough for the long haul. I’m proof of that. I decided to “cheat” just before Thanksgiving, and that continued through Christmas. I could tell within a day that it was an unwise decision. Several symptoms resurfaced after that. So, bottom line…you’re either in or out. I've decided to go all in.

Here’s what you can expect to see me tracking in future posts: 
  • Weight:
  • Current Symptoms:
  • Energy Level:
  • Exercise:
  • Supplements:
  • Sleep:
  • Medications:
  • Meals: 

I may not report on each category every day, but most will be recorded. In addition, I’ll be posting some of my favorite recipes from time to time to go along with the list of meals for that day.

That’s it for today. My next post will begin sharing the above information, and I’ll also provide an overview of some tips, tricks, and tools that make a dietary change like this easier.

What else would you like me to track and report?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Irregular Journey...No More Crohn's Disease

It’s time for a change. I have decided to forgo traditional routes of disease control and to invite you along on my journey. What will follow is a series of posts about my journey with a holistic approach to disease control through excellent nutrition and self-care.

Here’s my story. This may take a little time so pull up a chair.

The problem: Crohn’s Disease. At least, that’s what the doctors have called it. Let me explain. In 2004, I was living overseas in China. It wasn't long until I started having a multitude of symptoms including stomach pain, internal bleeding, diarrhea, vomiting, night sweats, fevers, and weight loss. Several doctors said it was due to lack of sanitation and food standards in China. In essence, it was related to my diet. Symptoms continued, and I became more desperate. I flew to Hong Kong where a doctor officially diagnosed me with Crohn’s Disease (if you aren't familiar with Crohn’s Disease, read more about it here. That was 2005.

Let’s fast forward about a year. I had started treatment with a pill called Asacol, and it was moderately effective. I was buying tickets for my plane trip back to the US and planning my re-entry into American life. Before I returned to the US, my friends and I decided to take one last hiking trip into the countryside. It was a great trip, and the weather was great. On the last day of the trip, I woke up in excruciating pain in my hips and lower back. I could hardly move. The pain was severe enough to bring me to tears. Friends, I have a high tolerance for pain, but that was a kind of pain I had never experienced. I assumed it was an injury from the hike, but I couldn't identify what exactly had happened. I was barely able to walk, and after returning to my apartment, a friend who was a physical therapist came over and checked me out. She performed a few small adjustments, and the pain seemed to decrease over the next few days, though it never completely resolved. I dragged myself around with a cane and returned to the US in a wheelchair.

Fast forward again a few months. The pain in my back came and went with varying intensity for the next few months. I saw a doctor repeatedly with no diagnosis. X-rays, lab work, etc. . . . no help. I lived with pain killers and muscle relaxers. It was during this time that I learned some very important lessons about my health and medical care: I couldn’t just trust whatever my doctors told me, and I had to take an active role in my treatment. I also learned that I can’t be intimidated by doctors. Because it seemed that a diagnosis would take forever, and that the doctor seemed to be using a “guess and check” approach to treatment, I began to do a little research on my own. I discovered a condition by the name of Ankylosing Spondylitis (read about it here).

Now, I need to make a small disclaimer here. There is a huge difference between taking a responsible and careful approach to learning about health and medical conditions and applying that information to yourself, and taking a hypochondriac-like approach to self-diagnosis based on information pulled from the internet to identify the cause of symptoms. A doctor should always be consulted regarding your medical care, even after you’ve carefully researched your symptoms.

With that said, I took my research to my doctor and requested the blood tests necessary to help confirm my suspicions that my back and hip pain were related to Ankylosing Spondylitis. The result: a positive diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis.

What followed after the result of these two diagnoses was several years of trying medication after medication to manage symptoms. If there was an anti-inflammatory drug, I tried it. Almost literally. My drug history included Remicade, Pentasa, Cimzia, Humira, Enbrel, Sulfazine, Mercaptopurine, Allopurinol, and Prednisone to name a few. In addition, I experienced a host of other medical issues as a result of some of these drugs, which included anemia, indigestion, high blood pressure, and sleep issues, all of which required a separate set of medications to control those symptoms (and this list doesn't include any of the possible long-term side effects, which includes various types of cancer). My super active immune system afforded me the opportunity to try so many medications because after about a year or two on each drug, I developed antibodies which reduced the efficacy of the medications. The other issue with many of these medications was the expense associated with them. Some of them can cost upwards of $5,000 per treatment, though I discovered that programs are available to help cover some of the cost of these drugs, assuming I had the energy and time to pursue assistance from these programs. In short, pharmacological intervention was moderately effective, yet extremely time consuming and financially straining.

Before I wrap this post up, I have to tell one more story because it’s so integral to my decision to try a medication free approach to treatment. In 2009, I was receiving one of the above named drugs for the treatment of my Crohn’s Disease when I started noticing a small cough. It was about December. My cough worsened, and I received a host of tests to determine the cause, none of which revealed any issues. Finally, during at CT scan, it was discovered that I had two tumors developing in my lungs. Surgery was needed immediately to remedy the issue and to obtain a diagnosis. By the time the surgery came in March, I could barely breathe and was on the verge of suffocating to death. . . literally. The surgery was successful in removing the tumors, along with a small portion of my right lung. Samples were sent to the local labs and universities, as well as the Mayo clinic for diagnosis. Cancer was ruled out quickly, which was a relief, but the diagnosis remained inconclusive for several weeks. Finally, the diagnosis came back as Granulomatous Inflammation of the Lung, an extra-intestinal manifestation of Crohn’s disease. Yes, essentially the inflammatory response of Crohn’s disease had invaded my lungs! In the years following this discovery, other organs were similarly impacted, including my kidneys. Now I see three specialists to monitor these issues, and undergo routine testing to ensure my symptoms are controlled.

These days I am stable, but of course, I am on some serious medications. However, due to financial limitations and concerns about the long-term effects of these medications, I am choosing dietary and lifestyle changes to treat the disease. While the doctors continue to call it Crohn’s Disease, the pervasive nature of the inflammation and the fact that other organs are impacted causes me to wonder if perhaps some other diagnosis may be more appropriate. Nonetheless, I have already experienced some relief from my attempts to control my symptoms through dietary changes. In the next post I’ll share exactly what you can expect from my updates, what diet I’m following, what I’ll be tracking and reporting, and some of my favorite vegan recipes.

Now it’s your turn. Have your dietary choices ever affected your health?

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