How it all started…
I’m Susana Crispin a normal everyday person that up to a few years ago had been feeling, physically miserable. I would wake up everyday feeling as though I had not slept at all, and by 2 pm my low energy level was wearing me down. I had constant joint, back and leg pain that was starting to affect my quality of life. Now there were so many crazy things happening around me, with my father, who lived on the west coast, increasingly getting sicker and sicker. I started traveling frequently to California to help my mom and sister with my Dad’s care so my stress level was also going through the roof.
I continued that way for months with increasing fatigue, pain, and stress. I practiced no self-care throughout this time, no exercise, started to gain weight, my skin would sporadically break out, and had dry patches of skin flaking off of my face and legs constantly. It’s amazing how I thought I was living a pretty healthy life. My breaking point was when I woke up to find my pillowcase full of hair. Not just a few strands, hundreds and hundreds of strands. My hair loss became more apparent when I would wash or brush my hair. I had fists full of hair and started to see bald patches around my scalp. This was scary!
What is wrong with me?
This is when I thought that I, not only needed help, but also that I needed to find out why all this was happening to me. After many visits to my primary care physician, many specialists, and after dozens of vials of blood being taken for tests, there was NO answer to the cause of my ailments. My doctor sent me to a Rheumatologist, who found that my Antinuclear Antibody (a marker for inflammation) levels were high, pointing to a possible autoimmune issue. Therefore, more tests were conducted and nothing was found. So my condition continued to deteriorate and my Rheumatologist had no other choice but to diagnose me with Fibromyalgia. At the same time my primary care physician’s office calls to say that my Hemoglobin A1c level is pretty high and one point away from being considered Pre-Diabetic. The advice I received from the nurse was to decrease my carbohydrate intake. No other guidance or support. That was it!
Meanwhile the well-intentioned Rheumatologist explained that I needed to be on medication called Pregabalin, which came along with many side effects including increased risk for suicide… Yikes! I don’t think so. The other choice he gave me was to add aerobic exercise daily and eat an anti-inflammatory diet recommended to patients with rheumatoid arthritis. He said that it would aid in decreasing the joint pain and inflammation. I thought I would go with that instead, but how was I going to accomplish that? And what is an anti-inflammatory diet? I had no further explanation.
I started researching what an anti-inflammatory diet was on the *American Arthritis Foundation’s (http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/arthritis-diet/anti-inflammatory/) website and looking into what other medical professionals in the public eye had to say, about pre-diabetes and inflammation, after all, they are our experts in living a healthful life right? Well, that only confused me more. On one hand, one source (arthritis.org) was suggesting that a low inflammatory diet rich in fiber from fruits and vegetables and limiting in or avoiding saturated fats, gluten, casein found in dairy, salt, sugar and processed foods seemed promising. On the other hand, the same website also classified dairy as one of the best anti inflammatory foods, Huh?
I also read that high fat, high protein, low grain diet could be beneficial from “experts” which I will not mention,and then the big whammy…One so called expert telling us not to eat certain whole foods (vegetables and fruits) to avoid lecithins yet promoting a red magical powder. How could this be the answer? Reductionism at it’s best, a powder over what comes naturally from the earth!
I grew ever more anxious until I started reading and dissecting study after study on health and nutrition. One study after another I found hole after hole and questionable sponsors/backers for many of them.
Then I discovered Nutritionfacts.org, which is a website founded by Dr. Michael Gregor, author of New York Times best seller, “How Not To Die”. NutritionFacts.org is the first science-based, non-commercial website to provide free daily videos and articles on the latest discoveries in nutrition. So I started reading and watching those enlightening videos.
As I paid more attention to my own habits, I noticed that I was eating most of the things that cause inflammation including foods with hidden sugar and processed foods as well as eating out for lunch most days and all weekends. Who really knows all the ingredients and toxic chemicals used in fast food restaurants?
The first thing I did was go through my pantry and refrigerator looking for foods with added sugar and those all went to the trash! This can be tricky though, since sugar hides under many different names, but that will be another post. After I accomplished that, I started detoxing from sugar. I thought this was definitely one of the hardest things I have ever done. The first three days were miserable with never ending headaches, irritability and infinite cravings, but I survived. The days that followed were much easier since I started substituting for my sweets with real food. Instead of a cookie or hazelnut spread over toast, I opted for a serving of fresh fruit to quench that craving. If I wanted an ice cream (strawberry is my favorite!) , I made a smoothie that included berries. I increased the amount of produce in my fridge, where most of the contents are actually fresh produce nowadays. It was not an easy task I may say, to learn to cook differently and experiment with strange and exotic fruits and vegetables, but I started feeling better and that was enough motivation to keep going.
After about 10 days of feeling comfortable with this new found routine and learning that I was a few pounds lighter, I started separating other processed food in my pantry and fridge with unpronounceable and questionable ingredients and preservatives. Those went to the trash as well. I started buying and trying new herbs and spices and incorporating them to my meals and let me tell you, I don’t miss the old stuff. After the first month of eating cleaner whole food, not having gluten, dairy and staying away from food with added sugar, my skin started to change and my hair stopped falling out. The pain in my joints continued to lessen and the fatigue for the most part started to fade. I now had energy to increase my physical activity and actually go outside to try new things. My husband couldn’t believe how much energy I had and how happy I felt.
As my journey continues towards a more plant-based diet and can also say that I am not perfect, there are moments when one needs to splurge a little. I still go out to occasionally to restaurants that offer cleaner food choices, and when that is not the option I am a whole lot more picky when it comes to what I order. Another example is the occasional sweet treat...oh that dark chocolate, or the infrequent gluten free slice of pizza. All in all, eating cleaner has become my lifestyle. Now I have the vigor I needed to do more. Recently I ran my first 5k here in Wilmington and I would not turn back for the world because I still remember what that felt like…
I would love to hear your comments and if any of you have had successes with eating cleaner.