Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A recent response to a few questions

Q: Hi Hannah, it's so incredibly helpful to hear of a REAL LIVE PERSON who is doing this, and feels great! I get so inspired when I read the books...but then, living it is hard when you are so going "against the grain." And it's really reassuring to read that you gradually made changes over a year. I start thinking about cutting out sugar and flour and I get very nervous... I'm very passionately anti-dieting and I don't do well with rules. and so I worry I will just rebel. But if they are just guiding principles, I don't get so nervous. Was it hard for you to make the changes? Do you have to commit to 100% compliance at some point? I also worry a lot about feeling very restricted in terms of being able to eat out or at friends' houses.

What does GAPS stand for? And what made you decide to take things a step further? (certainly all the benefits sound amazing!)

A: I wouldn't recommend cutting out all flour and sugar (or sweeteners) cold turkey, unless the person had some really serious health issues that needed to be addressed immediately (for example, doctor wants to put them on medication for diabetes, or ongoing yeast/candida issues in a pregnant woman, which can cause major problems for the baby -- yeast in the gut and on the body is fed by anything starchy and sweet, just FYI).

I first switched to raw milk, pastured eggs, and grass-fed meats. I also added in the cod liver oil, and stopped using canola oil. A while later I added in pastured pork lard as a major cooking fat, and stopped using olive oil for cooking (I use it for dressings/toppings). I also committed 90% to whole wheat flour, and gradually learned to bake with it in ways that render it more nutritious, and same thing with other whole grains. I also switched completely to natural sweeteners (like unrefined sugar, raw honey, and locally-produce grade B maple syrup), which is really not much of a sacrifice! :)

Over time I realized I had to stop eating sugar and even large amounts of natural sweeteners. The first big wake-up call was when I came down with a really nasty cold after eating sugar over Thanksgiving when I hadn't been eating it for a while; the second time was after I got a bad flu after eating a cupcake someone brought over to the house. I really didn't want to stop eating white pasta (I LOVE homemade mac 'n cheese!) or sugar or flour...but I really had to because I was getting sick. Lots of people can eat this stuff "with impunity" (so they think) and not get sick immediately or have other issues. I realized, though, that my skin would get pretty bad (acne) when I ate sweets or white flour, French fries from restaurants, etc. Gradually I just didn't want to deal with the health issues or acne anymore and got really serious about my diet. Also I was really motivated to get off the thyroid medication, so there was that as well. I didn't go on the GAPS diet, though, until much later, and that is the more extreme diet which involves cutting out starches, grains, and everything sweet for a period of time. Fruit is allowed on GAPS (following a certain protocol), and most people eat it. I did up until this winter when it seemed my skin got extra sensitive to anything sweet in my diet; I suspect with better weather and outdoor exercise it will be a different scenario (last summer I was eating a locally-grown peach a day with cream and having no issues; I also had raw honey in my regular diet). For women who have hormonal issues, though (irregular periods, PCOS, acne, PMS, fibroids, benign breast cysts, etc.) it is important to know that sweet and starchy foods (and alcohol) even in small amounts can have a serious negative impact. (When I first went on GAPS I had the first pain-free period of my life with no cramps or moodiness--it was amazing!! There can be big improvements really fast with dietary changes.)

I am not the type to "rebel" just for the sake of rebelling, but I've had many many occasions of eating foods that I knew wouldn't work out so great for me....and then suffering the consequences. There are many foods and drinks that are simply really terrible for us -- that 99% of us are eating on a daily basis! -- and this is just a fact of our biology and culture. And so I have -- with a certain degree of sadness -- decided that I would rather be healthy, energetic, and not on medications of any kind than eat whatever I want. Even though to other people it looks like I eat a crazy diet, and am super-sensitive to what I eat (which I am). One of the things I have learned that's pretty interesting to me is that the more quickly you react to food that doesn't work for your body, the healthier you are. One example: my son had some processed chip/cracker things at a social event (which he LOVED) and had a complete meltdown 15 minutes later, sobbing and sobbing and acting completely unlike himself. A friend told me this was a sign of healthiness actually, since he reacted so quickly.

There is of course a downside to being sensitive -- it means you can't eat the bakery cake at your friend's birthday party (though you could make your own alternative cake for a family member's party)....or snack on a pastry at the coffee shop....or grab a bagel for breakfast when you're running late. Maybe you can't even tolerate alcohol anymore (because after all, alcohol becomes sugar instantly in the body, not to mention its other toxic effects). There are times when it totally stinks to eat differently than other people, I won't lie to you. But I have become convinced that most people are having reactions to food that they are simply not tracing to their diet -- for example, waking up one day and having no energy, or feeling really depressed all of a sudden. Or allergies that get worse every year. Or a yearly date with the flu. Or unexplained digestive issues. Or problems sleeping. Or nasty headaches on a weekly basis. Or -- heaven forbid -- cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other "chronic" disease. I also believe firmly, from what I have read and observed, that even if we do not manifest outwardly visible signs of our body's distress from what we're feeding it, there is a serious amount of aging and cell breakdown going on at a cellular level....which can eventually lead to the dreaded diseases we would rather not talk about (cancer, Alzheimer's, neurological disorders...the list goes on).

The most important reason for me to stick with my current healthy diet is Oliver. I need to be 100% on the ball every day to be a good mother and balance working from home and parenting responsibilities; I can't afford the time (or money!) lost while lying sick in bed. (In the past, I used to be a regular at that!) Also, I don't want Oliver to go through the illnesses and discomfort I went through, ranging from the back-to-back infections I had as a child, to the regular bouts of diarrhea, to the extreme moodiness, to the feeling I can remember of just having NO energy, to the 5 awful years of teenage orthodontics, and the painful wisdom tooth extraction and fillings for my "genetic" cavities. I am so committed to him being healthy, and I know that (according to the research of Weston A. Price) people can really truly escape these problems and develop in a completely healthy way. This involves having really good nutrition and all the important nutrients that are essential to development, optimal learning, immune function, and more. Because children don't eat a lot of food, and because their instinctive tastes for nourishing food are easily turned aside by sweet and starchy things (which give them a blood sugar "high") it is really important to start them out right from the beginning. Down the road they will eat foods in restaurants and on play dates and at birthday parties that aren't on their "normal" diet, and they will be able to cope with it because their bodies will be strong and healthy. You are in the perfect position to do this since your baby hasn't been born yet!

Re: your question--GAPS stands for Gut And Psychology Syndrome. There is information at GAPSdiet.com and in the book by the same name (I highly recommend it!). There is a new edition available; it's expensive and you have to order it online, but it's a book to go back to over and over because it is so revealing about digestion and health and all the issues so many people and kids are dealing with today). The GAPSdiet.com website also has some sections on pregnancy and feeding babies that I think are very good, even for people who don't have problems on the GAPS spectrum (such as autism, depression, yeast overgrowth, etc.). I didn't have any of the GAPS issues myself, but I went on the diet because my son had undigested food in his stool and was becoming addicted to wheat and dairy...and both of us have seen amazing benefits. He is such a healthy little boy -- he has had two minor colds in his life -- and he learns like a sponge (he sings the alphabet song at age 2.5, and not because anyone drilled it into him!) and has incredible energy and pink cheeks, and irrepressible zest for life. It's so rewarding and thrilling to see him so healthy and strong and cute, when so many children are listless and prone to infections, or just not that energetic or happy. Food makes such a huge difference for kids.

I have gone on at length -- sorry you have to read a novel here! I wanted to convey that yes, it is a trade-off (though lots of people who eat this way can have occasional treats and don't seem to have the strong reactions I do -- everyone is different), but if you realize this and can make a decision based on what you want for your life and health then you are way ahead of most people.

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