Saturday, January 30, 2010

Holistic living in the news

So, a columnist whose work I really like wrote about me and my Holistic Moms group in the Washington Post in an article that was titled on paper "Healthier eating, a nibble at a time" but appears online here as "No need to go hog-wild in making healthier food choices."

I already posted some comments online, that if you feel good about your choices, that doesn't mean anyone else has to feel bad about hers. I elaborated on the "it's not a choice" for me issue -- if I don't live like this (specifically paying close attention to what I eat), I feel bad and am putting myself at risk of serious health problems (that would cost a lot of money to address if I weren't spending my money on good quality food).

I'm glad for the exposure, but several folks I've talked to about the article are bummed that it succumbed to the tired old "McDonalds vs. health food store" dichotomy. I wish enthusiasm the author shared with me had outshone the piece's intimidated tone. In a personal reflective piece about the author's own experiences, it seems jarring to bring in the "but not everyone can afford this" via a low-income woman talking about not being able to afford (and also not liking) vegetables. My husband complained that including this example is like inserting in an article on home renovation "but not everyone has a safe place to live" or in a travel article, "Must be nice to go to a spa when all those people in Haiti just want clean water."

There are real problematic reasons why crappy food is so cheap and accessible, and that's worth discussing. Just not as a way to suggest that the things my friends and holistic mama sisters are doing in the name of health is some kind of elitist pursuit.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mama gets the sniffles

We've got 60 degrees here in Metro DC and I think I'm finally getting over a cold that started two weeks ago. I never get sick and stay sick. This was annoying. Not so bad that I had to make the husband stay home or back out on a major event I was planning, but bad enough that I sounded like the woman from "The Nanny" if she had a sinus infection. Not pretty!

We don't do drugs in our house, so I did my best to self-medicate. This starts with food -- lots of nutrient-dense homemade (from pastured chickens) bone broth and a limit on refined carbs. When I look back, the weekend before I got sick I had hot rice cereal for breakfast one day and French toast another day (GF millet bread, but still) and a bunch of rice crackers. That's way more packaged food than usual. So I cut out what I could but still allowed myself some antioxidant-rich raw cacao.

When I started to feel an illness on I restarted the flower essences I maybe should have been taking all season long from Perelandra. On Tuesday the 12th, I tried the homeopathic remedy Hepar. Sulph. Calc. and promptly got worse with a sore throat and swollen glands. I think I honestly fell asleep on the floor of my bathroom while my son played with toys in an empty bathtub. A homeopath said it was most likely that this reaction was just pushing the natural course of events forward and that now I just had a cold I might as well let run its course. So I gave up on the homeopathy - none of the indications seemed 100% right on anymore,anyway - and just tried garlic & ginger in hot lemon water in the morning, eating well, getting sleep, staying in bed even if I couldn't sleep well (instead of getting up to work), and putting some eucalyptus in my shower. I kept meaning to get even just a basic saline nasal spray but didn't, and we found our humidifier but never got it working.

Well, all that, and a lot of water and a lot of bodywork. My head was killing me with major sinus pressure, so I looked for whatever healing hands had openings. On Wednesday, the day after I felt terrible, I had a chiropractic adjustment and acupuncture. On Saturday morning I had a massage, primarily of craniosacral therapy. On Monday afternoon I had another bodywork session, a combo of craniosacral therapy and lymphatic drainage massage. Each time I handed over my credit card after a session, I did feel better. But it didn't last to the next day, not as much as I wanted. I still had a lot of nose-blowing and some coughing.

Then, on Wednesday when I'd been sick for a week, my eye looked red in one corner, which I thought was from not sleeping well until the next morning when it was sticky and red all over. This was the day of my event. None of the many homeopathic remedies for conjunctivitis sounded spot-on for my symptoms, but I got so weepy when my friend rang the doorbell while I was trying to have my son nap, that I decided to take pulsatilla. And I found some homeopathic eye drops at CVS, which I think helped, for sure with the redness. The eye was cleared up a day later. (The second eye got it too and also cleared up after a day).

Friday I saw an osteopath who worked a lot on my head in general, my sinuses and even in my mouth and upper palette. I sounded like a different person after that appointment -- much less nasal. But the next morning I slept in and still felt like I'd regressed. Maybe shopping for a sofa, meeting friends for coffee and walking a mile in mild winter day were too much. But we did get a new rebounder, which I used twice, hoping that it would help my lymphatic system clear out. And I did fit in a little yoga.

Sunday I had to drag myself out of bed but felt a lot better after starting the morning off with Vitamin C before my lemon/ginger/garlic drink, to which I added turmeric and elderberry. And then I had a full breakfast and set to work on some reorganization of the house, which felt great. I even had a little decaf coffee and some GFCF sugar-free (maple syrup only) chocolate cake my son and I had made as a celebration of my successful event Thursday night (adaptation of this cake recipe but using mashed cherries instead of applesauce and adding cacao and coconut flakes).

Despite this indulgence, I could tell I'd turned the corner Sunday afternoon. It's now Monday afternoon, and though I still am not ready to go out and do a full run in this gorgeously warm day (or to be too far away from a tissue), I am glad I was able to ride this out and that so far, no one else in the house seems to have any symptoms.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Take a break, Winter.

I think my shoulders are finally detaching from my ears. Fifty degrees and the disappearance of last week's bone-chilling wind could not have come too soon.

I'm amazed at how different my attitude is now that I've actually had some warm, fresh air. The world feels open instead of hunched into a ball. I can leave my house without hours of preparation.

Yesterday we hiked in the woods behind our house to get to the park instead of walking along the sidewalk. Then we walked some more to meet a friend who recently moved nearby and walked back to the park. It was glorious. Even though I was sicker this week than I've been all winter and feel most of the day like my sinuses are blinking "drain me or I'll explode," after some time outside, the pain disappears, and my mood is vastly improved. The addiction to run to the computer is quelled, and I see remember how funny my son is.

Last week I went to a library story time featuring authors from Solar Publishing. After the reading, I bought their CD Earth Day Everyday, which is now on heavy rotation in our house. The vocals sing the praises of the sun, which I have come to appreciate these past days of thaw.

I don't even care if I see the shiny yellow ball in blue skies as long as its beams somehow hit the DC area the way they are supposed to. I moved away from the Midwest to avoid the kind of cold, cutting winters we've been seeing glimpses of here recently. I know there have been at least two New Years Eve days here in NoVa when I've gone running in a t-shirt. But lately all I can do is bark at my son to stop playing when I pick him up at preschool because Mama is not in a snowsuit.

So today, I announce with joy that yes, that was my kid wearing Tevas with socks. In January. Now that is hot!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why I'm Not a Vegetarian Anymore

In preparation for writing a piece for my column at the Washington Times Communities, "Reading Ingredients: Tales from a Health-Conscious Mom," I realized that I could stand to write have a background post on why I eat the way I do when it's so different from how I used to eat.

I've written some about my nutritional beliefs in a piece called "My Kind of Nutrition (Or Healthy Eating 101)" and a similar post here on Crunchy-Chewy Mama. I've also written a little about my ideas about health care and my past experiences with doctors on this post at DC Metro Moms.

But let me go back a little to trace my personal food history to talk about the journey to vegetarian and back.

I first lost my interest in eating ham after dissecting a fetal pig in 9th grade biology. Then, when I went to France for three weeks for a cultural exchange in 11th grade, I felt heavy and just plain yucky with all the meat at every meal. Some friends were experimenting with vegetarianism, including my co-leader in the high school student environmental organization.

When I went to college, I joined the environmental group there, and most everyone was vegetarian, as were several of the folks living on my hall in the dorm and friends of theirs. It seemed like vegetarianism made sense in terms of how much energy it took to grow grain versus to feed animals to then feed to people, and lots of folks were on the animal-rights bandwagon, too.

I stopped eating red meat and had zero desire for it. I asked for my college graduation present to be a Sierra Club backpacking trip and chose a vegan trip in the Sierra mountains that included yoga and meditation. It was beautiful and powerful.

I did not go full-on veggie for a few more months, but since I was living as a non-profit intern at at women's rights organization outside of DC, eating vegetarian became a cost-cutting measure in addition to a way of life I was gravitating toward.

On my birthday in March of 1996, I walked away from a turkey sandwich lunch at a sub shop and decided that was the last time. Soon after I saw a report on factory farmed chickens essentially living in their own feces, and I decided that no one should want to eat meat. I didn't know there were alternatives to that type of farming.

I also didn't know much about health to understand that adrenal stress and an imbalance in my digestive enzymes might have caused me to be so averse to red meat -- that not wanting to eat it was a symptom of something else rather than just a natural sigh that it wasn't right for me.

And somehow I failed to see the connection between my new diet -- grain-heavy and increasingly dependent on soy products -- and my increase in gastro-intestinal problems or deep-cyst acne. Certainly stress also played into my problems, and I'd had some G.I. issues all my life. But things were really bad in 1996-97.

Then I got some kind of food poisoning or flu, and that actually seemed to help clean me out for a while! I moved away from DC and toward graduate school, where I didn't get hard-core into animal rights issues but generally accepted the basic ideas behind The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. It just seemed like meat was a barbaric way of living, akin to abuse and misogyny. I did okay health-wise while a vegetarian student for the next three years. Well, physically anyway. My mental health -- which had always been on the verge of depression -- took a downturn.

I should also mention that I was on the Pill this whole time, which did me no favors and I'm sure contributed to my woes. After we moved back to the DC area and I began teaching, I fell into a serious depression that required medication.

I also had a recurrence of G.I. problems much worse than before. I did put together than my issues seemed to get worse after going to Sunflower Vegetarian restaurant, but I couldn't figure out why that would be. I had yet to learn anything about gluten (the meat substitute used in a lot of their cooking), and this was years before I learned I had celiac disease.

I started seeing some alternative practitioners this first year after grad school, and I cleared my seasonal allergies and my sensitivity to sulfites and some other chemicals and foods. But it still took a bout with serious and long-term constipation and, a year later, with infertility, to get me to change my tune about my diet.

When doctors found nothing wrong during a colonoscopy in 2002, I sought out more alternative healers. Without understanding how poor my health really was, I went off the Pill and off anti-depressants in preparation for trying to conceive. That's when the real fun started.

It took almost 3 months to get my first period, then 6 weeks, and then nothing. My gut wasn't happy, and my skin looked terrible. I consulted with a nutritionist who suggested that my adrenals were depleted and that my vegetarian diet was not right for me. She talked about the ideas behind the book Nourishing Traditions, and though I was first insulted that she suggest I resume eating meat, I relented to at least try cutting back on soy and to add in full-fat dairy and eggs to my diet.

After three and a half months of no fertility signs, I ovulated two weeks after changing my diet simply to a lacto-ovo (as opposed to near-vegan) vegetarian diet.

At the same time, I also started the process of being diagnosed with Graves' Disease, autoimmune hyperthyroidism. This nutritionist suggested a few months later that I might have a gluten sensitivity; sometimes autoimmune conditions go together, she'd read in the book Going Against the Grain.

I tried cutting back on gluten and dairy and found an improvement in my health. I'd already started to feel better eating poultry and fish again. My test showed the genetic marker for celiac disease, marked intestinal malabsorption, and a very high sensitivity to gluten and casein (and a lower sensitivity to egg white and yeast. I never tested soy, but I'm sure that would have come up and don't need the test to tell me to avoid it).

In addition to my new diet and supplement regimen, I took a lot of alternative methods to support myself while I was on anti-thyroid medication - acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, detox protocols. I became convinced that a lifetime of eating gluten had contributed to my tendency toward depression and that my six years as a whole-grain-heavy (and soy-based) vegetarian really did me in.

I felt better than I ever had, and, six months after I'd gone off anti-thyroid medication, I conceived my son in June 2005. I have not had to treat my thyroid since then, except for adding a little iodine a few months postpartum when my levels started to dip low, toward Hashimoto's thyroiditis.

All the details about my current diet can be found on other posts, but I did want to explain why I came to understand that a vegetarian diet is not right for me. I now buy most of my meat (and eggs, and dairy for my husband and son) directly from local farmers, and I buy as much local produce as possible. I hope to grow more this summer now that we are settled in our new house. I have not yet read The Vegetarian Myth by 20-year vegan Lierre Keith, but I get the sense from reviews (including this one) that the author addresses ecological, philosophical, ethical, political and nutritional arguments for and against vegetarianism in persuasive ways.

I can't begin to pretend that I know what is right for other people, even if part of me wants to think I know. I for sure don't want to make blanket statements that sound dismissive of other people's choices.

I just want to be clear that my choice to be an omnivore is intentional and based on a lot of trial and error; it has not been made without a lot of thought and consideration.

Friday, January 8, 2010

I'll take a village. Please.

Originally posted at DC Metro Moms.

After a
week home with a son who was just sick enough to have to stay home from preschool, followed by a weekend of the biggest December snow ever in D.C., I was ready to get out o’ town on Christmas Eve. The cab that took us to the airport for a week with family was driven by a man who explained that his youngest son, too ill to go out in the snow, was kept busy by his two older brothers. He gestured to my almost-four-year-old son, “He needs a brother or sister.” Ahem.

Nosy, but right. I don’t really love the dynamic the three of us have going on at home these days. Life was very different (read: much more fun) with the two other toddler cousins, their parents, and grandparents around the first half of our holiday visit. It kind of sucks that this happens only once or twice a year.

Managing three kids under four in one unfamiliar house was challenging and requiring of some adult supervision, sure. But my son was playing, all the time, and it usually didn’t involve me. This was a major bonus. I can’t even believe I’m saying this, but I actually took a nap. Twice. I might as well have been fed grapes by a golden-chested god . Three cheers for cousins!


Read the rest of this post at DC Metro Moms.