Thursday, 27 October 2011

Food for Thought

Approximately two years ago, I decided I wanted to live a "med free" life.  I didn't know when or how it would happen, but I was up to the challenge.  I had to make some changes though and one of those changes was the food I was putting into my body.  All and all my husband and I have been fairly healthy eaters.  Neither of us were overly picky and enjoyed a wide range of vegetables, meats and fruit.  However, we also enjoyed "Easy Friday and Saturday Nights", which consisted of either chicken wraps (with breaded chicken), pizza, nachos or chicken wings.  And nothing made me more happy then to wash it down with a can of Coke.  I loved Coke.  I secretly drank one or two a day.  Sugar, food colouring and who knows what else.  Yum!  I also enjoyed my specialty coffee drinks.  Not black coffee...coffee with milk, ice and flavoured syrup.  Yum!

My nerves were getting the better of me and although I was still on Clonazepam, things were in fact getting worse.  At the time I didn't know this was because I had hit tolerance with the medication and my body was wanting more.  So I continued taking my prescribed dose of 1mg daily and wondered why I was such a wreck inside.  I had been for my yearly physical earlier that year and described some stomach issues I was having to my GP.  My doctor said I was lactose-intolerant and to go off of dairy completely.  I did not know you have to have a test to find out if you are in fact lactose-intolerant, so I listened to her and cut 100% dairy out of my diet.  Months later I cut out the Coke and Coffee drinks since I noticed a significant increase in my anxiety when I had either of these things.  Within a month of cutting out the pop and sweetened coffee drinks, the pounds were falling off.  I had gained 50+ pounds from years of anti-depressants.  I would go on a new anti-depressant, become nauseous the first month, then the nausea would bid farewell and the munchies would settle in.  I was also losing motivation of any kind and became borderline lethargic on these meds.  Sugary drinks + increased appetite + exhaustion = weight gain...fast.  I would always pride myself on how physically strong I was.  I could do a plank with the best of them, lift 20 lbs free weights and easily do one hour on the elliptical or bike.  And yet my body didn't show it.  I became more depressed with my self image.  I would look in the mirror and wonder if my husband still found me attractive.  I felt like the ugly duckling.  I lost interest in my looks and often preferred to settle for track pants and a sweatshirt instead of jeans and make up.  I attempted to "better myself" and would get a hair cut or buy a new shirt every now and then...but with very little reaction from people around me.  So I just gave up.

So when the pounds came off, it felt so good.  At least something was going right!  But then my nerves increased and I couldn't figure out why I was still feeling this way after making some positive changes.  I started to fear things like meat and sugar.  I had already taken on a phobia of germs.  I was fearful of the stomach flu and vomiting and would wash my hands umpteen times a day.  Now I was terrified to eat meat of any kind - scared it held E. coli or salmonella.  I feared sugar - afraid it was what lead me to panic and diarrhea.

Part of my "better me" plan was to seek therapy.  I was fortunate to get an appointment with a Psychiatrist in town who helped me - with exposure therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) - to work through these irrational fears.  This included eating the same meal with chicken in it for several nights to see how my fear and anxiety would decrease each night I ate it.  Or to slowly introduce sugar by eating a teaspoon of honey each day.  Today I can enjoy some chocolate without any fear or "what ifs" after I consume it.  Meat...well, I realized I just don't really enjoy it.  Red meat has proven to wreak havoc on my digestive system, so I stay away from that entirely.  I will eat a small amount of poultry if it is served at someone's house - but will not cook it for myself.  I prefer tofu or fish. 

I try to stay away from too much "white flour".  When I bake for my family, I use a mix of whole wheat flour, flax seed meal and wheat germ.  I'll make whole wheat pasta with a simple sauce made of crushed tomatoes (fresh, not canned), basil, oil, salt and pepper.  You will find me eating hummus almost daily with pita chips and cucumber.  I enjoy yogurt now - the ONLY dairy product I have re-introduced.  I don't miss cheese and I will not consume cow's milk (neither will my husband or daughter - we use Almond Milk instead).  We never go out to restaurants anymore.  Many of the foods in restaurants are laden with MSG and all three of us have found we often feel ill after eating out.  We now save money and we know what goes into our bodies.

Instead of buying prepackaged snacks for my daughter's lunch at school, I bake.  Every week or two I bake a batch of homemade muffins and cookies.  That way I can substitute with whole wheat flour, wheat germ and cut the sugar.  If a recipe calls for 1-2 cups of sugar, only 1/4 cup goes in ours.  If I made banana muffins, I use unsweetened applesauce instead of oil and skip the sugar altogether.  It's plenty sweet enough.  Plus, I do add some chocolate chips in there for some fun.  If my daughter has a bad cold, she now asks, "Mommy, if I want a snack, what food would make me feel better?".  She was fighting a bad cold last week and I was getting her a homemade muffin in the kitchen, when she walked up behind me and said, "You know, Mommy, sugar isn't good for my cold because the bacteria feeds on it".  I had to laugh and told her that yes, she was correct, but that it was okay to give in to one of mommy's muffins.  She pays attention to the food she consumes and is aware it makes her body strong.  However, she is still an 8 year old kid and IS allowed chocolate bars and chips from time to time.  And if she goes to a friend's party, she lets loose and enjoys the goodies. Everything in moderation. 

Fluids.  We only drink water in our house.  You won't find pop of any kind or fruit juice in our refrigerator.  Instead it's water or S. Pellegrino for a treat.  And all three of us now drink a high quality green tea or chamomile tea.

These past 2+ years have been extremely difficult for me mentally and physically.  However, one of the positives that came out of it was my new appreciation for my body.  I love cooking with squash, kale, wheat germ and oats.  I love knowing my daughter goes to school each day with a balanced snack and lunch.  I love that I've lost 80+ pounds!  Yes, some of it came off because of the nausea and lack of appetite during withdrawal, however I'm made so many positive changes to my diet that even though I'm eating more regularly now I don't find myself gaining more than 5lbs.  I still cannot exercise the way I'd like to be.  Yoga and walks are best for now until I heal more.  If I push my body too much I risk feeling horrible hours later with heightened anxiety and stomach pain.  I do look forward though to the days when I can go for a run with my daughter or kick box in the basement.  More healthy changes are to come and I am thoroughly enjoying the new wholesome foods I wasn't  as aware of before, and I LOVE knowing my daughter will have a whole new respect for her body that perhaps I didn't have over the years. 

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