Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Trusting our own dietary individuality

I'm often tempted to base my decisions on scientific research, regardless of whether the results prove to be true in my own experience.  Is a certain food considered healthy?  Unhealthy?  Does it boost my metabolism?  So on and so on.  It is easy to get caught up looking at controlled experiments done on rats, or the study of healthy cultures, to make decisions about my own diet.  But is this really the best thing to do?  

It's important to have balance.  I think as humans it is difficult to be completely objective in our decisions, and often what we believe to be true is actually false.   This makes science a beautiful thing when it comes to making appropriate decisions.  In theory, it provides an objective look what kind of foods can promote health and which tend to be harmful.  

But science is not perfect, and it is not always a good idea to assume that the findings of a study will necessarily be true for us.  It's important to remember that research is conducted on a sample of the population, and the results are completely dependent on the characteristics of that sample.   Many nutrition experiments are done on rats in very artificial situations that do not reflect our environment.  Does this mean they are not applicable to humans? No, they may very well be.  But I really think that each study needs to be taken within the context of our own experience.  We are not always aware of every single variable that is involved, which makes certain findings dangerous to accept as unquestionable truth.

On the other hand, our personal experience can often be misleading.  When my digestive health deteriorated, I began to be fearful of eating certain foods.  I thought that everything was making my stomach problems worse, so I cut out more and more.  I was "listening to my body", thinking that it was telling me that it couldn't handle these foods very well.  This just caused me to become weak and anorexic-looking.  But only when I allowed myself to eat normally again regardless of my stomach, did it start to get better.  The problem still comes and goes but is more manageable now.  In this case I needed to move beyond what I was experiencing, and change my perspective.  Often new information is what is needed to do so.

Knowledge and experience complement each other, we need not rely on either one alone.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Shake Weight!

Bizarre?  Hilarious?  Erotic?  All three? Maybe it's just me but at least I think it's amusing.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The week of hell is upon me

So this past week has basically been the week of hell.  We all have them, there is no avoiding it.   Make a list of every single possible thing that can go wrong,  and be amazed as they all happen, in addition to several other things that you couldn't have thought up if you tried.

Sometimes being overwhelmed can be a good lesson, it teaches me what I need to change about myself to avoid having similar issues in the future.  At least in theory it should work this way, but it seems that over the past year there have been several times that I've stressed myself out to near break-down levels.  Right now I need to look at my ability to handle things, because I have the option of accepting or resisting them and allowing myself to crack under the pressure.  Most of the time I can resist and ignore things if they are small enough, but I think attempting to do that now would do more harm than good.

Are the problems that affect my peace of mind really that big?  I don't know.  I think some of my complaints are valid, while others are exaggerated.  But the thing is, when you are in the middle of it, that makes no difference.  You can tell yourself "it doesn't matter" over and over again, but if you feel that it does matter, then it pretty much does.

I used to have the attitude that "everything happens for a reason".  I now think this is bullshit that people use to try to comfort themselves.  I do believe we can CREATE a reason, find meaning in what occurs.  But is there an inherent meaning in it?  Am I really going through a painful experience because there is an inherent message in it that I am just destined to learn?  Is there some omnipotent being that has decided I will have such and such an experience at such and such a time?  I doubt it.

It's healthy to look for meaning in chaos.  But I'm tired of deluding myself into thinking that everything has some wonderful lesson to be learned from it.  Some things just suck, but happen anyways.  Learning to accept things is an essential skill to develop.  The reason something happens is irrelevant, it's what we do with it that matters.  Was so and so's behaviour towards me unjustified?   Irrelevant, if I can accept it either way.  This is the attitude that I seek to develop.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sleep oh sleep, where art thou?

Good sleep is a wonderful thing.  Waking up feeling calm, refreshed, ready to face a new day.  But in reality, how often is this achieved?  Most of the time I end up having difficulties getting to sleep, or waking up in the middle of the night, waking up too early and not getting back to sleep, or just generally feeling run down.  I'm not sure why that is, but many people that I speak to seem to have similar issues when it comes to getting proper rest.

Stress is a big factor.  When laying in bed and thinking about too many things, it can become nearly impossible to fall asleep.  When I'm feeling calm it's easier to fall into that relaxed state where I can drift off into dreamland.  But often I lay there thinking about the day that has just passed and the day that is approaching.   I am envious when I hear people tell me that they can hit the bed and fall asleep within minutes every time.  Maybe I used to be able to do that when I was a child, I know I used to be a deep sleeper.  But now it seems like my mind likes to begin racing as soon as I lay down, no matter how tired I am.  

Naps are another wonderful thing.  The best is the middle of the afternoon, on a weekend, with the rain falling outside.  I had one of those a couple of weeks ago and I woke up feeling so refreshed and relaxed.  When we don't get enough sleep it feels like the body is running on adrenaline, and often lots of coffee, which just isn't the best way to feel calm and focused.

This past week has been particularly bad for sleep.  I eliminated caffeine for about 6 days and it seemed to have a slight improvement on sleep quality but not as much as I would have hoped, so I continue to enjoy my coffee and tea.   I did notice that I slept deeper and for longer, but I guess I didn't give the experiment enough time to notice the full benefits. 

Work has been extremely unproductive over the past week, so hopefully as of now I will be able to get some decent sleep and get things done.  Doesn't always seem to work out that way...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Can physical symptoms be explained psychologically?

I seem to always be complaining about one physical symptom or another.  Even during the same day it can shift between various ones, but there is always something.  Fatigue, anxiety, pressure in my chest, shoulder pain, stomach pain, headache, etc.  I'm beginning to feel that these can be explained more psychologically than any actual physical cause.

Dr. John Sarno has written several books about this, and has treated many patients experiencing pain and other symptoms that other doctors were unable to get rid of.  He believes there is an epidemic of psychosomatic illness that is currently being treated with medications but which really needs to be treated on a psychological level.  He has a Freudian perspective, and feels that our unconscious emotions can express themselves as physical symptoms, sort of as a way of distracting ourselves from having to experiencing the actual emotions.  So it's a defense mechanism, our body is trying to "protect us" from the intensity of whatever emotions we have hidden in our unconscious.

To treat people, he makes sure that they understand how the process works.  He believes the pain and other symptoms is caused by mild oxygen deprivation, which can manifest itself in just about any area of the body.  His books outline the mechanism in greater detail but I cannot remember them off the top of my head.  Anyways, the symptoms are actually harmless no matter how intense they may seem.  He has cured many people of severe back pain that nobody else has been able to treat, as well as other physical and psychological conditions.

In addition to understanding the mechanism, his patients are asked to begin journaling in order to get out the resentments and repressed emotions that are causing the physical symptoms.  Some also require psychotherapy, and it can take a while for the symptoms to subside.  Often, however, there is a quick improvement.

I'm fascinated by this approach because it offers a completely different perspective on the cause of our physical ailments.  I also am skeptical as to whether or not there is truly such an epidemic of mind-body disorders, or whether this is actually a rare explanation that he is making out to be a common cause of physical ailments.

I would like to believe that this could be a possible explanation for some of my symptoms.  It also makes me feel like I may be a bit crazy.   But psychosomatic does not mean that the symptoms are not real, they are very real.  The difference is that they have a psychological cause rather than a physical one.  The symptom does not feel any different than if it had an actual physical cause.

I intend to give more attention to this and see if there are any improvements in my physical symptoms as a result.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Is life really wonderful?

Life, if looked at objectively, is really a series of problems.  One after another, with temporary relief in between.  I used to think otherwise, but I'm coming to see that this is really how things are.  Maybe "problems" is not the best word, as it implies that there is something wrong happening.  Perhaps more accurately, life consists of a series of "stressors" that require us to respond.  We must remain adaptable, to not become overwhelmed by the day to day events.  These stresses can be interpreted as positive or negative depending on our own state of mind, but we are nonetheless forced to remain on our toes, we can't coast through life without effort.

I don't mean to sound cynical.  For the last 5 or 6 years I've prayed and meditated my ass off, but things only seem to get harder as the years pass.  I feel like my past foray into spirituality has brought me more disappointment than comfort.  Maybe that's why I no longer really feel drawn to it.  But maybe the problem is me, that I continue to be disappointed because of all the false positivity that I used to try to fill myself with.

I think to truly find peace of mind, we must accept that reality is really a big garbage heap sometimes.  Or even most of the time.  If we can see that, and be okay with it, then we are no longer prisoners of false expectations.  One of the biggest piles of shit that I've heard was that our teen years are supposed to be the best years of our life.  Boy was that a disappointment.

The "small things" really are what seem to make each day worth it.  A brief interaction with a friend, a good cup of coffee or tea, laughing, taking a nap.  Each day there are small joys and pleasures that are available to us.  Right now I'm sitting at a cafe with a tea and typing what's on my mind, and there's nothing else I rather be doing.

I think learning to enjoy the small things is the only way to stay sane.  I can no longer expect each day to be exciting, adventurous, or easy.  I try, but I'm let down.  It just isn't like that.  So I choose to enjoy whatever I can and not take the rest too seriously.  Because really, does any of it matter?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Doctors suck

I have no more patience for the health care system, we have no choice but to learn to take care of our own health issues.  When it comes to treating just about any ongoing health problem, in my experience, doctors have been completely useless and for the most part very uninformed.

For years I've had various symptoms that nobody has been able to really find an explanation for.  Migraines, chest pain/heart palpitations, anxiety, fatigue, digestive problems with weight loss, and very poor concentration.   Tests are always coming back normal.

This weekend I felt the pressure in my chest becoming more uncomfortable.  This feeling has come and gone for years, but nobody can tell me what it is.  Twice I went for an ECG which was apparently normal.  Now this doctor seemed to question why I was even coming to see him today if I had the problem for so long.  I explained that it came and went and that other tests were normal.  Then he questioned why I was seeing him instead of my family doctor, to which I explained that my doctor was usually at the clinic on that day so I was expecting to see him, but he was not there for whatever reason.  So already I'm basically a burden to this man who seems to think I'm going there for the fun of it on a Friday evening because of I have nothing better to do.  He checks my heart rate and all that and it seems normal.  "I think the problem may be coming from here", he said, pointing to his head.  Thanks, doc.

I asked him about thyroid issues potentially causing this and he said that my thyroid results were completely normal.  Through my reading I've found that TSH lab tests are not exactly a great way of assessing thyroid function, but he replied that it is the standard and there was no problem with it.  So there goes any potential thyroid discussion.

Next I asked about my adrenals.  He looked amused and asked to see my armpits, apparently if you grow hair in that area then your adrenals are fine.   I googled this to find out, I assume that this would be a symptom of Addison's disease rather than more moderate adrenal weakness, but doctors do not recognize that this exists.  There goes any potential adrenal discussion.  At least I know my armpit hair is not lacking.

Finally I asked to be tested for food allergies.  He says did not want to send me to get tested for this because he was not my family doctor, which I suppose is reasonable.  This means I get the opportunity to come another day and wait another hour or two to get a paper that he could easily write for me.  But I think the real reason he didn't want to send me is that I asked him too many questions and he thinks I'm some sort of hypochondriac that doesn't have any real problem.  I should just cut out foods to see what I'm allergic to, he said.   Thanks again, doc.

I did not feel I was taken seriously at all.  I spend a huge amount of time reading about health problems trying to figure out why I don't feel right, but doctors are not open to discussion about anything that they were not taught in medical school.  I'm not a thyroid expert, but even after reading a book or two is enough to learn that typical thyroid tests are inadequate and do not pick up most cases of hypothyroidism.  I can't say that this is part of my problem or not, but it would be nice to be able to discuss it with a health professional.

So the search continues....

Monday, May 24, 2010

Relationships with family and friends

I still feel that I have been neglecting the importance of family and friends in my life.  My family has dinner every Sunday at my grandmother's house, and for the past year I've been there only a couple of times.  Not that I have such a busy schedule, I just preferred to have the weekends free.  But the last couple of weeks I went and felt that it was nice to see them.  At the end of the evening I'm certainly ready to leave, but it is usually a positive experience.

Family always brings up old memories and issues, so sometimes it is easier just to stay away rather than make the effort to spend time with them.  My moods can shift very quickly around my mother, so it can often be a stress to be there too.  But there's something comforting about eating a meal with family and then lounging around watching TV together.  We're not the most communicative bunch but we are who we are.  My grandmother has Alzheimer's and is getting worse, so it is important for me to be able to spend as much time with her as possible while she still recognizes me.  

I also have trouble getting close to friends.  I have one good friend that I see on a weekly basis, we usually go out to eat or see a movie.  I also go to 12-step meetings (AA and NA), so I see people there a few times a week.  But aside from that, most people remain acquaintances.  There are so many people that I could easily initiate friendships with but I just don't do it.  I'm fairly independent and prefer spending a lot of time doing my own thing, although a certain amount of interaction is needed on a regular basis.  I think becoming close to somebody requires a certain amount of vulnerability, and I guess I find it easier to avoid that as much as possible.

Relationships are an essential component of health and can't be ignored.  Allowing myself to have more close relationships would be one of the best things I could do for myself.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is there really a point?

Life is complicated enough without obsessing about food to the point of expecting perfection.  Wake up, live, eat, continue to live, eat some more, live some more, go to bed.  Of course there are different variations of this, but that's basically what it should be.  And that's how things used to be for me, when I was younger.  I had a great appetite, would eat until I was full, then forget about it until the next meal.  I wasn't constantly thinking about what I should or shouldn't be eating, planning the next meal, craving, or feeling guilty about anything.  This is ultimately the relationship I would like to have with food.  I want to satisfy my appetite without over-thinking it.   The amount of energy that I give to this is tremendous.  Researching nutrition can become all-encompassing, because there is no end to information and nobody really has any final word on what the "optimum" diet is, if that even exists.

So once again I begin to question whether or not this information is really useful to me or not.  I really don't know.  I'm on the fence between becoming more stringent with my food choices, or with just eating good foods and not thinking too much about it.

There are aspects of my life that I feel are being ignored in an attempt to find the perfect way of eating.  Perhaps there is a way to integrate everything together, rather than having to choose one over the other.   I find this extremely difficulty, and will usually give up one interest if I find another, rather than finding balance.  But this hasn't worked for me in the past, so maybe it is time to try something new.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Finding the underlying issue behind eating patterns

When it comes to my eating patterns, in particular bingeing, there are several factors that come into play.   I tend to look at flour and sugar as the bad guys, triggering a neurochemical response that causes me to sometimes lose control and continue to eat way past the point of fullness.   However, something that is important to note is that sugar/flour sometimes cause me to eat to excess.   There are certainly times where I am able to consume these things without any craving or need to binge afterward.  It then seems inappropriate to look at them as the root of the problem, when there is another variable at play.  Sure, sugar can trigger a binge, but what is it that is causing me to have that response at certain times, while other times it doesn't?

I think it goes back to my emotional health and level of stress at the moment.  This weekend I was out of town visiting family.  One day, I had some pie for dessert, and then literally had a chocolate bar thrown at me, which I certainly ate.  I was able to stop after that and go to bed without much of an issue.   The day after, I ate lots of sweets throughout the day, and come evening had a massive binge on chocolates and other sweet things that was completely out of control.

So what was the difference between these two days?   These are potential explanations for the day of the binge:

  • I had eaten sugar consistently throughout the day, before the binge began
  • A particularly stressful/emotional day was coming up, and I didn't want to think about it
  • I was alone at night watching TV
  • I had consumed large quantities of caffeine during the day
I think stress is a huge factor here.  The upcoming day was something I was very concerned about, and when I'm worried about something I try to completely forget about it.  A binge is probably a way of helping me to avoid dealing with whatever is going on.  Not a very helpful method, but maybe at certain times I just don't know how to deal with things any other way.

What I think is important for me to learn is that sugar is not the root of the problem.  It triggers a reaction, sometimes, but the reason for this is deeper.  Simply getting rid of sugar and not dealing with the emotional issues that cause the binge is not solving the problem.   In a sense, a binge is sending me a message that there is something that needs to be dealt with.  I can avoid sugar for the rest of my life, but if I continue to be unable to manage my stress levels, am I really solving anything?

Learning to manage my stress may be the best thing I can do for myself.  By getting to the root of the problem, the symptoms can fall away on their own.  This sounds nice in theory, but managing stress is easier said than done.  I wish the problem was food itself, it would be easier to solve, but I need to start looking at myself and working on changing my habits and thought patterns if I'm going to find peace of mind.  I plan to explore different tools I can use to do this, rather than focusing only on the foods that I eat.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Many different types of relationships with food

I'm always curious to see what and how other people eat.  Everybody seems to have a different relationship with food.  For some each bite is a huge pleasure, for some it is a nuisance to have to eat, others eat like a bird for fear of gaining weight.   Some take a lunch break to eat with friends, others eat in front of the computer (myself included), and others don't have any routine and seem to even forget to eat.  I sometimes feel that I'm the only one that has quirks when it comes to feeding myself, but when I take the time to observe, I see that this is not the case.

Quirks aside, I think it is sad that so many of us have a painful relationship with food.  While I'm learning that I don't need to be afraid of calories, I have spent a lot of time worrying about weight gain even during periods of time that I have been underweight.  I'm starting to gain some now and I feel healthier for it, my fear is going away and I actually look forward to reaching my natural weight whatever it really is.

There is so much fear when it comes to food, I think it is a major problem in our society.  But what is the source of this?  I think there are many social issues, but I'm not confident that they are the root of the problem.  Pressure to be thin while being bombarded with fast food advertisements certainly encourages a confused relationship with food, but I think the issue is really deeper than that.  I think that food is often used to replace something else that is missing in our lives, even though there is no way that it can do so.  Is it friendship?  Romantic relationships?  Having purpose?  I don't know exactly, but I feel that for me when my relationship to food gets chaotic I am trying to find some sort of comfort in it.  Either comfort in giving in to my cravings, or the comfort that comes from following a strict program.

I feel that these may be at the root of the problem, although I find it it bit on the mushy side.  I think the reason that food can serve as such a comfort is that it does have a direct effect on our brain chemistry.  By releasing serotonin, beta-endorphins, and dopamine, we can try to artificially create the feelings that we are missing.  I think if my brain chemistry was fine in the first place, I wouldn't have cravings or overeat certain foods.

I think that whatever our relationship to food may be, it can teach us a lot about ourselves and how we relate to the world.  What we eat literally becomes us, so how our relationship to it not be meaningful?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

An evening with friends and food

I have often failed to consider the social aspect of health when trying to figure out how to feel my best.  I find it much easier to focus on food, nutrients, exercise, etc.  I tend to be more of an introvert and feel most comfortable alone or with small groups, so socializing is something that takes effort.  However, I've noticed that the times where I feel the best are when I have felt a connection with other people.  This isn't always the case, often social situations can come with a lot of anxiety too.  This is an area of my life that needs some improvement, so that I can feel more at ease with people and to reap the benefits that comes from human connection.

Today I went out to eat with some friends and had some good food.  I ended up deciding to eat whatever I wanted, including dessert.  Eating out has always been a very important thing to me, and it is usually the place where I have trouble balancing my diet.  When I reduce my consumption of unhealthy foods, it is the thought of not being able to eat out that I stress about.  The thought of never being able to enjoy certain foods with friends, etc.  I've yet to find a proper balance where I'm able to eat these foods but then go back to eating properly right after.  For some reason I think there are only two options, either being extremely strict or having a free-for-all.  This is a common belief that causes me a lot of difficulty in different aspects of my life.

But today was good.  Going out, seeing people I have not seen in a while, and enjoying good food  I don't see how such an evening can be seen as a bad thing even if what I ate wasn't perfect.  Maybe it really is possible for me to have some sort of balance that I'm at peace with.  This is what my original goal was, to find a balance where I am taking care of my self and not feeling deprived.

Friendship is an essential component of health, and I hope give it the attention that it deserves.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Getting what I think I want isn't what makes me feel best

After my last post I thought I had it and was going to give up on all things health related.  I was fed up with struggling, always trying to eat well but failing.  Anyways, I've been continually eating what I very well wanted.  Pizza, chocolate, burgers, fries, soft drinks, all sorts of garbage.  And I've been feeling like absolute garbage too.

But the physical aspect of this debauchery was not the worst.  It was the psychological aspect.  The lack of control, shame, self-disgust, etc.  Last night I think I reached an emotional low-point that I just can't allow myself to reach again.  It became clear that whatever comfort I was looking for in this junk was not going to be found there.  And the negative feelings that came with it had gotten worse and worse.

Today I woke up and felt like I was starting fresh.  I know what my problems are: sugar and gluten.  I react badly to both and can't give up one without giving up the other.  When I eat either one I feel the need to continue eating them, for whatever reason.  I've suspected gluten intolerance for quite a while but ignored it for the majority of the time.  I can deal with the bad digestive issues, I'm used to it.  What I can't deal with any more is the beast that seems to be unleashed when I consume either of these products.

So today they have been banished from my life.  And magically, the cravings disappeared.  Not consuming them at all is just so much easier than trying to satisfy a never-ending craving, and I already feel better for it.

By maintaining a free mind that isn't hi-jacked by constant unhealthy food cravings, I'm free to pursue my interests in health and spend more time discovering other hobbies that I have yet to try.  I thought that  satisfying every urge was going to solve things, but I was wrong, another lesson learned.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ramblings of a confused little man (that would be me)

Another day of not knowing what the hell to do with myself.  It's almost as if I'm bipolar, one moment I can be super excited about something, then give it up the next.  My mind seems to always want to latch on to an idea, a plan, a goal, in order to feel grounded.  When once the goal doesn't work out, it moves on to something else. Sometimes this can be within months, sometimes within minutes.  Depends on the mood, I suppose

An interesting discussion came up this morning.  I started to see a therapist a few months ago due to anxiety issues.  Anyways, we've been discussing my interest in health and how I continue to read and learn about it, to the point of obsession, yet often fail to even apply any of it.  The point is, apparently my attempt to improve my lifestyle is not so much about health, but more about having an obsession to distract myself with.  

Herein lies the confusion.  If this is the case, then why even bother?  What the hell am I doing?  Maybe I create all these food issues just to have a distraction.  Maybe the point isn't that I need to cut out sugar because of cravings, maybe I need to learn how to calm my mind the fuck down so it doesn't need to obsess about one thing or another.  It's a frustrating idea because it makes me feel that everything I try to do is pointless.  

So, is this just an obsession of mine or am I genuinely concerned about my health?  I don't know.  I love reading, learning, and (trying) to apply.  I love having goals to stay focused on.  But maybe I have some idea about achieving a certain level of health because I don't want to deal with myself.  It can be easier to look into the future at some ideal rather than deal with reality.

But feeling good doesn't seem to be enough.  I can't reach a certain point and then move on to other goals.  It becomes a search for perfection that doesn't really end up satisfying me in the end.  But this ends up with me giving up certain things which actually DID benefit me and make me feel better, because they get mixed in with all the other changes that were really not needed.

When I think about it I think the problem seems to be me.  I think if I ate what I wanted, stopped reading everything health related, and just focused on other areas of my life, I may be better off for it.  Take care of my mental health instead.

Maybe the one big lesson I needed to learn from all this was to EAT ENOUGH FOOD.   Instead of skipping breakfast, and eating a tiny lunch, then being starving by the evening time.  Learning to eat good meals until I'm satisfied.  If it has sugar?  So what.  If it has wheat?  So what.  None of my food problems happened until I started worrying about how much I ate in high school.  That's when I got the sugar cravings, the overeating, obsessions, etc.

That could be an experiment to try.  Stop reading all blogs, books, and health information for a month.  Eat what I want, eat enough, and get on with life.

Who knows...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stress - another factor that determines my eating behaviour

It became clear to me today that stress management is another important factor that I need to be paying attention too if I'm going to make any permanent changes in the way I eat.  I tend to be a bit of a basket case who thinks everything to death and worries too much.  I also tend to consume lots of caffeine which just magnifies these habits.  Unless I either a) prevent this stress from occuring, b) learn to deal with it, or c) start smoking again (just kidding, not a valid option), I will continue to crave sugar when I'm feeling overwhelmed.

Today started off well, healthy breakfast, good lunch.  Cookies at work were not much of a temptation. Went out to dinner which was planned, although earlier I had decided to skip on the dessert.  A day of lots of coffee and mismanaged stress left me feeling jittery when I left work, and feeling the need to eat a big heavy meal to calm down.  Hence the burger, fries, and brownie with ice cream.  Then of course comes the fatigue, bad digestion, negative mood, etc.   Once I get into this "fuck it" mindset it's already too late, so I think the solution needs to come in the prevention.

It's frustrating when making one change requires me to make another change first, which requires another change, and so on.  Not drinking coffee in itself is a huge ordeal for me.  I've quit 100 times and always start again, I'm one of those die-hard can't live without coffee fanatics.  So while this is an obvious solution to reducing my anxiety, I don't seem to be able to just do it like that.  So maybe I need to dig deeper,  what change to I have to make in order to be able to let go of coffee?  Well, better sleep would be one thing.  Also, another supplement that I've learned about is l-tyrosine, which is supposed to be stimulating and help with caffeine cravings.  Or maybe just switching to tea would be enough of a compromise to reduce anxiety levels.

Meditation is another useful tool for dealing with stress.  I took a week-long course about 6 years ago to learn Buddhist meditation, and have been doing it ever since, with some breaks here and there.  Lately I've been on a break because for some reason the meditation was getting more and more difficult and my mind was racing.  But maybe this would be a good start to help with the anxiety aspect of my sugar cravings.  The chromium and l-glutamine supplements are helpful, I do know that, but not all cravings are caused by unstable blood-sugar.

Anyways, it seems like I have lots of things to work on to get my act together.   Hopefully writing about my madness will somehow keep me sane

Monday, April 19, 2010

Chromium and L-Glutamine for dealing with sugar cravings

After another chocolate fiasco last night, I once again felt the need to do something about it.  I'm not overweight, but a feeling of being out of control when eating just isn't right.  And it will certainly lead down the path to being overweight in the future.  The whole fiasco began when I took off the nicotine patch after quitting smoking for 3 months.   Since then I haven't been able to go one evening without chocolate, or a dessert, with some soft drinks and other sugar-laden foods thrown in here and there.

Today I decided to try two supplements which help balance blood sugar to eliminate sugar cravings: chromium and the amino acid l-glutamine.  Chromium with meals, l-glutamine in between.  While I'm always skeptical of results being due to a placebo effect, today was the first day in the last 3 or so weeks that I didn't need to have anything sweet.  No chocolate in the evening, no soft drinks during the day, no sugar in my coffee.   In perhaps what can be seen as some sick joke, there were two giant platters of cookies at work, and the lab was completely empty all day, a perfect opportunity.  But somehow they were not too tempting and I was able to get on with my day. 

I think there is an emotional aspect to food cravings, but lately I have been much more interested in learning about the physiological causes.  If there are supplements that can help with the situation, then I'm certainly open to taking advantage of them.  

Who knows, maybe tomorrow will be back to square one.  Whatever occurs, having had some momentary freedom was refreshing.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

It's good to eat! Changing my attitude toward food

My diet seems to change from day to day.   One week I don't eat sugar, the next week I eat it by the truckload.  One month no coffee, then I'm drinking it like water.  All my efforts, no matter how good my intentions are, seem to vary so frequently that I just can't take myself seriously anymore.

Underlying all of this chaos seems to be a distorted attitude toward food and my relationship to it.  I haven't had a major eating disorder, although I've certainly had a lack of peace when it comes to food choices since I was in high school.   I can remember for a long time always having a feeling of guilt while eating, as if I'm doing something wrong.  I always felt the need to control my diet in some way, to have some rules.  The thought of eating what I want, when I want, is kind of scary.  Maybe I think I would go out of control, eating junk all day and gaining 100lbs.  I'm not sure what the reason is.  But no matter what kind of eating habits I have, I always have some sort of background rules to try maintain some sort of discipline.

But what is the point in this?  Do I really always need to making improvements in how I eat?  When I'm eating only junk, sure this makes sense.  But the problem is, no matter how clean my diet is, I'm always looking for new ways to improve it and make it even cleaner.  It becomes some sort of obsession.  No wonder I always end up crashing and giving it all up, to maintain some sort of sanity.  I turn something which should be a positive change, and turn it into an obsession, which makes it unsustainable in the long-term.  Food happens to be the main area in my life where I do this right now, but it can also apply to many other areas.

But my attitude has been changing lately.  I've been seeing food as something positive, something that I need to nourish myself and be healthy.  Instead of worrying about too many calories, I'm starting to see that I've often under-eaten and probably been malnourished for a long time.  For years I didn't eat breakfast but just smoked cigarettes and drank coffee until lunch.  From what I learned in "Potatoes Not Prozac" by Kathleen DesMaisons, this can be a way of getting a beta-endorphin "high" through lack of food.  I no longer smoke and recently I've gotten into the habit of eating a hearty breakfast of eggs and potatoes,  not having any coffee until after I've eaten.  While I miss the caffeine buzz that I used to get, I feel much more grounded and I don't feel like a starving lunatic until I'm finally able to eat lunch.

My attitude toward food needs to change.  I need to nourish myself to feel healthy, there's no debate about that.  I think that even looking at food in a different way would make a drastic difference in my health, without obsessing and nit-picking about making specific changing and cutting out certain foods.  As much as I'd like to, I just don't seem to be able to avoid certain comforts at the moment.  Maybe if I can learn to look at food differently it won't be such an issue, and I'll be able to take or leave these foods without having to go to extremes.  This is what I'd like to achieve.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Day 1 without sugar: an epic failure

So yesterday was supposed to be my grand entry into the sugar-free world.  The outcome: failure.  During most of the day I was able to avoid any sweets, although during the day is not the worst time for me.  Most of what I will usually have would maybe be one soft drink in the afternoon, and some sugar in my coffee.  But these were not so difficult to avoid.

Come evening, the cravings hit full force.  My ritual of coming home and having a giant chocolate bar with   a soft drink popped into my mind, then would go away, then came back again, and I would continue to try to push it out of my mind.  I had pizza for supper, which did contain some sugar and also a whole ton of white flour.  I'm pretty sure I react to flour in the same way, having some makes me want more.  So this may have contributed to my evening cravings.  I'm still considering removing gluten for digestive reasons.  I mentioned that I hate the idea of fighting against cravings, and I really do, I felt  that once they began I had already failed to achieve my goal.

So finally, I caved and just went for it.  Ironically this happened as I was reading "The Diet Cure" by Julia Ross, a book I wanted to re-read to give me some more insight into the addictive nature of certain foods.   Her book is great, and does a fine job of tearing apart the idea of low-calorie dieting.  We need to nourish ourselves with the proper foods if we want to overcome our mood swings and unhealthy food cravings.  She doesn't think there is something wrong with us, but that for certain reasons our brains  and bodies are our of balance, which leads to cravings and mood issues.  I do feel that her support of amino acid supplementation is a bit overly simplistic and I doubt it works as well as the examples she provides from her clinic.  I have tried 5-HTP and Tyrosine, and they may have provided some benefit, but not to the extend that described.  On the other hand, I never used the whole program she recommends, only pieces of it, so maybe if I gave it a fair chance it would be more effective.   Anyways, I'm fed up with taking supplements and don't want to spend a fortune on a bunch of them right now.  I prefer to learn to eat in a way that does not require extensive supplementation, that feels natural and allows food to not be a huge issue.

Yesterday I just felt like giving everything up.  Why should I keep reading about health when I can't even make simple changes?  But I think this kind of attitude is what I've always used to give things up.  I'm going to continue my research, trying different approaches, and doing whatever is necessary to make peace with my eating habits.  If that means eating whatever I want and not being concerned about health, then so be it.  I'm open to whatever it is that will bring me peace of mind.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Goodbye to sweets

 I've reached the point where something has to change.  Since coming off of a low-carb diet, every single evening I've been eating one of those large 100g milk chocolate bars.  It's been some sort of habit I guess, something to look forward to in the evening.  The problem is, the more sugar I eat, the more I want.  Today I ate one of those big bars and wasn't satisfied at all, so I went and got another one.  That's a ridiculous amount of sugar.

Now, I can tolerate unhealthy habits for a while without letting them bother me.  But when it turns into binges, I can't accept it anymore.  And that's the truth when it comes to eating sugar, I always get to the point where I can't control my intake.  I'll moderate and control it, but then it seems like I need a higher "dose" to feel satisfied.  Is this a food or a drug?  I think the latter.

So tomorrow I'm kick-starting my transition back to a nutritious whole-foods diet.  I can't change it all at once, but the first major change is to cut out sweets.   In order to make it something realistic, I'm not yet going to obsess about small amounts of sugar added to other things like breads, sauces, etc.   I think that is the imperfection I need to make this something sustainable.

In a way it feels like a relief at the same time.   This has been the major thing preventing me from being able to make other improvements to my diet as well.  I kept holding on to it, saying how I would feel deprived if I couldn't eat sweets, etc.  But now it feels like the supposed comfort is causing more stress than anything.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Anatomy of a craving

I'm fascinated with food cravings and what they actually mean.  When I really pay attention, my diet seems to be for the most part based on satisfying cravings, rather than what will nourish my body the most.  The strongest seem to be for caffeine, sugar, and bread.  But what's really behind these cravings?  What is it that I am lacking that is making me crave these foods which ultimately do not make me feel good?

In her book "The Diet Cure", Julia Ross explains how she helps many people overcome their cravings and food addictions by using amino acid supplements to balance their brain chemistry and blood sugar.  She says that we are trying to self-medicate ourselves using these foods which provide a temporary solution to our low levels of certain neurotransmitters.  Using food in this way prevents us from finding a long-term solution.  What I love about this is that it does not mean that those who overeat or who crave sweets are simply weak-willed or gluttonous.  I think this old view needs to be completely scrapped and replaced by a biochemical explanation which shows that when we crave something, it is our brain's way of telling us what we are lacking.  By using these cravings as clues to figure out what is out of balance, they can be a tool rather than something to feel guilty about.

When I have a craving, I can't seem to get it out of my mind.  On my way home today I was in such a frenzy to finally get there and eat the tuna sandwich with chips that I was fantasizing about since leaving work.  Instead of enjoying the warm weather and the walk to the subway, I was in a frenzy to just get home.  It wasn't so much a physical hunger, but a psychological one.  Usually this makes me feel like there is something wrong with me, that I need to crack the whip and stop obsessing about food.  I'm trying to instead accept that at this point in time I often feel the need to eat certain things, which either comfort me or provide me with what I think I need at that moment.  It's looking for the right thing in the wrong place.

I also happened to have a craving for pancakes soaked in butter and syrup today.  I remembered how my grandmother used to make these for me when I was younger, and how she used to always take care of me.  All of a sudden I felt sad, thinking about her and how she is sick now.  Then I realized that the craving could have been an attempt to relive my youth when I would spend time with her and always be well fed.  So it wasn't anything about the food, but what the food represented for me.  I think our cravings can also tell us a lot about our emotions.

I'm not going to fight against myself anymore.   I think by finding the cause of whatever cravings I have, I will be able to work through them and get to the point where they are not an issue.  Then I will be able to make food choices based on what my body needs.   Fighting these cravings with willpower misses the whole point; they serve a purpose and are taking care of a need that has not been satisfied in other ways.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why do eat what we eat?

I think asking ourselves WHY we chose to eat a certain way is just as important as deciding WHAT we are going to eat.  Do we feel that we have to eat a certain way, that it is necessary to gain or lose weight?  Does it provide a sense of control, by severely limiting what we put into our body?  Do we think we can somehow avoid every single illness by eating certain foods and avoiding others?

Nutrition needs to be put into context.  There are many valid reasons to eat a certain way, and many reasons that do not lead to improving health.  My food choices have often been a source of identity.  This was especially the case when I was eating a vegetarian/vegan diet.  I felt that others were blind to the pain of animals, and to all the unhealthy animal fats (which I now love) that were killing them.  I felt somehow superior, that I was special because I had enough will power to eat a diet that would save the planet and my own health.  Was I healthy during this time?  Far from it.  I was underweight, depressed, horrible complexion, and generally not well.  Was it because of the diet?   I don't know, I think I was probably in quite poor health before becoming vegan.   I do doubt the lack of animal products helped the situation.

I always felt pressure to maintain a certain weight, ever since I was in high school.  I was a bit on the chubby side and felt the need to cut down on calories back then, about 12 years ago.  That's when my dietary explorations began.  So really the original reason for my entry into the world of nutrition was  insecurity.  A comment from one person that I was "fat" and all of a sudden I had to fix that or else I wouldn't be good enough.  I wasn't even really overweight, maybe a bit on the soft side.  But that doesn't change the fact that my original reason for following a certain diet was not to improve my health but to become acceptable.  Now I'm quite slim but I feel that my decreased appetite combined with poor digestion are part of the reason for that.   I would kill to have the digestion and level of energy that I had back then before paying any attention to nutrition.  I loved food but it wasn't a huge issue, I ate and then got on with my day.  I didn't have bloating, stomach pain, blood sugar crashes, anything.  Ah, the good old days.

On the other hand, many food choices can be made with health in mind.  The reality is that I do have digestive issues, and food is one of the main ways of working on that.  Is gluten the problem?  I don't know, I've played around with cutting that out but maybe not long enough to fix the problem.  Food is a powerful tool for dealing with health issues, many of which are caused or at least aggravated by a poor diet.  I want my dietary choices to be based on my health, not feelings of inadequacy or the need to have an identity.

I see so much bickering about what people should be eating.  I enjoy the science of nutrition and following the arguments between different sides, but I often get frustrated with the whole thing because everybody seems to think they are right and wants to prove the other people wrong.  Why is this necessary?  Is intellectual superiority a valid reason to support and follow a specific diet?  What's your reason?

Finding balance

I have a tendency to enjoy making drastic changes in diet.  It's been fun trying out different ways of eating in an attempt to improve how I feel.  Low calorie, vegetarian, vegan, raw, low carb, etc.   I've gone through all the extremes and have yet to find something that is sustainable (for me), enjoyable, and that completely resolves my low energy levels and digestive issues.

This doesn't mean that particular diets don't have anything to offer.  I certainly noticed improvements on some of them, in particular low carb eating, but when it comes to long-term sustainability there's no way I can follow such a diet, nor do I know enough about the long-term effects.  But to ignore my own needs, whatever they happen to be, in order to follow a strict diet, is in my opinion a mistake.  For example, eating out at restaurants is a huge pleasure for me, and happens to be my favorite activity when going out with friends.  If I'm following a strict diet that doesn't allow whole categories of macronutrients, I will most likely feel deprived.  Some may be willing to make such a sacrifice, but it has become clear to me that I am not.  I can continue to struggle against this or I can choose to accept it and make decisions based on where I'm at.  When I was eating low-carb, my energy was more stable, but even eating an apple would cause a huge blood sugar rush that would leave me wired and uncomfortable.  I couldn't eat a "bit" of carbs without going into a binge frenzy.  Again, this isn't to say this way of eating can't work for anybody, but it won't work for me.

I think individual variation is essential to take into consideration when considering what is an optimal diet.  Look at how many different views there are, all having scientific evidence to support their side.  Sure one can look more closely at the studies and find faults in certain arguments, but the reality is that there are healthy people eating just about every single diet you can imagine.

I believe the different results that people have with various diets comes down to individuality.  Not just our individual biochemistry, but our psychology.  Our minds play an important role in determining our physical health, and focusing only on diet leaves out countless known and unknown variables that are also essential in determining our level of well-being.  Do you think that all the nutrients in that organic grass-fed meat you're eating are going to be properly assimilated if you eat it while experiencing a high level of anxiety while eating?  If you're sleep deprived?  If you're having an argument with a family member at the moment?   These are equally important in determining how our body is able to use the nutrients in what we eat.  We can't continue to obsess about eating a perfect diet while neglecting everything else, it just doesn't work.  I wish that was not the case, because changing what I eat is easier than working directly on my emotional or psychological issues, but they're all essential.   None of these are separate.  Our physical health determines our mental health, and vice versa.

My intention is to find the balance that works for me.  I think I will enjoy posting what I find along the way and discussing what other people have found works for them too.  I'm sick of dogmatic, one-size-fits-all solutions.  It's bullshit, and I refuse to continue listening to other people more than I listen to myself and what works for me.  I've learned a lot through various books and blogs, but ultimately along the way I've had to take bits and pieces from them all to find an appropriate mix.  Nobody has a solution that gives me exactly what I need, nor should I expect anybody to.  I'm responsible for my own health and can't expect it to be handed to me on a silver platter for $19.99.

I don't mean to imply that there is not an optimal way for me to maintain proper health, but rather that it needs to be found through trial and error rather than intellectual theorizing.  At this moment I'm allowing myself to eat pretty much whatever I want, and it's actually quite therapeutic.  But in the long-term, I would like to develop a diet based on how my body reacts, rather than satisfying any psychological cravings.  No strict rules, unless I determine that some foods simple can't be consumed in any amount without having an unacceptable effect on me.  I suspect that wheat and sugar may fall into this category, but I'm making any major rules at the moment.

Basically, I'm a big work in progress, and that's okay.  I'm skeptical of people who seem to know it all.  Whenever I thought I did, my beliefs had completely changed within months.  I'm choosing to stay open and learn whatever I can.

Monday, April 12, 2010


So I thought I'd just post a bit about why I am starting this blog.  I've had a big interest in health and nutrition for a while now, sometimes crossing the boundary to obsession.  Looking at my lifestyle you probably wouldn't guess it, because my interest and efforts tends to come in all or nothing bursts.  I try to give up every single bad habit I have and eat a completely clean diet, then crash and live off frozen pizzas and soft drinks.  My idea of what a "clean diet" is happens to change completely on each new health kick, but always ends at some point.

Here I want to explore different ideas that I learn about health, not limited to nutrition but everything this term encompasses.  I want to find what works for me, while allowing myself to make mistakes and be human.  No extreme diets that make socializing impossible, no guilt about food, and nothing that makes me feel like I'm making a huge sacrifice that I can't life with.

I'm not an expert on anything, and won't pretend to be.  I'm just extremely interested in health and want to learn how to make changes in my life without becoming neurotic and obsessive in the process.