Food as medicine? Somewhere between paleo and AIP. 

I loathe the word “diet”. It always conjures the image of weight loss, I have no need to lose weight, I have no desire to lose weight, I just want to be healthier.

In an effort to help my body heal itself, I have been looking into diets designed to use food as medicine. There are dozens if not hundreds of diets purporting to help cure various chronic, inflammatory diseases; the endometriosis diet, the anti-inflammatory diet, paleo, vegan, whole30, the auto-immune protocol are just a few of the ones I have researched, peer reviewed journals and all. It is important to understand some of the science behind these diets, not one of these diets is a simple change, and they all involve drastic changes and eliminations of major food groups such as dairy. You need to know about your disease, its triggers, pay attention to your own experiences with foods and use some common sense to choose the most appropriate food plan for you.

For me, an essential criterion for this diet was feeling confident that I could stick with it. Giving up everything I find enjoyable would inevitably lead to failure and what would be the point in doing it at all? The best fit diet for me through my research was the auto-immune protocol (AIP), which is in essence a stripped back version of paleo. The idea behind this diet is to consume foods that our body evolved to eat, to eat only what our hunter gatherer ancestors would have has access t, so this eliminates farmed foods such as grains, dairy and processed sugar. The AIP protocol takes things one step further by eliminating other common irritants to the body such as eggs, seeds, nuts, the nightshade family (white potatoes, tomatoes etc), you have also to limit your fruit intake. This was a step too far for me. I couldn’t get passed the restrictions, just thinking about taking on this protocol make me sad and despondent, not the best of starts.

I decided the most realistic chance of success for me was to go with Paleo but cut out a few additional food groups, mainly the nightshades. Keeping eggs, seeds and nuts and fruit gave me a foundation for breakfast which I felt was lacking in AIP and I know me, I know if I don’t get breakfast nailed I will fall off the diet wagon. I have never had any reaction that I am aware of with nuts or fruit, but I have had reaction from eating too many eggs, so I limit myself to two a day and may eliminate these in the future once I have adjusted to some of the other restrictions.

Is it working?

So far I have seen some improvements; the pain in my joints has almost gone away, the swelling in my stomach has gone down and I am more comfortable in my clothes as a result. At this point I cannot say that it has reduced my Endo pain, but I will say that it is much easier for me to map where the pain is coming from instead of feeling pain all over. The first couple of weeks were difficult, I did not prep enough and ended up eating far too much fruit and too many nuts, my energy levels were on the floor. Lessons learned though, I made some egg muffins for the freezer, precooked sweet potatoes for the fridge, and purchased some root vegetable crisps (sweet potato, parsnip, beetroot and plantain), which has made it a lot easier to put together meals on the go and to snack.

Picture round: What I have been eating lately for breakfast and lunch


Focusing on Health Part 3: Chronic Illness

While I’ve talked about making changes to my diet and lifestyle in order to improve my health I have never really divulged why, I suppose I have never wanted to be defined by my chronic condition. I find it more difficult to manage my symptoms when I am focused on them; I seem to have found a way to partition my suffering so that if I focus on other things the pain becomes much more manageable. It was a strange concept that I was introduced to, very Buddhist, I cannot control my pain, but I can choose not to suffer. It takes immense internal strength and focus, I cannot do it if I am tired, hungry or stressed, I need to be in “a good place” otherwise whatever thin wall my suffering sits behind crumbles away.

It has been almost 4 years since my diagnoses and as much as I had hoped that the surgery I had at that time would be a cure, that thinking was naïve. I was absolutely in the denial stage of my diagnoses at the point. I didn’t progress through that as someone normally would, when my diagnoses came I was already angry, angry I was in pain, that my life was shrinking around me, angry that despite reaching out for help I had been dismissed by doctors, my pain being put down to IBS, PCOS and the most humiliating experience of all when one A&E doctor diagnosed trapped gas as the reason for the pain in my stomach, a pain so excruciating that it rendered me mute for hours. After collapsing in pain at work and getting another referral to hospital I was reviewed, told I had a 6cm mass on my left ovary, but that I wasn’t in the “right type of pain” to warrant further treatment. I was then discharged from that service and referred back to my GP for pain medication. When I left the doctor’s office that day I wanted to scream, I could feel it inside me, a hot, angry, course noise desperate to get out, but I knew if I started I probably wouldn’t stop and I had to get to work, of course I had to get to work, that’s what you do isn’t it? Instead of bawling in the street I called my Husband (Then Fiancé) and swore like a drunken sailor and he promised to come to every appointment with me  from then on, after all it would be much harder to dismiss me publically and with back-up wouldn’t it? I told him there wouldn’t be any need; I wasn’t going to see another doctor, as they clearly didn’t want to help. It is a rotten, hollow despair that fills in for the hope you once had that you would get help to heal, it toughens you to the world in the worst way, the strength you think you are showing is acerbic to others, words used to describe me during that time were sharp, curt, direct, there was no soft side, I couldn’t afford soft, soft couldn’t handle the pain.

And so I soldiered on trying to hide how much pain I was in and slowly getting sicker as time went on. Eventually we decided to seek help privately, which was simply life altering for me. From the minute I stepped into the private hospital, all doilies and comfortable chairs, the mood was different. The receptionist was warm and personable bringing a tray of tea (teapot and all) out to waiting visitors and patients alike. My doctors listened intently to me, examined me and within ten minutes had given me a clear indication of what he thought was wrong, not IBS, nor PCOS, nor gas but Endometriosis. I was scheduled for surgery to remove the growth (an endometrioma) which had now grown to 9cm (that’s the size of a grapefruit). I woke up from my surgery to hear the most incredible words “I’ve found the reason for your pain”. I felt vindicated, validated and relieved, all I said to my husband was “I knew it wasn’t in my head” and wept. I think at this point I began living in a bit of denial, I felt like a new person after my surgery and the surgeon was confident it wouldn’t grow back so maybe it wouldn’t? When my symptoms started to return I started bargaining, maybe if I give up sugar as well as wheat I won’t get worse, I did, maybe if I give up dairy as well then I won’t get sick, I did. It did come back, its 6cm and growing steadily and spreading.

Right now I am somewhere between acceptance and depression, accepting that radical changes to my diet and lifestyle are needed to give me the best chance at controlling the rampant progression of my condition and depression about how restrictive that feels during this transition point between how things are and how things might one day be.

What I am sure about is that I have to keep trying, my Husband and Son both deserve that.

And Me, I deserve that.

Me x

Moving Home: Struggling between letting go and creating waste

After seven years we have decided it’s time to say goodbye to our house. If I am honest it’s never really felt like a home to me. It’s where I live and I find comfort in it, but we have always known it was a temporary situation, we certainly didn’t intended to stay for seven years. The house was a great starter, helping us get a foot on the “property ladder” but it was never somewhere we intended to raise children. Our son will be two next month so it is time to move and get him into the nursery school system of the new area.

Looking at your house through the eyes of a viewer is downright terrifying. Now I know I have too much stuff in my house. We have been working on simplifying for the last year and we have rid ourselves of a lot of clutter. There have been many, many trips to the local charity shops and recycling centres and yet somehow my house is still full! I am now decluttering on steroids with a view to downsizing our belonging before the house even goes on the market. The rest of our belongings we will pack away and with any luck in a The Minimalists inspired packing party won’t ever come back out.

In my quest to curate a healthy, happy and reflective home, there is one area I still struggle with; waste.  I want to shed the accumulated stuff that no longer adds value; the mismatched, the duplicates and the well-used. There is a huge part of me that wants to wipe the slate clean and start all over again, just have a garage sale , everything must go, but is that just an excuse to accumulate more, albeit different stuff, under the guise of intentional purchasing? And what happens to all of the original unloved stuff, we try wherever possible to sell, donate or give away what we no longer need, recycle anything beyond use and landfill only what is necessary, but it’s still waste.

It’s a struggle I hope to reconcile within myself while I go through the process of packing up and clearing out the house for marketing, the upsides to such dramatic simplifying outweigh the downsides for me at present.

  • We will be able to be objective about the sale of our current house, seeing it for the bricks and mortar it really is, We will also be more flexible in choosing our future home not having to try and force a lifetimes worth of possessions into what is likely to be a smaller space.
  • Apparently having a clutter free home boosts your sale price, well that would be nice.
  • We might be able to raise some money from the sale of some of our unloved things.
  • Having less will save us money on storage when we are between homes.
  • Each item going into storage will have purpose and value in our new home.
  • We will have a blank canvas in the new home to create a better environment for family life rather than duplicating the pattern we have here now.

If I focus on these positives for me and my family I am sure letting go will become a lot easier as long as it is done responsibly.

Me x

Gluten free in London: Good food with a great friend

Minimalist and Christmas are two words that don’t go together very well. I am still trying to minimise my life and constantly asking what adds value and brings joy. Christmas is particularly awkward because I don’t spontaneously need things on December 25th and if I have decided to add something to my life then I feel odd “banking” that need so that someone else can buy it for me? That being said my Husband, who is not a minimalistbut is  supportive of me, still wants to buy me a gift for Christmas. 

Not wanting a lot of physical things coming into my life when I am trying so hard to declutter in general I asked for experiences and an easily minimised item; flights to London to visit a friend, a contribution to my new haircut and a the book Rice, Noodle, Fish by Matt Goulding and Anthony Bourdain. 

My flights fell just after New Years. Sarah is a teacher and so time off is scarce. I am lucky to be able to get an early (7am) flight down to London and a late (9pm) flight back up, allowing me to experience London without the expense of a hotel. It’s a long day with trains, planes and automobiles galore but so worth it to spend time with such a dear friend. 

Post Christmas London was crisp and cold and littered with pine needles. Our first stop of the day was for breakfast at beyond bread in Fitsrovia. What a gorgeous little cafe. It is 100% gluten free and everything we had was delicious. For breakfast we both had seeded toast with dressed smashed avocado topped with two poached eggs garnished with chilli, feta and toasted almonds. The tasted almonds and feta were a great topping, the salty sharpness of the feta cutting through the eggs and avocado and the almonds adding a welcome crunch. The bread was moist and soft, if I hadn’t told Sarah we were going gluten free she said she would never have known and that is high praise indeed. Washed down with two pots of tea, the bill was £21 which for London was great value. I will definitely be back in March. 

We did come back on the way trough to the airport to pick up some baked goods to take home including a slab or red velvet cake and a chocolate gooey cake. I also bought a baguette which was light and crispy, a moist and fruity raspberry muffin and I completely forgot to take any pictures of those. Oops. 

The red velvet cake was divine, moist and light and with a dreamy whipped Cream cheese frosting. The chocolate cake was dense and nutty with a rich ganache topping, it’s the complete opposite of the red velvet, almost brownie like in texture and I am having to eat it in smaller portions. 

The four bakery items came to £10 to take away which is an absolute bargain for incredible gluten free treats. I would recommend visiting one of their cafes if you are in London whether you are gluten free or not. 

We took a quick trip around Liberty on our way to China town, while most of the time Liberty is far out my price range I did find a new brand in the fragrance section Korres. They had a collection of very natural no additive fragrances hitch sounded perfect for me, vanilla, fresia, and lychee and peonia, vanilla and amber pear. The second one appealed more but the sample bottle was empty and the sales associate wouldn’t open another bottle so I walked away and ordered the first one online with matching body milk for the same price. Liberty’s loss is my gain. 

Chinatown is a must visit for me whenever I am in London. I just love the atmosphere and I usually find it quite easy to eat. Though while I travel I don’t stick 100% gluten free if there’s something I really want, and I wanted Taiyaki. These came onto my radar while honeymooning in Japan. They are essentially a fish shaped waffle but come in different forms. The traditional are closed and filled with red bean paste or more modern versions with custard. I still dream of a chocolate custard filled one I had on a cold night in Sendai. You can also get them open and filled with cream and fruit or ice cream. We went to Bake on wardour street, a cute little Chinese bakery with hot Chinese buns and chiffon cream cakes. But we’re there for the fish. They do two kinds, mini custard filled and the hollow kind you can fill with ice cream, either vanilla or chocolate. 

The sweet mini ones

I went for the green tea version as anything green tea flag is a winner for me. The ice cream is the soft serve kind from a machine so it isn’t great quality I’ll be honest but it still makes a nice sweet treat to wander London with at £3.80. The waffle itself is crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside and you can watch them being made at the window. I do love some theatre with my food. 

A little more wandering around carnaby street and a near miss at Dr Martens, they had those Magdalena boots in stock but at £125 it was too much to part with there and then, we came back to the edge of Soho and Greek Street where these is a beautiful little paper shop that sells stunning Harry Potter themed posters, note pads etc. I lost Sarah on there for quite a while. 

Our Lunch destination was right across the street at Viet Pho. On a cold winters day there’s nothing better than a huge bowl of soup and the rice noodle broth that is Pho was exactly what we needed. I went for the rare beef Pho which arrived in a huge bowl with a side plate of bean sprouts, Thai basil, chilli and lime. The broth was fragrant with coriander and a dozen other flavours I couldn’t pick out, the noodles had the perfect chew and the beef was melt in the mouth tender. 

Sarah went for the seafood Pho which had prawns squid and Mussels. It was Sarah’s first Pho and she enjoyed her seafood version immensely. 

I will be back in London in March but this time with Husband and Little boy in tow. If anyone reading has some recommendations for places to eat suitable for a fidgety toddler I would love to hear them. 

Me x