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Monday, January 24, 2011

Whole30: One Week Left!



I can see the finish line. I'm almost there. Except, I think I want to keep going!
I've got less than a week until my Whole30 experiment/Paleo challenge is up. It doesn't feel like a challenge or experiment anymore; it just feels like this is how I do things. I suppose that means that I've fully integrated these changes.

I am still seeking further improvements in my health (mainly in the areas of balancing my immune system and hormones and improving sleep quality) so this tells me that although this might be the finish line for others, my own finish line is still a lot further away, but that's ok. I'm going to keep refining and chipping away and not worry as much about not being there NOW! There's that saying about how you eat an elephant: one bite at a time.

So, here are the improvements I can report:
Overall, I feel better than when I started.

-I'm falling asleep easier (although I still get too much REM and not enough slow wave sleep- which can make you feel like you've barely slept)

-I feel a lot lighter. I've lost a few pounds and a whole inch around my navel. My pants fit normally again (whew!!) I can see some ab muscles peeking through. Suffice it to say I'm happy about that.

-My brain feels more clear. Hashimoto's is famous for fuzzing up your brain and making things go in one ear and out the other.

-I have a little more energy. I feel more motivated to get exercise instead of loafing around, despite it being winter (and cold and gray...)

-My skin is looking much healthier. I hit the point a few years back, after turning thirty, where my skin abruptly started aging. It was the same all through my 20's, so it was a rude surprise when it suddenly seemed to stop repairing itself like it always had and I began to get LINES (the horror!!) It's looking a lot better and younger now. I don't know if it's diet, supplements or the fact that I've been using new skincare products for a few weeks- I suspect it's all of the above.
I also had a weird little melasma patch (I suspect from estrogen dominance) on my forehead for the last year that's now fading.

I've been really glad that, despite all kinds of nasty illnesses going around, I've stayed well. I even managed not to get the flu from my friend, despite sitting next to her all night as she was coming down with it. I credit that to taking colostrum caps and a weekly prophylactic dose of Flu Guard and to not eating sugar (sugar is so bad for the immune system.)


When the week is up, I'll be adding my beloved Kerrygold butter back into my diet (I like the unsalted- it's lactic acid cultured) and maybe some occasional local grass-fed cream, but I'm sticking with the low dairy/low carb (and low stevia) diet. No point in teasing my taste buds too much when I'd rather just retrain them.

I may eventually experiment with "feast days" to tweak my metabolism and thyroid hormone conversion and I definitely plan on introducing more frequent intermittent fasts once my energy levels are up and my sleep quality improves. I'll keep you posted.


Here's to healthy changes and happy results!
-Erin

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Whole30/Paleo Challenge Mid-Point Update


Hey, everyone! I thought I'd do a Whole30 mid-point update so my readers can check in with me. So, how am I doing? Still good and even better. I'm really taking to eating this way.

I would say that it's totally worth it to give something like this a try. Often, the little things really add up in ways we don't see (or choose to ignore) and if you aren't quite where you want to be, health-wise, you owe it to yourself to experiment, even if that means a little (perceived) deprivation. Is that nightly glass of wine doing you any favors? Maybe, maybe not. Is that cheese making your weight loss progress plateau? Why don't you cut it and find out?


When I started Whole30, I was not looking forward to dropping butter, grass-fed cream and cheese from my diet, but I also wanted to see what would happen if I did. I also wasn't looking forward to not having any alcohol, even though I only infrequently drink. But, of course, the minute you can't have something, you want it, right?

So, the first week was the hardest, but truly not that hard. I've been able to be very compliant (but maybe that's the oldest child part of me not wanting to let my readers down;-)
I had fatigue and some sugar cravings, but the cravings have subsided and I have more energy now, although my energy issues run deeper than most people's as mine are thyroid and adrenal related and I still have more work to do in those areas. They are a 'work in progress', so to speak.

Cutting out dairy has been a big deal. When I first went Primal a year and a half ago, I immediately felt better and lost some weight. Recently, due to some thyroid issues coinciding with the holidays, I gained a few pounds and they wanted to hang out and not go away. Not cool!! What a relief to find that cutting the dairy also ended the plateau. I've done some reading and it seems I'm not the only one: Mark's Daily Apple had a recent article on the insulin secreting properties of dairy. In other words, for many people, the cheese CAN make or break your otherwise low carb diet and halt the weight from coming off.

So, cutting dairy has resulted in my pants fitting nicely again. When my experiment is over, I will add butter/ghee back in and some cream, though maybe not as much as I used to eat (these don't trigger an insulin release like milk/cheese/yogurt do) but I think I will leave the cheese out, for the most part.
The other reason I wanted to cut dairy was to see if my autoimmune issues would improve. So far, I can't tell a big difference like I could when I cut gluten out of my diet.

Reducing my intake of fruit and sugars/starches hasn't been a big deal- this is how I used to eat for a long time on Primal, but then all the starchy veggies of autumn came into season and I perfected my sweet potato fries and... you get the picture!
Right now, I'm more than satisfied with a half cup of blueberries, a spoonful of hazelnut meal, some coconut flakes all topped with thick coconut milk, cinnamon and sea salt. Super yum (and no blood sugar spikes/crashes or carb comas!)

I still need to up my workout frequency. I've been great about walking on a nearly daily basis (even when Nashville was snowbound, I was out there walking every day!), but I want to do more strength training. I want arms like Cameron Diaz!
I'm getting to bed later than I ought to (naughty me!!) I swear, getting to bed is my Achilles heel. I KNOW better! I'm positive that my energy and hormone balance would improve a whole lot if I did go to sleep earlier, before the nightly cortisol spike kicks in.

Here a some extras I've been doing to 'pimp' my program:
-fresh lemon in water in the AM- great for the liver.
-dry brushing before showers- great for healing the skin, releasing more toxins through the pores and stimulating collagen.
-ending showers with a few minutes of cold water- increases circulation and strengthens the vascular system, strengthens the immune system and boosts the metabolism. Not fun while you do it, but you feel like a million bucks afterward!

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Since this program seems to be working out well for me overall, I've decided that I'm going to extend Whole30 for a few extra weeks to give my body extra time to heal. I think I'm finding that for me, a little less wiggle room is a good thing. I will never be one of the Paleo ascetics but I realize that I need a shorter leash when it comes to diet than some people do. If I didn't have an autoimmune condition, that would not be the case, but I have to work within reality. It's strangely freeing in a way, not having to seesaw about food choices.

I hope everyone else who has chosen to do a January Paleo challenge, Whole30 or even just a gluten-free challenge is learning a lot and reaping the rewards. And for those of you who are just contemplating doing this kind of thing, I hope it encourages you to take up the challenge!

I'd love to hear from some of you about your own goals!

-Erin

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Black Chicken Broth And Soup


I have to admit that it's only recently that I started making bone broths. My mom taught me how to cook as a kid (she's a great cook) and we ate a lot of soups, so she made a lot of broths but some how I escaped learning how to make them. Then, I was a vegetarian for about 16 years and had no reason to make a bone broth. So, they intimidated me a little until I finally made one. Truly, nothing is easier than throwing some bones, a bird carcass (or in the case of black chicken broth, the whole bird) in a pot, covering it with water and cooking it for a few hours.

I love the simplicity and the nourishing quality of good broth. If you make it right, it will be full of minerals, gelatin and collagen, which are all extremely healing. Here's a great article on the myriad healing benefits of bone broths.

I made a batch of chicken broth the other night with a black chicken, which is a type of small chicken with purplish skin, dark meat and dark bones, found in Asian markets. It usually comes with the head and feet still attached, which is one reason I buy it. There's a lot of collagen in the head, neck and feet!
The Chinese believe it's a very healing food and they feed it to convalescing people and to women after giving birth to help restore vitality and energy. It's very rich in the antioxidant carnosine.

One of my favorite hobbies is studying Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, especially herbs and food cures. There are literally thousands of years of experience and refining that have gone into this theory!
As wonderful as I know Primal and Paleo diets to be for us, I feel that there's still room for improvement in the form of applying the ancient principles of balancing what you eat according to flavor and food "energy". All foods have different qualities and affinities for different organs. Once you know a little, you can then really customize your diet to your own needs. To learn more about this subject, I recommend Healing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford.


So, now that you know I'm a Chinese medicine geek, it won't seem so strange when I tell you what goes into my black chicken broth (well, ok- it probably WILL seem pretty strange, but strange can be good!) Trust me, it's tasty! I wouldn't make it if it weren't.
When I make this broth, I'm thinking of how I can make it as healing and medicinal as possible (while still tasting good) so I pull out the big guns: ingredients you can get at any Asian market and at any place that sells bulk herbs. When you make broth, think in terms of making herbal tea- you can incorporate herbs into broths to get the benefits you would from making an herbal tea!

Into my stock goes:
-One black chicken with head and feet included, covered with water and a TB of vinegar. I let it sit a few hours to let the vinegar begin to extract the collagen and gelatin from the bones. The broth will later gel when cooled (that's how you know it has a lot of collagen and gelatin). It will return to a fluid state when heated.

The other ingredients don't have to be prepped or chopped much, since they will be discarded when you strain the broth.

-Chinese Red Dates
which nourish the blood and build the body's stores of qi (chi), which is our life force. I use about 6 dried dates per batch and discard them after it's cooked.

-Goji Berries (a.k.a wolfberries and lyciium berries). Gojis truly deserve their superfood status: they contain a compound that increases the secretion of Human Growth Hormone, they are very rich in antioxidants and beta carotene and they are also rich in beneficial polysaccharides. In China, making a tea is the traditional way to prepare gojis. My favorite brand, by far, is Dragon Herbs Heaven Mountain goji berries. I use a handful.

- Fresh burdock root (found in Asian markets and often called gobo). Burdock is beneficial to the liver and skin. I like the rich, interesting, earthy taste of burdock.

- Fresh ginger root

- Fresh garlic

- Shallot or onion

- Sea veggies like arame or dulse strips, which are rich in iodine and minerals.

- Dried stinging nettles, which are loaded with minerals and quite mild tasting. they turn the broth a little greenish, but I don't mind.

- I also add sea salt, celery, carrot, and at the end, parsley.

Other things I sometimes add, depending on what I have on hand:
- sliced peony root (good for liver and female issues).
- dried tremella and/or black fungus mushrooms
- dang gui root (good for anemia and female hormone balance).
- lotus root, which is good for the lungs.

I encourage you to explore an Asian or international market if you live near one. There are so many interesting ingredients and possibilities and most of these ingredients are very inexpensive. Use your imagination! Just remember to read labels to make sure your foods are preservative/chemical free.


I cook it all on a low boil for a few hours, skimming off the scum that accumulates on the top. Then I strain it and pick the meat off the chicken and add it back in or use it in a recipe. I discard the other ingredients, since they've been cooked to death at this point.

[EDIT: I read recently that adding the veggies in the last hour of cooking preserves more of the nutrients, which makes sense, so I plan on doing this in the future.
A note on cooking time- I've cooked my chicken broth anywhere from 3 to 12 hours and it turns out great every time, so I can't really say how long is best, but I would think that longer gives it time to cook out all the gelatin and collagen. Soaking the bones/bird with vinegar for a few hours before cooking is key in getting it to gel.]


Here's some chicken shiratake noodle soup I had for lunch. I added black chicken, the noodles, carrots, celery, and parsley to my broth. It really hit the spot!


Tomorrow, I'm making beef marrow bone broth. I'd like to tackle fish bone broth, too.

Happy broth-making!
-Erin

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Whole30 Week One (Truckin' Along On The Paleo Highway)



So, I've made it through one solid week of Whole30. I had set the bar a little extra high for myself, since I feel I need to go the extra mile to balance my body. Also, setting the bar extra high, for me at least, means that if I falter a little, I'll still be doing way better than I was. I'm not one of those people who, if I slip up a little, throws it all out the window. I just get right back in the saddle.

Here are some of the details of how my week went:

The first few days, I had some times that felt like I was detoxing a little- low energy, some minor sugar cravings and a feeling of being mentally hungry, even when my stomach was full. I found that having 1/3 cup of thawed frozen berries with some coconut milk was a nice way to help that mental hunger. I notice I get tired earlier in the evening- around 8pm. Is my body trying to force me into earlier bedtimes?


-I'm happy to report that I've had zero dairy and zero sugar and I've been able to keep my fruit intake quite low (one serving/day). I haven't had stevia, either. Pretty soon, my sweet tooth will be falling out of my head;)

-I've been eating a lot more greens- especially kale, which I can't get enough of. It's so good sauteed with some garlic granules and a dash of coconut aminos (which is a good soy sauce substitute- a little less strong in flavor with a hint of sweetness and more versatile).

-Avocado and coconut milk have been my best friends. I like eating sliced avocado with salt and pepper as a side to almost any meal and I've had coconut milk on berries, in tea, and by itself (can you tell I really like it?) I use the Whole Foods 365 Organic brand and I have to say it's very good.

-I've also made friends with creatures of the sea, specifically small creatures such as oysters, herring and sardines. I really like any smoked fish in olive oil. It could be goldfish and I'd eat it. It's also quite convenient to open a can and dump it on a salad for a fast meal.

-I've eaten more eggs than I intended to, but less than I previously was.

-As for nuts, which I also intended to cut back on, some days I'm good and some days I'm not. I'm trying to add a little variety (I usually eat pecans, almond butter and walnuts) so I bought some brazil nuts. A little extra selenium can only do good things for my TPO antibodies.

-Caffeine: I haven't been drinking my usual black teas in the morning; I've been having green or herbal tea. Some mornings I just have a green drink instead: some Midori Greens with some fresh lemon juice in water.
As for coffee, I only had it once this week. Not too bad! I also had a cup of cocoa consisting of dark cocoa powder, water, coconut milk, cinnamon and a pinch of sea salt. Not sweet, but pretty good, actually. I may stick to that method of cocoa preparation in the future, since I like chocolate even if it's not sweet.
PS- chocolate is not a trigger food for me like it is for some. I can have a little and be happy.

Here is an example of what I ate in a day:
Breakfast: 3 scrambled eggs with leeks and a side of sliced avocado (1/3 avocado) and some sliced cherry tomatoes (I'm not avoiding nightshades) and a cup of chrysanthemum green tea with orange peel.
Lunch: big salad with 1/2 can smoked herring, few spoonfuls of kimchi and dressing of olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar and few brazil nuts.
Dinner: bison burger topped with mushrooms and onions and side of sauteed kale (3/4 cup).
Snack/dessert: 1/4 cup thawed raspberries topped with 1/4 cup coconut milk and sprinked with sea salt.

I still need to make bone broth- that will be my weekend project.




As for the non food-related aspects of my program:

-Exercise: I've been walking almost every day. Since I had a number of days with low energy, I didn't push myself to work out, but yesterday, I intermittent fasted (I do condensed window eating) and did a fasted workout with a few sets of two-armed kettlebell swings (with a 25 lb bell), some regular and side planks, the "Cat Vomit" (from The 4 Hour Body) bicep curls (with my 10 lb bell) and pushups.

-Sleep: I've been getting to bed a little earlier (around 11/11:30) but I still want to get to bed around 10.


Over all, I feel lighter, my energy is starting to improve a little, my face is less puffy when I wake up. I've been assured by others who have done Whole30 that your energy usually increases after the second week. I'll be patient!

-Erin

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Paleo Challenge: Operation Gut Health



How are all you Paleo Challengers faring so far?
I'm hanging in there and, other than needing to be a little more organized about meal planning, it's going well. I've not had any dairy, coffee, alcohol or sweeteners (including stevia). I've been able to keep my fruit intake quite low and my veggie intake is up. I'm not doing any starchy veggies (although I still had a little butternut squash to finish on the first day).
There is NO chocolate currently in my house, save for baking cocoa and that's not all that tempting. I'm still trying to cut back on the almond butter and eggs (no eggs today!) and that's been maybe the hardest for me.

I did have some minor sugar cravings the first few days, but nothing that a little sauteed apple with spices (cinnamon, allspice and cardamon) couldn't fix. I also discovered that a few thawed organic frozen strawberries mashed into some thick coconut milk with just a pinch of sea salt is a great low carb paleo dessert.

One thing I've frequently been eating with meals is Sunja's Mild Kimchi, which is great for digestion and repopulating the healthy bacteria in your digestive tract. It's also super yummy.
That brings me to the point of this post: GUT HEALTH.


Leaky WHAT Syndrome??

One of my focuses during this challenge is improving my gut health. Our gut (small and large intestines) houses a huge part of our immune system in the form of beneficial bacteria. We create certain nutrients there, such as vitamin K (integral to the absorption of calcium into the bone matrix). We need good bacteria for the conversion of thyroid hormones. We also absorb nutrients through the gut lining. But what happens when we absorb things through the gut lining that have no business getting through?

Many people have some degree of "Leaky Gut Syndrome", i.e. small intestinal wall permeability and when the protective lining of the gut is compromised, partially digested food molecules and proteins are able to enter the blood stream where they don't belong. Once they're in the blood stream, the immune system goes "WTF??" and decides to attack these "foreign invaders".
When it encounters the same molecules over and over again from frequently eaten foods, it might begin tagging them for attack and this results in food intolerances, sensitivities and poor immune function. If it goes on long enough, autoimmune conditions can result.

So, what causes leaky gut?

Here is a by-no-means comprehensive list:

Antibiotics
Drugs like NSAIDS, antacids and corticosteroids and hormonal birth control
Stress hormones like cortisol
Adrenal fatigue
Diet- sugar/carbohydrate overload, refined foods, chemicals, alcohol, caffeine
Lectins and proteins in GRAINS and GLUTEN
Candida Albicans, fungal infections, bacteria, parasites


So, what am I doing to correct this situation, besides eating a strict, lower carbohydrate Paleo diet for a month? Here's my "battle plan":

Colostrum: a liquid produced by all mammals before the milk production starts, colostrum is what develops the baby's gut lining in the first few days (babies are born with no bacteria in their gut). I've found colostrum to also be a stellar immune builder and safe for those of us with autoimmune issues who have to be careful about other immune building supplements.
I use Symbiotics Lactoferrin capsules.


Seacure: hydrolyzed whitefish protein capsules that contain gut healing peptides. Seacure has been around for decades and is used by aid workers in third world countries to heal children of malnourishment.

Reuteri: Reuteri is a very hardy strain of probiotics that quickly increases the density of intestinal villi. I use Nature's Way Reuteri.

Another great gut-healing supplement is the amino acid L-Glutamine. Not only is it great for leaky guts, it's also great to kill sugar/carb/alcohol cravings (I can personally attest to this!) The dose for leaky gut healing is 2 grams (2000 mg.) 3x/day.

Regularly eating cultured and fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, cultured veggies, kombucha (the low sugar kind) and cultured dairy (if you tolerate it) is a great way to keep your gut healthy.
So, here's to the Paleo Challenge and here's to healthy guts!
-Erin

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pretty in Primal Goes Paleo! (or How I Stopped Eating Butter And Learned to Love The Whole30)



I'm not good with New Year's resolutions. There. I said it. I hardly ever follow through with them and I'm OK with that. It's good to admit your weaknesses, so you can figure out another way to do things and move forward. Here are some things I know work for me:

-I do better with short-term goals, rather than open-ended ones.

-I do better if I can pinpoint the areas I'm most likely to to sabotage or cop-out in.

-I do better if I'm prepared (mentally and organizationally).

-I do better with the support of others.


With all this in mind, I am embarking on a January Whole30 Paleo experiment (I do better if I call something an "experiment" rather than a "regimen").
I have my support in place (my hubby is doing it with me- LOVE HIM!) and I have a group of online friends who are all doing either Paleo or gluten-free cleanses for January. We'll be swapping recipes and ideas.

I'm prepared for it. I even committed to blogging about it. I'm joining Hunt.Gather.Love and Hunter-Gatherer, among others in the great 2011 Paleo Challenge. There's even a whole group of people on board over at the Mark's Daily Apple forum. It seems like everyone has the same idea.

I'll be blogging all month about the ins and outs of my experiment, so you'll get a bigger look into how I do things. So why am I doing this when I already eat a Primal diet? Here are my reasons and goals for the Whole30:

-I have an autoimmune condition (Hashimoto's Thyroiditis) and I want to eliminate all potential immune triggers and give my body a chance to heal even more than it already has. The Hashimoto's was a wakeup call that my body demands more respect and care than I have previously given it. Those of us with these issues often need to go the extra mile and don't have as much wiggle room as others. That being said, healing can increase the wiggle room.

-More energy. It's challenging to have consistent energy levels when your thyroid is being attacked by your immune system! It's been stop and go for me (at least I even HAVE days with energy- that was not always the case!)

-I want to heal my gut lining (major priority for any autoimmune condition!!), so eliminating potentially gut irritating foods is paramount. When I told my holistic doctor that I was going Paleo for January, the first thing he said was "That's a great thing for healing the gut".

-I want better hormonal balance.

-I want to be in better physical shape (don't we all!)



Here is an idea of what my experiment will entail for the next 30 days: [EDIT: this is more restrictive than the regular Whole30 program, as I've adapted it to gut healing and autoimmune balancing. I'm also trying to get keto-adapted again, after the holidays. Please visit Whole30 if you want a less restrictive program!]

Food:
First the "No's":
-No grains or legumes (Duh! But seriously, no little cheats like a couple of organic tortilla chips or a few beans in some chili)
-No dairy, including my beloved butter
-No sweeteners including stevia
-No alcohol (not a big deal as I only occasionally have a little wine)
-No starchy veggies (see next line)
-I'll be eating very minimal fruit (and only low glycemic fruit- no dried or very sweet fruit because I'm trying to get keto-adapted again.)
I'll also be cutting back on eggs and nuts to give my body a break from them. I'm also going to cut way back on caffeine, but I'm not making any promises!

Now the "Mores":
-More grass-fed meat/less high omega 6 meat (like pork, chicken, etc.)
-More variety in animal products like small, oily fish, shellfish, liver, wild game, fish roe, etc.
-More homemade healing broths
-More medicinal teas (I'll be posting healing tonic tea recipes for you all;)
-More leafy greens and veggies at every meal
-More cultured foods like kimchi. I want to start making kombucha again, too.

Fitness:
-regular workout days: 2-3/week. I'll be doing lots of kettlebell and bodyweight stuff. I already walk most days for about 30 min.

Lifestyle:
-Earlier bedtime! Sleep (or lack of) is a big way I sabotage myself!
-Consistent daily qigong. Qigong is an amazing practice for increasing wellbeing, both on a physical and mental level. I know most of you aren't familiar with it, so I'll be posting about it at some point.
-Less time online (I know, I know; more blogging, less computer time? What?? I want my online time to be productive, not wasteful!) Also, I want to make sure I shut the laptop off earlier in the evening, as being online later makes it harder for me to fall asleep.

So, there you have it: the bones of my experiment! Here's to the New Year and to moving onward and upward with health and wellbeing!
Happy New Year!
-Erin
P.S.- 50 points if you caught the Dr. Strangelove reference in the title of this post;)