Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Listening to your Gut, Mind & Soul

Allow me to tell you a little story. 

Keep in mind that this is not a scientific post.  

This is me assessing the past two years of my life in regard to health, doing my own (incessant and extensive) research and most of all, allowing myself to truly feel and be open to how things, mainly food, are affecting me. On a physical, emotional and spiritual level.



Over the past two years I have had an intimate relationship with food and yes, at times, a love-hate-relationship with food. Why you ask? In fall of 2010, in the midst of a significantly trying time in my life, I began to experience sudden and intense pain. This initially started as pelvic pain and continued to progress into something that I have now only come to describe as a true conundrum. From pelvic pain, abdominal pain and chronic gastrointestinal issues to joint pain, fatigue, nausea, loss of sleep, weight-loss and nerve pain. That type of pain, combined with emotional distress is downright taxing.

Let me step back for a moment to address a question that may be lurking in the back of your mind. Prior to this, I was easy breezy when it came to health. I rarely got sick, had a pretty rock solid stomach aside from occasional heartburn when I had too much dairy and I maintained a consistent healthy weight and body-mass-index (BMI) for much of my late teens and early 20s. I ate what I considered a well-balanced diet (which did include gluten, some dairy, yeast, soy), indulged in pastries and candy every now-and-then and exercised regularly.

So now I'll jump to fall of 2010, when the flow of my atypical symptoms began.



Ashley, meet Google.

I had diagnosed myself with numerous conditions including Leukemia, HIV, Ovarian Cancer and Lupus to name a few. 

Mind you, those are all seriously tough diagnosis and while I should have been jumping for joy when I was relieved of those concerns, I slumped into a deeper state of chronic worry. As you could imagine,  emotional distress is the arch nemesis to physical pain and vise-versa.

I was loosely diagnosed with various conditions including Endometriosis, Interstitial cystitis and of course... neurophysological. Neurophysological came with a complex explanation that in summary, the theory was that my nerves were not firing properly and causing both direct and indirect pain. Hm. OK, I could accept that to a certain point. But I couldn't accept that explanation was the end-all-be-all.  

So I dug. I dug and researched. And searched. Most importantly, I searched within myself. I knew that there was something more. So much more. When I laid my head down on my pillow at night and felt my body lie there, I felt what I describe as a heaviness. A pulling. I knew that sensation shouldn't be ignored.

I had this 'gnawing' feeling that what was causing my physical pain was a hernia. I can't quite explain this definitive knowing. All I can say, is that I just knew. The thought that it could be a hernia never escaped me and over the years a found several compelling articles that resonated with me.  

Hernias in women often go undiagnosed because they are not only seen as a 'man' issue but they also tend to present themselves differently.  

A New York Times article, In Women, Hernias May be a Hidden Source of Agony, was the first one that I came upon. I read it and I grew even more certain that this was what was causing the majority of my pain.

"When a woman lies flat on the examining table, the signs and symptoms of a hernia disappear. And the usual exam, an ultrasound, rarely reveals the real problem. Lacking an accurate diagnosis, doctors often send patients to be drugged up by pain specialists and psychiatrists. 

For many women with these occult, or hidden, hernias, it can take years, if ever, to get the right diagnosis and correct the problem. Women account for only 8 percent of the hernias diagnosed, and doctors simply “don’t think hernia” when women complain of pelvic pain, Dr. Metzger said in an interview."
 
Below are some other articles that I kept with me though the years and showed to various doctors:

Well, after numerous doctors (pelvic pain specialists, gynecologists, urologists, gastroenterologist's) telling me that a hernia was likely not the case, I grew tired. Physically and emotionally. A couple of doctors offered me exploratory surgery. This was sometime in 2011 and at that time, 'exploratory surgery' frightened me beyond words. So I kept searching for another answer. Another test. Another explanation. Another diet. Another doctor. Another anything...

As the cliche goes, 'desperate times call for desperate measures.' I had tried every elimination diet that I had researched. Various herbs, medications, supplements, meditation and other self-help techniques. Not to mention thousands of dollars in medical bills and countless tests, procedures, doctor visits, time off of work and I was still symptomatic.

While it's nice to have tests that come back 'normal,' there comes a point where you just want to hear someone say "Aha! We found it! You actually have ____ and that is what is causing your symptoms!" When that time doesn't come, you will do virtually anything to figure it out on your own.

At least, I did.

To me, the only route I saw in relieving symptoms was through food. Based on the triggers that I did find, my diet was already largely paleo/primal (no grains, no legumes, no unnatural sugar, limited carbohydrates), so the next step in my mind was to be even more strict with my sugar intake. I had a couple theories around this, one being that I may have an excess of fructose in the gut. It was just one more thing to rule out (in my mind).

Words of caution: Playing doctor on yourself is risky business.



So, two years after the onset of my symptoms, in September (2012), I decided to take up the challenge of the 21-Day Sugar Detox. I had high hopes that this would provide some answers. When people hear 'sugar detox,' they tend to think refined sugars, candy, soda etc. Well, I had already cut all of that out long ago. Since I had also already removed grains, legumes, dairy and unnatural sugars from my diet, the next step and guidelines for the 21-Day Sugar Detox was to remove other sources of carbohydrates (all carbohydrates break down to sugar) so this meant all fruit (fresh, dried or juices) with the exception of one green-tipped banana a day or one green apple. In addition, starchy vegetables were to be removed (so winter squash, sweet potatoes, white potatoes) and alcohol. That my friends, is low-carb.



How low-carb is too low-carb?

Do some people need more carbs than others? Is it safe to take up a low-carb diet? And what can going low-carb do to your body?

Fist and foremost, each meal, snack and trip to the grocery store took that much more planning, that much more research and that much more thought. I recall going out to eat one night while doing the detox. I felt so incredibly hungry before-hand that I ordered a huge burger (sans bun) some mushrooms and vegetables on the side - mind you it originally came with much more including a bun, fries and a chutney. In communicating with my server, I said something along the lines of "Ok, so as long as there are no grains (so, no gluten), dairy, soy, yeast or any sugar then that will be good..."

What?!? Not only did saying that cause me feel like I belonged in the looney bin, I didn't feel like I was being true to myself. We need to eat what makes our bodies feel good (I'll reiterate here, our bodies, not necessarily what our brain or taste buds are telling us makes us feel good ;)), not what a template, website, book or guide says will make us feel good. I was shocked by the words that were coming out of my mouth. And I had gone completely against my own advice that I would coach others.



At day 13 of the 21-Day Sugar Detox, I made a critical decision to stop. You can read about it more detail in my post here but in short, I simply couldn't function. My bouts of hypoglyecemia became extreme despite the amount of food that I was eating to compensate for what wasn't (mainly protein and vegetables), my energy level was non-existent, my weight was dropping too an unhealthy low and I ultimately decided that to continue the duration of the detox could be very dangerous.

So what was next? I was concerned about eating too much sugar too soon so I started rather slowly, adding in fruit little by little. Then starchy vegetables/squashes, then I added in oats and brown rice in very small amounts (this was the first time I had any grains for about 6 months) and then finally limited amounts alcohol (wine or Ciroc vodka) here and there.

I continued to add everything back into my daily diet, with the main reason for the starchy vegetables, oats and brown rice, aside from energy was so that I would stop losing weight and in addition, try to gain some. I had hit the lowest weight in my adult life and not only did I feel uncomfortably thin, friends, co-workers and family expressed concern. Note, I am writing that in past tense though I am still very much in the middle of this path in which you will learn more about shortly.





And then... things got weird...

The 'brain-fog' that I once experienced when I ate gluten, came back with vengeance though I was not consuming any gluten. I became dizzy at unexplainable times and would 'get the shakes,' similar to when I'm hungry except it would occur shortly after eating or when I was not hungry. And my body seemed unable to process alcohol.

I nearly passed out at my sisters after dinner and two glasses of wine (in the span of about 2 hours). I wasn't hungry at all but I was shaking, hot, dizzy etc. and had to eat a bowl of sweet potatoes to recover. That convinced me my body was just not processing alcohol (i.e. sugar) or carbohydrates (also broken down as sugar) properly.

After banning myself from the infamous search engine, I was yet again sucked into the Google. Because what makes any all symptoms worse? Stress. Worry. Anxiety. And with that carries a heavy weight of desperation.

My theory...

My theory is that I unintentionally put myself in a ketosis state. Ketosis is a metabolic state that occurs when your body is not getting enough carbohydrates and sugar and thus your body instead of burning carbohydrates for fuel starts to burn fat and produces a large amount of ketones. Ketones are present in the blood and in the urine. When there are a large amount or too many ketones for your body, a slew of unpleasant and troubling symptoms can occur.

When the ketones are elevated or you are in a ketosis state (a.k.a non-diabetic ketoacidosis), your body can experience (list not exhaustive): 
  • Excessive thirst (check)
  • Increased urination (check)
  • Fruity or metallic taste in mouth (check)
  • General weakness (check)
  • Loss of appetite (check)
  • Abdominal pain (check)
  • Confusion/brain fog (check)
  • Low blood pressure (check)

Because I was exhibiting many of the those symptoms, they tested me for diabetes which was negative.

So, am I 100% certain that this is what happened? No. Am I by definition, a hypochondriac? Perhaps. Though, I'm of the opinion that when someone is in chronic pain without answers, they will go to dire means to seek answers.Is my theory on ketosis just a 'hypochondriatic' conjecture? Maybe ;) 

But I do know, that while some people can safely go 'low-carb,' some people cannot or should not. Or maybe there is a fine line.

One thing I know for certain, always consult with a physician before making any significant dietary changes. 

Meanwhile, I had gone back to a trusted doctor, and opted to have an exploratory laparoscopic surgery. He had actually been one of the doctors that was open to the thought that a hernia may be a viable explanation. I knew in my gut, pun intended, that a hernia had been causing my agony for the past two years.

This surgery was performed last month (November 2012). Some endometriosis adhesions were removed, so that theory wasn't invalidated but it wasn't the cause of my pain. During the surgery, two inguinal hernias were discovered. One on the left and one on the right. The one on the left was quite large and likely what has been causing the majority of my pain.



Small inguinal hernia on right side of abdomen

Large inguinal hernia on left pelvis (AKA, The Big Bastard)


(Sorry, hope you weren't eating ;)) 

One month later, yesterday (yes, yesterday December 11, 2012),  I had the hernias repaired. They repair the hernias by using what is called mesh and are also performed via a laparoscopic surgery; which is the least invasive option.

Was repairing these hernias the answer I have been searching for? There is no way of knowing that just yet but I will say, that although I am in a significant amount of pain from the surgery itself, I feel I have crossed a momentous chasm. And I am on the road to a beautiful recovery.

I am so very grateful for the unwavering support that I have received from my family and close friends. Truly amazing people in my life. Love to you all.  

My point? ALWAYS listen to your gut, your  mind and your soul. NEVER give up. NEVER accept what you know to be untrue. Trust yourself...


 

Stay tuned dear friends ;) xo

-Ashley

4 comments:

  1. I hope you feel better soon. I did a highly restrictive diet at the advice of a naturopath, and it made me much worse and spiked my anxiety because it was so taxing to make sure I was eating enough of everything. After two months on that diet, I have since re-introduced everything back on my own and feel better. Sounds like some of your issues were not diet related, so I hope you feel confidence to start to expand your menu again -- you can still listen to your body as you eat things, and take it from me -- stay off that Internet! There is too much misinformation out that that is not scientifically backed, and I feel prey to it myself. :) Good luck.

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    1. Thank you very much for your kind words and support! I am glad that you are now feeling better after reintroducing things back into your diet. I am going to slowly try new things after I've recovered from this surgery with the mindset that my body will let me know what's right AND remember that I have to live my life...and not live in food phobia. Thank you & I wish you the best of luck on your journey! ;) xo

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  2. Ashley,

    Thank you so much for all your openness about your journeys with your health, your diet, your emotional state, your spirit. I am going through my own trials. I recognize that this is emotionally draining. And being emotionally drained doesn't help ANYTHING! I think I DO need to try something about removing even more sugar from my diet. Something feels right about that. But I certainly don't want to end up in the state in which you found yourself. It scares me to give up grains and squashes entirely. I am already off most of the usual stuff given that I am off gluten. Can you talk more about what you WERE eating when you were going sugar free? Maybe I could move more toward that balance of my eating.

    Thanks so much.

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    1. Hi there,

      Thank you for your kind words.You are right about being emotionally drained, WOW, it can really put a weight on you.

      First, I wouldn't recommend doing any sort of elimination or drastic changes without consulting a nutritionist and/or doctor.

      This URL: (http://www.bodhi-life.com/search/label/21-Day%20Sugar%20Detox) will take you to the posts that I wrote will I was off of sugar which will give you a better idea about what I was eating. In general, it was A LOT more vegetables (and I eat a fair amount as it is) and more meat/protein. There is something to be said for reducing the sugar in our bodies but it needs to be done carefully.

      Thank you again and I wish you the best of luck! Keep in touch.

      -Ashley

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