Plant based nutrition for chronic illness.
Before we start delving into this, I HAVE to address the elephant in the room. Because it’s there, and no it’s not some cutesy ‘Nellie’ we sing a song about and dance around with, it’s an actual ‘crush you with one foot’, elephant.
So let’s just get this out there now so you can start disliking me from the get-go. Here it is: Like mine, your life has inexplicably changed. Like up on it’s ass, 180 degrees, faecal matter hitting the fan kinda changed, am I right? Right. Now, I’m not here to debate the why, the how, and the potential genetic malfunctions that have preceded this horrific injustice that happened to you, to me. I’m here to point out that whichever one of the countless illnesses that you’re plagued with, it all happened without you doing or changing a goddamn thing. You didn’t ask for this (at least I hope not?); you didn’t get bitten by some mutant spider and unlike Peter Parker, become some sort of mutant through your uncontrollable megalomaniac urges. No. It just happened. A lot of us will never know why. Not all illnesses have a truly defined and blanket cause. But here we are.
So then, my point…we’ve clearly established that doing nothing got you here, BUT (here’s the clincher) doing NOTHING will NOT get you out of it.
I know right, how unfair?? But still, it comes to a point where we all have to accept that we have to be proactive in order to gain some form of control over our own health. OK ok, I know we can’t lock ourselves in a lab and synthesize a cure, not my point. My point is, dwelling on it (admittedly this does have its place, but it should be reserved for momentous occasions, like Christmas themed crockery!) will not help one little iddy-biddy bit. Like, at all.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
With this in mind, think about all the struggles chronic illness brings. Now let’s really bring it down to its simplest form and apply the logic that repeating old patterns, expecting a different result, is actually insane. Hopefully like me, you quickly realize that the lifestyle you were living leading up to your issues, cannot and will not serve you now. Don’t get me wrong; we all know from early on that you’re forced to make changes. Things change massively all by themselves; work, activity and social levels, so it stands to reason that making conscious changes, with the sole purpose of forging a lifestyle that does serve you, taking into account your new limitations, is the priority.
If you’ve stuck it out this far, expect a gold star in the post. (Expected delivery time from 6 to 1 million weeks!!)
Now onto the nitty-gritty: After my last article introducing Kombucha for chronic illness, it’s necessary for me to talk about diet before ploughing on into the results I’ve had from my little experiment. Mainly because I don’t want anyone to assume that the fizzy fermented ‘champagne-esque’ tea has solely performed a miracle.
I’ve talked about nutrition in previous posts, but now I want to discuss some specific changes (prior to Kombucha trials) I’ve made to my diet, which I feel, have really made a difference to me, on so many levels. Like I said in my post “fibromyalgia is a jigsaw puzzle”, sometimes trialing complimentary [let’s call them] treatments, is as much about timing and order as much as anything else. (You wouldn’t start building a house without any skills, materials or tools for the job, would you?! You’d wait until you had everything you needed!) This will start to make sense I promise.
I’m going to cast back to January 2017 of this year. So at this point I was heavily withdrawing from analgesics in a major way, was researching and learning about my Microbiome and its detrimental effects on health, no matter who you are, an unbalanced Microbiome can wreak havoc! Despite the fact I wasn’t doing any crazy “detox” program, I knew overhauling my diet, after so long of essentially poisoning myself with such a vast array of medications, was going to be pretty hellish. I understood that I had to purge my body and almost reset everything, get myself back to zero so to speak.
After thinking it through, going back to my jigsaw analogy, I had to try and decide how to tackle this. Knowing that the best way to move forward with the health of my micro biome (and thus my overall health) was to get the scales firmly back on my side, or outweighed with good bacteria, if you want to get slightly more technical.
Best way to do that? A whole foods plant based diet.
Trust me, I’m NOT a Doctor, or a Nutritionist (or anything that has any semblance of weight in this debate, and most others), but what I am is a reader. I read a lot. I’ve researched, watched and read as much as I can get my hands on this last year. I’ve read from both sides of the coin, so that I can make the most informed decision; a decision that I feel will be the most beneficial for my health, my circumstances and me as a whole. The thing is with researching a plant based whole foods diet, you can’t avoid learning about all aspects; it’s not just a health matter, it crosses into ethics, environmental and even the economy.
In a nutshell, I’ve basically been bursting all the bubbles I’d held so dear my entire life to this point. I’ve said it before and I’ll gladly say it again; you can’t “unlearn” something. I now had all this existence shattering knowledge, and my eyes were open. What had started out, as a means to improve my health now possessed every part of me.
Now that my eyes were open, I had to do my part. Not just for my own health, which selfishly led me here, but ethically and environmentally. So what had once started with the idea of a whole foods plant based diet, evolved into Veganism.
“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” The Vegan Society
Read more from the Vegan society HERE.
Two birds, one stone, right? (Not literally because that’s not Vegan!!)
Bearing in mind, I was a meat-eater. I wasn’t vegetarian or pescetarian or any other variation that I potentially can’t spell, or followed any dietary “rules’ to minimize animal suffering. So I sought advice and support through groups on Facebook, namely “New Vegan Support” who have every question you might have, covered! Hooray for social media!!
I wanted to find the best way to do this transition that would be forging a new lifestyle, making it ‘stick’ if you will. I was reading about people going cold-turkey (pun not intended) and people transitioning over time by crowding animal products out. I knew that red meat, chicken, pork etc. wouldn’t be an issue; neither would milk, as I never drank it. But fish and specifically halloumi cheese, would take some will power. However, I was surprised to discover that these weren’t an issue for me either.
The biggest thing I felt that held me back in the beginning, was additives. You wouldn’t believe where animal products sneak up on you!! This is where building plant based habits, was going to eliminate the need for anything with “additives” to a large degree. But it takes time. Learning how to make interesting vegan meals, stocking your cupboards appropriately and creating new food routines. I’m not going to lie, initially it isn’t easy, not so much the exclusion of animal products, but the thought that goes into what you’re going to eat and how you’re going to make it. This is where for me; smoothies and juicing were my lifesavers in the beginning. Something quick and nutritious that I knew how to make made my mornings at least, effortless. Because let’s be honest, there are days with chronic illness where you just don’t eat, not if it takes any preparation anyway. Pain levels and fatigue can keep you locked out of the kitchen. Through this transition time, learning new techniques and trying to keep myself as plant-based as possible whilst also working within the confines of my pain, took more will power than giving anything up ever did. I had to completely focus all of my energy on researching the best things to eat, creating shopping lists and sourcing things I needed, and prepping meals in advance so I had something to turn to on those days where nowt is happening but being glued to my bed!!
This was my plan; to start crowding out all animal products, keeping myself as plant-based as my conditions and the physical limits would allow; all the while in the background, improving the health of my Microbiome. I’d say the worst of it was over in a month, so far as building a new routine and it all becoming second nature! It’s difficult because when I think back to my old lifestyle, feeling shame for not making this change sooner in my life, I can’t help but wonder; would I have had the motivation to learn, to open my eyes and to bite the bullet to make the change without being sick? From a compassionate point of view I truly hope I could’ve. Even with all I know now, would that have been enough or did I always need this selfishness, being backed into a corner with my own health to actually act upon this information. The worst question I’ve asked myself, now I know how nutrition literally affects every corner of our health; would I have ever gotten this bad, if my diet was in tune with what my body needed and craved? It really is difficult to ignore these nagging questions, especially as we all know we are what we eat…but I guess that’s the thing with hindsight!
We live in a time where there aren’t any excuses to be ill-informed. We have recipes, techniques and alternatives at our fingertips. Google much? I have the utmost respect for anyone that followed a vegan diet before the explosion of the Internet or when the choices were so limited if there even were any!! I mean seriously, how did they do it and make it exciting? Luckily for us we live in a time where you needn’t feel deprived. You can pretty much make an alternative for anything, even if you’re raw vegan plant based (although I do liken this to some sort of wizardry!!) so there really isn’t much of an excuse. You’d be surprised how much your taste buds change, how you start craving what would once be considered the weirdest of things, like kale and avocado!! Not even joking, completely true!!
The best bit; it actually works. Admittedly, I’m not cured, I won’t ever be. But the difference I feel is incredible. I notice a massive shift in my symptoms when I have a lazy processed vegan day. All the flu-like symptoms hit me like a bus. And I crave a good veggie juice, the way I would’ve previously craved Ben & Jerry’s!! My diet is much more intuitive now, I listen to my body; I know what she needs and what will make me feel better.
I’m vegan and I try my absolute best to keep my intake as plant based as I possibly can given my circumstances; but come on, we all have treat days…that’s when The Coconut Collaborative and their awesome dairy free range make an appearance, rightly so!! And my god, for those days ladies, where you’ve just gotta have SOMETHING, the vast vegan ranges these days are sure to hit the spot, trust me!!!
One more thing that is worth mentioning before I go; (ok maybe two, don’t judge me!) Since I’ve been trying to figure out the best things to help myself, knowing that the order can be as important as anything, coming off all medications (no matter how hard that was and how hard that can still make my life pain killer free) was absolutely the best thing for me to concentrate on as a first hurdle. From there, in my mind, it made total sense to try to fix and support my microbiome through nutrition, whilst also conveniently fighting my daily symptoms. What I’m trying to point out is that, the Kombucha trials I’ve done for example, may not have given me the benefits it does without having first tackled these first two things. I suppose it’s like those adverts that claim wonders but in the small print it states “as part of a well balanced nutritional diet”. You’ve got to start from the ground up. I truly believe this is the best way to accurately learn what serves you in your new lifestyle.
What I’d like you to take away from this, is to really sit down and think, make notes or journal, on what your goals are and how bringing them down to their most basic, may help you make the necessary changes in the most logical order to help yourself and have those efforts truly pay off. Seeing and feeling a difference when you’re slogging your guts off to help yourself, keeps that enthusiasm and motivation ignited. Let’s be honest, that can be half of the battle. So far as my path with plant based veganism, my motivation is simple, compassion. I want to live consciously with purpose, doing no harm to the beautiful beings we share this planet with. The betterment to my condition is a huge advantage; so is this newly found clear conscience around food. Something I’ve never experienced before and now I understand why!!
*At the time of publishing I had been strictly Vegan for 120 days. Hell yeah!!!
I wish you all the luck in the land on your own journey.