Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gluten - friend or foe?

There's been a lot of talk about gluten, gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergies among the people I know. In fact, two of my friends who have suffered from symptoms such as migraines, mood swings, fatigue, (one of whom with fibromyalgia) have changed over to a gluten-free diet in the past year, and have enjoyed wonderful results from the change in their diet.

I 've never been much of one to follow the trends of the day, though, so for a long time, I resisted the idea of trying a gluten free diet myself.  I didn't want to be doing it just for the sake of doing it, or to fit in with other people, and I didn't really see a need for it in my own life.

However, since going through weight loss on the shakes and then transitioning back to regular food for the past seven months, I've noticed a few important things about myself that have gotten me to thinking about what I'm eating and how it's affecting me.

Within a day of starting the shakes, I felt like a mental fog had lifted.  A fog I didn't even realize was there.  You can imagine how shocked (and slightly high) I felt when I "woke up" from the fog.  Needless to say I had no desire to go back to that feeling once I returned to regular food -- but despite my efforts to eat in a healthy and responsible manner (most of the time), I've noticed some fog creeping in around the edges.

Still thinking about my head, I have suffered headaches consistently and migraines occasionally.  But on the shakes, I hardly ever had a headache even though my stress levels were similar to where they had been the previous years.

Also, while I was on the shakes, my skin cleared up dramatically.  I have always struggled with acne, though less as an adult than as a teenager, and it has gotten better as I've learned more about proper skincare, but it was such a relief to have a year where I had few, if any, breakouts.  I also have a condition called Perioral Dermatits,a kind of inflammatory skin rash around the mouth, which is difficult to clear up and usually recurs about once a year.  Well, during the year that I was on the shakes, I didn't have a single episode of Perioral Dermatits -- but now that I'm back eating regular food, it has returned.

There are a few other things that were gone during the period I was on the shakes and have now returned... but those generally aren't mentioned in polite company, so I won't bore you with the details. :-)

Now you're thinking, what does this have to do with gluten, and trying a gluten-free diet?

I started thinking about it after realizing that my Perioral Dermatitis,which looked like it was healing, flared up again after a day when I went on a wheat bonanza.  I also started thinking about how whenever I have a wheat product, whether it's bread, pasta, or pretzels, I instantly want more of the same and can't get enough - even if I eat to the point where I feel sick.  My husband mentioned the idea of gluten possibly being a culprit in these two problems, and I started wondering...

Why was it that all these problems were gone while I was on the shakes?

You probably came to the same hypothesis I did.  I took a look at the box, and sure enough, the shakes are gluten-free.

Now, maybe gluten is the problem, and maybe it isn't.  The good news about a gluten-free diet is it doesn't hurt you to try it out for a while to see if it makes a difference.  And since the test available to detect celiac disease doesn't capture the majority of people who have gluten sensitivities, the only way to really see if it makes a difference is to give it a try.  (To cover my bases, I did have the celiac test done yesterday, but the results aren't back in yet.)

So... in a month or so, I'll be able to give you a better idea if gluten is my friend or enemy.  My mouth misses wheat bread, but the rest of me is feeling pretty good so far. :-D

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The appearance of perfection

Being public about my weight loss journey has had some interesting effects on me, effects I'm not sure I could have predicted.  One of the effects I'm really feeling lately is the desire to be "perfect" for the people who have seen me, been inspired by me (, and are cheering me on in this journey of losing (and more importantly maintaining) my weight loss.  As someone who already struggles with perfectionism, this desire hits home in a very visceral way, and the results aren't pretty.

You see, the minute I start feeling like I'm not living up to what I think other people expect of me, I feel ashamed and go into hiding.  One of the ways I have historically gone into hiding is... you guessed it... eating!  So it becomes a Catch-22: I have a bad day, I feel guilt about it for myself and for those around me who are watching, I run and hide, and have a worse day.  The pattern continues until I can do something to shake myself out of it.

It's important to me that you know that this journey is not a perfect one.  There are days that I eat more than I should.  There are days when I eat too much of foods that I know will not satisfy me nutritionally and will leave me needing to eat again after my day's calories are already spent.  There are days when I feel so hungry that I could probably eat a hippo and still feel hungry.  And, of course, there are days I eat for reasons other than hunger.

That's one of the reasons the holidays were so difficult for me.  It's ever so much easier to munch on a tasty piece of cracker spread with buttery smooth brie rather than find something to talk about with someone I don't know well.  Although I'm generally an outgoing person once I get to know you, I still feel awkward and uncomfortable in those initial stages of meet-and-greet.  And of course, there are the family dynamics that crop up around the holidays.  Everyone's got them, and each person has their own way of dealing with them.  My way just happens to show up around my waist and hips first.

Maybe you don't expect me to be perfect in this process.  I sure hope not.  In stories, no one wants to read about the happily ever after part, they just want to know there is one.  For me, the happily ever after part requires an awful lot of work.  And patience with myself on the days when things aren't working the way I want them to.  And understanding from the people around me that sometimes offering me a tasty tidbit is too much for me to handle.  And most of all, encouragement from the people around me to remind me that I can do it.  That I am doing it.  And that it's ok that the process isn't perfect.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Back to center

It's amazing how quickly time disappears when you're focused on putting one foot in front of the other - whether literally or figuratively.  In my case, a mounting caseload at work, finishing my half marathon and starting the training for my first full marathon, not to mention the holidays, made the last couple of months fly by.

I started doing Bikram Yoga as part of my marathon training; it builds strength and flexibility as well as providing much-needed mental clarity during and after 90 minutes of contortion in 100+ degree heat.  One of the amazing aspects of Bikram that I didn't anticipate, though, is how it has helped me come to a better understanding of myself, and of personal balance.

Rather than tell you what I mean, let me show you -- take a minute and stand up. Now, shift your weight to one leg and hold the other one up.  Stay there for 30 seconds, or as long as you can.  What do you notice about how you're balancing?

If you noticed what I noticed, you realized that balance isn't something you can find, and then be done with.  Your body shifts slightly and you have to constantly adjust your position to stay in the same place.

Like balancing on one foot, weight maintenance is about constantly revising, changing, shifting - just to stay in one place.  And if the ground shakes a little, sometimes you fall down and have to get back up and find a new balancing point.

The holidays were a minor earthquake for me.  Like most people, the overabundance of rich and delicious food plus the cold weather which has made it more difficult for me to motivate myself towards exercise, has resulted in about 12 extra pounds that I didn't want to be carrying and am now working to lose again.  A few of them are already gone.

Fortunately, yoga has also given me the opportunity to appreciate my body and its capabilities in a far different way than I have before.  By getting used to spending the entire class looking at my body in a mirror in various positions, I've developed a deep appreciation for how my body looks, and also how it responds when I try something new.

This is not to say there aren't things I would prefer to be different about my body's current architecture.  But I can honestly look at my entire self in the mirror and smile with satisfaction.

I have learned that my body is capable.  I know that my mind is capable.  I might struggle, and I might fall.  When that happens, I get up again and find center one more time.