I’m going back to the basics! Sometimes I forget just how many changes I’ve made to my diet in the past four years and just how much they’ve helped me. But if I were to put it all in a nutshell I’d say changing my diet changed my life.
Ok, you guys know me and my cautions against putting our hope into things like food and nutrition. Nope, our hope belongs to Jesus. But I do think that our Lord wants us to eat healthy and honor Him with our body. Mostly, because God says it a million times in His word and because He so generously made it clear that eating well was something I should be doing.
In my case, I needed to eat in a way that would support my immune system and give my body everything it needed to grow healthier and stronger, fight disease, and reach it’s ideal weight. Nutrition played a HUGE role in strengthening my body through disease, and it continues to play a huge role in staying healthy and healing my digestive system even more.
Everything I learned, I learned from nutritionists who had been in my shoes before me. They were sick and now they’re better and they’re sharing what God taught them with others to help us all get better, too. My favorite books are:
90 Day Immune System Makeover by Janet Maccaro, Ph.D.
The Maker’s Diet by Jordan Rubin
Nutricures by the Editors of Prevention Magazine
12 Steps to Raw Foods by Victoria Boutenko
These books taught me about eating the right foods for my body and the importance of nutritional supplements when fighting illness and when eating a 21st century diet. I can be a bit of skeptic when it comes to advice, so I spent my two years of treatment researching, interviewing my healthcare practitioners, and learning as much as I could about nutrition, and I was really blown away by how fascinating it is.
I’m re-reading The Maker’s Diet right now, which is inspiring me in all sorts of ways to take care of myself again and honor God with my body. I’m recommitting to all these great changes and hopping back onto the “living my best” train. So here’s a quick rundown of the dietary changes I made to go from healthy to better and that I’m sticking to again to go from better to even better, because every day is a gift.
When I was changing my diet, I cut out:
- Sugar – While sugar is a totally natural and delicious thing, refined sugar (sugar stripped of everything but the sweetest part) has been found to suppress the immune system (especially when we eat as much of it as the average American) and to feed unhealthy bacteria and fungus within the body, which can make it incredibly difficult if not impossible to fight illness and heal the immune and digestive systems. This was a hard one for me to give up, but it made a huge difference in my healing process.
- Fake sweeteners – I also cut out fake sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose, because the more I learned about these, the more I couldn’t justify making my taste buds happy in exchange for ingesting something that is potentially harmful to my body. So I switched to natural sweeteners instead, and my body and brain are very happy for it.
- Yeast – Yeast in bread products, spice packets, and sauces also feeds fungal infections in the digestive tract. Normally our bodies keep fungus at bay, but when you’re immune system is fighting disease, it can be difficult to keep this in check as well, which can lead to systemic candidiasis. Not fun! Basically that leads to a bunch of other problems like food allergies, inflammation and skin breakouts, and achy muscles and joints. Fungal infections in the digestive system also prevent the body from absorbing nutrients effectively, and leave you feeling chronically fatigued.
- Gluten – Cutting this out reduces inflammation in the body and lessens the amount of work needed by the digestive system in breaking down your complex carbohydrates. In other words, it lets your body use the energy it would use in breaking down the gluten protein in wheat, barley, rye, and oats in other ways – like growing stronger and killing disease! I cut most gluten out of my diet for years until recently, when I cut out all gluten in order to heal my digestive system completely.
- Caffeine – Chronic fatigue can mean worn out adrenal glands and high stress hormones, and caffeine can make it worse. I just stay away from this because my body can’t really handle it. My eyes become attracted to all sorts of shiny things and I become the jitteriest person you’ve ever met.
- Alcohol – This was a big part in growing healthier for me, because alcohol can strip nutrients from the body, kill good bacteria (which you seriously need if you’re fighting illness), and feed fungal infections in the digestive system and also puts strain on the liver. If you’re fighting an illness, you want your liver to filter out all sorts of bad guys and not be sidetracked with filtering out alcohol.
- Soda – This goes along with cutting out fake sweeteners and caffeine. Even the diet and caffeine free versions are too high in man made sweeteners and chemicals to offer anything of nutritional value, so I cut it out. See below for all the fun things I substituted for it!
- Any meat or cheese with hormones or antibiotics – We know for sure that these low levels of hormones in the meat and cheese we eat have real effects on our own hormones, and since our hormone regulate our entire bodies (from emotions to metabolism to energy levels and more) it just makes sense to do our best to heal them rather than hurt them. I also cut out meat with antibiotics, because even trace amounts of antibiotics in meat and chicken can kill off the good bacteria in our bodies or allow bacteria to grow resistant, which totally handicaps our ability to fight disease. Not to mention most animals treated with hormones and antibiotics are raised on diets that are not natural to their species, and therefore are higher in bad fats, lower in good fats, and all around not as healthy as animals that are fed diets they were created to consume. I like meat too much to eat the bad stuff, so I switched to the good stuff instead.
- Produce treated with pesticides or other chemicals – Trace amounts of pesticides and chemicals (herbicide, fungicides) on fruits and vegetables have been shown to have real effects on our hormones and neurological systems. There is nothing natural about them, and they were never intended to be consumed by humans. The more I’ve learned about our bodies, the more I’ve been in awe of God’s work and against harming it by allowing toxic chemicals into our food supply.
- Shellfish, eel, and finless seafood – These are delicious, but they were created to be scavengers of the sea and not delicacies on our plate. Once I learned that shellfish, eel, and other finless sea creatures are used by scientists to measure the rate of toxins in the ocean (mostly because they’re bad at pooping out the bad stuff and carry it around longer than fish with fins), I could no longer look at them the same way.
- Pork – Pork is delicious, but it’s seriously not nutritious. OK, I had to say that because it kind of rhymes. It’s also true in that pigs, like shellfish, aren’t too picky when it comes to picking out their food. They will eat anything, including sick and diseased plants and baby piglets.
I added these things in instead:
- Natural sweeteners – Honey, maple syrup, stevia, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, and other natural sweeteners are good for the body and the brain. Natural sweeteners are all the rage these days, but when I was first changing my diet I’d never heard of stevia or agave nectar and these things changed my life. I get my sweet fix and my immune system stays healthy!
- Yeast free or sourdough bread – Bread was one of the hardest things for me to replace until I learned about about the benefits of yeast free or sourdough bread from The Maker’s Diet by Jordan Rubin, which allowed me to steer clear of yeast (see above) but still get my grilled cheese and french toast fix (yes, I eat a lot of grilled cheese and french toast).
- Gluten-free complex carbs – These include rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, teff, and other grains that don’t have the gluten protein, which means they’re easier for the digestive system to break down and process. Even better, they are full of nutrients and healthy carbohydrates and protein so they make the body happier than refined wheat (which is stripped of all the good stuff to make white flour) ever has.
- Herbal tea – Herbal teas are naturally caffeine free and have the added benefit of doing all sorts of good things to our bodies. I use chamomile (sleepy time) tea before bed, ginger or peppermint tea after meals (which calms the stomach), and raspberry tea through the month to balance my hormones. It’s easy to sweeten with stevia or honey and works so well that even my fiance asks for tea to help him feel his best.
- Filtered water – After reading over and over again about how filtered water reduces chlorine and other additives in our water supply (additives which kill bacteria in the water but also kill good bacteria in our bodies when we drink it), I switched to filtered. Now I can definitely tell a difference between clean water and chlorinated water. I started drinking at 8-12 cups of water a day, which helps flush out free radicals and toxins and keep the body healthy inside and out.
- Seltzer water – Some tell me this is an east coast thing. All I know is, if it’s fizzy I love it. When I cut out soda and switched to water as my primary beverage (which is pretty much 90% of what I drink these days) I needed something to fun it up from time to time. Add bubbles. Unsweetened seltzer water is a thing of beauty, especially when you add a splash of low sugar juice (like lemon, lime, or unsweetened cherry). I also replaced conventional sodas with unsweetened fruit juice sodas like Izze and Fizzy Lizzy or stevia sweetened soda like Zevia. Yum.
- Grass fed, free range meat (and cheese and eggs) – Cows were made to roam! When they do that, they select only the healthiest grass and turn that into healthy meat (as opposed to feedlot cows that are force fed corn and soy and produce meat higher in bad fats). I love meat, and after losing so much weight to illness my body literally craved healthy protein like grass fed beef, lamb, and bison and free range chicken (and eggs). Dairy products made from the same standards are also healthier, especially goat cheese and sheep cheese, which are lower in lactose and have smaller fat molecules (so they’re easier to digest).
- Lots of raw vegetables and fruits – Basically, these are awesome. They are full of enzymes (molecules that helps your body break down food = nutrients and energy), antioxidants, phytochemicals, and more things that make our bodies go – which is why people live long healthy lives as vegetarians and raw foodists, even though I’m a fan of meat. The more I learn about raw vegetables and fruits, the more it doesn’t surprise me that God started us out in a big ol’ garden. They are pretty much our bodies’ favorite things and they are one of the best things we can give our bodies when fighting illness and disease.
- Ocean caught fish – I added fish into my diet at least once a week and looked for “wild caught” on the packaging, which helped me get healthy protein without eating so much red meat. I love red meat. I may or may not eat a lot more of it than fish. But I love fish, too, and healthy fish has made many a good meal while I’ve been getting healthier.
So there it is! The basic run down of how I changed my diet while healing of illness and how I still eat to help my body continue to grow healthier and stronger. Since making these changes I’ve been playing around in the kitchen and learning new recipes like turkey, egg, and cheese cups, homemade candy bars, cereal coated chicken drumsticks, homemade Reese’s cups, gluten-free pancakes, mini meatloaf, super easy salmon burgers, and icebox cake. <– Mostly due to a whole lot of bloggers who have gone down this path before me and are gifted with whisks and spatulas in ways that I am not.
In the next few days (weeks?) I’ll talk about the vitamin and supplement routines I’ve used over the years to grow healthier and take care of myself, as well as some of the other changes I made.