The Intricate Design of the Body (Part 2): Gut and Brain Connection

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Happy New Year!  The holidays have come to past, the cold is here, and a new year is upon us.  April 2019 will mark my 2 year mark on this healing journey!  As the new year starts, I feel both hopeful and discouraged.  I’m hopeful that these next few months will bring big changes to my gut health and I will receive good news at my 2 year visit.  I feel discouraged though that after making it this far along on the journey, I’m still having frequent symptoms and some occasional rough times.

As I continue to learn about gut health and the body, the importance of the connection between the brain and our gut has been stressed.  The gut is often called the second brain and studies continue to find the importance of the microbiome in the functionings of our body, brain, and emotions. Our emotions such as stress can impact our gut’s ability to digest, but also imbalances in our microbiome and inflammation in the gut can lead to brain fog, anxiety, depression, and autism (and studies continue to expand this list).  (https://draxe.com/gut-brain-connection/  and https://drwillcole.com/is-your-mood-suffering-because-your-brain-is-inflamed/).

It continues to amaze how intricate God has made our bodies and the importance of learning to be present in my body (listening to it, feeling the emotions, caring for it).  This presence in the body not only aids in my healing, but matures my faith.  God has designed my body and given it limitations.  Understanding my body better, draws me nearer to my Creator and Savior and is teaching me to understand and love others better as well.  It’s a learning process as my tendency still is to constantly go, so I have to be intentional about slowing down and being present.  I’m excited to participate in a social justice yoga practice tomorrow!

Below are a couple pictures of meals from the holidays – (from left to right and top to bottom) Savory Winter Cobbler, Apple Crisp, Green Bean Casserole, Turkey Thighs, and a seafood feast.  I’m including the recipe for the Savory Winter Cobbler which is my most recent favorite recipe.  http://aipsisterhood.com/savory-winter-cobbler-aippaleo/

Enjoy and take some time this week to work on the practice of presence!

The Intricate Design of the Body (Part 1): The Gut and Hormone Connection

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”  Psalm 139: 13, 14

I have learned so much on this journey about my body, health, and the healing power of food.  I am constantly amazed at the intricate design of the body, the connection between our body’s systems, and the nutritional and medicinal value in plants, herbs and food.

One connection I have learned about is the connection between the gut and hormones.  Our hormones our coordinated by our endocrine system.  Hormones target tissues and cells and work as chemical messengers in the daily functions of our body.

Our body’s microbiome (bacteria and yeast in our gut and skin) controls the functioning of our body.  The gut contains over 100 trillion bacteria making our gut health essential for the health of our body.  When imbalances in our bacteria occur, it leads to not only digestive issues but other issues including hormonal imbalances.  These imbalances in our microbiome also lead to inflammation which is another contributing factor in digestive and hormonal dysfunctions.

One of the early signs of my illness was dysfunction in my hormones.  As I continue to heal, I’m noticing my hormones start to balance out and function normally again.  As this happens I’ve been noticing changes in my gut as well.  I continue to be amazed by these connections.

My healing continues to be slow and long, but I’ve found enjoyment in my diet and keep plugging along.  I’m still looking forward to the day I can report to you all that I am symptom free.

 

Listening to Your Body

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Listening to your body is important in the healing journey.  And listening to my body is one of the hardest things for me.  Growing up as an athlete, it was drilled into me to play through pain, push your body to the limits, no pain no gain….and it’s a struggle to break this mentality.  Listening to your body is also important in finding certain food triggers.  But again, this hasn’t been easy for me either.  It has always seemed like I can eat one thing one day and feel fine, eat the same thing the next day and feel crappy.  And then of course there is the frustration that I’ve already sacrificed so much for my body to heal, what else could I possibly sacrifice!

After 541 days/77 weeks/18 months, my body is still telling me it needs more time to heal.  Despite progress, I continue to have regular symptoms and 1 or 2 rougher days each week.  Although I have been disciplined in not cheating on my food restrictions, I do at times push through symptoms when I probably need to back off.  I haven’t really been able to identify any specific food triggers from my very restrictive options, but I do know that the size of a meal is a trigger.  And sometimes, I just want that extra bite or extra side…I mean I deserve it right….at least that’s how I justify it in the moment.  And then to make the choice even easier to talk myself into, sometimes my symptoms will do okay or even improve slightly with the extra intake.  The times that it doesn’t respond well, it’s really easy to get frustrated with myself or disappointed in my choice.

As I continue to navigate listening to my body, some things I have been able to do well are resting (sometimes I go to bed ridiculously early so that I can get extra sleep with my early work alarm), modifying workouts and reducing their intensity, taking more walks, praying, reading, finding treats I can enjoy (homemade tea lattes, AIP treats), and an occasional trip to a coffee shop (for tea of course).  Things I’m working on are finding more joy each day, laughing more, giving myself grace, and finding more time for connection with family and friends.

“If you listen to your body when it whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream.”  (Adapted from a Cherokee proverb)

 

Soup Season!

As I write, the air is cool and in typical Western PA fashion, the sky is overcast with gray clouds.  After a hot week, I’m loving this first day of fall!  This morning I enjoyed a pumpkin tea latte cuddled in a blanket and now I have some bone broth stewing in the crockpot.  With the weather turning cooler, we’re entering into crockpot and soup season.  Soups bring memories of soothing meals on cold nights and our moms’ medicine for our sicknesses.  Turns out mom is right as long as we start our soups with homemade bone broth.

Homemade bone broth sounds intimidating, but it is a simple process and fills the house with soothing aromas.  Bone broth has many benefits for our bodies including for our guts, joints, and skin.  It contains amino acids, collagen and nutrients that support healthy digestive functions, immunity and brain health.  It is the number 1 medicine for my gut in my healing journey due to it’s ability to restore my gut lining and reduce inflammation, fight food sensitivities, and increase good bacteria.  Check out this article by Dr. Axe that gives a detailed breakdown of bone broth and it’s many benefits.

https://draxe.com/the-healing-power-of-bone-broth-for-digestion-arthritis-and-cellulite/

Once you have your bone broth, you have a base for a delicious soup.  The flavors of soup are diverse and delicious.  Throw in some of your favorite veggies, meat, herbs, onion, and garlic and you’ll have a crowd and tummy pleasing meal.  Above is a picture of a recent beef stew I made for a dinner with friends. I served it with a side of AIP flatbread and a broccoli salad. The recipes are below.

We can’t forget our fall treats, which of course means pumpkin!  Some of my favorites so far this fall are pumpkin tea lattes and pumpkin pudding.

One final article, just in case you get a little tired of using your bone broth for soups, here are some alternative ways to use bone broth.

https://drwillcole.com/warming-healing-bone-broth-recipes-arent-soup/

A final closing word for those who have been following me on my healing journey:  the past couple weeks have been some of my best weeks in the past 17 months.  My symptoms continue to decrease and I can finally feel significant process.  I’m praying that in the near future, I can report symptom free days.  Until then, this journey continues! Thanks for your support and prayers and go enjoy some broth and soup!

Easy beef stew crock pot recipe Ingredients:

  •   2 tbsp coconut oil
  •   2 pounds of stewing beef, cut to about 2″ cubes
  •   1/4 tsp salt
  •   2 cups chopped onion (2 medium onions)
  •   2 cups chopped celery (2 stalks)
  •   2 cups chopped carrots (2 medium carrots)
  •   2 cups chopped parsnips (3 small parsnips)
  •   1.5 cups chopped sweet potato (1 medium sweet potato)
  •   3 cups bone broth
  •   1 cup coconut milk
  •   1 tbsp turmeric
  •   salt to tasteInstructions
  1. Heat coconut oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Brown the stewing beef, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Sprinkle about a 1/4 tsp of salt over the beef as it cooks. The beef just needs to be lightly seared and not fully cooked.Transfer the beef pieces into the crock pot (3 quart size) once they have been browned on all sides.
  2. Add onions and celery to the same pan that the beef was cooked in. Brown the onions and celery for about five minutes and then add them to the crock pot.
  3. Add the chopped carrots, parsnips and sweet potato to the crock pot.
  4. In a small bowl mix together the bone broth, and coconut milk. Pour this mixture over the contents of the crock pot. Cover and cook on the low setting of the crock pot for 8 hours, or on the high setting for 4 hours.
  5. When done, salt to taste and enjoy!

http://www.feedingyourselfwell.com/recipes/rosemary-garlic-flatbread

https://unboundwellness.com/avocado-bacon-broccoli-salad/

https://unboundwellness.com/anti-inflammatory-pumpkin-spice-turmeric-latte/

https://againstallgrain.com/2014/11/20/pumpkin-pudding-egg-free-dairy-free/?utm_content=buffer32dc8&utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Finding Joy in the Journey

Healing the gut takes time.  I’m 16 months into the journey and still not symptom free.  The journey has gotten easier with a decrease in the frequency and intensity of symptoms, but there are still days when I wonder if I’ll ever be symptom free.  Most days I feel strong and encouraged, but there are still those hard and discouraging days.  The important thing for me is to find joy in the journey.

Summer has been a whirlwind of time with family, traveling, and squeezing in my work obligations.  Time with family always brings me so much joy.  An additional joy this summer has been cooking with and for my family.  It’s been fun to cook meals for them and watch them enjoy the flavors.  People often feel sorry for me because I’m missing out on so much food, but the food I can eat is delicious!  I love finding and trying new recipes and foods.  And getting to watch my family experience that has been a joy.  My one year nephew even enjoyed dinner so much he clapped when we were done 🙂

Summer has also brought the joy of more daylight, more sunshine and more outdoor activities.  Pictured below is a sunrise I was able to enjoy during some morning yoga and me using the stand up paddle board during our family’s trip to the Adirondacks.

Also pictured below is my awesome momma taking a day to cook with me in my hot kitchen and some new recipes.   The top recipe is Tarragon Meatballs with Carrot Sauce, Broccoli, and a Jicama Avocado Salad.  Jicama is new vegetable I tried this summer and it’s delicious!!  The bottom recipe is pulled chicken topped with coleslaw and a zucchini basil soup.  Here are a few links to the recipes if you want to give them a try.

http://www.wholelifefullsoul.com/whole30-orange-tarragon-lamb-meatballs-carrot-mash/

https://livelytable.com/avocado-jicama-and-cucumber-salad/

https://meatified.com/bbq-pulled-chicken/

https://unboundwellness.com/basil-zucchini-summer-soup/

This is just a nice short post.  As I continue to move forward in the journey, I’m focusing on finding the joy each and every day.  I’m continuing to keep my journal of 1,000 things to be thankful for (from the book “One Thousand Reasons”).  Enjoy the rest of your summer – it’ll be gone before we know it!

Acupuncture, sunshine, sisters, and family are good for the soul and the gut

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April was a hard month in my healing journey.  My gut digressed some and I was discouraged for the lack of progress at the year mark.  After some prayer, I decided to try out acupuncture.  I didn’t know what to expect and was a little nervous about all the needles.  Surprisingly to me, it was a very relaxing experience and the flare up in my symptoms ended.  I did 3 weekly appointments and then spread them out.  My plan currently is to do a monthly appointment for a few months and then keep maintenance appointments in unison with the change of seasons.

Another benefit of May and the spring and summer seasons is sunshine!!!  Living in Pittsburgh, we have more than our fair share of cloudy days (308 in fact – the 3rd most in the country!)  The sunshine is giving me essential Vitamin D and is boosting my mood and energy 🙂  Below is a picture of one of the beautiful sunsets I witnessed this summer.

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My sister (and best friend) who is an ESL teacher in Saudi Arabia arrived home for the summer in late May.  Spending time with her has been fun and uplifting.  The top picture is of me and my sister with some homemade “ice cream” (see below for the recipe).

With my sister only being home in the summer, I saved up my vacation time and we’ve been busy traveling to visit our brothers, sister-in-laws, and niece and nephews.  I’m enjoying and savoring this time.  It’s so fun to be together and see the sweet joy in the littles.  And a bonus is the little ones are loving my cooking.

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So for now, I feel encouraged and refreshed.  My symptoms overall have become much more mild while I continue to work towards symptom-free days.  I continue to try new recipes and enjoy all of the tasty food.  Below is a picture of a zucchini pesto with turkey meatballs and a beef fajita lettuce boat.  I also made my family a yummy meal of grilled cilantro lime chicken drumsticks and roasted parsnips.

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https://wholefully.com/turkey-florentine-meatballs/

http://www.acleanplate.com/recipe/beef-fajitas-mango-salsa

https://www.budgetbytes.com/cilantro-lime-chicken-drumsticks/

https://wholenewmom.com/recipes/avocado-chocolate-ice-cream/
**Note I substituted carob powder for the cocoa and only used 2 tablespoons of honey          as the sweetner**

365 days…

ONE YEAR!  It’s been an entire year since I’ve had eggs, peanut butter, coffee, cheese, grains, legumes, sugar and many other foods.  It’s been an entire year since I’ve run!

Some quick reflections on the year remind me of the tears shed hearing a diagnosis that I didn’t want, more tears shed at the strict diet plan and the loss of some of my staple foods, an intense night of sickness at the start of the broth fast, 14 days of only soup and my diminishing weight, weekly soup fasts, weakness and exhaustion, 3 months of die off symptoms, and months of feeling overwhelmed by the demands of the planning, food prep and cooking.

BUT I’ve made it one year!  I haven’t cheated or strayed from the diet plan.  I’ve demonstrated a whole new level of discipline and determination.  I’ve learned to cook an entire new way.  I’ve learned to ferment.  I’ve tried new vegetables and recipes and love new foods.  I’ve learned to rely more and more on Jesus for daily strength and healing.  I’m continuing to learn to release my anxiety to God and focus on the moment in front of me.  I’m learning to love my Savior deeper and trust him and his timing for my healing.  I’m learning to suffer and endure with peace and joy because: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” –
2 Corinthians 4:17.

Thinking of how to write this blog post has been challenging because the reality is that the last several weeks have been full of discouragement and frustration.  I was told over and over again that most people feel better at one year.  So, in my mind, the year mark was going to be the point I make it over the hill and cruise down for 6-12 more months to complete the healing journey.  I was expecting minimal symptoms at this point and was hoping to start to implement some foods back into my diet.  This is not reality for me at the year mark.  I’m still experiencing daily symptoms.  Some days are still really rough while others are definitely more minimal.  I tried to treat myself to a diet approved dessert on my birthday and my body did not respond well.  At times I feel defeated…so little progress despite the hard work.

In addition, I reached out to a contact who also had SIBO and completed the two year diet four years ago.  She was so sweet and encouraging, but her journey also opened my eyes to the reality of the length of this battle.  I guess the impression I got was that after two years my gut would be healed, my microbiome would be balanced and I could eat a  normal, healthy diet.  However, she explained that she still has symptoms at times and her body responds poorly to certain foods.  I guess I just need to understand that this could potentially be a lifelong battle.

So, my final thought, it’s important for me to have realistic expectations because it really sucks when my expectations are not met.  And as I continue to push through another year on this strict diet, I have to continue to trust God.  My healing is in his hands.  I can do everything right and continue to be disciplined and determined, but my healing will come in his time.  And no matter when that is, God is good and faithful and I will trust and praise him (Psalm 13 and 89)!

P.S.  Here are a few pics of some new recipes I made.

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A lamb roast and veggies with a mint sauce and mashed (purple) cauliflower.

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Portobello steak sandwich with yellow squash and zucchini.

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Adobo Chicken Burgers