SIFO? and constantly making changes.

I've been doing great since March, as I mentioned in my last post. However, starting around November it was more of a challenge to maintain a state of wellness. It's difficult to stay on top of all the moving parts that keep me feeling my best, especially in times of financial or physical (working late, etc.) hardship. I found that my body was inflamed and was more difficult to "chill out" than usual. (For me, this means I'm low-level bloated after eating almost anything, my eyes are puffy and tired looking, I'm sluggish, brain foggy and prone to be moody AF.) I was taking the supplements that usually helped me to reduce inflammation, doing my diet (fairly well) and maintaining lifestyle interventions. In all transparency, towards the end of the year, the issue was that I'd indulge in something (maybe more alcohol than usual or starches I usually stay away from) and then before I could "chill out" my system (which usually takes a week, for me) I'd have something else and the cycle would continue. 

Because the diet that makes me feel great (right now) is so limited in variety, I also had a suspicion that maybe we hadn't completely solved the puzzle. I'd cleared SIBO in 2015 (we tested 3x and besides, the diet I consume would mitigate any remaining imbalance there). I haven't been able to reintroduce anything beyond greens, cucumber, limited amounts of tomatoes and avocado and small amounts of fermented foods into my diet. For the sake of my quality of life, I'd like to be able to tolerate some more foods, mainly vegetables. It would really make eating out more fun and tasty. Not to mention, while greens are packed with vitamins and minerals, I'd like to get a wider variety from other foods.

I had been listening to Dr. Ruscio's podcast and some others and hypothesized that perhaps my gut was still in a state of dysbiosis or perhaps there was a pathogen I was keeping at bay but hadn't eradicated. It's possible I'd cleared SIBO but not all of a fungal overgrowth (Candida or otherwise) that could have been there in the first place. I also know that while not diagnosed (for those concerned if i've "been diagnosed", it's a thing, LMGTFY!) with Crohn's Disease but suffering from the symptoms of it and benefiting from the treatment of an IBD like Crohn's, that it's possible that I am destined for a Low FODMAP diet forever. Research shows that people with IBD that go off of a low FODMAP protocol, often get worse. However, as the ever (now greedy) wellness consumer, I'm willing to try all my options.

I knew the first step was on me. I had to get back into a wellness routine that I knew worked for me. January first, I decided to do the elemental diet (I've done the semi-elemental diet in the past, which I do not tolerate well.) I did this for 3.5-4 days, a short, reset period. It's homemade, you can get the list of ingredients here. The purpose of this experiment was to see if I removed digestion from the equation by consuming this pre-digested liquid diet, could I get my body to de-bloat and "prune" (as Dr. Ruscio likes to say) back any initial overgrowth of either fungus or bacteria in my gut. I also committed to doing the first month of an herbal anti-microbial/anti-fungal protocol. It's the same one that I'd done with SIBO, just to prune back anything that had gotten out of control between November and January. 

It turns out, I tolerate the elemental diet very well. I was tired the first day and had a headache but that's pretty typical for me as a withdrawal symptom. I was symptomatic for the first two weeks of the antimicrobials/antifungals which indicates to me that I had some dysbiosis and/or fungus in my gut. I set a follow up meeting with Dr. Ruscio for the next month to discuss what I suspected and to talk about doing the second month of antimicrobials/antifungals which were more geared toward fungus, or if he had another suggestion.

In talking to Dr. Ruscio, I let him know the symptoms I was still experiencing: Low-level bloating, inability to add in more vegetables, some fatigue depending on lifestyle. He suggested that it's possible that I may have a microbiota that needs occasional "pruning" and is prone to overgrowth if not kept in check. The suggestions were the following:

  • Consider doing periodic bouts of the elemental diet (the one I tolerate) to give my digestion a break and starve out any dysbiosis. 
  • Do a round of the 2nd month of SIBO/SIFO treatment (the antimicrobials/antifungals)
  • Consider doing a round of Fluconazole, a pharmaceutical intervention for SIFO that doesn't show adverse effects on the mirobiota. (TBD if i do this in addition to the protocol above) 
  • Consider going on LDN or low-dose naltrexone, an immune booster now commonly used for those with autoimmune diseases. (It's his opinion based on research that my body's immune system attacks my microbiota, if this drug can help calm my system down from being on red alert all the time, perhaps I'll feel better.)
  • Do a week of a low histamine diet. I had additional concerns that maybe I have histamine intolerance (which may or may not be affected by the possible fungal presence). I have sometimes have allergic symptoms when consuming wine, my heart races after eating some foods, I flush when I have too much or certain alcohols and I am sometimes intolerant to fermented foods. My hypothesis is that this will change after antifungals, but we'll see. I do better when I avoid these foods, currently.
     

I have reservations about pharmaceutical interventions.
Taking antibiotics throughout my life, I believe, helped me to arrive in this condition.
I'm starting with the herbal antimicrobials/antifungals and then we'll consider the rest of the options in a month or so. 
I'll update the site then!

 

A Couple of Side Notes

COST
I have a Covered California health care plan, the cheapest one that covers the least. Dr. Ruscio doesn't accept insurance so he's out of network no matter who I'm covered by (though his office does encourage you to super bill your insurance for their fees.) After 2015, I knew that my health care costs would be fewer in frequency and less in cost. I chose to downgrade the coverage I had to save money monthly (but not bankrupt myself if I have an accident). I do still have an HSA so if I make any money via w9, all of that money can go to paying me back (income tax free!) for any healthcare costs I incur during the year. This is one way that I help pay for my wellness on a budget.
Additionally, as Dr. Ruscio is an FMD, I needed a prescription written for the Fluconazole and the LDN (whether or not I fill them and take them we'll decide at a later date). Rather than paying another doctor for an appointment to get that written, I used my FREE (thanks #ACA) physical appointment to consult with my General Practitioner (who admittedly said he literally knows nothing about what I'm doing but if it works, then he's for it) and have him write me those prescriptions. That saved me an additional $150 on a doctor visit. 
 

In other exciting news, our new album is available for Pre-Order!

In other exciting news, our new album is available for Pre-Order!

Maintenance and Some Helpful Tools

Since about March, I've been feeling GOOD. Yep, I know, it's crazy! I have a handle on what food makes me feel best (even while touring). I've chilled out on consuming (but am not depriving myself completely of) alcohol. I am doing my best to sleep 8.5 hours a night, (10p bedtime is best for me but not consistent due to our tour schedule). I've added exercise back into my routine: Daily walking, light body weight workouts and yoga. I still do my best to stay updated on what's going on in the chronic illness / autoimmune wellness community, every little life hack can help.

When I started 3 years ago on the AIP protocol, if you had told me it would have taken this long for me to get to a point where I was feeling good, I may have never started. Temporary dietary changes felt like the end of the world. Every event was annoying because "I couldn't eat" something. Now that my food is dialed in and I've learned how to navigate social events I can say that food is the EASIEST part of this lifestyle, for me.

What I struggle with now is not overdoing it. I feel pretty good and "normal" most of the time now. So much so that I'll over schedule myself and end up knocking myself right back into feeling crappy. It takes me about 3-5 days to recover from a night lacking in sleep.  An early flight followed by late show, for instance and I'm right back to inflammation, headache, tired eyes, stress and anxiety until I can get back on track. It's hard to take advantage of wellness and not take it for granted.

I recently double booked myself for a late night birthday party followed by a friend's show. That afternoon I was feeling a bit restless and anxious so I got myself (read: forced self-care on myself) over to a yoga class. On my way home I called my best friend and talked out the situation. The reason I'm feeling so good is that I am prioritizing my health. I realized that the best decision for me was to cancel my plans. I reorganized my evening to fit with the routine of having an earlier night event and getting to bed by 10p. I need to use down time between tours to catch up on sleep and get back on "home schedule", to take advantage the times when I have control over my environment. 

Sleep, Food and Booze 

Similar to the project management triangle (see above), I can mess with one constraint at a time of: Sleep, Food or Booze and usually maintain a state of wellness.

None of the constraints can be altered without affecting the other.  Each of the points can be a stressor on the body.

  • If I'm not getting enough sleep, my food and booze intake has to be perfectly on point. (That means less than 20g of carbs, no booze and adequate fat intake, for me.)
  •  If I'm being more adventurous with my food, say having some handmade nixtamalization tortillas, then I need to not be overtired and I can't overdo it with alcohol.
  •  If I'm going to have more than 2 drinks, I need to make sure my food is on point and that I'm going to sleep enough to chill out my system.

It's all about balance. (Stress Management is a constant factor and has to be considered at all times before indulging in any of the above three constraints.) 

 

 Tools I couldn't live without 🙌

Podcasts:

I follow some health centered / bio-hacking podcasts that often have a lot of information i'm familiar with but usually offer a great tidbits that I can hold as a reminder or something to help keep me motivated and on track. 

Dr. Ruscio Radio - This is my doctor, he's frequently commenting on and sharing current information having to do with gut health/ auto immunity / SIBO and thyroid issues. He also interviews other doctors about their research and writings. This has helped me save so much money as I don't need to call him for an appointment if my questions are answered by what he's giving away for free. 

AutoImmune Wellness Podcast - Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt of AutoImmuneWellness.com just wrote a new book on thriving with chronic illness and autoimmune conditions. Even though I'm at the last stage in this 16 episode podcast, I still found each episode really helpful. It's comforting for me to know and be reminded that there are other people out there also struggling with the symptoms associated with chronic illness. I was especially relieved to hear that what I still struggle with, (stress management, getting enough sleep and prioritizing my health routine) is what other people also commonly struggle with. Mickey mentions this in the last episode of the podcast and I felt so relieved. That these "gurus" of autoimmune conditions are struggling with the same things. She talks about how it's constantly a challenge to stay in balance. She, like me, gets greedy when feeling good and inevitably "over does it". 

Other podcasts I recommend following for new info, recipes and life tweaks: 

Revolution health radio, Ben Greenfield Fitness, and websites like SCDlifestyle.com, ThePaleoMom.com and NomNomPaleo.com

 

Other tools: 

Support system: I surround myself with people who support my health habits. I plan with friends who are happy to have a dinner in, or let me have a say in where we eat. (Inevitably, your self care will make some people defensive. Do your best to make a space for them to exist in a way that doesn't knock you off track.) I find this support invaluable both in  moments of weakness and the rest of the time. It's just good to have people around that support you!

Planning: I bring food with me everywhere! I eat before I leave the house and I make sure there is something I can eat with me for at least one or two meals in addition. That way I won't get caught off guard (life happens!) and make poor (for me) decisions. I also try to keep my food exciting and interesting by switching up what I’m making so I don’t stray out of boredom.

 

What to expect if you go down this road.

Let’s suppose that you stumbled upon this blog because you’re on a similar journey. I’d like to share some tips with you. Let’s call this the “might I suggest” list as I’m not an expert and no one likes a bossy know-it-all.

Not everyone is going to support you.

         I sincerely hope that everyone in your life does. That will make this SO much easier for you. However, you may find yourself in the position of defending yourself, frequently. We’re all at different stages in our lives. Not everyone is going to be ready to self-examine, just like there are people in your life that probably still trigger you too. You may be met with skepticism, sarcasm, ridicule and defensiveness. Don’t engage with people who are quick to negate something that is working for you. Similarly, not everyone is going to want to hear about your journey and how you’re doing. Even people who love you very much may be triggered by the conversation. Despite how you’re wording it, people are going to take what you say however they interpret it. Change the conversation. Save that energy for people who do want to engage with you on your tactics and progress.

Forgive others for being skeptical, you’re never going to win everyone over.

Forgive yourself for not having all the answers. All you can do is what’s working for you RIGHT NOW and when it’s not, change tactics. You do not have to be an expert at this.

 

Allow people to show up for you

         If you have people in your life that ARE supportive of you. Let them help! Take advantage of those relationships to talk about what’s working, what’s not, what your challenges are. If you have an outlet, it will make the time around the less supportive people easier. 

If your friends and family aren’t ready to be your support system, find another outlet: a message board, a doctor, a creative endeavor or exercise that will help you work things out. Some people need to talk stuff out, others may find that the best outlet for them is another type of expression. No matter what it is you’re trying out, I guarantee someone on the internet has tried it. Someone is out there for you. 

 

Plan!

Assuming you're here because food is your thing, BRING FOOD EVERYWHERE. This could mean having almonds in your purse, or your own creamer in a cooler bag if you’re into getting coffee. Whatever your weakness is, PLAN FOR IT. I eat something before I leave the house, EVERY TIME. Just incase I get stuck in traffic or my day gets unexpectedly extended, I usually bring a little lunch bag with one more meal than I need. If you’re fed, you’re statistically more likely to make a better (for you) food choice. If you’re hungry you’re statistically more likely to get what you want to eat, rather than what might make you feel your best. (cake rather than fruit in this example). If I have a meal with me, I can just eat that!

 

There is no zealot like a convert (aka avoid preaching)

This one is a struggle for me because I get SO excited when I learn new things. I went through a phase in my 20s where I told everyone who would listen about how to treat their dog like a dog instead of a baby. I’d recently worked with an awesome trainer in LA and it was transforming my husband’s and my relationship with one of our dogs. We were EXPERTS. (um, no we were not.)

I went through a similar phase when I first moved to LA when I had excellent results with Weight Watchers teaching me how not to eat pizza all the time, add a little exercise to my life and I miraculously looked better in a bathing suit. (turns out, still not an expert on food, health and diet.)

I still struggle with “oversharing” because I want to connect with people and help them. If their journey sounds like it could be eased by the experiences I've had with diet and lifestyle I feel that it would be a disservice to them to not mention it. I try so hard to keep the conversation basic. Then I find myself mid-conversation talking about heavy metals or suggesting diets and I shame myself for being too pushy. It’s actually why I started this blog. It felt like all I talked about was this journey and where I’m at. Writing it down helps. That way I can still share the helpful information but in a way that is less personal for the recipient and stays personal for me. I am not able to share what I’ve learned in one conversation anyway so I just end up steamrolling the unsuspecting listener.
Every journey is personal.
While people might like to hear some of what’s working for you, they don’t necessarily want to be told what to do.

 

Small Changes with Big Results

Make time for you. Literally schedule it if you need to. This may be challenging; it can feel selfish.
I am of the mind that if putting yourself first makes you a better person, it’s also benefiting those around you. If you’re a mom or a spouse or a co-worker... or a person, putting you first will benefit others too. So, it’s not selfish. It’s a service. We’re all in this together. Don’t you wish that person honking at you in traffic had done a little more self-care? Maybe we’d all be a little nicer if we did.
 
Do as little as you need to – let go of needing to do everything correctly or best or first. If you’re like me, you probably owe some of your condition to that  type-a, “problem solver” nature in the first place. Do less and try to be OK with that. Learn to be OK with the absence of “busy”. Let go of being right and forgive yourself for being wrong. Change your language if you need to. I've been conscious about letting go of the word "no" as I think it holds too much negative energy in my speech. I try other ways of phrasing things, it's small but it can change your emotional connection. Explore outside of your comfort zone; maybe things that seem "woo woo" can help you.

 

That's all I've got. When I figure everything out I'll be sure to let you know.
Good luck, you're not alone, and well done. 

 

Food and Shame and a little Self-Awareness.

Real Talk.

I met a friend for drinks a couple months back. We were chatting about my “health journey” progress.  While we were sharing our current states and struggles I admitted to her that I don’t adhere perfectly to my diet all the time. She said it would be a worthy post to talk about the struggles of doing what’s best for yourself while managing stress and temptation. Also, she was relieved because based on this blog, she thought I did adhere perfectly. Let's get honest (and a little vulnerable)!

It does take diligence and a strict adherence (in my experience) to an elimination diet or therapeutic diet to see results and really get an idea of what you may be reacting to. However, many times I’ve been in an “in between” spot. A sort of “post elimination phase but still really not sure what is triggering me" spot. Those times (and life in general) can be extremely daunting. I have food weaknesses just like anyone. Over the past three years I’ve spent extended periods of time being super diligent about what I’m eating, when I’m eating and keeping track of the results. I’ve also found myself facing a “what’s the point” ultimatum. You can tell from my story that I spent the greater part of this journey (the majority of my life, less the past 3-5 years) bouncing back and forth between prioritizing my health and coping with stress and emotions. Coping for me usually means choosing comforting over healthy, foods and drinks.

 

One meal isn’t going to undo all the work you’ve done.

If you’re a year in on a journey and you’re between tactics and you’re about ready to throw in the towel or have a bagel. For goodness sake, have the bagel! (or whatever “cheating” would be for you)

This is a one step at a time, paying attention, listening to yourself (physically and mentally), treating yourself with loving kindness, patience and grace, marathon. Have the drink, or the meal and then pick yourself up and get back to what makes you feel best.

Everyone has their own threshold, their own limits. I want to avoid becoming fixated on my health and food in an unhealthy way. In between times of diligence, sometimes out of frustration and sometimes to let off a little steam, I’ve gone “off diet”. Other times, I buckle down.

When I want to see results I need to be strict. When those results, after a period of adherence aren't satisfactory, sometimes I have a “fuck it” meal (or couple of days). Then it’s back on the phone with Dr. Ruscio, and back to the drawing board of what was working as well as what wasn’t. I tweak diet, supplements, discuss habits and get back to what is the best routine for my lifestyle. (Dr. Ruscio interviewed Steve from SCDLifestyle.com and they talked about this notion as well. Don’t drive yourself crazy!)

 

It’s not about you.

For me, talking about health and food options has become a sensitive subject. Its one of the reasons this blog has become a more positive way for me to share my experience.

I feel judged by people around me in the form of sarcasm, eye rolls, “okaaaaaayyyyy” from servers, etc. This may sound arrogant but I don’t mean it to: it’s because my choices are triggering those people. I can’t speak to their journey and what it is that I’m triggering but I do know it is most certainly true that whatever they’re reacting to isn’t about me at all. Nothing anyone ever does is because of you. Everything is an outward projection of that person’s reality. My problem is, I’m sensitive. I’m reacting internally, to their reaction of me. I don’t want to trigger anyone’s own bullshit, I feel bad about it.

Frequently in the past, when I’d be stressed, triggered, lonely, sad or “over it” my instinct would be to go eat fast food (I think I actually have an addiction to Big Macs and french fries), or buy something or have a drink. My brain would search for anything to distract myself from what I was feeling because it was uncomfortable. I remember feeling this sort of discomfort and inability to sit in it during quiet moments alone, or in a yoga class. It often manifests as reaching for my phone every 5 minutes or not wanting to hold a yoga pose. It’s taken the last 5 years to begin to be comfortable staring this discomfort in the face. I’ll probably have to practice it for the rest of my life. I look for tactics to be able to stare it down calmly, and decide to feel it rather than eat it, buy it or numb it away. I have to say that the amount of eating rather than feeling (or fill in your preferred distraction here) has gone down significantly in the past year with this very deliberate decision. Traveling abroad with no phone service has aided in my practice as I have one less thing to use against myself.

A good friend of mine is a meditation coach in LA and she taught me a method of tapping into what’s really going on. I just tried this the other day when surprisingly (because it’s been a while since I’ve had this reaction) ALL I wanted was a Big Mac. I knew after all the success I’ve been experiencing on the Ketogenic diet that I would feel guilty, bloated, tired, moody and probably have a rough couple of days if I indulged. I couldn’t shake the impulse and I knew if I passed a fast food joint I’d stop.

So I did what she taught me:

I was driving but you can do this anywhere, an office bathroom, your office, a quiet room. Just find a place to be alone with yourself, place your hand on your heart and ask yourself “What is it that I need to know?” and let yourself honestly answer. Every time you answer “I’m angry” or “I’m hurt” or “I’m frustrated because this person said this” respond with “OK… What else?” and you just keep answering yourself until you’re finished. Until you’ve fully listened to yourself and all your grievances.

Once I did this, I was able to reflect on the true answer and it totally calmed me down. I honestly didn’t feel the need to stop for fast food anymore. Sometimes the answer is still a bummer, but it’s a stepping stone, a point for you to focus on and work from so you can continue to grow. Like Christina taught me, all your feelings want, are to be felt.

I wanted to figure out why I couldn’t just let some things go and why I was so anxious and hurt and my heart was racing and I wasn’t sleeping. It came down to this:

My fear was that I’m not worth it.

-That I don’t deserve to “act like such a diva” and restrict my food this much while in public, on tour.
-To spend all the money and time and energy and conversation and tears and meditation on myself.
-That self exploration, improvement and love are selfish (there are bigger problems in the world).
-That I’m a burden on my co-workers and my husband.
-To make my friends listen to what I’ve tried eating and what the symptoms and what the results are, over and over and over again.
…and so on.

The energy I was receiving from those around me was triggering that fear. It felt like they were confirming all of it to be true.

So, I sat there in the car and said to myself “Hey, wait a minute. Why do they get to dictate if I’m worth it?” I’ve been spending all this time and money and energy. I obviously think I’m worth it. So fuck that!

I read Big Magic this week by Elizabeth Gilbert and it contained this perfect little message:

“Don’t rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the most capacity to transform you”
Don’t let go of your courage the moment things stop being easy or rewarding.
Because that moment?
That’s the moment interesting begins.”

I still get hurt feelings but its unrealistic to expect otherwise. I am always going to face people who don't agree with my lifestyle or personality. The good news is that those people don't dictate my life. I do. AND I have an intimate but fierce support system and a doctor who’s on the pulse of new and “natural” treatment options, so I have support where I need it. I need to focus more on leaning on them and brushing off other people's projections.

Instead of giving into the shame and doubt, or rushing through the discomfort with distractions, I face it. It really seems like the more I address the issue directly, the stronger I get. The longer I stay the course with food, the more resilient I get. The better I get at not reacting to someone else, the calmer I am at facing conflict. I am transforming as a person, I can feel that and those close to me can see it. Everyone I interact with will somehow benefit from this work.

Signs are consistently popping up to help me stay on course, more than ever before and I truly think it’s because I’m just pushing through the discomfort day by day. The harder it seems, the more messages I receive: apropos billboards, passages in books, grafitti, music, a scene in a movie, the meditation theme I heard last night. It’s all just SO relevant and coincidental. I find it very encouraging and I love sharing that with like-minded folks because I think it can also be so exciting and affirming for others on similar journeys. Even if the moment doesn’t specifically pertain to them, the process does.

So, don’t worry about being perfect. Focus on what you’re feeling and adjust as you go. If food is your thing then do your best and don't beat yourself up. Stay the course and pay attention, signs are showing up to confirm what you already know, you are worth it.

Oh, and also read Big Magic.

How Do You Eat on the Road?? (Summer 2016)

When talking about my digestion challenges and diet people often ask “How do you do that while touring???”

This series of posts is how I’m currently doing it.
I’ll try to post when things change so you can see the tweaks!

Summer 2016 Edition –
Diet:
Ketogenic/ Low Fiber/ Ultra Low Carbohydrate
Purpose: Reduce fermentation in my guts from fiber, which mitigates my physical and mental symptoms.
Tracking Method: My Fitness Pal (micronutrient tracking and percentages)

I’m currently eating about 1400 cal on the road, 80% of which comes from fat, 15% from protein and 5% from carbohydrates. On this diet, I am not hungry. The fat keeps me sated.

Breakfast:
Coffee!
Vital Proteins Pasture Raised Collagen Peptides (or Bulletproof Upgraded Collagen)
Heavy Cream (2oz +/-, enough to turn the coffee beige)

Lunch/When I get hungry/Snacks:
Any combination of the following:
-2T of peanut butter (ok, usually this is eaten alone)
-1 Hard Boiled Egg and 1-2T of Pasture Raised Lard (duck or pork by Epic brand right now)
-2T of Fermented foods if I have it: Kimchi or Sauerkraut
-1 Can of Sardines (Trader Joe’s)
-1 Pot of Duck Rillets (this is what I’m looking forward to in the Netherlands!)
-1 small head or ½ a regular heart of romaine lettuce

Dinner:
Usually the venue serves us dinner. I request something like a burger patty or another piece of protein (salmon, steak, chicken thigh etc.) on lettuce. If not, like in Europe, I eat more of the above from the lunch category. Also, Wine.

Side Note:
Touring is expensive because eating out is expensive. If I ordered the dinner listed above it’s about $15. I travel with a bag of foods I can eat to help subsidize the cost. It’s not as fun as eating out but it lets me afford the supplements and every three months or so follow-ups with a doctor. It also isn’t usually worth it to order a meal out because I’m 100% more likely to not feel great due to industrial oils or cross contamination or just quality of the food. So I try to pick my battles based.

If I do eat out… I order:
Scrambled Eggs (with or without cheese!) and bacon (and sometimes sausage)
Meat and lettuce
Eg.
-       Chipotle: chicken and lettuce
-       Outback: Steak and greens (spinach or side salad)
-       Any Café USA: Salad with a protein on top (hold any onions and usually add thousand island or Caesar dressing)

I also travel with a small cooler bag and ice pack, which go in a freezer over night (either in my room or with the front desk at the hotel). I keep my probiotics in this. I’m also starting to travel with heavy cream because most restaurants do not have it and it helps me having a filling breakfast coffee/protein drink. I also can control the source of the cream this way. I prefer organic, pasture raised.

You can follow along on Instagram with my hashtag #howdoyoueatontheroad

 

 

The Road to Recovery (or "Something is working!")

Hieeeeee. I've been waiting to post an update. I wanted to live with some dietary changes and lifestyle habits before writing.

Shocking revelation: I've come to find, that unfortunately, there may not be one diet that suits me.

When i started the more recent part of this journey, the last 2-3 years or so, my goal was to have a very specific list of foods i could and could not eat. Dream scenario: I would just stick to that and my skin would clear up, my energy would return and i wouldn't look pregnant after eating. Well folks, I'm sorry to say that may not be in the cards for me. 

It's become obvious to me through all of these dietary changes, treatments and experiments that one diet for the rest of my life isn't realistic. Not only am I in a different phase of healing than i was 2 years ago but so many factors affect my digestion, energy and general sense of well-being.

 

Um, so what's the good news? Why should I even listen to you?

The good news is that I AM feeling better.

When i'm tired on the road (Dustbowl travels 200 days a year now(!)) i feel like a normal tired person. I don't feel exhausted or like "how could i possibly get up there and perform this show right now/get out of bed" (which is what a lot of the past 2 years felt like.)
I don’t feel tired all the time. it’s not a perfect result. If i have some FODMAPS, or too much alcohol or something else that inflames my system, i feel like going to sleep. (I often will sleep if I can and that’s what my body is asking for.) But overall I’m feeling more "tired like the average person on a tour that doesn’t get regular sleep".
I also don't feel cripplingly depressed anymore which is a huge relief.

My skin has improved dramatically. The only treatment that seemed to budge that symptom was doing chelation. While it was expensive (and I'm still paying for that year of medical bills, thanks insurance!), I believe it was very necessary for me to rid my body of those toxins. My skin is proof of that.

Digestion wise, my diet is still very limited. But, if i stick to food in my life being practically perfect (in terms of what makes me feel best and not "what I'd like to be eating") then I can get away with this crazy tour lifestyle of never sleeping at the same bedtime and experiencing light to moderate stress on a consistent basis. I have energy and I am more patient, pleasant and physically comfortable.

HSP/Empath

The last 3 years or so have definitely been more about food for me. A lot of self-searching, a lot of self-love practice (still a lot of work to do there) and self-acceptance practice has been instrumental for my physical progress. The more I do this internal work, the less likely I am to self sabotage by going "off diet" as a way to distract my heart and mind from what it's feeling.

A friend of mine suggested in the past month that I should read "The Highly Sensitive Person" a (self help) book about people who are easily overwhelmed by the world around them (stimuli) and their internal, emotional lives. I've been told my whole life "you're so sensitive" which, i often took as a criticism. That I should not be hurt or affected so deeply by everything. I always have been. I cried and almost threw up and had to run out of the movie theatre during the end of Edward Scissorhands (spoiler alert) when the town is chasing him. Similarly, I leapt out of bed to go bawl in the bathroom just this year when Brahm and i rented Chappie and (spoiler alert) the kids were throwing rocks, teasing and kicking him. And it obviously doesn't end with movies...

I've seen HSP lately all over the place, others confirming I'm not alone in essentially being shamed for operating from a place of feeling and intuition. It's real, I pick up on nuances that are definitely there and that not everyone picks up on in relationships, in conversation, in the temperature of a group. It's also called being an Empath which i think is seen as a little more woo woo. I'm beginning to let go of the self judgement that's been impressed upon me; it's gonna take some time.

I used to think this was a weakness. I realize now:

THIS IS MY (not so secret) SUPERPOWER.

Though annoying/eye rolling/tease-inducing to some, I think reading this book was one way for me to accept that yes, I am sensitive, but it's not something i need to hide or tuck away or PROVE myself out of. Being sensitive means that I have an explanation for the chronic empathy (or lastima as Katya would say) that i experience on a daily basis. I can revel in the emotions i feel while singing and then give that gift to our audience (or to myself if i so choose). It makes me a more intuitive friend and wife. 

I am still struggling with the New England work ethic i have, where i wrap up all my self worth in the job i'm doing and then harshly criticize myself for not being better. This whole life I've spent working to prove that i deserve a place on this planet. I wonder what it's like to feel like you're meant to be alive and not that you have to earn your keep.

It extends to physicality as well. If I weren't so sensitive (HSPs are statistically more likely to have digestive/autoimmune issues) who knows if I would have made all these changes to my life and ended up in a healthier, happier place? I've been eating "so clean" for so long that I can really feel the difference if I introduce a food that doesn't agree with me now, or if i over do it with booze (which takes much less, than It used to). It helps keep me on track because I don't want to feel like crap, i'm better at avoiding foods because it's usually not worth it for the "cheat" experience. 

 

 

Things I'm doing now to continue healing

You can follow what those meals look like on tour with my instagram hashtag #howdoyoueatontheroad and food I eat in general with my instagram hashtag #feelsgoodblog  
You can follow what those meals look like on tour with my instagram hashtag #howdoyoueatontheroad and food I eat in general with my instagram hashtag #feelsgoodblog
 

DIET

I was focusing on SCD + Low FODMAP for a couple months and still experienced bloating. I started looking into the Fast Tract Diet (which does a Weight Watchers style points attribution to foods based on their "fermentation potential") to see if that would help. I believe it did to a point. However, for cases like mine that are a little more difficult to pinpoint and mitigate, Dr. Norm Robillard (author of The Fast Tract Diet) suggests limiting carbohydrates to 20g> day. His app doesn't account for that so I switched back to using My Fitness Pal where you can control macros you're tracking very specifically. I knew if I was going to limit carbs by that much, I'd need to up my fat intake. Essentially putting me in the ketogenic diet basic framework. Once I became vigilant at carb counting. I noticed that if could stay on track i was sated, my bloating reduced substantially and that overall, the diet generally agreed with my system (for now).

This means i'm aiming for percentages of 5% (specifically 20g> of carbs a day), 80% Fat and 15% Protein. I am not currently testing to make sure I stay "in ketosis" but I am concerned with the carbohydrate number as carbohydrate malabsorption and gut fermentation seems to be the more prominent reasons I keep bloating and feeling zapped of energy.

The foods I'm eating are very similar to what you've seen me list before, i'm just tracking how much I'm having now. Eggs, Pasture raised animal fat (no, i'm not worried about cholesterol ), Greens (wilted at home, usually a salad on the road), Pasture raised/organic meats (the fatty-est ones if available) and limited dairy (hard cheeses, experimenting with heavy cream in coffee etc.) I am allowing alcohol (red wine and tequila/soda mostly). I am very aware of the irritating and inflammatory effects and try my best to be picky of quality and not overdo it.

It's working for now; so I'll do it until I don't, just like everything else.

 

SUPPLEMENTS

Under the supervision of Dr. Ruscio, my functional medicine doctor in SF,  I'm on supplement rather than pharmaceutical treatment for Crohn's Disease: Curcumin from Turmeric for anti-inflammation, Vitamin A, Digestive Enzymes, Betaine HCL, three types of probiotics as well as self-prescribed/leftover from past doctors: Concen-Trace Minerals, and chlorella (to continue chelating until my skin is blemish free).

This is working out well for me. We talked about FMT as a last resort if the heavy probiotic therapy doesn't rebuild my gut microbials enough but we're not there yet.

SCOBY facial! also note how clear my cheeks are yahoo!

SCOBY facial! also note how clear my cheeks are yahoo!

SKINCARE

I use FATCO religiously at home and on the road. Their oil cleansing method of feeding my skin from the outside while I'm working on changing the inside with diet has made my (non broken out) skin look so healthy! I am so hooked on using organic, conscientious skincare as I think that part of my problem in the first place was just chemically treating symptoms my whole young adult life. Their face cream is so damn soothing, I recommend all of their products (at least to try) to everyone.
I've also been doing SCOBY facials at home as well as organic peels, exfoliation and hydrating masks to keep the skin looking and feeling healthy and to prevent any breakouts from traveling/stress/not sleeping/dehydration. They look weird but the acid from the SCOBY really does a number on eating away dead skin cells and keeping my complexion bright. I do one RIGHT when i get home from tour and right before i leave again. As soon as I take it off I use these tools if i need any blackhead extraction while everything is moisturized and right at the surface, then i tone with FATCO toner + rose water

 

SLEEP/MEDITATION

It's very difficult for me to get proper "what is recommended for a normal adult" sleep on the road. We never go to bed at the same time and rarely get 8 hours consistently (listen to this podcast to learn more, see also page 17 of the transcript for shocking info on bed time/sleep amount if you're not going to listen to the podcast.)

What i do to "do my best" is go to bed ASAP after a gig, I wear amber glasses to cut blue light as soon as i'm in the hotel room (and i use night shift on my phone). I wear a sleep mask and earplugs while sleeping and I do a guided meditation every night. I sleep as long as long as my body allows and when we are off the road i try to go to bed around 10p as frequently as possible to recoup any sleep deficit. 

 

EXERCISE

Let's be honest, i'm not really exercising. I try to walk as much as possible at home and on the road. I have grand plans to do yoga but usually spend off tour times trying to get rested and chill for a minute before we go back out. Yoga though, not cross fit or spinning like the old days, is what I think would benefit my nervous system right now. I just need to motivate...

 

Revelations

I think I had to acknowledge I was ill to realize that I'm happier knowing I'm not perfect and don't need to be and stick to a lifestyle that makes me feel well.

Accepting that my body has trouble digesting and that I'm sensitive is part of my solution. There is no one diet for me, there is just what I'm tolerating right now. Of course, It's hard for a type A person like me not to have a "fix". To not be able to get to "normal". (What does that even mean? Be able to eat crap food and feel fine? To have a flat stomach 100% of the time? To have perfect skin?) Maybe I was presented with physical circumstances as a method of accepting myself, as a way of learning to let go of shit that doesn't matter and be a more patient, loving and positive person. I certainly think it's a good lesson to learn before I bring any children into this world. It helps me strive to be a better partner, friend, co-worker, self.

2015 was the year of "give no fucks", during which I gave entirely too many fucks about so much bullshit. I think 2016 is the year of letting go (dare i say, actually giving no fucks?). I've made a lot of progress in setting boundaries for myself (both work wise and also personally). I'm listening to myself and adjusting the plan of action as needed. I'm trying to be present in every moment and take everything i can from those experiences (whether pleasant or not). I'm sure I'll have to switch up what I'm doing again soon. It seems that going with the flow is the point.

How Do You Eat on the Road? (Spring 2016)

When talking about my digestion challenges and diet people often ask “how do you do that while touring???”

This series of posts is how I’m currently doing it.
I’ll try to post when things change so you can see the tweaks!

Spring 2016 Edition –
Diet: SCD + Low FODMAP
Purpose: Reduce Inflammation and control Bloating/mental symptoms

Breakfast:
Coffee!
Vital Proteins Pasture Raised Collagen Peptides (or Bulletproof Upgraded Collagen)
Powdered Coconut Milk

 

Lunch/When I get hungry/Snacks:
Any combination of the following:
-1 Can of Sardines (Trader Joe’s)
-1 small head or ½ a regular heart of romaine lettuce
-1 small container of organic blueberries or raspberries
-Salad with Protein, no dressing.
-Burger patty with cheese and bacon and avocado on lettuce, no dressing.
-Avocado.

Dinner:
Usually the venue serves us dinner. I request something like a burger patty or another piece of protein (salmon, steak, chicken thigh etc.) on lettuce.

If I do eat out… I order: Meat and lettuce
Eg.
-       Chipotle: chicken and lettuce
-       Outback: Steak and greens (spinach or side salad)
-       Any Café USA: Salad with a protein on top.

Touring is expensive because eating out is expensive. I travel with a bag of foods I can eat to help subsidize the cost.

I also travel with a small cooler bag and ice pack, which go in a freezer over night (either in my room or with the front desk at the hotel). I keep my probiotics in this.

You can follow along on Instagram with my hashtag #howdoyoueatontheroad

OMG, IBD? (and my experience with the Elemental Diet)

I wrote in February how I'd done 9 rounds of Chelation, for Mercury and Lead toxicity. I've since stopped getting IV treatments and (at the suggestion of my budget conscious Doctor) am currently taking supplements to continue chelating in a less expensive, yet effective way. 

The plan was to go back on the diet that had made me feel best in the past. My experience had shown that would be the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol, combined with a Low FODMAP diet. However, this time around I remained symptomatic. I was still bloated after 2 weeks on that diet (strange, for me). I was also still very tired most of the time, something that usually improves on this diet. The one improvement I DID (very happily) notice that improved after chelation was my skin! My acne has really diminished from 8 breakouts a month to maybe 1 or two spots.

I had spoken to Dr. Ruscio and Dr. Lalezar about the diet not bringing about similar results as it had in the past. Dr. Lalezar suggested we re-test for SIBO as there is a chance that it had come back. She also tested me for leaky gut, (an Array 2 for you test savvy readers) to get a sense of how permeable my gut is right now. Dr. Ruscio suggested, prior to me going back on AIP + Low FODMAP, that one option would be going on the elemental diet (an easily absorbable liquid diet) for a time to see if giving my guts a rest on breaking food down would improve my tolerance.

The other option would be to treat me for non-clinical IBD. This is a potential diagnosis for me. That I have an IBD (likely Crohn's due to my presentation of ulcers) but it doesn't present normally. This could be why the Gastrointestinal MD (Dr. Shaye) was hesitant to diagnose me with Crohn's after seeing my blood panel but thought it was likely that I had Crohn's after seeing my colonoscopy. Treatment for that would include a natural protocol of anti-inflammatory supplements/tinctures and making sure that I'm on the right diet for an IBD. (Dr. Ruscio is a "food first" doctor" he believes that for any of the natural/holistic methods of healing to work, you have to dial in food right for YOU first, then treat. I, clearly, am also very much on this train.)

 

My (Semi) Elemental Diet Experience

Of my own volition (because I hate waiting for doctor's for results and am trying to minimize costs) I decided to first try the elemental diet. I am familiar with three options for this diet: Vivonex Plus, Absorb Plus (which is a semi-elemental diet) and Homemade. The difference between elemental and semi elemental is protein and fat content and the size of the molecules you are absorbing for nutrients. Unsurprisingly, the larger the molecules get the more flavor improves. (I did Absorb Plus because apparently Vivonex tastes like the glue on a postage stamp (is made by Nestle, not the greatest track record for providing us with whole foods) and the homemade one you have to take like a shot because it tastes so bad.) For 6 days I drank a shake that tasted like the milk after a bowl of Kix cereal, not terrible. I remained bloated during the diet but that's not uncommon. It's still giving your guts a rest, even if that occurs. I had some reservations about it as the protein in the shake is from Whey and I don't do dairy on a regular basis. However, I don't have an allergy and despite any symptoms it would still be improving inflammation by reducing digestive work. (See the FAQs here about the soy and whey in the product, they calmed my fears.) This diet can also be used to effectively get rid of SIBO, but you have to take it for weeks at a time. I previously successfully treated my SIBO with anti-microbials, prescribed by Dr. Ruscio.

Things I noticed while doing the Absorb Plus semi-elemental diet:

  • I wasn't hungry but I would get very hungry if i didn't continually sip my shake. Dr. Ruscio's suggestion for me was to sip slowly throughout the day rather than DRINK a shake at mealtimes. This would help keep my blood sugar from spiking since I don't seem to do well with sugars or carbohydrates. This was a personal precaution but I think i could have probably taken it normally and be fine. I didn't have a problem with energy or anger the whole week (sometimes an issue with me and carbs!)
  • I did find some Casein Curds in my stool. I thought perhaps I'd swallowed a chunk of undissolved powder (that's what it looked like) but after a couple of these appearing and some intense internet research, I found that it's actually "casein coagula." I haven't been able to gather any information on why or how your body makes these little thumb-tip sized curds but it seems clear to me that my body was just trying to protect itself from the dairy and expel it. I noticed this happened again after having a raw milk latte at Mission Heirloom for my Birthday. I avoid dairy on a regular basis so this was a new experience and after I wasn't alarmed by it any more, I was more interested in the function. I can't wait to hear what Dr. Ruscio and Dr. Lalezar say about it. I'd never seen one before, and within this diet and one latte, I'd seen 3 over the course of a week.
  • I didn't weigh myself but I'm sure i lost a little weight. My pants felt less tight and the idea was to reduce bloating. I did feel like overall the diet was a good "break" for my intestines, to reduce inflammation and I was able to go back to AIP + Low Fodmap feeling like it was more tolerable and with less bloating.
  • I suspect that the treatment for chelation was very agitating for my system. I was symptomatic the entire time and was not strict about diet (more paleo than AIP or low FODMAP). This elemental diet was a good way for me to "reset" my system. Also, if my stool test comes back positive for SIBO again, it will also have been a good jump start to getting rid of it.

IBD info...

My miracle anti inflammation drink. Homemade bone broth and juiced turmeric.

My miracle anti inflammation drink. Homemade bone broth and juiced turmeric.

My follow up with Dr. Lalezar for my SIBO and Array 2 results are in later this month. In the meantime, I had the fortune of coming across this podcast that Dr. Ruscio did on IBD! In it he speaks with Dr. Steven Sandberg-Lewis about his approach for IBD: supplements and diet etc. They discussed that the most useful diet for IBD, in their opinions, is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (which I've mentioned here) combined with a Low FODMAP diet. They also talked about some supplements/nutrients that I take occasionally but not regularly, like curcumin (the anti-inflammatory component found in  turmeric root).

I've been doing AIP (cross referenced with SCD, GAPS, low FODMAP) for the past 2.5 years. So scaling back to just SCD and Low FODMAP would mean re-introducing some foods that I had an instinct weren't causing an issue for me but I wasn't quite sure and was too nervous to truly re-introduce them. I did not do what would have been the most thorough method, which would have been to try one food for 3 days to see how I react. I just jumped in. 

It's important to mention that during Chelation I was not super strict. Since i was so symptomatic from the treatment and chemicals floating around, I ate more liberally, fodmaps and some non-AIP friendly foods that I thought "were fine". I also think, that my wishful thinking about eventually being paleo in the future (which is so much easier than any of these diets, in my opinion) that I wasn't seriously considering FODMAPS my main issue. I think now, that I was wrong.

Last week, I converted over to SCD combined with Low FODMAP, the IBD specific diet. The symptoms of IBD really resonate with my experience and it seems like if that is the real underlying issue (now that mercury/lead are removed as toxins) then this should be the right track. I also had experiential evidence that tomatoes and spices had never really caused a reaction that I'd been aware of. So this was worth a shot.

Within two days, I wasn't completely not bloated but I definitely felt a difference. My pants felt lighter/less restricted, even after eating. My exhaustion didn't disappear but it receded (by about 2hrs less sleep). It seems like, FODMAPS and really focusing on fermentation in my gut could be the key to healing my leaky gut and also figuring out the "right for me" lifestyle and diet. I also noticed a new symptom that I hadn't before, either because it was lumped in with general un-wellness or I was confusing it with my monthly cycle. Intestinal cramping is happening to me if i have FODMAPS, like onions in my Chipotle Guacamole for instance (which, if you know me, is a TRAGIC symptom to discover). It feels like period cramps, despite not being on my period.

Over the past week I've been able to hone in on some things that are true for me, right now:

  • I cannot have any FODMAPs, even Avocado
  • I must stay strict on SCD (no starches of any kind that aren't "legal")
  • I can tolerate tomatoes
  • I can have (approved) drinks ONE night a week, two is pushing it, three is fully symptomatic.
  • I can only have dry farm wines right now, if at all.
  • I can have tequila or potato/corn vodka ONLY as liquour
  • Eggs, on occasion may be fine. Not pushing it.
  • I can have ONE glass of Kombucha a day
  • I can have coffee if I dilute it but 1 or 2 a day max
  • I definitely still have parasites. Doing another cleanse in april. Organic Olivia's is out now!

I do think I mentally blocked fermentation and FODMAPS as being the true possible culprit. For me, it's way easier to just eat tons of vegetables and proteins rather than a Low FODMAP diet. SCD already doesn't allow starches: grain is out, potatoes are out, sweet potatoes are out. Low FODMAP cuts out a ton of fruits and vegetables. This diet is very similar to what I'd already been doing but I can add back in things like: Eggs! Seed Spices! Some Nightshades! In hindsight, my GI doc, prior to my colonoscopy, mentioned they tried to get patients with Crohn's to go on a low FODMAP diet but it's hard for people to stick to. The podcast I linked to above also talks a lot about the science behind the digestive system, IBDs and FODMAPS/fermentable prone foods. Like AIP, this doesn't have to be forever! It can be a tool to help heal up the inflammation/ulcers and then you can re-test (by careful introduction), if over time you can tolerate more FODMAPS.

AIP, SCD, Low FODMAP, GAPS and Paleo friendly dinner: Kabocha Squash, Duck, Wilted Chard.

AIP, SCD, Low FODMAP, GAPS and Paleo friendly dinner: Kabocha Squash, Duck, Wilted Chard.

So, with renewed vigor (and a little bit of disappointment about avocados and Chipotle). I am committing to SCD and low FODMAP. It's my way of doing field research before paying someone to tell me what to try next. Beyond that, I'll circle back with my Docs (and possibly may even re visit my GI doc to check in) to see about how to move forward with treatment. 

UPDATE 3/30/16

I spoke with Dr. Ruscio today and followed up with Dr. Lalezar this past Monday. The plan going forward is to focus on IBD therapy. That will include a specific probiotic therapy protocol, changing up the digestive enzymes that I take with each meal, experimenting with a semi-elemental diet from time to time (see Absorb Plus, above) and some other Crohn's/ IBD support supplements. In a month we'll check in to see how it's going. I'm also to experiment with a low fiber diet and see how I fare. Some people with IBDs have a hard time with insoluble fiber (see the podcast mentioned earlier for more info). We talked about FMT being a sort of "last resort" but it exists as an option and has been proven to help many people with Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. That's a little further down the road at this point.

What 2015 looked like, in $$$$.

I know some of you have been waiting to see what 2015 (healthcare) actually cost me.

Keep in mind that my discovery started in 2014 when I met Dr. Ruscio for the first time and had already done AIP/Low FODMAP) for almost three months on my own with only an 80% improvement.

So, In order to set myself up for maximum progress in 2015 I consulted with our insurance broker (a life saver, truly) and set up an HSA health care plan. I knew 2015 was the year of probably hitting my deductible. So, I wanted to chose the plan that would provide me the most coverage at the least expense. Since the health care plans in our budget were roughly the same premium with pretty crappy benefits, we chose an HSA plan. With an HSA you can deposit money pre-taxes to be spent on specific medical costs that may fall outside your insurance coverage. (see how an HSA works here)

Here's my breakdown by general category:

Healthcare Premiums: (this only counts mine, not Brahm's)

$2,349.00

I have the Bronze HSA plan. Which gives you a $4,500 deductible and a $6,500 (after meeting 40% co-insurance) out of pocket limit. It does, however, actually grant you discounts on things like lab work and expensive tests, which I knew I'd be getting a lot of.

Lab Fees: (after insurance, what I paid)

$1,058.93

This includes: Blood work, SIBO breath tests and re-tests, Stool Tests etc.

Doctor Fees: (after insurance, what I paid)

$7,930.81

This includes: Doctor visits, fees for surgery, Chelation treatments (paid for at the Doctor's office), tox screens (paid at the Doctor's office), supplements (also ordered via their office).

Pharmacy Fees: (after insurance, what I paid)

$1,871

This includes: prescribed supplements by a healthcare professional, integral to my healing process and other prescriptions.

Total: $13,209.74 (this was roughly 40% of my income)

Just for reference: According to this article in March of 2015 average healthcare costs for Americans last year were $9,596. With the average income in 2014 at $53,657, that's healthcare accounting for 6% of their income.

 

This number doesn't include what we spend on food, which is critical (in type, source and amount) to the healing process and also damn expensive.  

I did end up hitting the deductible on my plan, but not hitting the out of pocket maximum til the very end of the year. Out of network doctors or procedures aren't covered at all and therefore don't contribute towards your deductible. (I'm looking at you Chelation.) They also don't get a discount when you hit your deductible and then pay 40% co-insurance until you hit your Out of Pocket max. The HSA came in handy up to the part where we'd spent it all ($3,350 is the individual limit you can claim in a year) by June. The rest we're figuring out as we go. 

 

Insurance Qualms:

Having insurance is like buying into a discount club. You pay per month to obtain special pricing between you and the doctor/lab etc. There's no documentation from your insurance company OR doctor explaining the calculations but you end up paying less than you would if uninsured. It's one of the problems I have with the health care industry. While I love a discount, I think all the prices should be up front, explainable and reflective of actual cost to the provider. (I also don't agree with healthcare being a for profit system but that's something else.) The insurance adjustment is just the discount, not what insurance PAID the doctor for the service, it's just a special-for-them discount. It leads me to believe that the numbers are made up to either recoup cost from uninsured or non-paying customers or perhaps just to make a profit. Southern California Public Radio has been doing an on going report on costs of services.

If the entire country is required to have insurance (which I think is a great start), then it should be affordable and cover things that make us well. That last one, unfortunately, is a subjective topic. For example, Acupuncture is now covered pretty widely on most plans (with a limit, depending on your plan). Therapy, however is not universally covered, neither is chiropractic care. I could have spent another 15 years going in circles with general practitioners (who are covered by insurance) or I could have gone the natural health route (with some assistance from Western Doctors) and learned what I (finally) know today. So, what would end up to be my path towards wellness wouldn't have come from an MD (and therefore not covered by insurance) unless my body had deteriorated far past what I was already noticing as abnormal for me. But I digress, this is about finance and not about preventative care.

Here are some confusing and irritating examples of the agreements between insurance pricing and doctor pricing. Please keep in mind, if I didn't have insurance, I would have been responsible for the TOTAL amounts below.

Surgery Center Facility Fees for the Colonoscopy/Endoscopy: $15,000

  • Adjustment by BS of CA (blue shield) $-14,400
  • I owe: $600

My Doctor Bill for the Colonoscopy/Endoscopy on the bill was $10,370 

  • "insurance adjustment" was $-9609.42
  • I ended up paying: $760.58

My Capsule Study (swallow the pill, it takes pics all through you) was $7,200.00,

  • insurance adjustment $-6514.15,
  • (as I'd hit my deductible by June of last year, they also owed co-insurance)
  • Insurance Paid: $411.51 and $276.94 (Separately, as I asked them to re-run the claim. They didn't pay in full the first time.)

These are the "grandest" examples I have. With my plan, any Doctor fees are the patient's responsibility until you hit the deductible is met, so I just paid all of those. OR, if it were for Dr. Ruscio, I just paid it out of pocket because he doesn't take insurance.

Prepare if you can, and take it all with a grain of salt.

The point is, this journey can be expensive. I did my very best to prepare for what will (hopefully) be the most expensive medical year I ever experience. (Not counting the time in 2009 I didn't have insurance and was hospitalized twice but that's another story completely and I learned my lesson. ALWAYS have insurance.)

Do your own research. I've had plenty of practitioners recommend prescriptions to me that I ended up waiting on actually purchasing or taking. Those items, while prescribed with good intentions, may or may not be right for you. You hold the most information about your body and how you feel. Lab work isn't perfect. Don't be afraid to ask questions, stick up for yourself, wait to take medications or have procedures, get second opinions and ask for discounts!

 

 

How I changed my life and became a Rockstar*

I've been meaning to write this post for a while. I think how I became the Lady Lead of Dustbowl is a pretty zany story. It certainly wasn't all easy but it's been so rewarding emotionally and creatively, that I love telling it to people in the hopes that they're inspired to follow their own intuition as well.

Origins

I came to LA for acting. I went to an awesome college in Virginia for theatre and was really well prepared to jump in and start auditioning professionally. I did a bunch of commercials (mostly), some short films, some theatre and worked a "day job". For the first couple years, I babysat for family friends and friends of their friends. It was really flexible and I love kids. After a while though and having nothing to do with the sweet children I was looking after, I needed a change of pace. I started working as an assistant to the owner of an advertising agency. I did that for about 3 years and it got me hooked on production. For the next 6 years, I worked as an associate producer in television and film, while acting in projects and performing with the Satin Dollz

Working in production is like a drug. You're in the trenches with your coworkers, you are making shit happen that should NOT be able to happen due to financial and time restraints. It makes you feel like a super badass and every other job that you have to interact with seem like "WHY can't you make that happen TODAY?"  I loved my job(s) when I did this, I miss the camaraderie sometimes. 

What happened for me was a gradual ignoring of what my deepest self was asking for. I love performing, I love acting, I do not love filming. My favorite part of theatre is the shared discovery of rehearsal. The very nature of the medium is that the performances change every night, while still having the same skeleton of a show. I think that when I moved to LA, I was convinced that what I did and should want, was to be on TV. I worked and worked towards that and even did it a bunch, but I never wanted to put in the leg work to make it happen on a consistent basis. I wasn't driven to create that. I didn't want to spend my weekends filming. I counted the hours 'til I could leave set. This was an intuition i ignored and lied to myself about, for 7 years. 

I think i was concerned with failure. That if I acknowledged my dream had changed, it meant I had failed at the original goal. All my other friends were still working hard to be tv and film actors, clearly that meant I should want the same thing. Right? We're so similar. But, if that were the case, why didn't i want to do all the things to make it happen?

Things started shifting. Instead of the pace of production being exhausting yet exhilarating, it was just starting to be exhausting. I was becoming more stressed out and was unsure why I had this nagging dissatisfaction in my life. I was making great money, I was performing, I loved my co workers.  I should be REALLY very grateful. So why am I feeling guilty for not wanting this anymore?

I changed tactics, I started doing more live performance. The Satin Dollz were working more. That was a nice creative outlet, every gig was different in style, numbers and location. I started working with the acclaimed Troubadour Theatre Company. It felt right.  My dear friend and boss at the time was going to sign up for a meditation class and she prodded me to take it with her. I bit.

(Side note: working in production as your "day job" is not a thing. I somehow proved to the people I'd worked with that I could do it all. Always get my shit done so that i could leave for auditions (and come back) or be out for a shoot day or for a performance. I still don't really understand how it happened but I'll be forever grateful that I was able to do it.)

And then my life blew up.

For someone like me, who's mind and emotions run on anxiety, adrenaline and stress 100% of the time, meditation can be like driving at 60mph into a brick wall (or so my therapist told me.) I do not regret it now but taking that meditation class was like opening Pandora's box. Everything that I'd stuffed down deep inside myself via food, exercise and work, from stress, career pressure, family pressure, relationship pressure, came furiously bubbling up to my consciousness and was VERY present, basically all the time. I started crying at work. (Not usually a thing for me.) Cry after work, in my car, sure. That's sort of par for the course in that line of work. Crying AT my desk or having it be just right there at the top of my throat, ready to come out in meetings (read: all the time) was TERRIFYING. I felt so out of control. My face was just leaking emotion that was trying to work itself out of my body and mind and I was no longer able to slam it back in and lock the door. I kept meditating, I actually took the class twice for 12 weeks instead of 6. I think I even emailed my teacher about what was happening. I started seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist. I went back on some anti-anxiety medication. It was becoming really clear that I had some issues to work on. I felt like i was in the middle of a forest and I couldn't tell which way was out or where I was in it. I'm a do-er I just wanted to know what to DO to feel better. I couldn't tell if it was work, should i leave my job? Was it just me? The stress of the idea of leaving work, (how would we survive making less money? Wouldn't people be mad at me?) would make me feel trapped and hopeless. I would wake up (exhausted) and just cry about having to go into the office. Every (free) weekend was spent with me trying to fill the void with dinner or drinks or mini vacations. I fantasized about having a baby because I thought maybe that would feel like a break from the stress. I felt so lost and like i wanted something to change, but I didn't know what it was.

A couple other friends were in a similar transition. One was working a day job she hated and found monotonous. The other was stuck in a day job where she felt over worked and under appreciated. We all felt trapped; we all didn't know what we wanted. Some friends of ours had all done The Artists Way as a group. (It's a creative workbook that's really for anyone, not just "artists". We're all creative people even those of us who don't see our jobs or passions that way.) They found it really helpful to allow yourself to think outside the box of what you think you should do or want. You cultivate this more receptive state of self to receive gifts from the universe. I know, it sounds woo woo, keep reading! The three of us decided to give it a shot. We'd meet once a week having read that weeks chapter and completed the questions or prompts at the end. We'd talk about what resonated with us, what didn't, what we noticed in our "morning pages" (3 mins of stream of consciousness writing, integral to the process.) i think it really made us ask ourselves what we really wanted and encouraged us to answer honestly. This is sometimes easier said than done. 

Around Christmas, I got a gift from a friend that was a 5x7 piece of artwork. It was an illustrated Steve Jobs quote that said "Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become." I cried. It felt so appropriate and like a sign to just TRUST myself and what would come would be right.

As we finished The Artists Way, we didn't have any huge revelations. We did start slowly, just making one choice in the direction of what felt better than where we were at. One friend started planting the seeds of a new business, one was reaching out to a potential new employer and I was focusing more on live theatre. I kept my commercial agent but stopped submitting for film and TV projects. I was set to go back on tour in the UK with the Satin Dollz early in the spring and I was looking forward to that.

This is the crazy part.

I was at work one day, taking a break on Facebook and came across a Rumi quote that someone had posted. Something similar to the present I'd received around Christmas struck me, something about following your heart, taking advantage of your one life, doing what you love instead of what you think you have to do or something like that, you get the idea. In that moment I asked myself what would make me happy. My heart responded with singing. I'd really like to be singing more. I do it all the time already in my car, at home, at work sometimes. That would make me feel more creatively fulfilled.

This is not how life works. (OR IS IT? because this is exactly what happened) I googled "session singing work in Los Angeles" hoping to find a gig doing studio work or backing vocals for someone. This is the equivalent to moving to Hollywood and typing "acting jobs" into google and actually hoping for work. I didn't think it'd come to anything but I thought it would be a start and i could resource my way to an actual conversation with a person. I'd told Brahm once that I thought I'd like to be in a band but I never really did anything about it. So anyway, the second link I click on is some forum for bands to find musicians. At the bottom of that page is a band looking for a lady singer. I clicked it. I really didn't know anything about what they sounded like, the forum website was a bit archaic, I couldn't send a hyperlink I had to just copy and paste a youtube link of Dollz performances I'd done and bragged about "harmonizing like a MoFo" or something like that. That day I got an email from Zach telling me about the band, The Dustbowl Revival. I told a couple of friends about the band and my potential audition. Both friends, separately, had heard of Dustbowl and thought it was a great fit. I went down to the residency they had that month and took my friend Levi (who also knew the mandolin player, Daniel, thinking that'd be a good "in" to have). They were good. I was sold. I introduced myself to Zach, told him it sounded great and that I just wanted to make music and have a good time. He said "isn't that what it's all about?" Two weeks later he came over and I officially "auditioned" with two existing Dustbowl songs, What you're doing to me and National Geographic. He offered me the job on the spot and I got to learning the ONE ZILLION existing songs they had. 

The rest is sort of history. I was still in a Troubie show at the time so I'd go to work all day, then rehearsal for the play for 3 or so hours and then would try to catch the second set of whatever gig DBR was playing and sing whatever songs I'd learned at that point. I told people at work I'd joined a band and they asked if we toured. I honestly had no idea, I didn't really think about that. Unbeknownst to me, DBR was scheduling their first east coast tour, a 3 week excursion that would start the DAY after I got back from my 2 week tour with Dollz in the UK. It became obvious that the day had come where I could not sustain the production career AND the performance career. It was a bittersweet (and stressful overhaul) to leave that company. I knew it was right for me but I did have a lot of self imposed guilt about feeling like I was letting people down or being selfish. I was also scared. Who knew if this was going to work out? Or if it was what I really wanted? I just listened to my heart and leapt and so far, it's been the best thing I've ever done.

Dustbowl Great American

A tip for those who are afraid to take the plunge: When I stopped spending all my money after bills on food and drinks and weekends away to de-stress myself.  It became easily possible to live on a lot less. I find that I'm so content to just BE. Be home, take a walk, ride my bike. I rarely go out to eat or for drinks now because I don't need to. I do on occasion but for me (health stuff aside) I just need less to feel "full" emotionally and creatively. A ladies' night in with wine and chatting takes the place of brunch at a restaurant. Netflix and chill takes the place of dinner and a movie. For me, following my heart meant an automatic adjustment of my needs and I don't really miss it.

It's Not Over Yet...

We just got back from tour yesterday evening. I had a follow up with Dr. Lalezar this morning to see if my metals were completely chelated (Kee-lated) after 9 chelations and 3 tox screens. I followed up with Dr. Ruscio before I left to fill him in on the Parasites/Metal state of affairs.

The Bad News

The tricky part about chelation is that when they test you for metals the numbers aren't 100% accurate. Mercury stores in your tissue and lead in your bones, so to get it out they give you a challenge test. As you chelate, you pull more and more out (hopefully, until it's gone.) As I've tested and re tested and chelated my numbers have gone down. However, what it's looking like is that the numbers were still higher than originally anticipated. I still have a 5.9 in Lead (up a tenth of a point from the last test) and 7.1 in Mercury (up a full point from last test). 

Dr. Lalezar said that she'd be comfortable with me stopping IV chelation at this point if I felt better. The issue is that even back on AIP + Low FODMAP i'm still symptomatic. This is confusing and frustrating to say the least. I'm doing everything that I KNOW WORKS... and it's not working this time.

The Good News

I don't have to continue IV chelation. I'm going to use supplements like N-Acetyl Cystine, Chlorella and foods like Cilantro to naturally detox the rest of the way. 

The Part where I could Cry with Frustration

I haven't really gone into it yet but THIS SHIT IS SO EXPENSIVE. I plan on eventually detailing what last year cost me because a lot of practitioners don't take insurance, or if they do the treatments often aren't covered. It's important for people starting on this journey to be informed about the cost. So, while we've made progress since 2014, every move I make now puts me in the hole. (Being in a band isn't the most lucrative job decision I've ever made, even if it was the right choice for me.) Chelation is $1300 for every round of 5 treatments, each tox screen to see your levels is $350, you get the idea...

Beyond price, it's utterly confounding that AIP and Low FODMAP isn't enough to reset my system any more. I was still bloated and exhausted this past tour. When I spoke to Dr. Ruscio prior to leaving he agreed that going back on the diet hard core was the best plan and we'd check in in 30 days. After that, if I was still having trouble reintroducing foods we had two routes to try. We could do an Inflammatory Bowel Disease protocol of supplements with probiotic therapy. (Not a bad idea since it's possible that i have an IBD like Crohn's but i'm not "deteriorated enough" to test positive for it.) Or, we could try an elemental diet, which is a liquid diet of absorbable nutrients that gives your guts a break from breaking anything down for a period of time.

With AIP+ not working, I'm ready to try anything. Dr. Lalezar ordered a leaky gut test to see if the antibodies for broken gut junctions are present. She also ordered a stool test so we can make the next move with more information. Perhaps there's some persistent SIBO, is one of her concerns. I've ordered one jar of the elemental diet "absorb plus". It's made for people like me that can't tolerate ANY foods. I also know people who've been directed to consume this to help starve out their SIBO as well as heal their digestive tract. One friend stated that she felt like her old self again while on it because it completely eliminated all the symptoms food and toxic byproducts were causing in her system.

The worst thing that will happen is that i try this liquid diet for a couple days and it doesn't agree with me and I go back to AIP+. The best thing is that it DOES agree with me and I get a brief moment of mental and physical break from all this. oh, and food too... (side note: it's $61.50 a jar and each jar has just over two days worth of food in it. So, that's the hold up. Here's hoping It works but I only use it for a bit of time.)


Current Mood

Current Mood

 

Today is a challenge. I'm exhausted (physically from being on the road and mentally from still not having any answers). Brahm is rightly so keeping his distance as I'm not the best version of myself today. I'm still hopeful. I hear about people like Meghan TelpnerMickey Trescott and Chris Kresser who've had "incurable" or "undiagnosable" ailments that have completely turned their lives around. I look forward to being the person most people see when i'm "putting it on" outside of my home, all the time. 

 

Guest Post: STANK STOP: AKA My Never-ending Search for Natural Deodorant That Doesn’t Make Me Cry. (Spoiler Alert: I FOUND IT!)

Guest Post by Becca Murray of Becca Brain

The Impetus

In September 2014, Beebe was helping me unpack my new apartment. Upon opening my bathroom box and seeing my Dove Clinical Strength deodorant, she flipped her shit. "OMIGOD YOU USE THIS?" She proceeded to give me a lecture about how I’m so crazy about what goes in my body, how can I be so flippant about what goes on my body, etc. I’m not a smelly person, but I’m a sweaty person. As a performer, this can be an issue. Hot lights, a little bit of nerves, sweaty pits. Not a good look. But I decided to give it a go. 

 Nope Nope Nope

For Christmas that year, Beebe got me a tub of Fat and the Moon deodorant cream, a highly recommended natural brand. I began using it and immediately broke out in a rash under my arms. I’ve never been one to have sensitive skin, so I freaked out but tried to push through it. About a month later, I quit and regifted the present back to Beebe. (She loved it & still uses it to this day, so it was definitely a me issue, not a product issue. Much love to Fat and the Moon!) Over the past year-ish, I’ve tried several brands and even tried making my own. Every single one of them has made me rash out. It looks like acne and it hurts like a bitch and after a month of pain, I always go back to my old (cancerous) standby. This year, I decided that I needed to figure out the problem and go natural no matter what. I read this post that suggested an armpit detox. Seriously, it’s a thing. A friend had just given me a Dead Sea mud mask from his trip to Jordan, so I decided to give it a go. I only put on my deodorant – Lavanilla, at this point – a couple times a week, always at night. I’d have flare-ups, but kept using it to see if my reaction was lessening with the detoxing. It wasn’t. I did notice that the bumps would reduce after the mask, but I’d break out as soon as I started sweating or applied deodorant again. UGH. I also read that magnesium can reduce your need for deodorant. I already take magnesium before bed to help me relax, but I began using a magnesium spray (that I already had on hand for muscle/joint pain) under my arms every day. It didn’t hurt, but it didn’t really seem to help, either.

FINALLY

Last month, after regaling Beebe with my whole saga (which I’d somehow kept all to myself this whole time), she gave me the remains of her Stank Stop. She had switched over to Fat and the Moon – better consistency, for her skin – and had most of a tub sitting unused in her medicine cabinet. She is a HUGE fan of Fat Face Skincare and suggested that I add this to the list of products I’ve tried before throwing in the towel completely. I used it with zero expectation. THE NEXT DAY, MY RASH WAS GONE. I’m not even kidding. She gave it to me on a Wednesday night, I used it on a Thursday morning and on Thursday night, I realized that the rash had disappeared. I’ve now been using it for about a month. My rash has not resurfaced AND I haven't sweat through a single shirt. (It’s warm in LA, you guys.) In the words of buddy the elf "I'M IN LOVE, I'M IN LOVE AND I DON'T CARE WHO KNOWS IT!"

Check out Becca's Site Here! She's an amazing photographer and artist as well as a brilliant performer and Jill of all trades.

 

Editor's Note: I DO LOVE Fat Face! Not only was it created by and is owned and run by a woman (mega bonus!), but their "intro" on the blog SOLD me from day one. (Hint: it has to do with DIET affecting your skin.) See for yourself. It's an amazing (and growing!) company.

I have their cleanser, healing and anti-aging face oil, moisturizing cream, fat stick and toner. 

Also, I'm trying not to lecture people anymore (see post one), especially Becca.

Chelation is a Bitch.

Today is (fingers crossed) my last chelation treatment! It's DMPS which binds with Mercury in your system so you can pee it out. That means I'll sleep a ton tonight and wake up late and tired tomorrow and probably the next couple days. Aside from the sterile, medical, literal part of this journey, there's the part where you actually have to do the work, walk through the fire.  It sucks. Day to day, it sucks. I've talked a bit about the usual gastrointestinal symptoms, which are annoying. Those are definitely around for Chelation (for me). It was the same during killing off SIBO. Regardless of my practically "perfect for me" food intake, I was super tired as well as bloated and waterlogged. I was SO moody. I sometimes don't feel like "impatient" and "frustrated" do justice to describe how terrible a version of myself I become. I'm just not nice, to myself, to others. I'm snappy and exhausted and sometimes downright mean or vindictive. Meanwhile, my real self, my true self, is inside me, hearing and seeing me be such a jerk and then judging that behavior and feeling terrible that I'm not trying harder to not be a jerk. It takes so much energy and patience to be the best version of myself and when those energies are depleted I'm a real snarky pill. The second month of treatment for SIBO, it was less of the physical stuff and all of the mental stuff plus anxiety and big depression.

Fatigue

With any of these reactions (SIBO, Die-off, Chelation) I'm mostly just so tired. It feels like I haven't slept in days but I'm actually sleeping 9hrs minimum. Don't get me started on "maybe you're sleeping too much." That's not a thing for me. Let's just leave it there. Some people need more sleep than others regularly and then there's excessive sleeping. For me, (10-14 hrs) it's a sign that I'm trying to repair or recover from something. The problem is, I'd been needing excessive sleep for years but was on the go all the time so I wasn't getting nearly enough. Not even the 8-9 a night minimum at times. I slept all weekend, Monday's were the worst. (aren't they still?) I also experienced insomnia during chelation, not usually an issue for me. I'd lay in bed, meditate, use essential oils, take magnesium, take valerian root, I'd just lay there awake. One night last week, by around 6a I was like "maybe I should just get up and make coffee, by 7 Brahm will be up and then we can go for a walk". But at 6:30 i fell asleep and finally woke up at 11a. 

Fatigue is probably one of the symptoms that bothers me the most. I'm a pretty energetic person so feeling beat, despite eating nutrient rich foods and prioritizing a healthy lifestyle is soul crushing. I was working two jobs at one point last year, not a problem if I was feeling well. I would come off the road and directly report to the office. It was too much for me at the time (and would be still, if i was still there). I needed the extra money to pay for all the health costs but at the same time was stressing out my system by never having down time. It was a lose, lose situation. They weren't getting my best self and I wasn't resting enough to heal. I considered briefly whether I could apply for disability for income supplementation. The mental and physical exhaustion and inability to problem solve, complete thoughts and retain memories was seriously debilitating. I had a friend say that it would be hard to argue for that, if I was performing all the time. I understood that perception and it sounds logical but singing and dancing on stage for 2 hours or working an 8 hour day AND performing for 2 hours a night, are vastly different. Of course there's more work to be done than the two hours I spend on stage but the lifestyle requirements and level of work saturation per minute between the two jobs require different amounts and types of energy. Not to mention working for yourself and working for a company also vary in stress level/type of energy output. I never did apply but I did wish for something to give.

I could tell that the Chelation had turned a corner when the fatigue began to lift. I wasn't even close to feeling back at 80% but at least I felt 60%+ rather than 40% or so. After 5 Chelations and two tox screens I started to wake up feeling not tired. Not rested, mind you, but not tired. My mood was also lifting. As long as my food was dialed in, i felt more like my usual emotional self.

Depression

I had some serious bouts of depression last year. Usually while in the middle of treatment, or in between when nothing seemed to be budging. It's gotten pretty dark at times. I like to think of myself as a mostly positive person. I like to lead from a place of joy and positivity. I can be a total jerk (see above) just like anyone else. Though, usually if i'm healthy, i skew happy (maybe a bit more nervous than the average person). If i'd never experienced the 80% improvement in my symptoms and mental state prior to this depression, I'd have more seriously considered going back to prescription drugs for relief. However, I know now that I can get there without that kind of therapy. This was a huge revelation for me back in 2014/2015 when I realized that my anxiety and depression tendencies all but disappeared with the right diet and sleep habits. There was also a little bit of regret, a little bit of "if i knew then what i know now" about all the anxiety I'd experienced in the past. Of course, who really knows what factors (puberty, chemical imbalances, stress) were at work during those times? It's possible food wasn't the answer back then, but to know it could have been a helpful tool is hard to think about. I'd let that influence me so much back then. I'd said "no" to so many experiences. None of the diet changes I made back then, were quite enough to feel the relief I've experienced now.

image from instagram

image from instagram

So, anyway, full disclosure: i was borderline suicidal more than once this year. I say borderline because i was acutely aware that i didn't intend to take action. But, it's incredibly isolating and scary to feel that way, seemingly out of the blue. I knew it was important to talk about these feelings, just in case. I spoke with some close friends and my husband about it. i needed extra support. It's scary to bring up, to be that vulnerable, to feel "weak". I didn't want to scare them! Of course, a part of it is the disappointment in myself that despite my life being a beautiful gift, that I'm so thankful for, I can't live in a state of grace and gratitude. That feels like failure to me. "Oh, woe is me, I have an amazing husband, all my arms and legs, wonderful friends, a job and a roof over my head and i'm tired and can't eat what i want". One more thing to fret about, judging myself for not being grateful and joyful enough. There was a part of last year when even on stage i was having a seriously hard time. I'm familiar with depressions constant undercurrent, but being ready to cry while performing was one of the darkest times of my life. If I couldn't let it all go and be joyful in that environment, where could i?

I tried to sympathize with both parts of myself, just like i would with a dear friend. It's fair to be upset that I might not ever feel as healthy as i'd like. It's fair to have a pity party that I might live at 80% of where I'd like to be. It's OK to stay in and hermit to take care of yourself, if that's what you need. It's also OK to have a drink or eat a thing if that means you won't go completely off the rails mentally and emotionally. The better part of the end of 2015 was like that, bargaining with myself over food, reintroducing alcoholic drinks (at least), sleeping in, not exercising if I was too tired, leaving my day job, not trying to do all the things. I listened to my body and mind and heart and gave myself what I was asking for. I tried my best to just be caring and nurturing. I also don't accept that everything is OK if i'm feeling that despondent. Knowing what i've learned about my physical self over the past couple years, i deduced that it was due to the treatments. Toxicity, bacterial imbalances, diet, lifestyle were most likely at fault and I just needed to stay the course. I'm feeling better now, but I'm keeping a close eye on that to gauge my progress.

photo cred: @ckelso via instagram

photo cred: @ckelso via instagram

What's Next

I go in on Thursday of this week to take the next tox screen. It's a challenge test (the same one I got in the beginning to determine if I had metal toxicity). When I come back from February tour, I'll go in to talk to the doc about my levels and we'll formulate a "next steps game plan". In the meantime, I've started on high dose or "mega-dosing" probiotics. I've heard that Elixa is a good brand to use when recovering from SIBO. I wanted to wait until I knew my guts were in better repair (or more likely to continue to heal, once mercury was out). I just started taking some dissolvable leaky gut vitamins, beyond my normal routine of bone broth, some of these vitamins and nutrient dense foods like chard and grass fed liver. I'm hoping that after a month or so of AIP, Low FODMAP diet without mercury in my system, will allow my body to recover enough to reintroduce other vegetables. Glory hallelujah.  It's much easier to eat out while eating a Paleo or Primal lifestyle than it is AIP or Low FODMAP (not to mention while doing both.) But we'll see how I'm feeling and adjust as needed.

Mind Over Matter

There is a mental aspect to this whole "self-awareness, healing and health" thing. It's very important to me and I think oftentimes is seen as second fiddle to food. In my experience it's the other half of the solution. I have been trying to work on self love and acceptance for the majority of this journey and probably the majority of my life. It's hard to self examine. I don't like all parts of myself and it's a difficult to accept your whole self while still striving to become the best version of you. I have a complicated relationship with myself. I'm not always kind.

The body and mind are intrinsically connected. Stress, anxiety, negative thought, judgement (of self or others) can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Stress/anxiety especially will put your body in fight or flight which literally SHUTS DOWN your digestion. If digestion is shut down, all that food coming in is just going to go through whole (which incredibly damaging to the guts) or it's going to rot and ferment where it is. There are a host of different ways for this to manifest which i won't list here but you can read about. It's a fascinating thing and motivates me to commit to not doing more harm by ignoring my symptoms (most of the time.) Besides damage your guts, emotions will store in your body if avoided (or eaten, drank, used etc.)  When I started doing yoga, I would cry. I had stored all this energy and emotion in my thighs and when I was breathing and releasing that tension, all of that feeling came flooding back. I'm not making this stuff up, it's called tissue memory! 

I know that for me, anxiety and a western diet really did a number on my guts. I'm trying to be patient and love myself now by carefully choosing what i'm ingesting, or putting on my skin. I also need to remember that if i can't work on healing my heart and mind it'll never stick as my lifestyle. There's a reason why I still want to turn to foods that taste good but do NOT make me feel good, in crisis. I can only work on this if i really stop and listen and show up for myself, just like I would for those I care about. It is not easy to be honest with myself, or to be honest and then not self sabotage in spite of myself. I try to re-commit to being a priority every day. Some days, it's easier than others. Building a community of supportive and like minded friends has been so important for my own commitment. It's easy to be like "let's just order pizza" and commiserate. I used to do that, despite how both of us would feel afterwards. It's been such a blessing to have people come over and be like "let's do X instead and talk about what's really going on." 

I use some of the resources below to help keep me in line and on track with self love, forgiveness and growth. 

Mindfulness Meditation

My (recent) journey began with Mindfulness Meditation. I took a class a couple of years ago with a dear friend of mine and it completely shook my world and turned it upside down. (I actually then took the intro class again, for another 6 weeks.) The benefits of meditation have been scientifically proven. There's no getting around it: meditation helps to reduce stress, improve sleep, lower blood pressure, give space to respond rather than react to a situation, improve focus, increase immunity. Here's a whole list, someone already did this.

For me, it's physically important to keep meditation in my life so that my tendency to stew and fret doesn't hurt my body. It's also nice to feel chill, so an added benefit is general bliss. (Or, what i like to see as "how normal people usually feel".) I like to do it before I go to bed, quieting my mind as i'm going to sleep. If I have time I like to try and do it when I wake up, as well. I've listed some resources below. You can learn to meditate alone or you can try guided meditation if sitting quietly is too intimidating. Personally, I've found it helps me to be a more easy going human. Since my goal is to really learn to let things go, this has been instrumental in helping me do that. It's a practice, to really see the benefits, it's best to make it a habit.

Meditation Resources:

InsightLA -this is where i studied meditation in LA, i love Celeste.

My friend Christina Huntington is also a very gifted meditation teacher.

Oprah and Deepak Chopra - Every year they do a meditation challenge. It lasts 21 days and you get access to free guided meditation. 

YouTube - There are tons of free guided meditations or even music to meditate to, on youtube.

10% Happier - This book by Dan Harris is hilarious and reads like a biography, not a self help book. I found it very helpful in inspiring me to continue meditating when I would get lazy. It also has basic instructions on meditation for beginners. 

Going to Pieces without Falling Apart - Mark Epstein is one of the more "scientific" meditation proponents. He's a psychologist who has written books about the benefits of meditation and how he uses it in his practice. It's a little more digestible if you're not as into the tone of people like Eckhart Tolle or Deepak Chopra. (If you are, I'm sure their books are great too!)

Therapy

I love therapy. I first saw a therapist as a kid, I must have been 8 years old. It was more of me playing in a sand box and someone writing down what it "meant" but I liked talking to her. Having that foundation was really helpful when I started having panic attacks as a teenager. I felt like no one had ever experienced what I was going through. I was just locked in fear, in my own body and no one else got it. Anxiety is pretty common, so the therapist i saw was like, "oh yeah, we know what this is". I felt less alone, at least. I went back to therapy in College when I couldn't figure out why my college relationship was driving me crazy. I would talk about my anxiety, trust issues etc. It didn't save my relationship but it made me feel better to talk to someone outside my friend group, about what I was struggling with. I've been since I moved to LA as well. It's helped me sort out issues in my relationship and also when i was transitioning from my job to my new career.

I can sympathize with people who think therapy is not for them. I'd like to think that with the right person, it could be for everyone. It's a good idea to shop around, do an initial session with someone to see if it's a good fit. You can generally do that for FREE. Also, there are tons of types of therapy based on the very fact that everyone processes differently: talk therapy, somatic experiencing, behavioral therapy to name a few. 

Energy Work

Energy work is a cool new (to me) tool I've started utilizing. There are a bunch of ways to try it. I've only delved into a couple at this point. It's not widely recognized as a traditional therapy in the western world but its gaining traction. Anecdotally I can speak for myself and my group of friends that it helps.

Here's a short list from Yin Yang House.com:

  • Qi Gong:
    Qi Gong is a broad term used to describe any number of forms of energy healing based on the theories behind Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Within these techniques the practitioner uses his/her intent and energy to stimulate acupuncture points, move energy through the meridians of the body and ultimately to heal disease. This form of healing is popular in China and is gaining acceptance and use around the world.
  • Reiki:
    Reiki is one of the more popular and widely-known forms of energy medicine. There has been research conducted on its effectiveness and you will find it in hospitals and offered by practitioners around the world. It is based on the Chinese concept of Qi (energy) but it differs from Qi Gong in that it is not as focused on specific acupuncture points or meridians. Rather, Reiki is a more spiritually focused practice in that it places a trust in the energy and the body to know how to heal.
  • Tong Ren Therapy:
    Tong Ren Therapy is a technique developed by Master Tom Tam, a prominent Boston area acupuncturist and healer. This form of energy healing is similar to Qi Gong with the addition of the use of the collective unconscious, as defined by Dr. Carl Jung, to heal disease. Tong Ren was originally developed to help people with Cancer, however, it has proven to be helpful in a broad range of conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, Parkinson's, Rheumatoid Arthritis and more.
  • Vibrational Medicine:
    Vibrational medicine is another broad category of energy healing. It is based on the idea that energy vibrates at particular speeds or wavelengths and imbalances exist when this energy is not operating at an efficient level. The practitioner may make use of crystals, sounds, colors, magnets or other devices to correct these energetic imbalances and restore health.
  • Prayer:
    Prayer is quite simply the use of Prayer to heal disease. A person may pray for themselves, or have groups or more spiritually developed people pray for them. Recent research has indicated that a group may pray for specific individuals or even groups of people, with or without their knowledge, and influence their health. A good example of a spiritually developed healer who has had remarkable success is Father McDonough, a Boston area Catholic priest who is well known for his tremendous healing abilities.
  • Healing:
    Healing is in many regards a catch all for any practitioner in the energy work field. We mention it here, however, because many people practice healing and advertise themselves specifically as healers. The act of healing may use any technique, from any distance, for any condition and is simply a testimony to the power of energy and the gifts which certain individuals may have developed.

Energy Work Resources:

I use this app called Solfeggio by SonalKiss to do Vibrational Medicine. You listen via earbuds. It's incredibly meditative and calming. There's a frequency that has been reported to heal DNA.  I like to use this app by doing one frequency at a time for about 20 mins a day, three days spent on each frequency (using the Earthly Scale). These frequencies are tuned to each Chakra to help you release any blocked energy in those areas.

I've started working with an Applied Kinesiologist in Los Angeles. That was super cool. She does muscle testing where your body is allowed to answer the questions of what you need and what will help you on your way to healing.

Acupuncture can also be a useful tool for Energy Work. Strategically placed needles can help release blocked energy. I've had a similar reaction to acupuncture, while doing energy work, as I do when i have a muscle release emotion. I just try to stay open and willing to breathe through the release.

Journaling

I have found this blog to be extremely helpful surrounding my health issues. When something is difficult to talk about (this has become a trigger for me) writing is a great way of releasing it from yourself. I've written letters to people I never intended to send, journaled for most of my life and now, started this blog. The Artists Way is a great creative workbook that uses stream of consciousness writing as a form release and stimulation during the 3 month program. You just write, don't take your pen off the page, for 3 minutes each morning. They're called "morning pages". It helps to clear your mind before the day begins.  I know I feel lighter being able to share this information without the possible threat of judgement in return. I can share what I've tried and learned and researched, you can try if you like or leave it if you don't. It's probably very beneficial to my friends as well because they don't have to hear about it unless they ask.

Orthorexia 

This is a topic I wanted to touch on, since I'm talking about the mind and I talk about food all the time. Orthorexia is the condition of being obsessed with eating healthy foods. It is usually coupled with a judgement that some foods are BAD and some foods are GOOD. It's not technically characterized as an eating disorder but is seen as mentally similar to anorexia or bulimia. Generally speaking, the obsession is a projection of underlying mental factors such as: needing to be in control, fear, body image issues etc. There are a lot of resources available for those struggling to figure out the balance of eating healthy and not developing an obsessive relationship around food.

No food is inherently bad or good. Some food is more nutrient dense or bioavailable and therefore may serve the body better. However, focusing on food very intently can become unhealthy without perspective. As I mentioned yesterday, no one diet is going to fit a person for the rest of their life. There's no RIGHT food.

Deal with it

I've found that it's so imperative for me to be open and honest with myself about my emotional state, in order to really feel my best. Food plays a large part in that relationship right now, since eating certain foods can cause sort of "untrue" or "unfounded" emotions in me. I've learned a lot about who i am and what i want in my life by being willing to examine discomfort, sit with it and try to sort out what's really going on. Meditation has been an invaluable tool for that. There's stigma attached to vulnerability and feelings. They're often seen as weakness, and therefore avoided, or "soldiered through". Brené Brown said it best: "To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness... Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path."

I'm still figuring it out as I go. There's a reason why I run with an undercurrent of anxiety. I'm working on examining that and forgiving myself for being who I am as I'm learning to fuel myself in a healthier way. There's no question that being more "self aware" is hard. I beat myself up for beating myself up. I struggle with self forgiveness but preach its importance to my friends. I have a bad day and then harp on myself for not being more patient, or talking too much, or being bossy when i'm actually just trying to be helpful. I lay awake at night and cycle through all the terrible things i've done or decisions i've made and just guilt and shame myself. (Hello! Thank you meditation for helping me go to sleep!) I'm lucky to have built a community of positivity, love, trust and openness in my friends and my husband. It's a journey and the food and health stuff won't ever stick if I don't keep up with the rest. 

metta_poster.jpg

This is my favorite meditation: Loving Kindness or "Metta meditation". Maitri is a Sanskrit word meaning “unconditional friendliness towards self which radiates out to others.” Practicing maitri is an antidote for habitual self-hatred and fear.






Why I'd recommend an Elimination Diet to anyone.

I get a lot of eye rolls when i talk about food. Most of the time because my symptoms could be explained by almost anything. If these were occasional or one off reactions i'd totally get that. I also get that most people probably don't keep stock of how they feel throughout the day (meticulously or at all). Reasons why I'd recommend someone try an elimination diet: headaches, allergies, asthma, undiagnosed or unexplained anything from your Doctor. Acne if you're not 14, acne if you are 14, weight gain, weight loss, fatigue, moodiness, poor memory, if you've never done one before, if you have done one before, insomnia, anxiety, depression, joint pain, gut pain, heartburn, teeth grinding/clenching, gas, bloating, burping, diarrhea, constipation, gallbladder issues. You get the point, if you have an "issue" it's worth examining how your diet may be a contributing factor. There is no gold standard test for food allergies or intolerances. Because our bodies are so unique to us, the most effective course of action currently, is doing an elimination diet. 

Of course I do believe that I'm a product of my own life. My experiences, environments, diet, lifestyle, friends, community, activity level and general life decisions have all shaped who I am. Of course I've been to therapy. Of course I've seen General Practitioners for a bunch of the symptoms I've experienced (as you may have read). The point is, if it's not getting better and you want it to, my FIRST suggestion to you is going to be: try an elimination diet. 

Eliminate food as the possible source of your ailment.

That is my suggestion. It is far too easy to have eaten wheat and dairy and sugar (to name some of the main offenders) and become accustomed to how it feels in your system. You can be symptomatic and not know it or have NO symptoms currently and still have a possible issue. Admittedly, I'm one who had symptoms of intolerances to these foods and never really felt the effects until i went off them and then reintroduced them. These diets are not just for allergies/intolerances. The food you eat influences your micro biome and diversity of that bacteria is instrumental to your health. Eating certain foods can kill off the variety of bacteria in your gut which can lead to health problems as simple as being more susceptible to colds or as complicated as allergic reactions to food. This could be step one of merely living a healthier lifestyle catered to your specific needs.

I was listening to Dr. Ruscio's podcast yesterday. Mickey Trescott (the author of the cook book I have and used before I went low FODMAP) was the guest. She made a great point about AIP (and this applies to elimination diets in general): It's a tool.

"No diet is going to fit one person for the rest of their life".

Maybe what you ate 5 years ago doesn't agree with you now. Your body is constantly in flux. Stress, sleep, illness, all of that can play a part in what you can or can't handle digestively. And, to make it more annoying and confusing (because believe me it is both) you can't even go by what everyone says the symptoms are. You have to figure out how that food makes YOU feel and listen to YOUR body's reaction.

I, for one, do not present "normally" when it comes to a lot of the issues Ive been faced with. Acupuncturists, chiropractic and "regular" (or M.D.) doctors have all had a difficult time diagnosing what's up with me because of this. Knowing what makes you feel your best and if you're not quite there yet, is what I've found to be the key in prioritizing my health. The first step in really knowing what affects you is eliminating possible offenders and then reintroducing them methodically, so you can rule them out as a culprit. Regardless of the outcome, you will gain some control in your own day to day energy, digestion and mood.

I can practically promise you that. 

the good news?

If I can do this, LITERALLY ANYONE CAN.

I am a junk food addict. I love McDonalds, I love Dominos. I've eaten my fair share of each of them and many more foods like them. I think sometimes it just comes to a point where you're either really ready to feel better, or at the time, perhaps it's not worth it to you. I had to wait until I was ready, my will power wasn't enough otherwise. Now if I eat Domino's, I not only get bloated but i have almost immediate neurological effects. Depression, anxiety, physical heart palpitations, insomnia, nightmares, my body is very clear about not wanting this food. However, those reactions weren't clear until i cut out all those ingredients and then reintroduced them. My picture still isn't complete of what's healthful for me and what isn't, but for now I do have a good idea what to stay away from. Once I'm finished with chelation, i'm going back to AIP low FODMAP (strictly) and seeing if I can heal my leaky gut enough to reintroduce more FODMAPs. (I'm so symptomatic in treatment, I eat what I know makes me feel good 80% of the time but I've also allowed myself some leniency. It's a balance.)

There are a bunch of diets one can try. If a certain diet doesn't cure your symptoms, unfortunately that doesn't mean that food is not a factor. It could mean that. However, it could also mean you just hadn't removed that food item or group yet. That was the case for me with Kale and FODMAPS. This may mean trying more than one diet. It may mean committing a little longer than you originally anticipated.

Elimination Diets I can suggest:

SCD - great one to try for suspected leaky gut, and IBDs (Celiac, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn's)

GAPS - developed from the SCD, this diet is tailored towards gut flora health and healing leaky gut. (In my opinion, if you go either of these routes, you may as well look at the lists between the two and decide where you might want to start.

The Paleo Cure - this book by Chris Kresser is extremely informative about how your body absorbs nutrients and is not preachy. This is a good diet for anyone who wants to feel better overall but doesn't necessarily think they have any "issues". It removes the main offenders but isn't too intense in my opinion. You can also check out Robb Wolf's website here.

AIP - if the diets above aren't producing the results you desire. Or if you feel like going balls to the wall and "getting it over with" this diet is the one for you. It removes more food groups comprehensively than the Paleo diet, such as nightshades, seeds, nuts and the spices that fall under those categories.

Low FODMAP - (stands for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols) a good reference to start if you have IBS, Crohn's or other IBDs. FODMAPs are short chain carbohydrates that can ferment if undigested in your gut. The cool yet tricky thing about FODMAPs is that it's not a black and white situation. It is dependent on the amount of the food taht you eat. Perhaps 1c of broccoli is OK for you but any more than that causes a host of symptoms. I tacked this on to AIP because they were clearly an issue for me, I was super uncomfortable and swollen from the vegetables and fruits on this list. I hope once my gut heals I can add them in, I MISS MOST VEGETABLES!

Here are some AIP friendly meals courtesy of Mickey Trescott's Instagram, not too shabby.

Why is it so hard to figure this out?

When I moved on from diet and lifestyle changes to researching possible underlying conditions, I ran into some issues. The symptoms I was experiencing (bolded below) fell under a bunch conditions. It proved to be invaluable for me to track symptoms and habits so I could communicate clearly with my doctors. Being very aware of how I felt and how it changed based on certain factors was really the only way I could fend off the "what if it's all in your head" assertions that friends, family and even doctors would propose. 

We have been tackling these one by one. As symptoms don't resolve, another issue will surface (proven by tests to exist) that has to be cleared. The latest is Mercury/Lead poisoning. It feels like we're digging through symptoms, clearing conditions on the way, taking factors out as possibilities: diet, lifestyle, stress, SIBO, Parasites, now metal. Brahm and I would laugh every time another issue came to light because all the symptoms seemed to be the same.

"You have to laugh at yourself, because you'd cry your eyes out if you didn't."- Indigo Girls

MERCURY:

Diarrhea, Constipation, Colitis

Allergies/Asthma

Chronic Fatigue

Skin Problems

Anxiety, Depression, Nervousness, Mood Swings, Anger, Confusion

Memory Loss, Lack of Concentration

Nausea/Vomiting

Joint and Muscle Aches

Anemia

Weight Loss

Leaky Gut

SIBO:

Bloating, Pain, Cramps, Constipation, Diarrhea

Asthma

Fatigue

Eczema, rashes

Autism, Depression

Heartburn, Nausea

Joint Pain

Anemia

Weight Loss

Fatty stools

 

 

 

 

 

LEAKY GUT:

Digestive Issues (gas, bloating, diarrhea, IBS)

Allergies/Asthma

Chronic Fatigue

Skin Issues (acne, rosacea, eczema)

Mood/Mental (Depression, Anxiety, ADD, ADHD)

Auto Immune Diagnosis (Hashimoto's, Celiac, Psoriasis, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis)

Candida

Food allergies/Intolerances

Hormonal Imbalances (PCOS, PMS)

PARASITES:

Diahrrea, Gas, Bloating, Constipation, IBS, Digestive Issues

Allergies, runny nose

Chronic Fatigue

Irritaion at nose, ears, eyes, anus, rashes, hives, eczema, acne

Fuzzy thinking, Headaches, anxiety, hyperactivity, nervousness

Joint and Muscle Aches

Weight Gain

Candida

Painful Menstruation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:
http://www.dentalwellness4u.com/layperson/symptoms.html
http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10908/9-signs-you-have-a-leaky-gut.html
http://organicolivia.com/2014/02/24/everyone-has-parasites-part-one-why-how-symptoms-what-you-can-do/
http://www.siboinfo.com/symptoms.htm

 

 

 

 

 

MY LABS

These are my labs and tests between 2014-2016