Being "Good" (my story part 2)

New to My Story? Read Part 1.

When I started college, I had the not so vague idea that grains didn't serve my body well. I still loved (and ate) pizza but tried not to consume them quite as much. I went off of the depression and anxiety meds I was on from high school. I was still on the pill and my skin was normal (occasional breakouts but mostly under control.)

New Symptoms

Now that my skin seemed to be doing better and I wasn't panicking all the time, i became more aware of my physical symptoms from food.  I had the most FOUL smelling gas. Totally awful, anxiety inducing and difficult to manage.

I also noticed i would get SEVERELY bloated. Within 20 minutes to an hour i could look 3 months pregnant. Of course, bagels and pizza would set it off but sometimes i'd be bloated from other foods too. The nickname we had for it was "buddha belly". I wish I had the opportunity to learn about digestion in school, we barely talked about it in biology.

It in college that i also discovered "alcohol flush reaction". One night we were at my boyfriend's apartment, playing some drinking game. I went to the restroom and noticed my face had totally "rashed out" under the skin, it was all flush on one side of my face and down onto my décolletage. Any previously healed blemish looked bright red (though not raised). I was like WHAT IS HAPPENING?! it looked like an allergic reaction. It faded after about 10-20 minutes. From then on I had my eye out for what would set that off. 

The summer between my Freshman and Sophomore year of college i did my second elimination diet. I was a lot more committed this time around, i lost weight from not eating all the crap and enjoyed not being super bloated most of the time. I had more energy, the circles under my eyes reduced, i was less "Swollen and inflamed" looking. When i got back to school, i tried really hard to stick to it. I was off grains and dairy (except for caesar salad dressing, no one's perfect). I was eating a lot of salads in my dorm and trying to just avoid the pasta bar in the dining hall. 

It didn't last. 

I spent all of college bouncing back and forth between being "good" for a while and i avoid foods that I know (or think) aren't making me feel healthy and being "bad" and eating whatever i want. It's a challenge to eat what's healthy for you when you're not sure what it is (exactly) and when everyone around you eats "normal food"! I was trying to be better about listening to my body and paying attention to symptoms, hoping to figure out a cause. I wasn't consistent enough with my diet (or my paying attention) to make significant progress. 

Freshman Year

Freshman Year

Sopohmore Year

Sopohmore Year

Mental Stuff

I was still having anxiety, I had xanax as needed. I was scared of new situations (still) but pursued them anyway. I knew that anything i was fearful of, I had the most to gain from. My guts were in knots (basically) constantly. If i didn't have anything to worry about, my brain would come up with something. I hadn't made the connection between food and gut and brain at this time and was not helping myself at all by avoiding the offenders i was aware of.

I also was a CRAZY PERSON in my college relationship. Hindsight is 20/20, let me tell you. I would fly off the handle over stuff that was really not a big deal. I would also fly off the handle (but not break it off) over stuff that was important to me. We did not communicate effectively. Looking back, it's clear to see that it wasn't a good place for either of us. I didn't really trust him but I was so set on "making it work" that I stayed way longer that I should have (fear of failure? not wanting to let go of my first "big" relationship? any and all of the above?). (Spoiler Alert: Mood swings were a symptom.)

Put aside how anxious i just was on a base level as a person, when we would argue i would turn into a monster. Just like yelling and crying and shouting and even wanting to break stuff. I can remember what it felt to be like in that situation. It was terrifying, knowing that it was outrageous behavior and not being able to control myself. It felt insane, like a temper tantrum with adult awareness. Have you ever seen a 2 year old just work themselves up over something simple and not be able to chill out? It's like that but also with defensiveness and shame and embarrassment. I think the word rage is appropriate here. Our poor communication aside, I was also having TERRIBLE nightmares. In Hindsight, it's so clear to me my body was like STOP IT, whether that had to do with the food, the relationship, the stress (probably a combination of everything) my system was operating in overload and everything I was doing was exacerbating it. I take full responsibility for my behavior. I just wish I knew then what I know now about how my lifestyle was affecting me physically and mentally.

We broke up after my Jr year. The nightmares stopped (almost immediately) and I spent the final year of college trying (or not trying as the case may be)  to take care of myself. I had big plans, I was moving to LA.

To Be Continued...

 

 

 

How did this start? (my story part 1)

Looking outside Western Medicine

As a teenager, my step-mom took me to see my first naturopath doctor. Dr Hecht. I was struggling with terrible teenage acne and had tried the traditional route for a couple years. He looked at me and said "you are clearly allergic to milk". It had never crossed my mind that food and skin health were related.

Prior to seeing Dr. Hecht,  I had tried from either a dermatologist or general practitioner: tetracycline (antibiotic), minocycline (antibiotic), retin-a (synthetic vitamin a), accutane (another, very strong vitamin a derivative), benzamycin (topical antibiotic), differin (topical vitamin a derivative), birth control pills (yazmin, orthotricycline, loestrin, microgestin), and more.

Clearly, this wasn't a dermatological issue, it was a symptom that happened to be coming out my face. NONE of the above medications worked, and some wreaked havoc on my guts. 

Contrary to what Dr. Hecht said in our visit, I actually don't think I am allergic to milk. However, around that time in my life, my relationship with food changed. I went from eating whatever I felt like to an "I can't eat that" eater. (Now, I'm more of an "I choose not to eat that" eater.) While it's become an easier part of my life to navigate and one I've ultimately became grateful for, in the beginning it was a challenge. 

My step-mother suggested "try cutting out chocolate, don't drink dairy" and other foods that can exacerbate skin issues. After seeing Dr. Hecht, (and being on every acne medication ever) I reluctantly did my first "elimination diet". I felt terrible about myself with my skin as it was, I wanted more than anything for a clear complexion. I would try anything.

Elimination Diets

I cut out everything, Grains, Beans, Dairy, CITRUS, SUGAR. Basically, i was like "WHAT CAN I EAT?!" My favorites at that time were: pizza, french fries, sugared cereal and candy. 

That summer, I don't even remember what I did eat because I'm sure all i focused on was what i couldn't eat. I also don't remember if it even helped my skin. I was probably a brat about it. (A normal reaction to anyone's first elimination diet) I went back to boarding school that fall and caved with 2-3 weeks left of the diet. You're supposed to add each item back in, ALONE, and over a couple of days to a week to see how you react. 

My downfall: girl scout cookie season. I ate some tagalongs, thereby ingesting dairy, sugar and grains all at once. (the most common offenders, if you are having a reaction from food). I probably had a stomach ache to say the least, I can't remember, i just remember eating the cookies and then going back to life at school as usual. 

More than Physical Symptoms

Around my Junior year at boarding school, I started having terrible panic attacks, followed by depression (I also still had acne). It was pretty intense and came on suddenly. I basically was afraid to do ANYTHING outside my routine for fear that something might set off a wave of panic followed by inconsolable daydreams of irrational situations. I worried at all times. They started having me see a therapist at school. In addition to that I was on at one time or another: klonopin, zoloft, prozac, wellbutrin and lithium. Lithium and Wellbutrin after trial and error, seemed to be the one to get me through my last year and a half of school.

I was still eating whatever I wanted, despite my body and  mind freaking out and my skin not improving, i still wanted a pill solution.

Foods I ate frequently: white rice with salt and butter, omelets (on certain mornings) with white toast, turkey sandwiches on ski days (2-4 of them depending on hunger), pizza, chicken fingers, chicken mcnuggets, french fries, sugared cereal, boxes of swedish fish candy, soda, swiss miss cake rolls, you get the picture. I did eat fruit too but in no way was I eating a balanced diet. I was following the glorious food pyramid we were taught in the 80s, 6-11 servings of grains a day! (nailing it.) I think i ate some broccoli, i tried to like salad. 

I mention this list specifically because this type of food is referred to as the Western Diet. It's high in carbohydrates, processed and refined foods, low in vegetables, healthy fats and nutrient dense foods. It has been linked to: anxiety, depression, acne, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, limiting the variation of microbes in the gut, cancers, general inflammation and general chronic health problems, to say the least.

By the end of high school, i still had acne but the birth control had helped a bit. I ate terribly but was learning that more vegetables were probably a good idea. I graduated, still on lithium and Wellbutrin. I'd gotten into a good college and was going to study theatre. I had xanax as needed for when i had panic attacks. Things were looking up. I knew that food was connected in some way to my emotional and physical symptoms but it wasn't "bad enough" for me to actually make a lifestyle change. 

Middle School, pre drugs, (and puberty) clear skin.

Middle School, pre drugs, (and puberty) clear skin.

High School, normal teenage acne situation, on medication

High School, normal teenage acne situation, on medication