When I finally made the connection that food was playing a direct role in my health, it occurred to me that I hadn’t eaten “real” food in decades. I grew up in the age of the micro-wave, where the term “nuke it” seemed perfectly sane. The age when “cheese” products were found in cardboard boxes on shelves. When margarine reigned supreme and Tab was still considered safe. This is the faux-food I grew up on, and somehow I managed to survive on it all the way through high school. Honestly, I didn’t give much thought to what I ate, I was simply eating what everyone else was eating. Then came my 20’s and the mere act of dating dictated that I continue to at least watch my weight. It was timely that this was the “low-fat” era, where I could consume a low-fat hotdog, low-fat potato chips and some low-fat snackwells and still feel that I had done right by my body. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the gallons of diet coke I consumed through these years, it could have filled a tanker truck! I thought I was doing the right thing, I wasn’t eating doughnuts or greasy food, in fact my caloric intake was low and I was exercising, wasn’t that all there was to it to being healthy?
Whatever energy I was beginning to lack was soon glossed over by the coffee craze that swept the nation just as I was rolling into my mid-twenties. There seemed nothing a triple venti latte couldn’t cure. I was raring to go, and go I did. I lived the life of most 20-something’s, drinking and dating and dieting, usually in that order. By the time I’d hit my 30’s, I had some undeniably rough times. I had already spent a decade battling Meniere’s disease (an inner ear disorder for which there is no cure) as well as having my gallbladder removed (a rare blood disorder caused gall stones), but frankly, I still wasn’t giving my health much thought, heck, I was in the prime of my life and having too much fun to be concerned with my health. What I didn’t know is that I was really just skating by, and soon enough shit was about to go sideways. Just after I turned 30 (and shortly after getting married), I started having some, ahem…lady problems. I was soon diagnosed with fibroids which required surgery, at which time it was discovered I also have endometriosis. I was beginning to pay attention to my (declining) health, but by this time, I was too distracted by my ever increasing weight. All the things I had been successful with in the past to achieve weight loss, weren’t working anymore, and the pounds just kept coming. I was now 35, a size 14 and 185 pounds, the heaviest I’d ever been. I was working out and trying to eat right, but I was also terribly depressed and would often soothe myself with my favorite evening of wine, pizza and ‘Sex and the City’, all while curled up on the couch. I was just too tired to find the initiative to do much of anything, much less try and overhaul my diet. Heck, I still had friends and my husband still found me attractive, so what’s the big deal? I was “owning” my body, as they say, and doing my best to embrace this larger version of myself with as much grace and dignity as I could. What I didn’t realize, was just how miserable I really was. I had certainly gotten good at faking it, I even fooled myself for a while. Things just kept going downhill, over the next year I had infections and lots of colds, I was in constant pain and could barely get out of bed. After a year of going from doctor to doctor, I was finally diagnosed with Lupus and Fibromyalgia, along with Sjogren’s and Raynaud’s. It was official, I was a friggin’ mess! I finally saw the writing on the wall and knew I was a goner if I didn’t get my act together, fast!
The Auto-Immune Connection
The fact of the matter is, our bodies are designed to adapt in order to survive. When it comes to food our bodies are continuously trying to make sense of what we feed them. For decades now, a majority of our food has been altered from what our bodies were designed to thrive on. The Standard American Diet (SAD) has consisted primarily on “faux-foods”, that are manufactured with the use of chemicals and by-products (non-foods) and packaged into a plastic container which in itself is toxic. Very little of what I ate between the ages of 5-35 was actual fresh organic food from the earth. I was raised on the typical American fare of microwave friendly foods, all sorts of tasty treats that came in a bag or a box, fake-o cheese products, none of which was actually food that our bodies were designed to eat. I haven’t even mentioned that ALL of these foods were made with genetically modified organisms which until the 1970’s, the human body had never seen before. For the first time in human-kind we were putting poisons into our bodies and calling them foods.
Our bodies have actually done an amazing job at adapting, in spite of not being fed the necessary ingredients to sustain life. However, as our bodies continue to struggle to survive, they are over-compensating in the form of disease. In the case of auto-immune disease, our bodies knew these “Franken-foods” weren’t intended to support us, so they in turn responded to these invaders by becoming “intolerant”, sending our immune systems into a tizzy.
With each chemical or foreign by-product that entered our systems, our immune systems would be triggered and on constant alert. After years and years of this, and the constant attempt for our bodies to adapt, our immune systems can no longer distinguish friend from foe, so it begins to attack anything and everything. Nearly every food becomes an offender (which results in multiple food sensitivities). We begin to feel sluggish, we have chronic diarrhea and or constipation, our skin begins to break out. When we ignore these warning signs and continue piling these offending foods into ourselves, our bodies do what they are designed to do, survive. So, they keep making antibodies to fight the offenders and soon your whole system is in a state of rejection to everything foreign. Allergies often become a real problem, food sensitivities go into full-on intolerance’s and cause damage to the lining of our intestinal tracts (resulting in things like colitis and crohn’s disease). Seasonal allergies become crippling, even the threat of anaphylaxis is heightened. We may begin to suffer from hives or other skin disturbances. This is our body screaming for help. Our immune system is over-run after doing it’s job all these years and through the most demanding of circumstances. It is saying “no more!”.
We were never intended to be fed nutrient-less by-products of food, or the toxic chemicals that make something shelf-stable, or manufactured food-stuff that is irradiated before it is packaged in plastic (these are just a box a wheat-thins I just described). Can you imagine the trouble a bag of Cheetos might cause.
The problem is I never thought about it, I grew up trusting that what was put on supermarket shelves was food. Sure, we all knew some were better than others, but we all assumed no one would never feed us something that wasn’t edible. Well, ‘they’ did, and they will continue to do so. Just because none of us keeled over after one bite, doesn’t mean these things aren’t poison.
Luckily, our bodies are keeping us alive long enough to repay the favor, and to finally feed it what it has been starved for all of these years. With our amazing and ever-adapting bodies built to survive, we have the ability to arm ourselves with the tools to turn things around and be well again. Nowadays, food plays a very different role in my health, a very positive role. Now that I know how to properly nourish my body and give it exactly what it needs, I am able to thrive in every way. Each person is unique and the foods I thrive on might be slightly different than the foods someone else will thrive on. But, to pursue this type of body awareness in the most valuable information we can acquire in our lives. Let the days of mindless eating be over and give your body what it needs to thrive and provide you with a life where all of your dreams can come true.