Sunday, October 31, 2010

DAY 27 – Face Your Food: It Will Change Your Life

I’ve been talking with patients about the joys and the dangers of food for about 24 years, since I first saw the light.

My family, guided by my Mom, ate “healthy” food. We ate whole wheat bread, brown sugar, and only had boxed, sugar-coated, commercial cereals for dessert or for a special occasion. We ate cauliflower, asparagus, and eggplant.

Even with “healthy” food, I still had health problems from childhood through age 35. I consistently needed 10-12 hours of sleep, but awoke tired each day. My skin was dry and rough. Serious low back problems began by age 10, and resulted in severe damage to discs and bone in my low back, as shown on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). By 15 I developed large tear marks (inform yourself at on the skin in my groin and arm pits. An ulcer was diagnosed by age 16 and I lived on antacids for the next 24 years. At 20 my first complete rupture and surgical repair of one of my Achilles tendons occurred.

While I was young, and falling apart, it never crossed my mind that food could be a cause of my ills, because what I ate was “healthy”. Not one of the dozen or more medical doctors that saw me for my many illnesses and injuries, ever suggested nor even hinted at the possibility that food could be playing a role in my ill health.

By age 35, still taking antacids daily, I began to recognize that when I ate certain foods, I would feel worse the next day; gut pain, intestinal gas, tiredness, and generally achy. Not one to quickly move to stop eating foods that I liked, and that were a part of our family routine, I continued the experiment and time and again found that I felt worse after eating certain foods.

Finally one day, sick and tired of being sick and tired, I told my wife that I was going to temporarily stop eating dairy products, and stop eating foods that were made by others and that might contain ingredients that would harm me. I told her that I would not be eating in restaurants nor simply politely eating what I might be served at a friend’s house. There was a brief pause, and then she said “You are ruining my life!”

I share with you what my wife said to give clarity to how upsetting making dietary change can be. It was no more than minutes, or maybe an hour until she told me that she did not mean what she had said and that she would happily work with me to make sure that I could feel well.

Finally, it dawned on me that there is no such thing as a “healthy” food. Peanuts can be a “healthy” food for some people. It is clear that for others they can be deadly. Though not usually to the point of being lethal, dairy products, wheat, eggs, corn, and soy are examples of common foods that can cause illness, often serious, in many individuals.

Before long, I understood that what is most important is not whether a food is generally “healthy”, but whether it is “healthy” for an individual.

As a part of my dietary change in 1986, I stopped eating all dairy products. I started feeling better generally, and my gut felt better. I also felt a bit foolish. Why during all those years of gut pain and antacids, did I not consider that possibly my gut was being affected by what I was putting into it? And, why did not one medical doctor suggest it during the 19 years that I had been unwell?

I stopped all dairy in 1986, and have been off it ever since. It has clearly been one of the most profound factors in regaining and maintaining my health.

Not only did my gut and my general wellbeing improve, but my severe low back pain went away too. Remind me to tell you the rest of the story.

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