My mysterious spewing disease

It is 2006 and I’m in Thailand with my on-again-off-again boyfriend who’s training and fighting Muay Thai out of a gym in Chiang Mai. Our relationship is pretty unstable but I’m too much of a wuss to address it head-on; I’m too scared of losing him. I’m doing a little bit of Muay Thai myself, but mostly I’m there to be with him. I’m buying food from the street vendors every day, and every now and then I eat something dodgy and get sick for a few days – it’s pretty normal for that to happen over there. Sometime during the three and a half months I was there I picked up a bug of some sort, probably through something I ate, that was to haunt me for the next four years.

I remember the first time it happened; it was while I was still over there. I had a crook tummy and was throwing up over and over again, despite there being nothing to bring up other than bright yellow gastric juices. I don’t remember there being any pain during that first episode – the pain came later. The next time was almost a year later. This episode, and all the ones that followed, started with pain in my upper abdomen which intensified over a period of several hours and radiated out over my entire abdomen, making it feel rigid and tight and burn like ice.

Eventually the pain was severe enough that I would spew because of it. Spewing would temporarily relieve the pain, for a minute or two anyway, and then the pain would build up again until it made me spew again. Each episode, from the onset of pain through to the pain and spewing subsiding lasted for six to eight hours. For some reason, each episode almost always began in the evening, which meant that the spewing was happening in the middle of the night. While every single person in the whole wide world was surely peacefully asleep I was dragging myself from bed to toilet and back again, sweating one minute with my head down the toilet, and shivering uncontrollably the next. All I wanted was to be asleep. I knew when I was through the worst of it because I would doze off for a second between a spew and the pain coming back. Eventually I’d be able to sleep and the next day I’d be pain free and on the road to recovery, not knowing how many weeks or months would pass before the next encounter.

I saw doctors, had blood and faeces tests and ultrasounds done, I described my situation to anyone who I thought could help me. But the tests didn’t reveal anything, and the reaction I got from most doctors was “well that’s very interesting but I have no idea what it is or how to help you”. I had acupuncture and drank foul-tasting Chinese medicine, I had neurolink sessions; I tried everything I could think of. In my desperation to try and make sense of what was happening to me I even considered that maybe I was creating my sickness myself and that it was a manifestation of my negative thoughts, or something crazy like that.

At first I just endured the pain and allowed the process to run its course, but this got old after about 10 episodes. So I started presenting myself at the hospital’s emergency department so a doctor could actually see me in the throes of an episode rather than me trying to describe it after the fact. Aaaah the morphine. I can’t even begin to describe how good it felt to have my pain taken away. All of a sudden I felt human again, freed from my private prison of pain.

I take my hat off to people that live with chronic pain. Nobody can feel anybody else’s pain, and nobody really wants to hear you go on about how bad your pain is. I’ll never know if my ten-out-of-ten pain was more or less painful than the next person’s, I’m just glad it’s over.

My trips to the emergency department always ended the same way: the morphine took the pain away, the blood tests revealed nothing, so, pain-free and no longer spewing I was sent on my merry way, none the wiser as to what the hell was wrong with me. Somewhere along the way I was prescribed codeine, probably to keep me out of ED so they could focus on real emergencies. This turned out to be a big problem though. The codeine was powerful enough to alleviate the pain for a few hours, which meant I wasn’t throwing up. But the throwing up was an important part of the bug’s cycle, as I found out later, and by interfering with that I was drawing out six to eight hours of pain and spewing into about four days of temporary pain suppression and reliance on pain killers and their side effects – anyone who’s taken codeine will know how it binds you up.

Everything was coming to a head in 2010. The episodes were increasing in frequency, nothing I was doing was helping, and I was feeling increasingly frustrated and worried. Each time the now-familiar pain would set in I would feel crushed inside from knowing what the next few hours and days would entail. I was beaten down both physically and emotionally – as someone who has always been fit and healthy it was devastating for me and left me feeling very vulnerable and fragile.

Mum was also really worried about me, and seeing as conventional medicine had failed me big time, suggested I go and see and old flame of hers who happened to be a medium. Now this is where my story might start to challenge your belief systems a bit, but it happened to me, despite being dubious about it myself, so I know that it’s true.

So I went to visit this fellow, whom I had not seen or spoken to or had any contact with for at least 20 years. He immediately informed me that I had a tropical parasite living in my digestive system. It was something uncommon in the Western world and wouldn’t have shown up in a faeces test, which only tests for a few common parasites. It was also very small, about the size of a match head, so an ultrasound wouldn’t have picked it up either. He said that for most of the bug’s life cycle it happily lived in my intestines without causing any discomfort to me, its host. But about every six weeks or so it needed to reproduce, and during its reproductive phase it moved from my intestines into my stomach and (somehow) caused pain so that it could be vomited up and spread into the world.

To this day, I don’t know if this is true, and if it is true, what this parasite is called. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is the fact that the advice he gave me worked and now I am free. It was pretty simple really, he said to take colloidal silver, and if that didn’t work to take ascorbic acid – dry and undiluted – when an episode was happening, as this would come in direct contact with the bug while it was in my stomach and scorch the mother fucker to smithereens (my words not his).

So I took the colloidal silver dutifully each day, and it stirred things up a bit but it wasn’t powerful enough on its own. One evening an episode was coming on, and as I waited with grim resolve for the first spew, instead of the pain increasing to spew-point it started to recede and then went away entirely. I was ecstatic! I wasn’t completely clear yet but something was changing. During the next episode, I decided to give the ascorbic acid a go. It burnt like fire, but it was easily tolerable in comparison to the pain I was used to.

The last episode happened in September 2010. I felt the pain coming on and I just sat with it, no interference with codeine or morphine. Immediately after each spew I swallowed about half a teaspoon of ascorbic acid. I visualised the bug in my tummy being killed by the ascorbic acid and I guess that’s what happened. I’ve been completely clear for four years and counting; not a murmur or a hint of the shit times that plagued me for four long years.

The day I visited the medium’s house he told me that his guides had been particularly active that morning, informing them of my condition, amongst other things. One even stopped by while I was there, causing his eyes to narrow to thin slits and flutter about as he sat in his armchair. He proceeded to tell me some things about me, personal things, while he was in this altered state. He told me that I have a heart like a marshmallow and that it gets hurt more easily than most, which is true. He told me that I’m like a fox terrier: once I get impassioned about something I can’t let it go, which is also true. Then he said that he could see me at a crossroads; I’d been walking along a path with someone for a long time, we’d come to a junction and the person I’d been with had turned and started walking in a different direction. I knew that I couldn’t follow this person on the path they’d chosen, but I didn’t know which path to take myself so I was left standing alone at this junction, unable to move at all, in any direction. This, of course, summed things up perfectly. The person was my ex, the path was the path we’d taken together, and the crossroads symbolised him moving on and me being left behind, unable to let go or move on.

In time I did let go and move on. And I’m eternally grateful that the information came to me to allow me to heal myself, regardless of its source.

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These words don’t make sense

In this post I’m going to talk about three phrases that are a little bit silly. They are ‘to lose weight’, ‘to be fat’, and ‘to be skinny’. Let’s start with losing weight.

Now, it’s true, I do see a fair few people around me that could benefit from shedding a few kilos, and most people seem to be happy when they see the number on the scales go down. But it’s not like “Oh my God, I’ve put my weight down somewhere and I can’t find it!” Technically, you don’t ‘lose’ anything, you burn off some of your body fat as a result of eating less junk food, moving more, eating healthier food, stopping comfort eating, lifting weights, balancing out your hormones, or any other of a host of reasons. Usually, you make a diet or lifestyle change for the better, you shed some excess body fat, and you feel better for it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve lost weight. Muscle is a lot denser than fat, so one kilogram of muscle takes up a lot less space than one kilogram of fat.

Say you cut some sugary junk food out of your diet which will stop you gaining more fat, and then you do some resistance training which will stimulate your body to grow muscle, as well as mobilising some of your fat stores and using them as energy, but the number on the scale goes up. You look different: you have less wobbly bits and more firm bits, you feel different – you’re noticeably stronger and everyday chores are so much easier, you feel better because you have more energy and you love the way your body looks and feels. Your silhouette is more shapely and you’re actually occupying less space, yet you haven’t lost any weight – you’ve actually gained some because you have more muscle now than you did before. Wonderful muscle that looks lovely and makes you feel strong and capable and needs to be fuelled with food even when it’s not working which means that you can eat more good food without worrying about it turning into fat. But you haven’t lost weight. Can you see how ridiculous this is? If you’re still not convinced, read this article and take a good look at the pictures.

Now, let’s move on to ‘being fat’. Technically, this doesn’t even make sense. It’s not like being an astronaut, or being an introvert, or being awake or being asleep. Nobody can be fat. We’re all human beings with a greater or lesser amount of fat on our bodies, but we’re people first – our percentages of adipose tissue should be way down the list of what makes each of us unique. And we all have some fat on us; whether it’s subcutaneous fat that lies between our muscle and our skin or visceral fat that sits around our organs, we all have it, and we can’t control where our bodies put it.

What we can control, however, is how much or how little of it we have. Now, I think it’s important to mention here that you can have a generous amount of fat on your body and still be healthy; if you eat well, move your body, feel good and are able to do all the things you want to do then what does it matter? Who am I to say that there’s anything wrong with that? There’s not. But if you’ve got a generous amount of fat on your body because you live on junk food and spend most of your day sitting, and you don’t feel good and can’t do half the things you’d like to be able to do… Well that’s a problem. And if you fit into that category it’s up to you to change. Your health is your own responsibility and it’s never too late make a change for the better. And if you’re raising children it’s absolutely your responsibility to teach them about good food.

Okay, on to ‘being skinny’. If someone says you’re healthy you probably have a good level of health, if someone says you’re wealthy you probably have a lot of money or other valuable assets, if someone says you’re skinny you probably have a lot of… skin? Is it because you’re just skin and bones? Even the Oxford Dictionary defines skinny as being “unattractively thin”, yet for so many women being skinny is their number one goal in life.

When I talk about goals with my clients I ask them what they’d like to be able to see or feel or do that tells them that their goal has been achieved, and more often than not feeling better or doing more is a more meaningful affirmation than simply seeing a change.

So yes, you can have a slim body but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be healthy, or happy. You could even have a slim body with a generous amount of fat on top and a stingy amount of muscle underneath. Or you could stop worrying about whether you’re too fat or too skinny and just be yourself.

For me, I want to feel good and healthy and strong and have all the energy I need each day to be able to do the things I want to do. And so I eat accordingly, so that I have the energy to do these things. And I move my body in a way that makes me feel alive and strong without exhausting me. And it’s a work in progress. And it probably always will be.

Back to the Drawing Board

My candida has come back. Mother fucker. Like an unwelcome house guest it’s snuck back in to take up residence in my body, unexpected and uninvited. That said, I have had a sneaking suspicion for the last month or so that something’s not quite right with my health. First I got thrush for no apparent reason, despite not having had it for years. I’ve also been finding that whenever I eat sugar I get terribly bloated and gassy. In the last week or so I’ve had achy muscles and joints, but I put that down to recovering from walking 100 kilometres with a heavy pack. I should have bounced back quicker than I have though, and I feel like there’s a missing link between the quality of the food that I put in and the quality of the energy that I get back.

So I did the spit test and it was an epic fail: my saliva quickly gravitated towards the bottom of the glass of water, forming a putrid powdery layer. The last time I did the spit test was about four months ago and the result was pretty good; a little bit sank but most of it was still floating on the top after a good half hour or so – an ideal result would have all of it floating on the top after half an hour (this is done first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything).

First came indignation, frustration and disappointment, then came resignation. At least this time I’m better equipped and I know exactly what I have to do. Last time, the thought of life with no sugar was almost incomprehensible. In some morbid kind of way I’m almost pleased: sugar has been creeping sneakily into my life, and I, thinking that I can handle it, have allowed it. This always happens with me – I make a rule and initially I’m very strict with it and I get the result that I want. Over time, I relax the rule a bit and it seems to be okay, so I relax it some more. Then, all of a sudden, the rule has become so relaxed that it barely exists, and I find myself where I am now – unwell and, as a result, needing to rewrite my own rules so that I can get well again.

I’m actually quite optimistic about this, up until recently I have been feeling really good, so I think with a concerted effort I can knock this candida palaver on the head without too much of a drama. This is the candida elimination diet that I follow:

BASIC RULES

  • Avoid ALL junk food and anything containing white sugar, white flour, yeast and soft drinks.
  • Include as much nutritious food as you like from a wide variety of sources.
  • Avoid ALL sugars, chocolate, honey, molasses and maple syrup.
  • Avoid ALL fruits and fruit juices.
  • Try not to eat the same foods every day.
  • Feature low-carbohydrate vegetables, seafood, lean meats and eggs in your diet. You can include one serving of high-carbohydrate vegetables OR a single portion of whole grain at each meal.

 FOODS YOU CAN EAT FREELY:

  • Vegetables: Most of these vegetables contain lots of fibre and are relatively low in carbohydrates. They can be fresh or frozen and you can eat them raw or cooked: asparagus, string beans, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, capsicums, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, lettuce, onions, parsley, radishes, spinach, tomatoes.
  • Meat & Eggs: Chicken, turkey, beef, lean cuts, veal, lamb, wild game, shrimp, crab, lobster, tuna, other seafood, salmon, mackerel, cod, sardines, eggs, other fresh or frozen fish that is not breaded.
  • Beverages: Water and non-sweetened herb teas.

 FOODS YOU CAN EAT CAUTIOUSLY:

  •  High Carbohydrate Vegetables: Sweet corn, peas, pumpkin, beans, potatoes (baked only – not any other way!), kumara.
  • Whole Grains: Barley, corn, millet, oats, rice, wheat.
  • Breads, Biscuits & Muffins: All breads, biscuits and muffins should be made with baking powder or baking soda, NOT yeast.
  • Dairy: Acidophilus yoghurt (plain, unsweetened), butter.

 FOODS YOU MUST AVOID:

  • Sugar & Sugar Containing Foods: Sugar, and other simple carbohydrates including sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, maltose, lactose, glucose, mannitol, sorbitol, galactose. Also avoid honey, treacle, molasses, maple syrup, agave syrup, etc.
  • Packaged & Processed Foods: Canned, bottled, boxed and other processed, packaged foods usually contain refined sugar and other hidden ingredients.
  • Breads, Pastries & Other Raised Bakery Goods
  • Milk & Cheeses, especially mouldy cheeses.
  • Alcoholic Beverages: Wine, beer, whiskey, brandy, gin, rum, vodka and other fermented liquors and beverages such as cider and ginger beer.
  • Condiments, Sauces & Vinegar-Containing Foods: Mustard, marmite, tomato sauce (and all variants), Worcestershire sauce, MSG, chili, shrimp and soy sauces, pickles, and anything else pickled, tamari, vinegar (except apple cider vinegar), and anything containing vinegar for example mayonnaise, salad dressings (especially fat-free ones, as they are high in carbohydrates). Freshly squeezed lemon juice mixed with spirulina powder and flax oil can be substituted.
  • Malt Products
  • Processed & Smoked Meats
  • Mushrooms & Other Edible Fungi
  • Melons, especially watermelon, rockmelon & honeydew
  • Coffee & Tea, Fruit Juice & Soft Drinks
  • Dried & Candied Fruits
  • Leftover food (has the potential to grow mould)

 As you can see, there’s a bit more to getting candida under control than simply not eating sugar. Luckily for me, my diet largely fits into the ‘eat freely’ and ‘eat cautiously’ sections anyway. Interestingly, nuts and seeds are not mentioned anywhere in the elimination diet, but I’d hedge a bet that they are all fine, except for peanuts, which grow below the ground so they may contain mould or fungus, and should therefore be avoided.

I do pretty much all my cooking from scratch so I know exactly what’s in it and what isn’t. The only things I’m unwilling to forgo entirely are coffee and fruit. I generally only have one coffee a day, first thing in the morning, and I don’t feel the need to cut this out at this point in time, I’ve battled with the idea of giving up coffee – the last time I tried I lasted for 17 days but I was miserable without it. At least now I’m only having one a day rather than the four or five I was often having back then.

I’m of two minds about fruit: on the one hand it contains fructose, which is sugar, and therefore will feed candida. On the other hand, it also contains fibre, vitamins, mineral, antioxidants and phytonutrients, all of which promote health. In terms of the concentrations of sugar, eating whole, fresh, raw fruit is nowhere near the same as eating candy bars or drinking soft drinks.

It depends on the fruit too; apples and pears have the most sugar, and I almost never eat these anyway. At the moment, the only fruits I’m intending to eat are strawberries and papayas, and I think this will be okay. Oh and lemons and grapefruit – technically these are citrus fruits but they contain barely any sugar and have loads of benefits, such as being highly alkalising, aiding digestion, and being high in Vitamin C and prebiotic bacteria (this is what probiotic bacteria eats). I actually eat lemons like they’re oranges: I cut one into segments and eat the flesh and the pith – it’s delicious!

As well as eating all the right things and none of the wrong things, I’ll also be barricading my system with these goodies:

  • Apple cider vinegar: This is some kind of cure-all wonder tonic, and I could easily dedicate an entire blog post to it. But for now, it’s great for alkalising, aiding digestion, cleansing the blood, and protecting against arthritis. Yes, apple cider vinegar is made from apples, which contain sugar, but the fermentation process converts the sugar into beneficial enzymes and amino acids. Anyone who’s tried it knows it is not sweet! I use Bragg‘s because its organic, contains the ‘mother’ and tastes good.
  • Probiotics: My ratio of good to bad gut bacteria is obviously skewed the wrong way at the moment; otherwise my candida would be back where it belongs, on the periphery, not ruling the show. Loading up with good bacteria will help set things straight; I like to use Reuteri, as I experience a tangible improvement when I use it.
  • Horopito: Mum just put me onto this one. Horopito is a native New Zealand shrub that’s been used in traditional Māori medicine for ages. It has natural anti-fungal properties, and yeasts are merely single-celled funguses. The product is called Kolorex.
  •  Sauerkraut: For whatever reason, cabbage appears to be superior in terms of its concentrations of prebiotic and probiotic bacteria. Fermenting it increases the concentrations even more. You should be able to find sauerkraut on your supermarket shelf (ideally you’d choose an organic one that’s been made without wine), or you can make it yourself.
  •  Chlorophyll: Chlorophyll is the pigment from plants that makes them green. It soothes the lining of the intestines and helps with nutrient uptake. I use this one.

 With this arsenal of awesomeness my spit will be floating in no time!

 

 

I love AFMs!

People talk about having an alcohol-free day (AFD) – that’s tiddlywinks. Round here I prefer to have an alcohol-free month (AFM). My first AFM was last August, and the first drink I had after a month sans booze was a bit of a let-down; I felt slightly off-balance and uncoordinated but that was about it. Then, after my six week alcohol-free stint through November and December I was even more loathe to break my fast. I knew once that first sip touched my lips I’d be right back to day zero, and I almost didn’t want to go there because I was quite proud of myself and my achievement. I felt a bit ashamed of myself while buying a bottle of wine from the supermarket, like I was some kind of juvenile delinquent who should’ve outgrown their bad habit by now.

I anticipated that by the end of January I’d probably be about ready to take another break from drinking, and so I have. Things are just better when I don’t drink. I feel better about myself and that feeling overflows into other aspects of my life: I exercise more, and when I exercise more I make better food choices, eat smaller portions, and cease to pick mindlessly at food when I’m not hungry. I sleep better too, and I’m far more productive with my time.

I always gain weight when I drink alcohol, it doesn’t matter what else I do or don’t do, it’s a simple fact. I guess it’s because alcohol is high in calories, seven per gram, yet it’s usually additional to the food one eats, not instead of. It also lowers one’s inhibitions, in the realm of food as well as other areas. Do you find all those healthy eating promises you’ve made yourself go flying out the window after you’ve had a few? Or is it the next day, when only a massive fry-up will soothe your hangover?

I’m starting to get the feeling that I might only want to drink once a month. One day, any day, out of each month I’m allowed to drink and that’s it. I need to make rules like this for myself otherwise bad habits start to creep in. Rules are good – I choose them, then I stick with them, and I get a sense of satisfaction for doing what I said I was going to do. Alcohol really doesn’t do anything for me these days anyway. I’m moving on and it feels good.

This AFM is actually five weeks. It started on the 3rd of February and will finish on the 8th of March. From the 3rd to the 8th of March I’m going tramping, like I said I was going to; I am a woman of my word, after all. The last day of the tramp marks my 34th birthday and my guy will come and meet me at the end of the track with Baileys and ice cream. Or maybe I’ll feel so pure after six days of being immersed in nature that I won’t want to pollute my body with alcohol and sugar. Ha, we shall see. I’ll let you know how I get on.

 

 

My Dry August

I decided to give up alcohol for the month of August. I’m not a heavy drinker, but I do find that unhealthy habits tend to creep in when I don’t make rules for myself. Mostly I just wanted to see what it was like. I wanted to see what I would do in the instances when I would normally have a drink, like on a Friday evening when work’s done for the week, or at the end of a particularly crap day, or in a social situation where everyone else was drinking.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t drink during the last five or so days of July, so (technically) I’ve already done a month. But I won’t break my alcohol fast until the first of September, which happens to be a Sunday, and the first day of spring – I’ll drink to that! So how’s it been going for a month without alcohol? Surprisingly easy actually. I did choose the month of August for a reason though: it’s the last month of winter here in New Zealand, so there’s not a hell of a lot going on. I’m also finishing up at a job I’ve been doing over winter, and preparing to focus my energy on being an awesome personal trainer. So I wanted to have a clear mind and a healthy body so that I could get stuff done. Coincidentally, I also started this blog.

Usually, for me, when I make a decision that involves a lifestyle change, I will have mulled it over in my mind for quite a while first. When I start acting on the decision, my resolve is already set and I’ll unwaveringly stick with it. Making the decision in the first place can be the hardest part; once the decision’s been made then there’s no turning back.

So let’s talk a little bit about the way that I drink. I don’t drink beer or wine; the one exception to this is Stone’s green ginger wine, which I love (but have watered down with ice and lemon juice). Other than that, I usually reach for the top shelf: gin and tonic in summer (Bombay Sapphire all the way), whisky and dry in winter (Jameson’s or Canadian Club).

In case you’re wondering, I made this drink for photographic purposes and refrained from adding any gin.

Now, I feel like a bit of a hypocrite because I mentioned in an earlier post that I don’t eat sugar, so let’s break this down. There’s no sugar in the gin or the whisky – the sugar has become alcohol. There is some sugar in the mixer though. The tonic that I use (Schweppes – not diet) is 8.9 % sugar, and the dry ginger ale is 9.8 % sugar. As a comparison, milk is 4.7 % sugar – that’s from the naturally occurring lactose in it. As another comparison, coke and apple juice are 10.6 and 10.2 %, respectively. So I make myself a gin and tonic: I start with lots of ice, I then add the alcohol, then the juice of a lemon or a lime, a sprig of mint, then the tonic. By the time the tonic goes in the glass is already half full, so, 8.9 % of half a glass = not much really. The alcohol is doing as much harm as the sugar is, in this instance.

What kind of harm? Well, interestingly, the body metabolises alcohol in almost the same way as it metabolises sugar (the fructose part anyway, which is one of the monosaccharides that forms sucrose (table sugar); glucose is the other). The liver is responsible for breaking down both the alcohol and the fructose, and they both produce the same by-product: fat. Also, because alcohol is a toxin, the body has to prioritise the metabolism of it over and above many of its numerous other important jobs, which all have to sit on the back burner until the alcohol’s been dealt with.

So, have I felt any benefits from not drinking for a month? Yes I have. My digestive system feels clean and clear and healthy. Anyone who’s had a big night on the booze will know how corrosive and inflammatory and acidifying alcohol can be. Plus I haven’t had to deal with anything remotely resembling a hangover. Am I looking forward to having a drink tomorrow? Yes I am. I think my beloved is looking forward to it almost more than I am though. I promised I wouldn’t be boring, going sober for a month, but maybe I have been a little dull compared to my intoxicated alter ego.

I intend to make amends for that tomorrow.