Resolutions Revisited

Each January many people make New Year’s Resolutions (myself included) with the intent of getting the new year off on the right start. We associate resolutions as spoken intentions for improved overall health and wellness, and oftentimes, weight loss is the marker of health and success.

Our Paleo journey doesn’t have much to do with weight loss, so to many it may be harder to measure and appear not as exciting. If Chad or I had lost a significant amount of weight due to our Paleo lifestyle, a lot more people would be genuinely interested in how we live and specifically what we eat. When someone you know or love loses weight, it’s natural to give encouraging words of support and pour on the praise. It’s not as common to hear these same words of encouragement when you’ve accomplished something not as trendy or mainstream like healing your child’s leaky gut or curing your crippling PMS.

In addition, you rarely hear if people were successful with their resolutions and if they achieved the wellness and personal satisfaction that they were striving for. Nobody really says that they’re still working on their resolutions in February or March of the new year, let alone after Memorial Day.

We recognize that our journey toward better health is unique. Charlotte’s health issues put us on a fast-track toward changing our lifestyle and making resolutions just helped us define our plan and create accountability for ourselves.

So I’m breaking the mold as we make our way to the halfway point of 2012. I want to revisit our resolutions and continue to define our path toward wellness. My hope is that this post inspires you to look at health and wellness as a personal path that can create just as many internal changes and transformations that lead to a better life as external ones that everyone will notice.

Back in January, I wrote this post about goals and resolutions around our health that I thought were achievable and would be beneficial for my family. My list included darkening our bedrooms to improve sleep quality, making more traditional foods like bone broth and sauerkraut, as well as starting this blog.

And it’s a funny thing about intentions and focus. While we haven’t achieved each desired goal exactly as I laid it out in January, we have made huge strides to improving our health via these same channels.

Sleep–we have not been able to achieve any more darkness in our bedrooms over the last 6 months, but we have improved the quality of our sleep immensely. About a month ago, we took on the daunting challenge of sleep-training Charlotte, waking several times per night to train her to stay in her own bed and fall back to sleep on her own. I am happy to report she now consistently sleeps in her own bed and we have all felt the effects of improved sleep quality. (Stay tuned for a sleep and special needs post in the future as I learn more on this topic)

Traditional Foods–we have incorporated more bone broths into our diet and do now eat store-bought sauerkraut on a regular basis. But if you are a regular reader here, you know it’s been the addition of organ meat, specifically liver, that has taken our health to the next level.

Blogging–with just over 200 likes on Facebook to date and plenty warm comments from friends and family on the content of this blog, I am pleased to say it has become a healthy hobby for me. I love sharing our successes with you and reading your comments. In the coming months I hope to blog more often and give you lots of helpful and quality content to guide your journey toward better health. That being said, if you are the parent of a special needs child, you understand the demands and hopefully forgive any infrequency of new material. (Let me know in the comments if there is something specific you want me to cover)

What’s great about achieving the above goals is not only the interpersonal pat-on-the-back satisfaction that comes with checking completed items off the to-do list, but recognizing that these were realistic goals that actually brought us to a place where we live a better quality of life. As Chad and I feel the benefits of increased energy, more patience and better moods, our kids benefit as well. Charlotte performs so much better at school and therapy as a result of better sleep and more nutrient-dense foods. Dana has continued to excel at school and made it through allergy season with barely a sniffle.

So where will the next 6 months take us?

The more I learn about nutrient depletion, the more I see how it has played a huge part in so many of our health-realted issues. Continuing to improve the quality of our food (particularly meat) while staying within our budget will be a constant challenge for us. Stay tuned for posts on how we are able to track down and afford pasture-raised pork and chicken, pastured eggs, and grass-fed beef.

After a whirlwind Spring, I’m hoping to get healthy with some downtime and increase our play. Longer summer days and less commitments to school and activities will hopefully bring family and friends together for sunshine, fun times, and healthy meals.

As Charlotte’s issues continue to improve, we would love to add short trips and changes into our routine to see how she responds. Loosening the grip on consistency in her world and letting her experience the ups and downs that life brings will prove to be the ultimate mainstreaming experience.

What were your New Year’s Resolutions? Did you meet them and if so, did they improve the quality of your life? If so, pat yourself on the back and continue celebrating the achievements and successes that come with living a healthier lifestyle.

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Nutrients & Anti-nutrients

Since I’ve experienced a significant reduction in my PMS sytmptoms and had a noticable difference in my hair re-growth, I have come to accept nutrient-dense beef liver one of the staples in my diet. Rather than treating my thinning hair and severe PMS as unfixable and unfortunate genetic gifts that I was just going to have to live with, I’ve recognized these annoying traits as important messages from my body. As a reward for paying attention, my body has responded with thicker hair and a better mood.

What’s amazing to me is how the body knows to prioritize these sacred nutrients. Now that I realize that it takes nutrients to make the systems of the body work together (something that I had always just taken for granted before), I can understand that my life-giving organs (heart, lungs, etc) and my life-making organs (uterus) take what they need while somehow my body knows that I will survive another day if my hair health and happiness level remain unattended for a while.

What’s beautiful about my Paleo journey is that I can apply it to the adorable bundles of genetic material sitting at the breakfast table with me every morning. Feeding their bodies fresh pastured eggs and fresh fruit gives me a sense of pride and relief that they are getting a host of nutrients that will power them through their day and give them a better foundation of overall health. I recognize that their bodies and minds are developing faster than I can keep nutrient-dense foods in them, and with unlimited funds and energy, I’d be giving them the cleanest, pastured-raised and most nutrient-dense proteins alongside locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables.

What’s puzzling to me about the food industry is how foods that we were not designed to eat (grains, legumes, and even dairy) end up in packages containing messages of health and nutrition for those who consume them. Bagels and cereal are disguised as food when really they are the opposite of health. All grains contain anti-nutrients, and as you may have guessed by my recent love-affair with nutrients, they are something that I want nothing to do with. In fact, I’m hoping that this post gets you seriously thinking about replacing your nutrient-deficient bowl of cereal with a nutrient-rich scrambled egg.

So what is an anti-nutrient and why is it so bad?

From the What is Paleo? page on this site: It is important to think of grains as a plant that lives in the wild and must defend itself from predators like any animal would. Grains and like plants use toxins called anti-nutrients (lectin, gluten, phytates) to protect themselves from being eaten. That is why they must go through extensive processing to be edible for humans. The heavy processing still leaves inflammatory agents in the grains that wreak havoc on our digestive systems, insulin regulation, and other bodily functions. Contrary to Conventional Wisdom, even whole grains are not healthy.

In addition, anti-nutrients do just what their name implies–they prevent the body’s absorption of these crucial vitamins and minerals.

Respecting the body and learning its signals is an important part of regaining our overall health. In our case, using the Paleo diet to restore nutrients to mine and Charlotte’s depleted systems, we enabled a healing process that is leading us out of a desperate situation. We’re not alone. A nutrient-rich Paleo diet has healed many broken and depleted systems.The internet is filled with Paleo success stories of individuals healing themselves from everything from Fibromyalgia to GERD.

Adding nutrients to improve Autism may be catching on. In this article on minimizing Autism incidence, posted by my friends Molly & Leah at A Ventography, nutritional deficiencies were listed as a critical component to treating Autism. And while I recognize that the causes and severity of Autism and related disorders are complex and vary from child to child, it doesn’t seem to make any sense to continue to feed our children and ourselves anything that would prevent the optimum absorption of nutrients.

I often say that we treated Charlotte’s Autism by treating it as a symptom of distress within the network of systems that is her body. All of the nutrients that she eats and the anti-nutrients that she avoids have given her body the ability to heal itself. As she grows and understands how food makes her feel, she will learn the valuable lesson of listening to and respecting her body’s capabilities and limits.

For more information on food politics and the over-production of grains, see part 4 of this HBO Documentary: The Weight of the Nation.

Click here for a video clip of Mark Sisson discussing the effects grains have on our bodies.

Robb Wolf’s post on Kids, Paleo, and Nutrient Density.

Solving the Mystery of PMS

Have you ever had one of those moments when you are going about your day, feeling like you’ve got a handle on yourself and your emotions and then all-of-a-sudden you’re freaking out and completely overreacting? It almost feels like you’re watching yourself cry/scream/fight in some kind of B movie that you can’t turn off. You feel completely out of control and you hear the voice in your head telling you that you need to get a grip/calm down/relax, but that voice is being slapped around by a force that wants to be reckoned with.

It’s a horrible feeling to completely lose control over your words, thoughts, and emotions. Regret and guilt rush in and take over when the anger and frustration have exhausted themselves. Anything said or done in front of your family, friends, or coworkers cannot be taken back and embarrassment and shame fall quickly in line.

My worst PMS moments have been like this, and the term “mood swing” doesn’t seem to do justice to the range of physical and emotional turmoil that I have the potential to feel. A few years ago, I sat in my psychiatrist’s office and awkwardly tried to describe how I awful I felt each month. I explained that I could feel the out-of-control feeling coming on as early as ovulation, and it didn’t subside until day 1 or 2 of my cycle. I took a deep breath when he promptly pulled out a little book, hoping there was a cure for the worst parts of myself in there. He began to read aloud a list of symptoms. With each symptom I answered “yes” to, my chest tightened a bit, and by the end of the list, he looked me in the eye and announced that I had PMDD. (PMDD is basically a more severe set of PMS symptoms that negatively impact day-to-day life) I wasn’t really surprised and anxiously waited for something…anything that would help me. The only alternative he presented to me was to increase my medications at ovulation and taper off when I felt better.

I was already eating Paleo and was making a conscious effort to use my nutrient-dense diet to come down from the sky-high amounts of drugs that had been prescribed to me at the onset of my adrenal fatigue/depression. It was shortly after this appointment that I sought out acupuncture and herbal remedies to help with the monthly mood swings. I found relief in this practice, but not in the fees that were not covered by my insurance. For the next 6 months or so, I continued the herbal treatments with some relief in the form of mood stabilization and increased energy, but struggled with late periods and longer cycles.

A couple of months ago, to my delight, I noticed that I didn’t need to take the herbs as often. I’d feel fine past ovulation and sneak in a couple if I needed them, but generally felt more in control, and I even noticed that I was actually pleasant to be around during the luteal phase of my cycle. I even wrote about how I avoided a meltdown.

And just last month, I felt a little edgy but still under control during a tense conversation with Chad, so I checked the calendar. You can imagine how I felt when I realized I was 1 WEEK AWAY from starting my period–7 days out, and I was in control of my mood. I promptly reported to Chad, “I’m normal! I am only having 1 week of mild PMS symptoms!” His reaction was a priceless mix of fear at having the wrong response and general relief.

I began to ask myself what had happened over the last few months that could have improved my symptoms so significantly. The answer may not surprise you…liver has been dubbed a Superfood in the Paleo world, and now I can safely say that I agree. In addition to regrowing my hair, the liver has helped with my PMS (I mean PMDD). The best part is that it’s not that hard. You may have read that we have been eating 4-6 ounces of liver consistently every week in our burgers or meatloaf. It’s relatively inexpensive, and we have not noticed a difference in the taste of the food. Click here for the burger recipe.

With a little research and a hunch, I also discovered that these nutrients are required to make the menstrual cycle happen each month.  I was listening to the Balanced Bites podcast #32 on my walk a few weeks ago, and when Liz began talking about how Vitamin B-6 and A were key in synthesizing the delicate dance of estrogen and progesterone every month, I listened carefully, knowing that these were in the vitamins that I used for relief of my symptoms.

What I can conclude is that every month around ovulation, my body strips the available nutrients from my liver necessary for the rising and falling of hormones that allow an egg to drop, ready for fertilization. The mood issues come into play when I’m trying to function without sufficient nutrients. When I eat just a few ounces of beef liver each week, I get enough Vitamin A, B-6, and B-12 to allow the hormones to ebb and flow like they are designed to and there’s enough leftover in my system for me to function normally.

[graph courtesy of Fit Day. Nutrients for 1 ounce of beef liver]

You may be asking yourself why I don’t just take the vitamins instead of dealing with cow’s liver. Somehow my body seems to know the difference between the synthetic vitamins pictured above and the real deal. I feel better in the short-term, but the communication of hormones is interrupted and my period is delayed when I pop the pill form.

I think I may be on to something here as anything I read online having to do with PMS and food has to do with so many women being unable to keep their cravings in check. My theory is that the body is low on nutrients just before bleeding occurs. The body is starving for nutrients and tells the mind to go get food. That may explain why we crave sugar, salts, carbs, and all of the foods we know we shouldn’t eat.

In addition to the cow’s liver, I’ve been supplementing with magnesium for cramping and breast tenderness. Chocolate contains magnesium and may be a reason why women can’t stay away from chocolate certain times of the month. Magnesium is an essential mineral that relaxes the body. We also use it for soreness from exercise and help with sleep.

I am so full of hope and overcome with relief as I begin this leg of my journey toward wellness. I have learned so much about what my body needs to function effectively, and after years of living in a depleted state, I can finally enjoy the benefits of a healed and healthy body. In addition, my girls enjoy the liver burgers every week and magnesium supplements a few times per week. Hopefully, they will be better equipped to win the battle over their own hormones someday.

The Favorite Food Technique

The Favorite Food Technique

I often feel like a kid again when I hear my 4 and 7-year-old daughters playing happily together. Their favorite activities–playing School, Barbies, or Dress-up take me back to the days when my younger sister and I played happily together for hours. It’s often a warm and wonderful feeling to re-live my positive childhood moments, and just like any parent, I try to keep my girls’ lives and happy and positive, keeping moments of uncertainty few and far between, especially when it comes to food.

This is easier said than done–eating Paleo foods consistently is crucial to their health but giving up the unhealthy overly processed favorite foods without a huge battle seems impossible on some days.

It hasn’t been easy, but over time, my husband and I have learned some tricks that have helped keep the eating experience positive while supporting the child during a time of change.

Favorite Food. Every child has at least one favorite food, if not more. Using the Favorite Food Technique consistently during your Paleo transition can be a very powerful tool. It allows your child to have some control over the eating experience, but also gives you some power with introducing new foods.

Here’s an example:

It’s lunch time and you would like your child to try some roasted chicken or other healthy protein in the place of an unhealthy option like macaroni-and-cheese that you are trying to phase out.

Sometimes it can be Easy-Peasey Lemon Squeezy (a favorite saying around our house)

You’ve discussed the upcoming food changes with your child. Maybe you’ve picked out some new foods to try together or had your child help you prepare them. Once you feel that your child is as ready as they’re going be, present the plate with the roasted chicken and a small portion of a Favorite Food. Depending on where you are with your Paleo transition, the Favorite Food can be something like the mac-and-cheese or another healthier favorite, like strawberries. If your child is like mine, he/she will probably gobble up the mac-and-cheese/strawberries and ask for more while the roasted chicken sits untouched. Calmly explain that he or she will get more Favorite Food when the roasted chicken is finished.

Enter all stalling/defiance/testing tactics of said child here: picking at food, moving it around on the plate, feeding it to the dog, etc. It’s important to hold firm and encourage the child to try the roasted chicken. Have another portion of the Favorite Food within reach to show the child that they will be rewarded for trying a new food. Use your discretion here. If you just want the child to try the Healthy Food, reward with the Favorite Food as soon as the bite is chewed and swallowed. If your goal is to get them to eat the entire serving of chicken, wait until it’s finished before serving the Favorite Food.

Hopefully, the child will recognize how great the roasted chicken tastes, gobble it up, and be rewarded with the Favorite Food. Continue The Favorite Food Technique consistently with each meal until the Favorite Foods become Healthy Foods and pat yourself on the back when you’re telling your kids they can have more kale chips when they’ve finished their steak.

Sometimes it take a little Tough Love.

Again, if your child is like mine, it takes more strategy and planning. If your child refused to eat the roasted chicken and only eats a small serving of mac-and-cheese or strawberries for lunch, they will learn how unsuccessful that was. Allow them to get down from the table and go about their day. When hunger strikes and your child comes back for more food in a few minutes, use your discretion. Giving them the Favorite Food without the Healthy Food will teach them what works to get the reward–stall at mealtime, get down, get hungry, go back and bug mom/dad for Favorite Food.

When your child comes back to you for more food and is asking specifically for more mac-and-cheese, continue to offer the Healthy Food first. Sit them back at the table and serve Healthy Food (preferably something different than the roasted chicken–you don’t want to rehash the same battle) before giving the Favorite Food. Do not put any of the Favorite Food on the plate until they have tried/finished the Healthy Food. The point is to develop a pattern of predictability and safety for the child around new foods.

Reinforcing the child’s positive behavior keeps the eating experience positive and limits the battling that can often go on when you are introducing a new food. You know it’s working when you see your child more comfortable and willing around trying new foods. Keep working at it and lessening the servings of unhealthy processed foods. Once the processed foods are eliminated, it gets even easier. Kids begin to enjoy the flavors and textures of fruits, vegetables and proteins and pretty soon they’ll be Eating Like a Dinosaur!

A few more tips:

Remain calm–remember to keep the eating environment positive by guiding the child with the reward. If it begins to become a battle, remove the child from the table and try again when you both are calm.

Limit the liquids–make sure you keep heavy liquids like milk (raw, coconut, or otherwise) off the table until the child tries/eats the Healthy Food. Many kids will fill up on milk for the meal, missing out on the meal’s nutrients.

Choice–when introducing a newer food, be firm about the expectation and offer a limited number of choices. “We’re having eggs for breakfast. Would you like scrambled or hard boiled eggs?”

Consistency–make sure you and your partner are on the same team with this approach. Work together so your child knows you mean business.

Keep it fun–hugs, cheering and high 5s are allowed when kids try new foods! Celebrate the successes to keep it fun and positive.

The tips above were recommended to our family from our behavior therapist, Rebecca Kerley, in the early days of Charlotte’s issues. We’ve used The Favorite Food Technique throughout our journey and continue to use it when serving less desirable foods. Hopefully, your family will benefit from it as much as ours has.

Quick & Easy Veggie Side Dishes

About a year ago, Chad left on a business trip and I was left to figure out what to cook for dinner for several nights. The problem was that my cooking skills were limited. We had been eating Paleo for about a year, and he did all of the cooking. While he was gone, I did manage to pull together some gluten-free meals for the kids, but they end up being processed foods with minimal nutrients.

That same week, the girls and I were treated to dinner by my friend, Kimberly, a busy mom whose husband was also traveling. When I saw my kids gobble up the colorful fruits, vegetables, and roasted chicken that she had prepared, I was motivated to face the challenge of cooking a healthy dinner for my family.

A few days later I was trying recipes from Everyday Paleo and teaching myself the basics. After about a year of following recipes, instruction from Chad, and lots of practice cooking Paleo dinners, I’ve mastered a few quick options (they’re too easy to even be called recipes) that have become family favorites.

Sweet Potato Chips

Peel a sweet potato and slice it in half. Place the flat half on the thinnest setting of a mandolin slicer and slide across (carefully!) to create thin chips. If you don’t have a mandolin, use a sharp knife and try to get the slices as thin and even as possible.

Take 2 to 3 tablespoons of coconut oil and heat in a skillet on medium heat. When the oil is hot (not smoking), place the sliced sweet potatoes in the oil. The thinner chips will cook very quickly (1-2 minutes per side). Flip over the chip with tongs when the edges begin to look golden brown. Cook 1 to 2 minutes per side and place them on a paper towel next to the pan. Sprinkle the chips with sea salt and cinnamon.

If you cook a big batch of these, use them for kids’ lunches, snacks, or this Everyday Paleo Spanish Tortilla recipe.

Kale Chips

A bunch of kale from the grocery store or local Farmer’s Market is a weekly staple for us–cost-effective, loaded with nutrients, and versatile. While I love kale sautéed and cooked like spinach, my girls gobble up kale chips. Charlotte recently said kale chips were her favorite vegetable.

Wash a bunch of kale and remove the leaves from the stems. Discard the stems, dry the leaves with a paper towel, and chop the leaves into chip-sized pieces. Toss the leaves in a bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Use as much oil as you would if you were tossing a salad.

Place the oiled leaves on a cookie sheet. I baked mine in an oven with the rest of my dinner at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. (a higher temperature like 400 degrees also works for about 12 minutes) The chips are done when the edges are brown, not burnt and the leaves look crispy. Sprinkle with some more sea salt, if desired.

Carrot Chips

This is one of the veggies Kimberly prepared the night she hosted us for dinner. It has become a quick and easy option that is my go-to veggie when I know we are going to walk in the door starving. If I already have a protein cooking in the slow cooker, this side dish can be made in 5 minutes.

Boil a small pot of water. Using a bag of carrot chips from the produce department of your local grocery store, put 1 to 2 handfuls of chips in the boiling water with a teaspoon of honey and a pinch of salt (if desired). Boil chips until tender (about 3 to 4 minutes) and top with some grass-fed butter.

These are also great for sneaking veggies into some lunches at home. Add them to   school lunches if your kids like cold and crunchy carrots.

Serve any of these side dishes with a fruit salad and a healthy protein to make a delicious and easy Paleo meal.

Feel free to share your quick and easy family favorites in the comments below.