Back in January, I was crying in my doctor’s office. I’ve been exhausted for the past 6 years. At first, I thought it was called “having baby twins” and expected things would get better as they started sleeping better. But they’re turning 6 this month, and they’ve been sleeping great for actual years, and I was still falling-down-exhausted all of the time. This was something I felt great guilt and shame about. I took multiple-hour naps most days while getting 8-10 hours of sleep per night and I still felt exhausted all of the time. I had no energy to do anything beyond basically existing, and I felt like a lazy slob. I had also figured out by then that this wasn’t about having twins, but about the hardcore medicines I have to stay on because my heart failed that one time and we found out I have a congenital defect.
As I cried to my doctor, she wondered briefly if I had sleep apnea or thyroid problems (no and no, it turns out), but concluded that yeah, feeling the way I felt was pretty normal with the doses of medication I was on. This didn’t make me feel better, because I’m never allowed to stop taking this stuff. I am on it forever, because I like the whole “having a heartbeat thing.” When I pictured years and years of the future feeling that way, I just felt depressed and hopeless.
Jon and I like to try different diets around Lent, not always as a Lenten discipline, but because it’s a good time for us to make those sort of changes, and having a finite time period works well for us. I have, like you, a zillion friends who are rather…enthusiastic about the Whole 30 program. I have argued with them about it, even. Expressed my disinterest in ever trying it. Freaked out because I read that article about the woman who did Whole 30 and lost her ability to eat dairy, my favorite food and one of my great joys in life, no exaggeration.
I did not read the book, or anything, but I actually suggested to Jon that we try it…. for him. He has some gut/digestive issues and is lactose intolerant, and we thought maybe trying an elimination-type diet might help us figure out something to make him feel better. We decided to try it for Lent, making it more of a Whole 40. We also decided not to be super rigid about it, me especially– I didn’t want to lose my ability to eat cheese, and wasn’t super keen on giving up dairy, grains, sugar AND booze, so I decided to let myself have wine on the weekends and some cheese here and there. (Yes, I know, Whole 30 purists would love to start yelling at me about how it’s not really Whole 30, then, and frankly I do not give a flying flip.)
We’re now past the 30 day mark and I really might keep going forever. Really.
First, I would like to pause and say that I truly believe every body is different and that I think different bodies need different things and may find optimal wellness on very different eating plans. What works for me may not work for you. Maybe you feel your best as a vegan or whatever, and I totally absolutely support you in that. There is no single right way to eat for every single body and I am only sharing what works for me. Also: I am not into dieting for weight loss, and I’m not into fat-shaming or food-shaming. Eating is a great source of joy for me. I think food is a gift. “Taste and see that the Lord is Good” is literally my favorite Bible verse. Rigidity annoys me. Making something forbidden or bad always makes me want to do it more. Rules are made to be broken Moderation in all things. ETC. Just so we’re clear.
Anyway, we decided to try this thing. And at first it was annoying and we felt like we were starving all the time and wondered if we were going to make it. I may have suggested to a friend that I was contemplating holding up a McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin (another of my great joys in life). A glass of bourbon in the evenings sounded REALLY GOOD to me most of the time. I spent one week entirely too caffeinated because I discovered that I actually really love black coffee, and it was entirely too easy to just keep topping off my cup to keep it warm without having to tweak cream and sugar ratios.
But after I stopped drinking too much coffee and feeling very Jessie Spano SO EXCITED AND SO SCARED, one day Jon pointed something out: I hadn’t been napping in many days. And I was like, “Yeah, and you know what? I feel amazing. I have the energy to do more than just exist.” I STARTED TAKING AFTERNOON WALKS. I do not wake up tired, and I also do not wake up feeling stiff or sore. When Jon suggested taking the girls to a Mexican Circus he discovered on Groupon, my first thought wasn’t “how will I find the energy to do that” but “sounds interesting and fun!”
I have so much energy now that I actually feel something like my old pre-heart-failure self. The girl who was known for being a little bit hyper, if anything. The girl who often practically bounced through life. A way I haven’t felt in 6 or 7 years, to be honest, because twin pregnancy was also mostly just a year of napping for me (makes sense, my defective heart was struggling to keep us all alive). I am also taking less anxiety medication because this all happened around the time that something got screwed up with my prescription that led to me taking a lower dose. I feel so much better than I was feeling before that I actually get choked up talking about it.
So now I’m trying to figure out what it is about all these changes have made me feel so much better. Before this experiment, we were mostly vegetarian, and our meals involved a lot of beans, vegetables, and whole grains, plus seafood, dairy, and once-a-week meat. I read Food: What the Heck Should I Eat by Dr. Mark Hyman, founder of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, a guy who literally treats people like me who have chronic illnesses by using food as medicine. After reading the book, I definitely think that my body (my body! not necessarily yours!) needed a LOT more protein and (good) fat than I was eating before. I think drastically reducing sugar and grains, which my body thinks of as basically sugar, as well as not drinking (sugar and grains!) nearly as much as I was, have contributed to my improved energy levels.
So, now I’m going to start experimenting, keeping the main framework of the diet the same as it has been. I want to add legumes back in. I want to try eating a little brown rice, or other grains like farro, quinoa, and barley. I might gingerly add in some gluten. I’m going to keep my drinking drastically lower than it has been. I’m going to keep up on the protein and fat. And I’ll let you know how it goes!
I promise not to become a missionary for my new way of eating. This is all just about MY body, after all. But this change has been so revolutionary for me that I just had to write about it. And I might keep writing about it too.