A Meditation on the Benefits of Celiac Disease

by Rachel Sircy

I have been sick most of my life with various and seemingly unrelated symptoms ravaging my body. I have suffered body aches, severe fatigue, mental fog, mood swings, the inability to gain weight, borderline anemia and so on. No one ever imagined that these varied symptoms were possibly all related. Finally, when I was in my early 20’s and just married, I started to develop terrible gastric problems. Every time I ate I would experience such intense stomach pain that I would have to lay down for a while. It got to the point that I wasn’t able to eat more than about a handful of food at a time. I dreaded going to the doctor for these problems, but my husband put his foot down and told me that I could either go to the doctor on my own, or he would drag me there himself. I was afraid I had an ulcer. My husband was afraid that I had stomach cancer. The symptoms had gotten that bad.

Before I went to the doctor, I prayed a simple prayer: that no matter what the diagnosis, I would not have to be on medicine my entire life. The thought of taking pills every single day was something that I dreaded. I got what I prayed for, but my answered prayer turned out to be much more burdensome than I had expected. Instead of taking one or two pills every day, I would have to completely change my relationship with food, what I ate and how I cooked. For the first few eight months or so after my diagnosis, I lived in a sort of denial. I thought that perhaps I had been misdiagnosed or that perhaps if I prayed hard enough, I would be miraculously healed. I do believe in miracles, but no miracle was in my future. Or, rather, the miracle that I got was not the one that I wanted. I refused to stay on a strict gluten free diet for that first eight months and I even went back to the gastroenterologist to try to talk him into retesting me and seeing if he had been mistaken. I stayed sick and when I went back to the gastroenterologist, he told me that there was no need to retest. The tests, he told me, had come out clear as day. There was no mistake in the diagnosis. He actually looked at me and said that he was sorry that I had celiac disease, but “that’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

I was fairly distraught after that. One night, alone in my room, I knelt down by the bed and cried, begging God to heal me and let me go back to the way of cooking and eating that I had always known. In that moment, crazy as it may sound, I think I heard from God. I didn’t hear an audible voice or anything, but an idea came to my mind so strongly, an idea that was so contrary to everything that I had been thinking and praying, that I knew the idea didn’t originate with me. The idea was something like this: Do I really need to be healed so that I can continue to eat powdered doughnuts and McDonald’s hamburgers? No, the point of this disease would be to serve as a constant physical reminder that it isn’t okay to just fuel my body (or my soul) with easily accessible junk. I was going to have to think about what I ate. I was going to have to put the health of my body before my cravings. Somehow, that night, I understood that this new way of relating to food, would make me a more careful and purposeful person. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Each time I drive down the road wondering what I’m going to do for dinner and thinking that my life would be so much easier if I could just pull over for fast food, I am reminded that food is for nourishment. My lifestyle is difficult because I choose nourishment over convenience. It has occurred to me since that night that this is a spiritual discipline as well as a physical one. This gluten free lifestyle is my own personal sacrament. Deuteronomy 30:19 records God’s statement to the Israelites: “[…] I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: choose life.”

This blog post was really supposed to be about the possibilities of a cure for celiac disease. Pharmaceutical companies are working even as you read this on drugs that could cure celiacs via immunotherapy drugs or protect celiacs from gluten contamination by creating drugs that isolate gliadin (the protein that causes the violent auto-immune response in celiacs) and making it undigestible. At first, I thought that anything that could cure celiac disease would be a welcome answer to prayer, but as I began to write, I realized that my prayer was answered years ago. Choosing life is never an easy decision, but it is one that is well worth it. Almost 10 years into my diagnosis I am a healthier person all the way around. I’m not saying that everyone should avoid these drugs or therapies if they ever become available. By all means, if you can become healthier through better science, I say that is a good thing. But as for me, I think I will continue to do things the hard way, choosing to remember that the ability to deny myself means that I am not a slave to my cravings. There is a great freedom in self-discipline.

Just something to think about…

How Much is Too Much?

Disclaimer: Our bloggers are not health experts. Contact your physician if if you are thinking about starting a new dietary program.

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

It started innocently enough. Saturday afternoon, I found a carton of Edy’s Mint Cookie Crunch at Target. Ahh, Mint Cookie Crunch. Delightfully refreshing mint light ice cream with chunks of chocolate sandwiches with half the fat and one-third fewer calories than regular ice cream. It’s hard to find. So when I saw it at Target, I thought that I better get some while it’s still available. Sometimes I over eat ice cream, so I thought twice about it, but thought that I could control my portions. The next day, the half-gallon was empty, and besides the cup that my sister enjoyed, I’d eaten it all.

I wrote the ice cream down in my food journal, and with exercise, I was somehow able to keep my calories down to a reasonable number, despite the many half-cup servings I had during those two days. But what really bothered me was my lack of control and the really large amount of ice cream that I ate in less than 48 hours. I rationalized it by thinking that “everybody does that every once in a while,” but this time, that didn’t make me feel better. So I took to the Internet.

Binge eating is such a strong term for overindulging, I thought, but according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), Binge Eating Disorder (BED) will soon join the ranks with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa as an “official” eating disorder. Binge eating is characterized by insatiable cravings that can occur any time of the day or night, usually secretive, and filled with shame. Bingeing is often rooted in poor body image, use of food to deal with stress, low self-esteem and tied to dysfunctional thoughts.

Could I have binge eating disorder? Distinguishing between overeating and binge eating is sometimes difficult, even for the eating disorder professionals. Compulsive eating and emotional eating are terms that have been around for years. BED is a distinct entity and not merely the occasional craving, over-eating when you are hungry, or the overindulgence during the holidays. According to Cynthia Bulik, PhD, “Every binge is different, just as every craving is different, and every binge eater is different but the scenario is the same.”

According to ANAD, Criteria for Diagnosis of BED includes:

  • Loss of control over amount of eating
  • Marked distress over binge episode
  • Occurs at least 1x per week for 3 months

And, three or more of the following:

  • Eating more rapidly than normal (i.e. 2 hour period)
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
  • Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or very guilty over after overeating

So yes, I overdid it, but according to the ANAD definition, I’m not a binge eater because it doesn’t happen on a regular basis. (Saved by the “once a week for three months” clause.)

In my research, I found a great article about binge eating in Self, called “How Bad is Binge Eating. In the article, several professionals discussed binge eating, both anecdotally and clinically.

“It’s okay to binge every now and again,” says Mike Fenster, M.D., cardiologist, professional chef, and author of The Fallacy of the Calorie. “All things in moderation, including moderation. However, two important caveats do apply: intensity and frequency.”

Fenster recommends following the 80/20 rule. “Try to adhere to your usual healthful approach at least 80 percent of the time,” he says. “But there are special occasions, vacations, and life moments that call for a willingness to throw caution, and nutritional guidelines, to the wind. But a special occasion should not become standard fare. That ‘once in a while’ jumbo waffle sundae can’t morph into a nightly ménage with Ben and Jerry.”

Whew! Anyone got Edy’s?

Let’s talk. Am I the only one who occasionally binges or do you have binges, too? What do you most often binge on and what brings them on? What do you usually do after your binge?

Accomplishment

By: Rachel Sircy

Recently, I wrote about how it’s good to shop at the farmer’s market for your food. However, I recently experienced something even better than getting your food from the farmer’s market…I grew some food for myself!

This is a picture of my tomato plant. I really wish I had taken a picture of it when I first got it, but honestly, I thought I was probably going to kill it. It was about 2 or 3 inches high when I first got this little tomato seedling. I planted it in a pot and now it’s about 3-4 feet tall. It’s so tall, that I have two separate stakes trying to hold it up and it’s pulling them both over. I didn’t bother getting a tomato cage, even though my neighbor told me that I should, because, like I said, I was pretty sure I was going to kill it.

I have a history with plants, mostly it’s a dark, sad history of dried up and forgotten impatiens and leafy ferns. But this year, in an effort to eat a bit healthier and closer to home (and also a bit cheaper) I decided I was going to try to grow my own herbs and some tomatoes. The herbs have done amazingly well. Parsley was the first plant that I bought and I’ve had it for about four months now and it’s still going strong. I have actually taken scissors and cut the plant all the way back to the dirt (a lot like cutting grass) several times now, and each time I do, the herb comes back fuller than it was before. I use fresh parsley in just about everything, and so this little plant, which cost me less than 5 dollars (it was a little over $11 for the terra cotta pot, potting soil, fertilizer spikes and plant all together) has saved me quite a bit of money. I was going to the grocery store and buying those little plastic containers of fresh herbs every time a recipe called for it. The thing is those little plastic packages are outrageously expensive, especially when compared to growing them yourself.

This little package of organic thyme cost me $2.99 pre-tax. I know I didn’t have to get organic thyme, but I prefer organic when I can get it. The terrible thing is, I won’t even need this much thyme for the recipe that I’m using, so I’m probably going to have to either throw the rest of it away or freeze it. If I paid that much for every fresh herb in every recipe I make, I would be totally broke. That is what I realized about four months ago. And so, I went to Lowe’s and picked up a little parsley plant which paid for itself in about 4 weeks’ time.

This basil plant was about two inches tall when I got it. It looks a bit rough right now, but just three weeks ago, I snipped almost every branch and every single leaf off of it for a large pasta recipe. At the time, it was standing about a foot and a half high.

Until this past weekend, the herbs were really the only plants that I had been able to use in my cooking. My tomato plant had some tiny cherry tomatoes on it, but they seemed to be taking forever to ripen.

But then, finally, I went outside and one of my tomatoes had turned red as if by a miracle.

I didn’t take a picture of it on the vine. I picked it and cooked it with eggs on Sunday morning. One cherry tomato may not seem like much, but the feeling of eating something that my own two hands had planted and helped to grow was absolutely magical!

So, if you are like me and you think that you have the hand of death when it comes to plants, you might just try something like herbs or a tomato plant and see how you do with them. Even if you don’t make it the first time, they are really not that expensive, so you won’t be out that much money. The fact that I could eventually eat these plants is what kept me really interested in them. Flowers never fascinated me the way that these plants do. I find myself checking on these plants daily and watering them regularly. I even talk to them sometimes. I think this is turning me into a gardener. And, in the end, growing your own food is a great way to save money on groceries as well as to eat healthier. When you buy organic produce from the store, you always have to take someone’s word that it really is organic. You can be 100% certain that your food is organic if you grow it yourself using organic methods!

For those interested, I found an extremely helpful app for my phone called “Gardening Know How.” It’s free and it has a gardening journal and tons of articles that are searchable. All of the articles are written in terms that are easy to understand for beginning gardeners. It’s sort of been my lifeline when I’ve run into problems or had questions about my particular plants.

Happy growing!

Shop Smarter, Not Harder

By: Rachel Sircy

Living with any chronic condition usually means having to means that you have to make serious lifestyle changes. For those of us who have to make drastic changes in what we eat, grocery shopping can become something we dread and eating out can become nearly impossible.

For celiacs like myself, you have to learn a whole new way of thinking about food and you have to learn a whole new language: label reading. Learning to become an expert label reader and spot the hidden gluten in food takes time. Meanwhile, as you struggle with all this new information, you get hungry. Really hungry. I don’t know about you, but when I become hungry I get desperate, and desperation leads to bad food choices and bad food choices (particularly for someone with a chronic condition) leads to bad health.

So, what can you do to prevent yourself from becoming desperately hungry while you’re re-learning to shop? Well, firstly, listen to that piece of advice your mother gave you and never, EVER shop hungry. If you have diabetes or high cholesterol or celiac disease, there are very few convenience foods out there that are safe for you to eat. Be sure to eat before you go to the store. And, if you have found a portable snack that is healthy for you, take it with you.

Of course, we can all find ourselves in an emergency situation, and while we’re re-learning about food and how to shop for ourselves again, these two smartphone apps can be real lifesavers:

ShopWell – This app is perfect for those of us who haven’t quite mastered label reading, or who are in a hurry to get in and out of the grocery store. In our modern world of pre-packaged everything, it’s hard to know just what the ingredients in something are and whether or not they’re good for you. The ShopWell app allows each user to plug in personal health information, such as if you want to follow a gluten free diet or if you are a diabetic, pre-diabetic or have high cholesterol. The app has a built-in barcode scanner for food and when you use it to scan a food item, the app will tell you if that food has ingredients in it that are good for you and your individual dietary needs.

If you find yourself completely confused, or in a hurry, you can turn on the app’s location device while you are in the grocery store and the app will point you in the direction of healthy food. It can tell you the general area where you should be searching for food that is right for you in the grocery store you happen to be in. It’s like having a registered dietician in your pocket!

Find Me Gluten Free – My mother (who is also a celiac) introduced me to this app. It’s perfect for those times when you find yourself out of the house for longer than you expected, or your in a city that you are unfamiliar with. This app uses your location to find restaurants in your immediate area that offer gluten free items on the menu. The first time I ever used it, my family was out Christmas shopping in a city that was 2 1/2 hours away from where we lived. We were starving, but we didn’t know anything about the area and had no idea where we could eat. We turned on the app and found out that Red Robin has the option to serve most of its sandwiches on gluten free croissants. While I really don’t recommend eating out a lot for celiacs (cross contamination is almost always an issue), there are times when you need to eat pronto. Thanks this app, Mom and I were saved from becoming hungry enough to make some bad food choices.

So, when learning a new way of life, do it smarter, not harder. Save yourself some time, some headache and be good to your body by letting these apps take some of the guesswork out of shopping and eating out for you!

Five Tips to Get You Back on Track If You’ve Gained Weight

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

I recently looked back at my weight over the past two years. Except for the initial weight gain when I returned from Shepherd Center, I’ve generally I’ve stayed about the same. I felt a little crazy. Despite all of food tracking and measuring, exercising and gym visits, obsessing over ever calorie and measuring food, I was about the same weight. Whaaat?

Around that time, I saw a book called Body Kindness in one of my social feeds. The book promised to “show you how to create a healthier and happier life by treating yourself with compassion rather than shame.” Life is too short to be at war with my body, I thought as I ordered it. If I’m not going to benefit from “dieting” and assigning myself a goal weight, I may as well enjoy food and quit worrying so much.

The part of the book that resonated with me was “firing the food police” and seeing food as neutral, declassifying foods as “good” or “bad.”  I gave up recording in My Fitness Pal (MFP), bought foods I haven’t eaten in years and had a lot of ice cream. But food freedom didn’t automatically transfer into more mindful eating, an indifference to “problem foods” or weight loss. When I finally weighed myself after a few weeks, I was up a couple of pounds. That isn’t the end of the world, I know, but if you’re short and already have a few extra lbs., it’s a good warning sign.

Despite my tendency to overeat using the Body Kindness concept, I did love the “Body Kindness” tips. I loved striking morning power poses in the mirror; getting more sleep and practicing more positive body self-talk. I loved feeling less conscious and more empowered. It didn’t lead to weight loss or even maintenance, but it felt good.

I’ve decided that for me, meal planning and food journaling worked; it’s empowering and energizing. I’ve returned to food journaling and my goal to eat healthier. But I also decided to continue incorporating those body kindness tips as I worked toward getting closer to my goal weight.

Until then, I was stuck with a few extra pounds on top of what I wanted to lose before. For inspiration, I visited MFP’s website, where I found these tips to get back on track from MyFitnessPal’s blog.

According to MFP, these five tips will help you get back on track:

  1. START NOW AND START SMALL

Stop saying “I’ll start over tomorrow.” Instead of me focusing on the 22 total pounds I want to lose, I’m going to start with the five pounds I can realistically lose in one month. And I’m not going to obsess over working out for an hour every day of the week, when a nice walk outside for 20-30 minutes will be a good start.

  1. LOSE THE GUILT

It’s easy to feel ashamed, guilty and embarrassed when you gain or regain weight. Weight gain happens, so I’m going to shift my focus from the past and set my sights on concrete actions I can take to move forward. I’m going to set attainable goals and celebrate when I hit them – striving for progress, not perfection.

  1. CONSIDER HELP FROM THE PROS

Whether it’s a personal trainer, nutritionist, medical doctor or therapist, it can help to have someone holding you accountable. I love my trainer, and he keeps me honest. My body is still recovering from the time I spent in bed during my rehabilitation, and my frozen vocal cord prevents me from doing too strenuous a workout. Cash helps me determine what exercises are off limits for the moment and ways I can modify others for the long term. He also knows me well enough to know when to push me a little, too.

  1. MAKE A MEAL PLAN

It’s always helpful to plan out your meals to prevent you from falling back into old bad habits like eating ice cream every day. I started by jumping forward one day in My Fitness Pal and plugging foods into each meal ahead of time. Taking the time to think it out helps, and once I’ve journaled it, the “getting ahead” is more likely to keep me honest than fleeting good intentions in my head.

  1. REACH OUT TO FRIENDS

Tell your circle of influence that you’re working on healthy eating. They may want to join you, and everybody knows that it’s easier when you have a fitness/food buddy. They can help by keeping junk food out of sight or not tempting you with unhealthy food in the first place.

It’s only been a few days since I shifted my mindset, so I haven’t magically lost that weight I gained. I’m eventually going to weigh myself again, and I haven’t lost sight of my goal. Instead I’m going to judge my success by how I feel and how my clothes fit. Weight gain happens and weight loss is hard work, so I won’t give up or feel defeated if I struggle. I’ve got this, and I’m not alone.

Have you ever looked up and suddenly gained more weight than you anticipated? What was your wakeup call? What did you do? And what are your tips for staying on track? I’d love to hear from you.

How ‘Bout THEM Apples

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Kandi Apple

Kanzi Apple

This week at the gym, one of my workout buddies brought us Jazz apples. They were delicious. After my workout, I went to Publix to get a few for myself. I was surprised to find that they didn’t have Jazz apples, but did have Kanzi apples, which I later found out are an “apple cousin” to Jazz.

A quick scan of apples at Publix revealed several new names, and I wondered what had happened to the apple industry since the beginning of my grocery shopping days. Back then, Red Delicious apples were about as good as apples got. I remember Granny Smith and Macintosh, but nothing exotic like Honeycrisp, Jazz, Gala or Pink Lady.

A quick Google search finds that there are 7,000 varieties of apples. And if you had a different one each day, it would take you 20 years to try them all. (Visit WeldonOwen.com for more about the varieties of apples and the 18 that you actually need to know about.)

The changes we see in the produce aisle reflects the increasingly fragmented apple industry, where major growers have moved away from relying on few varieties for their income. Rather, many are diversifying their orchards, aiming to cash in on the premium prices of licensed niche apples and creating competition among breeders to develop the next big flavorful apple.

In 1999, Red Delicious accounted for a 51 percent of the nationwide sales. By 2015, that number had dropped to 25 percent, according to data from the Washington Tree Fruit Association.

The five newest varieties of apples include Junami, Kanzi, RubyFrost, Opal and SnapDragon. And on the horizon for 2019 is the Cosmic Crisp, an apple named for the stellar-like appearance of the “striking” lenticels on the apple surface. I can hardly wait! And you can say you heard it here first, on Every Woman blog.

And the old saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?” According to Medical News Today, apples were the original super food and have many health benefits, from improving neurological health to reducing the risk of strokes and diabetes. And with 7000 varieties, there are just more ways to stay healthy.

What is your favorite kind of apple, and how to you like to eat it?

Nuts About Coconut Oil? Know the Facts

By: Jennifer Benedetto MS, RD, LD at LMC

Dietary recommendations regarding fat intake seem to change with the decade. A recent report continued to question the “healthiest” type of fat. A March 2014 article in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that decreased saturated fat intake did not result in a decreased risk of heart disease. Following this surprising report, the media began to report that there was no harm in unlimited consumption of saturated fats like coconut oil, animal fat, and butter. If decreased amounts of saturated fat didn’t help, what’s the harm in eating more?

coconut oilHighly saturated coconut oil, in particular, is now being promoted as a cure for various health conditions including Alzheimer’s, heart disease and obesity. But is coconut oil actually beneficial?

Coconut oil contains high levels of saturated fat, higher levels than butter. Ninety-two percent of the fat in coconut oil is saturated compared to 15% saturated fat in olive oil and 62% in butter. Unlike other oils, coconut oil can be solid or semisolid at room temperature due to the multitude of saturated chemical bonds. Conventional coconut oil is made from dried coconut that is pulverized, cooked and treated with chemicals. It is used in candies, coffee creamers and movie theater popcorn. Relatively new to the scene is virgin coconut oil which is extracted from fresh coconut meat. Virgin coconut oil is promoted as being healthier than conventional coconut oil. So should we be switching to coconut oil?

In regards to heart health, coconut oil like other saturated fats, increases “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. High levels of LDL contribute to heart disease. Liquid vegetable oils (olive, canola) do not increase LDL. On the other hand, coconut oil, like liquid vegetable oils, also increases “good” (HDL) cholesterol. But is this elevation in HDL beneficial? That is unclear.

For now, most experts agree that coconut oil is a better choice than butter or trans-fats but there is no evidence to suggest coconut oil should be substituted for liquid vegetable oils. People who regularly eat extra-virgin olive oil in place of saturated fats have a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke—and lower cholesterol.

As far as the other coconut oil health claims go, there is no solid science to back them up. More research is needed to support coconut oil’s purported therapeutic benefits. So for now, stick with the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines and choose unsaturated/beneficial fat sources and limit saturated fats to 7-10% of calories.

Bottom Line: saying something is not harmful does not mean it is good for you.