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You Are What You Eat

August 1st, 2013 | 4 comments

Does anyone else remember that government issued (I think) nutritional poster of a guy made up entirely of food (good ones, not frankenfoods for the most part, though wheat and dairy made an appearance) from school? I remember one from the wall of the canteen at my primary school. The man had a tomato slice smile, a strategically placed bunch of broccoli florets, and lots of other food placed all around to make up his limbs, head and other body parts. I actually went on an internet search to include it in this post for those of you who aren’t Australian, didn’t go to my primary school, or just have no idea what I’m talking about, but google wasn’t that helpful in locating late 80s/early 90s government food propaganda, especially since I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for. Either way, that food man, even 20+ years too early, echos my Whole30 experience.

So lets start off with the clear, factual comparison – my measurements post W30:
Left arm – 23.5
Right arm – 25
Chest – 88cm
Waist – 67.5
Glutes – 93
Left thigh – 51.3
Right thigh – 50
Mostly things have gone down (check here for the befores), with the exception of my glutes, chest and bits of my limbs, and having the privilege of actually being in my body I can confirm that these are areas that have tightened and grown muscle. Yep. In my chest too. All the surrounding muscles and tendons must’ve strengthened and are now holding the fatty tissue up higher. Oh yay, bra shopping, that won’t put a dent in my bank balance or anything! R could also confirm for you the extra glute tone. Annoyingly, he seems to like checking on the progress multiple times a day by hand, which isn’t overly convenient if I’m chopping food for a meal. Another great part of this last month has been seeing the fat/muscle ratios switch a bit more. Holey muscle tone and strength! 3kg weights in barre have given me nicely toned summer arms, even though its still July, and there’s all sorts of strength coming out everywhere, sending my previously bruise and injury ravaged limbs into a much happier stronger place. Inherited bleeding disorder be damned, I’m a strong, injury free beast! Seriously, its an amazing difference from how my body was even last Christmas.

In terms of my body condition, I now have a great 3-pronged preventative plan – anti-inflammatory, W30 type eating, with green smoothies, and doses of muscle and joint strengthening goodness from barre. Between the three (but food is such an enormous part, and allows me to act physically in a much stronger and better way than I ever could before), I don’t get spontaneous injuries, bruise, or general weird VWD shit happening any more. At all. That is HUGE for me. When I do hurt myself, (which happens more than I’d like, but barre is making me more coordinated and graceful!), I’m much less likely to injure (around 60-70% with smaller stuff, maybe more) and if I do it takes a greater impact or issue to actually leave a mark, and it heals quicker. Like twice as quickly. Yes, barre helps. Yes, increased vits K & iron from my green smoothies undoubtedly helps. But I also feel that a reduction in systemic inflammation from the ingestion of wheat, dairy, etc also makes its hearty contribution.

The other major health indicator I posted about a little while back was the improvement in my BP. LIke I mentioned in that post, there’s no reason medically for my BP to have stabilised, given the reason its up at all was also increased. Logically speaking, I should be on higher bp meds. But I’m not. I do have to do a bit more experimentation to fully be convinced its dairy doing it to me, but how damn exciting is it that I’ve been able to control a medically induced problem with food?

Those few on their own would be enough to convince me. to stay eating this way. But wait, there’s more! (Steak knives! They’ve had a pounding too 😉 ).

I know I’m a fat/protein burner, and I don’t do as well on higher doses of carbs. I do love me some sweet potato, but too much (or any starchy carb really) in one sitting leaves me a bit sluggish, so I do have to be mindful of that. No roast potato style meals in the future for me. But I do love them after exercise! Yummo, and I feel appropriately fuelled up again too! So in the future I’ll be an appropriately times starch eater. No worries there. But the protein/fat combination? Woah. Love it before classes, and its so tasty in meals, and I can comfortably eat the meal template requirements. Or more if its roast pork night. I love crackling!

I was an exercise gun! I had some real need for napping in the first two weeks (probably a bit of dairy withdrawal and hey, its winter, I live in Tasmania, these things happen). But I was still really happy to go to all my classes (5 a week), and kicked up my weights with relative ease. Sure, it did hurt going to 3kg, and I do occasionally swap them out near the end for the usual red weights (damn you, isometric circles with straight arms!), but I would never have imagined getting to this level just on a whim. And jumping the interval in between! Wow! I can see my muscles all down my legs, not just in my workout tights but in jeans too. And the best part about all this extra strength everywhere? Sex. Seriously. Inner thigh, core, and pelvic floor strength is quite awesome. That Lotte Berk knew her stuff. In more publically viewable activities, I can’t wait until the weather is more reliable and I can start hiking again, I can’t wait to see what heights my limbs can take me. Minds out of the gutter people – Tasmania is very mountainous.

I feel like I’ve broken (or gotten a good way towards breaking) my reward with food mentality. Ok, lets be serious, it was a reward with chocolate thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely still going to be eating chocolate in my life, but its not going to be because I’m a little bit sad, or I’ve had a bad day, or whatever else I might’ve justified to myself previously. I’m going to do it because I want it. Even today as day 31 wasn’t good enough – R said to me that he thought I’d definitely grab a raw cacao and date ball from the juice bar when I grabbed my green smoothie this morning as a reward, but I didn’t. I didn’t need or want one today. And that’s even ‘good’ chocolate. I won’t ever do mass produced things like m&ms again, because I really don’t like the taste anymore. All that processing and sugar or sugar like substances? No thankyou. And my mental changes have gone far beyond this obvious link. I feel like I can think clearer and address problems less emotively now (I know, an INTJ being even less emotionally charged! Oh no!). I definitely used to react to people and minor events almost as a habit. If something was said or done I couldn’t rationalise or understand, I’d get cross about it. But I’m learning now the only person that bothers is me. The reaction was almost like how people graze at food – passive, without active cognitive involvement. I think this has been a big and fantastic step for me.

I’ve also been re-evaluating my relationships with many things – the clean, deliberate actions of my movement and eating has got me thinking about the way I engage in relationships and work. A lot. And I want to make changes. Both in how I deal with people, and also in really focussing myself on the kind of life I want to lead. And just going and doing it, like I did with my Whole30. Sure, some contemplation goes on first. But then its just decision made, full steam ahead. Its a bit scary and exciting, and relieving and terrifying, all the change and stress and leaps and success I’ve had this year, and am yet to make, but its an amazing thing to achieve. To have learned so much about myself and my body and the things it can do and the things that will no longer hold me back. I can now identify the exciting, fun, and full life I want, and while I’m still muddling through how to get there, I’m excited for what the future brings. That future definitely includes a hand-size portion of protein, a dollop of fat, and loads of veggies.

And two last little things: we’ve been roasting everything, and it all turns out great! So if you’re Whole30-ing in winter, get well acquainted with your roasting tray and coconut oil. AND – in astounding news for me, I haven’t suffered even once from this cold and flu season yet. But more on that another day…

So where to now? The things I’m keeping for me that aren’t Whole30 are chocolate and green smoothies. The chocolate because it makes me happy, and dessert every now and then is a well needed light in the world. But I’ll be going for good quality, high percentage cocoa/cacao options, or making my own in future, as I mentioned before. And the green smoothies are because I can still see a difference in the healing of injuries with them over just a W30. Yay for being part of a rare special population! Paleo-ified desserts and pankcakes etc will make some appearances, again, because much like chocolate, they’re part of a happy life for me. And the ones with non inflammatory ingredients don’t, well inflame me. Not a daily or even weekly occurrence though. Just for when I feel its warranted – birthdays, Christmas and the like.

And the other stuff? Well wheat/gluten are out. Because rectal bleeds aren’t fun. I have no desire to reintroduce soy, though I’m going to ignore any miniscule traces of soy lechtin in my teas, because the small amounts don’t seem to do anything to me. And I love tea. But generally, I can’t imagine soy’s phytoestrogens could possibly assist me given my already wonky menstrual issues.

And then finally – Reintroductions of course! I’m going to try reintros with diary and quinoa. I bet you’re thinking “dairy? Really? Even after that hbp thing?”. And yes, because that is only a theory, I haven’t tested what happens when I do a reintroduction with it and what happens to my blood pressure. So first I need to track down a blood pressure monitor, and then I’ll try reintroducing butter, greek yoghurt and full fat milk. I enjoy eating all of these things, and they are also widely accessible, so for those times where I might not be in control of my food choices like I am at home, it will be good to know if I tolerate these. I want to try quinoa for the same reason. I’ve tried glutenous grains previously, and I do react to them (though the occasional bit of sourdough bread seems ok), and again for ease of socialisation I’d like to see my reaction to quinoa. The Whole 30 approach to reintroductions is that you try a bit of the thing you are testing for each meal for one day (so three good doses), then wait at least 3 days to see what happens to you. All other food choices remain the same. I will be following this, though I’ll probably leave a week between each item.

I have a slight hiccup in my reintroduction plan – next week its time for another withdrawal bleed/period, so I’m going to keep everything Whole 30 with my green smoothies (because if I ever need some assistance clotting, that is the time!) and chocolate (dark of course!), and start after that. I’m also interested in seeing how eating effects other symptoms. I have been doing a paleo-ish diet over the worst of my bleeds this year, but it might just be taking time. I have noticed I’m a lot calmer, and not as irrational and cranky. There’s still crankiness of course given my high pain levels, but that is understandable. I feel like the eating is putting a serious dent in the hormonal crankiness I used to suffer from. From the Whole9 forums, I’ve learned that an increase in starchy carbs can help with symptoms too, as your body is expelling a lot of energy during that point of your cycle and consuming more can offset that. Nothing yet has helped with my severe bloating (flat and toned to 5 months pregnant overnight. Literally), but again, perhaps over time I’ll see some improvement.

Phew! Firstly, well done for reading this far! And if any of what I’ve said sounds interesting, I have 3 tips for you – buy a copy of It Starts With Food and read it. Attend a Whole9 seminar, there are teams across the States, Canada and Australia. And join the Whole9 forums – there are so many experienced Whole30-ers there, as well as moderators and the seminar teams who can answer any questions you might have. I can also do my best to answer your questions here! No matter what style of eating you have, the one thing that comes through strongly for me having done a Whole30 is that food should be your first line of medicine. It has the power to make you really healthy, strong and happy, and if you’re experiencing any underlying health issues or low level and constant problems, look at what you’re eating. If I can change what I’m eating to help manage symptoms of my congenital condition, imagine what you can do for yourself!

Happy eating everyone!

4 people have commented
  1. Jenna it is so exciting to see all the many ways this journey has helped you. When I think about how much better I feel I am so grateful to have found this way of eating and living, and that I was willing to do it….I feel like life is just going to get better!

    • I know, its so exciting for me. Its a little disappointing that the aspects that have helped my medical condition aren’t mentioned or thought of by the medical community (its congenital, you just learn to deal with the problems as they appear), but I’m so glad to have found Whole9, barre and everything else that is helping me. And yes, its only going to get better from here!
      Well done on your W30 too, keep in touch via here or the forums, I can wait to see your changes over the coming months.

  2. Jenna, thank you so much for your post, your honesty and your bravery. I had goosebumps while reading this. I am SO excited for you. To have such an improvement in your vWD symptoms is truly remarkable. And it’s a testament to your persistence and good sense. I wish I could share this with every haematologist I know!!! (I hope you are sharing it with yours, you’ll totally blow their mind :)) You are a true inspiration.

    • Next time I see her, I might just do that! Thankyou for reading, it means a lot. I’m pretty excited too, it’s such a shift for me to now know that I have power over my condition. And if you meet a haemotologist or two, I’m happy for you to share.

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