Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Whole30 Wrap Up: Creating a Powerful Body, Mind, and Spirit

Today is the last day of my Whole30. Finally! After trying Whole30 at least 5 times, I actually finished it. Woo Hoo!! Here is my Whole30 Wrap Up:

Why Did I Do a Whole30?
  • I have a terrible relationship with food and I needed to change that. Normally I am just worried about loosing weight, but all the other weight loss methods that worked for me just had me eating low fat, sugar-free, ice cream, and bread all day. I lost weight but still had a bad relationship with food, and then a few years later I gained the weight back.
  • What I eat helps regulate my bipolar disorder better than medications do. I needed to figure out what was best for my treatment plan.
  • I wanted to have choice in my life rather than letting my illness take control of me.
  • I wanted to finally stick up for myself and to say that I am worth this amount of work.
  • For my family. I wanted my son to learn what is healthy. Not see that you eat healthy to be a certain size, but you eat, sleep, recover, play, learn, and grow spiritually so you can be play hard, learn more, and be strong.
What Were The Hardest Things About Whole30?
  • Meal planning. You need a TON of food prepared in order to eat Whole30 because you really can't eat out anywhere. (Or at least I could not because I did not want to risk it.) Sometimes we ate the same meal for breakfast lunch and dinner. 
  • The "Sugar Dragon." I craved sugar, dreamed about sugar, and a few times overate dates or sweet potatoes.
  • Binge eating healthy food! I didn't know that if I had no options, I really would overeat veggies and meat. 
  • Taking food everywhere. Every meeting, every dinner party, every play date for our son, we brought our own food.
  • I am not cured. I have had Irritable Bowel (IBS) my whole life and really thought if I just ate Whole30 it would go away. It got better but didn't go away completly. There must still be more I am sensitive too. Also, my bipolar is much better regulated but I don't have more than 3-4 days where I am really stable. 
Two of our favorite books. Photo by Jeff Norris.

What Were The Best Things About Whole30?
  • While I am not cured of IBS or bipolar, they are both significantly better. And, I no longer fear cutting out foods in order to get even more healthy. I always thought "I don't have enough willpower to be better." Whole30 made me realize willpower is a myth. I can do it if I have a good support system, we are better prepared, and I know I am worth it. It was not until week 3 that I really realized I could do this. I think you just have to force yourself to do it for at least 3 weeks before you know you can do it. 
  • Cooking with my husband. We used to drive each other nuts trying to cook in the same kitchen. But this time we both were working towards the same goal and it was great.
  • My son learned about being healthy and is actually interested in it! He remained almost completely Whole30 compliant, and he wanted to do it. Gone are the previous days of him complaining that he can't have pizza, bread, dairy, sweets, candy, and "eat what everyone else eats." He likes to just eat healthy. He wants to be stronger, faster, and better in school. He started CrossFit kids in the last few weeks and is really loving the whole healthy lifestyle.
  • We had fun doing this together as a family. We cooked new things, ruined some dishes that made our son laugh at us, went to visit the farm where our meat comes from, worked out together, and we became far more encouraging of each other not only with eating but work, school, and life.
  • I learned that my eating disorder is perpetuated by eating bad food. It Starts With Food, the book about Whole 30, has a great chapter on the science behind the addictive nature of processed foods. 
  • Supplements, sleep, and other things had been suggested to me by my doctor for my treatment but it was so hard to figure out what helped, what was causing problems, because I just had so much bad food in my body. I have a better idea of what supplements help, how much sleep I need, and that there are still a lot more lifestyle changes to go before my treatment plan is compete. Now doing the Whole30, I know I can do all of these things. 
  • I proved to myself that I matter. I did not cave and put myself last just to make other people more comfortable. I did not doubt my intuition on how best to care for myself. I gave myself power that I thought I did not have before.
"Measurable" Results From the Whole30
  •  Mental Illness: Less Ativan needed, bit better sleep (still working on this), more stable moods, times that would have set me over the edge were not as bad, on the path to recovery from binge eating, happier, sense of self worth.
  • Physical: Better at CrossFit and better at sticking with working out, lost weight and inches (I went down two notches on my belt), skin clearing up, eczema not gone but better, IBS not as bad.
  • Family: We became closer as a family, we support each other more, healthy living has almost defined us and what we think is important, even our dogs are on a better diet.
  • Spiritual: Much better connection to the earth, animals, and farmers who bring us our food. More gratitude, less waste, more understanding of how to help others who are working on being healthy, easier to stick to our ethics, more connected with the Spirit of Love around us. 
What Is Next?
  •  Sticking with a strict Paleo base following the Whole30 concept of not eating a ton of Paleofied foods, and not using any refined sugar, and only small amounts of honey or maple syrup. 
  • Whole30 has a reintroduction plan, but instead I will be eliminating some more foods to see what still bothers my stomach and I never want to reintroduce wheat, sugar, processed foods, etc...
  • More focus on sleep, timing of eating, exercise, and meditation.

Overall, the Whole30 experience was great. True, sometimes I wanted to pull my hair out, scream, yell, and quit. However, the power you gain from doing something like this is so great. You become stronger in body, mind, and spirit.


Rev. Katie

Some of our most used items this month: It Starts With Food, Practical Paleo, Well Fed, and recipe for Slow Cooker Italian Pork Roast.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Whole30, Whole9 Lifestyle and Binge Eating Disorder Recovery

Because of my binge eating disorder, it has always been hard for me to stick to a healthy eating plan. Even when I lost a lot of weight on Weight Watchers, I did it by eating 4-5 Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches a day, McDonald's Happy Meals with a diet coke, and fat free cheese. A totally unhealthy lifestyle but it fit the "points"and I lost weight. However, I never addressed the food addiction so I never got better and put most of the weight back on. Stress would trigger cravings and I would think "I can have one milkshake." Next thing I know, I am driving out in the middle of the night to the 24hour Dunkin Donuts and binge eating at McDonalds three times a day.

The Whole30 diet that we are doing for this month is about so much more than just what food you eat, it is about a lifestyle change. They encourage eating organic fruits and veggies, and pastured, humanely raised meats if you have access to these things. They also promote a healthy sleep schedule, exercise, active recovery from exercise, stress management, personal growth, and more. I believe this time I have done so much better with my Whole30 because I have tried to incorporate all of their suggestions such as sleep, recovery, and personal growth. However, there was one thing that we did which I believe has helped in starting to break my binge eating disorder cycle.

Last week we took a visit to Fair View Meadow Farm where we get our locally raised, pastured, "happy" meat. This changed the way I think about processed food and overeating. I see these beautiful animals that help heal me and I think, "What a dishonor to them to binge on junk food when they have given so much for my health and healing." I also learned how much work the farmers have to do to bring such amazing food to our table and it really bothers me to think that I would eat manufactured Skittles from a bag or food that is made from factories or places like McDonald's where the animals, farmers, and workers are treated horribly. So not only have I not eaten anything that is not Whole30, but we have not eaten out anywhere, except a "naked" roast chicken from Whole Foods when we ran out of backup food on a trip. Once you learn how food is made and all the added stuff most companies and even family owned restaurants put into the food to make it saltier, fattier, and sweeter, it makes you see things differently. It is ethically irresponsible for me, since I do have a choice and the resources to choose where I eat, to participate in a system that is unjust.

So my biggest challenge this Whole30 is not overeating dried and regular fruit because that is where I can see the binge eating disorder taking over. I can still also overeat wholesome food, and it is a myth that "no one overeats broccoli and fish." If there is nothing else to eat in the house, yes I will overeat whatever is there. That in itself was an important thing for me to learn because everyone tells you no one overeats healthy food and so you don't even realize the disorder is as bad as it is. But again, knowing where the food comes from has helped me realize that overeating good food is just wasting it. I should not waste food, instead I should eat well and honor the animals and people who brought me the food, as well as honor my own body which does not deserve to be filled with chemicals, antibiotics, food dye, and processed oils which hurt and do not heal me.

I know recovery from an eating disorder is a long road and often includes relapse (like the homemade beef jerky I ate like it was a bag of potato chips last night), but it is clear to me that I see things differently now than I did before.


Rev. Katie

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Treatment: Music and the Brain

Many of us know that music makes us feel emotion, helps heal our hurting heart, and nourishes our soul but do you know that music is being used to help in the treatment/management of different brain diseases? Of course there are many music therapists who do one-on-one sessions, group singing, or drumming circles, all of which are very important and make people's lives better. But I have always thought that people also need help when they don't have access to a music therapist or group activity. What about the middle of the night mania or the mid-workday anxiety? What about the time in between activities in a dementia care unit when most people are left sitting in a chair at the TV or they are agitated and bored laying in bed?

Dan Cohen, Executive Director and Founder of Music and Memory started an iPod program for people in nursing homes in 2008. His program has been wildly successful for people with dementia, even decreasing use of antipsychotics by 50%! How amazing! I first heard of Music and Memory doing research for care of my Mom with dementia and I found this video of Henry: (get a tissue because you will cry.)
Then I reflected on how I actually use music to treat my mental illness without even knowing it. I have different songs that I typically listen to depending on my emotional state. Now one might think that when I am depressed, I listen to sad songs, or when manic I listen to upbeat songs. However, I actually use music to manage my illness better. A sad song when you are depressed only increases the depression. Instead I listen to more upbeat inspiring songs when I am depressed. When I am anxious, I can't listen to music with a heavy beat because it makes the anxiety worse so I listen to things that are more soothing and have a more even rhythm. For me, especially as a minister, the message of the song matters, so I am always collecting new songs that fit not only the tempo and feel of what might help bring me out of a depression or calm a panic attack at work, but also ones that change my repetitive or negative thinking. If I am convinced I am a terrible person I find a song with the opposite message to break that cycle. Using music in this way makes it so easy. I don't need a therapist with me all the time. I have a treatment in my pocket at work that I can use for just five minutes. It works amazingly well.

While I have not found any research just focusing on mental illness and the use of music in this particular way, Music and Memory does have a video of Gil, who has depression, and Denise who is bipolar schizophrenic that shows just how much the music helps them:

As Jaak Panksepp says in The Emotional Antecedents to the Evolution of Music and Language:

"In a sense, music not only elevates but also heals the human spirit. It is a wonderful way to increase quality of life, especially among elderly who have the fewest options (Laukka, 2007). To the extent that music sincerely conveys love, social attachment, and the joy of human interaction, it might prove effective as a mild antidepressant and deserves continued (and better) evaluation in psychiatric contexts. We await substantial full-scale studies of how some humans, in the despair of depression, may be lifted once more toward the varied emotional richness of human existence by the redemptive buoying of despondent spirits through great music. Many other beneficial medical effects of music have already been reported (for summaries see Panksepp & Bernatzky, 2002; Spingte & Droh, 1992)."


Rev. Katie

P.S.: If you are want more information about music and theology and worship, please look into Rev. Thandeka. Rev. Thandeka's work is where I have found much more research about neuroscience and how music effects the brain, such as the article by Panksepp above.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Don't Let New Gun Control Regulations Increase Stigma Against Mental Illness

Today President Obama signed 23 Executive Actions on Gun Violence, called Now is the Time (the .pdf of this document can be found on CNN.) Part of the plan talks about mental illness "even as we acknowledge someone with a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of a violent crime than a perpetrator," says President Obama.

Now is the Time has quite a long plan for dealing with mental illness including encouraging doctors and other mental health care facilitators to report "direct and credible threats of violence to the authorities." It states the government will "Launch a national conversation to increase understanding about mental health: The sense of shame and secrecy associated with mental illness prevents too many people from seeking help. The President is directing Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan to launch a national dialogue about mental illness with young people who have experienced mental illness, members of the faith community, foundations, and school and business leaders." The government will also seek to ensure coverage of mental health treatment and provide more mental health services to children and youth since the majority of mental illnesses appear before the age of 24. 

I am glad that mental illness is getting more attention and there will now be a national discussion on what good mental health care should look like. I am sad that this had to come about after a shooting when in fact, as the President said, people with mental illness are more likely to be the victim of a crime than a perpetrator. Having the conversation come about in this way just makes the stigma worse. The Presidents plan at least mentions the fact that the stigma against mental illness is high and we need a conversation around that so people can get the help they need. I would like to have faith that with more education the public will not equate violence with mental illness, but I doubt that will happen. 

I think we have to face the fact that what really happened today is we have inadvertently greatly increased the stigma against people with mental illness.

I am not saying we should not be doing the things this document suggests, I just see the realities of what this means for people with mental illness since we tied better mental health care to a violent tragedy in our society.

In terms of reporting people with mental illness to the authorities, the document says to report "direct and credible threats of violence." To me this seems pretty clear that they will have some good guidelines on what is a direct and credible threat. Hopefully such things as cutting, thoughts of violence but no plans, even recurring violent nightmares will not be things that the government encourages to be reported. These are all things that do not actually indicate a violent person and are well taken care of in treatment. For instance, people with PTSD or even severe anxiety may see recurrent violent images in their mind, sometimes from an incident they saw in the past but do not really remember, incidents they do remember, or things they are afraid will happen. I could see how someone with these issues would not want to mention them because unless you have a really good mental health provider who understands mental illness and how the brain works, someone could completely overreact. This means less people will get help and they will be living with these scary images without learning how to resolve or diminish them.

What sounds even more concerning to me though are other laws like New York States new gun control law which "requires physicians, psychologists, nurses or clinical social workers to alert local health officials if a patient 'is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.' After an evaluation, the health officials would pass on the person's information to law-enforcement agencies that would be authorized to seize any firearm owned by the patient. If a person is found not to own any firearms, the patient would be added to a statewide criminal background check database, marking a significant expansion of who would be made ineligible to legally buy a firearm."

This is more of an issue for me because "serious harm to self or others" is not a very clear definition. What is "serious harm?" Also, even if you do not want a firearm and will never apply for one, you will now be added to the criminal background check database which could seriously affect your ability to get a job if this part of the background check that is accessible to employers. If it is, now your background check will forever state that you have a mental illness and no matter how stable you are, all employers will see is that something came up on your background check, not who you are. Again, this will lead to less people seeking treatment. As it stands right now, 60% of people with mental illness do not seek treatment due to stigma. This number will rise.

These are just some of the issues I see in this preliminary discussion of gun control and mental illness and I am interested to see where this goes. As someone who does not want a gun, I really don't care if I get on a list that says I can't have one. However, there are great police officers and military personnel who should be able to get treatment for their mental illness and not risk loosing their job. Also, it just makes me sad that I could be tossed on a list of "violent" people just because I have an illness which most people, even many mental health professionals, don't understand. No matter how we define all these terms of what is "violent," "serious harm," and a "credible threat," the fact is people are scared of those of us with brain disease and they will scapegoat us and overreact instead of trying to help and heal. 

My best suggestion is that those of us with mental illness who can speak up, do. Tell our stories and show another side of the illness that is not all about relating the need for better health care to violence, but to the need that we create a community that helps people thrive.


Rev. Katie

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gratitude for the Food that Heals Me

Today we went to Fair View Meadow Farm to see where our meat comes from. A while ago, through our CrossFit gym we started buying grass-fed, pastured meat and eggs from the buying club with Fair View Meadow Farm. As we got more into the Paleo lifestyle and in order to support sustainable ethical eating, we then ordered a whole cow from the farm which means we do not have to buy meat from the grocery store which comes from who knows where, using inhumane farming, hormones, and excess fossil fuels for transportation. (Here is a great post about pork from Whole9 The Conscientious Omnivore: Pigs and Pork.) The meat tastes a ton better than meat from the grocery, it has no antibiotics and hormones in it, it is much leaner, and cheaper too.

We chose to start eating this way because the Paleo diet was recommended to me by my doctors to help treat my bipolar disorder, and as long as I stick to it, it really works. We have been really strict Paleo, doing a Whole30 starting January 1, 2013, and this has helped in many ways. I will expand on that in another post, but overall my mood has evened out, I have more energy, better cognitive function, and the ability to follow through on other treatment such as exercise. I have not needed as much Ativan, and that is the only medication I am on right now- taken maybe just a few times a week.

Nathan Joppeck from Fair View Meadow Farm offered to show us the farm and our son really liked the idea saying "I would like to see what a cow looks like when it is not in block form." (This is a Minecraft reference and also because he has never seen a cow except meat in a freezer.) I was glad he wanted to know where his food comes from. Since we have also ordered a whole pig, we went out to the farm to meet the group of pigs ours will come from, and see all the other animals.

Jeffrey, Katie, & Jeff with the cows.

They are a multi-species farm raising cows, chickens, sheep, and pigs. They also grow organic fruits and vegetables. The animals rotate feeding on different parts of the pasture so the earth is sustainable and the animals are humanely raised. No animal is penned up or shut in like in factory farming. Clearly I can't describe the specifics of all that they do, but basically the animals get to lead healthy and happy lives.

I thought when I went out there that I might have a hard time looking into the animals eyes knowing I would be eating one or more of them at some time.

Photo by Jeff Norris.

This is a hard thing for me, being a Unitarian Universalist and respecting the interdependent web of existence and eating animals. Many people in our faith insist that the only ethical way to eat is by being vegetarian, yet they do not realize that you can be an ethical meat eater and some of us actually have medical reasons why we need to eat meat. The proteins derived from soy or legumes are incomplete for someone like me and also soy and legumes bother my digestive tract and make me sick not only in body but in mind as well. As I saw these animals today, I felt a huge appreciation for them because they help save my life.

They allow me to treat my illness without tons of medication. They allow me to care for my family, remain healthy, and be someone who can contribute positively to the world. Without them my health is greatly compromised. Bipolar disorder and anxiety are serious illnesses and my treatment includes a specific diet of animal protein which is as free-range and organic possible. These animals literally heal me. Rather than feel guilty and bad about needing meat to treat my illness, I now have a great appreciation for the animals. I really see it as more of a spiritual connection that allows me to see them as the amazing beings that they truly are rather than just something from a store that I have no relationship to.

I was also glad that our son got to see just how much work the farmers have to do to bring food to our table. He learned the importance of these animals and how they help care for and heal us. He knows food does not come from a box.

In gratitude for all that sustains and heals us, we have added to our dinner prayer "We thank the earth and all of the farmers and animals which brought us this food."


Rev. Katie