Get down to business with healing the gut

Yesterday I received back the results of some lab tests I had done for food intolerance. The fact was, and I knew it, I wasn’t getting any better in a sustained way. Yes, I have plateaux where I feel so much better than I think I’ve felt for a very long time…but then the crashes come and this last couple of weeks has been a big one; I’ve been in such a lot of pain and exhaustion. The gut is so-often a starting point for what is going on in the body; I knew…and had been postponing the fact that…I had to go much deeper with uncovering any food intolerance that might be triggering me off. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done massive work with my diet (as I’ve written about before). I’ve been fully vegetarian for almost five years and, even before that, ate grass-fed and free range without compromise. Since then, I’ve been unremittingly organic, farm-fresh wherever possible, almost nothing packaged or processed apart from healthy snack bars and the occassional organic sauce. I know my “good oils” and had embraced coconut as my substitute of choice for spreads and food prep (apart from when I drizzle organic extra olive oil on my salads). I drastically reduced gluten and wheat 2 or 3 years ago and then became fully “free” of both just over a year ago. I gave up alcohol 19 months ago and never looked back. I gave up milk as a drink half a decade ago, though I kept cheese in my diet for balance (and because I love it and its such a vegetarian staple). I eat seeds and nuts, plenty of fruit, green juices, superfoods galore…what could I possibly still be doing “wrong?” Yet I knew something was as I wasn’t really healing.

It was my myofasical therapist who first suggested I get my own lab tests done. I’d danced around the possibility of hiring a nutritionist many times but an email dialogue with just one of these was enough to put me off as he had fixed opinions that were very different to mine and seemed to want to throw all my own intuitions and know-how in the bin. But my therapist said “why do you need to see a person; why not go straight to the lab…you’re knowlegeable enough” (and then recommended Yorktest Labs in the UK who, I admit, I had not come across before). Everything about my body in that last session seemed to indicate to her very-sharp intuition that my current issues started in the gut. I didn’t need it suggesting twice…two hours later I had spoken to York and arranged for their Modern Living test (distinct from their more general Food & Drink scan test, based on the fact I already eat a less than mainstream diet) and I was on my way.

This process of taking the leap to seek “scientific” answers for myself felt like I was blasting through a long-standing obstruction to my own healing. Though I had done so much research based on symptoms, had gone deeply into “self-love” and doing all it takes to nurture and support myself to a firmer footing in my health, there was still a sense of fumbling around in the dark when it came to  healing. It was like there was a giant “stop” sign when it came to seeking medical intervention beyond the home-knitted variety.  This is largely because I parted ways with my GP surgery years ago as all they seemed to want to do was push pain killers or antidepressants my way and hurry me out the door. Lab tests for thyroid and diabetes etc consistently came back “normal”, though we all know that is typical of chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia which defy standard margins or behaviours when it comes to testing to “prove” their existence. Doctors I saw didn’t seem to have the know-how, the desire or the time, to probe any deeper. So I pulled myself back from conventional medical care whilst wishing, at some level, that I lived in the States or Canada; somewhere that, because you are paying, you are still treated like the client and not pooh-poohed for your theories before being shown the door once your five minutes is up. I’d done with being on the end of that disdainful look over half-moon glasses as soon as I mentioned I had “read something” and formed a theory…so I’d been going it alone for all these years; a stance which had become like a “never back down” brick wall between me and some of the help I was really needing. Yet in a world where doctors have become to medical science what priests try to make themselves in organised religion, I was left with no intermediary…stranded, with no access to the information that could allow this final layer of healing to really happen. I clearly needed to go direct but, for some reason, had never got very far with that ambition until now.

Perhaps “arrange it yourself” lab tests weren’t so readily accessible last time I looked; I certainly don’t remember anything as glossy and easy to navigate as Yorktest Labs are. Two “live chats” in and my kit was on its way for me to carry out the finger-prick test and send it back. In my heart-of-hearts (though a negative result would have been almost as galling to someone desperately seeking answers…) I knew something “big” would come up; something inconvenient and difficult to navigate around in an already complicated way of life. But I also knew I needed to be prepared for that and to take it seriously, to do what it takes to get better using their advice, no compromises…or what was the point of even going there?

Yorktest.jpgWhen the package arrived a week later, my heart did a thud and I resolved to open it slowly over a cup of something soothing in the garden. However, out of its wrapper, my eye zoned in on the top line of the accompanying letter before I had even sat down and my stomach turned to liquid. Gulp! The words said “You will notice that you have a high number (24) of REACTION & BORDERLINE ingredients. Please do not be alarmed by this, we are here to help you manage changes to your diet…”

So this was it then! Before I went any deeper into what the results pack was about to tell me, I texted my husband to tell him I had it. “Take it steady” he said, “breathe…keep a clear mind and remember, whatever it says, we’ll get through it and its information to help make you well”.

Yes. Though I suppose I had certain likely “culprits” in mind and what came up was part of the shock of what I was digesting here (excuse the pun) since they were some of my very “core” foods out of an already simplistic diet by supermarket standards. To pull them out would mean my whole diet pyramid falling down.

In fact, my red and orange-zone intolerances (most were in the red!) include eggs, all kinds of animal milk, coconut (a pivotal food-type for me), chilly, coriander, cumin and GARLIC! (all of which I use liberally in my vegetarian diet), wheat (no surprise), yeast (goodbye alternative bread, pizza bases, pitta), a couple of really common seeds found in just about every health food known to man, peanuts, hazelnuts, kale… it read like the contents of a healthfood store.

It was a roller-coaster afternoon after that; my emotions didn’t know whether to guffaw outloud at the irony and ridiculousness of the situation or whether to weep quietly at the pathos (in the end, I did both in equal proportion). A trip to the fridge to see what there was for lunch delivered up the dregs of a week’s supplies and I was non-plussed at what I managed to throw together…but took heart from the fact it was shopping day. Then I sat there – for over 3 hours! – attempting to place my weekly shopping order from the two main suppliers that I use and was fluxmoxed by how many “no longer allowed” products there were on my typical list. I fired off questions to makers of one or two of them: “what do you mean by ‘spices’; can you be more specific?” and awaited their consistently disappointing answers as there were those spices, yeast and garlic tucked away in nearly everything. They were in my organic pesto sauce, my favourite organic baked beans, my paleo snack bars (with only 3 or 4 ingredients in them…but one of them was always “wrong” for me), most non-gluten sugar-free cereals, the gluten-free pita breads I love to stuff with healthy goodies for an easy lunch, my favourite sweet potato falafel, the mayonnaise I use to make my homemade coleslaws, the frozen coconut icecream we have as a treat at the weekends…I took one body blow after another.

When my husband got home, my gun-ho attitude dissolved into girlie tears and, while part of me felt pathetic (its only food), I just had to surrender to it for an hour or so…it felt like a kind of mourning for the death of a lifestyle I had grown attached to and with no ready alternative presenting itself (yet) to fill its shoes. I felt lonely in my weirdness. I watched my daughter prepare a “normal” meal and felt envious. I felt hungry…in advance…and “rabit-in-the-headlights” about preparing that evening’s meal. I felt alarmed at how to keep my energy levels up eating what my husband tried to joke was the “no-food food diet”; given I am already struggling with chronic fatigue on a grand scale (no joke to say even taking a shower or keeping upright has been too much for me some days this week). I tried to google articles and blogs for meal ideas but most people avoiding one food type compensate with at least one or two others off my “do not eat” list. I felt utterly dejected as I set about making a garlic-less tomato, onion and carrot sauce to spoon over some mushrooms, sans the cheese topping that would have made it the meal I would have relished. No delicious Booja-Booja chocolates (made from cacao and coconut oil) after dinner tonight; the only sweet treat I tend to have and now it was gone (my inner child stamped her feet).  In the end, I felt done-in by my own inner protestations, which seemed to come at me from ever cell and fibre of a being in resistance to “what is” laid out on a lab report. What could I do about it but accept it? This was what it looked like I and had to deal with the words on the page if I wanted to feel better. End of story.

matthias-heil-156834So we went for an evening walk to watch the sunset and I started to pull myself together; after all, no one had been maimed or died. I knew,  via some higher aspect of me that is party to the “bigger picture” and which was knocking at the door of me to come in, that out of this new challenge a new level of healing and personal growth was about ready to be birthed. Some of the changes might only be temporary until my body gets it together again; others…well…but what if they are necessary so I can start to enjoy the radiant health I have been keeping at bay for so long. After all, I knew I was quite capable of registering  subtleties in my diet at a level way beyond the rational mind. Two of the most “modern” things on my intolerance list were ones that I already knew didn’t agree with me – kale, for instance – which I tried so diligently  to incorporate, akin to most other health-food aficionados, only to find it didn’t make me feel very good at all. In light of this very strong intuition (which had clearly told me what I needed to know the moment I consumed it) I began to suspect the part played by learned behaviour and nostalgia when it came to ignoring the adverse effects of those other foods on my list. Part of me, I knew, had stuck it heels in and refused to give them up, even when I had (long) suspected that, say, cheese may not be making me feel all-that rosy. If this was the shake-up call I needed and it was the only thing stood between me and vastly increased energy, far less inflammation and pain, no more brain fog or unexplained nerve pain, no more crashing, unpredictable health…etc., then I was in for the ride.

That’s not to say that the timing, in the summer heat, right before several trips away (always a food-challenge anyway) is ideal…yet when is? Doing this in the autumn or winter months when I feel generally lousier would be even harder. For me, there was no looking back, not even a “last super” once I opened those results even, though I had no idea whether how long I was giving them up for or I would ever get to eat some of these foods again. I was uncompromising as a way of setting the pace of how diligently I was prepared to work at this, no short-cuts or cheats. I am now working on spinning my new diet in the most positive light I can, the one that sees me gain the foothold on recovery that I have so-long been seeking. See it as a opportunity for even greater innovation in the kitchen than I already demonstrate on a daily basis, I told myself; and hopefully, once it starts to have an effect, I should have the energy back with which to tackle the new challenge that cooking might (temporarily) bring. Perhaps one day I will look back and applaud the time I made the changes that altered my life, resoundingly, for the better as I already do about some of the earlier shifts I have made along the path. In truth, I find I know this already…so now to get on with it and to look forward to the steady progress I expect to make in the coming weeks.


As part of the package with York there are a couple of half hour consultations with a nutritionist and I have just had my first one. It was explained how the intolerances are ranged in order of reaction and that this can be used as a guide to how much to work at eliminating a particular food trigger, at least while the body heals. I was told that my results were a clear indication that I have leaky gut (long suspected; though the first time its been confirmed). The program is aimed at a 12 week period of total elimination of the red zone foods, with a slightly more relaxed approach to those on the orange/borderline list (phew, I can eat some garlic) though I intend to take both lists seriously in an effort to heal my gut. Some supplements were suggested to help me to do this, one of which I am already taking (curcumin) but an increased dose was recommended. Two or three other solutions were suggested to get around foods that I am needing to “tweak” or replace, both of which I was unaware of before so I found the session pretty punchy, given the relatively short time, but very useful. The key thing is that if you pursue your own test, a personalised set of recommendations can be provided for you, to help you get your own gut healing underway. Resources such a handbook and daily diary for tracking progress are included in the kit.

As a result of this doorway swinging open in my mind, suggesting to me that I can go after the results I need to heal, with or without a doctor’s say-so, I have ordered two addtional blood tests with another entity called Medicheck. There is (sorry to keep harping on about this but it feels so relevant when your aim is to achieve balance…) the sense of yin and yang components coming together on new terms about a person who has been at sea, seeking to self-heal from chronic illness using primarily intuition and natural methods, now agreeing to seek out the assistance of the scientific community that may well afford them the completion that they are after. In other words, I feel my left and right brained approaches to healing have just come together and met in the middle; which makes for a powerful team. Sometimes you reach a point when you could use that “get down to business” approach to healing that comes from an unremitting scientific stance and I seem to have reached the point where I want to add that to my mix; which taps into an aspect of me that relishes “geeking-out”, crossing and ticking all the boxes. When you block your own access to information that could benefit you, you only delay your own facility to come into balance and harmony and this cannot fail to impact on your state of health. I have no regrets – at all – about self-managing my own healing process to the extent that I have thus far and I have delved very deep into the processes of my own biology in ways that have been utterly life-changing but there is no doubting that I need to reach my hand out towards method that could now help me make further headway by producing some data. This is nothing like the feeling of surrendering that going to the GP’s surgery, to be belittled or persuaded into all manner of prescription medications without getting to the root causes, would have given me if I had agreed to it all those years ago; this is all on my terms and retains full respect for everything I have come to know about my own body and my particular state of health. By ending my own stand-off with the more mainstream aspects of twenty-first century medicine, I have made a personal shift into the centre of my own healing process and I can feel that as a tangible turbo boost to the headway I am now making.

In particular, there are questions I want answering regarding my thyroid, the function tests relating to which are set at a ridiculously high margin in the UK (somewhat lower in the US but still higher than the threshold necessary to detect some auto-immunity presentations of thyroid issues such as Hashimoto’s…and yes there is still a good chance that my lab results may demonstrate nothing “on paper” since there is such a thing as a subclinical thyroid issue, which can still throw your health into serious disarray, especially combined with other auto-immune conditions, as I clearly have. But its a big start to at least investigate this (whilst seeking to heal the auto-immune component through a more personally appropriate diet as I am now doing…) and the very fact of feeling I deserve these answers, at last, feels like another major healing step at the psychological level. There is a giant declaration of “I’m worth it ” underwritten into the very fact I have financially invested in myself, through these tests, giving them priority out of all the things I could spend my limited means on right now (and I am lucky enough to have the full support and encouragement of my husband, whatever the outcome). It’s no coincidence that many more women than men have thyroid issues. Thyroid function, being to do with that butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, has a great deal to do with a woman’s feeling of power, worthiness and safety to “speak her truth” (the return of the “yin”) and I am actively giving my butterfly flight by exploring new data (made available via the most scientific means  at my disposal – “yang”) in order to take whatever next steps are called for in order for me to heal completely. There is already a post on thyroid in the pipeline (coming soon) and I will report back on that next stage of my exploration, and how I am coping with the new diet, in the coming weeks.


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