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In Answer to Your Questions (Letter to Our Family)

Friday, September 13, 2013

In response to the on-going badgering, heckling and disregard, I wrote a detailed explanation, with references, to our families and friends a week ago regarding why we have chosen to fuel our bodies as we do.

A letter to our family about exactly what/how we eat, and why:
(there's something near the bottom just for my SPARKling friends)

Hi, everyone.

I probably should have done this sooner, but I'm not sure I could have explained as well the 'why' of it all before now.

Since we are still getting a lot of questions, I'm writing this to simply inform/educate, and to hopefully answer any questions you might still have about the changes we've made to our diet, and why. We understand that it seems complex and confusing from the outside, and we very much appreciate the effort everyone has made to understand, and for the efforts that have been made to accommodate... we know people have gone out of their way on occasion to make concessions to our dietary requirements.

Having said that, we want it to be clear that while the reasons for these changes are not a whim and are absolutely related to our health and well-being:

**We don't expect anyone to go out of their way to accommodate.**

We haven't yet gone hungry anywhere, and we simply eat what we can, and leave the rest (while this is harder for The Divine Miss O, she's learning fast)... we're okay with that (though I'd have to say my one personal heartbreak is my Mom's pyrogys... I feel sad every time the bowl passes me... and I very much miss baking/enjoying wheat bread... it can't be replicated). We also appreciate that no one has taken our refusal of any food personally, and please, don't mind if we ask some questions of our own to determine whether or not we should eat something.

It's been two years for me, and about 15 months of eating this way for my Mr. and The Divine Miss O. The longer we do so, the more our health and food tolerance improves (nothing on our list of ailments below is chronic any longer, and over half are fast becoming a memory), so occasionally we do test the limits with some foods (oils, non-gluten grains, dairy - though a bit too much this summer, and we are all experiencing a renewed understanding of why the changes are so important for our well-being... gluten and most legumes remain firmly off the table for us, and corn has to be very limited)... but it depends a lot on what is going on for any one of us physically in the moment... there are ups and downs. I was told that it would take about a month of healing for every year of damage... so for me, that's a little over 4 years, and that's *IF* everything of concern is consistently removed (easier said than done)... I'm still working on that.

**We now know that as little as one exposure to gluten (and other gut irritants) every 10-15 days is enough to keep the gut damaged.**

So, the dietary model to which we espouse is considered 'ANCESTRAL' (which, when stripped to the bare basics, is called 'Paleo'):

What we DO eat - whole, fresh food including:
* fresh fruit: everything
* fresh vegetables (and green beans are fine... they don't have the same issues of concern as other legumes), raw or cooked
* LOTS, and a wide variety of greens
* all unprocessed meat, fish, seafood, poultry without coatings, sauces
* processed meat that we have sourced as 'safe' (Pillar's, Grimm's & Harvest are often okay, but the ingredients list must still be read carefully)
* potatoes in small amounts
* sweet potatoes
* white rice (so something like cabbage rolls are fine as long as they don't have canned tomato soup on them)
* eggs
* butter
* full-fat cream/milk
* plain full-fat yoghurt and sour cream
(no/low fat dairy has too many additives and too much sugar)
* limited gluten-free ice cream (you'd be surprised at how many varieties/flavours include gluten... much like candy)
* limited cheese
* tree nuts
* sea/Himalayan salt (once all of the processed food is eliminated from one's diet, one can actually become deficient in salt, which creates other problems... which we learned the hard way)
* homemade salad dressings
* very limited 100% juices (too high in sugar to drink much)
* tea and decaffinated coffee
* limited wine... it's always a crap shoot... we react to some, and not to others... still figuring this out
* pure spirits... The Divine Miss O likes her Scotch 'neat' (just kidding!)
* limited gluten-free homemade baking IF it doesn't contain any other contaminants (i.e. margarine... and lots of gluten-free flour blends contain other grains and legumes, and the bought stuff has too little nutrition and too many additives)
* 'clean' chocolate occasionally (Lindt, for example, so Lindt 'Lambs of God' at Easter are fine)

What we DO NOT eat:
* Grains - gluten and non-gluten (corn - and corn products - is grain, and we only eat it fresh in very limited amounts)
* Soy (especially no soya sauce since it usually has gluten added to it)
* Legumes (peanuts are a legume)
* Dairy (limited fermented dairy products), especially no low/no fat dairy (too many additives and added sugar)
* Refined sugars (except for small amounts of raw honey which has healthy enzymes)
* absolutely no artificial sweeteners
* Modern vegetable oils (no margarine, no canola, no corn oil, no safflower oil, no peanut oil)
* Processed food/chemicals - condiments are sketchy (salad dressings especially), and we don't add them to food unless we're sure they are 'clean'
* store-bought gluten-free products... too many contaminants, and too little nutrition to make it worth it
* canned/packaged soups
* pop, powdered drink mixes of any kind
* commercial snack foods (even 'veggie' chips... having vegetables in it does not necessarily make it an acceptable food, lol)... we have found that Old Dutch has come out with some acceptable chips (the oil is still an issue)... Dutch Crunch Kettle Chips... but only the plain, for a very occasional treat
* candy (limited treats at Easter and Christmas... most candy has gluten in it)
* beer (though my Mr. seems to tolerate one very rarely)
* spice blends... too many have MSG... so no more Florizone dip (learned that the hard way, too)... Johnny's Seasoned Sea Salt (Jamaica Me Crazy) is safe

...there can be a lot of differing opinions about how to apply 'Paleo'... 'Ancestral' is where we've ended up. We are still trying to source an economical resource for things like pastured eggs, chicken, dairy and exclusively grass-fed meat.

* Where we started:

(click on the image in the top left to enlarge it)

...here are some quick comparison charts so you can see the differences/similarities at a glance:
* Paleo is NOT simply Atkins/Zone/Bernstein/South Beach/Sonoma/etc. by another name.

* Paleo Diet Flow Chart

* Comparison Chart: Primal/Paleo/Ancestral, etc.

The longer version, with explanations as to our specific experience:
We embarked on this journey to address...

* The Divine Miss O's health issues as of four years ago (insomnia; debilitating anxiety: Drs. were suggesting medication; stomach aches; headaches; general overall 'bone' pain; chronic and severe constipation; escalating eczema; sinus issues and 'allergies'; she stopped growing, and had a seriously compromised immune system, she ate indeibles)

The Divine Miss O's story in greater detail:

...and found so much more... healing for my Mr. and me, as well.

* My Mr.'s chronic health issues (anxiety; skin issues; gut issues: pain, bloating; significant hand tremors; overall achiness; debilitating fatigue; impaired ability to focus; poor lipid profile; rising blood sugar; obesity)

* My health issues (debilitating fatigue; migraines; hormonal imbalances: endometriosis, unexplained infertility; gut issues: diagnosed Irritable Bowel Syndrome; GERD, gallbladder issues, skin issues; severe sinus issues; gum disease & loosening teeth, insomnia; anxiety/depression; chronic yeast/bladder infections, escalating joint pain, compromised immunity; seriously high blood pressure, adrenal collapse, dangerously poor lipid profile, mineral deficiencies, poor nutrient absorption, obesity... and I have never eaten in a way such that I should be fat)

* Interesting to note: even though we ate little to no processed food, minimal sugar, only fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains only, low fat and quality meat (a diet that the majority of people would recognise as 'healthy' to the extreme) we were all still sick, and getting sicker. I'd pretty much given up trying to be well and fully functional, and my Mr. didn't even realize he was sick... largely because he'd felt this way all of his life. It was The Divine Miss O's health that pushed me forward... she was only 5 years old when her issues manifested... much too young to be facing a lifetime of debilitated health... so four years ago research became my full-time job.

What we've come to understand, based on our collective and similar health issues, and on the results of changes made, is that Gluten is the primary culprit, and there are many other foods that have the same impact as does gluten on the gut, and on the immune system.

We've chosen the dietary regime we have because we now have a very clear understanding of how the foods we eat interact with our gut barriers and influence our metabolic/immune systems... because no matter how many doctors/specialists we've all seen, and how much testing has been done, and how many medications have been tried, the medical establishment has found 'nothing wrong' with each of us... yet, somehow, we are now healing and feeling 'well' (WITHOUT all of the medication it was suggested we needed)... my Mr. and I for the first time in our lives.

What it comes down to, as evidenced by the dramatic improvement in everyone's health (though we all still have a ways to go), is that we are all gluten intolerant, and we all suffer from some degree of 'leaky gut syndrome' and autoimmune disruption, and my Mr. and I have the added concern of metabolic/hormonal disturbance.

Autoimmune disease is caused by the immune system losing the ability to differentiate between proteins belonging to your own body with proteins belonging to a foreign invader (like a bacteria, virus or parasite). What causes symptoms is the build up of damage to cells, tissues and/or organs in the body - damage caused by your own immune system attacking those cells. Which proteins/cells are attacked is what separates one disease from another.

Genetic predisposition to autoimmunity makes up about one third of your risk of developing an autoimmune disease (The Divine Miss O and I, by virtue of our eczema, are definitely pre-disposed... testing has at least told us that... by virtue of family similarities, my Mr. is also likely pre-disposed). The other two thirds of your risk come from environmental factors, which include: diet, lifestyle, infections (both prior and persistent), exposure to toxins, hormones, weight, etc.

This way of eating is not a cure (once your body learns to attack itself, it can never un-learn this), but you can put your health issues into remission, often permanently. Depending on how long you have had your disease and how aggressive it is (my Mr. is least affected, while The Divine Miss O and I are about equal - though I shudder to think where she'd be if she had had to wait until age 50 for answers), there may be permanent damage (which might, for example mean that you need to take supplements for the rest of your life), but you can stop your immune system from attacking your body and heal substantially. It is very simply an extremely nutrient-dense diet that is devoid of foods that irritate the gut, cause gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in the intestinal bacteria that precipitates changes in the normal activities of the gastrointestinal tract, possibly resulting in health problems... here is where limited sugar is critical for The Divine Miss O) and activate the immune system.

Gut dysbiosis and a leaky gut are believed to be involved in all autoimmune related illnesses/diseases (and are present in every autoimmune disease which has been tested). The presence of gut dysbiosis and a leaky gut are directly related to diet and lifestyle (the foods you eat, the foods you don't eat, how much sleep you get and how stressed you are). An 'Ancestral' diet is designed to help heal the gut, to restore normal/healthy gut microorganisms, to reduce inflammation and to regulate the immune system both through healing the gut, regulating hormones and addressing micronutrient deficiencies (this is why we take the supplements we do... occasionally we try to reduce them, but we still experience a drop in wellness when we do).

The first dietary recommendation for those with autoimmune disease is to adhere to a strict Ancestral diet. To be clear, this means: no grains (corn is a grain, and we only eat it fresh, and very occasionally; and we are testing non-gluten grains which we eat very occasionally), no legumes (peanuts are a legume), little to no dairy (except fermented), no refined sugars (except for small amounts of raw honey which has healthy enzymes), no modern vegetable oils (no margarine, no canola oil, no olive oil unless it's really pure... most olive oil being sold is actually cut with cheap grain oils to increase profit margins... Kirkland is the only we know of that is actually pure; no corn oil, no safflower oil, no peanut oil), no processed food chemicals. Gluten is banned for life. Grains and legumes should never be consumed. Dairy of any kind (even grass-fed ghee which can still have trace lactose and dairy proteins!) should be avoided initially. This may be true for the rest of your life, but some people may be able to reintroduce select foods after their diseases are in remission.

We are still trying to find our bottom-line foods, and this is complicated in that within the general framework, each of us have slightly different considerations... for instance, The Divine Miss O's tolerance for sugar is very low (while her carb tolerance is high... she hasn't been ill long enough to disrupt her metabolism) and she seems to have some issues with dairy so we limit milk and cheese, though plain yoghurt seems to be fine; while my Mr. and I both need to watch our carb levels overall (we are both metabolically disordered), but not specifically sugar, and dairy doesn't seem to be a problem. I will be trying a strict autoimmune version of 'Ancestral' eating to see if some of my more persistent issues resolve even further (I have a continued and highly over-reactive inflammatory response)... my gut has been damaged the longest, and will take longer and more to heal to whatever degree it may.

Additionally, most people (including the majority of people diagnosed with Celiac disease) do not realize that it is critical to understand the concept of gluten cross-reactivity. Essentially, when your body creates antibodies against gluten, those same antibodies also recognize proteins in other foods. When you eat those foods, even though they don't contain gluten, your body reacts as though they do. You can do a fantastic job of remaining completely gluten-free but still suffer all of the symptoms of gluten consumption - because your body still thinks you are eating gluten (and this is why grains in general and legumes are off the table for us... they are all high in a variety of proteins between which the body doesn't necessarily differentiate).

* So, while none of us have been diagnosed with Celiac disease, by the improvement in our health with the diet change, it is safe to conclude that we are certainly gluten intolerant to a significant degree. This is the way we will be eating for the rest of our lives.

Frankly, there a number of compelling reasons why everyone should consider it (ankylosing spondylitis, hand tremors, Crohn's Disease, arthritis, gallbladder disease, male pattern baldness, eczema and other skin issues, gum disease and excessive cavities and other dental anomalies, thyroid issues, an inordinate degree of PMS, chronic fatigue syndrome, sinus problems, arthritis, infertility/miscarriages, debilitating depression, debilitating anxiety, debilitating fatigue, constipation/abnormal elimination, IBS, obesity: fat is a symptom not a cause, heart disease, diabetes and stroke among them).

(ASIDE to my SPARKling friends: I'm a person who looks for patterns: The above listed medical concerns are common to several family members on both sides of the family, and they show up most noticeably in the children/grandchildren... we have a 12-year-old nephew that shakes as badly as his grandfather, yet nobody takes us seriously because ALL of the men on the Mr.'s side of the family have hand tremors... nevermind that my Mr.'s tremors have been eliminated with the change in diet.)

The resources below are for your own curiosity, if you are interested in reading further.

If you have questions, or want further resources, I'm happy to help!


(larger image)

My Bibliography/Resources if you want to understand for yourself:

* How to Keep Feces Out of Your Bloodstream

* Gluten Cross-Reactivity UPDATE: How your body can still think you're eating gluten even after giving it up.

Although celiac disease is relatively common (about 1 in 100 to 150 people in the US are thought to be affected), most people who have the disease are not aware of it. This is partly due to the fact that the symptoms are variable -- they may be mild or absent, even when intestinal damage is present on biopsied tissue. Since these symptoms may also be due to a variety of other conditions, a diagnosis of celiac disease may be missed or delayed -- sometimes for years. Additionally, it is thought that as high as 30% of the remaining population is significantly impacted by non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

* What Is A Leaky Gut? (And How Can It Cause So Many Health Issues?)

* How Do Grains, Legumes and Dairy Cause a Leaky Gut? Part 1: Lectins

* How Do Grains, Legumes and Dairy Cause a Leaky Gut? Part 2: Saponins and Protease Inhibitors

* What About Fat?

* Paleo Mom (GREAT resource)

* 50 Shades of Gluten (Intolerance)

* How Common is Gluten Sensitivity?

* The "Gluten Free" Trap

* What! There's No Such Thing As A Gluten Free Grain?

* Perspective: Challenging Our "Healthy Food" Assumptions

* Phytoestrogens in the Body: How Soy Interferes with Natural Hormone Balance


* Healthy Eating Politics: Alternative Views on Food and Health

* Mark's Daily Apple: Primal Living in the Modern World


(larger image)

(...and in the case of non-specific and wide-spread inflammation, ALL systems can be equally affected without diagnosable disease present)

Specific AUTOIMMUNITY Concerns:

* What is Inflammation?

* How to Tell If You're Inflamed: Objective and Subjective Inflammatory Markers

* The Autoimmune Protocol

* Nightshades
(short & sweet)

* What Are Nightshades?

* Why Nightshades are Problematic for Many People

* Why Nightshades are Eliminated from the Autoimmune Protocol

General health resources explaining why we choose to implement ideas counter to conventional medical advice:

* Gary Taubes: Why We Get Fat

* Dr Mary Vernon, MD, is one of the world's foremost experts on treating obesity and diabetes

* Wheat Belly #1
* Wheat Belly #2
* Wheat Belly #3
* Wheat Belly #4
* Wheat Belly #5
* Wheat Belly #6

* Red Meat: It Does a Body Good!

* Why Grass-Fed Trumps Grain-Fed

* Does Red Meat Cause Inflammation?

* Omega-3 Essays

* The Straight Dope on Cholesterol: 10 Things You Need to Know - Part 1

* The Straight Dope on Cholesterol: 10 Things You Need to Know - Part 2

For anyone wanting to try this lifestyle, here are the books I'd recommend for your personal library!

...Mark's website is FREE and offers pretty much everything the book does, and he has real talent for explaining really complex ideas and science in a really simple way... I don't know if I would have figured it out so quickly or caught on to the notion for myself if not for this website... I subscribe to the daily email, and so every day I can read a little and learn as I go:

* Mark's Daily Apple

* Archives:

* FREE E-Book: Paleo Diet Solution: Lose Weight The Easy And Healthy Way With Fat Burning Foods Paleo Diet Guide With Recipes And Meal Plans

* The Whole30...another really helpful website that offers a FREE 30-day strict Paleo program with meal plans, shopping lists and other really helpful information:

* The Whole30 A-Z: Real Life Testimonials
In this post you'll find (constantly updated) real life testimonials from people who have experienced life-changing results from their Whole30� program. From asthma to blood pressure to circulation to diabetes, we�re sharing Whole30 results here, all in one spot, to motivate, inspire and encourage someone (maybe even you) to give the program a shot.

I LOVE Amazon (I order what I want, don't pay shipping - choose FREE Super Saver Shipping - and it arrives at my door usually within the week if everything is in stock):

* The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eating Paleo
(the Cole's Notes version of Paleo in a nutshell)

* Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It

* Primal Body, Primal Mind
(more from a woman's perspective)

* The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy
(there are a number of ways to interpret 'Paleo'... 'PRIMAL' is a derivative of 'Paleo' and is closer to what we follow... allows for dairy and more carbs if you can tolerate them)

And, finally, something just for my SPARKling friends:

Making such a drastic change can be daunting... especially in the face of resistance, and a lack of support from the people around you. Lifestyle (and change) has to begin and end with you and your own convictions. This ultimately means figuring out who you really want to be, and then using your unique giftedness to become so.

So much of our identity is wrapped up in who we think we should be, who others 'need' us to be (often for their own selfish and 'sick' reasons), or who we are forced to be by virtue of necessity or circumstance. Food, and how we nourish our bodies, is an integral part of that, and is an area of our lives where we are uniquely vulnerable. Don't underestimate how far reaching the decision to fuel your body for your own well-being can be... and don't miss the inherent gift available to you should you have the courage to accept it.

* Let Go of Your Identity

Dear SPARKlings, may today and every day bring to you a ridiculous abundance of whatever you need. May you find peace within and all around you. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith and desire... a desire which even itself issues from God. May all your concerns, struggles, anxieties and fears fall like ashes as you rise on eagle's wings, SOARING above all that would hinder you along this tremendous adventure of being and becoming all you are created to be. May you answer your call and use those gifts that you have received to pass on the love that has been given to you. May the presence of God settle into your bones and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love beyond your wildest imagination. May you be overwhelmed by the grace of God as it simply "overtakes" you moment by moment... rather than being overwhelmed by the cares of life!

{{{{{{{{{ HUGS }}}}}}}}}

...Because YOU determine how all of this plays out, and honouring our own voice is the first step!



UNTIL. (My 'Just Do It' blog)

'BEFORE' Pictures (May 31, 2009 - September, 2011) & Continuing PROGRESS (February 2012)! Next pictures SEPTEMBER 2013!

(I'm now keeping these right under my nose... in addition to being part of every blog I post, they are printed off and taped to my bedroom mirror... and I update whenever I feel the need... to either see for myself what feel like significant changes, or to encourage myself to keep the faith when I feel no change at all despite my efforts)

I've Reached My Goal Weight!!!!!!!

NOTE: My weight tracker is NOT a truthful representation of my weight. Instead, I am using it as a tool to help me visualize my goal as though it's already been achieved!
(Tom Venuto)

Why I'm STILL here... my SparkJourney Saga


Paleo... Do you really know what you're talking about?

Comparison Chart: Primal/Paleo/Ancestral, etc.

Sweeteners - Take a Closer Look!

PDF Comparison Chart of 300 Sweeteners

Breakfast is Served! (RECIPES)

Focus on LUNCHES... for school and YOU!
(& parent resources regarding nutrition for children)

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I came across a link to this blog on a friend's page and had to check it out. I've been following my own combination of Wheat Belly and Paleo for the past five months and it has made a huge difference in how I feel, my weight-loss and my personal favorite...my cholesterol is low enough that for the first time in my adult life, I don't need medication.

    Thank you for posting this and for including so many helpful links. There are many I'm going to go check out.

    Thanks again and congratulations on all the health improvements in your family. That is awesome!!
    1545 days ago
  • KNH771
    Thanks for all of the resources! I've been struggling with some health issues myself, and I know I probably need to make some changes to my diet. My dad cut out "modern" grains in the last year, and he has said that his health has improved a lot (he's a doctor, so he knows from whence he speaks...). The medical stuff isn't really helping, so I've got to do some experimentation on my own. I'm tired of being sick and tired! I'm particularly interested in the stuff you posted tying diet to anxiety...

    BTW... I'm so glad that Miss O is doing better.
    1680 days ago
    I totally get this! You're talking about our house too. GOOD FOR YOU putting it out there and hopefully it will be received well.
    1683 days ago
  • LINDAF49
    Wow ...huge volume of info....four years of research all in one setting... I have downloaded it and will be studying it...celiac daughter and definite gluten-intolerant me, though not actually tested...DD is heading into biopsies etc 3 years post diagnosis by blood tests. I have been gluten free in simple terms but not the detail you describe for 2.5 years...You are amazing and I salute you!!! Looking forward to some intense learning. Biggest question is about the legumes... looking forward to studies on it.
    1683 days ago

    Comment edited on: 9/14/2013 10:32:31 PM
  • JUNEAU2010
    emoticon It's like a mini encyclopedia!
    Most of all, I just love your ownership of your lifestyle! How POWERFUL is that?!
    1683 days ago
    You continue to inform, educate, inspire in a VERY readable format. Thank you my dear friend emoticon & emoticon emoticon
    1684 days ago
    Your letter is calm, rational, educational...and thoroughly understandable. I'm sorry that it wasn't more readily received by your family.

    I appreciate every source you quote, every web site you list, and every personal experience that you share.

    Thank you!
    1684 days ago
    Well done
    1684 days ago
  • ERIN1957
    I have saved this for future reading.
    Thank you for doing this research for yourself and your family. The biggest thanks is, for sharing it here with us. You have done so much work and the dedication to this is amazing.
    Thank you again Ramona.

    Greatest Regards,
    1684 days ago
    Great blog!
    1684 days ago
    Thanks Ramona and yes it is a super hard road but health is the deal. I have fallen by the wayside so often but mostly stick with the gf, ( yea I know that isn't the way to do it!) having issues getting off sugar right now.

    I found a blog thanks to a spark motivator about his mum who has fibro but sx mimic ours... it is interseting I back up to the inital post and followed her to the present. interesting stuff.


    if you are interested.
    1685 days ago
  • BERRY4
    Thanks for sharing part of your journey and the "why's" of what works and doesn't work! You certainly have done and shared a LOT to guide & help the rest of us "catch up."
    Have a fabulous day!
    1685 days ago
    Great blog!!! emoticon emoticon
    1685 days ago
    Self-advocacy at its finest!
    1685 days ago
    Thank you for such an informative blog Ramona, you certainly are taking care of yourself and your family!

    Keep healthy! emoticon
    1685 days ago
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