Food heals, duh


“When you know better, you do better.” ~ Maya Angelou

I had planned on waiting to get through the holidays before posting about this. But it’s too important and I sense that what I’ve experienced over the past six weeks might help some of you as we head into the season of sugar cookies and champagne (two of my favorite things, by the by).

For about a month in a half I’ve been actively cutting simple sugars and grains from my life. I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 25 years and I consider myself to be pretty healthy. I love fruits and veggies and whole food in general. However, I really enjoy wine with dinner, champagne just because, cake for breakfast and toast. Changing these eating habits has been both a challenge and a gift to me. I don’t want to come off preachy or act as though this was easy because I was born with willpower or a special taste for health food. No, this has been and continues to be a learning experience for me every step of the way. But the results are undeniable and this is coming from someone who thought she had tried everything to fix chronic pain.

Things I’ve tried to unsuccessfully manage chronic migraine and shoulder/neck pain since 1999:

Physical therapy, multiple six week sessions
Massage (Swedish, deep tissue, Reiki)
Cranial sacral work
Chiropractic adjustments
Medication (over the counter and prescription)

Things I’ve tried that have made a difference:

Cutting out most sugars and grains

I’ve lost five pounds – probably water weight. The life-changing, sing it from the rooftops, jazz hands news here for me is that  I have not had a migraine in six weeks, have not wanted to take a single nap and I don’t want to cry from pain when I get up in the morning. I’ve been living with chronic migraines, intense shoulder and neck pain and low energy for almost 14 years. I’m also affectionately known as the “sleepiest adult” to one of my best friends, due to my love of a daily nap. So this dramatic increase in all-day energy, lack of migraine and hugely diminished body pain is a very big deal. Safe to say my quality of life has been drastically improved.

That’s not to say the change has been a cake walk. I came down with a nasty cold/flu bug during my first two weeks of reducing sugar and grain and was plagued by constant mucus drainage for about three and half weeks. Gross, but true. I did not, however, crave a single piece of Halloween candy. I stopped longing for comfort food even though the days were getting shorter and the weather colder. I started to fill my meals with healthy fats and whole foods and cut out all processed food, save for nut butters, almond milk (although, now I’m making my own – so easy and delicious) and the occasional square of very dark chocolate when I crave a sweet.

I’ve taken on this new way of living with a 90/10 approach. On average I have a bowl of oatmeal once a week, drink a glass or two of wine each week and I’ve told myself a weekly piece of toast loaded with grass-fed butter and avocado or almond butter is just fine. I also enjoyed a slice of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. After all, life is for the living and I’ve not been put on this earth to torture myself. That said, I feel like a million bucks when I don’t eat sugar and grains and I’m only a few weeks into this thing. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, but I’m able to understand the impact of inflammation on my body.

Here’s a great overview of how I’m eating from Vinnie Tortorich and Anna Vocino. They host a podcast that focuses on a no sugar no grains (NSNG) way of eating. I learned about them through Jenny at My Favorite and My Best. I’ve found their podcasts to be so helpful in managing this big change. You might too. I also just read Grain Brain. It’s an easy read and so informative. Mark Bittman wrote a terrific piece in the New York Times about sugar a few months ago. And finally, you might be interested in Dr. Lustig’s lecture on Sugar: The Bitter Truth. All of this is not intended to throw a big wet blanket on your holiday spirit, but it might help you to make more informed choices at the grocery store.

If this stuff is at all intriguing to you do let me know. I may occasionally share my experiences and progress and the recipes that are making a difference in my life. Cheers, friends.

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  • Danielle

    I read this a few weeks ago and am obsessed with it. I have 9/10 of the things listed. In general, when I lower my bread carbs I feel better. I don’t limit my fruit carbs tho. I’m never going completely gluten free, nor do I think I need to. But lowering my gluten intake is something I’m trying to do, starting as of yesterday. I know I feel better when I do, so this time in going to try and do even more.

    • Estelle Hayes

      I love mindbodygreen, too. So glad you are feeling good and noticing a difference. I don’t worry about fruit either, but the gluten stuff has really held my attention.

  • meganbrowne

    Super interesting. We are doing about an 80% whole foods plant based with 20% dairy, eggs, etc. and I feel happy that my family is eating to live and thrive. What is the basis behind the no grains? Aside from gluten intolerance I haven’t really heard much about no grains.

    • Estelle Hayes

      I’m still reading and learning all I can about this, but in my very unscientific understanding it seems that grains (gluten being the worst offender) is processed in the body like sugar. So when you eat it you get a pretty quick glycogen spike and this is not good for the body (although I can’t explain why) and sugar is pretty nasty as well. At this point I’m just so happy about the way I feel when I avoid the stuff that it’s enough for me to go on for now. I’ll keep you posted.

  • Melisa

    I bookmarked this days ago and finally got around to reading it. So happy you’re feeling better. Never knew you had to deal with such awful pain:( I do gluten free and have been 95% sugar and dairy free for a week, too. I feel SUCH a difference. Granted I have a different issue (hypothyroid), but you are so right about the food link. I’ve tried all of the therapies you mentioned and was ready for acupuncture, too. Food, fresh air, and being nice to yourself do wonders!!

    • Estelle Hayes

      Melisa, you are sooo write about being kind and getting outside. I hate hearing that you are dealing with thyroid issues and I really hope the food changes will bring about a good change. I would not have survived the past 14 years without my migraine meds. No hyperbole there. I’m honestly amazed every single day when I go to bed without pain and then wake up again pain free. I think that the sugar thing is really important so now what do we do about our girlies?!? I’m trying to slow roll Emerson’s daily intake and not get too obsessive. I hope you are feeling better soon. It’s great to hear from you.