Nov. 19, 2013

Raw Foods and Menopause

In 2000, at age 38, for the first time in my life I started experiencing some strange health challenges.

We had recently moved to a 20 acre piece of property we purchased in Central Oregon and were drinking the local, city water while waiting to put in our own well. Shortly thereafter I began experiencing muscle weakness in both of my arms and dizziness that became nearly debilitating…especially whenever moving from a horizontal to a vertical position, or when rolling over in bed at night. Kind of like an ear infection would effect your equilibrium.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out that it might have something to do with the water I was drinking (strange that no one else in the family had these symptoms, though…) and I quickly started purchasing 2.5 gallon dispenser jugs of purified water to consume. The pain got better almost immediately. But the dizziness persisted…not nearly as badly as it had been before changing to the purified water…but it still clung to me, off and on, for several years afterward.

In late 2006 my younger cousin, Floyd, who was 40 at the time, was diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of a softball. This had a significant impact me, both emotionally and psychologically. I desperately wanted to find a way to help him beat that illness. Combined with the fact that my father had suffered a double heart attack, several years earlier, at age 60 and was experiencing a gradual, but progressive, decline in his health, I was motivated to begin research on ways to heal the body through diet and nutrition.

This is when I found the Raw Food lifestyle. And without going into all of the history surrounding that (I’ve already written about that experience in detail on my other blog: http://tracyjprez.wordpress.com) I will say that over the next couple of years I followed that lifestyle with quite a bit of personal success. But it caused a significant challenge with my family, who did not embrace the idea of eating mostly raw foods, and this resulted in a fractured home-life, when it came to meals and food consumption. So, in early 2008 I gradually began eating more and more cooked foods.

During this same time frame I began noticing that my body was starting to experience some definite hormonal shifts. I wasn’t FEELING any different, but my monthly cycle was becoming sporadic, so I knew that something was changing. I hadn’t really experienced much weight-loss on raw foods during my first attempt following a high-raw diet, but most of my strange symptoms did go away, and I really LIKED the lifestyle.  However, due to the situation with my family and other factors, I was lead back to eating mostly cooked food again. By January 2009 my weight was at an all-time high of 193 and I was feeling awful about myself. I’m tall, 5 feet 8 inches, so I can carry more weight than most women without looking especially over-weight. But no matter how you stack it, 193 is about 50 pounds more than I should weigh in order to be healthy. By this time most of our children had grown and were off, living on their own. So, I was in a better position to take a serious shot at Raw Foods again. And this time I did succeed in losing some significant weight! Between March and July I lost about 35 pounds and was feeling sooo much lighter and happier! I was energized and feeling more enthusiastic about life and this way of eating than ever before!

In November of 2009 I launched my online magazine, Eighty Percent Raw (www.eightypercentraw.com), fully convinced of the benefits of this lifestyle. Again, I’ve written all about that experience on my other blog: http://tracyjprez.wordpress.com. So, I will skip writing about all of that here, again. I want to get to the point of this post…

And that is this – Looking back on all of this upheaval and fluctuation in my weight and my health, with the symptoms that have come and gone in the process…I really think almost all of this can be attributed, primarily,  to the hormonal changes my body has been going through. And I don’t think enough serious consideration, or discussion, is given to what havoc is really wreaked in a woman’s body, nor for how LONG, throughout the whole menopausal adjustment period. This isn’t like some short-term “condition” or illness that we go through and then get over in a couple of months. At least not in my experience. And if you are anything like me, you have tried all kinds of things in an attempt to force your body to cooperate with you to “fix” the problem. Well, guess what? Apparently the body wins. OMG! LOL!

Sooo…here is where I am today. I am returning to a high-raw foods lifestyle, once again. I am no longer experiencing debilitating joint pain in my knees (which always resurfaced whenever I would go back to high-raw or high-carb in the recent past…but, again, this appears to be related more to hormones and not to diet, as I previously believed) and my general health seems to be better than it’s been in quite a long time now. But I still struggle with the weight.

Raw foods is the one “diet” or lifestyle that helped me lose weight and KEEP IT OFF _without even trying_ for nearly two years. That is saying something, for me!

Here are some of the insights I’ve gained, so far as my own body and weight-loss and diet are concerned –

1. I can’t eat starches and lose weight (ie; cooked grains, legumes, potatoes, etc.)

2. I have to watch my fat intake. I can’t eat a lot of nuts, seeds, avocados, oils, etc. and lose weight (though, I was using eating lots of nuts, seeds, coconut, olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, and olives with no problem prior to the major hormonal change, so I am going to be watching this)

3. Not sure if I need to be careful about condensed sweets like dried fruit, agave nectar (not currently using), pure maple syrup, honey, etc. So I will also be watching these. Also, not sure if I need to be cautious about high-sugar, high-starch fruits like banana, mango, papaya, etc. But I have my suspicions, so I am also keeping a close watch on what happens with these. *I _have_ noticed that I break out and get swelling and cracking around my lips when I consume much raw pineapple or watermelon lately… so I seem to have some weird food intolerance’s that I haven’t experienced before.

I would LOVE to have an open dialogue with other women who have had challenges going through menopause, especially where weight gain and hormonal symptoms are concerned. And I would particularly enjoy hearing from those who have overcome these symptoms and are following a high-raw foods diet & lifestyle!

Until next time…

Tracy

pulling-hair-out

I am really damn frustrated!

Ok, so, I haven’t been writing much lately and the honest truth is that I am frustrated as hell with diet and my weight. Ugh! So, I guess I”m just going to have to tell the story.

By February 2009 I reached an all-time high weight of 193 pounds. And I decided something had to change. I’d been following a mostly raw foods lifestyle for close to 2 years at that time, but unlike other raw foodists who reported losing tonz of weight, I hadn’t lost the weight I wanted to lose. At 5’9″ tall, I can carry more weight than most, but still, my ideal weight hovers somewhere between 140 and 160 pounds. So, at best I was 30 pounds overweight and I was feeling it. I decided to get serious about the weight loss. And by mid-summer of that year I had lost the 30 pounds and was down to 160. Weight-wise I felt great! I was thin…people were telling me that I was skinny…and I felt good in my clothes.

The unexpected turn in that story is that I began experiencing symptoms. Many of which I would later lean were a result of pre-menopause and hormonal imbalance…but I am quite sure that many of the symptoms were also due to my diet. I had a perpetual deep muscle pain in the back of my left thigh, and I became severely anemic. My energy dropped dramatically and my monthly period was lasting two weeks to a month at a time. I was fatigued and light headed. And during my period I felt a deep pain from my abdomen clear through to my lower back.

And I began having such extreme joint pain in my knees that I believed I would have to live with rheumatoid arthritis for the rest of my life.

I also developed horizontal ridges on my fingernails…a symptom indicative of iron and vitamin B12 deficiency. My husband and I decided it was time to reintroduce more red meat into my diet.

Since that time most of those symptoms have been eliminated…but some new ones have taken their place; I’ve started having nighttime numbness and tingling in my arms and sometimes my legs. I have also experienced pain in the left side of my neck. And had chronic charlie horses in my left toes. And occasionally I have felt a slight flutter or pressure in my chest. These symptoms all freak me out because my dad had a double heart attack, and then more recently, my brother who is my elder by 10 years had a heart attack and was diagnosed with diabetes. I have tried to be so careful about what I eat that it blows my mind to think that I might be pre-diabetic…but I’d be crazy to not consider that this is a strong possibility.

So, my weight…

I have regained almost all of the weight that I lost and kept off for over a year and a half without effort on the high-raw foods diet. But I felt lousy. Lately I have been following a low-carb and then the Weight Watchers program and I have to say that I am no longer experiencing joint pain and the pain in my neck and numbness in my arms has diminished significantly…but it’s become more and more difficult to lose weight now that my hormones have changed. And it frustrates the hell out of me! My body no longer responds to diet the way it used to…and I don’t really know what to do about it. I don’t have the patience to lose 1/2 a pound a week…I want to get back down to that comfortable 160 weight, at a minimum, but don’t really know that best path to do it. I’m in a holding pattern right now while I try to decide what is the best path for my body. Clearly, high-raw with no animal protein does not work for me. But I don’t know that low-carb does either.

I just needed to vent. I would love to hear from anyone else who has gone through menopause and has had this same challenge.

More to come.

Tracy

Raw Foods

My Experience Going 100% Raw

I feel it’s important that I tell you about my own introduction to the raw foods lifestyle and why I ended up developing the Eighty Percent Raw Plan.

The process started on September 6th, 2001. My husband and I were on a business trip to New York City just 5 days prior to 911. It was just a quick over-nighter so early the following day we made the long flight back to Portland.

Four days later we were on yet another business trip to the east coast, but this time our destination was Tampa, Florida. We arrived late on the evening of September 10th and, as you know, at 8:00am the next morning all hell broke loose. The gravity of our situation quickly sunk in as we realized that we were stranded in Tampa, 3,000 miles away from home. Our teenage children were in Portland dealing with the situation all by them selves and we had no idea what to expect next.  In addition to all of this, I received a phone call from my oldest son in Texas, who had recently enlisted with the United States Army National Guard Reserves, informing me that he was on red alert awaiting orders to report for Basic Training. Needless to say, I was in a high state of anxiety, but doing my best to stay calm and balanced. What a relief it was three days later to learn the airport in Tampa was re-opening sooner than anticipated and we would be able to return home within the week. Once again in Oregon we tried to adopt an optimistic attitude that life would get back to normal, but like everyone else, the foundation of our reality had been severely shaken. And it wasn’t long before it became glaringly apparent that this experience would not be without its own deep seated repercussions.

Long story short, one month later on October 10th, 2001, I found out for the first time what it feels like to have a spontaneous panic attack. Little did I realize at the time the impact these episodes would have on my life for years to come.

This whole sequence of events began a domino effect that would ultimately lead to the development of my Eighty Percent Raw diet and lifestyle plan.  But at that point in time all I knew was that something inside me had broken and I wanted nothing more than to fix it.

Fortunately I was raised by a mother who taught me at an early age to trust in my own intuition and the wisdom found in nature. We weren’t a family who went to the doctor for every little cough or cold that came along. In fact, I can probably count on two hands the number of times I visited our family physician during my childhood and adolescent years. Though I did occasionally take over the counter pain relievers or allergy medications, I was trained to prepare home remedies and concoctions based on natural herbs and foods such as lemon, vinegar, honey, garlic, olive oil and the like for healing whatever might ail me. I was also taught that diet plays a huge role in our overall health and well-being. This training served me well when later in life I was confronted with this break down in my body’s immune system.

In retrospect I have to say that, if nothing else, having those panic attacks taught me many valuable lessons about the power of pharmaceutical drugs to harm our bodies, especially when contrasted by the gentle healing properties inherent within whole and living foods. And I was flat astonished that the doctor I visited didn’t even bother to ask any questions about my diet or make suggestions regarding what I ate in the hope that this might alter my chemistry in a positive way and potentially heal my miserable condition. I knew, at an intuitive level, that this was the key to my healing.

It was through this experience that I became more acutely in tune with my own body and its nutritional needs.

I began experimenting with different foods to discover which might improve and which could exacerbate the panic tendencies in my system. I had a firm belief that “you are what you eat” and possessed first hand knowledge that the food and beverages we consume directly affect the chemical balance in our bodies.  Despite the fact that I was still eating much more cooked food than raw at that point, I was beginning to learn about foods that might contribute to a sense of calm and well being, and began incorporating more of these foods into my daily menus. I also investigated foods which might agitate or excite and I avoided these like the plague. It was at this time in my life that I decided to eliminate all processed foods, such as; refined grains, refined white sugar, all dairy products, artificial sweeteners, caffeinated beverages, and other non-whole foods from my diet. And I began to experience a level of healing as a result.

I lost weight and was feeling a significant improvement which sustained me for the next several years.

Fast forward to 2007, and keep in mind that I was observing the slow but steady decline in my father’s health, which not only made me concerned for his well-being, but also fed into fears I was suppressing about what my own future could be looking like if I followed in his footsteps, and we have the setting for my seemingly random introduction to raw foods.

Dad suffered a double heart attack about ten years previous to this time and had subsequently experienced many other health problems, the least of which were not the multiple mini-strokes which were beginning to significantly impact his memory, motor skills, and cognitive abilities.

My father was a brilliant man; an aeronautical engineer by profession, and his intellect was something I had always taken great pride in. So it was very deeply disturbing for me to see such a decline in not only his physical capabilities, but more significantly, in his mental health.

Even though mom always tried to prepare healthy, home-cooked meals, we basically consumed the Standard American Diet (SAD). This consisting of mostly cooked foods which contained a considerable amount of wheat flour (mom insisted on baking with only the unbleached kind) and white flour in the form of noodles, tortillas, pizzas, store-bought doughnuts, coffee cakes, cookies and crackers to supplement the home-made variety. We frequently had potato chips, Ritz and graham crackers in the house to snack on. Breakfast was cold or hot cereal with milk and sugar, pancakes, waffles, or a couple slices of cinnamon toast. Lunches were deli meat and cheese sandwiches or left over casserole or stew from a prior evening’s meal. Dinners were generally a noodle-based casserole, which more often than not was based on a cream and/or cheese sauce and meat of some kind. We also had lots of home-made soups and stews or mashed potatoes with gravy. Vegetables were usually from a can or sometimes the over-cooked frozen kind. Fruit came from a bottle that mom put up herself because she thought this was a healthier option than buying canned fruit from the store – but in reality these fruits were heavily cooked and saturated in sugar syrup. Often times we had home-made muffins or dinner rolls to accompany our evening meal. And most nights we also had dessert of ice cream, home made cake or cookies. The one really raw thing mom always insisted on having along side whatever else was served for dinner was a basic green salad (iceberg lettuce, shredded carrot, sliced radish and scallions) or coleslaw. But it was almost an after thought for the rest of us and we rarely, if ever, ate it.

I’m guessing all of this is sounding very familiar to you…

So, that is the basic diet dad lived on his entire adult life. Add to this the fact that he liked to “treat himself” to jugs full of Flavor-Ade prepared with a cupful of white sugar per gallon and cans of Chef Boy-R-Dee ravioli and you can begin to see where this might wreak havoc in his system and very likely led to his ultimate demise.

But we just didn’t know any better in those days. The fact that mom chose not to feed us Wonderbread and checked labels to make sure we weren’t consuming “artificial preservatives” put us (we thought) smack dab in the center of the health-food crowd.

So, raw foods…

In 2007 I was browsing MySpace when I came across a page by a woman who claimed to be a “Raw Foodist”. This label caught my attention because I had never heard the term before. There were lots of links on her page to websites on the subject so I jumped in with both feet! I was very intrigued by this unusual philosophy and lifestyle! When I discovered that the FDA assigns the same nutritional value to both a raw almond and a roasted almond, yet if we take one of each and plant them in the ground only the raw one will sprout and grow, that information struck a chord with me. Then when I further learned that science teaches that when foods are heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit the naturally occurring enzymes are killed, and that the enzymes are the “living” part of the food, so when we eat foods that have been cooked, pasteurized and heated to this degree we are consuming essentially nutrient dead foods, the light just went on in my head. I was convinced this was the key to improving my own health and that a huge part of the reason my body had broken down in the first place was due to the fact that I had been feeding it primarily dead food my entire life. My body simply hadn’t been receiving the nutrition it needed to thrive.

I decided to try this lifestyle for myself to find out if it made a difference in my body. By this time I had also been experiencing pretty extreme dizzy spells off and on, for a few years…mostly when I moved dramatically from a vertical to a horizontal position, or vice versa. And while I’d learned to live with this condition I did wish it would go away.

So, I immediately began following a 98% raw foods lifestyle. For six weeks the only cooked foods I consumed were small amounts of condiments such as traditional soy sauce, Tobasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, etc. I was completely devoted! And…I was rewarded with astonishing results for my efforts! I lost 15 pounds of excess weight and the dizzy spells I had been combating for years completely went away. As a bonus, the dry, flakey skin on my shins and the athlete’s foot on my left foot that had been bothering me for ages “magically” went away! My husband and teenagers even commented on how amazing all of this was!

But there was a trade off.

I quickly learned that many of the raw foods I was enjoying were not palatable to the rest of my family. My husband could not tolerate such core raw food ingredients as; avocados, mushrooms, sea weed, squash or sweet potatoes of any kind, or anything that seemed “strange” or out of the ordinary. And as a result mealtime became a huge challenge. While I was blissfully consuming raw foods that were making me feel fabulous, my husband and teenagers were subsisting on frozen burritos, pizzas, corn dogs, and Hot Pockets. I felt horrible knowing that these foods were not healthy for them and at the same time, this difference in our eating habits was creating a massive divide in our family meal time. This became a big problem and it quickly became clear that something had to change. Additionally, my 100% raw approach proved to be a problem when we went out to eat, turning what used to be an enjoyable and blissful experience into one of discontent and frustration.

While I was experiencing this difficulty in our personal life, I was also participating in some very active, online raw food communities, message boards and discussion forums. These groups were great for offering new recipe ideas and support…but I began to notice a tendency toward fanaticism that was really starting to bother me. There was such an emphasis on being 100% raw that it teetered on the verge of being religious or dogmatic in attitude, and this, I felt, was unhealthy. Threads about the lack of available options when dining out came up and there were many who expressed a concern that the only menu item appropriate for raw foodists at most restaurants was the side salad, and at that, there were no dressing choices that didn’t more than likely contain some cooked ingredient. To me, this whole discussion was ridiculous. I figured if you were dining out and you chose to eat the salad as your meal, then by damn, eat whatever dressing you like! You’re still far and away ahead of most people who are making less healthy food choices! But not these people…there was talk of carrying your own, home-made, raw dressing in your purse so that you’d have something you knew was 100% raw to put on your bed of salad greens at the restaurant.

All of this, combined with the stress of division over meals in our home life, made me rethink my approach.

And that’s when I began to recognize the benefit of an Eighty Percent Raw Plan.

(More to come…)