I make all my eating decisions based on my belief that food is both medicine and health saboteur. That’s why today when my husband made the most wonderful “food as medicine” comfort food breakfast I just had to share it with you, along with a story.
The story relates to how, 10 years ago, I lived out “food as health saboteur” in the form of arthritis and impending disability. I’m serious about never doing that again. What’s so surprising is that my diet played a key role in the drama – a fact I discovered by fasting as a desperate last-ditch effort (instead of calling my disability insurance agent). On the 5th day of the fast I was pain free! I felt hugely different overall too and I realized this meant that my diet had something to do with my big problem.
I spent a few years identifying which foods trigger my pain and now I avoid them no matter what tempting dish they’re in. It means, I don’t eat a lot of the traditional comfort foods like pancakes, mac and cheese, layered cake, ice cream, etc. because they have cow dairy, gluten, and sugar: my big problem foods. Drats!
My wonderful lawyer-husband saw me through the musculoskeletal misadventures and he’s 100% supportive of my diet “issues.” He’s also the morning person in our house – and today he rocked the Sunday breakfast.
With the miracle of the internet and an iPad, he found an inspirational recipe. He improvised using what was in the pantry and, presto, he made comfort food, gluten-free, cow dairy-free oat pancakes with chia seeds! Anyone who’s made gluten-free, dairy-free anything with the word “cake” in it knows it’s not easy, and he rocked it! We topped our pancakes with raspberries (we grow them and freeze them, so we can use them year round), sliced banana, slivered almonds, maple syrup (sent from our daughter in Vermont), and a dollop of goat yogurt (goat dairy doesn’t cause arthritis for me, only cow and sheep). Wow – great way to greet the time change!
We started reminiscing about those dark days of musculoskeletal misfortune, a time when I wondered if inflammation would stop me from practicing dermatology – a consequence that would have been devastating to me. I was talking about “pro-inflammatory” foods when we both realized that he didn’t actually understand the science behind food and inflammation. In explaining it, I came up with the following analogy that helped him “get” the connection between diet and inflammation. Now, I want to share it with you:
I described the workings of the body as a stream of flowing water with a small log sticking into it from the stream bank and that, by itself, has no big impact on the flow of water in the stream. If there’s a bunch of debris flowing in the stream, the debris gets stuck on the log, piles up, and affects the flow in the stream. If there’s no debris in the flowing water then nothing piles up and the log has no significant impact on the water flowing down the stream.
Likewise, we all have things in our bodies that are like the little log sticking out from the stream bank. These may be joint space narrowing that occurs with age, worn out cartridge in a joint, a genetic predisposition to heart disease, diabetes, colitis, psoriasis, acne, etc. Foods can create “the debris in the stream,” meaning the building blocks of inflammation which lead to pain, heat, arthritis, cholesterol plaques in arteries, etc. These are “pro-inflammatory foods” and the inflammation-building chemicals they trigger are like debris in the stream which catch on the log, build up, and affect the flow of the stream (cause or amplify disease manifestations). Keeping these pro-inflammatory foods out of your system is like keeping the stream debris free and the flow unimpaired despite of the presence of logs sticking out from the stream banks.
For me, the disease symptoms are arthritis and all of the inflammation and muscle spasm, nerve root impingement, etc. that go along with it. Avoiding gluten, cow dairy, and sugar keeps the debris out of my stream. So does eating according to my Alkaline Mediterranean Diet pyramid for about 60 to 80% of my diet.
Books and resources that have helped me figure out my path out of disability and body drama include:
The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PhD
Foods That Fight Pain by Neal Barnard, MD
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., MD
Forks over Knives, a 2011 documentary film by Lee Fulkerson (you can stream in on Netflix and I highly recommend it)
Most of us have some physical body issue that troubles us, especially as we get older and have more “logs sticking out from our stream banks.” What’s yours and is there a connection between diet and your disease manifestations?
On this Sunday morning, Daylight Savings Time 2012, I got to use pain-free hands to enjoy warm comfort foods lovingly made by my husband. I’m grateful for the physicians and scientists who wrote the books and made the movie I mentioned above, and I’m grateful for my husband who’s supportive – and a good cook!