Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Holiday Free from Pain

A big concern for me this Christmas was making it through the season pain free. I did everything that I could to keep it that way--I've completely eliminated gluten from my diet (four months strong), I don't drink alcohol, limit caffeine, limit processed sugars, kept lifting to a minimum... but I've got to say, Christmas (or Kwanza or Chanukah--Chag Urim Sameach!) seems to be the perfect storm for chronic pain. I know Christmas has ended, but this entry can be of use for any holiday (like the up and coming New Year) and should help year round.

Both endometriosis and IBD are affected by what one eats. Big time. I wish it was something as harmless as, "you are what you eat"--what I wouldn't give to just turn into a fluffy donut when I eat sugary, glazed, fat pumped wheat. Endo and IBD are both inflammatory diseases, and a big key in managing pain is preventing inflammatory responses, or 'flairs'. Flair triggers can be anything from large quantities of sugar to something as harmless looking as theater popcorn. And there are two things that make figuring out what does/does not cause each of our unique bodies to flair even more difficult: it's more about how the food was made than what's in the food, and everyone is different.

I've read before that endometriosis is a secondary immune system disease--meaning it's a failing in the immune system that keeps our bodies from properly protecting us from natural functions gone wrong (rather than the immune system actually attacking our bodies). IBD is generally viewed as an autoimmune disease (immune system attacks the body). For those of you who may not know, the immune system is largely directed by signals and chemicals that are both endogenous and exogenous to our bodies. This means both what our bodies naturally produce and what we consume as food affect the actions of our immune systems. ( Maybe think of tiny little soldiers and our body giving orders it writes itself and receives from outside officials.)

This places a large burden on most immune disease sufferers. Our concerns around Christmas time are not our weights, our blood pressures, our 'trim, youthful figure'--with everything we eat, we have to make a conscious decision to avoid possible flair triggers. I can't stop the pain, but I can lessen it. I wish my biggest problem was figuring out how to lose weight I gained over Christmas time. I cannot even keep up a healthy weight because, despite my love affair with cooking, I often avoid eating because I am frightened that something I consume may result in a flair. I've made entire meals where I did not eat a single bite. Not to mention, finding affordable meals that contain none of my flair triggers has become an arduous task.

And no one wishes to be the difficult one around Christmas time. No one wants to be 'that person'--the person people struggle to invite out or over for dinner parties because of their difficult food requirements. Even back in my vegetarian days (I'm now poultry and fish friendly--in my stomach), but even in my time as a full fledged vegetarian, I would occasionally eat meat so as not to insult or inconvenience a dinner host or friendly gesture. But now I don't have to worry about upholding my ideals. I have to worry about constantly fighting disease by watching my diet! I can't afford to be polite!

How does one do this? How can you avoid being the obnoxious, unfeasible dinner guest without jeopardizing your health? Endometriosis is not exactly well known, and I will often say, "I"m sorry, I've got Crohn's" to avoid eating something because people will be less offended (for some inexplicable reason) from that than if I say, "I'm sorry, I've got Endometriosis." I can't answer why others think this way; however, I've found some answers to make things easier for myself. Maybe some of my friends/readers can add some ideas of their own. (These ideas are more for endometriosis than IBD, but I will say that what helps endometriosis (diet wise) often helps IBD)

1. When going out, try to load up on disease friendly foods first: I don't mind not getting to eat at the same time as everyone else (I just try to minimize the obvious as much as possible) but that becomes much more difficult when I'm starved. I'm less likely to crack at a party or outing if I eat some apples & peanut butter, rice, oatmeal, etc. BEFORE I go out. I try to never leave my house on an empty stomach. I feel MUCH better if I eat before I leave. That way, even if the only thing I can munch on is salad, I'll still be okay. I have a better time and I'm more enjoyable to be around.

2. Pack disease friendly snacks: There are times when my body cannot last a whole outing without food. And sometimes, the worst times, there is NOTHING available for me to eat. And starving myself doesn't work too well. My weak immune system is linked to a rubbish endocrine system, and I have trouble maintaining glucose levels in my body (i.e., I'm hypoglycemic). To help make outings easier, I try to always keep a couple gluten free meal bars in my purse. This can bridge the hunger gap.

 4. Do not fall to temptation: Sometimes those brownies, cookies, slices of cake, whatever they are, look soooo good. Ignoring food can be hard, especially for women with endometriosis. Hormones can make you crave sweets, and I crave sweets a lot! Unfortunately, whenever I do cave in, I end up swollen, in pain, and wishing I had not. Try to be strong! If impossible, make sure to at least eat unprocessed sweets and to keep quantities small. Often a great compromise is dark, organic chocolate. It satiates in small amounts and satisfies cravings with lower negative consequences.

5. Organic, organic, organic: Again, this is for food that you do eat and those times you give into temptation. I love sweets, and I love to bake, so completely avoiding sweets around the holidays is impossible. So my rule of thumb is I can only have what I make myself. This is because everything I make is organic. I make my pumpkin pies from pumpkins, my cookies never come from a box, and I have no idea why anyone ever decided crisco could be classified as food (it was originally invented as a candle wax alternative). This way, I know each and every ingredient, can limit what is bad for me, and make sure I do not used processed foods with additives. Many additives act as estrogen agonists and food processing methods can leave my stomach... unhappy. When I eat preservative free, gluten free, sulphite free, etc. free foods--I feel better. Even if I did have more sugar than I should have.

6. Remember, each body is different: finding what is okay for one body and bad for the next is not an easy task. Everyone is different and, because these are immune diseases, there is no 'one cure fits all'. It's all about how your body reacts individually to different things. To find which foods are okay and which are not takes a long long time. And around the holidays, when you're eating a lot of different things, discovering what works and what doesn't becomes even harder. The best thing to do is take is slow and keep a food journal. Every hour mark what was consumed and how you felt. This is the easiest way to pick up patterns from what one eats. But be patient and remember that you may be able to eat things that other patients may not.

7. Try not to stress too much: as important as it is to watch your diet and avoid possible triggers, it's not worth it too lose oneself in the fervor of sticking with a diet. One must proceed slowly when switching to a new food regiment. For example, when I went gluten free, I allowed myself great flexibility that first month and gradually reduced the amount of gluten I consumed for several weeks. This kept eating from being a negative experience and made it a more comfortable transition. Even if the food causes pain, stress causes more pain. Stress is a huge hamper on the immune system (I should know, I study neuropsychology!). So try to enjoy the fun holidays bring and if you're new to a endometriosis or IBD diet, try and take it slow!

8. Be okay with people being mad at you/not liking you: the last bit of advice I can give is sometimes you will have to be okay with offending someone by not eating something. When you have a disease, one greatly affected by your diet, no one else has the right to dictate what you eat. You will at times face sneers, jeers, out right judgement and rudeness, but stay strong. As long as you are courteous and not flamboyant with refusing certain foods from time to time, no one has the right to judge you or frown upon your diet. So when people do, take the high road, ignore them, and just remind yourself that they don't understand. Luckily, most people do tend to understand and will support you through it! (Thank you to all of my friends/family who have prepared special foods on my behalf and not guilting me for my neediness!)

There are specific dietary recommendations I could give this holiday seasons, but truly those are everywhere (i.e. all over the internet). It seems more often that those who graciously advise what to eat/avoid refrain from advising people how to actually go about inconvenient (and often unrealistic) dietary constraints. Someday I will add my own blog entry to that sea of online dietary advice. But, for today, I merely seek to give recommendations on how to make the holidays a little more bearable and make it easier to stick to one's special diet. Good luck!

Please, if you have a moment, let me know how you maintain your special dietary needs. Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, and Chag Urim Sameach!


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About The BedRiddenHead

I want to be happy. And this site is about that chance. How to strive to thrive in the body I've got and maybe turn my experiences into something worthwhile.

This site aims to help educate and reach out to people all over that struggle with pain or illness. To try and make something helpful. I work as a medical research writer, my background is in neuropsychology and biology, and I want to share what I learn in a way that is easy to understand. I am not a doctor. I'm definitely not your doctor. I am just some lady who wants to make someone's (anyone's) life a little bit better. Whether you have endometriosis, a chronic injury, a struggling friend, or just want to learn something new, I hope to make a place that has what you are looking for.

Thank you for stopping by, I wish you strength in your health and happiness.