‘I can resist everything except temptation.’
When I first started playing with this post, a few weeks ago, it was shaping up to be a (possibly slightly smug) post about a lot of willpower, a new eating regime, and some learnings.
Now it’s a much more humble post, about a lot of learnings, a new eating regime, and some willpower…
Eating for Health
You may have seen me mention, in past posts, that I have a couple of health conditions: chronic pain from a car accident about 8 years ago; and Crohn’s Disease, an immune system disorder. Neither is serious, but both require medication, and are chronic conditions, that is, conditions where I’m no longer seeking a ‘cure’, rather my focus is on managing them effectively – but both can have a detrimental effect on my enjoyment of life when they flare up.
In November, after a bad month, I decided to try a new Doctor a friend had recommended, an American Naturopathic Doctor living in Chiang Mai, who suggested a form of elimination diet. I’ve tried this previously, soon after the Crohn’s diagnosis, and it didn’t seem to do much, and was very hard work. So my initial reaction was…cautious.
This elimination diet had some essential differences from the previous one, like eating more eggs, beans, nuts, and avocado for protein and ‘good fats’; taking other supplements (I already take magnesium every day, which made a very tangible difference when I introduced it), and some other tweaks here and there. A critical difference was that the diet was for pain, rather than digestive issues.
And I decided, what did I have to lose. I would try it for at least a month, and then see if it made any difference.
I have an Excel Spreadsheet where I track pain, food and other health related issues (everyone does right?!), so I would be able to see if it made a tangible impact on my health and body, especially pain. You can imagine when you have been in pain for a long time, you are open to all kinds of treatments, promises and ideas. I’ve seen many many Doctors, Consultants, health practitioners and ‘others’, and I’ve learned to both be more open (as some of the things that have helped have surprised me) but also more concrete – introduce things, monitor, track for the cost-benefit, and decide whether it’s worth continuing.
Starting the regime
First of all, I decided not to call it a ‘diet’ as that had the wrong focus. I went with ‘food regime’, which feels a bit…strict…but better.
The launch into the diet, the first week, where I slowly cut out forbiddances, and introduced more eggs etc, went ok. Partly because I saw it as a chance to have some last minute French Toast and Pancakes given that wheat was going to be out for a while. Here are the key aspects of the regime (I already don’t eat meat or fish):
- No dairy (apart from butter in which to cook my morning eggs)
- No ‘gluten containing’ grains – it just leaves rice and quinoa in case you’re wondering!
- No sugar
- Nothing artificial
- More eggs, avocados, nuts, and other protein sources
I was allowed a coffee in the morning (with soy or coconut milk) and dark chocolate occasionally, as treats.
Luckily, I love dark chocolate, and I don’t drink too much caffeine – that worked for me fine. In Chiang Mai, I was eating lunch and dinner out, so everything was prepared fresh, usually at vegetarian restaurants. I would scramble two eggs in the microwave in my flat for breakfast, and eat a handful of nuts as a snack if I needed them.
All in all, the first three or four weeks went well. I started to feel better – and then a lot better. My most tangible measure is the amount of codeine I take, which I only take in response to pain, therefore, more codeine means more pain. By week two, my codeine levels had dropped to almost nothing – and then I had a three week period where I took no codeine. This is a big deal – it’s probably been several years since that last happened.
A little willpower…
Then I came back to the UK, where at first, things went well. I had planned for the 13 hour plane journey, taking nuts, dark chocolate and a couple of boiled eggs to add to my meals. I did eat some pasta on the plane, but I managed to avoid the cake and bread roll.
I returned just before Christmas, so it was a challenging period to be on a weird eating regime. I turned down a lot of mince pies. But I was pretty pleased with myself at first, as friends and family, who I’d warned in advance that I was eating even more unusually than before, stepped up to the plate to support me (yet another thank you to everyone that cooked me a meal to my ‘requirements’), and I managed to stick to it about 90%.
Christmas itself went pretty well, with some ‘planned deviations’, which I felt ok about. I knew I would eat one mince pie on Christmas Eve, and have roast potatoes with my nut roast on Christmas day for example.
So far, so much willpower.
…A lot of learnings
And then after Christmas things started to get quite stressful. I had a great deal to do. And suddenly I wasn’t planning my food ahead of time. I was grabbing things on the go – and making sure they were ‘close’ to the diet rather than rigid. And once I’d let a bit of ‘wrong’ in, it was easier to let the next bit in. And the codeine also came back. Little by little. Pill by pill. And things gradually slid until I came back to Thailand.
Now I’ve had the chance to take a breath, reflect back, and see what went wrong and why. Here are my learnings…do they ring any bells for you?
1. Plan, plan, plan.
When I stopped looking ahead at possible challenges and issues, and what I would do in response to these, things started to slide. Going to work in Dubai for a week brought this home to me. Once again I was staying in a wonderful hotel – with an amazing buffet for both breakfast and lunch. I got there after a night flight, exhausted and hungry (as they hadn’t had a vegetarian meal for me on the plane, and I hadn’t had time to plan food to take with me), and I fell to the buffet like a starving woman. Temptation was too much for me, and I ate pancakes, waffles, and slightly weirdly, daal and rice (it’s a very international breakfast!).
2. Never take things for granted. When you’re changing something as momentous as your eating habits, which affect a good proportion of your life, you can’t take your eye off the ball. After a solid 2 months of eating well on the regime, I was feeling pretty confident I could keep it going. But each change of scenery needed looking at afresh. Being really tired on the first day of the course, I had an excessive amount of coffee in the morning (the 4 hour time difference meant I was getting up at 3am UK time), and started to eat some of the snacks provided with the coffee.
3. Don’t be shy. Tell people what you’re doing and why. I was touched and amazed at people’s creativity in meeting my dietary needs when I came home. Each time I was embarrassed to ask them to cook me something, and I can only imagine the eye rolling at the other end each time when I sent them over the ‘rules’. But friends and family alike were brilliant at coming up with new and inventive, and tasty, meals that satisfied the criteria. When people didn’t know, it made things more challenging. I found it hard to be around others who were eating things I liked – and so I hit the dessert section of the Dubai hotel buffet after seeing my delegates eating them.
4. All or nothing baby. Once I’d ‘broken the rules’ once, it became easier the next time. And the next. It was as if I’d write off the day, and then the week because I’d already broken the rules once so what was the point. The only exception to this was when I planned the ‘breaking’ in advance, for example at Christmas.
5. Don’t think in isolation. Although the plan was very eating focused, the challenges started to come because of a mixture of other issues. A very stressful January, with many activities, places, people, and tasks to juggle meant that eating habits sometimes fell to the bottom of the list. And I ended up grabbing whatever I could that approximated the diet. Or I’d be hungry, and then crabby, and decide to hell with it all and eat something I shouldn’t.
6. Don’t throw in the towel. There have definitely been a few points where I have considered whether or not, given how far from grace I’ve fallen, I should just bin the diet and carry on. But I know, despite the complexity of my conditions, that the regime has had a positive effect on my pain. And less codeine also means a sharper mind, and fewer side effects all round. So if you know it’s worth doing, stick with it, even after you’ve had a dip.
A public declaration
So this is my public declaration that I am ‘back on the wagon’ as it were. I’m in Thailand, with control over the majority of my meals. I have my own small kitchen and I’m choosing restaurants that can meet my dietary needs. I’m planning ahead, with appropriate snacks in the house, and not getting so hungry that I’ll just eat whatever I can find, or so tired I need a pick-me-up.
So perhaps in future I can resist everything – including temptation…
Wish me luck!
Have you ever tried to change one of the big patterns in your life? Food, sleep, exercise etc? How did it go? What did you learn? Share your experiences in the comments below.