The Fast

Four months and no cooked food – sounds like some crazy fad diet right? That’s what I thought when I first read about a group of people promoting this way of eating. The science behind it is that all the live enzymes that aid in digestion and many vitamins and minerals are lost when you cook foods at heat higher than 118ºF.  Let’s think back to high school Chemistry class. Nutrients are chemicals and when these chemicals are heated it causes chemical reactions – the higher the heat the more volatile the reaction. Some of the by-products of these chemical reactions are carcinogens, mutagens, and free-radicals. Now I’m not going to put you to sleep with a long text book explanation of each of these right now (maybe later) but please do Google them if these are new to you.

So here I was ready to dive into this foreign world. As I shared with you before I was a junk-food vegetarian who disliked fruits and veggies so I know it was only the power of God that I was finally willing to give this new way of eating a try. I came home and cleaned out my fridge. Out with the dry goods and cans, everything went to family and friends. Then I made a trip to the farmer’s market and loaded up on avocados, lettuces, peppers, carrots, broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, cukes, squash, sweet potatoes, bananas, frozen berries, pears, grapes, apples, raisins, nuts, and seeds. My breakfasts consisted of either a green juice (fresh squeezed) or fruit smoothies or sometimes I’d just eat an entire bag of grapes. Then for lunch if I had the green juice for breakfast then lunch was the smoothie and vice versa. Now one quart of smoothie was the equivalent of 3 bananas, a carton of strawberries and a carton of blueberries plus a little water to thin it out – so don’t let the size fool you! Dinner was usually a large salad – see the bowl below. It would be filled and I ate it all. Today I couldn’t imagine eating even half that amount. If I was feeling really creative I’d try to create one of the raw dishes I found on the Raw Food Rehab. This site was beyond valuable to me at the time. It is an online community of raw foodist and inspiring raw foodist sharing recipes, tips, and testimonies of how this way of eating changed their life. The people on the site were so encouraging and helped answer all my questions. What a tremendous resource and the best thing of all – it’s FREE!

Many said the first week of detox and food cravings are intense. For me personally it wasn’t that bad. I experienced some weird mood swings on the third day – weepy and emotional one minute then annoyed and frustrated the next. There weren’t any real junk food cravings other than an occasional desire for chips but by the fifth day those were no more. Somewhere between day 4 and 5 the energy kicked in. I no longer needed the meds prescribed to me for fatigue because it totally disappeared! My job tied me to the computer 8 hours a day/40hrs a week. I’d wake in the morning with just enough time to wipe the sleep from my eyes and make some coffee before logging into work. The coffee would get me through most of the day but come 3 o’clock, without fail, I would crash. My last break of the day would be spent taking a 10 min power nap. During that first week of raw this was not the case. Not only was I able to give up coffee all together, I had energy to spare!

The next amazing thing to happen was that the cobwebs in my mind started to clear. I was diagnosed with ADD when I was a child but after the medications turned me into a zombie my mom flushed them and I went untreated. It’s always been hard for me to focus. I’m notorious for starting a task like washing dishes and then taking a potty break and afterwards forgetting I was washing dishes, I’d go to my room and start some other task. Then the next time I’d go back to the kitchen I would find the water ice cold and remember, Oh yeah I was washing dishes! Over the next 30 days I felt that mental fog start to clear. Not only was I able to remember the task at hand but childhood memories that I had lost were returning. It felt like my mind was coming alive.

At the end of the 30 days I accessed myself and said, I feel great! I think I could do another 30 days. So I did! Then at the end of 60 days I still felt awesome and continued on. The total span of my raw food fast was three months. I felt fantastic and dropped 44lbs. During those 3 months I learned a lot about my body. The issues I faced the year before seemed to be no more. That whole summer I didn’t have any sensitivity to the heat. I had no more vertigo. The headaches were gone with the meds. My foot drop was improving. My bladder control was back to normal and my memory was stronger than ever. My neurologist said I was in remission (the state of absence of disease activity, with the possibility of return of disease activity.) Funny how the remission began when I changed my diet.

The best thing about the whole experience is that my taste buds reset themselves. My favorite foods went from being cheese and chocolate to sweet potatoes and oatmeal. I enjoy more variety in my diet now. Steamed kale with peppers and onions is heavenly to me but before I wouldn’t have considered trying it. I had read over and over again about how mucogenic dairy is. My two favorite foods were dairy based. I grew up with severe allergies (dust, mold, pollen) and even had to get allergy shots when I was young. As an adult I was going through a box of kleenex a week during allergy season and even in off season it seemed I had the sniffles year round. I wanted to put the dairy theory to the test but my addiction to cheese had made it impossible to go without. After four months of no dairy I could finally test myself.  I noticed during the raw fast my mucus production was way down so once I went off the fast I had a bit of cheese. I went out with some coworkers to dinner and the only thing on the menu without meat was cheese pizza. I had the pizza and that night I was kept awake with a phlegmy and congested sinus. My allergies were back and this condition carried on for 3 whole days! You would think I would have learned from that, right? Nope. The following month I went out to the company holiday party and they only food on the menu I could eat was eggplant parmesan. So I had the meal and guess what happened? Yep phlegm, phlegm, phlegm. So after that I decided that that was the last sleepless night I’d suffer for cheese and I said plant-based is the lifestyle for me.

The first 6 years of my disease I took the doctor prescribed route to treat my illness and the medications led to more pain and further health issues. Today I’m learning everything I can about how my body works and how I can help it heal. I’ve learned that there is a lot of quackery out there on the web but there’s also a lot of good information I would have never otherwise known about had not someone took the time to share it. The jury is still out on the 100% raw food lifestyle. Science has shown that some foods, such as tomatoes, benefit from cooking. I’ve not experienced the trendous amount of energy I had when I was all raw since moving back to cooked so for now I do see a benefit in eating a high raw diet. I’m open to experimentation and my journey has just begun. As I learn more and more about my body I can make educated choices about what will help it and not hender it’s processes. Everyone out there has an idea about what is best and I’m thankful that God has given us an owner’s manual – the bible. This book has everything and it was the health message that drew me in wanting to know more. It’s a great thing to feel physically good but if the spiritual is lacking the physical can never make up for it. That’s where I was last year. My body was healing and I was feeling lighter but not freer. My anxieties and fears were just the same as when I was the heavy girl and no matter what I did to try to think positive I couldn’t overcome my fears. Next week I’ll share with you how God freed me from depression and extreme shyness. Also there is the lifestyle center starting up and the restaurant and the cooking classes and…ok I have lots to share so more to come next week!

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Healing Heart and Mind

Habits are hard to break and especially when those you surround yourself with are sabotaging your efforts. It wasn’t until I ended some unhealthy relationships that I was finally able to start to take care of myself and move towards making lasting changes in my diet. Now not every one can remove such people from their lives. Perhaps you have a spouse or a child who is quite comfortable with being a carnivore and not all concerned about their expanded waistline and growing list of health issues and are discouraging you in your efforts. Obviously these relationships require more delicate means of handling the temptations but sometimes there are relationships in our lives that are really sucking us dry and however unkind it may sound you have to cut the cord. Good health is more than just what you are eating, it’s also about what’s eating you – as Dr Howe puts it. If someone is making you feel like you want to eat a gallon of ice cream it’s time to say goodbye and have them take the tub of ice cream with them when they leave!

After I cleaned house, so to speak, God began to put things in motion for success. I was working from home, I had no car (long story here), and everywhere I turned online I was running into these vegan raw foodist – You Tube, my favorite blogs, and even the library. It seemed everyone was talking about the benefits of not cooking your fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. At first glance my thoughts were well that seems a little extreme but as time went on and I researched it further and listened to personal testimony after personal testimony of how this way of eating benefitted others, reversing diabetes and a number of other ailments, a little seed was planted that over time grew to me thinking I wonder if I could do this? So in October 2010 I started experimenting with “raw meals”. A green smoothie here and a gianormous salad there but then I’d binge. A few goods days would be followed by a week of chips, pizza, and cookies. I had no will-power. I felt helpless. I’d beat myself up for every failure. Then the following June I took a little trip out west to be in the midst of 500 perfect strangers who were all excited about their lives and the great things they were doing with them. This may sound odd but this trip was huge for me.

You see I was painfully shy and even more painful for me was admitting to it. I’d hid it my whole life with an attitude of indifference, pretending I could care less about the world and what people think. The truth was that I was terrified of saying something wrong, of looking or sounding stupid. You see I was a victim of childhood bullying. Victim sounds a little dramatic but from grade 3 up until high school I was harassed on the bus, in the classroom, and even for a while at home (step-parents). Boys were the cruelest – there words cut deep. I grew up feeling worthless, fearful, and ugly. So I tried to avoid boys as best I could. It’s little wonder I ever began dating them! Popular girls were the ones who tried to pick fights so you can imagine that as I grew up I avoided the pretty, well dressed, well-educated girls as well. All of this transferred into adulthood. In a crowd I wanted to disappear. If no one saw me then no one would say mean things to me or give me a disgusted look. If you and I met at work chances are I wouldn’t have spoken to you. If you said hello to me I wouldn’t even look you in the eye. All you’d get was a quick hey and I’d be on my way. Now if you were the super friendly type that sought me out and didn’t care if I said little in return we’d become friends – especially if you were the miserable, complaining type then we’d have lots in common.  *Disclaimer if you are an old friend reading this I’m not saying all my friends were that way! There were a few gems that managed to endure my bouts of unpleasantness. I am forever grateful you stuck around!!!

So damaged and tired of being held hostaged by fear I went out to the World Domination Summit in Portland, OR because I was inspired by all the people doing something with their lives. I had just spent the last 3 years of mine gorging myself and playing video games. So I decided to step out into life and be motivated – and that’s exactly what happened. The first motivation came from meeting person after person and them asking me what my story was. People who I didn’t know were genuinely interested in why I was there. I found myself telling them the dreams of my heart (which can be found here) and they gave me such encouragement that I thought for a moment I could actually believe those dreams could come true. Left to myself I would have just sat on the fringes and watched the people talk around me but a few beautiful, well-educated men and women sought me out and I pushed through the fear that said run away. And what happened – I made a few friends.

The second motivation came after the conference was over. I had foolishly signed up for a hike the following Monday – Saddle Mountain elev 3283. Yes I use to hike back in 2007-2008 when I was getting fit and was about 20lbs lighter. Why I thought I could still do it after spending the last 2 years on my butt eating dessert is beyond me but I know God had something to do with it. When the other hikers arrived at the meeting point my heart sank, deep. Fit and fabulous were the lot of them. I felt like an elephant in their midst. Fight or flight kicked in and completely out of character I jumped into whatever conversation was going on around me to distract myself from the thought of running away. I began the hike with the group but as you can imagine as the trail went upward I soon fell to the rear. Two amazing people stayed behind with me. Our trail guide Tyler and Lisa from FL. That last stretch took everything in me to make it to the top. The pain in my legs made me want to cry. My face was beet red when I reached it and I’m thankful the pictures were kind.

On the way down I found out that two of the other hikers were vegan and one was a raw foodist. What! Really? I peppered them with questions the whole way down. They each told me how their health and performance had improved with the change and the raw girl was even a crossfit instructor. For those who don’t know what crossfit is give it a google. It’s a pretty intense workout. I was so stoked and on the plane trip home I made an agreement with myself that I was going to try the raw food lifestyle for 30 days and if I didn’t feel better in 30 days I could go back to my pizzas and cupcakes. With my new friends cheering me on from the mountain top I came back and did just that.

Did it cure my shyness? LOL, no that work was God alone and came further down the road. What that trip did for me was to introduce me to life. The life I could have if I stopped listening to that voice in my head that said I was pathetic and incapable of doing anything right. The new voice was God speaking saying just take the first little step.  Next week I’ll share more about the why’s and how’s of raw foodism. Am I still on the diet today? No but I do still value a high level of raw in my diet. I’m wondering if anyone else is noticing an increasing number of vegans in the world today? Bill Clinton’s conversion was a shocker to me. Celebrity or not many are battling health problems and when something works people start talking about it.

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The Re-Education of Me

When my health journey began I had a very, distorted view of what being healthy meant. Educated by the public school system, television, and magazines I had the consumer version of health education. I believed if you were thin you were healthy and whatever means you took to get thin didn’t matter as long as it got you to your goal. You see I didn’t particularly like vegetables, or many fruit for that matter, and was content to eat various arrangements of cheese and bread quite happily for the rest of my life. So in 1998 when I was introduced to vegetarianism via a health lecture expounding on the evils of factory farms it was a very easy choice for me to give up meat. Vegetarians typically eat eggs and dairy so there was no real sacrifice to me. So for 13 years I thought I was somewhat healthy since I wasn’t eating meat. But the honest truth is that I was just as unhealthy in my foods choices as any carnivore I knew. I was what I like to call a junk food vegetarian.

Here’s a very embarrassing but very true representation of what my day to day diet looked like. Yep no fruits and veggies to be found –wait there may be a white potato and some corn somewhere in all that. I didn’t like to cook so convenience foods were my staple. I could make a meal off cheese dip and a bag of chips and did that often. So when I began to read health books to better understand MS and why my body was malfunctioning I began to discover that the foods with the vitamins and minerals I needed were the very foods I refused to eat. So in the beginning, when fear was breathing heavy on my neck, I chucked out all the junk foods and brought in some veggies. They weren’t so bad once I smothered them in cheese. So I started adding spinach to my cheese sandwiches and other “superfood” veggies to my pizzas. I began exercising and counting calories and I began to lose weight, so I thought I was healthy.

Memory still does not serve me 100% so I cannot tell you exactly when I stopped this healthy pursuit but sometime between 2007 & 2008 I stopped exercising and really caring about what I ate. I was tired of being the odd person at social gatherings and after the careful persuasion of my neurologist I introduced fish back into my diet. Now I could eat out with friends and actually order from the menu. I also started baking again. Once upon a time I was a cake decorator and was inspired to get back into the sweet routine after a holiday baking competition held at work. Soon I was making cookies, cupcakes, and brownies on a regular basis. Can you guess who ate them all? It wasn’t long before the veggies fell by the wayside. Not long after that my MS symptoms came on hot and heavy.

In the thick of the worst year of my life, which you can read about here,  I began to read health books again. I started with The Autoimmune Epidemic by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. This book opened my eyes to the environmental influences that effect our health. I learned that some were beyond our control but many of these influences are ones that we can control. Did you know that our largest organ is the skin? It absorbs anything you put on its surface and delivers it right into the bloodstream. Have you ever looked at the ingredients label on your bottle of lotion or shampoo? Can you identify each one of those ingredients? Probably not, I know I couldn’t. Each one of those crazy long words are chemicals foreign to our bodies. These chemicals were introduced to humankind’s skin over the last 100 years and interestingly enough over that same span of time humankind has seen a whole array of diseases spring forth that were not in existence prior to. Coincidence? The book went on to explain many of these toxic ingredients and as I discovered them in the products I used I began to remove them from my home. Now I wasn’t particularly attached to my shampoo so this change required no real sacrifice for me. I was able to find a natural alternative for it and for my cleaning products. The real challenge came when I discovered this stuff was in my food.

The chemicals are not just limited to personal care and cleaning products. Look on the back of the box, bag, or can and you will see even more of this hard to pronounce chemical jargon. Did you know that cheese food, as in Velvetta and Kraft slices, are not real food? It’s a little bit of milk mixed with a bunch of chemicals. I was eating lots of this stuff. As I began to research about preservatives, dyes, BHT, MSG, pesticides, etc I began to realize if I wanted to help my body fight this disease I needed to change my eating habits. The only way to avoid these chemicals was to cook the food from scratch. That revelation did not make me happy. Long hours in the kitchen meant less time to spend playing the video games I was addicted to. Imprisoned by fatigue it was my only escape from my life. I could grab a bag of chips and munch while I pretended to conquer the world. RAWR!

I think it was a blog that introduced me to the next book I read – The Food Revolution by John Robbins. It gave further affirmation that I needed to bring back the veggies and ditch the animal foods. What would I eat? Every food I loved involved dairy! The vegetables were more like the condiment to my cheese. I struggled and struggled with the thought of giving it up so I decided to just cut back. I omitted 99% of the processed foods in my pantry and learning to cook from scratch. This was around 2010 when I finally had access to internet at home. I replaced the video games with youtube and food blogs. These were my new best friends: PPK vegan and Food Wishes not vegan. I started living on salads and potatoes in various forms other than fried. My first recipes indulged my sweet tooth. I would tell myself I can have this in moderation. So instead of making a whole pan of cookies I would make 5 or 6 at a time, each day. I thought I was doing better but little did I know I was still robbing my body of nutrition.

I still had a few years to go before I would come to understand how to let food be my medicine. Looking back I would love to just shake some sense into my former self but I remind myself I was just like a baby learning to walk. Would you scold your baby every time she took a step and fell? Of course not! So we must remember as we are beginning our journey to wellness we are going to wander off path, trip and stumble backwards, and sometimes fall to the floor in a full blown tantrum. But the road goes on and we must get up and keeping moving forward one step at a time. I’m just thankful I don’t have to do this alone. God is with me and gives me strength each day to meet the next trial.

Next week I’ll share with you how my diet saved my life. Love you all!!

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Rising Above Your Circumstances

Long before I reached camp last year God had been using people and circumstances to teach me about the things I could do to improve my health. I was 28 when I woke up to find the left side of my face numb as if someone had played a dirty trick and rubbed Novocain on me in my sleep. The numbness lasted for over a week so I decided to see a doctor. The doctor sent me to a neurologist and one MRI later I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). As you can imagine my world turned upside down.

For those who don’t know what MS is it is when the body’s immune system malfunctions and mistakes the myelin in our body as a foreign invader. Now the myelin is the protective covering that wraps around our nerves kind of like the plastic coating that covers the wires in an electrical cord. It keeps the electricity in and flowing along like it should. Well my immune system mistakes that myelin coating for a foreign invader and deploys the troops to go forth and destroy it. This unfortunate scenario results in deterioration with visible scars (aka lesions) on my myelin. These scars prevent the signal traveling from the brain to reach the rest of my body in proper time. Just like that lamp that sometimes flickers because there’s a short in the wiring. Sometimes the scars are just road blocks creating delays but at worse they can prevent the signal entirely. With my face the signal was blocked but over time my body was able to repair itself enough that most of the feeling returned. This is the ongoing cycle for the patient with MS – one part of the body trying to repair the damage caused by another.

It was a simple enough issue to deal with, more annoying than painful in the beginning. The fear of having a disease was just what I needed to get serious about taking care of my body. At the time to me that only meant losing weight. Little did I know that the weight issue was just a small drop in the affliction bucket. So I began to read and read some more. I exhausted the MS library and it only increased my anxiety about my disease – no cure, no idea what’s going to happen to you in the long run, and not really sure why it happens in the first place. Then I began to exercise.

Growing up I had always been “the heavy girl”. I started putting on weight in second grade and it steadily increased from there. After high school I ballooned into full blown obesity tipping the scale at 215lbs. [I would love to show you a picture of me then but I refused to be photographed during that time. Maybe one of my family members can find one for me.] I was around that size when I was diagnosed. So with fear sitting on my shoulder cheering me on I lost around 40lbs the first year. I was back to my high school size and I thought that was good but slowly I began to slack off. When everything is happening on the inside it’s easy to forget your body is in self-sabotage mode. By 2007 evidence of that battle began to emerge and I soon began to realize that the numbness was just the beginning of my MS symptoms. I had been in the calm before the storm and didn’t know it.

2009 was my worst year ever. My disease had progressed until I was the walking dead – chronic fatigue, memory loss, foot drop, vertigo, plus flu-like symptoms and severe dehydration from my medication. I was unable to find rest and my only comfort was a pan of brownies. Needless to say I gained some of the weight back. I was drowning in a sea of depression and only God could have orchestrated the series of events that pulled me out of it. It began with the opportunity for me to start working from home. This meant I could roll out of bed and right into my office. This meant that when I was having the crazy vertigo spins I didn’t have to worry that someone might see me lying on the floor. And this meant that I would have access to the internet. Via the internet I had access to a whole world of knowledge I was not even aware of here in small town Maine. I stumbled across the world of holistic medicine and alternative therapy. I spent hour after hour reading others testimony about what they were doing to combat this disease. My doctor told me there was nothing I could do – just take my meds and hope for the best but I was watching videos and reading about people helping their bodies fight the disease.

I’d like to say I jumped right in and practiced everything I learned immediately. I was skeptical about everything, mind you I was bitter and outraged in having to deal with it all in the first place, but once the pity party was over (took about a year) I started to put into practice a thing or two and the healing began. The grand total weight-loss as of today is 70lbs. I’m almost entirely symptom free – the foot drop comes and goes. I’ll share with you next week just what those things were that changed the course of my disease and my life.

This is me [middle] today – happy, healthy, and loving my life.

Thank you for taking the time to read all of this. The comments last week were great! It helps knowing someone out there is listening. Of course I’m used to talking to myself but sharing with others is what life is all about.

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The Path to Freedom

Greetings and welcome! My name is Tracy and I created this blog to share with my friends and family the amazing journey I have been on since 2005 when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Over the past 7 years I have learned more about life and more about self than in all the preceding years combined. But most of all I’ve learned more about God and what is truly worth living for in this life.

It’s been one year since I stood on the dock of Camp Lawroweld looking out at the early morning fog rolling across the waters. I was reflecting on all the plans I had for the coming year, plans that involved me moving oversea to study holistic medicine. Modern medicine wasn’t helping me and I wanted more than a treatment for my symptoms. Plus I wanted to leave the corporate world behind and live a life of purpose where the work I do each day brought some comfort and relief to others struggling in this life. I longed to feel needed, loved, and to find a place where I belong. I had grand dreams for the future and as I stood on that dock waiting for the sun to rise I felt God asking to be a part of those plans. I was not willing. I said no, I want to do it my way and God said to me that day, the life I have for you is far beyond anything you can ever imagine. I walked away. I didn’t see the sun rise that morning but God did not walk away from his pursuit of me.

Today one year later I am packing to go back to Camp Lawroweld. I have been there many times since but this weekend is very special to me. This “family camp weekend” marks the pivotal moment in my life when I began to wrestle with God. So many times before I had dismissed Him saying God doesn’t have anything I want or need, but I never took the time to get to know Him and I have discovered He has everything I need. Through this blog I want to share with you the steps I took to reach the place where I am today. I’m walking in a whole new life. I have a joy that I have never had before. Those “life is good” t-shirts used to really annoy me. “Life is one big disappointment” was how my t-shirt read. Fear, anxiety, and depression were my constant companions but God has taught me a new way to walk. He’s given me beauty for ashes. I give Him all my issues and He gives me joy to see the sunrise and peace to bask in its warmth. This is freedom and I’ve found my purpose. I want to share this with anyone who is suffering in this world, who can never find satisfaction no matter what they do, what they buy, where they live, or who they work for. God has healed my body, mind, and spirit and I want to teach others everything He’s taught me. I hope to encourage all and to be a blessing to someone today!  

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