Tag Archives: diet

Intention vs Commitment

First off, let me briefly apologize for the interlude between the last post and this one. Once again, I had a short bout with some stomach issues that have now been resolved. If you want to know the details, read the next paragraph. For those who are either uninterested in medical stuff or grossed out by what goes into (or comes out of) our bodies, just skip to paragraph three.

I went into the hospital with abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting the middle of last week. The ER took a CT Scan of my abdomen and spotted what’s called a small bowel obstruction, which was caused by an adhesion caused by scar tissue from a previous abdominal surgery. While I can’t pretend to understand that particulars, what all that medical jargon means, basically, is that when the surgeons went into my abdomen to remove my appendix back in 2009, they accidentally made a small nick in the outside wall of my intestinal tract. Over time, scar tissue formed there, making the outer wall of the bowels unstable. Then, the outer wall can collapse on itself and “adhere” to itself, which is where the name “adhesion” comes from. This can happen for a variety of reasons, and sometimes for no discernible reason at all. Once an adhesion forms, it blocks off the intestinal tract, causing an obstruction. And, apparently, once it happens in a spot once, it has a significantly higher chance of reoccurring there in the future.

So, while I was not happy to have to spend three nights in the hospital again, I ended up learning something that went a long way toward explaining what was happening to me in late October and early November of 2012, and perhaps even starting as far back as two years ago. I have had quite a few abdominal issues similar to the ones described in the above paragraph that went unexplained. The doctor told me that many of those could have been this same problem exactly, but that unless they take the CT Scan at the exact right time it is very difficult to spot the adhesion, and in fact, often when the scan is taken without contrast, it cannot be seen at all unless the doctor already knows where to look and is looking for it specifically. I asked the radiologist later about it and he said, “It is like spotting one colored line in the midst of many slightly different colored lines. You often can’t see it unless you already know it is there.”

While all that really confirms, on one hand, is that I have indeed had at least a few unexplained hospitalizations that now have a clearer cause. But, on the other hand, I recognized something else that is very useful to me.

You see, while I was living both in parents house and on my own this past fall, I maintained my vegan diet, but I often ate more processed foods and my grain/gluten consumption went way up. This was, in recent history, when my digestive issues began. Then, even more recently, from the end of my hospital stay in December, I have been back on a diet more like what I used to eat in the past, including dairy and even some meat. I didn’t particularly want to eat those things, but I had the riot act read to me by two different dieticians in the hospital because I had lost so much weight so quickly. They wanted me to bulk up and told me I really ought to consider meat and dairy again for at least a short period of time until I gained the weight back, and then just to monitor things more closely once I switched back to a vegan diet.

I also realized that I have a tendency to not eat when I get sick. That seems sort of obvious to many of you, but I often forget about it because I usually feel like I’m eating enough, even when I’m not.

Also, my exercise makes a significant difference in my appetite and in my total calorie intake. It also affects my weight directly: muscle is much heavier than fat. So when I started to get sick, I not only started to eat less, but I also stopped working out, which caused the muscle to atrophe and turn into fat, which caused me to lose weight twofold. Not a good combination.

So, as of tomorrow, I’m back on my vegan diet. That’s really what this post is about. It’s an accountability post. I just tend to be more successful in any enterprise when I tell other people what I am planning on doing. Even if I never know who or where you are as you’re reading this, I know that someone out there has read what I wrote and they will know, and what in my head would have just been an intention becomes a commitment.

I have just enough life experience to understand the difference.

While an intention is nebulous, passive, and unrealized, a commitment is structured, active, and firmly put into place – it is binding, and does not yield to varying future circumstances.

In short, an intention is something you’d like to do, a commitment is something you are doing. It is intention enacted.

So, what does that mean for me from tomorrow on? It means returning to more involvement in my food, cooking more often, and preparing ahead mentally when shopping so that I have the things I need to create dishes for myself that I enjoy. I know that if I don’t really like something, I usually won’t take the time to cook it. Instead, I will often just snack or eat something easy or quick, and it is usually something processed, with all sorts of chemicals and preservatives. It is much less healthy than planning ahead and making at least a general menu for myself so that I cook and have leftovers to eat later. I end up getting more calories and also eating better quality foods that are easier for my body to digest.

At this point, I believe that it was at least partly my vegan diet (and my generally less stressful life) that caused such a marked decrease in stomach discomfort and a lack of any complications in my GI tract that required a doctors intervention. This was something I already knew, but that I briefly discarded in the face of pressure and change. That is something I will have to think about.

Thanks for reading, and I apologize for the lapse between posts again.

Peace to you,

-Nathan

Experimental Data

You know what I’ve been thinking about a lot today? I’ve been thinking about the experimental nature of this journey I’m on. I know I talked about it in those terms quite a bit the first few posts I wrote. But after that, I haven’t really returned to that idea at all. But today, I was struck by just how much experimenting I have been doing. It hasn’t just been me either. Actually, both Richard and Kate (my aunt and uncle who are supporting me through this journey and with whom I am living – just in case you’re a new reader) have been making doing some experimenting of their own. This whole experience is, in fact, one big experiment. None of us knew how it would play out when my aunt and uncle came to me when I was in the hospital and proposed this plan to me.

By the time I had decided I wanted to try it and went ahead and moved in, I know that I had a little hope that things would work out. But I also had more than a little doubt; quite a lot of me was worried that this wellness quest would turn out to be a complete disaster.

But instead, I would honestly say that so far a majority of this experiment has been an unequivocal success. Whether you began reading along with me at the very beginning or you just started a few days ago, I’m sure it is evident how much I have taken to this new life I am living.

I was quite apprehensive at the beginning. I couldn’t imagine how I could stay healthy on a gluten-free, vegan diet. I thought I had to have animal protein. I thought lots of whole-wheat products were good for me. Ok, so I sort of knew that milk and dairy products were difficult for me to digest, but I loved them and didn’t want to give them up. That doesn’t sound like someone who would willingly “go vegan”. But I can tell you (and you’ve probably seen from my posts) that I am absolutely loving this new diet I am on. Besides the diet there is my exercise program, my meditation practice, my writing (as in this blog, and some other creative writing), my hygiene (yes, I had to include that), and my medications.

I thought I would make a quick list of all these aspects of my wellness quest and give you an update on how I’m doing and whether the changes I have made have seemed to have an effect or not, or if it is too soon to tell.

Here is my “experimental data” thus far:

Diet: switched from “eating-whatever-the-hell-I-wanted diet” to vegan/gluten-free diet March 27th, 2012

Effects: I have gone from having significant stomach discomfort almost every day to having almost none. I think I have had a couple of hours on perhaps three separate occasions when I have felt discomfort in my digestive system. But, fortunately, it has usual just been gas. (I know you might not like to talk about bodily functions, but let’s be honest, we all have them. If you don’t want to read about them, tough. I won’t get into a whole lot of detail, though, so don’t worry.) Besides the lack of stomach discomfort, I have noticed that my weight is stable, and I am not gaining fat (I did use to have some, even though I was thin). I have also felt like my energy level throughout the day is more stable – instead of having this “burst” of energy followed by a “crash”, I feel awake and alert through much of the day and I attribute some of this to the fact that I no longer load up my diet with refined sugars and other foods with a high glycemic-index level, which means my blood sugar no is no longer spiking really high after a meal then dropping really low. All in all, it is clear that this diet benefits my health. I also believe it is making a contribution, however small, to the health of the planet. And at this point in my life, that has become important to me.

Plans to Change or Modify: None. I like this diet. Although the gluten-free aspect makes life inconvenient at times, I would rather wait to eat or not eat out, and avoid eating gluten than eat it and have it trigger health issues. I no longer feel the need to consume animal flesh. I have seen through this experiment that it is not necessary for me to do so in order to remain healthy. In fact, I have found that it is healthier to not put animal protein into my system, because that puts stress on my body. For that reason, I have no plans to change this.

Exercise: went from hardly exercising at all and having no routine to walking/running a mile then doing 30-40min of Tai Chi in the morning then doing strength training (weights/bowflex/situps etc) in the afternoon for 30-45min

Effects: I have seen a marked improvement in my strength, balance, flexibility, stamina and breathing. One easily measured thing is the amount of weight I lift in my bicep curls. I began with five pounds in each hand. Then I moved to 7.5lbs. Then to 10lbs. And now I have had to move to the bowflex because we don’t have any handweights bigger than 10lbs! That may not seem like much, but it is a huge change for me. I also went from walking half a mile at a slow pace to running a mile in under 10 minutes. Again big change for me. And my Tai Chi routine was so difficult when I started it that I could hardly get through it a single time. Now I go through all 24 movements at least 4 times every morning, and sometimes more later in the day.

Plans to Change or Modify: My only plan to modify this is that I have noticed that my knees have been sore and stiff and that it seems to be related to the increased running. So I plan to slow down a bit and go back to walking one-third of a mile and running the rest of it, and working back up to running the entire thing, until I am able to increase it to multiple miles. I need to be careful of my joints, because they have had problems before and I don’t want to cause problems again, but I also am noticing such positive effects that I have no desire to cut out my cardio entirely. Moderation and progressive increase seems to be the key.

Meditation: from zero meditation to spending at least 20 minutes a day in meditation on my own and an hour on Monday mornings meditation with a group.

Effects: the most pronounced effects I have seen from this have been my ability to deal with stress and to stay calm under pressure. I feel like my meditation practice is helping me to see the world and myself from a new perspective, and that it is providing me with spiritual connection to the universe that I haven’t had in over a decade. It is pretty amazing, because 20 minutes a day is really not much at all but it has made a big difference in my patience, my compassion for others, and my compassion for myself.

Plans to Change or Modify: no plans to change, although I may modify the method I use. That depends on how I feel once I have been doing it longer and once I “iron out the kinks” in my practice. Practice makes perfect, as they say.

 

Writing: I have gone from writing sporadically and often poorly to writing at least every night, usually for about an hour, and usually around 1500 words. Just like I am doing right now. In addition to that I am working on two creative projects, a novel and a collection of poems. The novel is in its early stages and the collection of poems is mostly done, just needs editing.

Effects: I have found that allowing myself to express what is on my mind in this blog every day and staying disciplined to write every single evening is giving me a whole new insight on myself and my ability to apply myself and my creative drive. And I think my writing is improving because of it.

Plans to Change or Modify: No specific plans, except that I think I am going to start making a list of possible topics for this blog, and that my topics will slowly begin to shift from being very focused on my personal life to having more relevance for my readers. I couldn’t entirely eliminate myself and my experience from the blog and I wouldn’t want to even if I could. Part of what I truly love about this blog is that I get to talk to you intimately, like it is just you and I sitting together and talking after a long day. The one thing I really want to do is to figure out how to prompt more responses from you, my readers. So if you have any ideas, please post them in my comments or email them.

 

Hygiene: Uh, yeah…before I moved in to my aunt and uncle’s place and began this quest, I was showering maybe once every two weeks, I brushed my teeth about as often, hardly washed my hands, did laundry maybe once a month…basically couldn’t care less about my appearance and taking care of the “outside” of my body. Now I shower every other day, I brush and floss my teeth every day (although at times only once), and I wash my hands all the time, and do laundry and clean my area of the house once a week at least.

Effects: I hardly think I have to tell you how much of a difference this makes in my self-esteem. When I was choosing not to care how I looked, I was also, in effect, choosing not to care how I felt about myself. Because at the point when I entered Legacy Emmanuel Hospital in an ambulance from Hooper Detox Center, I had not had a haircut in months, I had not shaved in at least as long, my hands and feet were filthy, I had acne all over my face, back, and chest…I was a mess. And I felt worthless and hopeless. Now I maintain positive hygiene habits and I feel good about myself, and, frankly, I am happy with my appearance for the first time in a couple years. Yes, I look good, and I know it J

Plans to Change or Modify: No plans to change these things, except to get contact lenses so I don’t need to wear my glasses all the time. Only slightly related to hygiene, but it didn’t fit anywhere else, haha!

 

Medication: I almost never doing my inhaled meds or taking my enzymes and anti-biotics while abusing prescription (and non-prescription) pain medications. (And yes, this means I was injecting heroin and other similar drugs.) Now, I take all my medications as prescribed every day, and I do all my breathing treatments diligently three times a day. I only have one medication with any abuse potential, and my aunt and uncle dispense it to me and keep it locked in a safe the rest of the time so that I don’t even have to worry about it.

Effects: First of all, I feel a lot better. My lungs are better, I’m not in constant pain, I sleep pretty well and usually go to bed around the same time each night and wake up around the same time each morning. I cough much less often. I am not abusing any drugs and I feel so much better being sober. I think clearer and I make better decisions. My lung function actually improved a few percentage points from one doctor’s appointment to the next (which I don’t think has happened in at least 5 years). All in all, this aspect of my experiment seems to be making the most difference, with diet coming in a close second.

Plans to Change or Modify: Well, at some point I am going to want to be off the one medication with “abuse potential”, called subutex. It is also difficult to find prescribers for it. Plus, I know that ultimately my health will be better served once I don’t have to take any medication that changes my brain chemistry directly. However, the subutex has been doing a great job at managing any physical pain I’ve been having, as well as eliminating cravings for opiates, which is its primary purpose. So although  at some point I will need to wean myself off this drug, for now, it is doing its job without hindering my progress.

 

Wow. Ok. So thanks for reading through all that. I just felt led to do a detailed sort of cost-benefit analysis of this experimental process I have undertaken.

I would love to hear your thoughts on my process and to hear about your own process.

You may not have embarked on an intentional wellness quest like I have. But life, in and of itself, is an experiment. We choose things, experience the consequences of our choices, and then either make the same choice again or make a different choice depending on the previous outcome. It may not seem as methodical as that when we are living it, but on a fundamental level our lives are nothing more than a multitude of miniature experiments involving many small decisions within each minute of each hour of each day.

It comes down to intention. I am intentionally spending time and energy focusing on my own process. I don’t think it matters how you do it, but I challenge you to spend some time and energy focused on your own process this week, and to think about what it would mean to make optimal wellness one of your primary goals in life.

After all, what should be more important to us than the health and well being of our minds, bodies and spirits?

Peace to you, and goodnight,

-Nathan

What Happens When…

Alright. It’s May 31st. June starts tomorrow. It’s summer, a new season, and the world outside your window is changing. And maybe things in your life are changing too. If you’re a student, perhaps school is almost out. You might be anticipating your summer break with excitement, barely able to pay attention in class. If you are in the hospitality industry you might be looking forward to the summer rush, as business picks up and your paycheck increases. Everyone with me here in Portland, Oregon is probably looking forward to some sunshine.

But all of that is external. Changes we experience in our environment and the world around us, precipitated by events we can’t control, or by other people whose whims we can’t predict. What about the changes that are happening inside us, our choices from day to day, the things we can control?

This blog will be my exploration of this simple question: what happens when…?

What happens when I decided to make conscious choices about my diet? (in my case, choosing a whole grain, gluten free, vegan diet)

What happens when I take care of my body? (exercise regularly, see my doctors, and follow their instructions)

What happens when I focus all of my attention of obtaining “optimal wellness” for my mind, body, and spirit? (right now I’m not working, not in school, I am on a quest for wellness that will last at least for one month, perhaps much longer)

Right now, I don’t have answers to these questions. I am eagerly looking forward to finding out what happens when I take control and make some serious changes in my life. My experience will likely vary widely from day to day. Because of this, I intend to write a new post for this blog every single day of June 2012. This experiment may last a month, or it may last a lifetime. All I know is that it will be new. and interesting. and scary. and frustrating.

and it might just save my life.

For more about me, and about the exact details of what I’ll be doing, check out the other pages on my blog, or follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

-Nathan