Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What 7 days as a vegan taught me about life

I've been meaning to write this post for a few weeks now, and this is the perfect time to share. It's about self-care for us mamas with a kiddo in a challenging health situation, and just in time for Mother's Day! How can you prioritize taking care of yourself - can you find the space in your life for a little self-care?

Recently I underwent a weeklong cleanse. What on earth was I thinking!?! 

I’m a busy mama taking care of a 2-year-old with a really confusing set of symptoms and food allergies. The nutritionist we have worked with for over a year now offers seasonal cleanses as part of her practice. Each cleanse focuses on detoxing and supporting a particular organ and each time a cleanse has rolled around I’ve been equally interested and skeptical and 100% sure I was not up for it. But this spring I’ve felt a gathering strength as I’ve gradually gotten a handle on my adrenal fatigue and Hashimoto’s.

As part of my treatment plan I had started taking sublingual progesterone and ever since then had been seeing my weight tick up higher and higher and my belly fat poke out a little farther. I’m not overweight by any means, but I’ve grown a little fond of the trim physique I’ve acquired eating Paleo and wasn’t happy about the chub. Well it turns out that Andrea’s spring cleanse focuses on the liver, and the liver is essential for detoxifying excess hormones from your body. And since eating a lot of meat – which I do – can be hard on the liver, I decided it deserved a break.

Now, just to clarify, this was not one of those cleanses where I only drank lemon water with cayenne pepper sprinkled in or whatever some crazy cleansers do. The protocol was vegan, which wasn’t too much of a stretch for me since I don’t do dairy or eggs. But giving up meat for a week was truly an adjustment and I really did have to learn a whole new way of eating.

What did I eat? I got asked that a lot during the week from more than one worried friend and family member who was perhaps concerned I'd had taken my crazy food stuff off the deep end. Well, I ate a TON of vegetables. I ate quite a bit of fruit – more than is normal for me. And I ate some stuff made with seeds – no nuts. That was it! I don’t intend this as an infomercial for Andrea’s cleanses, but it was actually really great because I got menu suggestions, 40 pages of recipes and online support for the week. I definitely don’t think I could have done a cleanse without all that support!

So, how did it go? I’m not going to lie – the first bit was rough. On days one and two I was so dang hungry I just felt like I was eating all the time. I did not take the time to prep foods in advance (that would have been a good idea!) so on day one I just had to hit the ground running and figure things out as I went. Then on days three and four I felt a little crummy. I didn’t experience a massive detox like some of the others on the message board, but I had some quirky stuff happening like muscle tension, serious fatigue, etc. I think honestly I survived it so well because my diet was so clean to begin with. I can only imagine how crappy it would feel to go off gluten, dairy, grains, sugar, caffeine, etc. all at once. I did that over the course of about a year and that felt terrible!

Then at about day 5 it was like I crossed over some magical cleanse bridge and the other side was awesome! I felt incredibly energetic, optimistic, buoyant, happy – you name it! I felt great physically and I felt great emotionally. I had terrific new perspective on Ellie’s health and life in general. Amazing that food can do all that, huh? 

The cleanse included a few hiccoughs for me where I ate something that was allowed on the cleanse protocol, but not on my own personal food path. I convinced myself that if it was ok on the cleanse, it would be ok for me! Wrong! For example mangoes are simply not my friend – too high glycemic for me. Lesson learned.

As the cleanse came to a close I definitely was ready to start eating meat again. But 7 days as a vegan gave me pause as I evaluated how meat-heavy my diet had become. I had been eating meat 3 meals a day, and pretty big quantities of it. Interestingly I had read in Primal Body, Primal Mind that the ideal portion of meat is about 2 ounces at a meal and I had always thought that was way too little! But since the cleanse I have eaten much smaller portions and found I’m equally satisfied and don’t feel as sluggish after eating. I am eating a lot more vegetables even now.

Undertaking a cleanse while also maintaining Ellie’s diet was no easy feat, and it was challenging for me to explain to her that mama’s food and Ellie’s food were going to be really different for a week. But ultimately I am so glad I did it. I’m so glad I took that time to take care of myself. The cleanse was like hitting a huge reset button for myself, and gave me a great opportunity to re-evaluate how foods that were regulars in my diet are or are not serving me. I’ve discovered since then, for example, that I cannot handle cacao right now. Too draining on my adrenals. So I’m swapping out carob and feeling so much better.

And how about that progesterone that caused me to do this in the first place? It served its purpose, and now I’m weaning myself off of it.

The big lesson I learned from that week was that I really can take time to make foods that are going to best serve me. It’s OK for Ellie to have sausage and yams for breakfast and for me to make myself a green smoothie. I learned that the better I take care of myself, the better I can take care of her.

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