It’s been a whole year since I gave up sugar for good.
I have always had a pretty big sweet tooth, so I never imagined I’d be able to give up sugar for this long, but it was surprisingly easy for me, and I really don’t miss it most days! It’s amazing how fast a year goes by, and how much can change in one year. Many of you know that I was recently diagnosed with Mold Toxicity and Chronic Lyme Disease. I significantly changed my diet 6 months before my diagnosis, but why?
I started showing signs of something being off with my body years ago. Things started slowly going down hill when Bill and I first moved into our own place together, right around the release of our first cookbook, Make it Paleo. I put on a lot of weight as soon as we moved into that house, got really depressed, and suffered from significantly slowed GI function, but didn’t actually realize it was a big problem. From there I thought I had thyroid stuff going on. Depression lessened, weight started coming off, but severe hypochondria and paranoia started picking up. I developed severe night sweats, heart palpitations, and thought any reaction I had to anything was Cancer. My brain just wouldn’t shut of, and I had no clue why. I now realize that the house we lived in was moldy, since it had a sump pump in the basement, and significant sewer problems, which caused it to flood at least 2 times when we lived there. It was a nightmare. I do think I’ve had Lyme my entire life because I’m one of 4 people on my mom’s side who is clinically diagnosed, so I know there are more family members with it. It’s not uncommon to see a family with many people all having Lyme. I do think I may have gotten bitten again when we lived in the moldy house. Our yard was infested with nymph ticks, and we did a lot of gardening. We live in Pittsburgh, and there are ticks everywhere here. Most of them are the size of a period at the end of your sentence, so you can get bitten and never know it. Pretty disturbing.
Then we moved, and got married. I had a massive, frightening panic attack at our rehearsal, and chalked it up to just wedding stress, and not really feeling comfortable being the center of attention. Things were still off with me after the wedding. My appetite had changed. I would get nauseated when I was eating, which would then make me panic at meal time. Bill’s 30th birthday rolled around, and I stopped being able to eat all together. I knew something was really wrong, and it was very frightening.
I’m not sure how many times I can rehash that whole story on this blog, so we will just fast forward to last fall. By that point I found out that I had MTHFR, a very common polymorphism (1 out of 2 people have it- and in our house, 2 out of 2 people have it). Even if you do not have the MTHFR SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism), you will have other SNP’s in the methylation cycle which affects every single function in the body. Don’t think you are in the clear, just because you don’t have one of the MTHFR SNP’s. Optimizing methylation is key to lifelong health, and very important. I just so happen to be one of the “lucky ones” who are homozygous for the 677 SNP, which has the most significant negative affect on methylation. Yay me!
After some reading, I found out that people with methylation defects cannot detoxify well on their own, and often have a build up of heavy metals in their body. Since my main goal at that point was healing my body and brain so we could start a family, I was off to do some heavy metal testing. I knew that metals can cause very serious mood issues, and they aren’t something you want in your body when you are pregnant. The doctor I went to see for metals wasn’t too concerned with my heavy metal test results, but he did see something on my lab work that made him think that I had a significant yeast overgrowth, and put me on a strict candida cleanse with prescription antifungals as a test to see what would happen. He said that if it were an issue I would experience die off reactions, and if it weren’t nothing would happen from taking the antifungals. Well let me tell you that SOMETHING HAPPENED.
As soon as I started taking supplements for MTHFR and detox, and went on the antifungals, I had my first experience of severe herx* reactions from a flood of toxins entering my bloodstream, something I am all too familiar with now. (*A Herxheimer Reaction is an immune system reaction to the toxins (endotoxins) that are released when large amounts of pathogens are being killed off, and the body does not eliminate the toxins quickly enough.) I was detoxing faster than my body could handle, reabsorbing the toxins, and feeling like complete HELL. The anxiety I felt was unlike anything I had ever experienced (up to that point, at least). My appetite was completely gone. I was nauseated a lot. I had detox headaches like crazy, and I looked about 4 months pregnant. Typically when you do a detox it gets worse before it gets better. I never got better.
So how did my year without sugar start?
Anybody who knows me, knows that I am a very good patient. When I am told something is wrong, I want to fix it, and I will do whatever it takes (within my comfort zone). I had Candida, so sugar was out. Carbs were out. I was on a full Candida diet, because I wanted my health back as soon as possible. At that point I wasn’t eating a ton of sugar, but I was having a full bottle of kombucha daily, and I would have a treat when I craved one. I probably did eat all the cookies Juli made when she was visiting on her first trip to do the photos for her new cookbook, so maybe I was eating more sugar at times than I thought.
Many of you know that I never got better from doing a Candida cleanse. I only got worse, which resulted in the biggest health crash of my life when we tried to go on tour for our most recent cookbook, Make it Paleo 2. It was the most frightening time of my life, and something I hope to never have to experience ever again. I have since stayed off of sugar, because after trying it a couple times, I found that when I eat it I get bloated, my heart races, and I panic. Not exactly worth it, in my opinion. Most days I don’t miss it. Also, when I say sugar, I don’t just mean white sugar. I mean Paleo treats sweetened with maple syrup and honey as well.
I do eat some fruit, but not a ton. And I make sure that I get in starchy carbs at almost every meal. I wish I could say that eliminating sugar from my diet was a cure-all, and I have boundless energy and abundant health now, and I’m always happy and never stressed. I am not any of those things, yet. I do know that being off of sugar is important to my healing, and hope that it is a big contributing factor to my health in the future, so there is no sugar on my menu any time soon.
I am working with two doctors to heal from Lyme. My LLMD, Dr. Nori Onishi, who is the wonderful person who heard my symptoms and tested me for two things I didn’t think I had (mold and Lyme). He already put me on a mold protocol, which has been successful so far, and definitely helped me to feel a little better. I pretty much owe everything to this doctor, even though getting this diagnosis feels like a blessing and a curse sometimes. I know it’s a blessing. Dr. Onishi only sees patients in person, so If you are local to SW Pennsylvania, I highly recommend him.
The other doctor I am working with is Dr. Tim Jackson. Dr. Tim has Lyme, and had mold previously, and he’s been through all of this himself. He is a methylation guru, and he is helping me heal my gut, lower inflammation, optimize methylation, and get my detox pathways moving. Dr. Tim is brilliant, very kind, and genuinely wants to see people get well. He works remotely, so he treats people all over the world, and is a great option if you do not have a doctor near you, or need extra support with methylation or detox to compliment your current doctor, like me.
So now that I have a proper diagnosis, things are at least going in the right direction. Lyme is very tricky, and very scary. Pretty much my entire life has been ripped from my hands, and shattered on the ground. Now I have to find all of the tiny pieces and put them back together again. Most days I don’t feel anything like myself, I don’t recognize myself, and sometimes the conversations I have with Bill about what life is like right now feels like a dream. Am I really saying all of these things? Is this really my life? How the heck did I get here? Some days, it feels very permanent, and absolutely impossible.
I told a friend of mine recently that going through this, I constantly feel like I am getting better and worse at the same time, and that I feel like I am digging in dry sand. I keep digging and digging, and sand keeps filling up my hole, so I get somewhere and nowhere at the same time. At this point I can’t imagine ever being able to have children, which is what I wanted more than anything. My main goal now, is just getting my health and my life back. Never in my life could I have imagined that I would ever experience pain this profound. I will just say, don’t ever take for granted the ability to do things like go into the grocery store, watch TV, or spend time with friends. The next time you are upset that you have to go food shopping, remember that there is someone who desperately wishes that they could go food shopping. Be grateful. And if you love food shopping like me, take a moment the next time you walk through Whole Foods, and be present and grateful you are there.
Now, without getting too Debbie Downer, I will say, healing is possible. I have full confidence in my practitioners. As I have seen, a lot can happen in one year, and I can’t wait to look back on this year as a completely different person for the better. Who knows, maybe I will be eating sugar again? Or maybe not.