Saturday, January 24, 2015

How My Body and Mind Have Changed Since Going Plant-Based: Digestion and Exercise Tips

Today's post is all about your questions!  I get daily emails from many of you telling me that you need help with healthy body image issues, adapting into a more plant-based lifestyle, and just generally feel like you'll never get to a place of healthy where your minds and bodies seem to be on the same path. I totally understand that and have been there many times myself!

As much as I love food (as we all do), and I yearn to feel my healthiest, happiest self daily, I'm still human like the rest of you and continue to learn things daily that do and don't serve me well. Stress, lack of sleep, and poor quality foods all do those things but so do other things like self doubt and not tuning in with my body, mind, and spirit as one. While that sounds hokey, it's important on so many levels.

During my less-than-healthier days, I let other things dictate my choices that didn't serve me as well as understanding myself and what I'm supposed to give back to this world. It's easy to be selfish in today's times, especially with the massive amount of cultural pressure we're faced with to get more, do more, be more, earn more, and funny enough, eat less and weigh less.

I find it ironic that during the worst states of my health, I was also the most selfish and had the lowest self-esteem. Looking back, I felt like a lost child that had no sense of who she was and what she wanted.

Oh, How Things Have Changed..With Some Work

Since recovering two years ago and learning to live a more plant-based diet, some funny things have happened in the mean time. Eating a plant-based diet led me to changes I never expected with myself, and when I chose this lifestyle a third time in my life for the RIGHT reasons (for me anyway), which was soley out of kindness and ethical reasons unlike my former times when I did it as a trend and obviously failed, my relationship with my body and exercise also changed.

My size is no different than what it was two years ago, but I now love the feeling of feeling nourished and fed from whole, plant-based foods whereas before it was all about control and not allowing myself to eat a well-balanced diet. I feared foods like the plague and had digestive struggles that also increasingly caused me to have a hard time adapting to them, no matter how much I wanted to overcome those food fears.

 If you read my blog at any point last year, you'll notice posted a lot about digestion because it's been a big part of my health that I've tried to heal. Learning to nourish yourself again means having to feed yourself a variety of healthy foods and make decisions for health, not to be thin and in control. This is hard to do when everything you eat literally hurts and makes you hate your body. So I knew I needed to fix my digestion before fixing anything else or trying some trend I read about online.

When your body physically rebels a diet your mind wants to embrace, it's really hard to love yourself and accept who you are because you feel like your body and mind are two different beings. I found it incredibly hard to eat in a way that my mind didn't agree with, and so last year, I invested time, patience, (and money even during a year I was having to work 3 jobs to get by) into finding what would work so I could eat in a way I believed with and heal my body the way I knew it needed.

So I did.

What I Found Helped My Chronically Bad Digestion

Supplements and Foods That Work for Me:
(These work very well for me, but should not be taken as medical advice, nor am I saying they are the only option.)

I take a spectrum raw digestive enzyme, a mega dose, raw and gluten-free probiotic, L-Glutamine at every single meal (see my post here on that), Betaine HCL (because my body doesn't seem to produce enough stomach acid needed for digestion), peppermint and ginger tea daily. I also take magnesium regularly for regularity, stress management and sleep, and take a multivitamin with a nice variety of B vitamins. I also love using peppermint essential oil drops in tea (and even smoothies).

These supplements are not necessary for everyone, of course, but this combo works incredibly well for me (and I've tried it all!)  Having IBS, and putting my body through so much in my past, my system needed a little TLC, to say the least.

I also eat a completely added sugar free and yeast-free diet, and avoid additives such as xanthan, guar, carageenan, and other gums that irritate my stomach found in many foods.

 After the course of a year, I can safely say I've done this without any symptoms the last 5 months unless I don't take my required supplements, or if I eat foods I know won't suit me well.  Ironically, though, I've noticed that I tolerate foods I didn't used to, such as lentils, oats, and even whole grain rice. Before, none of these foods worked for my body because of what I had put it through in former years. Dried fruit doesn't even bother me like it used to in small amounts. It's taken such a long time, but ultimately, I decided that I wanted so much to live a kinder approach to life by not harming other creatures but also to nourish my body. This isn't an easy road to find if you've ever struggled with digestion and dietary preferences, as you already know and lots of tweaks here and there (and time and patience) have made a world of a difference for me with the addition of the supplements.

Other things that helped.....

In terms of diet, I already didn't eat sugar or refined anything, but I also stopped eating so much fresh higher sugar fruits ( which was 3-5 servings) in a day because it seriously caused some gut issues due to the fermentation of fruit sugars in the system. However, a serving each day (whether fresh or dried) seems to work fine (actually great!) for me. Obviously, I eat lots of vegetables (both raw and cooked) and still enjoy a green smoothie as I always have. A year ago, I couldn't even tolerate oats or any other grain, but now, I've found all I need to do is buy a gluten-free organic brand (Bob's didn't work well for me), soak them overnight with coconut yogurt and I'm good to go.

Wild rice (not a grain) also seems to work very well, and though brown does too, it's not a big deal for me. (Nor is quinoa or millet - I just don't get the craze over these seeds like everyone else.) Anywho!

Root vegetables also work great (especially pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes), which can all help with nerves, bloating, appetite, and digestion. I also love restaurant food, but usually cook at home because when I eat out, the food always makes me feel exhausted, bloated and have a headache afterwards (likely due to the sodium and heavy oils used). If I do eat out, I stick to simple things like salads, sweet potatoes, avocados, a little salsa, and even some plain whole grains like brown rice or oats.  I don't do beans because they're like a death sentence to my system, but they're not really even needed when you eat a variety of healthy foods. Oh, and no- I don't eat tofu, tempeh, seitan or other mock meats just because I'm plant-based. Those are all optional foods, not necessary (though certainly not bad if you enjoy them).

These small things  here and there have added up to me having no stomach issues like I used to. If I stray from these, go without sleep, or go through high-stress, however, I'm guaranteed to have problems. Hormones are intricately related to lifestyle and digestion, and when not kept in balance, they can cause a whirlwind of issues. The supplements I'm taking now have also changed my digestion. Of course, I still have days where I'm not "at my best" but we all do. The key is to find a 80/20 percent where most of the time, you're sitting pretty!

How My Exercise Has Changed

I'm 30 now, and though certainly not old, I think about my body differently than I used to. I'm not trying to fit into some string bikini, not trying to look like every super model on television, but do revel in the fact that I still have strong legs, a shapely torso, and can achieve toned arms with simple yoga workouts and some free weights. I'm not interested (nor do I benefit at all) with high intensity exercises like those crazy jumping-around-your-living-room plyometric workouts, and running for miles on end. No thanks!

What I do love are daily, very brisk walks for about 45 minutes (or 3.5 miles), what I usually tack. If it's a leisurely day I might do 4.5, but don't push myself or feel like I have to. I mainly exercise now because it actually benefits my digestion and mood more than anything, and getting fresh air is always a win. But I also know this style is a gentle way of taking care of my body that it loves and that I'm also able to exercise at the same time. Win, win, win, win.

I usually come back after a walk and revel in a de-stressing yoga workout, which is a real treat if it goes over 30 minutes. If not, 20-30 will do, and if I don't feel like it one day, I know my body will crave it the next (it always does). Sometimes I also do it before bed if it's been a long day and I need to "shake off" the day with some quiet and relaxation. Before I would have either starved or binged. Not now. Going vegan meant eating to be kind to other creatures and eat within my beliefs, but at the same time, I ended up being kinder to myself  (though I do have to be sure to eat a variety of foods for balance).

Five years ago, and especially 10, I would have seen this as lazy. No gym? No 30 minute weight session? What in the world!?

Not now. 

Now, I know my hormones and digestion will function best when I do exercises that support them both. Listening to your body is about more than just your appetite. It's about seeing yourself as a WHOLE, not a number or a body bag to treat however the heck you want.

Oddly enough, when I made these changes and embraced HEALTH, my skin changed, my hair started growing again, my digestion leveled out, and my weight didn't even shift if you're wondering. I always feared I'd gain all this weight if I ate plant-based (more carbs), and didn't run my body to the ground working out.

Not so. 

If you're on the fence about your health, I'd encourage you to pay attention to your body as a whole. If an area needs attention more than others, give it some love and be patient. Research, learn, ask questions, and don't follow trends. Do what your body needs and what your heart knows is best.

So I hope that answers all of your questions, thanks for reading this if you made it to the finish line!