This Lent, I have been feeling a closeness to God and renewed joy and peace despite a hectic home life and one year old twins (read: no sleep). For years I have felt like I have been in a spiritual desert I couldn’t seem to find my way out of. I tried spiritual reading, prayers, novenas especially to the Holy Spirit, more frequent confession, less frequent confession (wondering about scrupulosity), daily Mass/Liturgy at my parish, weekly Mass at different parishes. Nothing really seemed to make a difference, and I must admit, nothing really “stuck.” I just couldn’t seem to connect to God, and even wondered if I was losing my faith. I wondered if I was a little depressed, but not enough to seek medication.
Since the twins were born, I have been exhausted. Beyond exhausted. My once sharp memory has become more full of holes than swiss cheese. I can’t focus. I can hardly string two words together. I can no longer multi-task. I need to continually remind myself of what I am doing while I am on my way to the room in which the task needs to be done, or when I get there I stand cluelessly wondering what the heck I meant to do. I have had six other newborns, but never have I been this drained and tired.
Worse than that, I constantly felt like I was on the verge of being sick. My lymph glands in my throat that typically swell before a cold were bugging me all the time. I had frequent headaches. I had developed allergies to the dog during my pregnancy which caused all my airways to swell to the point I could barely breathe. Though we ultimately gave up the dog, the airways never completely unswelled. I was having frequent ear aches and stuffiness. My IBS-C (if you don’t know what that is, I’ll spare you the details, but my digestive system wasn’t functioning) was flaring up worse than ever. The usual tricks didn’t seem to help anything. And despite nursing twins, and attempting exercise, I saw no change in weight.
My journey to regaining my health is very long and still ongoing. And what does it have to do with my spiritual health? I have been a long time follower of Jen Fulwiler’s Conversion Diary blog, and she has articulated well the phenomenon that I am experiencing, coining her conclusions the “Saint Diet.” Since I have cleared the inflammation in my system that was occurring due to partaking in foods that my body couldn’t handle, my mind and my soul are also starting to clear from the fog under which I’ve been living.
I had shut down and isolated myself, barely keeping up with what was necessary for me to do each day. I closed my original blog years ago, because I struggled with new material within the dryness I was experiencing. Others were blogging and telling their stories so much better than I could anyway. It had been so long since I had had any sort of inspiration.
In the last few weeks, all this is changing. I have refound my voice, and introspection and self-examination seem to be bearing fruit. Blogging about it isn’t forced, but seems to be flowing naturally and honestly from my experience in a way that I had struggled with before. But most of all, I am eagerly seeking God and feeling His presence. Instead of attending Mass out of obligation, I am eagerly drawn to worship Him in the Mass (even though we still have a priest who openly flouts the magisterium at every opportunity). God has seen fit to bless us with new opportunities and avenues for prayer, worship and catechesis with other devoted Catholics. Grace is building upon grace and prayers are being answered in surprising, dare I say, miraculous ways.
I am more convinced than ever that the human person is an indivisible whole which cannot be divided into subdivisions of body, mind, and soul, and then treated separately in isolation from the other parts. When one of these parts are ailing, it has impact on the other parts. Finding the solution can be an extensive process, and may require delving into physical, spiritual and mental difficulties before progress can be made. When I was Evangelical, many problems were seen as a spiritual attack and primarily sought spiritual treatment through prayer, Bible study, and/or accountability partners or groups. The spiritual was routinely elevated over the physical. As a Catholic, I learned new emphasis on God’s creation as “very good,” and man viewed as a whole being, whose body and soul are both in need of salvation and not at odds with each other. But until experiencing this first hand, I did not realize how fully true that is.
Since my full story about healing my gut became so long, I decided to shorten the point above, but if you’d like to read my process, click through to the full post.
Last fall, I determined to do something about my health problems. I’ve had dairy intolerance that waxed and waned since I was a child. In order to provide adequate nutrition for the twins, I was consuming a lot of dairy, mostly in the form of protein shakes and cheese. I also have had long time issues with low blood sugar and felt that carbs really threw my system off. When I started doing a little internet research, I discovered that gluten intolerance often was coupled with dairy intolerance. I decided to do a test and eliminated all dairy and gluten.
If you have never tried to eliminate all forms of dairy, you can’t really imagine how difficult it is. During one of my previous pregnancies, I became sensitive not just to lactose, but even the smallest bit of casein would make me nauseous for three days until it cleared. So we had previous experience that even things labeled “non-dairy,” like whipped topping or coffee creamer, still can have casein in them. Manufacturers seem to like to throw skim milk into everything. So eliminating these foods takes a lot of commitment to reading labels and preparing whole foods.
We found a lot of substitutes in the growing gluten-free food market, and I felt a significant improvement within a few days. I could feel my ears draining, my sinuses opening up, and I found energy! I was still exhausted, but I wasn’t “can’t hardly drag myself out of bed” exhausted. I could manage to do a minimal amount of housework when I got babies napping. Accidentally ingesting any dairy product would quickly result in inflammation reactions involving my sinuses, ears and lymph glands down the back of my neck, and extreme fatigue. But as long as I avoided dairy and gluten, I was feeling a huge difference.
Pretty soon I realized corn had to go, too. I’d substituted corn for wheat, with GF tortillas, cereal and tortilla chips. My insides felt “gluey,” for lack of a better term. I was still looking for improvement with my IBS, which really was the instigating factor in trying to fix my diet. I started losing weight, about a pound or two a week, despite not having time to exercise since I was now cooking all meals from scratch.
I was still getting daily sore throats and headaches, which would start around midmorning and then fade somewhat by evening. I couldn’t figure out what part of my diet was causing this, so I finally saw my health care provider. She put me on a total elimination diet, which with nursing babies is a feat all of its own. I was supposed to remain on the diet for at least three weeks. For about 10 days, I saw no improvement. Then, I started to suspect that sugar was the culprit. While I had eliminated most forms of sugar from my diet, in an attempt to balance the flora in my intestines I had started using water kefir. To provide nourishment for the kefir grains, the recipe called for white sugar in the water. I was drinking a little of this every morning, and about an hour later the sore throat would start and then the headache shortly after. When I found a recipe using maple syrup instead and switched my grains over, I finally found the last major culprit. Once that was confirmed, I went off the elimination diet because I was struggling to keep up with my protein needs for fully breastfeeding twins. I continued with my kefir and avoided all sources of gluten, dairy, corn and table sugar. If eliminating dairy is difficult, eliminating sugar is probably doubly so. There is no wonder we have a weight problem in this country, because nearly every prepared product on grocery store shelves contains some amount of processed sugar.
Finally, weight started dropping off as I knew it should have been all along. Nursing twins full time should be like adding a second furnace to your metabolism. And yet, I was still waiting to see an improvement in my IBS symptoms and it wasn’t happening. All this time I kept researching to learn about how to support my body and heal my gut so that I wouldn’t have to live like this forever. Eventually, I was fed up enough to start the GAPS diet.
I had requested the GAPS book on inter-library loan and waited weeks to receive it. The GAPS diet is intended to heal the gut and balance the flora by sealing up a leaky gut, using many of the things I was already doing. But it also starts off extremely restrictive. Since one of the results of a leaky gut is that the body is no longer able to digest any form of sugar above a monosaccharide, all forms of starch and fiber are completely removed from the diet, including rice and potatoes. After re-evaluating the foods I’d identified as trouble areas, I quickly noticed that they were all disaccharides.
In the early stages of the diet, the individual begins with consuming homemade meat, fish or vegetable stocks frequently throughout the day. Meats are prepared only by boiling and must be eaten with the fat. Animal fats are what establish and preserve the lining of the digestive system. Low fiber vegetables are allowed and prepared by boiling. Fruits are withheld until elimination becomes regular. As you can imagine, I began dropping weight rapidly at this point.
As I moved through the steps of the introduction to the GAPS diet, I began seeing changes in my IBS, but I still wasn’t achieving regularity. I was talking to my dad one day about what I’d been going through. He’s struggled with similar symptoms his whole life, as well. He mentioned that he’d begun to suspect that he was deficient in B12. Well, I have studied a bit about nutrition and vitamins, as at one point I was pursuing training as a direct-entry midwife. I knew that B 12 deficiency was primarily a concern for vegetarians, because B12 comes from animal products. Most omnivores do not have an issue with B12 deficiency. But he mentioned that one of the symptoms was loss of the moons on one’s fingernails. Hmmm…. I looked at my fingernails and realized that the last digits on both of my hands were missing the moons.
I researched foods high in B12 and started consuming liver. I’d been taking prenatal vitamins all this time and was certain that those, coupled with whole foods ingestion of high amounts of B12 should correct the problem. I gave it a couple weeks, and still saw not even a hint of a returning moon. I did more research and discovered that B12 is more readily absorbed by direct supplementation than by whole foods. The reason I had become deficient was because my gut was not digesting and absorbing nutrients from my food properly, and increasing the amount of B12 in my food was not going to force my gut to absorb it. I switched to a liquid sublingual (under the tongue) supplement, which included a complete B-complex and extra B12. It’s important to supplement all the B’s together because they rely on each other for adequate absorption. Within two days, I finally had regularity and my IBS-C is becoming a thing of the past.
At present, I am still on the GAPS diet. After achieving regularity, I progressed more rapidly through the introduction steps, so that I am able to eat raw vegetables, raw and cooked fruits, some fibrous fruits and vegetables, all meats prepared all ways. I have recently added in potatoes, which while not on a strict GAPS diet, I seem to be handling alright. Red potatoes are the first foods to be reintroduced when planning to come off the diet. I cannot handle beans. I can probably count the number of prepared foods I can consume on one hand, like some brands of canned tomatoes or tomato sauce, pickles, and shelled nuts. But, through this diet, God is teaching me a lot of lessons, not the least of which is a restoration of my connection with my Savior! I have also lost 50 pounds over the four months, finally reaching and then passing my goal weight I’ve been struggling to reach for 15 years.