Neuroplasticity and the human brain in action

Posts tagged ‘Getting Healthy is Hard’

Sunshine and Nutrients, Days 12-17

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(Not my photo)

The root of all health is in the brain. The trunk of it is in emotion. The branches and leaves are the body. The flower of health blooms when all parts work together. ~Kurdish Saying

Well, we’ve passed through two intense weeks. Emotional intensity has always been a quality of our family’s life together. I’m OK with that. I wouldn’t know how to be anything else, and hope that others will just accept this fact and embrace it, as our friends. It should not be surprising to anyone who knows us that this program would crank up the pressure for us, and boy, has it! I was not certain at the outset that this would be a bad thing for us, and hoped sincerely that it would mean the opposite. And boy, has it! This post is dedicated to the enumeration of the positives that have come into our life since we commenced. Unfortunately my written descriptions and past images will have to suffice, as we have misplaced our camera once again.

August 1st was a great time to start this program for us. We have no birthdays in our immediate family (no need to make a birthday cake anytime soon) and school has been out of session, giving us the maximum latitude and flexibility to change up our routine. Our garden and fruit trees are producing well, providing an abundance of fresh produce which is directly incorporated into daily healthy meals. We have a farmer’s market every Saturday across the street from the Brain Balance center, both of which are situated less than two miles from our home. This helps me a ton. I received a note from one woman who moved out to Utah from Wisconsin this summer, so that her kids could participate in the Brain Balance program here in South Jordan. Her husband had to stay behind to work, leaving her to navigate the demands of this program as a single parent. I’m so lucky that it is all so convenient and close by, and that this house we bought last year was already stocked with the raw tools to assist us in our effort. Here are some pics of our garden and trees.

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Pears Galore

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Zucchini to Spare

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A bough from one of our mature peach trees, broken under the weight of beautiful peaches.

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Two garden boxes full of veggies.

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Golden Delicious Apple Tree

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Peas, Lettuce, Cucumbers, Zucchini, Pumpkins

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Dash holds the BIG zuc, with Sparkle and Freckles. We just made Paleo Zucchini Brownies with that baby.

Physical provisions notwithstanding, the spiritual and  mental blessings that we’ve received since beginning the Brain Balance program outshine them. Right around day 6 or 7, my friend TS from church called me out of the blue. She thought she should call, but didn’t know why. Unbeknownst to her, we were in the thick of the overwhelming diet changes, and she had just recently gone through her own journey. They’d learned that her husband has Celiac Disease, and subsequently took the whole family off of gluten. In that process she had gained insight and resources that she could now pass on to me. Beyond the resources, she comforted me by just listening to my complaints, and giving me encouragement.

Last week, around Days 12 and 13, I needed more insight into how I could try my hand at improvising with food, and experimenting with the new ingredients. I also needed more recipes that were yummy and would fit the regime. The BB diet is not quite as restrictive as Paleo or GAPS, but more restrictive than most. By this time we were eating in compliance, but still not thriving. Great recipes have to be pretty narrowly defined. Thanks be to God, a couple of people came to my rescue at this juncture, with excellent resources, both with years of experience.

DB is a family friend who remarried last year, and at the same time undertook the huge task of thriving on a Paleo diet. He and his kids have lived with some of the same sensory issues that we have seen in our children, and have found a variety of tools, a Paleo diet included, that have helped them conquer their symptoms. Lucky for him, he married an adventurous woman, who not only took on the Paleo challenge, but turned their kitchen into a veritable Paleo Laboratory. She employs her daughters as taste testers, and regularly turns out what appear to be gourmet masterpieces! Her blog, if you haven’t seen it yet. Thanks Miss Julie, and your Superman!

ND is a perfectly beautiful woman, who also happens to be the former owner of our happy home. She and her family filled this home with happy and healthy traditions, and she inspires me to do likewise. She read my last blog entry, and was moved to have compassion on me :). After midnight on Day 13, she was going to bed, but decided to write me an email before retiring. In true stream of consciousness form, she wrote down some of the ways she has modified her family’s meals to include a healthier array of options. With each meal idea, she included how she had improvised to make it better. Thanks to her writing form, common ingredients and recipes became useful to me. I began to see a bridge being built in my mind, between our former eating lifestyle, and our new paradigm. I begin to see how we can move forward, even after program interventions are complete, and settle on a healthier norm for our family. She also sent follow-up emails, along with more recipes and ideas in each one. THANK YOU, ND!!

Just to give my BB friends a couple more ideas, and to highlight how helpful her email was, here is an excerpt:

“Hamburger curry over rice: I love this because I can make it in the crockpot and it is ready when we are.  Cut up 2 cups of cabbage, 1-2 c celery, add cooked hamburger and onions, 1 to 2 t curry pwd and some ckn broth or water. It will need 1 t or so salt and serve over rice.  The recipe calls for a bit of catsup, but it should be good without it.  You could even grate some zuc or slice it. I like it if the veggies don’t get too done..nice and crispy.

Our family really liked a casserole I made with rice and hamburger and zuc.  I cooked the rice, added a package of cooked frozen hamburger (or what you have, I cook mine ahead and freeze it since it is such a mess to cook up), and some zuc sliced–I used to add some cream of something soup, but I think it would be yummy with a little coconut milk. Salt and onions would be yummy in it too.

You could make a zuc casserole with taco seasoning–the Schilling at Costco I think is clean for you, or you could make your own–, hamburger, sliced zuc and onions.  The recipe calls for Doritos on top (which are so not good for you) but maybe you could sub some rice chips–Dave’s has some yummy ones seaweed and something–also can get them at Smiths market place.  Maybe chips are totally out now, you could use the Costco plain corn chips to add some crunch–or it would probably be good without oh..it needs some tomato sauce, maybe two cans–boy, these are really rough recipes, but I hope they will give you some ideas to experiment with.

The apples from your tree make wonderful apple crisp–they won’t need much sweetening and I bet you could figure out a great topping with a bit of sucanut, oats?/gluten-free flour or pancake mix and a little oil. The apples are sweetest when they are yellow, can freeze and stay best and crisp right on the tree. I am so glad we planted all those trees for you!”

Oh, and here is another healthy food blog she linked from another neighbor. Thanks again, ND!

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Love this meme. It’s true.

Beyond the heaven-sent help, I have also seen mental and physical health improvements in myself, Big B and others. Dash seems to be cruising through the exercises, and has accepted the diet, not without some grumbling :). As I mentioned in an earlier post, Big B’s balance is improving, and he is losing some of his tummy. Eye exercises have been hard for him to do each day, but he is trying. He can do sit-ups better than before (still working on the push-up formations, but that’s OK). His ability to do all the exercises and complete them continues to improve, albeit not without meltdowns. He needs lots of breaks, and still does the whole routing much better for Daddy than he does for me. I could be imagining it, but Big B’s eyes seem to be better aligned than they were previously. We go to the park a lot, and his coordination/ability to run around without falling down seems to be improving as well. Oh yay, Baby Blues just found my camera! Here are some park shots.

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We try to have the whole family do the exercises each day. With the exception of our 4-year-old, everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon. (Baby Blues just watches the rest of us laughingly.) My own lower back, which seems always to have been quite weak and prone to back pain, especially when I was pregnant or nursing a child, is much stronger now. The morning back aches, a fixture in my life previously, are gone. Earlier this year and last, I saw my hair thinning at what seemed to be an unnatural pace. I’d read enough to gather that it could be an indicator of a hormone imbalance, which of course can be greatly exacerbated by diet. Since we changed our eating habits, I have noticed that my hair seems to have stopped shedding. This has been a relief to me, if not an unexpected stroke to my vanity. I’ve lost five pounds. My husband isn’t keeping track, but he’s lost weight too. (I can tell because there is less of him to wrap my arms around.) This makes both of us happier with ourselves, as we have carried unnecessary girth around for some time now.

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(Not my photo)

Perhaps this biggest benefit to the diet changes for me, is the way I have seen my moodiness and stamina stabilize in a big way. With a predisposition for depression in my family of origin, and having lived it firsthand for many years, I’m indescribably thankful to God for helping us put our aspirations into action through the Brain Balance program. To be sure, there is more than one way to achieve balance in one’s life. If I had hired a personal trainer for myself, I’m certain that I might see similar results, though perhaps not as dramatic, because a personal trainer’s diet would not have eliminated all of the inflammatory foods that BB has. As a mom, I have never been able to make that kind of investment in myself, worthwhile as it may be. What got us on board here, is that the well-being of our kids would be directly improved thereby. We had no idea how transformative it would actually be. For Michael and I, Brain Balance is a means of accelerating our physical and mental development beyond what it was. For Dash and Big B, and to a lesser extent, all five of our kids, BB is a way for us to help them over developmental hurdles that have heretofore been insurmountable. It may as well have been Mt. Everest to us.

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(Not my photo. Mt. EVerest)

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Nutrition Burnout and Recovery, Days 5-11

I knew it would be tough to completely change our eating habits. It was clear from Day 1 (see earlier post) that we are dealing with lifelong, deep-seated stuff here. Every time I’ve sat down to blog about this last week, I’ve been blocked. It was hard to feel anything but discouragement as I looked back at the end of the day, and saw only what looked like failure to me. I’m glad I waited to write it all down, because I think what we were seeing was probably the normal stress that comes when you undertake this kind of major dietary shift.  I’m thinking a bit more clearly now, after having seen good progress in making the transition. The only question remains, how to construct the narrative, without too much negativity, while at the same time describing a reality-based picture of our experiences this week. I will go with unadulterated honesty first, and try to work in the hopeful elements where possible.

One of the conditions that had to exist for our family to be able to dive into an intense program like this was that my mental health had to be at a place where I could stay present for the kids, and carry out the demands of home programming without going into full retreat and isolation mode. Since the day I became pregnant with our first child (Dash), depression has been a part of my life. For as long as I was either breastfeeding a child, or expecting one, my brain chemistry would be out of whack. This means that for the first 10-12 years of our marriage, I was an emotional mess. When our youngest turned three, I began to feel like myself again. It is a touch disturbing to acknowledge that my good husband has seen the whacked-out “me” much more often in our life together, than he has the real me. Thankfully he stuck around anyway, reaching out to my alternating selves, with unfailing love and patient devotion.

Here is a picture of me when I was a small girl. I don’t remember the year, but it is in the mid-to-late 70’s. I’ve always loved this photo, perhaps sensing when I view it, that this represents the real Rebecca. She is a very happy girl, insatiably curious, and a bundle of intense energy. I’ve had to re-introduce myself to her from time to time, but she never fails to make me smile, inspiring me with grateful remembrance. That girl can do anything she puts her mind to, and guess what? It’s still true, 30+ years later. Often when I look into the sweet faces of my own five babies, I see a little bit of that cute Becca. In Big B’s case, I see a lot of her.

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Me, at approximately age 4.

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(Courtesy Angela Marie Photography, 2012)

Left to Right: Sparkle(8), Freckles(10), Big B(5), Daddy, Mommy, Baby Blues(3), Dash(12)

Brain Balance requires all of their clients to commit to eating a very specific diet, which for the average American, means a big change. In short, we now eat no gluten, no dairy, no soy, no refined flours or sugars, no MSG, artificial dyes, additives, nitrates, and only occasional raw sweeteners in very small amounts, limited to: honey, stevia, 100% unrefined maple syrup, agave, organic coconut sugar, or molasses. It’s not as restrictive as say, the Paleo Diet, but Paleo fits within the scope of what we can eat. So I refer to their resources quite a bit. One such excellent blog is authored by a family friend, and could be helpful to anyone who is serious about Paleo. We decided at the outset that any diet and exercise changes that Dash and Big B had to adopt, the rest of the family would also sign on to it. I had a few dishes planned, but no snacks for in-between meals. I figured yeah, they know how to eat carrots, apples and almond butter. But wow, I was SO off. They rifled endlessly through the kitchen cupboards and refrigerator, wondering what they could possibly eat that they were familiar with. The compulsive rifling persisted throughout the week, almost as if they believed the next time they checked, their old foods might have found their way back to them.  They did know how to eat carrots or broccoli, yes, but only last week it had always been dipped in Ranch dressing! Where was the Ranch? It was no more! And of course I couldn’t send them to friends to play in this state, they’d only find our OLD Ranch bottle in THEIR fridge, and then complete melt down would be assured.

paleo pyramid

So here we found ourselves, on Day 5. We had by this time made a trip to the farmer’s market and to a local grocery store to purchase a variety of new staple supplies, like coconut oil, coconut sugar, coconut flour, almond butter, GF/DF/sugar-free pancake mixes, Easy Life chocolate chips, more produce, almond milk, rice milk, and cage free eggs. We got ourselves through the weekend alright, thanks to Dad’s skills at making a mean Curry Chicken over Rice, which the kids have eaten and loved for years. But by Monday Dad was back at work, and Mom was up. I had laid out a menu plan which I thought would work fine. And it did work fine for me. I love my Brazilian Beans and Rice, and could eat it every day, no problem. But my kids were tired of it. We’d eaten it at least a couple of times since Day 1. On this Day 5, Sparkle was visibly wilting, having NOT found anything she could bear to consume. Admittedly, I saw this coming with her, but did not prepare well enough. She is a stubborn girl, and can dig her heels in for days if she wants, depending on the issue of conflict. She was pale, and kept filling up her water bottle with her tried and true lemon juice, honey, and ice water, to get her through the hours. Absolutely nothing was left in the kitchen that she liked. And honestly we did throw out 99% of her diet with this change. What saved her from complete starvation here was a tuna sandwich on GF/DF/SF bread from Eleanor’s Bakery.

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Sparkle, Age 4

As I was saying, my mental health had to be in a decent place before we could benefit from a Brain Balance program. I felt when we started that we were in the right place and time to move forward. But this last week, I seriously questioned whether I could really do it. I lost sight of Becca, the real me, the do everything girl. Depression for me has always been greatly aggravated by low blood sugar levels. The first impulse is always to sequester myself in my room, and put the kids in front of some screen. (Oh, and did I mention that the BB program also requests you limit your kids to no more than 30 minutes of screen time per day? That doesn’t seem unreasonable, until you as the mom are spiraling down into retreat, and you need a buffer to keep the kids out of trouble. And yes, neurobehaviors of an atypical child left to his own devices will inevitably lead to trouble!) When we filled up and delivered those four boxes of dry goods and two bags of dairy products to our neighbor, we said goodbye to foods that represented perhaps 60-70% of our habitual diet. So things got BAD, and FAST. Not helpful was the fact that this week at my husband’s workplace was especially demanding on him. They’d flown in a whole contingent of analysts from a market research firm which looks to be merging with his company here soon. He was not able to come home before 9pm on virtually every night of this week.

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(Not my Photo)

As Day 5 passed in utter hellish frustration, we moved through the subsequent days of this week as if we were “walking in molasses” to borrow a phrase from a local author. We were all hungry, as Plan A menus became Plan Bs, only to be rejected. And I had no Plan C. My Plans A or B, only a week prior to this, had been jumping in the car and running to Little Caesar’s or Iceberg. So yes, we had many a mile to go, and it seemed as if we only moved forward by inches. This post isn’t dedicated to how we are doing on the home exercises. But our performance there (indeed, our performance in virtually ALL other essentials) was invariably influenced by our limping along nutritionally. We managed to fit in two exercise sessions per day on all of these days but Day 8, which I will mention later. During this time, what we did eat was 98% in compliance with the parameters outlined by Brain Balance South Jordan. The only problem is that it wasn’t enough. We languished. Day 6 was a little better food-wise, but in terms of meltdowns from Big B, he was just getting started. I was told that setbacks and reversals in behavior were to be expected, as we move through the program and make the necessary adjustments. But I seriously wondered if what I was seeing could possibly be in the norm. Have I given you enough of reality yet? I’ll move on now to some of the good things that happened this last week, shall I?

Day 7 started out very badly. Freckles and Sparkle had come down with bad head and chest colds, and all the kids were dying to get out of the house. So we packed us up, and headed to the zoo as quick as we could get there. Unfortunately by the time we’d made the 30-minute journey, Sparkle had gotten worse. We sat on a bench inside the zoo for 45 minutes, while Dash, Freckles and Big B walked around some of the nearby exhibits. At this point I was so desperate to get my daughter to eat a clementine, I bought a rice crispy treat from the nearby bistro to help coax her along. I also bought water and a big veggie cup that had Ranch dressing in it. She seemed almost to the point of nausea, and I felt that it was most likely because she simply wasn’t eating. I made a deal with her that for each bite of clementine (a fruit she’d heretofore rarely eaten, despite countless opportunities) that she took and swallowed, I would give her a bite of the rice crispy treat. This she attempted, with an appearance of true illness (and a touch of martyr), but unsuccessfully. She managed to swallow one wedge, but then threw up the second one. I thought maybe she should eat the veggies first, to get her tummy to a better place before attempting the oranges again. So I just gave it to her, Ranch and all, with an order that she eat as much as possible. Post-veggie consumption, she still could not manage the clementine, so I gave up at that point, gave her the rice crispy treat, and told her to eat it so she wouldn’t faint on the way back to the van.

Oh, but I was going to move on to the good stuff, sorry!! Did I mention that we just harvested two of our peach trees , one of the big ones and one of the baby ones? They are beautiful, and we are benefitting from the fresh fruit daily. Our garden is producing endless zucchini in all sizes, gorgeous tomatos, tomatillos, cucumbers, peas, eggplant and beans. Our pear tree is nearing harvest time, I think. The color is looking rosier, and I think pears don’t soften on the tree. So we will bring some of those in soon and watch. For this fresh and free organic food, I am daily grateful. Sparkle has yet to avail herself of this resource, but I have hope for her. Sooner or later, she will pick something up and take a bite. I recently read in a book called French Kids Eat Everything that it takes a minimum of 7-10 introductions to a new food for a child to decide they will like/eat it (great book, I highly recommend it!).

The night of Day 7, we went to the Summer Party for my husband’s company. It is always lots of fun, and they always have good food. Michael asked the organizer if there would be any food there that would be compatible with our new dietary regime, and was informed that there would be. So our dinner consisted of cut up fresh fruits, green salad with a vinaigrette dressing, corn on the cob with no butter, and grilled roast beef. The kids didn’t stay long at the picnic table, because there was a huge inflated water slide that had been set up for all the children of employees. Miraculously, Sparkle and Freckles recovered long enough to enjoy the water play for the residue of the event ;). And an extra tender mercy from God, I met one of his co-workers from New Jersey, who has two kids with Autism/Aspergers. I talked his ear off for at least 20 minutes, and discovered that his family is going through a similar experience to ours.  They are enrolled in a program out of Princeton University, which also includes intense home programming every day. That helped to lift my flagging spirits. Also on this day, or perhaps the next, I don’t remember, a friend from my neighborhood called me out of the blue, who happened to have just gone through the process of taking her family off of gluten. She had some good recipe ideas for me, and checked in again Sunday (Day 11) to see  how it was going. More tender mercies from God.

I did not expect to see much in the way of sickness next day, but such was not to be. Since I’m moving on from the negative here, I’ll just say briefly that their symptoms got worse as the week progressed, and other family members caught the germ as well. On Day 8, I had contracted a full-blown version of it, and decided to take the day off from exercises. At this point we threw the media limitation out the window, because I seriously couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed for a sizeable chunk of the day. So they got some Netflix and Minecraft time. Bright spot for the kids, no?

On Day 9, Daddy came home a little bit earlier. It was Friday by now, and we managed to get in two sets of home programming exercises. Unfortunately, Daddy had also caught the bug, and would require the rest of the weekend to rest and recuperate. However on the bright side, I was able to re-up our Costco membership, and purchased a good amount of ingredients I’d been lacking previously, to avail myself of some excellent recipes. I found two great recipe books online for my Kindle App. Both were written by fabulous moms, who had spent the time experimenting until they found what worked well for their families. My friend Heidi wrote one of them, and I can attest that her GF/DF/SF brownie recipe is really tasty. By Day 10, I was starting to feel better, and knew that the worst was behind me. Sparkle still struggles to find foods she wants to eat. But we are slowly finding things that she will choose to eat. With more tools and supplies at my disposal, we will be able to eat a broader variety of foods. With some great recipes on hand (can’t wait to try the substitute Ranch dressing recipe in the Brain Balance binder!), we won’t have to struggle so much to get our kids eating what we prepare.

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My friend Heidi’s Gluten Free Cookbook

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Another great cook book

I am feeling stronger, and the healthier foods seem to be clearing up some of my brain fog. I’ve lost about five pounds, and it seems to be a trend. Big B looks trimmer to me. Still chubby, but uniformly trimmer than before. The frequent home exercises for strengthening the back and spine and core muscles have helped me a lot. I’ve always had a lower back that is prone to fatigue and aching. But no more, thanks to the home program. I can do sit ups again, which I hadn’t done in I don’t know how long! I can do push-ups better than before, and I am seeing our kids making similar improvements. Big B initially had a hard time even forming himself into the right shapes for the daily exercises, but he now can do most of them without help. Freckles went from not being able to do even one sit-up on his own, to doing 75 sit-ups in three sets last night. Dash has mastered the exercise routine very quickly, and seems happier. Last night when I was  helping Big B change his shorts, he actually stood up and balanced on one leg. This has never happened before. He has always leaned heavily with his body on Daddy or me, when he had to change clothing. So we are seeing small improvements day by day. Thanks, if you read all the way to the end!! I expect the next post will be a bit more positive. I suppose to enjoy the great things, we must also acknowledge and appreciate the not-so-great.  Please share if you feel someone else could benefit from my experience.

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