I haven’t posted in a long while, but I’m not going to dwell on that. Because other than those closest to me, nobody really knows that I have been in the worst health of my life for the past three years and the last thing I’ve felt like doing (with any sense of integrity) is writing inspiring blog posts.
So, uhhh… Let’s get right to it, shall we?
Ok, this is sounding really serious, so I’ll lighten it up a bit. I do not have a fatal disease, I have both my legs and arms, and for the most part, everything is functioning and I’m alive. Alive, but not well.
Confession time: For the past three… almost four years, on and off, I have battled the most excruciating, debilitating eczema all over my body and face and it has absolutely knocked me on my ass. I have gone days without leaving the house. I’ve passed on more social engagements than I can count. My poor husband and my sisters literally haven’t known how to pull me out of my depression, and I am NOT generally a depressed person.
For those of you who don’t know (you lucky people) eczema is a skin condition, thought to be auto-immune, that results in dry, itchy, rashy and otherwise awful-looking patches in select areas, usually the elbows, knees, neck and face. If only I were so lucky. It has been all over my body, from my head to feet, leaving no spot unturned. It accelerates ageing, annihilates skin elasticity, and the only medical-based solution is creams that have depleted my immune system and increased my risk of skin cancer by like 1000% if I go in direct sunlight. As a result the past three of my summers have been spent indoors, in long sleeves, getting more and more…angry and sad at the same time. I have literally felt like my life has been passing me by, as dramatic as that may sound.
As a results-oriented, solution-focussed person, it became my full time job to “figure it out”, beat it, and get on with my life. Only, the years keep going by and nothing seemed to make it better.
Being a nutritionist and a bit of a foodie, I’ve naturally explored nearly every food-focused solution available. And by explored I mean spent hours obsessing over websites, conflicting opinions, and seeing nearly every kind of doctor and health specialist you can imagine.
Ten years as a vegetarian (three-plus of those as a vegan) went out the window when every single specialist I was seeing told me it was time to start eating meat, that my body needed the proteins, collagen, and other properties essential in repairing and healing not just skin (which so desperately needed healing) but gut tissue as well, which is intrinsically connected to many skin disorders.
My search brought me to a protocol called ” Auto-Immune Paleo“, or “A.I.P”, which was focussed on healing dysbiosis, and in addition to avoiding the exhaustingly long list of foods I thought I may be allergic or sensitive to, this program cut out all grains, starches, processed foods, alcohol, and…pretty much everything except vegetables and meat. The first time I tried it, I lost like a million pounds and looked sunken and tired all the time. The second time my skin got worse. The third time I was so nauseous at the thought of eating that I would just skip meals without even realizing it, and immerse myself in 16-hour work days to take the focus off of how miserable and goddam itchy I was.
I was so weird with food – scared of it, wanting it, but fearing that it was making my skin react – yet the whole time, I was working like a maniac on a book about not being weird with food.
In the past, I had dieted and cleansed like crazy to lose weight, and by this point I didn’t give a flying fuck about losing weight, all I wanted was to have my health back and not look and feel like a dried up potato all the time.
My book is another post, and I’ll get to that now that I’ve ‘broken the seal’ and written my first post in six months. For now, let’s get to the point of this article: Joy Pancakes.
Another message I had continuously run into on my (frantic) healing journey, if you want to call it that, was that stress was at the root of my chronic inflammation. After a very serious, loving-but-tear-filled chat with my beloved, I decided to put stress reduction – not food – at the front of my focus. I severed ties with the people I was seeing who hadn’t helped me (but had taken ass-tonnes of my money), and booked an appointment with my original naturopath whose advice I never really followed through with because I was so distracted by the next and next and next specialist who told me they could help me faster.
When I went to him, I was in one of the worst flares of my life. I could barely turn my head my neck was so raw and dry, and putting on and taking off clothes hurt me so much I was taking painkillers. He took one look at me, and nodded his head, and told me to lie down on the table. He muscle tested me for nearly an hour, and at the end of it, I sat up wincing in pain to listen to his conclusions.
(I’m paraphrasing) “Although this imbalance is certainly manifesting itself physically through your skin, I believe this is emotional, Jen. The way you experience stress and the intensity of your resulting emotions is throwing your hormones off, and resulting in dysbiosis and…” he made a gentle sweeping motion of my body, “…all of this.”
He told me my diet was way too strict for what I was going through, and that restricting myself in this way was only making things worse. I started sobbing and I couldn’t stop. The amount of relief I felt…it just flooded my whole body and overflowed out of my eyes.
He told me that experiencing joy – the true, authentic emotion of immense happiness and presence – would be more healing for me than any supplement in the world. I told him that Kev kept telling me to paint, and he smiled. “Smart man.” I told him that Kev told me it wasn’t the food, that I needed to feel better about what I was doing and not be so goal-oriented. “Where did you find this guy?” he asked me.
After nearly two years of going on and off grains, and suffering through eating food I didn’t want to eat (meat and disgusting shit like liver) I walked out of that office, got in the car with my darling husband, and we drove straight to one of my favourite restaurants in Vancouver, Heirloom Vegetarian.
My prescription was clear: experience more joy, and I was fully on board. Sick to death of being afraid of food, I ordered their buckwheat pancakes, with seasonal berries and an orgasmic cashew cream. When the server brought them over, I looked down at them, and tears started pouring down my face. My god I love food – plant-based, grain-based, sweet and delicious, pancake-based food.
We as a society, especially in the past decade, have been programmed to think that food is the solution to our problems; it will help us lose weight, improve energy, heal chronic conditions, and reverse disease. Got cancer? Go raw vegan! Fibromyalgia? Go paleo! Dry skin? Eat more fish! And while I can’t say it’s total bullshit (I am a nutritionist after all), it sure has messed us up with the way we eat.
Food is healing, no doubt. But I strongly believe (and that belief is backed up by science) that if you’re a tightly-wound stress case because of other things going on in your life, no ‘healing diet’ is going to truly help.
Now that I feel like I’m on the right path, I’ll be posting more regularly, I promise. I’ve been working on an online program, an e-book, and a fun and controversial Instagram account. I’m healing, and I haven’t stressed or worried about food in weeks now. Putting on a shirt doesn’t make me cry, which is nice.
If you’ve been trying different diets, cleanses, or programs to heal some kind of condition and they haven’t worked for you, I would recommend considering (I know, it’s hard) that it’s not just food. Committing to being honest with yourself, figuring out your stress triggers, and doing the work required to make a significant shift in your emotional well-being is possibly one of the more challenging things you can do, but it pays off.
The emotion of joy – the actual experience of being happy – is more powerful than any food or supplement in the world, and you and I both deserve a life and a way of eating that brings us joy.
Thank you for reading this, I so appreciate every single person who reads my stories, and I want you to know that I’ve worked through a lot of shit in the past year, and am feeling better. Part of that feeling better is a deep desire to focus less on my self (although I did need my own attention) and more on helping others, which, as you can imagine, is also a source of joy.
Helping others…and pancakes. That’s the kinda program I can get on board with.
xo Love Jen.