Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Two weeks after the two weeks.

Oh, the two weeks were glorious. The things I dined upon! Pizza, breadsticks, ice cream, frozen yogurt, a bagel, a biscuit, a slice of sour cherry pie a la mode. Potatoes - french fried, mashed, and fingerlings a-roasted. The kati roll from Bollywood Theater, a polenta soufflé, a chocolate brioche and lemon tart from Maurice. (Bill, if you're reading, the polenta soufflé was worth writing home about.) Bread, bread and more bread. With butter, and jam. A slice of so-chocolatey-it-was-almost-black cake.

And then there were the things I forgot to eat. Pasta. I didn't think of it, not once! And no Frank's noodles, and no sweet potatoes. No oatmeal!? Indeed, no oatmeal. I didn't bake because I didn't want to restock any flour, sugar, or chocolate for just one recipe.

And then there were the things I ate that were not good. No surprises here: a Chips Ahoy cookie, a granola bar, a Fig Newton (that was ok, but not great). Anything processed tasted like nothing; like cardboard and sugar. If my eyes were closed, I'd never have known it was a Chips Ahoy. It could have been shortbread.

But alas, even two glorious weeks come to an end. There were exactly three things I think about still. One, the biscuit and two, the cherry pie from Lauretta Jean's. I mean, if this Captain of Team Cake is thinking about a slice of pie, you know it's out of this world. And the biscuits. Oh, the biscuits. They are worth every calorie of butter, worth every bit of gluten. And Three, ice cream.

Look, there's nothing like ice cream when you've not had sugar in 9 weeks, and neither dairy beyond hard cheese, butter or kefir. Ice cream is amazing. Ice cream is everything Anne of Green Gables thought it would be at her first picnic, it's everything you waited for at the beach as a kid. Ice cream is the miracle at your grandmother's World's Fair and I take back any time I didn't appreciate ice cream for the glory that it is. I work with a group of folks who have ice cream every day at 3 PM - it's one of the engineering groups' rituals - and I'm not precisely accusing them of not appreciating ice cream, but I am saying that generic Safeway brand creamsicles can't, just can't, hold a candle to real Rocky Road. Or a premium vanilla-bean-flecked vanilla. Or Salt and Straw honey strawberry balsamic with cracked black pepper. Or a Ruby Jewel sammie.

But I digress. I had a bit of ice cream, it's true.

Then the two weeks ended. And I had to strictly go back on the SIBO-approved diet. Which I've been on for two more weeks. And in about two MORE weeks, I'll get to take the bacteria test again.

Much like last time, where I thought it would show I made progress but was not healed, this time, I feel it's going to show that I beat it. The bacteria will be gone. And what comes after that? I haven't asked yet. This whole process only works if you stay in the day you're in, and not think too far ahead - I mean, I never could have said I'd eat meat, eggs, fat, veggies and some fruit for months. So I can't say what will happen and how I'll do, but I'll tough it out another couple weeks and then test, and then tough it out a week while the results get analyzed, and in the meantime, I'll share some of my infinite variations on meat-and-sauerkraut with you!

(I actually won't because that would be terrifically boring. But I will post some regular updates on life and health, and to the four people who still read along - thanks for sticking with me and my microbiome!)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude.

If you know me, we've probably had at least one conversation about the science behind happiness and gratitude. In case we have not: in a nutshell, science has proved that feeling gratitude lights up the same part of the brain as feeling happy; the two are biologically indistinguishable. So if you can't get happy, you can try thinking of something you're grateful for - and tah-dah! You'll be happy.

The trouble is, all the feel-good articles about this phenomenon, found in my hippie magazines, websites and Wholesome Living blogs, focus on feeling grateful for the usual suspects - your health, your family, your job, your sense of humor, your intelligence, the sun, the stars, the beauty of springtime, the ocean, the nourishing rain.

And I don't mean that it is trouble to be grateful for those things. They're wonderful! They do fill me with gratitude. They are beautiful moments in daily life that can indeed inspire an attitude of gratitude.

But sometimes, the trouble is, we never talk about how it's also OK to be grateful for things much less epic, and much more worldly.

Like the Veronica Mars movie that came out this weekend.

And you can call me superficial, you can call me a pathetic fan girl, you can roll your eyes that I'm going to claim this is a worthy example of an attitude of gratitude. But I'm doing all three anyway.

The movie made me so happy. They did a great job delivering a story for the fans that was still smart, funny, true to the characters, and a great mystery. So here I am - grateful to love things in the world - movies, songs, books, slices of tart cherry pie from Lauretta Jean's. By being in the world, in both the sacred and profane, I get my regular doses of gratitude - and they light up that happy part of my brain that otherwise doesn't get too much attention.

Bring it on, bring it on, yeah.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The results are in.

The time has come - my SIBO test results are in!

I picked up the phone with great nervousness, and heard, "Hi Emily! It's Dr. M!" She was excited and smiling, I could hear it.

"Hi! How are you?" I said in a big rush, as I locked myself into a conference room at work.

"I'm great, I have your test results and it is so exciting!"


So my bacteria indicators are down 80% or more. I still have it - and I knew I did - but it's going away, and it's going away fast. I'm not at all disappointed. I knew it would still be there, and my only fear was that it would be, like, 10% gone or something. But 80% gone! Miracle of miracles! Every single bite of food I passed up was worth it!


It gets weirder.

The latest drug regimen, which Dr. M. wants to see me undergo, would be a choice of either herbal or pharmaceutical antibiotics. Herbals are $200 out of pocket and take 40 days. Pharmaceuticals are $850 out of pocket and take 14 days. She wasn't strongly advocating either way, but the pharmaceutical route - as evidenced by the cost - is a pretty incredible drug. It does not build up a resistance, so it should be as effective this time as it was last time. And it's non-systemic, so it does not cross into the blood and body; it stays right there in the digestive tract. If it does as well as it did in January, and I do as well with the diet as I did the last 8.5 weeks, I could be free of bacterial overgrowth and back on a path of healthy well-rounded eating. And so, yes, I'm a Western science girl at heart - I'm gulping on paying the bill and going for it. Round two shall be more pharmaceuticals.

But this is where it gets weird.

The second drug regimen comes with a new instruction. If choosing the pharmaceuticals over the herbals, one should, for 14 days - and not sooner, nor later - be eating, at one or two meals a day, something(s) from the list of "NO" foods. 


The highly fermentable foods list, aka everything delicious, will become my friend for 14 glorious days - and on day 15, it is cold turkey back to the SIBO diet. The theory here is that you want to feed the bugs while killing them… draw them out and knock 'em down; don't let them hide in dormancy while you take the pills.

As the calendar would have it, I am headed to Florida to see my mom and aunt next week, and frankly, this couldn't be better timing. I have not started the regimen yet, for two reasons. One, I am afraid I will get sick, like I did last time. It was the flu; I know it was. But what if - what if - what if it was a die-off reaction from slaying bacteria? And secondly, because I am making a list of Portland things I want to fit into my 14 day schedule. Any other suggestions? So far I have what is below, and it may well be two more months before I can have anything this tasty again.
  • a slice of berry pie from Lauretta Jean's
  • a kati roll from Bollywood Theater
  • something from Maurice (brand new sweet shop near my office)
  • half a pizza from Firehouse
  • ice cream with hot fudge from Salt and Straw
  • chocolate blackout cake from Sugar Cube (I've never had it!) 
  • Frank's noodles 
  • bread from Fleur de Lys 
  • a bagel from Tastebud, now at food carts near my office

Thursday, March 6, 2014


So today, I cheated.

Tomorrow marks eight weeks - two fucking months - of living grain- and refined-sugar- free.

And I have not cheated, not once. And if you don't know, I work in a literal candy store. Yes, it's a software firm, but it's all the tales you've heard about these insane, hedonistic, childlike Googlesque workplaces? They're true.

Snack plates are put out once or twice a day in the three most high-trafficked areas. Perhaps brie and summer sausage, perhaps guacamole and chips, perhaps almond mini croissants and a bowl of coconut whipped cream, perhaps peanut butter-filled celery sticks. And that's just those three areas. Then each kitchen (there are also three) is stocked: a cereal cabinet with 15+ kinds. A candy cabinet, a cracker drawer, all the bagels, bread, and muffins you could want (cinnamon raisin, plain, vegan, wheat, etc.). There is a sweets cabinet - Oreos, Petit Ecoliers, Nutter Butters. There are at least ten kinds of granola bars: Kind, Kashi, Nature Valley, PowerBar, Clif. There is, ok, a nod to health, with a fruit bowl. But there is a soda cooler, there is beer and wine, there is endless tea and coffee with your choice of soy, coconut, almond, regular, skim, whole and lactose free milk - half and half. (One guy eats two bowls of cereal a day, with half and half as the backdrop.)

This is meant for us to enjoy, every day, all day, for free, day in and day out. Since the second I have worked there. There is also at least one company lunch each week from the nearby food carts (variety makes it impossible to prepare your defenses against the deliciousness), and I've yet to work a week there when there is not also another pile of leftovers for lunch or at about 3 PM, everyone's best time to avoid high-cal snacks - it is often Voodoo Doughnuts, or Elephants Deli sandwiches, or Pizzicato pizza of six or seven varieties.

Oh, and we have a monthly food holiday - National Milkshake Day was one. Just come order up! The soda jerk is ready to help you out.

And so it is that in the face of this, I have not cheated once. Not one time. I have not eaten half a broken Chips Ahoy as I filled the cookie jar. I have not licked the spoon after slicing up chicken enchiladas. I have not had a Twizzler. Not a Dove chocolate square. Not the edge of a pizza slice. Not a quarter of a doughnut. And yet it's all staring me in the face, for the eight to ten hours a day, sometimes more, that I spend in the office.

But today, friends, I broke.

I came to work to help set up a breakfast buffet for visiting colleagues from the remote offices. French Toast. And pancakes. And look; I love pancakes like Phillip Seymour Hoffman loved speed balls. One is never, ever, ever enough. There were mountains of butter pats and maple syrup. But no, I set it up - and I walked away.

Then I attended a lunch event on behalf of the company. We were served a chicken sandwich on fluffy ciabatta. And if I can't get heroin but I can get oxycontin, to continue the inappropriate and gross metaphor, then bread is the very best next thing after a pancake.

But I didn't eat it. I ate the chicken out of the sandwich. I declined the basket of rolls (yes, rolls, with a sandwich, good sweet Jesus) and I declined the cookie assortment after that. It's true that I love cake more than cookies, but don't get me wrong - I love a cookie, even a bad one, too.

I made it back the office, still slightly hungry. I decided to heat up my almost-cooked-into-baby-food-texture carrots and a little beef short rib. And what is waiting in the kitchen?

A Thai buffet. With a giant hotel pan of fluffy, steamed white rice.

My doctor told me that if I'm melting down, and freaking out, the very best cheat on this diet is white rice. It has no nutrition - it has no fiber to feed the SIBO bacteria - and it goes right through you.

And willpower, as scientists are learning, is a muscle. Like any muscle, it can get fatigued. It needs rest to get strong again. I think - side note - this is why I am averaging 8.5 hours a night of sleep right now. I need to replenish the willpower reserves! And by the way, people with kids, plug your ears: that is 8.5 hours of sleep. I measure it with my UP band. I'm actually IN bed a good 9 hours or more. That's the pure, sweet sleep of someone not actively consuming peanut butter by the gallon, hoping to stop thinking about bread and pancakes.

So the willpower muscle was tapped out, and I added about a third of a cup of fluffy white rice to my dish. And Oh. My. Lordy. It tasted like sugar. No. It tasted like nectar. It was like some kind of divine manna. And I am talking white rice, I know. But it was almost funny, I almost laughed - how good it tasted.

And then, about twenty minutes later, I felt like I was on speed myself. I was hyper alert. Vigilantly awake. I was giddy, smiling. I had more energy than I have had in weeks. I was giggly, bright, amazed. What a world! What a day! What a gorgeous life! I'm going to the gym, to my crazy-tough fusion workout class!

Which I promptly did. And I set a new (self) pushup record, which my teacher noticed and was impressed by.

Powered by the blandest thing in the world. I may be a cheater, but I'm definitely a rice rocket today.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Whole Lotta Nothin' Goin' On

I'm stuck in neutral over here - in the next couple days, I'll get the SIBO Test #2 results. As I've said, I'm certain it's not gone - but I'm dying to know what the reduction is. In half? Less? More? How much bacteria do we think is still in there, wreaking havoc?

But in the meantime, there's a whole lotta nothing going in, dietarily. I've admitted that almond flour and me don't get along. Things seem to be better with coconut flour, but I have more experimenting to do this week. It really is like the universe is trying to take away ALL my food joys. At least I still have peanut butter, and I'll be giving that up with cold, dead fingers, trust me.

I haven't added in many new foods; I'm still figuring out what amounts of the existing list of 25 or so are good, and which cause belly aches or bad poops. And it's getting depressing. I don't get to participate. At work, I ordered ice cream sandwiches - even gluten free ones, and vegan ones. But no makes a grain free, refined sugar free ice cream sandwich. I order lunch for the whole company every Friday, but I never get to eat it. I put out the snack jars a couple times a week, but there are no snacks for me. It's boring. It's isolating. It's frustrating and at some point, if I don't start getting healthier, the depression is going to outweigh the striving for health, and I'll go back to the SAD. (Standard American Diet.)

But know this, friends. Maranatha nut butters? They all contain cane sugar of some sort! Those little liars. Give me Justin's every day of the week.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Almost Done Right: Grain Free, Refined Sugar Free Carrot Cake (SIBO Diet Friendly)

The world appears to have a ton of GAPS, SCD, paleo and grain-free baking websites, books, recipes and Pinterest pins that go on for days.

But if you read the comments on these recipes, this is what you hear, over and over.

"Looks great! Can't wait to try it!"

BOO. You suck. Looks great? I can frost a pile of cat shit and it looks great. Those who comment before trying to bake it should be banned.

But then, it gets worse. I cannot find a recipe measured in weights. And as any person who bakes even once in a while knows, you need weights rather than measurements. Save yourself the dishes, and get it perfectly right. 5 grams of salt, thank you very much - not 1 teaspoon.

So I've been a mad baker the last month, and failing miserably. It's taking something I love and turning into something I hate. It's taking something I was very good at and suddenly teaching it in Cyrillic.

But I've made something good today, and the reason it's "almost done right" is that I didn't weigh my ingredients either! I measured, carefully, and with a bit of my mad baker estimation to round up or down on certain things - but tah-dah! A carrot cake of decent quality! It is, to be sure, VERY carrot-ey. It's not a sugary sweet cake, but it feels pretty close to a cake - a texture missing from my life the last six weeks - and has a nice honey-carrot flavor with the crunch of slivered almonds. Here is the original recipe, followed my version. I'm not crediting the recipe because I think if I made it as-is, it would have tasted like a carrot soufflé and been undercooked. My previous experience with these ingredients has me extremely confident of this pre-judgement.

Someone Else's Coconut Flour Carrot Muffins

  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 c coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 c honey
  • 2 TB vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1/2 c coconut flour 
  • 2 c carrots, shredded
  • 1/2 c raisins or dried cranberries, optional
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Line 12 muffin cups with liners, or grease with coconut oil.
  • Combine the eggs, coconut oil, honey and vanilla in a large bowl or in the bowl of an electric mixer.
  • Add in the salt, baking soda and cinnamon.
  • Sprinkle the coconut flour over the mixture and then whisk into the batter.
  • Mix well so that there aren’t any clumps. Fold in the shredded carrots and raisins or cranberries.
  • Use an ice cream scoop to divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. YUM!

Emily's Coconut Flour Carrot Muffins

  • 5 eggs (room temp!!)
  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1/2 c honey
  • 1.5 tablespoons vanilla
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda (leave this out for GAPS, and hope for the best)
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice blend 
  • 1/2 c coconut flour plus 1 tablespoon
  • 2 and 1/8 c shredded carrots (measure after shredding, not before)
  • 1/2 c slivered raw almonds
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Grease a 10 x 6 pan with coconut oil.
  • Whip butter with electric hand mixer on high for 3 full minutes, until white and fluffy.
  • Whip in slightly-warmed honey for 1 minute on high.
  • Add the eggs one a time, mix on medium speed, for 30 seconds each. 
  • Mix in vanilla extract on high, for 30 seconds.
  • Sprinkle in the salt, baking soda and spice mix; stir in well by hand.
  • Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the coconut flour over the mixture and then whisk into the batter with mixer on low-medium for 30 seconds. Let batter rest a 3 full minutes. Then whisk again with mixer for 30 seconds on low-medium and if you feel like it needs the extra tablespoon of flour, whisk it in now. 
  • Fold in carrot and almonds gently. Pour into prepared pan. 
  • Bake 40 minutes or until firm to the touch in the center, and evenly brown underneath (use a glass pan). YUM!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hit It Hard

Well, the plan at the outset was to be on this diet for 3 months, and then re-test for SIBO.

But upon a detailed report of my poops - and oh, how I can talk about poop! I could write a cover story for Poop Magazine at this point. I could ID a healthy poop a mile away. The greatest part of my day is checkin' out my poop and seeing how what I'm eating is affecting me, and being able to pinpoint foods and quantities and their effects.

But I digress. Ahem.

Upon this detailed report, and when taking into consideration my extremely high levels of SIBO indicators (hydrogen, especially), my doctor has me taking the test again now! Tomorrow! She thinks I probably still have it… and so do I. I can't imagine, in fact, that I don't.

But seeing where the levels are will be really helpful, and if they are indeed positive, then we can discuss a second round of pharmaceutical antibiotics, or a round of herbal antibiotics. I'm not sure which route I'd choose actually; there is little study on the herbals but the study that is out there says they're equally effective. But my little scientific heart belongs to Western medicine, and so I lean toward the pharmaceutical.

So stay tuned! In the meantime, I get to repeat the prep diet today. It is:

  • any meat or seafood
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • eggs
  • weak tea
  • salt
  • pepper
Yup, that's what I am eating all day today, then fasting for 12 hours overnight, and then taking the crazy-ass breath test on Saturday morning. Wish me luck! 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sexist and Classist

If you don't ride public transit - and preferably the bus - there are parts of yourself that remain hidden. Parts of yourself you might not even know exist. But start riding it, on the regular, and you'll discover those parts. Oh, they will come out, like it or not.

So I may have already know that I am a bit sexist and a bit classist, but this week on the bus, I realized both anew in two moments where my thoughts bubbled over before I could control them, subvert them into something kinder, spin them into something reasonable. I saw my own truth and there's nothing to do with it but share.

The first was a packed bus; not quite standing room only but almost. All seats taken and some folks standing. Standing on the MAX light rail train is one thing; standing on a bus is another. It is significantly more uncomfortable. The first 7 seats on the bus, 4 on one side and 3 on the other, are reserved for Honored Citizens - seniors and those with disabilities. The seats flip up for wheelchairs, or are intended for those with limitations.

As we get fuller, at a stop, the bus driver says, "I have an Honored Citizen here, if you are not an Honored Citizen, please give up your seat." And what happens?

The three seats on the left: a dude, healthy, fit, age 32 or 33, and his girlfriend, similarly healthy. Next to them, an older man with a cane.

The four seats on the right: a very heavyset older man with probably developmental delays and three women, between 30 and 40, healthy and fit.

What happens?

Two women on the right start to stand up; one is clearly a fake-out stand up - she is waiting to see if anyone else will go for it. The other woman really was going for it, and she stands, takes hold of a strap, and the Honored Citizen has a seat. And my mind EXPLODES.

The youngish guy? Didn't even flinch. Didn't even think to get up. Chivalry, I've decided, is dead. I glared at his girlfriend with a mix of pity and rage as I left the bus a few stops later and I think my message was received.

The second was a very young mother, she couldn't be a day over 20, climbing onto the bus in the pouring rain with a whining toddler. They got the last two seats, near me, and upon settling it, she pulled out a soda bottle and opened it, then opened his baby bottle, filled it, gave it to him, and his quieted right now. I was horrified. I don't even let myself drink soda, diet or regular anymore; I know it's a chemical and sugar poison for the delicate human body - much less a toddler's! I was also most horrified that it was a Mountain Dew. What trashy parenting, I thought. Mountain Dew! Might as well be cocaine.

Then I saw that it was a Sprite, and I immediately on the heels of my Mountain Dew judgement was the thought, "Oh, well, maybe the little guy is sick. You have to have Sprite when you're sick."

As if my experiences are universal, as if my having Sprite as a kid on the couch with a cold means anything, and as if I know a damn thing about being a mother at that young age, riding the bus in the rain.

Try it: ride the bus for a month. It's a forced mile in both someone else's shoes, and in your most ill-fitting ones. Not bad to see, once in a while.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Grapes of Goodness

Well if raw grapes didn't go well, you probably think I am crazy for giving red wine a spin - but I'm not crazy, you are, because wine went just fine! Two nights in a row!

Hallelujah for adult pleasures of the alcoholic kind. With no sugar in your diet, you need a little something indulgent. I just keep marveling at it - no sugar. No item made in a store, or by a restaurant, or in a package, because that's going to have sugar. And I'm now three days into month two! It's been very good to my wallet - and very tough on my social life. But exploring menus of some of my favorite places means that Podnah's Pit BBQ (no sauce) and Ox are on the list for this month.

In other exciting news, raw veggies went well this past week too - and after a month of cooked baby food veggies, THAT was a joy indeed. Raw grated beets, raw romaine lettuce, some tahini and olive oil - the only thing that made it better was that it was made by a friend. Having something cooked for me, and not something I cooked for me, may have been the true pleasure.

And the final week's note… I am a creature of habit, undeniably. And so, how soon I have come to a (near) nightly dessert of banana, peanut butter and honey… far from the days of cake. Do I long for the days of cake? Yes and no. I do, for I am a Captain on Team Cake (this is a lifetime appointment; my friend Bill is a Captain as well).

But at the same time, I'm feeling so remarkable off sugar and grains that I don't have the uncontrollable cravings I thought I'd have (and that I've had when restricting foods for all the other than totally gut-health reasons). And no chocolate for over a month? I swore that would not be possible. But when you take away sugar, and grains, what good is chocolate? Who craves a plain chocolate bar? Chocolate covered almonds, chocolate cake, chocolate pudding, cookies, frostings - sure. But since the overarching mental motivation and deep, almost spiritual feeling I carry, is one of rejecting sugar and grain for right now, the chocolate love takes a serious (and seriously unexpected) back burner.

And I tried making coconut flour waffles. They looked like waffles, they felt like waffles, I got to drench them in butter, and so life's been pretty dang good this week.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Grapes of Wrath

So after rolling back in health, I spent two solid days eating nothing but broth, fatty meat, olive oil, and various kim chis and sauerkrauts. It was amazing how fast it put me back on track - a nice silent belly, consistently feeling sated but not bloated.

And then I ate some grapes.

I had tried them previously, and they seemed to go fine. But this time it was either the amount of grapes or a still-slightly-al-dente portion of bok choy. But I was up three times in the night, wakened only by stomach pain, with nothing to do but wait out the waves of pain.

I figured I better see what it was, so I repeated all the things I had for dinner throughout the next day, and the timing of the grapes to another stomachache led me to point my finger at that vined culprit.

Grapes! I mean - grapes! C'mon. They'd been in the fridge for a week or so, and were starting to shrivel the tiniest bit - maybe it was this concentration of the sugars that did me in.

But if these grapes are anything like what will happen when I try to drink some wine (yes, I am eventually allowed dry wine, vodka, and gin), I will be one unhappy camper. I haven't had anything alcoholic in well over a month, but I like knowing I CAN and WILL soon. Maybe it's better to keep waiting on it, rather than finding out bad news.

In the meantime, I probably say this at least once a day: thank god I like sauerkraut and always have! I'd be one sad puppy without it.