figuring out what foods work for me

I thought I had a good handle on the foods that work for me, but within the last couple of weeks I discovered a big blind spot.

As I mentioned, I’ve had hypoglycemia for a long time and now I have IBS. I’d worked out a way to manage the hypoglycemia — basically eat more frequent meals and prefer protein and fat over carbohydrates. If my blood sugar starts to get too low, I’ve relied on chocolate, candy or soft drinks (fizzy or fruit juice) like a carbohydrate jerry can to bump my sugar up briefly to relieve symptoms and give me some time to get some real food (i.e. containing protein and fat, as well as a moderate amount of carbs) in me.

The IBS is much more complicated as there are five different categories of carbohydrates that may cause a reaction, so if you have IBS, your food sensitivities may well be different from mine even if they cause similar digestive issues.

I’ve been following a FODMAP diet for a year now, though not religiously. In the elimination and reintroduction phase, I discovered I can eat:

lactose — Hooray! I can have ordinary milk, sour cream, cottage cheese (the creamed kind or dry curd), cheese (aged or not). The lactose in yogurt and ice cream is also not a problem, though the sugar is.

mannitol — The only food in this category that matters much to me is mushrooms, but cauliflower, snow peas and celery are also likely OK.

sorbitol — Most often used as a sugar substitute, sorbitol natural occurs in certain foods, like avocado (which I eat in quantity regularly) as well as corn, green bell pepper, broccoli, green beans, and green cabbage.

The problems start when I eat:

fructose — This means that lots of fruits are out, the ‘safe’ fruits are safe only in limited quantities (usually ½ cup), and I have to be careful with sugar in general. The sugar part is something I’m still figuring out.

oligosaccharides (aka oligos) — My number one problem food is wheat, though that’s mostly down to its ubiquity. Other foods in the same category are onions and garlic (which I’m limiting), nuts and legumes (limiting or avoiding depending on the details), and strong black tea (currently avoiding).

This is… a lot.

So what can I eat?

I learned from hypoglycemia to start any meal plan with protein. Meat, poultry and fish are all reliable since they contain no carbohydrates at all. Eggs are good. As noted above, lactose isn’t a problem for me so I can get my fill of any (unsweetened) dairy products, and thus milk and cheese make good snacks. Legumes (pulses), nuts and seeds all contain at least some FODMAPs, so going vegetarian or vegan would be exceedingly difficult; I try to eat these in small doses when I can but I’m not able to rely on them e.g. for snacks like I was doing with peanuts and other nuts. Avocados don’t have a lot of protein but they do have a lot of fat and seem to work for me to centre a meal around.

Next up in my usual analysis is ‘green’, by which I mean veg and fruit of any colour. Tomatoes, cucumbers, coloured bell peppers, carrots, parsnips, lettuce, and spinach are all definitely fine. The sorbitol and mannitol containing foods are also probably fine for me (but not necessarily for other folks with IBS).

Fruit is tricky because of the fructose. I need to limit some fruits and avoid others. There are none that are 100% ‘safe’ for me. I can have ½ cup servings of citrus, most berries, banana, grapes, kiwi, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew, rhubarb. And because my other problem foods in other categories all contribute to the irritation, I have to be careful how I combine things.

And then there’s what I usually think of as carbs — starches and sweets. I can have potatoes; rice, rice noodles, rice crackers; corn, corn chips and corn tortillas; quinoa. There are other grains and starches that wouldn’t cause IBS flare-ups (millet, sorghum, teff; plantain, yam) but I’m not huge on starch anyway due to the hypoglycemia so it doesn’t help much. ‘Gluten-free’ might be OK; basically it’s a flag that an item is worth a look, but since my issue with wheat isn’t actually the gluten, GF is hit or miss.

I’d been having IBS reactions recently and not understanding why so I went back to my book (The IBS Elimination Diet and Cookbook by Patsy Catsos), which reminded me that I need to be careful with oatmeal, sugar and nuts, which I wasn’t especially.

As with fruit, I need to limit oatmeal to ½ cup servings (cooked volume). And I also need to limit sweet foods the same way, even if they’re otherwise FODMAP-free: ½ cup max. So, ½ cup of sweetened yogurt or ice cream, and no sweet extras like fruit or chocolate sauce. Sigh. The cornstarch and tapioca puddings that set me off before would probably be safe in ½ cup servings too. Chocolate is OK up to a maximum of 1 ounce (30 g). [Theoretically I can have two such servings per meal/every 4-5 hours, but I’m being more cautious than that until I get a better handle on it.]

I tend to have snacks in later afternoon and before bed — often milk or hot chocolate, peanuts or sometimes almonds, chocolate, sweetened yogurt, fruit and/or ice cream. Of these, only the plain milk is entirely ‘safe’, and I was eating too much of the others, especially in combination.

For beverages, water, milk and green tea are all ‘safe’. I’ve never been big into green tea, despite having lived in Japan and visited a number of times, but I’ve also received a lot of green tea as gifts and I had amassed quite a stash. I probably have at least 6 months’ worth of green tea in the cupboard, and I’m enjoying it. (Weak black tea is just not worth the bother.)

I’ve never eaten a whole lot of carbs due to the hypoglycemia (though always more than permitted on a keto diet), but I do have a bit of a sweet tooth. After a meal I often find that I want something sweet and I’m not sure how much of that is behaviour and how much is more physiological. But I’m trying to focus on more substantial foods so I’m just not hungry so often. That way I can have a little sugar, as a treat.

In some ways my self-control is usually very good or even overdeveloped. But I wonder if sometimes my apparent self-control is less an issue of self-regulation and more habitually ignoring or denying desires. If you don’t desire, you don’t crave. For instance, I’m tremendously frugal, and when that aligns with my environmental concerns I think it’s clearly a virtue (e.g. deciding not to buy an item because contains or is packaged in plastic, or mending clothes rather than pitching them). But I also am in the habit of not going to movies, concerts or the theatre, and I’m not sure if that’s because I’m not interested or I’m just in the habit of denying myself things.

I’m finding the food issue to be a bit of a struggle. I would really like to be able to eat a piece of cake now and then, or a sandwich, or some nice fresh bread, or a chocolate croissant. There aren’t a lot of foods that I really enjoy, so it feels like a loss of pleasure to deny myself these things. But it’s just not worth three days of fatigue and brain fog for a bowl of ice cream with fruit and chocolate sauce. I hope I’m able to find new foods to enjoy rather than just deny myself yummy things out of pure tedious duty.

My current routine goes something like this:

  • breakfast: 2 eggs (3 if lunch is a ways away), other savoury leftovers, no more than 1/2 cup fruit, green tea
  • lunch: dry curd cottage cheese with sour cream, corn chips, green tea, and a wee bit of chocolate
  • afternoon snack: hot chocolate or 1 serving of some other sweet with plain milk
  • supper: usually chicken or beef with veg and starch per above — I make Mexican food a lot because of the corn tortillas and corn chips; Indian is also good for the rice (though I can’t have naan *cries*) but my only trick so far is butter chicken; nachos with guacamole and sour cream once a week
  • dessert or bedtime snack: 1 serving of a sweet or cheese and corn chips

On the whole, this should serve to calm my hypoglycemia, since excess sugar or starch tends to upset my blood sugar levels. However it undermines my strategy of relying on sweets in case of blood sugar emergency (well, I could — in a pinch I’d take the IBS reaction over a blood sugar crash), so I’m going to look for some glucose tablets to act as my jerry can.

 

Notes on terminology

monosaccharide — a carbohydrate comprising one sugar molecule, such as fructose, glucose, and galactose (aka simple sugar)

disaccharide — a carbohydrate comprising two monosaccharides, such as sucrose (aka table sugar, fructose + glucose), lactose (galactose + glucose)

simple carbohydrates — mono- and disaccharides

oligosaccharide — a carbohydrate comprising three to nine monosaccharides, such as fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) which are fructose chains and are a type of soluble dietary fibre, and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) which are galactose chains and are a type of prebiotic, found in legumes/pulses

polysaccharide — a carbohydrate comprising ten or more monosaccharides, such as fructans and inulin, which are also soluble dietary fibres

complex carbohydrates — oligosaccharides and polysaccharides

 

Food Matters

reflecting and looking forward

“No peeking”, a Sinful Sunday photo from May 2016.

Well, 2019 was a year. Fortunately there was more positive than negative.

IBS-friendly diet and improved energy

In late 2018, I started managing my IBS using a FODMAP-based diet and by January 2019 I could tell that it was having a positive effect, and not only on my digestive symptoms.

The most unexpected — and utterly delightful — effect was that it largely resolved the fatigue that I’d struggled with for over seven years at that point, despite having undergone every relevant test my doctor could think of. As a result, instead of being constantly dragged down and only randomly experiencing the occasional unpredictable ‘on’ day, most days are now good days and if I get blindsided by some surprise fatigue, reverting to a conservative diet and waiting out my digestive process for a maximum of three days almost always resolves the issue.

For an accidental discovery, it’s had a huge effect on my day-to-day life. A few years ago, the combination of fatigue, poor sleep, depression and then antidepressants meant that I never knew for sure if I’d have the energy, cognition or focus to a given thing at a given time. (A few weeks after I tapered off the antidepressants in April 2018, the cognition and focus came back, but fatigue remained.) Eventually I got tired of disappointing myself so I just stopped planning anything and instead would decide on the day whether I was up for doing the thing. Which was me doing my best to cope, but it wasn’t very effective and it had exacerbated my inherent tendency not to make plans or have goals.

I now have the energy to plan and set goals, though I’m not actually very good at either of those things. So I’ll be working on that in all areas of my life, especially food (shopping, prepping, cooking), and sexuality (specifically exploring the factors that may be contribute to my low libido).

meditation

At the beginning of 2019 I started going to a weekly meditation class with a Buddhist group that meets conveniently near my place. I’d been thinking for some time that meditation would probably be good for my buzzy brain. And during my most recent meditation, I became aware that even though my brain is still far from quiet, it’s perceptibly quieter than it was when I started a year ago. It’s nice to feel that sense of progress.

I’m not practicing regularly at the moment but I’m working on making it part of my routine. And I’ll continue going to the classes because I find them helpful and I like the people: folks who are actively working on themselves to to decrease criticism and increase compassion are people I want to be around.

Wolf’s new job

Another significant change was that at the beginning of 2019 Wolf got a good contract job in a nearby city. For a change, we’re now both working at the same time, so things have suddenly gotten much easier financially, although he now has the expense of his own apartment and utilities. I’m in the process of paying out our mortgage early (we’re currently in payout limbo as the request has been made but the bank hasn’t withdrawn the money yet), so there’s a financial freedom on the horizon for us.

It’s not a secure enough job for me to consider upping stakes yet. But we’re making efforts to remain connected despite the distance, and he’s going to look for enjoyable things we can do when I come to visit to help with my project to have more pleasure in my life.

solitude

But with Wolf away, I’m once again alone here. It’s less than ideal but nowhere near as difficult as when he was overseas doing his doctorate: I tend not to get especially lonely; we talk on the phone every day and see each other every few weeks; neither of us are dealing with depression and/or anxiety the way we were before; and I still have support from Jaime.

Some time ago, I discovered that I couldn’t answer the questions “what do I like? what do I want?” in relation to sex. I now see that I struggle to answer these questions at all, for anything. I think this is largely because other people’s needs and wants seem much louder to me than my own. (It’s no coincidence that my epiphany occurred only after Wolf had been away for the better part of two years.)

But there is a mental quietness that comes from being by myself virtually all the time, enhanced by the fact that I keep the house literally quiet most of the time too. That literal and figurative quiet allows me to listen for my inner voice.

I’m going to make the most of my quiet time, keep trying to figure out my answers to those questions, and see what I can do to remain tuned in to my gut even when I’m not alone. I currently subject myself to a certain amount of mental chatter via social media, but I’m considering cutting down in order to be more deliberate with my energy; no decisions made yet on this point.

car theft

Our summer was marred by the theft and subsequent destruction of our car. Someone came in the back door of our house in the early evening and stole a handful of keys that were right there, including the car keys. I experienced a bunch of difficult emotions, chiefly anger, but in the end it didn’t hit me as hard as I (and others) expected. It was too much to process at once (similar to grief in that way) and I was concerned that perhaps I was at risk of burying the emotions rather than processing them. But I’m able to think about it now and while it’s still a bit sensitive, I don’t feel the need to avoid it, so I guess I’m OK.

Despite various anxieties I experienced that made it difficult to buy a new car, I did buy one, and I like it. Rather than getting a colour that would blend in, I got red because it’s my favourite colour, and despite the fact that some people judge drivers of red cars. Rather than getting a standard licence plate I got a personalised plate because it makes me happy to see it. It was an exercise in determining what I like and want, and prioritising my own pleasure.

I still have some anger, sadness and frustration about this episode, but I trust that it will ease over time and that giving it some attention today will help that process. We’ve taken some steps already for increased security and I’ll give some thought to some others, all with the goal of keeping my response reasonable and proportionate and not turning into an angry misanthropist in a walled compound.

looking forward

I’ve spent a lot of time over the holidays planning, which is unlike me. But I think I’m ready for planning and strategizing now in a way that I wasn’t before, thanks partly to the meditation I’ve been doing. (One of my common intrusive thoughts while meditating is my to-do list, so it would be helpful if I gave it its own dedicated time.)

This process of listening to my gut and planning has given me a clearer idea of what I want to do with this blog going forward. Having realised and accepted that I still have unresolved issues around sexuality, I want to work on those and I’m going to try harnessing the power of memes to give me a kick in the pants to get that stuff done 🙂

 

F4Thought

all angles

The silt in my mind has been settling out. I’m feeling more like myself. I’ve been trying to finish things — projects, books, whatever — and not immediately start new things, so eventually I can clear out my backlog of brain clutter. Years’ worth.

I need clarity. I need quiet. When I’m on my own (so much of the time these days) I like silence. It’s not oppressive: it’s utter calm. It’s the only way I seem to be able to hear my inner voice, which is hoarse from almost never speaking.

What’s that you say?

Sinful Sunday: It’s all about the image.

Sinful Sunday: It’s all about the image.

laundry and loneliness

I was doing the dishes, my mind wandering as it often does in the circumstances, and I remembered a little incident from when I was about 13.

I was at my mom’s house (my parents were separated, soon to be divorced) and she said she thought it was time for me to learn how to do my own laundry. I was stricken; I may have cried. She dropped it.

I actually like doing laundry now. So what was that reaction about?

In recent years I’ve realised that I never felt like I had much emotional support from my parents, and they were both emotionally distant, though in different ways. Imagine that a baby’s parents are killed in a car accident leaving a child-free but dutiful aunt and uncle take on the responsibility of raising her. That was my childhood.

The laundry thing wasn’t about laundry; it was about my mom doing something as part of taking care of me and threatening (utterly without malice) to take away one of the few bits of support I had from her. It was about learning to be independent because no one else is going to help.

I guess I don’t often notice feeling lonely because lonely is my normal.

it’s just everything

It’s been an unforgettable summer, that’s for sure.

In mid-July, someone broke into our house (well, came into — the door was unlocked because it was daytime in this small, sleepy city) while we were both home, grabbed a fistful of keys from beside the door and tried to steal our car. They didn’t get far. Couldn’t drive stick. But they got house keys so we had to get the locks changed immediately. Office keys. My spare bike lock key, I think. The key to Wolf’s tool chest. We got the car towed from where it sat partly blocking the alley, had the ignition reprogrammed, and parked it a few blocks away, but even so, they found it, stole it, torched it.

It has weighed on my mind. I’ve got a new car now but I haven’t quite wrapped up the insurance claim. It’s become a source of some anxiety. And I’ve been busy. So it’s not done yet. On Friday I got a notice to renew the plates on the old car even though they know it’s a total loss. I guess I need to deal with that..

Wolf has moved back to the city where he worked the winter academic term. I’ve gone to visit twice — the first time having borrowed my mom’s car, the second as my new car’s inaugural trip. I like this new car. I like the colour. The last time I had a new car was almost 13 years ago; I didn’t expect it to end like this. I worry about the new one a bit.

In August, I masturbated a lot compared to my previous average. Not deliberately. I was just trying to pay attention to my body, listen when it whispered in my ear. In September it stopped whispering again. I don’t know why. Perhaps because I’m on my own now and I’m just busy all the time?

I renegotiated the mortgage so I could pay it off earlier. I want to be thinking about repairs and upgrades, but mostly I’m thinking about security. I’m getting a utilitarian fence this fall. I need to take down the old one, though frankly I could probably get most of it down by leaning on it. Are the eavestroughs going to make it through another winter?

My new term of dance classes has started again. I took a trip to do a workshop earlier in the month, and replenish the well. It helped but this still feels like a slog — lesson planning and choreo for a show and another, earlier show that I was given a last-minute invitation to perform at.

Dance is the one place in real life that I socialise. I work from home in silence and that’s how I like it. People take so much energy. And some of them get angry — actually angry — about the weather. Remind me why I’m friends with these people? Am I even?

I spoke to my dad. Things are better than they’ve been for a while. But the last time I talked to him was already two months ago. It takes so much energy.

First I had no ideas about what to write. Then a few, but no time. Then they backed up, and then it was overwhelming — where to start? No time, no time. Easier to say nothing than try to spit out half-formed thoughts.

It’s just everything.

Sinful Sunday: It’s all about the image.

Sinful Sunday: It’s all about the image.

mile high 38

Tomorrow is the medium-sized dance performance that I mentioned last Boobday. It’s part of a larger (and potentially very tiring) event that I’ll probably take in as well, at least in part, so I’m going to be a bit of a wreck by this time tomorrow. Fortunately my energy level has been largely keeping up with the busyness, and that’s a minor miracle. It’s not sustainable in the long or even medium term, but for now I’m good.

The first leg of my trip to Japan in Nov 2018

Boobday is a body-positive meme where women share images of their bodies in order to show that there is beauty in all of us. With confidence comes power and with power comes confidence.

badge Boobday

mile high 37

Things haven’t calmed down much in the last two weeks, though I am successfully getting through the busyness.

I’m now powering through a number of dance performances, including a small one this weekend, a medium-sized one next, and then a big one the week following. I enjoy it but there’s a lot of admin to be done, and 10 minutes of dancing can be surprisingly tiring even though it’s not super intense — it still basically lays me out for the day.

 

This photo — the only one I took — is from a little solo trip last fall. It was warm so for a change I’m not wearing my standard travel outfit.

Boobday is a body-positive meme where women share images of their bodies in order to show that there is beauty in all of us. With confidence comes power and with power comes confidence.

badge Boobday

mile high 36

Wolf and I are on a little road trip this weekend. It’s for sad family business but we’re making the most of it: I’ve now got a couple of shots to share that aren’t on a plane for once, though it’ll take me a while to get to them.

It’s been frantically busy at work and with dance classes and performances that it’s nice to escape for a couple of days, even if the place where we’re staying is not exactly the height of luxury (there are signs on the outside doors for folks to take off grubby footwear there rather than track dirt through the place). I may be terrible with faces but I recognised the woman who runs this place (from the last time we were here on family business) by her voice and the way she chatters.

This is the last shot from a business trip that generated a handful of images. I had two flights each way, same aircraft type three times, and my outfits on both travel days were very similar but not quite the same. See if you can spot the differences!

mile high 33
mile high 34
aerodrome 3
mile high 35

Boobday is a body-positive meme where women share images of their bodies in order to show that there is beauty in all of us. With confidence comes power and with power comes confidence.

badge Boobday

mile high 35

I’ve been home for a few weeks now and, sadly, getting back into the groove of work, dance, and other quotidian things.

I’ve been reading Paris by Edward Rutherford to get a better feel for the City of Lights as I know I’ll be there again sooner or later, and Wolf and I have started thinking about a little adventure closer to home this summer. It’s been too long since we had an adventure together.

I don’t actually live in an airplane, though you’d be forgiven for thinking I do. I just am now in this habit of snapping a pic on every flight. Good excuse to stretch the legs.

Boobday is a body-positive meme where women share images of their bodies in order to show that there is beauty in all of us. With confidence comes power and with power comes confidence.

badge Boobday

aerodrome 3

The trip from our hotel to the airport started before I would ordinarily be awake, and comprised 30 minutes of twists and turns through busy city. Jaime and his suitcase accompanied me in the airport shuttle even though he needed to go in the opposite direction to where his car was parked so he could drive himself back to his mountains and home.

From the shuttle drop-off point to the terminal comprised another 10 minutes of pedestrian twists and turns through what felt like a parking garage but mostly without cars in it. The route was painted on the ground but was also helpfully signposted with 8 or 10 friendly staff, one at each turning to guide us through the labyrinth. The last three carried baskets and handed out chocolate eggs, in honour of Easter, as well as little bottles of water. Our theory was that this was done to counteract the endless fog of low-grade evil engendered by a building that forgot to account for the fact that people needed to move through it.

I had some time to spare so we had a bit of a sit, I got myself organised, and then Jaime sent me off with a few meaty swats to my bottom. It’s hard to leave, but the tension keeping me there is balanced by the tension pulling me home and back to Wolf.

And, some 20 or so hours later, Wolf was waiting for me at our little airport in his usual spot, and silently gathered me up in his arms in the usual way, smelling my hair.

So I’m home now, and mostly recovered from the ultra-long-haul flight, a handful of time zones worth of jetlag, and (probably) fighting off a 20-hour barrage of viruses in various airports and planes. The length of the days is not so different from where I was, nor the temperature, and I’ve only had one flicker of disorientation from the sun being on the “wrong” side of my zenith. The next time I go to visit Jaime, perhaps I’ll be able to find north by feel rather than calculation.

Wolf is away again for now, and I’m alone in the house until he returns, but this is the last time for a few months at least.

Here I am in the – non-private – washroom of an airport lounge, not quite a year ago. Low traffic, but still required a little more boldness than my usual material.

More photos from this trip (i.e. last year’s, not the one I just got back from) here and here.

Boobday is a body-positive meme where women share images of their bodies in order to show that there is beauty in all of us. With confidence comes power and with power comes confidence.

badge Boobday