I was in my early twenties when Dad was told he had to switch to decaf coffee instead of caffeinated per his doctor because his blood pressure was dangerously high. I connected coffee to high blood pressure instead of considering his intake of salty, greasy, sugary foods and overall gut health. My parents continued to eat the way they were taught for the next three decades until they gradually had more orders from the doctor to lose weight or cross the threshold of living with diabetes.
My parents focused on what they had to remove from their daily diet instead of what they could add or substitute. Being hyper-focused on what they could no longer eat only made them want those things even more. They also tried portion control, but eating two donuts instead of three was not what the doctor had in mind. It was hard to break many food habits I picked up from my family. Until my gallbladder was removed, I had to learn how to eat better.
The changes in my gut after surgery forced me to stop eating many comfort foods, but it did not stop me entirely. I learned more about portion control, which helped at first. I also had to stay close to the restroom and find every public toilet no matter where I was for the sudden mad dash when my gut said, "Nope! Evacuate the morsels."
Over years of trial and error, I could maintain weight by slowly substituting a healthier version of my comfort food. Even with weight management, I still felt aches and pains in my joints, had trouble sleeping, and struggled with low energy. I was convinced there was nothing I could do as long as I continued to have monthly menstrual cycles. It seemed like my cycle caused the cravings, but it was more linked to stress and mental health.
Whenever I spoke to others about these issues, the typical response was, like my mother would often say, "Aging sucks." However, these issues are not entirely tied to aging, though. The more Mom made this comment as I observed her limitations, the more I understood that aging was not her problem. The issue was how she was taught to live and how she chose to age.
Doctors will tell you to eat healthily and exercise more, but what that looks like individually varies. The picture was crystal clear when my hormones began shifting, and I was told I was in perimenopause at 46. My moods and cravings pulled me back to when Mom was excessively moody and always craved junk food. We used to always blame her mood on her Bipolar Disorder without even considering the foods she did or didn't eat regularly.
All of my symptoms stopped when I began to work with a nutritionist to go with the holistic approach over hormone therapy. The picture expanded when food became my medicine, and learning that I did carry a gene for celiac disease. A simple cheek swab test gave results in less than two weeks that explained I could eat eggplant, a nightshade vegetable, and not experience the adverse affect that other doctors claim are bad for us.
I'm not convinced any blood type approaches are in my best interest because I go back to the bible diet and what we used to eat before the post-war manufacturing age exploded into unhealthy preservatives. Besides, many do not consider that we must help our gut by digesting at least 25 mg of fiber daily. Certain bacteria digest fiber, which helps prevent weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia. Most of the best fiber kinds are rich dark leafy greens, seeds, quinoa, lentils, and vegetables. Not exactly the food we were raised on when living paycheck to paycheck.
Once you begin to let your curiosity grow, whether, from a medical necessity or desire for more energy, you find people like Megan Jezek, the founder of The Intelligent Gut, an amazing home engineer with three little boys. It was fascinating to me because where Mom loved sweets and craved excessive amounts, Megan was having a love-hate relationship with food.
Megan and I are both a year into our gut health journey going beyond the trial and error to finding a love of God's creation through food again. One area that I struggle believing is diets that link our gut health to blood types. So I asked Megan, "What do you think in relation to all that God created on this planet for us to thrive and how it connects to our blood? After all, we have been told that life is in the blood."
Megan responded, "I do not believe that your blood type is as influential in predicting nutritional needs/overall health. Your gut microbiome is like a fingerprint, even my identical twins do not have the same microbiome. Food affects everyone in a different way based on what your gut has to offer."
"When people were dying from antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria (C. diff) they did fecal transplants. Meaning they took feces from a healthy individual and put it in a capsule and the sick person swallowed it. Within 24hrs they were cured. The good bacteria was missing in the ill person and when added to their gut they were, quickly, able to beat the c. diff bacteria. What is even more interesting was that if the recipient of the fecal transplant started to eat the same diet as the fecal donor, their bodies started to take on the SHAPE of the donor. Showing that our food and bacteria in our gut is what controls the weight, shape, and health of our bacteria. It even defies genetics."
Keeping our gut balanced with the proper gut microbiome also helps to control how our immune system works and how our body responds to infection. More importantly, new research shows that a healthy gut microbiome will affect our central nervous systems, which control brain function. Heart health improves when a healthy gut promotes good HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. The opposite situation means a lousy gut microbiome contributes to blocked arteries, heart attacks, or stroke.
After speaking with Megan and comparing notes with a nutritionist the epiphany struck in connection with Mom's poor diet over the years as her heart problems worsened and her brain deteriorated more rapidly. The diet Mom was raised on, the diet we became accustomed to during my childhood, and the diet Mom maintained later in life suggests she fed the harmful bacteria. With Celiac disease and not eating healthily by choice, she created an environment in her gut that contributed to the mini-strokes and degenerative brain conditions.
I work closely with my nutritionist to be proactive with my gut health. Learning how to eat again has been a challenge to find good gluten-free options, but it has also been a new adventure in cooking and trying new dishes. Many routines or snack prepping is still possible, but now I am even more intentional with my selections and portions of energy sources.
I said this in my first year of podcasting, and I repeat it more confidently because I now find more peace in my proactive caregiver journey that Mom's way of living with a mixed form of dementia will not become my story.