Digestion: A quick and dirty guide

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Like forreals though

So it’s really exciting, studying the kind of nutrition where I can make these kinds of recommendations. I mean, probably not a whole stick of butter, but a really nice size dollop of that grass-fed butter would rock. After years of chronically obsessing over calories and fat content, it’s refreshing to finally be told, “don’t even worry about that shit!” No really. It’s awesome.

So my favorite topic thus far has been digestion and holy hell, it’s a good one. So, for those looking to know a little more about how the digestive system operates, I put together a quick and dirty guide via organs (since digestion works from north to south):

1. Digestion begins in the BRAIN. That moment we think, “oh hey! I’m hungry! I’m going to eat,” that’s the moment digestion begins. Blood starts being redirected to you digestive organs, you begin salivating, and your body starts gearing up for a full on explosion of new nutrients coming in.

2. Food enters through the MOUTH. That place we chew things. We also begin breaking down carbohydrates via saliva (or salivary amylase for you nutrition nerds) .

3. Food than passes along the ESOPHAGUS. Food that has been chewed up and now swallowed is renamed as bolus. Bolus now moves it’s way down, epic slide-style, towards you stomach for a full-on acid bath. There ain’t much happening in the esophagus other than transportation.

4. Food then enters the STOMACH. At this point, food moves it’s way down through the esophagus, through the stomach door, the cardiac sphincter. When bolus enters the stomach, shit starts getting real. At this stage, gastric juices such as hydrochloric acid (HcL) begin breaking down food into very small pieces and pepsinogen begins breaking down proteins into smaller pieces. Key note here: ACID IS HELLA IMPORTANT. When gastric juice flood the stomach, you want your pH levels to be down around 0.8 (i.e. almost pure acid). This is needed to break down food properly and kill any harmful stuff like bad bacteria and parasites so it doesn’t enter the small intestine. At this point, the bolus is churned into chyme, a pea-like highly acid soup.

5. Chyme makes its way into the DUODENUM. Once the stomach has done it’s job, the chyme leaves the stomach through its other door (the pyloric sphincter) and enters the duodenum, the upper part of the small intestine. When the super acidic chyme enters here, the acidity detected tells the small intestines to secrete mucus and 2 hormones, CCK and secretin. Secretin tells the pancreas to release pancreatic juices and bicarbonate (to bring pH levels back up to around neutral), and CCK tells the gallbladder to release bile. Fats begin breaking down, and proteins and carbohydrates continue their process of breaking down into pieces small enough for absorption.

6. The chyme continues down the SMALL INTESTINE. The jejunum and ileum are the parts of the small intestine where nutrients are absorbed and pass into the blood stream to be utilized all over our body. This happens with the help of villi and microvilli, finger-like projections that increase surface area help to rapidly absorb the good stuff. Anything that doesn’t get absorbed (such as bile, water, indigestible fibers, etc.) moves down through the base of the ileum through the ileocecal sphincter (the opening to the large intestine).

7. The remains of chyme enter LARGE INTESTINE. This is where things (such as bile) are recycled, where good bacteria is fed, and waste is collected and eliminated.

TA-DA! Digestion!

 

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Reasons To Write

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I guess I’ve always turned to writing when life things happen. I’ve always kept a journal which, for the most part, are filled with constant frustrations, worries, and really terrible poems. It’s always been my outlet, it’s the one constant thing that, no matter where I’m at, I can go to for inspiration, meditation, and comfort.

It all begin for me with a diagnosis of Interstitial Cystitis at 15 years old. The depression, self-harm, and generalized teen angst followed suit. After that came Endometriosis, PCOS, and Celiac Disease. By 22, I had become an unwilling auto-immune problem case with no clear solutions.
Enter clear, eye-opening, whole nutrition here.

I’ve been dieting for ages. Every since I was 15, starting on the low/no acid diet to help improve pain, hobbled around low-calorie for a while, Weight Watchers, veganism, “I-don’t-give-a-shit-#junkfoodforever”, etc. None of them satisfied me. None of them aided my overall health improvement and worst of all, they made them worse.
It wasn’t until I discovered Weston A. Price and his take on traditional diets did I finally find something that not only works, but it also makes sense. This was pretty huge catalyst that has brought me to the Nutritional Therapy Association and their practitioner program. I’m practically brimming with the excitement of understanding the human body better and to hopefully not only help myself, but other people too!

I seem to be at a bit of a crossroads right now. I need to pull the big girl pants (once I find them) on and makes some serious life decisions. Career, life, love, towns. Total game changers. As much as I hate to admit it, the place of fear is really the best place to be. We can’t do anything greater without it.
Damn it.

I hope to use this place to document my life, my passion, and my thoughts. And as a space to keep my thoughts loud and clear, and heart strong and steady.

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New Leaves

Fall always has this bittersweet feel to it. Maybe it was the old repetitive return to academia, or maybe the looming cold mountain air, but either way, it always makes me feel something. Winter is by far the ugliest of seasons upon my disposition — uncomfortable in my over-sized coats, uncomfortable with each passing year. Spring is a hopeful time, Summer is absolutely glorious. But Fall, Fall is the in between. The merging of such different feelings, the convergence of two fleeting seasons — it’s such an odd time.

It seems apropos… The transition towards the working world, the divergence from what I’ve known my whole life. The first breath of true adulthood after an Indian summer of play. Lately I’ve been feeling much more serious, much more concerned about my next steps in life. Thinking about car purchases, 401K’s, and if I’ll ever have children. And while I still put on Despicable Me when I’m feeling crummy and dance around to Destiny’s Child throwbacks, the beginnings of wrinkles around my eyes and sureness in my step makes me feel new. Grown.

I’m really not sure where I’m going. But I know I need to start moving. Yesterday I turned in my application to become a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner with NTA. I also began my search for a new car and laptop. I swear just yesterday I was playing dots and hangman with my childhood friend in front of the minster at the church I went to growing up. We now live on opposite sides of the country.

I’m still amazed with time. The way it slips so quickly away. I was so hurried as a child, waiting to grow into who I am now. Now I feel this irrevocable pressure to make moves. I see others my age — 24, and everything they’ve accomplished, and feel like I’ve been left behind somehow. All of my old friends, working their 9-to-5’s, returning to school, or finding wisdom across oceans… and here I am. In the same town, working 40+ hours a week at a restaurant. Finding solace behind a computer screen instead of putting both feet on the ground. The land of no opportunities.

There are so many problems with this process of thought. So many ways I can pick apart my own dillusions. And they’ll tell you, “don’t compare, we all have different stories” and it’s so true, yet we all still do it. But the funny thing is, no matter how much I compare myself to others, I don’t really want to be anyone else. I like who I am, despite where I’m at. I’ll always be the overly cautious girl, riding her bike around the neighborhood until dark, who was blessed with illness at an early age to demonstrate her strength. Now unbridled from mental captivity (otherwise known as depression), unchained from 4-year institutions, I feel like I can do anything. The problem is, I’m not sure what “anything” is.

So for now, I’m focusing on my own rebirth. The dark transformative Winter before the breath of new life into old trees. And maybe, by Spring, I’ll have some new leaves.

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Finding Happiness Through Illness

ImageAround 10:30pm last night my stomach started cramping, turning, hurting. By midnight I felt like my stomach was on fire and my intestines were turning inside out. Gluten. I was sure of it. As an official celiac of 3 years, I don’t often have this feeling, but when I do, man oh man, I know it. And it hurts. I tossed and turned all night, ran to the bathroom a few times, flip-flopped uncomfortably in bed until I found a few hours of sleep before work in the morning.

I am lucky to have a gluten-intolerant assistant manager at work who sent me home without thought when I told her what had happened. When I got back home I made a cup of tea and plopped down on the couch and haven’t moved since (picture evidence included ;)).

I suppose I’ve struggled for along time with the emotional and mental toll that chronic illnesses have. I’ve been through the spectrum of how to not only cope, but to find happiness with incurable illness. Knowing that, despite how I feel, if I’m not careful, I’ll be for all intent and purposes, down for the count for a few days to a week with this illness.

Beyond acceptance, beyond the facts, that feeling of body betrayal is palpable. And accepting that physical weakness as a part of you, not as a flaw, but as YOU is hard. I’ve always had my mother’s “fixer” personality and have spent many years trying to heal, trying to find health within a body that attacks itself. Within a body that sees things differently.

And I’ve done a lot of healing, inside out. Time in cognitive therapy and finding others like me has helped be immensely. Finding functional medicine and understanding doctors has made me feel a lot better. Overall, I’ve come a long way from the 13-year old with chronic pain that I once was.

Being glutened sucks. A lot. But it also is a nice reminder of how far I’ve come. And yeah, I might get sick every so often, but these are the cards. I’m lucky I don’t feel this way all the time, I’m lucky to have found holistic medicine to keep me balanced, I’m lucky to have people in my life who care.

And I’m happy. I really am. Chronic illness has shaped my life for a long time. It’s knocked me down a few times, and I’ve picked myself back up. Look at that strength. I might not have the perfect body, I might not have perfect health, but looking past those things I’ve found an inner strength and inner happiness that can’t be contained. There was never a point at which I realized this – it was more like a slow-building momentum that propelled me to a state-of-mind where I wasn’t consumed by illness.

My heart, my body, and my mind are MINE. They are not my illness. My illness is just another part of who I am.

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Farmers Market Love

ImageOh how I love you, Farmers Market. You are one of my favorite things. Every Saturday morning I wake up and scurry off to the market and snag some fresh produce. I’m that person who, even if they didn’t get off work till after midnight, will still be there around opening time to get first dibs on the selection.

ImageMid-summer, there’s lots of potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes floating around… and while those 3 veggies aren’t at the top of my favorite veggies list, I still manage to spend tons of cash money every weekend (which I feel totally justified in doing since it’s supporting local agriculture, community, and fresh, local produce.) This week I snagged some lettuce, little baby zephyr squash, a big yellow pepper, honey, a pound of blueberries, and some homemade sauerkraut. Aw yeah. I’m excited.I also typically buy the bulk of my meat there, which usually includes ground beef, sausage, an occasion whole chicken, and sometimes pork or beef liver.

It’s a shame we have such a short growing season here in Boone, NC. This year has been particularly wet and cold, but the market and the farmers are persevering through it. I dream of the day when I’ll be somewhere that has a market all year around (and a place for a little garden of my own).

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Food and Life: The Ups and Downs

Farmers market haul

So I love food.Like. LOVE food.
I equate food to superpowers. It’s the closest thing will ever get to become Superman.

I love thinking about it, reading about it, talking about it, everything. I swear food talk probably make up about 70% of my personality if we’re being honest. I’m the snobby one at the grocery store analyzing ingredient labels and giving the side eye to the kid with the slushy.

But I really can’t judge people too harshly, though. I myself am a self-proclaimed carboholic who has relapsed more than a few times into bread world. More recently though I’ve hopped on board the popularizing paleo train and cut my carb habit by cutting out all grains (and nuts, seeds, dairy, soy, nightshades, eggs, high glycemic fruits, legumes, refined sugar, and processed oils a la the Auto-Immune Protocol).

It all started when I saw a paleo-inclined natural doctor 3ish months ago. I cut out gluten 3 years ago after I got the Celiac diagnosis, but still felt pretty awful 98% of the time: gut problems, fatigue, severe PMS issues, brain fog, constant colds and feeling run down, etc. I had been considering going complete grain free (or slow carb) for awhile, especially after reading The Gluten Free Lie article by Jordan Resoner, but still my carb and sugar cravings were out of control (re: literally breaking down and crying because I didn’t have any gluten free bread in my house). I had begun reading more about grains, listening to podcasts, plunging head first into the ancestral, science-backed nutrition waters.

Upon seeing the doctor, he quickly diagnosed me with leaky gut and subsequently put me on the AIP in conjunction with some supplements to help with gut healing. I followed the diet and supplement plan *almost* to a T (I did eat a quinoa muffin that was put in my face 4 days in). The 1st few weeks were HARD. The cravings and symptoms intensified and I struggled to finish my final semester of college and farm work with all of the changes.

But after the initial first few weeks, things started getting easier. I was craving a lot less, symptoms were improving, my mood had stabilized, my energy levels were beginning to return… it was MAGICAL. And then, as always, life happened.

I finish school. My boyfriend broke up with me (in the same day, I might add). Work had started to get crazy (tourist town summers). The farm was picking up. Family issue were getting intense. I had no post-college plans. Every constant I had had seemingly disappeared. But even so, I moved on.

Boozin’ and cruisin’

I was upset, stressed, and anxious all the time. My diet was still pretty clean up until the Obligatory Family Vacation: Cruisin’ 2013. 7 days on a ship, no control over how things are cooked, no control over access to anything I wanted. I didn’t go super crazy, but I drank everyday (1-2/day), ate rice everyday, and ate gluten bread everyday, and general stuffed my face every chance I got.

I felt terrible. And ever since then I’ve been struggling to stay grain-free. My adrenals are fatigued and the cravings have reappeared. My skin which had been clearing has become blemished again. My mood swings and fatigue have returned. And some of the gut problems have come back as well. I wouldn’t say I’m at square one, but the regression has definitely put a damper on things.

I think some in a paleo community see it as a sliver bullet. And while it’s been the most effective diet for me (and I remain committed to it), I know it can’t solve all of my physical and emotional issues. Our bodies are truly unique, truly dynamic entities, with quirks and oddities. It takes holistic, customized methods of healing that are right for YOU to find your optimal health.

And although I haven’t quite found these things just yet, I feel like I’m definitely on the road towards a more stable mind and body. I accept the road bumps for what they are and move forward. I’ve decided not to kick myself for not being ~straight edge~ all the time, but accept it as a part of my journey with food and happiness….

Anyways, enough of the sappy, existential shenanigans. I’ve got some pork sausage in my refrigerator calling my name!

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Lessons In Farming

Over the past 5 months I’ve been interning on an organic farm about 30 minutes out of town. It’s 2 years old and around 5 acres, total. The couple who own and operate the farm are young, spirited, and passionate–always happy to be outside, rain or shine.

I’ve always been interested in local food systems. My B.S. in Sustainable Development had a large emphasis the importance of local, high quality produce and self-sufficiency… they even offered an Agroecology concentration (I chose to concentrate in Community Development). After a brief stint at an sustainable agroforestry organization in the jungles of Puerto Rico, I decided it was time to put my hands to good use and see what farming was all about.

The first month was cold. Sitting above 3,333ft above sea level makes for a reluctant Spring. I spent my days there starting seed and replanting sprouted plants in greenhouses and high tunnels. It was repetitive and tedious work, yet I was hopefully for a lush season in full bloom.

Once it started to warm, the transplanting began. Days bent over against the hot sun, carefully placing each plant into the rocky mountainous soil and watering each one in.

As the days grew longer and the work more physically demanding, I really began feeling the breakdown both mentally and physically. Between splitting my time in too many directions and feeling the weight of a body in recovery, I began becoming reluctant–the energy and passion I had had dimmed.

I have begun dropping my hours back, staggering my days out at the farm. Upon reflection of my experience, I have learned a lot. Most surprisingly, about myself (cue the cliche).

1. I have SO much more respect for farmers. A farming market does little to show the time, energy, and effort put into farmwork. In a nutshell: it is HARD. It is a true full-time job full of unexpected set backs (i.e. a blighted potato field), interesting obstacles (i.e. wrangling goats out of the garlic field), and truly humbling experiences.

2. I am not cut out for farming (but would love a garden). I knew this going in… kind of. But its become clear now that farming just isn’t for me. The long, physically demanding hours on a body in recovery from systemic issues makes it difficult and often frustrating to do.

3. I’m more comfortable in leadership positions. As a farm hand, I was told what to do, every step of the way (as I should have been, as I don’t know anything about it.) BUT… I felt more comfortable when newer people came in and I got to “manage” a task and work along side them. I’m not a very detail-oriented person, as it would turn out.

5. Keeping honeybees would be pretty damn cool. Ok. I’ve kind of fallen in love with bees. The way they move, interact, work together, everything! They’re pretty self-contained and awesome for plants everywhere ;).

6. Nutrition and gardening are my passions. I am still unsure of how to actualize these passions, but I know what they are. That’s half the battle right there… right?

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