The other day, I was explaining to my wife, Joanna, how I’ve never liked cherries. I hated them all my life. She knew this already, but I felt compelled to say it again because I felt such strong disgust for the little red devils. I’m sure my aversion came from sipping tablespoon after tablespoon of artificially flavored cough syrup as a kid. Then, recently I read about how cherries are packed full of nutrients, helpful especially for arthritis sufferers. So as summer arrived I started seeing cherries popping up in stores and I decided why not try them again. It turns out, I loved them! Now I eat them by the handful. Delicious, raw, organic cherries. This reminded me how I used to think my diet was pretty healthy, but it was actually full of refined, processed and packaged foods that contained so many chemical and additives that stressed my body and put a burden on organs like my pancreas and liver. I didn’t realize until not long ago just how important eating the right foods are to the the healing process.
From time to time, people ask me what I eat to feel better, what is helpful for keeping Lyme disease under control and what food protocols work. While I’m constantly learning about using food as a method for healing I don’t have all the answers. I can, however, share my experiences with eating healthier and what it’s done for me – both as treatment for my infections and for my inflammatory arthritis. I also want to answer a few common questions and share a few helpful resources related to food and diet for those suffering from chronic Lyme disease. Hopefully this will even help those with other systemic infections, autoimmune illnesses or digestive problems.
What diet is best for Lyme? I don’t like the term “diet” because I feel like special diets are easy to start, but hard to continue and many times make a person irritable or uncomfortable enough to quit halfway through and sometimes even go back to eating worse than they did before. Having said that, I am following a special diet, or protocol, specifically for promoting easy digestion and absorption of nutrients and reduce the stress of hard-to-digest foods. But this diet is more of a lifestyle change. It all started last year when I made a personal commitment to eat differently than I ever had before. It began with the bone broths and green smoothies, similar to SCD or the GAPS intro diets which are designed to eliminate foods like refined foods, grains, dairy, beans and legumes – foods that can be difficult for many people to digest. I cut out all refined, processed and packaged foods because they tend to cause a more acidic environment in the body, which Lyme and other pathogens thrive on. At the time I ate primarily vegetables (raw) and bone broths. I didn’t even allow fruits except a few berries each day. I believe this gave my digestive system a chance to catch up and heal on it’s own. I did this detoxifying protocol for three solid months and then gradually added whole foods back in like fruit, soaked/sprouted grains and cultured dairy. A few months later, I felt like I was still on a very restricted protocol, not eating any refined foods or sugar and only consuming organic whole foods, prepared at home. Yes, all restaurants were out of the picture except for one or two occasions while traveling. Even then, I had to pay careful attention to what I was putting into my body.
Do you stay on this protocol forever? I encourage people to work with a nutritionist or health practitioner to figure out what is best. Every person is biochemically individual. What works well for some may not work at all for others. Several months ago, I decided to go back and try the smoothie/bone broth protocol again, but this time allow more whole foods like nuts and seeds, kefir, yogurt, grass-fed beef or fish a couple times per week all right from the start. Since my wife was also diagnosed with Lyme, she decided to do this protocol with me 100 percent. Since we also started the Salt/C Plus Protocol together at the same time, this way of eating fell right in line. It calls for at least 75% veggies every day, preferably organic and chemical-free. It’s a true test in marriage some days to put such restrictions on lifestyle, meal planning and convenience, but God has helped us through every day of it. And He has made us stronger during those times. We carried out this protocol for a strict 3 months to again encourage healing of the body overall and to make sure my digestive system had the assistance to do what it does best.
So what do I eat right now? I’ve expanded from this last protocol, eating more meat, occasionally beans and only grains that are soaked or sprouted, along with milk as long as it’s full of its original enzymes and from a good source. I still make sure my daily intake is 75% veggie, and like to think that whenever I have meat or grains, they are only a small part of the overall plate. Think 75% vegetables, 15% meat and 10% grains. At some meals we eat no meat at all and some no grains. Eating this way definitely makes you appreciate having them more too. It’s a tough thing to do, but with a summer vegetable CSA and a conscious effort to buy mostly fresh vegetables and fruit when in season, it can be done. I still try to have a cup of homemade bone broth once a day in between meals and a fruit/vegetable smoothie for snacks or breakfasts some days. I also supplement with probiotics, barley green powder, fermented vegetables, aloe and bitter herb teas as much as possible.
What symptoms have this way of eating helped with the most? The biggest difference I’ve noticed day to day is having more energy and not feeling sleepy during the afternoon work day. I still remember the entire year of having thrush and mouth sores brought on by long-term dosing with Prednisone and an out-of-control candida infection. Eating the way I do now, a much more alkaline-forming diet, wiped those symptoms completely away. For the past year I have had no sinus headaches, for which I used to take over-the-counter sinus pain medications at least twice a month. Personally, I’ve felt the most relief from better bathroom visits. Bowel movements are now consistent, and I no longer suffer from the past few years of chronic constipation I once agonized over. Recently I even stopped taking magnesium supplements and things are still doing well.
Are there any helpful resources available for eating to support the body’s healing process and help fight off Lyme or other infections? There are so many good websites, books and sources of great information out there. Unfortunately there is also a lot of misinformation. I prefer to look at healing from Lyme in a holistic way. If it’s food that is full of nutrients, it will support the body’s systems. When we eat food, it all starts with the digestive system. Once food is broken down and absorbed, it gives us energy and keeps our bodies running properly. Therefore, if we eat well, we support the immune system, and give our bodies what they need to fight off Lyme or any infectious disease.
Here are a few links that may be helpful for those looking to change the way they eat to support that healing process.
World’s Healthiest Foods book – This is one of my favorites. It includes great explanations and answers many questions about what foods are healthy. It includes a great guide to eating for 2 months where everything is planned out. You don’t even have to think about planning meals. Check out whfoods.org too. Their site is full of good stuff.
Nourishing Traditions book – If you’re feeling confident, Sally Fallon has written a wealth of information on eating a more traditional, healthy lifestyle. The Weston A. Price Foundation website is a good source for info on this way of eating too.
The Maker’s Diet book – I read this after I had already started eating a similar diet, but it’s full of good reasons why eating a certain way is healthy. Jordan Rubin’s story is impressive too.
11 Not-So-Healthy ‘Health’ Foods – So much of the media tells us what to eat and what not to eat. This guide does a good job of sorting out the things that you may think are healthy but could be doing more harm than good. Most of their recommendations are really helpful. I still probably wouldn’t recommend veggie burgers if they are packaged with preservatives over well-sourced meat, but knowing your farmer and making meals from scratch is best.
What to Eat book – My wife and I read this together years ago and I still remember the life-long lessons about food choices discussed by Marion Nestle. Well-organized guide to food choices and reasons why our food industry is the way it is today.
Life Fitness Academy Blog – I can’t help but mention the excellent nutritional information provided by Tim Mallon and Terry Barga at Life Fitness Academy. After all, they’re the ones that got me back on track and jump-started my healing process. Check out there blog for a lot of good posts on healthy eating and nutrition.
EWG’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce – Some quick, convenient lists for help with food shopping. I refer to the produce pesticide almost daily.
Food Inc. movie – A film I think everyone should see. Sure it’s political. Sure it’s controversial. But the message is clear and it helps to see where our food is being produced.
King Corn movie – This movie is similar to Food Inc, but great in it’s own way. If you watch Food Inc. and are interested more, I’d recommend watching this too.
Food Rules book – Michael Pollen has authored quite a few good books and articles. This one is is good for it’s simplicity and you can get a lot of good information on how to eat healthy in not a lot of time.
There are so many more sources for eating well and supporting the immune system when it comes to fighting off infections like Lyme. Hopefully this will get things started and we can work to fight off as many diseases as possible by how we eat.