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Baby Ian is now 6 months old and I am JUST starting to get my life back in order again in terms of meeting my long term health goals.  I promised myself when I first started this experiment that I would not abandon my health and wellness goals once I was no longer seeking pregnancy.  I’ve been enjoying reading back through this blog to remind myself all of the wonderful meals I created and lifestyle choices I made to get the fertility results I was after.  As it turns out, I don’t think they are all that different from what my new, “post baby” health plan should be.  After all, I still have PCOS and Celiac Disease, and will for the rest of my life.  It’s time to start thinking about my health for the long term and how to stay trim, healthy, happy, and vital as I age.  I recently saw an interview with Deborah Szekely, one of the founders of the health and wellness movement, who just turned 90 years old this week.   Not only did she look great, but she was as eloquent and vivacious as someone half her age.  What a testament to practicing what you preach, but really, what an inspiration!  I’m 35 now, and so I will set my health goals at living to 100+ years old.  That leaves 65 years, or 780 months.  I hear-by rename this blog, My 780 month PCOS Experiment.  To christen the name, I’m going to round-up and share all of the new health/wellness information I’ve come across recently as this passion of mine has slowly emerged in importance again in my post pregnancy life.

1) A more nutritious and PCOS friendly gluten free bread

I’ve often been dismayed at how refined and lacking in nutrition most commercially available gluten free breads are.  And when you look at the carbohydrate content, it’s not something a woman with PCOS should be eating either.  After some searching around, I came across a woman’s website, http://www.elanaspantry.com/, who has developed many gluten free baking recipes using primarily almond flour.  She also uses coconut flour and several types of alternative sweeteners that I’ve grown to like.  I’ve taken her “Paleo” bread recipe and adapted it for myself and I’m really happy with the results.  It is packed with protein and has almost no carbohydrates.  It’s easy to make, nutritious, and filling.

2) Grain Free Diet

The woman I mentioned above, Elana, is a celiac, but she also has Multiple Sclerosis, and has developed her own grain-free, healing diet that keeps her symptom free.  I was not aware before reading her website that many people with Celiac Disease and other kinds of auto-immune disease do better with no grains in their diet, in addition to avoiding the gluten producing ones.   I also found out on her site that both Celiac Disease and Diabetes have the same gene in common and so it makes a lot of sense that I have insulin problems/PCOS AND Celiac Disease.   The diet that I followed at the beginning of this experiment was primarily grain free, as well as low carb and low sugar and obviously I did very well with this way of eating, so I am going back to it, but with renewed vigor as I now better understand the hows and whys.  I do want to mention that it is not a “Paleo” diet though.  I eat dairy and beans and probably all sorts of other things that are not allowed on the Paleo diet.  It’s simply a diet that I have tailored to my own, particular health needs.

3) Xylitol

Xylitol is a natural sweetener that is primarily derived from birch trees (and the fiber of other fruit and vegetables).  It’s low in calories and carbs unlike sugar and it also does not affect blood sugar the same way sugar does.  I’ve been a big fan of agave nectar in the past as my alternative sweetener of choice, but with the recent studies showing a correlation between fructose and high triglycerides, I have decided to limit my use of it, as it is a “high fructose” product.  I am REALLY picky about my sweeteners, as I cannot stand that weird artificial aftertaste that many, even natural, sweeteners have.  I don’t use stevia for that very reason.  Xylitol tastes very much like cane sugar to me.  Xylitol has many other health benefits though that I am also very interested in.  When ingested, it creates an environment in your mouth that is not welcoming to the bacteria that cause plaque and so it can do wonders for one’s oral health if used in sufficient quantities over time.  In fact, it can help remineralize your teeth, virtually healing them from within.  It’s been shown to do the same things for bones too.  There is also research that shows that it prevents ear and respiratory infections.  It’s amazing to me that there is such a product out there that I am only recently hearing much about.  My whole family is using it now with great results.

4) Unsweetened, unflavored protein powder

I’ve been looking for a protein powder that I can add to baked goods and smoothies to boost protein without adding a flavor (vanilla for example) or any sweetness (such a stevia).  Both hemp and pea protein powders were recommended by Dr Frank Lipman.  I found hemp powder at my store, and I can say that so far I am really happy with it.  It has a very mild and pleasing natural flavor and I like the green color too – it just “looks” healthy!  I use it in my new bread recipe as well as smoothies to replace the yogurt that baby Ian can’t tolerate right now while breastfeeding.  I can see lots of ways to use it in the future as the package says that it can be used replace up to 25% of the flour in a recipe.

5) Dr. Frank Lipman

I mention Dr. Frank above, and for good reason.  He’s an MD who practices “Functional Medicine” in NYC, and a wonderful source of health and wellness information.  He gives truly sane, well researched, and highly usable advice to stay on the cutting edge of health.  After reading his website, I can wholeheartedly recommend him as a valuable guide to health.  I love his site and his Facebook presence.  The best thing I can say about him though is that I trust him.

6) Misclaneous – Here’s a list of some of the other things that I’m still doing regularly (or have resumed doing recently) to help treat my PCOS:

-cooking with and making salad dressing with organic apple cider vinegar

– having green tea every morning

– having sufficient protein with each meal and snack

– taking a multi-vitamin, B-multi, vitamin C and D, calcium, magnesium, omega 3s/fish oils, and probiotic.  I’m keeping my supplement list quite simple right now since I’m breastfeeding.

– deep, mediative breathing any time I can

– avoiding toxins and chemicals in my cleaning and personal care

– eating whole, mainly organic foods

– avoiding sugar, most grains, and things with a high carbohydrate and glycemic load

– eating lots of healthy fats (unrefined olive and coconut oil, pastured butter, avocado, nuts/seeds, fish/sardines)

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I’ve been doing my PCOS experiment for exactly a month now (started on 8/23/10) and, wow, have I made progress!  I’ve lost and kept off a couple of pounds and have reduced accumulated body fat.  Since losing weight is not the main goal of this experiment, the most important accomplishment is maintaining my 115 lbs. with very little fluctuation, a problem I’ve had for as long as I can remember.  I’ve tightened and toned muscles all over my body and increased my endurance for exercise and weight lifting tremendously.  I’ve trimmed girth from my mid-section and I can now see muscle definition in my ab area.  I no longer have a constant and big, bloated belly and can wear more of a variety of clothing styles because I am not always hiding it.  My facial hair, while not a big problem for me, is not growing anymore and has become a non-issue.  I am stronger emotionally with a generally more optimistic frame of mind.  I am having way more good days than I have in some time.  My mind no longer routinely dwells on sad and negative thoughts.  I no longer have many carb or sugar cravings and can function well on a lower carb/glycemic diet with few blood sugar lows.

Let’s take a look back at the success criteria for this 6 month experiment, noting my progress:

1) Ovulation and Menstruation – No progress yet, but too early to tell.  I started a medically induced period a little over two weeks ago, so it’s not quite time for one yet either.  We started ovulation induction at acupuncture on 9/14/10 and I began taking Ovatrophin PMG (for 10 days) the same day.  I’m still currently taking the Ovatrophin PMG, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the next few weeks.  This goal is a work in progress.

2) Stable weight and body measurements – I would eventually like to lose a little more weight, but I’ve picked a healthy weight and have maintained it now for weeks.  I rarely have any bloating in the mid-section anymore.  I declare this goal accomplished for now!

3) Little or no acne – If anything, my acne is worse than ever.  I think long term hormonal balance will have to be achieved before I get success here.  I have a long way to go yet in meeting this goal.

4) Stable and positive emotions – Aside from a few isolated incidents here and there, I have made extraordinary progress here.  I am going to call this goal accomplished for now!

I’ve never had a major sweet tooth, but I’ve most definitely been addicted to carbohydrates most of my life.  When I was young, my parents actually called me the “Carb Queen” because I would always select just a few starchy side dishes, a dessert, and a roll at our favorite cafeteria restaurant, and call that a meal.  My brother and I would eat a large stack of frozen waffles with syrup for breakfast most mornings in our childhood.  As I learned to cook, I would make biscuits and white cream gravy instead.  When I became a teenager, and thus a vegetarian, I gorged on incredibly large servings of pasta and french fries.  Protein?…who needs it?!  After I learned about PCOS and insulin resistance, I tried at various times to lower my carbohydrate intake with diets, but they were all too harsh and I went into withdrawal and always quit the diet because I could not function.  I feel like the diet portion of this PCOS experiment is the perfect compromise.  I get to eat small portions of slow converting, whole, unrefined carbohydrates to prevent the symptoms of hypoglycemia and then fruit to satisfy sweet cravings.  After a full month of doing this experiment I feel like I have beaten my addiction to carbs as I no longer think about them or crave them – same with sugar.  I’ve never gotten so far in a lifestyle change before.  I feel so very accomplished.

Exercise – 30 minutes of Crunch: Burn and Firm Pilates DVD with 3 lb. weights

Mind/Body – Decided to ditch Fast Food nation and start reading the James Herriot books again, which I always find inspiring and sweet.  I soaked in a hot, Epsom salt bath with lavender essential oils while I read.

Diet – 115 lbs.

Breakfast – small latte, 2 fried eggs, 2 chicken breakfast sausages, 1 scoop cottage cheese

Lunch – leftover Mediterranean veggies, roast, peas, and lima beans

Dinner – Pork loin with Vidalia onion and grapes, roasted Portobello mushroom cap with herbs/garlic/cheese, green peas.

Snacks – multi-grain crackers and cheese, 1/2 grapefruit, cashews, cottage cheese, handful raw almonds, 1/4 Bumble Bar

My acupuncturist and I discussed the new “Restorative Endocrinology” plan to heal my PCOS naturally at my appointment today.  Providing I don’t get pregnant this cycle, I will begin the new regimen after my appointment next week. It will consist of  6 supplements in combination with acupuncture and the diet and exercise that I’ve already started.  I am beyond excited to begin this part of the experiment!

After trying it for a few days, I can definitely say that eating the hardier breakfast is helping this experiment dramatically.  I have lots of energy and the fuel to last me until lunch with no snacking.  What’s more, I feel more full all day, and with minimal snacking, so I am eating less in general, even though I am eating more in the morning.  I can also eat this breakfast while still slowly losing weight, or at least not gaining weight.

Exercise – arm work with light weights, ab work, and push-ups

Mind/Body – Took a long soak in a hot tub after workout.  Bliss.  Had acupuncture today and was able to totally relax on my back for an hour and meditate.

Diet : 114 lbs.

Breakfast – 2 fried eggs, 2 chicken breakfast sausages, 1 large scoop of cottage cheese

Lunch – Huge salad with veggies, fruit, avocado, and cheese, leftover lamb chop with mint pesto, 2 yucca crackers

Dinner – roasted lemon/garlic chicken, 3 tiny purple potatoes, sauteed brussel sprouts with raisins.

Snacks – cashews, whole plum, cottage cheese, 1/4 Bumble Bar, edamame.

I’ve been doing this experiment for a week now, and can say that I really like the path my life is on.  It’s the way I wanted things all along, but I could not achieve it for many reasons. I feel like I seized this opportunity at the perfect time and I am grateful for the stroke of inspiration that fueled this decision.  What else could I accomplish if I were to act on my inspirations more often?  I also feel like I am finally taking advantage of having the privilege of being a stay at home Mom.  It took a lot of personal sacrifice to make staying at home with Jude a reality, but I have not been able to fully embrace it lately.  When you are not feeling well, caring for a child all day feels more like a life sentence.  After a week, my hypoglycemia seems to be better and I need fewer snacks to feel ok with the lower carb diet.  I am also not running to my emergency Bumble Bar sweet like I was at the beginning of last week.

We finally traded out Jude’s bottle for a sippy full time yesterday and it was extremely trying.  Both my husband and I had a hard time listening to our son scream and cry and basically beg for his “ba-ba” – something that we would have once been happy to get for him.  The problem is that Jude is drinking a lot of milk via a baby bottle, to the exclusion of his meals and he is quite thin for his age and height.  I knew we needed to make this transition for a while now, but I did not feel strong enough to do it.  I made up my mind that Sunday would be the day and we were able to get through it without caving in.  I feel so relieved and proud that it’s done and this experiment is responsible for part of it.

Exercise – 30 minutes of fast strolling and 1 hour at “open gym” time at Gymboree.

Mind/Body – Took a 20 minute soak in an Epsom salt bath to help my sore back that I got from swimming this weekend.  It felt so good that I was able to really relax and breathe in the lavender and geranium essential oils that I added.  I was also able to fit in a short nap before Jude woke from his nap.  I fell asleep after getting through a few pages of a good book. I woke up feeling happy and re-energized.  I really love this midday mommy retreat.

Diet – 114.5 lbs.

Breakfast – 2 fried eggs, 2 chicken breakfast sausages, 1 large scoop cottage cheese

Lunch – Huge salad with veggies, cheese, and fruit.  Leftover beans/corn/pepper medley.

Dinner – Two broiled lamb chops with mint pesto, 1/3 of a baked sweet potato with cheese, butter, and green onions, sauteed baby spinach with garlic and lemon

Snacks – 1/8th cup edamame, 1/2 plum, cashews,  1/8th Bumble Bar.

1) Small, protein snacks in between meals – Eating lower carb that you are used to can lead to a shaky and hypoglycemic feeling, even if you are not actually feeling classically hungry.  Snacking keeps your blood sugar stable and that shaky feeling at bay.  It also helps you from having sugar cravings and from binging on high carb foods.  Drinking a full glass of water with each snack makes it seem more substantial.

2) Small, protein snack before bed – I know this goes against all conventional wisdom in regards to general health and losing weight.  When I had Gestational Diabetes, I learned that your blood sugar can become dis-regulated during the night and you need some protein for it to work on to keeps things stable.  I had to monitor my blood sugar many times a day, and on the mornings after not eating my before bed snack, my blood sugar was high and out of the normal range.  I was also more likely to cheat on the GD diet that day because my body was trying to find stasis all day.

3) Beans/Legumes/Pulses! – Beans are indeed the magical food.  Yes, they do have some carbs, but they are low on the glycemic index, fiber rich, high in protein, and very filling.  They are the perfect starchy element for a PCOS diet, especially when are seasoned nicely and with a little Feta or goat cheese crumbled on top.  They take the place of rice or potatoes in a meal.

4) Sneak in fruit wherever you can – It gives your mouth that sweet bite that it wants without eating something high in sugar.  I don’t eat fruit for breakfast, but I put several fruits in my daily salad or eat some after a meal, like a dessert.  Combined with some protein such as some roasted nuts or cottage cheese, they are also the perfect in-between meal snack.  I try to stick to the lower glycemic ones, such as berries, stone fruit, and apples.

5) Have an emergency pre-portioned “sweet” at hand. When I am having a particularly hard time with sugar cravings, I pinch off a quarter sized bite of an energy/nutritional bar and try to savor it.  I like Bumble Bars because they are made with low glycemic, but natural sweetener (brown rice syrup), have decent protein, and are not so high in carbs that 1/4-1/3 of a bar/day (4-6 active carbs) will wreck the diet.   This stops me from looking elsewhere for a sugar fix and tastes sweet enough to fool my brain.

For more info on my PCOS diet, click here.