Keeping Track

Finding a pattern requires keeping track. Identifying foods that irritate your system may involve a lengthy investigation. A fasting diet can help, but when issues linger after the primary culprits are eliminated, things get a little more complicated. Recording the foods you ingest each day can reveal unexpected patterns that can help.

It’s easy to think that we’ll remember what we’ve eaten without recording it. If you’ve ever been on a calorie-counting diet you probably know that’s rarely true. You simply have to write it down somewhere or you’ll miss some little something along the way.

When looking for irritants, you also need to record how you feel each day. Cross-referencing the two can bring the greatest insights.

It took me awhile to figure out Cheerios caused my dermatitis herpetiformis to flare because I was intermittently consuming another problem product that used optical sorting of oats. The effect of the combination was misleading at first, but watching the pattern over time helped me figure it out.

You don’t need anything fancy to keep track. A notepad and pen with some highlighters will do the trick. It’s more important to tailor your system to your habits. What will be the most accessible, easy, and least interruptive way to accomplish the task?

If you want the ability to sort the information in a variety of ways, consider a spreadsheet program. In a pinch, you can put each day’s meals into the notes app on your phone.

Beyond that, other diet apps can do double duty, helping you to see the nutritional composition of your diet or the number of calories consumed while also helping you keep track of what you’ve eaten. It will be best to choose an app that allows you to record how you feel as well as what you’ve eaten and has a way for you to easily recall or export a history.

If you want to reduce the typing, spend a couple of weeks creating a checklist of everything you eat. Let that be your master list so that you can just checkboxes on the list for each meal. It will be helpful to alphabetize the list and leave room for the date and notes on how you feel.

You can record symptoms after each meal or just in general for the whole day. Often symptoms will be delayed and impossible to relate to a specific meal so a daily recap can be effective.

Don’t just record expected symptoms. Note if you feel lethargic, fatigued, foggy, itchy, tight in your skin, or irritable when touched. These can all be early clues that occur before more significant symptoms. If there’s a pattern, eventually you’ll be able to see how quickly they appear after ingestion of certain foods.

Reviewing monthly and looking for patterns should be sufficient. If you find none, it’s okay. But when you do, every minute of time and effort will feel worth it. Any piece of the puzzle that lessens symptoms and improves how you feel is worth keeping track.

Curiosity is Empowering

Even if you believe it threatens your cat, curiosity is empowering. Actually, take it from a cat. Have you ever seen a cat that trusts your judgment more than its own?

Curiosity leads to greater knowledge.

Knowledge is powerful. Curiosity doesn’t have to lead you so deeply into a single field that you become an expert for it to be beneficial.

Perhaps you become an expert generalist. In the process you may recognize that you have learned the key to marketing to many diverse groups. That’s a valuable skill for every industry.

General knowledge can also equip you to understand the broad effects of policy or the interplay between multiple groups affected by urban planning. You don’t have to know how to wire a motor to understand the importance of the power it provides.

Curiosity can calm a restless mind.

My mind processes many things in rapid succession. It’s like free association in there all day long every day. That makes it tempting to be out of my chair more than I should be. But give me a computer problem, and I will sit for hours trying to puzzle through a diagnosis without realizing how much time has passed.

I’m so curious, I wind up in a concentration zone. And usually, I’m successful at piecing together a solution.

One way to gain power over restless thoughts is to get curious about a problem that needs to be solved. The time spent exploring, learning, and turning around the options will serve to focus your attention and calm the mind.

Curiosity can improve relationships.

Showing genuine interest in another’s life, interests, and feelings can build closeness and trust.

In the midst of an angry or hurtful exchange, becoming curious can give perspective and improve empathy. When you become curious rather than getting sucked into rage, frustration, or sadness, new insights may emerge that help you process the moment in a healthier, more productive way.

Knowing you can move in and out of a situation by using curiosity is a great tool and a powerful feeling.

Curiosity can help you forgive.

If you look back at the worst thing you’ve ever thought, done, or felt from a point of curiosity, it is easier to feel empathy for yourself. A shift happens when you ask, “I wonder why” rather than “how could I have?”

Wondering why is an exploration that can lead to insight. How could I have is an exploration that leads to blame. It’s a tiny shift in semantics and attitude, but it can have a tremendously positive effect, making it easier to forgive yourself. Once you’ve done that, it’s easier to forgive others.

Curiosity trumps denial.

Everyone lives in denial at some point. It rarely serves any of us well.

If you are ill, becoming curious about your diagnosis can help you forge a path that fits your priorities. Remaining in denial will leave you at the mercy of others’ recommendations and decisions.

If you remain in toxic relationships while denying that they’re toxic, you will never find resolution or improvement. Becoming curious about what you can do to help the situation can lead to behavioral changes that either help the situation or clarify that it should end.

When you feel you’re becoming overly stressed, using curiosity to determine how to reduce stressors can improve the quality of each day. It seems ironic that we have a tendency to run from problems rather than face them and ask, hmmm, I wonder why I feel that way; I wonder why that bothers me so much; I wonder how he feels when I say ______? Why avoid when just a tiny bit of curiosity can feel so empowering?

With so many benefits, I can’t think of a reason not to be curious!

Can Dietary Changes Reduce Inflammation?

Can dietary changes reduce inflammation? I can’t help thinking about inflammation this morning. My left thumb is swollen and throbbing thanks to an ant that was eating the okra pod I reached in to harvest before I noticed it. (Yes, I have gloves and I know I should wear them.)

Inflammation is detrimental to health especially when it becomes chronic. What I’m experiencing at the moment is acute inflammation that should subside in a few days. But before I knew I should be gluten-free, I experienced chronic inflammation.

Research has shown chronic inflammation to be associated with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Not only is it a possible contributor to serious disease, chronic inflammation makes you feel bad.

For me, it developed slowly over a period of time. I knew I had inexplicable pain that kept me awake. More than likely, that was related to inflammation. It went away when I eliminated gluten from my diet. After a few weeks, I was acutely aware that I no longer felt “tight” in my skin. Once I realized how much lighter I felt, I never wanted to go backward.

But because my condition changed gradually over a period of years, I became desensitized to the overall changes in how I felt. I knew something was going on because I was weak and tired and I ached, but the acute symptom that kept me seeking answers was an itchy rash.

With chronic inflammation, your body is constantly responding as if it’s under attack. The immune system pumps out white blood cells and chemical messengers that are helpful for a time after an injury or illness like a virus, but if the process lingers, they become detrimental. Just typing that makes me feel tired. It seems obvious that constantly fighting itself would not result in optimum health.

Diet and exercise are key to managing chronic inflammation. For me, eliminating gluten was what it took to rid myself of chronic inflammation and eventually my itchy rash. Even now, after 17 years, it doesn’t take much accidental gluten ingestion to trigger another round of blistery itching. Maybe that’s a good thing. It certainly keeps me on the straight and narrow.

To reduce chronic inflammation, eliminating foods you recognize irritate your system is a good place to start. Anything that produces an allergic reaction, stomach discomfort, swelling, redness, or rash can go in the first round. Dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish may fall in this category.

Next up, consider limiting consumption of processed foods. The chemicals in soft drinks, deli meat, baked goods, and preformed meals may trigger an undesired response from your body.

Beyond that, it may be helpful to eliminate sugary, starchy foods like white bread, pancakes, doughnuts, and pasta. This will help prevent blood sugar spikes. Keeping the body even keel allows it to use available energy to repair itself.

You may want to increase other foods like cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, plums, red grapes, onions, turmeric, green tea, spinach, and Swiss chard. Kale is a great option if you like it. All of these foods are high in polyphenols which are antioxidants that reduce inflammation.

Exercise plays a part in preventing conditions associated with chronic inflammation and research has shown it can directly reduce inflammation as well. Of course, movement will be more pleasant as inflammation lessens. I am intensely reminded of this when I try to move my thumb.

A change in diet can result in reducing or even eliminating chronic inflammation. Sitting here with a reminder of how inflamed tissues feel, I am grateful that it only took eliminating certain foods to bring me relief. That makes the dietary changes worth it!

Waste Not

I’m sure you know the cliché – waste not, want not. In the past year of grocery shortages, the progression of food moving through my kitchen has felt different. I’m not sure I’ve wasted less food, but I’m acutely aware of how many orders it can take to get a replacement. That means I’m always looking for opportunities to use ingredients a different way so they don’t go to waste.

It seems like every time I buy a jar of almond stuffed olives or banana peppers for an event or recipe, I end up using only a fraction. They last a long time, but they’re not something I use in my everyday recipes. I have the same issue with baby artichoke hearts.

Perhaps the easiest way to use all of these is on pizza. I sometimes keep a gluten-free dairy-free cheese pizza in the freezer for convenience. With the almonds removed from the olives, any of those items makes an appropriate pizza topper.

With the right combination of other ingredients, they are a great addition to salads, flatbread, and chicken dishes. Olives add salt, peppers add heat, and artichoke hearts add a light lemony tang.

This week, my dilemma was what to do with artichoke hearts. After a quick survey of the refrigerator, I sliced some onion and red bell pepper into thin strips, rough chopped some white mushrooms and sautéed all of them in olive oil.

Once everything was tender, I added chopped baby artichoke hearts and kept heat cooking until they were warm. Seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper, the lemony top note of the artichokes added just that little somethin-somethin that took this combination to another level. It was delicious!

The following day, I used the leftovers in a chicken wrap by thinly slicing herbed chicken breasts, placing them on a gluten-free chickpea flour tortilla and topping with the onion, pepper, mushroom, artichoke mixture. I then rolled and heated it. I didn’t add cheese, but it’s an easy option if you like cheesy goodness.

After the wrap is warm, you can add some fresh leaf lettuce for contrasting cool crunch if you like that in your wraps. You may even like a drizzle of Ranch dressing on top.

The same idea can be used for a delicious fajita wrap using left-over steak or roast beef. Sprinkle the beef with garlic powder, cumin, and chili powder and slice thin. Heat in a skillet along with onion, pepper, mushroom, artichoke heart mixture until warm. While cooking, place corn tortillas over the mixture so that the steam generated in the skillet heats them.

Once everything is warm, assemble the wraps. Add a dollop of guacamole or some sliced avocado, a squeeze of lemon, cilantro, salsa, sour cream or Ranch dressing. Make it your own with whatever toppings you prefer.

The artichoke hearts are gone. I have avoided any guilt that would come with them going to waste. A new grocery order will arrive on my doorstep momentarily. And the whole cycle will begin again.

My plan is to waste not.

Cooking for One