Taking a Break to Rest My Broken Body + Tips to Cope with Chronic Pain

IMG_9015As many of you know, I recently injured my back again being much too optimistic about how far I could walk. This is an ongoing problem I have had all my adult life since lifting an overloaded case of albums (as in LPs), along with subsequent whiplash injuries, surgery and medieval torture!

Periodically, I need to have osteopathy and rest up for some time. I’ve been struggling this last few weeks, so I am taking some time off to have some treatment and give my body a break. It’s been a physically demanding few months with all the house refurbishment and family birthdays, not to mention 7 weeks of watching sweaty men in lycra, cycling Les Tours de France, Spain and Britain! I need to take better care of myself.

Pain Awareness Month – a personal reflection on Chronic Pain (but don’t worry, this isn’t a moanfest and I suggest tips to help cope!)

This is Pain Awareness Month and boy, have I been aware of pain 😉 Chronic pain is a widespread but often invisible disorder, it interferes with every part of your life and affects those around you as well as those in pain. It affects mood, mobility, the ability to work or create, family relations – I have missed so many important family events, often having to let people down at the last minute – and you can lose friends very quickly.

img_6480It is difficult for people, especially the medical profession and often some family members, to understand why one day, or even hour, you can do something, but the next day it is completely impossible; why – even though you’re smiling – you are still in deep, often agonising pain. In this photo, I had had no sleep for a couple of nights due to deep persistent pain, but I was up on Christmas morning ready to join in the family gift-swap.

You are often damned if you do and damned if you don’t: over the years, I have been regularly taken to task for not trying hard enough, then berated for trying too hard and making things worse! It can be impossible to find the right balance.

I have had to spend long periods of time in bed – I’m talking months and even years at a time – unable to look after my children, but I have had people say to me: ‘you’re in the right place’, when it’s cold or wet, or ‘I wish I could lie in bed all day and not have to go to work!’ Don’t say it!

Natural Therapies

Doctors can only offer me prescriptions for pills that don’t work and make things worse with their side effects. So I choose natural therapies like craniosacral osteopathy for realignment (a gentle form, not the bone-crunching type!), music and aromatherapy oils for relaxation and meditation, herbal remedies for inflammation, homeopathic gel for bruised muscles, audiobooks for stimulation, heat pads for spasms and poor circulation, Rescue Remedy for shock and stress – and my diet helps. It includes copious amounts of raw chocolate! And laughter really is the best medicine.

(Raw cacao is a mood booster and anti-inflammatory and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise;-) It contains 40 times more antioxidants than blueberries, is a rich source of magnesium which is heart-healthy, helps relax muscles and prevent depression; it contains more calcium than cow’s milk, iron, zinc, B vitamins, omega oils and protein. And it tastes amazing).*

Gratitude

The regular giving of thanks helps prevent and reduce the onset of depression when dealing with chronic pain. Starting a gratitude journal when severely depressed saved my life. Knowing you have to write something down at the end of the day makes you look for the positive and helps to change your mindset. Nowadays, I don’t need to write it out but I express my appreciation every day, even for the little things, especially for the little things. And even when at my worst physically, I still try to perform random acts of kindness.

Thinking of others, looking outwards instead of always looking inwards at my pain, helps me cope. It is partly why I began this blog, to pass on what I have learned and researched in the realm of diet, health and wellbeing, in the hope that someone reading it might be helped just a little bit to improve their lifestyle, their health and their outlook and enjoy a happier, healthier life.

Juicing for Health

IMG_8106Juicing and adopting a vegan diet eased my aches and pains by reducing inflammation, removing extra weight from my joints, resetting my hormones, calming and relaxing me, providing energy and a positive outlook – you can read about my first juice fast and the positive effects on my health here: Juicing: How to Begin or Do As I Say, Not As I Did!

Keep Calm, Plants Have Protein!

Altering my diet has improved so many health issues: since changing to a plant-based diet I no longer use an inhaler or have asthma attacks; losing the extra weight reduced the pressure in my spine, improved my mobility, brought my cholesterol levels to normal and improved my digestion. Pain causes tension, which impedes digestion. In addition, years of pain medication has damaged my stomach lining. Dietary changes also helped cure a sudden-onset itchy scaly rash that almost drove me mad. (see How I Juiced My Skin Clear).

(There are several posts in the menu about the nutritional and environmental benefits of adopting a vegan diet).**

IMG_3797Looking and feeling better does have its drawbacks however! People sometimes think that because I look healthy, smile, study, make cards and write a health and wellness blog, everything is hunky dory in the pain department. Sometimes it is hard not to feel a bit of a fraud when I see myself through other people’s eyes. The more I do the more I am expected to do, my health improvements tend to be taken somewhat for granted. I, however, appreciate every little thing I can do, but I do have a tendency to get over-confident and my body will soon let me know how it feels about that!

I’ll be signing off on Tuesday, 12th September but I have scheduled some posts for while I’m away to keep you on the straight and narrow, so don’t be off bingeing on doughnuts and chips just because I have my back turned!

A Bientôt!

See also Brigid’s excellent and positive post on coping with Fibromyalgia & Chronic Illness, also using natural methods.

*My favourite raw chocolate is from the award-winning The Raw Chocolate Company It’s vegan, gluten-free, organic and Fairtrade.

**Some posts about changing to a plantbased diet:

Veganuary

Veganuary – results

Where Do I Get My Protein on a Vegan Diet?

Where Do I Get My Calcium On A Vegan Diet?

Environmental Benefits of Adopting a Vegan/Vegetarian Diet

Where Do I Get Iron on a Vegan Diet?

Plant Powered New Year

Please Note: these are my personal thoughts based on experience and research. Please see a doctor before reducing or stopping medication or beginning a juice-cleanse for the first time.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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Where Do I Get My Protein on a Vegan Diet?

Here:

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And here:

(I would add Nutritional Yeast, Kale, Sunflower seeds, Romaine Lettuce, Sprouted Seeds & Beans, Mushrooms and Corn to that last)

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The truth is, it is extremely difficult in Western society to be deficient in protein.

You don’t even need thick steaks if you’re a bodybuilder or any other kind of meat or dairy product if you’re a top-notch athlete: there are many top bodybuilders, ironmen, ultra-marathon runners and other sports people who are vegans.

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Several members of the US Rio Olympic team are on a plantbased diet. Champion tennis players Serena and Venus Williams are on plantbased diets and Novak Djokovic recently opened his own vegan restaurant. Arnold Schwarzanegger is advocating transitioning to a plantbased diet! Former President Bill Clinton changed to a vegan diet when he had bypass surgery. Carl Lewis, champion athlete, also competed on a vegan diet.

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Almost all wholefoods contain some protein to varying amounts, so all you need to do is eat a wide variety of *real* foods, as opposed to processed, chemical-laden sugary ‘foods’ that call themselves vegan and you will get all the quality protein and nutrients you need.

Excessive protein intake can overload the kidneys, make them work harder and cause dehydration.

Research from Australia and the US shows that a varied vegan diet is healthy for both children and adults. Even the the latest US eating guidelines advise more plantbased foods.

I had a meat-eating pregnancy and a vegetarian pregnancy, guess which was healthiest and easiest? The vegetarian one by far. My children were brought up vegetarian, one has always been a keen sports enthusiast and an on-again-off-again vegan, athlete, orienteer, climber and cyclist, while the other has done gymnastics, horse-riding, running, become a lifeguard and gym enthusiast, but nowadays mostly enjoys yoga, swimming and cycling.

One family member has to have a low protein diet for medical reasons and has been plantbased all his life, he’s an outdoor activities leader and specialises in canoeing and climbing.

The babies and toddlers in our family are initially brought up vegan, until they want to choose foods for themselves. Even the ones who choose to occasionally include meat still have a mostly vegetable and fruit content to their diet and all are active, with the older ones being keen cyclists, swimmers, basketball players and Kung fu exponents!

Vegan food is not all brown and boring!* (see below for links to recipes).

It’s mostly about educating yourself and cooking from scratch as much as possible, but you can still find quality vegan convenience food and snacks. And you don’t have to spend hours creating special meals. That certainly wouldn’t work in our household! There are recipes in the blog menu for both savoury, sweet and raw vegan meals as well as some healthy snacks. Instagram is also a great place to find vegan accounts and websites for advice and recipes.

Resources: Vegan Family TV a YouTube channel run by a couple with two young children, it’s fun and informative about their everday lives as vegans. They regulalry try out new products and the girls do their own broadcasts.

The Vegan Society has an article which includes protein requirements and protein sources.

PS Here is a link to a short, informative article about the current trend for protein shakes, protein-added products, the possible overdosing on protein and its feared health repercussions in 10-15 years’ time, especially on teenage boys and men:

Are You Overdosing On Protein?

*See 3 Vegan Meals with Chilli, Quinoa, Tacos & Steamed Veg (but no Quorn!)

Rocket (Arugula) Salad with Sweetcorn, Walnut Slaw, Crisp Red Apple & Lemon Tahini Dressing

Berry Chia Breakfast Jar

Warm Apricot & Ginger Rice Salad with Tamari-Splashed Garlic Mushrooms

Copyright: Chris McGowan

‘What Do You Eat If You Can’t Have Anything Naughty?’ – What Vegans Eat

imageMy husband does bike repairs and refurbishes second-hand bikes* which he sells on if in good condition or gives them away if they are past their sell-by date in terms of age and design.

This means that there is a lot of foot traffic through our back garden as people bring their injured steeds for some TLC or to ask about a bike we might have for sale. Some like to chat and put the world to rights, especially those who are retired.

Yesterday was one such day. A regular customer came to collect his bike. The sun was making a rare appearance and I was -unusually for me – sitting outside under the umbrella. We had met some time ago, when I answered the door to him, but had never really had a conversation. He is retired and likes to amble around on his bike enjoying the fresh air and countryside. He does t’ai chi and chi qong, but had injured his knee recently and inevitably the conversation turned to health, nutirition, exercise and ailments.

Having worked selling potatoes for many years, he is quite knowledgeable about how food is produced and marketed, eats little meat except for organic chicken and pork occasionally, some oily fish, and takes flax seed oil supplements for his joints. He knew that my husband is vegetarian but raised an eyebrow when I mentioned I am vegan.

He had just been regaling us with advice about washing fruit and veg because it is sprayed to within an inch of its life and how he had witnessed such cruelty in modern farming methods, yet he was puzzled by my dietary choices.

It seemed to come down to puddings!

His face twisted and he asked ‘So, what do you eat if you can’t have anything naughty?!’

I grinned and said, ‘We’ve just had a 13 year old boy visiting for a week and we’ve had puddings every day!’ ‘Really?’ he replied, surprised and sceptical. ‘What do you do then?’

I explained that we still made ice-cream, for instance (see below for recipe links)he asked how and was impressed, he didn’t realise you didn’t need cow’s milk and refined sugar, chemicals, artificial flavourings and preservatives. I added that if we want something sweet we use fresh or dried fruit or occasionally maple syrup in the recipes (he had assumed we used honey).

I added, all you need is a blender and a food processor. ‘Well,’he responded, ‘We’ve got those.’

Now, he knows I have a long-term back injury and as I started to expand on my dietary habits, he interrupted, looked me up and down, sitting there in my shorts and t-shirt and pronounced that I looked well despite being vegan – ‘You must have been a child bride!’ (cringe) – I was slim so there was no need for me to ‘diet.’

My husband spluttered and I smiled indulgently and shook my head. Here we go, I thought.

Before I could reply, he proceded to describe how he was reasonably fit and healthy, wasn’t fat and did alright without medications before adding that he had some pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories for a previous condition that he was now taking for his knee: ‘But they don’t do any good!’

Eventually, I corrected him.

‘I look well, slim and healthy because I am vegan and because I juice, not despite my food regimen. I don’t take any medications and before I changed my lifestyle I suffered with unbearably painful sinusitis, twice-yearly chest infections that would last 6-8 weeks and often resulted in a cracked rib or strained muscles from coughing, I had painful IBS and asthma.

Since I began juicing and more recently became vegan, I no longer suffer the symptoms of these conditions.

He was sceptical. My husband laughed and backed me up. ‘It’s true, and you won’t win the argument, she’s heard it all before!’

He persisted: ‘No pain medications?’

No. They make me ill, bring me out in a rash and don’t work. They damaged my stomach lining and gave me gastritis. (I juice ginger and turmeric daily for inflammation and use Devil’s Claw herbal drops when it flares up in times of stress).

But to get back to our cycling friend. Once he was reassured there could still be puddings and I didn’t need medication, he was smiling again and kept saying how well I looked.

But he was very disappointed that he couldn’t bring me some trout or salmon from his fishing expeditions!

Later, our neighbour shouted over the hedge for my husband to come and help himself to some plums from his tree. We made a plum crumble last night for our visitors today, with no animal products or refined sugar. (Recipe link below).

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See also Raw TreatsRaw Chocolate RecipesTiger Nut Recipes

Nana Rhys Cream with Mango, Cacao & Peanut Butter

Açaí, Blackberry & Coconut Gelato

Vegan, Gluten-Free Plum Crumble – Nice, But Not Too Naughty!

*http://briansbikes.co.uk

Copyright: Chris McGowan