Breakfast – eat like a King.

 

“One should not attend even the end of the world without a good breakfast”

                           – Robert A. Heinlein.

 

Breakfast has never been my favourite meal. Even as a child my mother struggled to find breakfast food that I would enjoy and it was a constant battle to make me eat something before I went to school. I didn’t enjoy cereals, and I couldn’t stand the texture of porridge. Eggs and toast were acceptable, but not before 10:30 – too late for a pre-school breakfast. My staple breakfast was peanut butter on toast – easy to carry and eat on the way to school.

Peanut butter on wholemeal toast (the best combination!) isn’t a bad breakfast. It is filling and nutritious, however, I don’t tolerate gluten very well, so it makes me feel lethargic and bloated. Not a great way to start the day.

In recent years I’ve been eating Greek yoghurt with fruit, seeds and granola. Nutritious and filling. I had got to the point of looking forward to and enjoying my breakfast meal. But then, I began to feel guilty about the food miles my Greek Yoghurt habit was clocking up, so I changed to Greek style yoghurt, produced closer to home. The benefits were that it was much cheaper than the real thing and was supporting local farming. The downside? The “Greek style” had a fraction of the protein content and was not as creamy and tasty. I went back to the real thing.

When deciding to eat a vegan diet I was worried that I would find it difficult to give up Greek yoghurt, cheese, and milk in my tea and coffee! After some experimentation I’ve found that soya milk is a perfect substitute for cow’s milk for my tea – I honestly don’t taste the difference. I have found some lovely vegan cheese recipes and do not miss “real” cheese. I have, however, struggled to replace Greek yoghurt for breakfast. I have been finding breakfast-time a bit of a struggle!

I have tried:

fruit smoothies with my homemade granola – not bad, will certainly keep this on my breakfast menu. Though won’t be eating it every day!

porridge and granola – no, still struggle with porridge. The best bowl I made was when I stirred a table spoon of almond butter into the porridge.

sweet potato pancakes and fruit – not the best. I have a stash of the pancakes in the freezer, so will come back to this one – at some point.

apple slices and homemade peanut butter – yes! I enjoyed this. An enjoyable breakfast on days when I don’t run. I need a more sustaining meal on running days.

Breakfast potatoes (see the photo above) – loved this! Will definitely have this again. Quick and easy, and very tasty as long as there are leftover cooked potatoes in the fridge.

Oat and apple cookies with homemade almond butter – yes, anything that allows me to eat almond butter! I’m going to experiment a bit with the cookie recipe as these cookies were more like cakes. I need to try and get more of a cookie texture!

All with a cup of green tea with lemon juice. 

There might be an up-side to this “struggle”, however. As you can see, it has meant that I have had a varied breakfast diet over the past month.

I would love to hear what you eat for breakfast, particularly on days that you exercise. I look forward to hearing from you…

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I am a runner

I can now call myself a runner…

… so says Laura, the coach on my Couch to 5k podcast. I completed Week 6 of the programme with a 25-minute run. I am now half way through Week 7, which consists of three more 25 minute runs.

I have changed my running route. The route I have been using until this week is along an old railway embankment. It is flat and reasonably straight, through pretty woodland. A lovely place to run, however it is only 3.5 k (just over 2 miles) – so not far enough for the final stages of the programme. I took some time last weekend to scope out a new route. My dog and I spent a very pleasant afternoon wandering over the fields and lanes to map out a 5k circuit. I was very excited to get started!

The new route is across much more open terrain, so a little more exposed to the elements. I’ve only had to contend with blazing sunshine so far, which has made the experience hot and sticky! There is also a significant incline about half way around, which seemed a good deal steeper when running than it had appeared whilst walking. In addition, I have to negotiate several gates and styles – but hey, they give me a breather, right?!

I have managed the circuit twice now. Both times I have run 3 k (2miles) in the 25 minutes. So my baseline is 12 minutes a mile. Slow I fear, but I have to start somewhere and the only way is up from here – literally as I’m running uphill…

Today I will attempt my second run of Week 7. My husband is going to run with me so I won’t be tempted to stop. My mantra is “keep moving” – no matter how slowly.

I’d love to hear from other runners and learn from your experience. The questions I’ve got at the moment are – What is a comfortable pace for you? How far do you run, and how often? How long did it take you to feel comfortable running your favourite distance? However, any thoughts, advice and encouragement you have will be gratefully received. 

Learning to be vegan…

I am learning to be vegan…

Not content with learning to run I have also decided to change my diet. There are many reasons why people choose a vegan diet including ethical, environmental and health considerations. My health is the main driver for me trying a vegan diet, but the ethical and environmental concerns are also driving this change. I know that eating mustard makes me very ill, but there seems to be other things that I eat that upset my body – causing pain and fatigue. I have given up meat, chocolate and wheat at various times in the past, and felt better for it, but I have never stopped eating eggs and dairy before. I have been contemplating a vegan diet for a while but it took my husband to set us on the path to change! His interest means that we can become a vegan household and I’m not having to do it alone.

A friend had recommended Deliciously Ella – a blog and cookbook written by Ella Woodward– a few months ago. Ella has PoTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) and has used food and diet to help her control her symptoms. It has been a great place to get inspiration, and recipes.

The meal I have found the most challenging to make vegan is breakfast. I was addicted to Greek yoghurt and homemade granola. Until a fortnight ago I’d eaten almost it every day for the past two years. I thought that porridge may be a good alternative but I don’t enjoy the texture, so I’ve been experimenting with making a yoghurt substitute and this morning’s breakfast worked quite well.

I soaked a third of a cup of porridge oats and 4 brazil nuts in water overnight. This morning I discarded the water, then whizzed the oats and nuts together in a blender along with a tablespoon of coconut cream and a couple of peaches to make a thick smoothie – the consistency of yoghurt. It wasn’t a great colour but with a portion of granola and a handful of blueberries on top it made a tasty breakfast.


I think that I will try a blend of oats, brazil nuts and coconut cream tomorrow, and put the fruit on top. It might look more appetising! I’ll let you know how I get on.

Learning to run…

I am learning to run…

 

I have just started week 6 of a couch to 5 K programme and I’m feeling quite chuffed. I’m also feeling it in my right hip and my knees!

At the end of last week, I ran for 20 minutes without stopping. If you had told me 5 weeks ago that I’d be able to run for 20 minutes without a break I would not have believed you! Today I ran for 18 minutes over three sessions – 5 minutes, 8 minutes and 5 minutes.

My motivation for following this programme? Well, in May/June this year I walked, with my husband, the Wainwright Coast to Coast route – 192 miles from St Bees on the west coast of England to Robin Hoods Bay on the east coast in 12 days. It is a challenging walk across beautiful landscapes; but we enjoyed every second of it, and felt fitter by the end. I wanted to build on the achievement and new levels of fitness but couldn’t justify spending 5 hours walking every day! I have always admired people who run, and even attempted to start running myself – on several occasions, all without success. I believed that I couldn’t run, and finding out that the blood supply to the lower half of my lungs doesn’t come from my heart (it comes from my abdomen!?) just perpetuated the myth that I can’t run. This is despite the fact that I used to play hockey at school – and thoroughly enjoy it.

I subscribed to the NHS Couch to 5K podcasts, put on my trainers and started – walking. Each session starts with a 5-minute walk. Everything is explained, and timed, and you build up very slowly so it is relatively easy to keep going. I am enjoying it, and feel a real sense of achievement and progress. My body does grumble – as I mentioned above, my right hip and knees are complaining tonight. I have taken some anti-inflammatories and hoping that after a good night’s sleep they will settle down. Finger crossed!

Back to the Drawing Board

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I’m just coming out of a major flare-up. It completely floored me, leaving me in bed and unable to function for 3 days. It felt like an elephant was sitting on my hips, a rat was gnawing it’s way out of my head, a hot spring was bubbling in my belly and someone was hitting the bottom of my feet with the back of a cricket bat. My temperature regulation was all to pot so I alternated between being very cold and shivery and overheating and pouring with sweat. No vomiting though! A major breakthrough (I say hopefully) and relief.

I haven’t had a flare since late October last year and had been feeling pretty pleased with myself! Ha – serves me right for being smug. I have been seeing a gastroenterologist recently in an attempt to get to the bottom of why I’ve been suffering from bouts of vomiting (and corresponding headaches) every three to four weeks. (So going almost 10 weeks without a flare has been a great relief!) I’ve lost almost 2 stone, which has been nice – but it has been an extreme way to do it. Long story short, after lots of investigations involving cameras, scans, needles and sample containers it was decided (by the gastroenterologist) that I was suffering from migraines and needed to take migraine and anti-sickness medication, and to see a dietician about going on an exclusion diet in order to find out what the triggers were.

My GP prescribed the medication but could not refer me to a dietician as our CCG doesn’t fund this type of referral. So, with some advice from my GP (“don’t exclude too much at once as it will make it difficult to stick to”) I tried my own version of an exclusion diet. The internet gave me some ideas about foods that might cause my migraines so I decided to exclude cheese, chocolate, alcohol, citrus fruits, eggs and mustard from my diet for three weeks before, slowly, introducing them back, one at a time. It didn’t take me long to feel better, and to be honest after about two weeks I forgot I wasn’t eating cheese and had some! I love cheese.

The bottom line is that mustard makes me feel very ill! One of the reasons I had suspected cheese might be a culprit was because after eating cheese scones (my go to treat for afternoon tea!) or meals with a cheesy sauce I would often be ill. Turns out it’s not the cheese but the mustard added to enhance the cheesy flavour.

Most people have been a tad incredulous when I’ve told them. “Do you eat a lot of mustard?” has been the common enquiry. Well, yes I do – did! I use it in my cooking as a flavour enhancing ingredient. And it is in a huge number of common groceries – mayonnaise, most salad dressings, coleslaw, lots of supermarket deli salads, frozen fish, curry powders and pastes, ham, tartare sauce; to name a few.

Mustard is one of the common allergens that have to be highlighted under the European food labelling directive so it’s relatively easy to spot in the list of ingredients on food packaging – it appears in bold type. And I’ve banished mustard powder from my larder.

So if I’ve cut mustard out of my diet what has caused this latest flare? Well it could be one or a combination of several things.

1.       Overdoing things? It has been a very busy Christmas and New Year so I haven’t been pacing myself with my usual care. Also I have neglected my exercise routine – I’ve not been doing any strengthening/stretching exercise for several weeks and my daily walks have not been daily, and have been significantly shorter than normal.

2.       A reaction to the massage and reflexology session I’d had the day before my flare-up began?

3.       Dehydration? I didn’t drink very much water the day before. And I am always told to drink plenty after a massage.

4.       Something I ate? We ate out the night before the flare started. I was assured by the restaurant that they didn’t use mustard in their cooking but was it a hidden ingredient in something else they use? I visited a friend just before Christmas who had made soup. She hadn’t used mustard, however she had use some tikka masala paste and when we checked the ingredients in the paste we found mustard. So no soup for me. (And it smelt delicious!)  Or is this flare a reaction to another ingredient/spice?

5.       Nothing? It was just time for a flare.

My post-flare plan of action? Go back to the drawing board! I need to pace myself, restart my exercise regime – gently and build back up to pre-Christmas levels – continue to monitor what I eat and how it makes me feel, and stay hydrated. Wish me luck.

Lost in the fog

 Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves. 

I’m a tad lost in the fog at the moment! Fibro fog that is.

One of my very best friends has a fabulous saying which sums up how I feel perfectly – “my head’s in a shed”. I have manged to miss three important occasions in recent weeks because I have entered into the wrong date on the calendar on my phone. It makes me look, and feel, very silly!

There is a wonderful resource, which I found in the waiting room while waiting for a physiotherapy appointment at the hospital, called The Pain Toolkit. I found it in booklet form but there is also a great website. It is a very practical guide to the self-management of pain, developed by Pete Moore, who himself suffers from persistent pain. You can read more about Pete and the development of the toolkit here.

There are 12 “tools” in the Pain Toolkit. The first one is being “Accept you have persistent pain…and then begin to move on.” It is, arguably, the most important and, in my experience, the hardest tool to implement!

I have changed the wording to fit my personal circumstances. For me it says – Accept you have JHMS and Fibromyalgia…and move on.

Or – Accept you have persistent pain, fatigue, digestive issues, foggy thinking…and move on.

The crucial word here is Accept. The difficult word here, for me, is Accept. There are lots of graphics and articles on the internet, in fact one popped up on my Facebook timeline just the other day, titled “Things Not to Say to Someone Who Has a Chronic Illness”.

Things like
· Snap out of it!
· It’s all in your head.
· It could be worse, at least you don’t have cancer.
· That’s not a real illness.
· Just think positive.
· Have you tried changing your diet?
· It will get better, just be patient.
· You need to exercise more.
· You take too many medications

As I read the graphic I realised that although I would never dream of saying these things to other people I say them to myself – regularly!

It is so easy to believe on the days when I am feeling well that I don’t have JHMS or Fibro. I can go several days or even weeks living in a bubble of denial and delusion which means when a flare occurs it’s crushing.

A metaphor I like to use to describe my situation is this. Imagine a deep dark well, the walls of which are dotted with footholds, to allow access, and scattered around the well, at differing depths, are some ledges. Two years ago I was at the bottom of the well, not coping with the pain and stress. In fact I was digging and making the well deeper! Over the past two years, with help from healthcare professionals and my family, I have managed to stop digging and climb to the top of the well. I have even been able to live for significant periods of time out in the sunlight. During these times I begin to forget about the existence of the well until one day I trip over the edge and fall back in. If I am lucky I don’t fall too far before I land on a ledge where I can sit for a while to get my bearings and start the process of climbing back out. Maybe, just maybe if I keep in mind that the well is always there I might avoid falling down it?

Time to Reflect…

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“Look after the senses and the sounds will look after themselves” from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

I’m struggling a bit at the moment if I’m really honest.
My pain and fatigue levels have gradually increased as the days have got shorter and the weather has become colder and wetter. I am finding it difficult to get out of bed each morning and to get going each day so I don’t feel that I’m making the most of my day.

It is time to take stock. When I’m feeling well I find it very easy to believe that the fibro has disappeared and the HMS doesn’t affect me so I don’t need to employ the self-care strategies that have helped me to feel so well.

So I am revisiting the notes I made at my Clinical Psychologist appointments, starting with the first appointment.

My first visit to the psychologist, Emma, was a revelation. I had waited 9 months to see her, but it was well worth the wait. She listened with compassion and concern. She had heard similar stories before, many times, and I didn’t have to defend myself, I just explained.

Long story short we discussed what I did, on a daily basis, to deal with my pain and symptoms. We discussed how I felt about the pain and what I found worked to help relieve symptoms. No judgement.

I came out of the appointment feeling happier than I had felt in months (if not years) and with some homework to complete before my next appointment.

My homework was to accept that I suffer from HMS and fibromyalgia so treat myself with compassion (!) and to pace my activities (?!!). Emma explained that I had to imagine that my energy was stored in tank, a bit like a petrol tank of a car. Resting and being kind to myself add energy to the tank, being active would (obviously!) use energy. I was to try and keep my fuel tank over half full.

So rest was to be my new best friend! Having spent most of my life ignoring what my energy levels were telling me and using rest as a reward for finishing a task, or list of tasks, so keeping my tank near the empty mark this was going to take quite a mind shift to achieve.

I plotted my energy levels throughout each day for a week on a grid, recording my level as a score out of ten with ten being full of energy and 1 being no energy. At the end of the week I could see a pattern emerge. That pattern is still the same today. Low energy in the morning, dipping during the middle of the day and rising to the highest point towards the end of the afternoon. The pattern hasn’t changed, just at the moment the scores don’t rise much above 5! Low energy understandably means high fatigue levels, and at the moment also coincides with higher pain levels.

So my challenge this week is to accept that my pain and fatigue levels are high and to treat myself with compassion. Also to pace my activities. It is easy to try and cram too many tasks into a day and not to leave rest times in between. I know the times of day that my energy levels are likely to rise so, in theory, I can plan appropriate tasks for those times. In theory!!