Wednesday, May 27, 2009

At last, off we go

We're packed, we're ready. We leave the house at 6am. Finally, the time is here. This has truly been a long time coming.

For those of you who want to follow Basta or check how he did after the fact, go to, click on Athlete Tracker for Ironman Brazil, and enter his info to search for him. He's listed as number 656 in the registration but I'm not sure if that's his bib number or not. Try it.

It's been raining off and on all week in Florianopolis and the forecast is for rain on the day of the event. Scattered showers. Shouldn't be of much concern.

I will be much more relaxed when we arrive at our hotel, bike box at hand, and can get into the full flavor of the area and the event. I'll tell you, I'm glad I'm not the one competing because the stress of this is sky-high, even for me. Basta is handling it well and doesn't appear to be losing sleep over it now. But I'm prepared to give him a great deal of space in the two days before this event while we're down there. He's liable to be a tad touchy.

Thanks for all the good lucks and well-wishes, everyone! I'll post updates if I can get my hands on a computer with internet access.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Basta's father passed away. He had a massive heart attack while sitting on the couch watching tv in the evening. He was 80 years old.

Basta comes from a very large family and he's been talking to friends and relatives from around the world. All have been wonderful, offering condolences and kind words. He's been trying to contact as many people as he can who knew his father and would like to know about his passing. It's been busy.

We are incredibly lucky to have family that live near him in Holland who are willing and able to handle his affairs. One cousin in particular had made it a point to keep in contact with him regularly, even when he got difficult and argumentative in his old age. For him and his kind and gracious wife we are forever grateful.

Basta's father had been in poor health for some time and had prepared for his passing pretty well. One of the things he had arranged was to donate his body to science. He had met with people at the University that was going to take him and had the intake documents completed.

This donation to science has meant that the typical funeral arrangements will not take place. There is no rush to fly to Holland. We can and will go to Brazil as planned.

So Basta will do Ironman Brazil and dedicate the race to his father. That will make for an even more emotional day, I'm sure.

We leave in 5 days. Packing and planning the last details this weekend. As is typical with Basta, "tapering" to him means not working out at all, despite my best efforts to keep him on plan. He did go for a short run two days ago, but that's been it. No bike ride today. A friend wants to swim with us tomorrow so that may actually happen. But otherwise, no taper. No peak. Just, 'I'm ready, let's get there, let's get this done.'

We leave Thursday morning. Long long loooooong 18 hours of travel and four airports later, we arrive in lovely Florianopolis, Brazil. Lax to Miami, then to Sao Paolo, then a short jump to the island. With luck the bike will arrive at the same time, too.

The "Setbacks" title was about me and my dramas. I've fallen off the wagon. I've eaten bad things. Rather, good things that I react badly to. You try and avoid everything on that list and see how long you can do it.

I've been calling it, 'testing' and 'seeing how I do' but that's a load of bull. I'm just being undisciplined. And now, I feel normal. Which is such a sad testament. Normal for me is tired and weary and itchy and achy. Feeling great like I did felt like I was on some kind of happy/perky drugs because I just haven't felt good in so long. Must work on that. Normal needs to become feeling great and energetic.

Part of it is also knowing that I won't be able to eat very restrictively in Brazil. I'll have to eat what's available. That's part of the joy of travelling, anyway - enjoying the local cuisine and experiencing new foods. I'm going to do that. I'll avoid the major problem ingredients (sugar!) whenever possible, but I'm going to eat.

In the few days left, though, back on the bandwagon. I want to feel as good as I can when we're there and so I must cater to the fussiness of my delicate little system while I can. Because I realize now that I've been suffering the effects of these problems for quite some time now. Years. It just got worse and started to affect my heart and breathing when I stepped up the training and started consuming a bunch of sugar & chemicals in the form of sports drink, bars, and gels. The good part of that is it put me over the edge and made me find out what was wrong.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Food Intolerance Recovery - 1 Month

It's been 4 weeks since I got The Report. Nearly a month. In that time I think I've done a pretty good job of handling the monumental task of changing my life to accommodate my myriad problems.

To make a long and probably terribly boring story* about what a pain in the rear that has been, let me tell you that it's working. Two weeks into this it was clear that it was working. Now, four weeks into it, I feel fantastic. I mean really, truly fantastic. I haven't felt this good in months. Maybe even years.

And to think there are those in the mainstream western medical community who say this Alcat test has no validity. Ha. It has made a night and day difference to me.

It's amazing how many people want to take this test now as a result of seeing what it's done for me, too. I hope you do have it done, Crister. I think they have some European centers. A woman at work who is having a number of problems with swollen joints and various other distresses ordered the kit and is having her blood drawn for it tomorrow. She's anxious for the results but hopes it's not a severe as mine, of course. Another co-worker has a young son with some behavioral issues that they know are directly related to food or additives. They've spent years on the trial-and-error method of trying to figure out what all he reacts to. Now they are going to have the test done to remove the guesswork and hopefully make some real progress with him.

But back to me. After nearly a month of diminished exposure to reactive things, I'm finding that I react less to stuff. I can eat a lunch out, for instance, and have a sauce that probably has some onion powder in it, and just get a bit itchy for a few hours. Before that would nearly wipe me out, make me struggle to stay awake all afternoon, and then send me straight to bed when I got home. I hope, over time, I will be able to handle the smaller-reaction items with no trouble at all.

I'm also still losing weight. I'm getting a sufficient number of calories in. The super-fast weight loss of the first two weeks has stopped but I'm still losing 1-2 pounds a week. My clothes are falling off of me . I've already retired 4 pairs of pants because I can pull them off without unbuttoning them. Woot.

The other topic of note here -- Basta and Brazil -- is still on track and going well. He had a sore Achilles' tendon after his last long bike ride that he didn't tell me about until after he'd done a 9 mile run on it and made it hurt much worse. We rested it and focused on swimming for a bit and now he's ok again. He's started tapering, he's healthy, he's really tired. All is as it should be right now.

We are unable to get the Yellow Fever vaccines done. It's such an unusual vaccine for around here that most doctors don't carry it. You have to go to a travel vaccination clinic, and the one here hasn't had it in stock for over two months. They don't know when they are going to receive another batch. So we take our chances with the mosquitoes and the viruses they transmit. Along with Yellow Fever we have Dengue and Malaria to worry about, too, so I think we'll be wearing the long-sleeved shirts and pants when heading out into the jungle.

It's been raining a fair amount there, so I hope the Amazon has some depth to it! How funny to go to the largest river in the world and have it be too dry to float a boat. There is a fair chance that Basta will be doing his Ironman in the rain. A cool rain at that. He says he's mentally prepared for that if it happens. Good.

I'm not planning to take a laptop with me. Don't know what the internet situation will be like at the various places we will be in Brazil. In most of my travels I can find internet access periodically from either the hotel or an internet café, but who knows what Brazil will offer. I may be computer-free for three whole weeks. What a change that will be. I'll have to take notes and tell you all about it after the fact. I imagine the Ironman website will have their live athlete tracker going. Basta doesn't have his race number yet so you'll have to look him up by his name. His first name is spelled "Adriaan", in the Dutch manner. Yes with 3 a's. For those of you who don't know or just think that's a misspelling when you see it.

In 13 days we jump on the plane and start the long journey down south.

*If you're truly interested in what all I'm doing to try to avoid the things I react to, read on. The rest of you can go now. Thanks. Bye.

Within all of the things I'm reacting to, there are severe, moderate, and minor reactions. I only severely react to two things: Candida and wine-grape mold. So no wine -- easy enough. I've occasionally had to skip a sauce I knew had wine in it but otherwise I just don't drink wine. The candida, though, has been problematic.

Candida. Candidiasis. The theory that my guts are overgrown with candida yeast, even though I have no external indications thereof. I have plenty of the symptoms of an internal overgrowth, though, and the Alcat test says emphatically that I do. So I must go on faith on this. That means consuming nothing that yeast feeds upon, which is blood sugar. I must avoid everything that raises the blood sugar. Like sugar itself in all of its many forms, flour, rice, potatoes, fruit, etc. Also all grains because they may contain mold, all mushrooms because they are a fungus themselves, and all fermented sauces like soy sauce and vinegar because they contain yeast. I did that quite strictly for about 3 weeks. I made my own salad dressing using lemon juice instead of vinegar (lemon juice doesn't raise blood sugar). I made my own mayonnaise, too. It's really tasty.

I read a lot about candidiasis. Like everything on the internet, strong opinions from all aspects of the topic are vented and debated. Some think the condition is medical nonsense. Some say you must adhere strictly to the diet 100% of the time or you will relapse instantly. Opinions vary on what foods are 'allowed', what foods actually help, and what modern medicine can do for you. Having read through a ton of that, sorted through what appears to me to be fact from fiction, and knowing myself as I do, I think I have a pretty good handle on this. In a nutshell: Sugar -- bad. Fructose really bad. White flour -- really bad. The rest? Neh. Probably not that big a deal. I can eat a mushroom without trouble. I can eat a bit of rice now and then. The key is small amounts. A few bites of rice at lunch once a week I can handle. A whole bowl of rice makes my stomach blow up like a balloon as the yeast feasts on the resultant blood sugar spike and gives off gas. That's my sign -- bloated stomach -- too much blood sugar. The next couple of days I have nothing bad and stomach goes flat again.

Interestingly enough, it turns out raw honey can work its healing wonders on candidiasis, too. Instead of feeding the yeast as one would expect, some say it kills yeast and helps heal the gut. Well, I got some raw honey this weekend and have had a tablespoon of it every day since. It hasn't caused the bloated stomach that a sugar intake of that size would. I think it's helping. Plus it tastes really good. I'm putting it on an Ezekiel brand sprouted grain tortilla (yeast-free) along with almond butter. Dang useful for when the food cravings get to be intolerable.

My next biggest problem is fluoride. I got a two-stage fluoride + everything-else filter and installed it at home. I drink from that and try to remember to use it to brush my teeth, too. It's helping. My mouth feels a lot less irritated. At work they offer bottled water. I looked up their water analysis report, available on the internet, and this particular brand says it contains no fluoride. Good. My exposure to fluoride is limited to restaurants who serve tap water, and the shower. I'm not sure if fluoride contacting the skin is bothersome to me or if it's just what gets ingested. I can't change the shower situation, but I have stopped taking baths. No need to soak myself in it. But I have learned that Borax -- the 20-Mule-Team stuff, neutralizes fluoride. I got some of that and have been adding it to the laundry to make sure my clothes aren't fluoride-infested. I am going to try adding some to bath water one of these days to see if that really will make my water fluoride-neutral. Wouldn't that be nice to have such an easy solution to that problem.

After that I focus on the 6 big food items that bother me. Of those, Brewer's Yeast and Onions are the biggest problems. No leaven bread, no alcohol, no vinegar, no fermented sauces, no onions. Just try eating out without consuming one or more of those things. It's not possible, and after every meal out I am itchy. So long as I do "best I can" the reactions are minor. Maybe as I avoid other things that are causing me to react my whole system will settle down and I can eat without itch again. Even now, like I said, it seems my reactions are lessening a bit.

Finally, there's the minor reactions. Lots of those. Just avoid whenever possible. If unavoidable, don't have them very often. Less than once a week is best.

The rotation diet is a big part of this. Not eating the same food more than once every 4 days. I'm trying to do that, as much as possible. Basta has been very good about that with the dinners he cooks.

I'm trying to eat as many veggies as possible.

I'm definitely eating everything fresh and natural. No processed, preserved, or colored foods for me.

I'm eating one small serving of fruit a day. Different fruit each day, if possible. The NO SUGAR IN ANY FORM EVER Candida people will be shrieking in horror at that, but the same people who recommend the raw honey also say that natural fruit's natural sugar is more healing to the system than it is yeast-feeding. When I eat fruit -- no bloated stomach -- so it's all good.

The ramifications of that are that I can do endurance sports again. I can ingest quickly-digested carbs for energy in the form of honey or fruit. That is very promising to me.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Taper + What Is Wrong With Me

Basta finished his last long week. Now the taper begins. He's really looking forward to tapering.

Not that he's been working out religiously. His work situation has him very busy right now and he's let his training suffer these past few weeks as a result. He's skipped a lot of workouts, in fact.

But he says he's ready. He's been saying he's ready for a long time now. Mentally, physically, he's ready. He has his nutritional plan set. He says he's really ready.

Maybe he is. I really wish he would have done all of the hours of these last few really hard weeks, but it is what it is. He's as ready as he's going to be.

Logistically, we're nearly ready. I got my passport renewed. We got our visas a few weeks ago. We're going to try to get Yellow Fever vaccines tomorrow. We don't need that for the event but we do for the Amazon river cruise we're taking afterwards.

As for me and my troubles. Well. Here is my saga:

My doctor surprised me and actually did listen to my problems. She took my blood pressure and agreed it was way too high for my age, weight, and reported athleticism. She ordered a bunch of tests, which I did, and a chest x-ray. The blood work came back fine, nothing to worry about, maybe a touch of anemia. Blood sugar a tad high. Cholesterol a tad high. Odd considering my healthy eating habits and fitness level, but nothing to worry about. Chest x-ray showed that my lungs are fine, so is the heart. She thought it could be a food allergy and referred me to an allergist. Yes.

While all that was going on the kit for my Alcat test arrived. I had the blood drawn for that, sent it in, and waited most impatiently for the results. I had high hopes that would give the answer to my problems.

The Alcat test identifies food intolerances. These are different than allergies. With a true allergy, your body reacts by pumping out histamines, swelling dramatically, potentially causing anaphylactic shock and death. A food intolerance, on the other hand, won't cause death. But it can cause muscle aches and pain, joint aches, itchy skin, coughing, gastrointestinal distress, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, lack of energy, water retention, weight gain . . . A whole host of potential symptoms. Most of which I was experiencing.

I've thought all along that this was caused by something I was eating. I tried to figure out what it was by eliminating this and that suspect food from my diet but nothing seemed to do the trick. I knew it wasn't a true allergy because I've tried taking Benadryl for it but that made no difference. I was really hoping the Alcat test would shed light on my problem.

Well, as they say, be careful what you wish for. The results of the test arrived. I have a HUGE list of intolerances, far more than I would have ever imagined. For instance:

Brewer's and Baker's yeast. That means no more alcoholic beverages, baked goods, or bread. Nothing made using yeast. That includes soy sauce & all vinegars. Most sauces, in fact.

Cabbage. In all of its many forms -- white cabbage, red cabbage, bok choy, sauerkraut, coleslaw, etc.

Carob. No biggie here. That's probably in some of the 'sports' bars that I consume but those are easily skipped.

Chicken. I knew this. I haven't eaten chicken for over 10 years now because of this. But chicken broth is everywhere and it's hard to avoid. Every time I have it my neck turns red and I itch all over.

Coffee. WTF? You can have an intolerance to coffee? Apparently so. I was keeping a diary of foods and my reactions and I did note a sneezing and itchy spell after consuming coffee but thought it must have been caused by something else. Guess not.

Hops. No beer. No biggie. So this is why I turn red when I drink beer? Or is it the yeast? Or the double-whammy effect? In any event the brewer's yeast eliminated beer anyway so this is redundant.

Onions. Seriously -- WTF? Onions? Onions are in everything. EVERYTHING. It's more prevalent than chicken broth, even. This one is really hard. It includes all onions -- green onions, shallots, leeks, etc.

Peaches. And their bald cousins nectarines. Not a problem here. One of my favorite sports drinks is peach flavored and I wonder if it actually has some peach extract in it.

Those were the big reactions. Along with that I had minor reactions to another collection of foods. Cinnamon. Crab. Brussel sprouts (oh darn). Sesame seeds/oil. Olives & olive oil . Cashews. Bananas. Black & green tea (no more iced tea at lunch). Corn (or tortilla chips). Cottonseed oil. Grapefruit. Oregano. Salmon. Rye. Snapper. Yellow squash.

I have a severe reaction to Candida, which indicates that I probably have candidiasis -- a systemic Candida overgrowth. I don't have any external symptoms of that so it is all in my gut. As a result, I can eat no sugar, no fruit, and no mushrooms. That's sugar in all of its many forms, including honey, molasses, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, etc. Nothing that the Candida can flourish on. Avoiding all grains, potatoes, rice and flour is also advised because they raise the blood sugar. Candida loves blood sugar. Avoiding all of this should make it die off within a few weeks.

I have a minor reaction to casein but not to whey. Still, that means no dairy. I'm not a milk drinker but the no cheese, no yogurt, no butter, no sour cream part is sad. Since I can't drink coffee any more the no half & half is not a problem.

So that's the foods. That's bad enough, but it gets worse. They also tested for molds, environmental chemicals, and food additives/colorings. I react to a handful of food colorings (orange, green, red, yellow), potassium nitrate (no more processed meats), aspartame & saccharine (I knew those bothered me and never have "diet" products as a result). I am best off if I just stick to natural foods -- nothing processed, nothing from a box, nothing colored or preserved.

Then there's the molds. I severely react to botrytis -- a mold that is most commonly found on wine grapes. Great. Given the severity of that reaction I will probably never be able to have wine again without suffering bad effects. A bunch of other molds, too, like the ones that grow in the shower. I am lucky I don't live in a more hot/humid climate where molds thrive more.

Last but not least are the chemicals. I reacted strongly to fluoride, of all things. Also to chlorine, nickel, and orris root. I can't wear my white gold wedding rings for more than a few hours at a time or they burn my finger, so I knew about the nickel. Orris root is the base for most perfumes, so now I know why perfumes make me cough and sneeze. I've always hated swimming in a pool because of how the chlorine wreaks havoc on my skin and hair and saps my energy. Every time after swimming in a chlorine pool I had to go home and have a deep and hard sleep of the dead for a few hours. I thought I was just a bad swimmer and it wiped me out. Now I know that is not the case, it's my reaction to the chlorine. It really does affect me differently and more strongly than it does most people.

The fluoride is a big surprise. I switched to a fluoride-free toothpaste but my city adds it to the water supply so it's in everything. I think that's why my mouth almost always feels inflamed and irritated. I think that and the onions are causing that reaction because it is still somewhat with me, though much reduced. My mouth always flares up after eating at a restaurant, and I think it's because onions and onion powder are so common and because restaurants use tap water in the kitchen, so I'm getting a lot of fluoride in every dish. I've ordered a fluoride filter for the home and it should arrive next week. In the meantime I'm drinking and brushing my teeth with fluoride-free bottled water. I hope with reduced exposure the mouth symptoms will fade, even though I won't ever be able to achieve complete fluoride elimination.

So there you have it. For two weeks I've been trying to adapt to these restrictions. It's not easy, as you can imagine. I thought I had a pretty healthy diet beforehand but now it is absolutely pristine healthy.

What can I eat? Beef. Pork. Eggs. Soy. Garlic. Tomatoes. Lemon. Avocado. Peanuts. Those are on a lot of people's lists but I tested no reaction to them. Most vegetables are okay. Hooray for small things. I can eat something.

Basta, who is the chef in this family, is adapting to this beautifully. He has a list of my can't-eat foods and makes extraordinarily tasty meals around that. If I could eat at home all the time I'd be fine. It's eating out that gets me. Imagine ordering something in a restaurant that doesn't have onions, butter, or olive oil in there somewhere. I am doing the best I can, but after every meal out I get a reaction of some sort. Either an inflamed mouth or itchy skin or a stomach ache. But it's mild and it passes in a few hours.

Because now, after two weeks of avoiding these things as much as I can, I feel tremendously better. Blood pressure dropped to 103/63 after the third day of dietary purity. Resting heart rate dropped to 73. I am thrilled with that.

All the other symptoms are dissipating, too. My ears no longer feel like they are stuffed with cotton and don't itch any more. My skin in general doesn't itch, just for an hour or so after eating at a restaurant. I can live with that. My joints don't ache and my knuckles feel fine. I can write with a pencil without pain again. The feeling of needles stabbing into my quads is gone. The overall muscle aches are fading.

My energy is returning, too. I don't have to plan my weekends around naps and I don't come home from work too weary to do anything but take Misty for a short walk and then crash into bed. I actually have the ambition to do things after work now. Like work out. I feel like a blanket of weariness is slowly being lifted off of me.

My lungs took the longest to recover from this. Up until two days ago I still had the shortness of breath thing whenever I climbed a set of stairs. I could feel that my lungs just weren't right whenever I tried to exercise, no matter how gently. It's hard to explain, they just didn't feel right. I felt pressure and like the lungs were laboring far too hard for what I was doing, and doing so incorrectly. Like they were sliding against something in there. I'm glad I had the chest x-ray done to tell me that nothing was obviously wrong in there. No pneumonia, no cancer. And now, at last, that symptom is gone. That is a huge relief. I can work out again.

It's nice to know what was wrong with me, even though the solution is very difficult. I am to avoid all of these things for 3-6 months, then I can try to introduce them back on a very occasional basis and see if I can handle them. The key is to not do constant exposure. Someday, I can maybe have a dairy product one day (cheese!) and have a minor reaction, then if I don't have it again for 3 days the reaction will clear from my system and I can have it again. 4 days is apparently how long it takes these reactions to leave the body completely. So they recommend a rotation diet: Don't eat anything more than once every four days. Not even things that I'm not currently reacting to, because I may start reacting to them due to overexposure. Given that I am obviously prone to food sensitivities, this is good to know. I don't want to develop a problem with anything else.

So we are trying to do the food rotation thing. We have beef day, fish day, pork day, shellfish day. Different veggies and salad greens each day. Substituting a vegetarian meal or an uncommon meat like lamb or buffalo at any time is fine. We rotate the oils, using grapeseed, canola, coconut, safflower, peanut, or walnut oil instead of just olive all the time. I am eating an abundance of varied vegetables, not just broccoli, cauliflower, carrots all the time. We've switched from the mixed lettuce salad to one type each night -- romaine, spinach, mache, arugula, butterleaf, etc. Basta made a garlic/lemon dressing with grapeseed oil that I can use (once every 4 days) since all of the commercial ones have at least one ingredient on my banned list.

So yeah, there's a lot going on. Feeling better and having all of these symptoms fade away is worth the effort, though. I am committed to doing this strictly for at least 3 months, then maybe I will start to see what I can add back in on occasion without causing me too much trouble.

The first 5 days or so of this was really hard. I had headaches, aches, pains, weariness -- worse than the actual symptoms I was having before. I was warned that would happen as my body was working hard to clear everything out. After that phase was over I started to improve rapidly. As of this morning my blood pressure is 88/60. That's normal for me. Finally.

I've lost 10 pounds so far, too. I'm thrilled about that. At this rate I'll probably lose another 10 within a couple of months. Then I'll be right around my goal weight.

And I'm exercising again. I swam 1.2 miles in the ocean today and it felt fantastic. The heart and lungs felt fine, just fine. I was thrilled to be out there and having a good swim. Yesterday I ran/walked 3 miles and it felt great, too. The legs are still a little weak but I have high hopes my strength will return in full force very soon. I know I've lost some fitness through all of this so it's partly a matter of building the strength and fitness back up, too. Since I'm unable to consume sugar in any form my workouts are pretty well limited to about an hour, but I plan to make full use of that hour. I can stay very fit with an hour a day and I can work on speed.

I'm looking forward to a good bike ride tomorrow. And to having a bit more energy, a few less symptoms. I can only imagine how good I'll feel 3 months from now.