Crohn’s > Nutrition > CrossFit

Molly + the Kettlebell

Molly + the Kettlebell

It’s acceptable to recycle blog posts, right? Here’s a link to a little post I wrote for my CrossFit gym’s blog. In four short months, the community of TwinTown CrossFit  has become part of my extended Minneapolis family. It’s a place where I continually test my pre-conceived limits and abilities. A place where I’ve learned that trying my hardest in the gym translates to trying my hardest in life. A place where I continually have a good laugh before 7am — and coffee isn’t even involved. It’s also a place where good nutrition is part of the culture. I’m grateful for the inner and outer strength that TwinTown has helped me discover. And I’m grateful to have found a place that supports and encourages the nutrition I believe is essential for healing and healthy living.

And thanks for always having that camera on hand, Teddy. Sweaty pictures are so much fun.

Listen to This

radiolabIn a few short hours I’ll be driving over several rivers and through many woods to get to my parents’ house for Christmas. If you find yourself spending time in a plane, train, or automobile en route to your holiday destination, I’d recommend checking out the podcast Radiolab. It’s part science. Part philosophy. Part history. And 100% fun. I guarantee you’ll find yourself captivated by questions that never before crossed your mind.

If you have IBD or just a general interest in how the body works, download the “Guts” episode. You’ll learn about the inside-out discovery of stomach acid, be astounded by the three pounds of bacteria in each of us and how they help with more than digestion, and even hear a story about a man with Crohn’s that demonstrates the power of food beyond nutrition.

Here’s a short quote from the podcast to get you thinking. Fred Kaufman, author of A Short History of the American Stomach, remarks, “The stomach is a center of magical transformation. You take something outside of your body, you put it in your body, and it turns into you…. The human body is a torus. We’re donuts. We’ve got a hole going through the middle of us, all the way through us. So what seems to be inside us—what seems to be inside our stomach—actually is always outside us.”

Can’t stomach seasonal travel? Radiolab will be your drug.

Happy holidays + safe travels to all.

Going Grain-Free

GrainsYears ago I overheard someone making the point that humans are not physically advancing as fast as technology. A person in 2012 is very similar biologically to a person in the year 3; a computer today can fit in our hands, but a computer in the 1950s needed an entire room. That’s quite the progression in just 60 years for technology, and not nearly as fast of a progression over more than 2,000 years for humans. (If you’re a scientist or anthropologist or just know a lot about evolution, please bear with me. I’m speaking in broad strokes.)

Now substitute agriculture for computers. The first agricultural revolution—when farming supplemented or became more common than hunting and gathering—was more than 12,000 years ago. The second agricultural revolution—where farming methods and distribution became more efficient—took place during the 17th century (practically yesterday!). Farming methods, tools and machinery—not to mention our entire food system and advancements in food science—have drastically changed over these 12,000 years. But people? The biggest change I can see is that, in recent years, our eyes have progressively grown bigger than our stomachs.

This slow evolutionary progression helps explain why some people can’t tolerate wheat, grains, and beans, among other things. We became more efficient at producing these crops, became more creative with how to use them (e.g., high fructose corn syrup), and made more space for them at our dinner tables. But our bodies stayed relatively the same.

When I first tried a gluten-free diet, this idea made perfect sense to me. But I didn’t consider how it applies to grains other than wheat. Gluten free, not grain free, was (and still is) all the craze, and the space on my plate where I once parked pasta was now filled with rice. So when symptoms that I associate with eating gluten—namely bloating—returned earlier this year, I started to question all the great grains that had become part of my daily diet.

Researching grain-free diets led me time and again to numerous Paleo and Primal websites (see a list of my favorites below). Not familiar with these diets? Here’s a quick glance of what to eat and what to avoid:

Eat veggies. A lot of ’em.

Limit starchy veggies. One of the better ones to eat? Sweet potatoes.

Eat fruit. Especially berries.

Don’t be afraid of (good) fat. Coconut, avocado, raw nuts & seeds, olives, olive oil, egg yolks, fish (salmon, sardines), animal fats, butter & ghee.

Be pro protein. And by this I mean animal protein: beef, pork, poultry, goat, lamb, seafood. Organ meats, too. Quality counts here—if you can afford grass-fed meat and sustainably harvested seafood, buy it. It’s better for you, and for the environment.

• No refined sugar. I know. How did I even consider this?

No dairy. This one varies depending on the source. I regularly include full-fat yogurt in my diet, and occasionally indulge in full-fat cheeses (and, more rarely, full-fat milk). I am a Wisconsin girl, after all.

• No grains. That includes wheat, rice, quinoa, corn, oats, rye, barley… You get the idea.

No legumes. That includes beans, peas & peanuts. And peanut butter.

(If you’ve done some research about eating for IBD, you might see some similarities here to the Specific-Carbohydrate Diet.)

It’s not only about eating or not eating these foods; the amount that you eat is just as important. Here’s a rough recommendation for macronutrients based on calorie consumption that I try to follow:

Fat: 65%

Protein: 15%

Carbohydrates: 20%

Fewer carbs and a lot more fat that you’re eating? Yeah. That’s how it was for me, too—and I ate a pretty clean diet. Within weeks of being more conscious of my macronutrient intake, my skin was clearer and brighter; my appetite stabilized and I didn’t need to snack; my energy increased; and my sleep was even more sound. The best part? The tiny Crohn’s pains I sometimes had that I attribute to scar tissue completely disappeared.

This way of eating matches up with observations I’ve made about my reactions to food over the years—namely, I’ve noticed that oats and beans are difficult for me to digest, and that incorporating healthy fats and animal proteins helps me feel healthy and strong. Will it work for you? I can’t say. But I can recommend being open to trying it. A different diet may be the first step in your personal progression of eating for IBD.

As promised above, a list of Paleo resources that I’ve found helpful:

Balanced Bites: Great podcast & all-around Paleo resource.

Practical Paleo: Excellent book by one of the Balanced Bites podcasters that outlines Paleo eating for different conditions. Wonderful recipes & eating plans.

Well Fed: A great cookbook by the blogger at The Clothes Make the Girl. Very helpful tips for meal planning and varying nearly every recipe.

It Starts with Food: I can’t recommend this book enough. By the duo behind Whole9, it’s a perfect primer on the importance of clean eating. The way Dallas and Melissa present this information is incredibly informative and inspiring.

Mark’s Daily Apple: One of the Primal must-read blogs.

Nom Nom Paleo: Endless enticing recipe ideas. Makes me realize I should never, ever be bored with my food. Ever.

Elana’s Pantry: I’m sure you’re aware of my baking obsession. This site is an excellent resource for baked goods and savory meals alike. I can’t stop making the pancakes from her Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook.

• Paleo Non-Paleo: Great recipe and auto-immune disease resource.

Chris Kresser and Robb Wolf: Great all-around resources.

 

Redefining Normal

We got Mom to run a 5K! October 2012

We got Mom to run a 5K! October 2012

When you have Crohn’s, pain is often part of your everyday life. You learn how to compensate for your discomfort, often by unconsciously making subtle adjustments to your everyday movements. And then one day, your mom says to you, “Why do you walk on your tiptoes all the time?” (True story. Balancing on my tiptoes helped me walk more delicately, shielding my inflamed innards from the jarring pain of walking. Yes, walking. That’s how painful Crohn’s can be. Well, the fact that I’m short may have contributed to my tiptoe tendencies, too.)

Chronic pain often causes a person to create a new “normal.” This redefinition of normal is scary, because in doing so we choose to ignore the messages that our body is sending us. And trust me, if you choose not to listen to the message, your body will surely find another way to deliver it.

But this post isn’t about pain. It’s about being free from pain. After I had my second surgery nearly three years ago, I could finally eat the way that I believed would heal my body. Eventually this meant that I could move my body the way I wanted, too. I started with restorative yoga. Soon I had enough strength to walk around the Minneapolis lakes, the crisp winter air cleansing after so many months of feeling trapped in my own body. Four months after surgery I was taking regular classes at CorePower Yoga, and that autumn I ran my first 5K. “So THIS is how people usually feel every day” was a thought that regularly crossed my mind.

I was astounded by my body. And I didn’t realize that being free of physical pain would also free my mind. No longer was I focused on avoiding pain, anticipating pain, pretending I wasn’t in pain. When I was enrolled in Integrative Nutrition, I came across the quote, “When the body is light, the spirit is free.” I get it now. My body is finally light. And I’m finally free to pursue my health in every way.

In September I started a yoga study program at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis. Unrolling my mat at class every Monday, I have the opportunity to get out of my head and into my body, a space that I avoided for so many years. I may not have much of a handstand practice (yet), but I’m relearning how my body can move. And I’m not afraid of my body any more, either. Yoga has provided me with an acute awareness of my body and all its potential, all its perfect order and all its unique imperfections. It’s also helping me to develop a regular meditation practice, stillness I’ve craved for years but could never quite find.

The yang to my yoga yin? Classes at TwinTown CrossFit. Which I still can’t believe I’m doing. In so many ways CrossFit incorporates the most natural of movements — think about kids swinging from monkey bars and squatting to play in the sandbox — yet I have never been more physically challenged. It’s humbling to hardly be able to complete an assisted pull-up when I feel so incredibly strong in other areas of my life. I enrolled to remind myself of my physical potential. When I think I can’t complete another rep, I remember weighing 85 pounds with clothes on. Sheer gratitude for my healthy body helps me find strength.

Having Crohn’s has given me an awareness of and gratitude for my body. When I was little, I remember being curled up on the couch and envisioning a For Sale sign sprouting in my stomach. I would’ve done anything to feel healthy. But now? I would never foreclose on Crohn’s. It’s let me own my life.

Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin Bread (Gluten free & Dairy free)

Pumpkin Bread (Gluten free & Dairy free)

Autumn never ceases to take me by surprise, no matter how much I look forward to it. One day it’s 90 degrees and a tank top is too much clothing; the next I find myself leaving the house and wishing I’d grabbed a scarf. Suddenly I’m reaching for my comforter at night and finding there are more closed windows than open ones in my apartment. In a few short weeks the trees will be bare and I’ll be considering a coat to wear with my scarf in the morning.

The subtleties of a new season remind me to pause and observe the changes constantly taking place around me, seasonal and otherwise. They remind me to truly be present and enjoy this moment. They make it a little easier to let go, too, knowing that good things always return—and in that return, they’re often even better than how I remember them.

Every year, homemade pumpkin bread is one of those sweet returns. Making it in May just wouldn’t be right. So come the first chilly Saturday morning of the fall—which happened to be last weekend—I look forward to filling my apartment with the spicy-sweet scent of this baking bread. No store-bought candle can recreate the comforting smell, and no store-bought treat can compete with its rich flavor. Apparently it’s feline friendly, too—my friend Elyse’s cat, Puck, quite enjoyed it.

Take a moment to enjoy the swirling leaves in the street, the chatting kids at a bus stop, the brighter light of a September moon. And take a moment to bake this bread. I guarantee that no other treat will capture this tasty time of year as this bread can. I won’t judge if you eat the whole loaf yourself. You’d be getting a great dose of carotenoids and iron from the pumpkin. Like I said—I can justify any sweet.

 

Pumpkin Bread (Gluten free & Dairy free)

Based on the recipe from The Joy of Cooking

In a medium bowl, mix together:

1 cup brown rice flour

½ cup almond flour

1 t baking soda

1 t baking powder

1 t salt

1 ½ t cinnamon

1 t ginger

½ t nutmeg

¼ t cloves

In a liquid measuring cup, mix together:

1/3 c almond milk (any kind of milk or milk substitute will do)

1 t vanilla

In a large bowl, mix together:

6 T coconut oil, melted and cooled

¾ cup sugar (I like to use Florida Crystals)

2 T molasses

2 eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree

Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture in thirds, alternating with the almond milk mixture and starting and ending with the flour mixture.

Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 for about 50 minutes.

Note: For a little extra flair, I like to top the bread with pepitas that I’ve toasted on the stovetop in coconut oil and salt. Sprinkle them atop the batter before putting it in the oven.

 

Weightlessness in Water

Lake Superior, Larsmont, Minnesota

Lake Superior, Larsmont, Minnesota

I’ve always been drawn to water. Lakes Monona and Mendota provided a pristine blue backdrop to my college years. New York and Boston gave me a taste of coastal culture. And now I’m in Minnesota, surrounded by 10,000 lakes. Seeing the sun rise over Lake Harriet is more energizing than a cup of coffee.

I’ve always loved swimming, too. I love the sensation of plunging into a cold lake or pool. Love floating and watching clouds dance over the tree line. Love how soundly I sleep after a night spent in the water.

But what I love most about swimming is how weightless I feel in water.

Anyone who’s dealt with digestive discomfort is probably familiar with the weight that can plague you, even when you’re losing weight. This kind of weight extends beyond the physical. It’s the emotional exhaustion. The social awkwardness. The body image frustrations. It’s an all-encompassing sort of stress that weighs on you physically, mentally, emotionally. It can be difficult to find a physical position or even a mental space where you can relax.

For me, water is that place. Swimming is that space. It’s where my body can stretch out, relax and relish near-total weightlessness, no matter how bloated my stomach may feel or how dampened my spirit may be.

A few years ago my Crohn’s symptoms were scarily severe, and my then-husband and I were starting to talk divorce. At the time I was living in Boston and I was lucky to escape to Provincetown for the weekend. Despite the sun-faded chalkboard informing me that the Atlantic was a chilly 62 degrees, I spent hours one afternoon in the ocean, letting the gentle waves lull me along the shoreline. The immensity of the ocean and the buoyancy I felt in the water hypnotized me. When I finally swam to the sand, I tasted the salt on my lips, sensed the fresh freckles on my nose, heard the sea grass blowing in the wind. And I could still feel—can still feel to this day—the weightless reassurance of the water.

I’ve now been at my current job for three months, and despite my love for swimming today was the first day that I strolled across the parking lot and swam laps during my lunch hour. Kids threw diving toys into the water and squealed as they popped out of the slide, prompting me to question more than once if it was indeed still a work day. (It was.) Floating on my back, I watched as dark and darker clouds slowly overtook the sun. My ears were just below the water line, muffling all the noise just enough to let me savor the weightlessness for one more moment.

Another way to feel weightless? Follow the kids and go down the slide. You tap into your inner eight-year-old as well as your inner fish.

A Twist on Digestion

This past weekend I attended a great workshop at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis on twisting for spinal and digestive therapy. It was a fantastic two hours that, to quote the instructor, “squeezed and soaked” my innards and left me feeling grounded and happy.

Whether you practice yoga or not, twists are simple movements that you can make to help ease digestive discomfort. And the benefits go beyond the digestive tract, too. On the musculoskeletal level, twists can improve posture (It’s true—I measured a whole 1/2 inch taller at the doctor this year. My inner fourteen-year-old is thrilled.) and spinal flexibility. On a visceral level, old blood is squeezed out of organs and fresh blood is encouraged to flow in, which is hugely important for repairing tissue. And on an emotional level, twisting brings your awareness to your center, encouraging stability and healing in your body’s core.

Our final pose in class was what is commonly known as legs up the wall. Technically it’s an inversion and not a twist, but because of its tremendous digestive benefits I wanted to share it here. The instructor commented that this pose can help to “unclog the drain.” Because your body is inverted, gravity is now pulling from your toes to your nose, reversing the pressure on your digestive system. Constipated? Then this is a move that could help promote movement. I use a blanket, pillow or bolster to prop my bum and help relax my hips and lower back. Legs up the wall is also great for insomnia; I like to rest in it for ten minutes before I go to bed to unwind from the day.

On Becoming a Goalkeeper

Let's go for a ride.At any given time I have at least a dozen tabs open in my browser: articles to read, products to research, recipes to try. Last week I must have struck an information gold mine because about 10 tabs have overflowed into this week. (I’m afraid of missing an important piece of information or an interesting article. It’s a problem.) I took a moment this morning to read one of those tabs. It was an article on setting goals, and the main idea challenges a common piece of advice. To paraphrase, it suggests that we set goals—and then let them fade into the distance. The argument is that when we focus too much on our goals, they end up seeming daunting and unattainable, and we’re less likely to achieve them. When we’re too focused on the end result, we also miss out on the enjoyment to be had in the small steps that help us reach our goals. (Sounds an awful lot like “It’s about the journey, not the destination,” right?)

This is exactly what I’ve experienced with my blog. In focusing on the kind of information-rich content I want to include here—and consequently becoming a bit intimidated—I’ve missed out on the most crucial part of blogging: writing.

But no longer. I’m recommitting to Nutrition Intuition. And it’s going to be awesome. In an effort to post and write more regularly, I’ll probably include more short-and-sweet insights into my personal eating habits, what I’m cooking, what I’m reading, where I’ve been. Rest assured that the digestion connection will always be there—I don’t intend to make this a daily diary.

I’m excited to just write and see where the writing takes me.

This article also reminds me of our quest for digestive health. For many of us, our ultimate goal is a pain-free life and vibrant health. But when you’re on a liquid diet and can hardly lift the remote, it’s damn near impossible to feel like that end goal is possible. Keep that healthy goal in mind, but focus on the little steps you can take toward it every day. If you’re recovering from surgery, maybe it’s walking around the block to regain your strength. If you’re coming off a flare-up, maybe it’s strictly following a simple diet until the bloating and pain subside.

These small steps help us learn more about ourselves. Along the way your body may tell you in no uncertain terms that it is not on good terms with gluten. And then your goals may change—now you’re focused on completely cutting gluten from your diet. It’s still linked to your larger goal of vibrant health, but now you’re taking a slight detour. And that’s the beauty in enjoying the journey. We learn more. We allow ourselves to grow and to change. Meeting our goals is suddenly much simpler because we’re pursuing them with genuine interest and dedication.

So hop in the car with me. Let’s roll down the windows and turn up the music. I have an idea of where I’d like to go, but I’m not sure how I’m going to get there. Detours are welcome. Let’s enjoy the ride.

Basic Gluten-Free Banana Bread

Basic Gluten-Free Banana BreadThere’s roughly a 2.5-hour window in the life of a banana where I enjoy eating it. There has to be just the slightest hint of green to it — more the suggestion of green than any actual green — and absolutely no black spots. The second I can smell a banana? It’s good for only one thing: banana bread.

Banana bread was my gateway drug to baking. It’s the first thing my mom let me bake in the kitchen without her assistance. Of course, that meant washing the dishes and putting everything back without her assistance, too. I think I was eleven or twelve. I faithfully followed my grandma’s recipe, written on a years-old sheet of paper from a drug company, dutifully fished out the shells I’m sure ended up in the batter and licked the bowl squeaky clean.

This is my gluten-free take on my grandma’s delicious recipe. I tweaked it a bit, of course — cut the sugar in half, added flax seeds for a little extra fiber. And since I’m always looking for a way to pass off baked goods as healthy goods, let’s remember that bananas are high in vitamin B6 and potassium. B vitamins are helpful if you’re dealing with anemia, and potassium helps keep all your muscles and nerves — both in your digestive system and throughout your body — functioning at their best.

Stick with me — I can justify just about anything when it comes to sweets.

Basic Gluten-Free Banana Bread

What I love about this recipe is that it’s a perfect base for getting creative with banana baking. Add berries, nuts, peanut butter, chocolate, cinnamon…the ingredients are really only limited by what your tum can tolerate.

1 1/2 gluten-free flour (I used a mix of brown rice flour, potato starch & tapioca flour)

1 t baking soda

1 t baking powder

1 t salt

1 T ground flax seeds (omit if this is too much fiber for you)

3 very ripe bananas

1/2 c sugar

1 egg

1/3 c coconut oil, melted & cooled

1 T vanilla (I used my homemade bourbon vanilla)

Measure the gluten-free flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and flax seeds into a bowl and whisk to mix. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas, then add the remaining ingredients to the bananas and mix well. Pour the flour mixture into the banana mixture and stir until just combined. Pour into bread pan* and bake at 350 for about 45-50 minutes.

*The above photo is this recipe poured into a jumbo muffin tin. Makes 5-6 muffins that are most definitely more than one delicious serving each.

“Watermelon” Juice

"Watermelon" JuiceIt’s only April 3, yet we’ve seen several 80+ degree days here in Minneapolis. Between the sunlight and lighter clothing, my body is ready for a change in food, too. So about two weeks ago I pulled out my juicer from the shelf where it’s been hibernating all winter and started incorporating green juices into my daily routine again.

Today I made one of my favorites, using red kale as the main green. It didn’t look too appealing straight from the juicer — it was quite a muddy color — but when I got out of the shower, the juice had settled and revealed these brilliant colors. It tastes nothing like watermelon, but the color is enough to get me excited for what will hopefully be a long and lovely summer here in the Midwest.

“Watermelon” Juice

1 apple (green for tart, red for sweet)

2 stalks celery

4-5 leaves red kale

1/4 bunch parsley

1/2 lemon, peel removed but white pith in tact

1/2 cucumber

Run all ingredients through juicer. Give it about 5-10 minutes for the murkiness to subside and the brilliant color to emerge.

Fresh Grapefruit Juice

Grapefruit JuiceWhat better way to welcome a promising new year than with a delicious—and beautiful—glass of fresh grapefruit juice? It’s the season of citrus, which is good news for people with Crohn’s.

• The vitamin C found in these fruits helps keep our immune system strong—something especially important this time of year.

• Have you recently had surgery? Vitamin C is essential for the growth and repair of all body tissues, and can assist with wound healing.

• Do you take prednisone? You may want to consider adding more vitamin C to your diet—steroids can lower your vitamin C levels.

• If you struggle with anemia as well as Crohn’s, try taking a gentle iron supplement with a glass of fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice—iron absorption is enhanced when paired with vitamin C.

Other surprising sources of vitamin C:

• bell peppers

• parsley

• squash

• watermelon

• kiwi

Fire up your juicer tomorrow morning and give this juice a try. While we normally don’t love eating the white pith that covers citrus slices, keep it on for juicing—it contains anti-cancer bioflavonoids that help reduce fluid retention and give your skin a beautiful boost. I wish I had thought to add this juice to my champagne last night for a midnight mimosa!

Fresh Grapefruit Juice

2 grapefruit, rind cut away but pith intact (I prefer pink or red grapefruit, nice and cold from the fridge)

Cut grapefruit to fit into your juicer. Makes one generous serving.

Crohn’s & Christmas

Candy Kiss Cookies

‘Tis the time of year when a plate of cookies sits on every tabletop, a bowl of delicious dip thick with sour cream awaits at every party and a cocktail for toasting complements every meal. There’s no escaping it. I may as well have a dollop of frosting on my head and a little skewer of cocktail olives in my hand.

Many of these tasty bites are seasonal treats that we anxiously await for months. In an effort to turn that sweet anticipation into even sweeter enjoyment, here are a few thoughts for staying healthy during holiday celebrations:

• Eat small meals. Eating too much of anything in one sitting can end up being quite painful, even if it’s a food that usually sits well with you. Don’t overwhelm your intestines—they’ve got a lot of work to do, and while some of us work best under pressure, intestines don’t fall into this category.

• Drink water. Whether you’re piling your plate with savory and sweet treats or sipping seasonal cocktails, interspersing the occasional glass of water will help you stay balanced and hydrated. It’ll also keep you feeling full, which could prevent overindulging—and a late-night tummy ache. Because only Santa should be up all night on Christmas Eve.

• Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol irritates the lining of the intestine—and people with Crohn’s don’t need any more help there. Combining a few cocktails with Aunt Mabel’s famous cheesy potatoes and a slice of turtle cheesecake could result in a total knockout to your digestive tract.

• Indulge mindfully. When hopping from party to party, it’s kind of required that you sample each host’s famous Christmas cookie, right? Let yourself enjoy the flavors of the season—after all, eggnog is hard to come by in July. Just keep it in check, because being sick with Crohn’s in January is like paying off your Christmas credit card bills until June.

• Listen to your body. Does your body give you clues that a Crohn’s flareup may be on its way? Do you lose your appetite, get the chills, come down with a migraine? Give these little hints extra credence this time of year. If you feel like you may be experiencing a holiday hangover, take care of yourself. Go to bed early, drink lots of water, eat only when you’re hungry, and focus on foods like pureed soup or roasted and pureed root vegetables that will soothe your digestive system and provide nutrition.

I was thrilled on Christmas Eve when my attempt at a gluten-free version of my favorite Christmas cookie was successful. This recipe isn’t necessarily anything new, but know that the gluten-free version may be even more delicious than the wheat-y original—these received praise from wheat eaters as being softer and having more peanut butter flavor. Here’s wishing you all a very happy and healthy holiday!

Candy Kiss Cookies

3/4 c peanut butter

1/2 c butter

1/2 c brown sugar

1 egg

1 t vanilla

1 3/4 c gluten-free flour

1 t baking soda

1/2 t salt

white sugar for rolling cookies

Hershey’s Kisses

Preheat oven to 350. Cream peanut butter, butter and brown sugar; stir in egg and vanilla. Add flour, baking soda and salt. Roll dough into 1″ balls and roll in sugar. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Remove from oven, press a Hershey’s Kiss onto each cookie firmly so it cracks around the edge. Bake for 2-3 minutes more.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Good ‘n’ Gluten Free

homemade chocolate chip cookies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mmmmm. Homemade chocolate chip cookies. (Yup—they received a little kiss of sea salt before going in the oven.)

Believe me when I say that I never took a bite of this batch of cookies. Didn’t even sample the dough. Also believe me when I say it was really, really tough—oh! the scent of cookies in the oven. It was even more difficult to resist these.

homemade pop tarts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah. Homemade pop-tarts. Filled with homemade raspberry jam. After an afternoon assembling these little guys, I should’ve rewarded myself with a taste. But I didn’t. (They were SO much fun to make.)

These two batches of baked goods were how I used up the last of my wheat flour. Yup—I’m gluten free.

I’ve experimented with a gluten-free diet off and on for more than four years. I visited a naturopath in hopes of controlling my Crohn’s symptoms, and she suggested eliminating gluten and dairy. I scrupulously eliminated these two allergens for two months, and within one week I was feeling fabulous. No bloating, no pain. Could controlling my Crohn’s have as much to do with putting the right food inside my body as the right medication?

Gluten-free diets are incredibly trendy right now—check out this recent article from the New York Times, and this quick read from The Atlantic. Sometimes, when I ask for gluten-free options at a restaurant, I feel high maintenance. I sense the server’s internal eye roll. People who don’t know me well may think I’m unnecessarily scared to eat a little wheat.

But more often than not, I find that avoiding wheat isn’t a big deal. The rise in popularity of a gluten-free lifestyle has led to more understanding, more acceptance and more support. And rightfully so—for many people, a decision to avoid wheat is a decision to take control of their health. I know how much better I feel when I avoid gluten.

That’s not to say I don’t cave every once in a while. I did enjoy a delicious slice of strawberry wedding cake last weekend. But just one. In the past, I may have indulged in two (and possibly even three) slices. (I really, really love baked goods.) And that’s probably one of the biggest personal lessons I’ve learned from skipping wheat—how much junk I used to consume. Not to say that everything that contains gluten is junk food—far from it, in fact. But I definitely overate breads, pastas and baked goods at the expense of healthier options like veggies. Eliminating gluten has been, for me, a great way to focus on eating a variety of whole grains and sneak in more fruits and vegetables. And I know it’s contributed to keeping a Crohn’s flareup at bay.

I’ll write more about gluten-free specifics in future posts, share how I maintain a gluten-free diet while eating out and traveling, let you know if I successfully convert my favorite Christmas cookie recipes to delicious gluten-free goodies. I promise that, especially today, going gluten free is not as difficult as it seems. Compared to the pain of a Crohn’s flareup? It’s as easy as (gluten-free) pie.

Crohn’s & Colitis Awareness Week

Crohn's & Colitis Awareness Week, Dec. 1-7

I was boarding a flight to Ft. Lauderdale last Thursday when I (almost literally) ran into my gastroenterologist at the gate. I don’t think he recognized me at first—even without the Florida sun my cheeks have oh-so-much more color than they did at my last appointment. He was on his way to Hollywood, Florida, for the Advances in Inflammatory Bowel Disease conference. About 10 minutes later I checked my email and saw that the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) sent an email announcing the first-ever Crohn’s & Colitis Awareness Week, December 1-7.

The intention of this week is to raise awareness about and encourage more research for IBD. The number of people diagnosed is growing each year, making it more important than ever to find a cure and—in the meantime—discover more ways for people to comfortably live with the diseases.

Ways you can raise awareness:

• Write to your house representative and ask them to join the Crohn’s & Colitis Caucus.

• Like the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

A few facts about IBD:

• IBD affects 1 in 200 people in the U.S.—about 1.4 million people.

• Diagnosis is often delayed for 1-3 years, and the average patient is misdiagnosed twice.

• About 20% of people with IBD have a blood relative who also has it.

• According to a 1990 study, the total estimated annual cost of IBD is $1.8-$2.6 billion between medical costs and lost labor productivity. (Imagine how much this number has grown almost 22 years later.)

It’s also important to recognize the friends, family members and other caretakers who care for and support those of us living with IBD. You’ve chauffeured me to and from tests, delivered fun new pajamas to the hospital, taken time off work to help me heal post-surgery, accommodated my ever-changing eating habits… Without the unconditional love and understanding of so many wonderful people, I wouldn’t be feeling so healthy today. Thank you.

And a special shout-out to my cousin Seth, who ran the CCFA marathon in Las Vegas last weekend! Not only did he raise more than $3,000 for IBD research, but he also qualified for the Boston marathon. Thank you, Seth, for using your own talents and interests for such a worthy and selfless cause.

Go-to Green Juice

Crohn’s patients are often told to take it easy when it comes to fiber. We’re used to skipping the salad, to passing the popcorn, to going with no bagel when “everything” is the only option. Seeds, nuts, leafy greens, raw fruits and vegetables—they can all make our guts gurgle (or worse), yet have so many essential nutrients. Nutrients that we need to get back to better.

Juicing carried me through an especially tough time with Crohn’s. I started nearly every day with a glass of green juice for months, and I know it was probably the most important factor in preparing for and healing after my second surgery in 2010. This particular recipe is my go-to green juice. If you’ve never tried a green juice before, this is a great gateway green. Do you remember the old Hi-C flavor Ecto Cooler? Well, this is it, only without the added sugar and mystery ingredients. Energizing iron, anti-inflammatory bromelain, bone-building vitamin K and immune-strengthening vitamin C—you’d be hard pressed to find a better way to start your day.

Go-to Green Juice

1 granny smith apple

3-4 leaves kale

1/4 bunch parsley

2 stalks celery

1/4 pineapple

1/2 cucumber

Rinse all vegetables and cut as needed to fit into your juicer. Juice away, give it a stir and enjoy.

Note: Flavor (and possibly nutrients) is enhanced when poured into a sassy glass.