9 May 2016
My definition of health
I now believe that health should be defined as the ability of the body to do any physical or mental task your mind conceives without first worrying if you body can keep up.
Backstory – The first time I noticed health
Following my last post I realized that stepping back from cooking for a while would give me time to become an outsider again and rediscover food. Before I had any interest in cooking, I had spent a good amount of time reading about nutrition with one main question. What constitutes a good diet for longevity and health? The first time I talked about this openly was in 2013 at TEDxDoha while in college. My thoughts were quite primitive then but that period was when I discovered cooking. At that point I realized there was a difference between eating highly processed foods and foods that were cooked quickly and served almost immediately. It was through that process I lost weight for the first time.
The other times I was forced to contemplate diet were in 2014 and 2016. In these years I was at an internship at Dalloyau and working at Alinea respectively. The reason simply was staff meal (The meal that a restaurant provides during the work day). I noticed that I lost weight considerably when my diet revolved mainly around staff meal. I would usually load my plate up with a green salad and a few other items that were sometimes meat based. During these periods I noticed that I had much more energy, I slept better and I lost fat mainly around my thighs and abdomen. It was at these moments I started to believe that Pollan could have been right when he said “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”.
My health challenges
One part of my story I have never really told is that I have had a health challenge that spurred my interest in cooking and general health. In 2010 I noticed a dark spot on my left ankle. It was relatively harmless and I thought it was just a bruise because at the time I engaged in a lot of physical activities. In 2012 the size of the area increased a bit and it started to itch occasionally. I went to a few doctors and I was told that it was a bruise and it needed a topical ointment which did not work. When 2013 came along the dark area ripped open one day and turned into a small wound that later got infected. At the time I did not know what it was and I was prescribed antibiotic ointments to speed the healing process. It was not until later that year at a sketchy doctors office I saw reluctantly in Lagos, Nigeria I was told that it was a venous ulcer. Now it had a name.
Since then I have had a surgery on my left leg to remove a saphenous vein and preventative surgery on my right leg as an area started to darken as well. With a combination of dressings and compression stockings the ulcer has been slowly but surely healing but the darkness has increased in size. Here is an illustration of a venous ulcer similar to mine. If you are curious, you can do an image search with the words venous ulcer ankle but I warn you now that the results are quite unpleasant.
Looking back, from around 2010 to now, I have experienced a slow but steady decline in my overall health. The reason I am worried about it now is that I turn 24 this year and, I have become extremely limited with the things I can do. The list has been slowly getting shorter but I didn’t notice till the other day. After standing for 3 hours one day last week I felt exhausted and my leg felt like fire the next day. Keep in mind that 3 months ago I was standing for 13 hours at a time with almost no problem. It was in that moment I decided I needed to stop everything and spend some time on taking care of myself. The ideas and projects will hopefully still be there when I return. Here is a list of a few things I have noticed with my health
- Fatigue – I am tired most of the time. When I was younger this was never a problem but now I have noticed that I wake up tired even after 8 hours of sleep.
- Sleep problems – Dreams have become more and more morbid, on top of that it has been taking me longer and longer to fall asleep and I wake up during the night at the drop of a pin.
- Depression – I have been having more frequent and darker bouts of depression that can be set off by the most mundane activities.
- Addiction- I have been more frequent food addictions that recur sporadically. I no longer have control over my appetite or my ability to eat. Food just ends up in me.
- Mental fog – I used to be able to take apart problems and solve them systematically. Now I am in a constant state of annoyance about everything. It is like my mind is working against me.
- Leg pain – apart from the ulcer, my left leg gives me pain most times. Standing, walking and sitting on uncomfortable chairs only make it worse. Occasionally my leg would go numb for no reason at all. I have also noticed inflammation within my left knee, calf and ankle.
I believe that nature has all the answers to our problems. We just have to be willing to observe it and apply the lessons to our lives. I have been fascinated recently with animals and more specifically mammals in the wild. How do they take care of themselves? How do they know how to eat, excrete, reproduce and maintain their health. As far as we know there is no obesity or heart disease epidemic in the wild mammal population but there is within domesticated mammals and human beings. It was while diving deeper into this topic and chronic pain management I stumbled upon two youtube videos that stuck out. One is by Hank Green the maker of the successful crash course series and another by Loren Lockman of Tanglewood wellness center. These made me consider making a drastic life change to support the reality of my situation.
The hardest part of this whole health journey would have to be dealing with my ego. Realizing that the person you really are does not align with the stories you have told yourself throughout your life is a painful process. You have to consciously deal with the death of the person you have come to know and build yourself back up systematically. Now that I have done it a few times I realize that it is a daunting process and I truly understand why most people do not attempt it. You must get naked as Berne Brown puts it with no guarantee that anything will work out. But by pushing through you learn a thing of two.
Last week I made the decision that I was going to do a water only fast for 40 days and after that start a vegan diet. As I now use food as my medium of engaging with the world, it goes against everything I know but if this is what my health requires I am all in. Who knows this may be the start of something new or the collapse of everything I know. At this point I have nothing to loose really and I am open to what happens at the end.
I am typing this on Day 1 of the fast because soon I know I will be quite weak and possibly unable to write this easily. But I will try my best to discuss my feelings on day 10, 20, 30 and 40 as well as write about any changes I experience while on this journey.