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Healing My Gut: A Tale of Two Pooches

Healing My Gut Blog Photo

Rocky in front of a mural at Art House Oaxaca, featuring a close up of our other pup, Macchiato.

This story leads and closes with cute dog photos because I’m not about to show you a picture of the pooch I’m about to talk with you overshare about today: my belly pooch.

What Anne Lamott calls “the menopausal fanny pack“.

This is Rock, a few days after rescue - face still cut and swollen.

Rocky’s face, still cut and swollen a few days after rescue.

Meet Rocky, our new pooch, in a photo taken a few days after his rescue, still banged up and one eye still swollen shut. I’ll tell you his story in a sec.

Doesn’t he kind of look like Henry Miller in this photo?

In case you’re wondering what the segue is between my muffin top and creativity + travel + courage…

It’s this:

I go through phases where I’m feeling and looking good inside and out.

And then there are times when…not so much.

My creative output is mapped directly to how well I feel.

It’s a simple as that.

I’ve learned how to even out the roller coaster ups, downs, and spins of feeling good/not feeling good.

But before that, I mostly struggled with keeping my head above water, emotionally, while by body turned into something unrecognizable: puffy, painful, and exhausted.

No matter how much I ate well or exercised, things that were supposed to help the mind with depression and the body with weight gain just didn’t work for me with any consistency.

As I wrote about in My (Low) Energy Experiment, I thought it might be hormonal shifts that brought on all the weight gain and such.

But all of my blood work turns out normal. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on all sorts of doctors, supplements, and endless self-improvement programs trying to simply feel better.

I tried almost a decade trying to get a diagnosis and treatment, and found nothing that helped me.

I know that a lot of you unfortunately struggle with low energy, fatigue, fibromyalgia, joint pain, depression and anxiety, and chronic belly bloat. And that you, too, have tried so many things to feel better.

This is a personal story that I feel vulnerable about publishing and have only shared with close friends.

I hope there is something in here that gives you some new ideas, hope, and perhaps the fortitude to try something similar.

Here’s What Helped Me

Out of pure desperation, during a 10-day migraine, (a regular thing since my teen years) and after a bad breakup, I put myself on a 21-day anti-inflammatory diet and cleanse.

Earlier that Spring, I had Dengue Fever and was on antibiotics and meds for months, and still didn’t feel like myself.

My 45th birthday loomed in a few weeks, and I wanted to see what might happen if I tried “going anti-inflammatory”.

What happened during the cleanse was surprising.

Anti-Inflammatory Eating: What Happened

My migraines went away, and never really came back.

I rarely ever even get a headache anymore. Astounding. The exception is if I eat something that’s a trigger (food preservatives, and processed soy – usually hidden ingredients.

Did you know that restaurant salad bars are loaded with preservatives? You can’t taste them, but they are sprinkled on everything to make it look ever-fresh. Ew!

I discovered I’m highly sensitive to food preservatives, and these bring on a migraine like no body’s business. The salad bars at natural foods places and grocery stores, like Whole Foods don’t usually add evil preservatives – I can eat there without issue.

Fifteen pounds disappeared without effort, in the first 10 days.

The body retains water when it’s inflamed. So one of the immediate effects of eating anti-inflammatory foods is that the body calms down, and lets go of the water. (This is my simplistic explanation. I’m not a doctor.)

Those were the same fifteen pounds that crept on during business school. Snacking while reading was a big culprit, with about 2000 pages or more to read per month.

In the six years since business school and until the cleanse, I tried every diet out there, including South Beach, (South Bitch is more like it), and a nutritional cleanse for a month with a naturapath. I also worked out hard a gym three days a week with a trainer, did yoga, and was an active hiker and mountain biker.

I never lost an ounce, and diet-du-jour made me feel like crap, physically and emotionally, most of the time.

The weight I lost on the anti-inflammatory cleanse has stayed OFF permanently since I did it back in 2010.

Now, if there is bloating, weight gain, too much rich food, or I’m feeling off, I just go back to the anti-inflammatory diet strictly for a few days, and it’s like a reset.

I purposely didn’t start any kind of exercise regime while on the cleanse, so that I could see what the results were from just changing my diet. So the weight loss wasn’t due to crazy aerobics or anything.

The chronic pain and clicking in my knees went away. No more joint pain.

My morning wake up was easy and energized. At about week two, I started waking up at or before dawn, raring to go on my creative practice and projects.

No more grogginess. No more cravings for caffeine, sugar and simple carbs. My favorite breakfast before the cleanse was a full size French press of coffee, followed by an everything bagel.

I used to think I just wasn’t a morning person, because I never woke up with energy.

Having boundless, sustained energy is my favorite “side-effect” of eating clean.

And the embarrassing belly pooch, which made me look like I was seven months pregnant for a decade—deflated.

Random strangers no longer asked, “Oh! When is your baby due!”.

Dressing to hide my belly non-bump was no longer a thing.

Sparing you the gory details, other systems were a go, too, after a lifetime of sluggish digestion.

What a Smart Pooch

What I’ve learned from all of this, is that the belly is wise.

A bloated, distended belly means that something is out of balance. The belly is trying to tell us something.

Check yourself, before you wreck yourself,” is the phrase that comes to mind.

Back on the Wagon

And that’s why, right now, I’m back on the anti-inflammatory eating cleanse for three weeks.

My body desperately needs a reset now that Alex’s cafe has been open for a year.

Because…Chocolate, Cheese and Dough

While Alex makes beautiful, clean eating salads and entrees… chocolate cake is his specialty. A daily piece became ritual. It’s that good.

Then we added pain au chocolate to the menu. A warm, buttery croissant, oozing with Oaxacan chocolate. Another ritual.

We’ve both been working lots of long hours, and started eating pizza for dinner (I know that sounds crazy when we have a cafe) a few nights a week. Usually at 9 or 10 pm!

We walk the dogs past a pizza joint that has an amazing rosemary potato concoction. So we’d grab slices and eat in the park while they ran around.

Not anti-inflammatory, plant-based, or gluten free!

Not only did the belly pooch poof up, like so much dough rising, but I was convinced that the laundry service was shrinking my pants. Um. No. The bathroom scale doesn’t lie.

Plus, the fatigue, joint pain (with a vengeance) and depression-like malaise came creeping back.

I was no longer bounding out of bed, and running out of steam way to early in the day. Tired all the time!

Time to listen to the pooch!

This post is already long, so I’ll just mention that besides inflammation, I also discovered that gut bacteria out of balance cause bloating.

The pregnancy-like bloat isn’t just uncomfortable and embarrassing, it leads to a whole bunch of other health issues, including depression and anxiety (really!), which I might bravely discuss if you all care to hear my story with that.

Turns out my belly bulge wasn’t, as more than one doctor told me, “Just aging. It happens to everyone in their 40’s. It’s normal.”

This time during the cleanse, I’ve had so many more cravings for sugar and dough. It’s been tough.

My mantra is: One bite at a time.

But I’m not doing it perfectly. I’m doing the best I can with it. Aiming for 100 % compliance but being OK with 90%.

I’m going to be at a fancy beach resort soon, and want to stave off whatever might be waiting for me during a week of all-inclusive food and drink.

It will be nice get out from under my belly-disguising Muumuu and into a bathing suit so I can swim in the ocean.

Did you know Muumuu has four u’s, and that WordPress spell-checker knows this?

Rocky - how he looks after a month of healing.

As for Rocky, (the more adorable pooch in this post) we rescued him off the street, near death and bleeding from earlobe to tail, after he was attacked by a gang of other street dogs.

When he got out of the hospital, we agreed to foster him for a few days, until the rescue agency could find him a home.

That first day, his eyes all puffy and cuts all over his face, but standing tall, I said to Alex, “He’s just like Rocky Balboa.

He’s a fighter.

And when I said the word Rocky, his ears perked up (the dogs, not Alex’s) and he came over for a pet.

Rocky! Is that your name?”, we asked. He seemed smile, and from then on, came trotting over when we called him Rocky.

Days of fostering Rocky became a week, and then he was ours. It’s like he’s belonged with us along.

It’s taken over a month for his wounds to close up fully and heal.

Even longer before he could wag his tail. It was nearly bitten off at the base, and we feared it was fractured, might fall off or need to be amputated if it didn’t heal.

Now Rocky can wag, and his tail is even getting a little lift to it. A happy dog signal.

He’s still got a bit of a limp, but he’s running around playing with Bella and Machhiato.

Caught this photo of him relaxing in front of one of the murals painted on the walls here at Art House Oaxaca.

Rocky in front of mural at Art House Oaxaca

How about you?

What have you got on anti-inflammatory eating, diets and cleanses?

What about your relationship to how you’re feeling (physically, mentally, emotionally) and your creativity?

I’d love to hear your story, or whatever you’d like to share about what stood out for you in this post, in the comments.

by Lisa Sonora // share your thoughts... in the Comments { 57 }