Forks Over Knives and My Battle to Health


-Angel Russell
I have been wanting to write about my battle for health for a long time and after watching “Forks Over Knives” I realize that I no longer want to keep this to myself and my immediate circle. Four years ago at the age of 26 I was very sick. I was on a doctor prescribed completely liquid diet that consisted mainly of baby food and Instant Breakfast. I also had monthly prescriptions to opiate painkillers such as Percocet and Oxycodone. Though that may be many prescription drug enthusiast’s dream, taking them for actual pain is not a pleasant experience at all. My pain became a permanent daily reality and if I had the urge to eat real food and did, I would have it so intensely that I would curl up on the floor while tears ran down my cheeks asking desperately for more pain killers. My problem at first was pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas.

“The pancreas is a large gland behind the stomach and close to the duodenum—the first part of the small intestine. The pancreas secretes digestive juices, or enzymes, into the duodenum through a tube called the pancreatic duct. Pancreatic enzymes join with bile — a liquid produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder — to digest food. The pancreas also releases the hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream. These hormones help the body regulate the glucose it takes from food for energy. Normally, digestive enzymes secreted by the pancreas do not become active until they reach the small intestine. But when the pancreas is inflamed, the enzymes inside it attack and damage the tissues that produce them.”* Basically my pancreas was digesting itself. It was so inflamed the enzymes couldn’t escape. When I was eating food my pancreas was creating the enzymes which could only digest their surroundings, this caused my immense pain.

During the first few months of this I lost about ten pounds. I only weighed 120 pounds and at 5’6″ that isn’t much. Also because I could get no nutrients in my body I was incredibly weak. The doctors at no point talked to me about diet. They didn’t ask me how I ate before I got sick. It seemed to be a non issue. However, the pain killer baby food diet seemed to work and gradually I started eating foods again. There was no discussion about what kind of diet I should be on after such an episode. I was merely advised to cut back on fatty foods and alcohol. At this point the doctors didn’t do many tests, they gave me the basic regimen for treating pancreatitis which is no eating until the inflammation subsides. Alcohol is the general cause but in my case the cause was never determined. After I became well (about three months from the onset) I went straight back to my old habits. I assumed I was fine; french fries, candy, sugary drinks, alcohol, and lots of dairy. I was feeling pretty good and being pretty young I thought, “well I’m glad that’s over. . .” and assumed that was the end of that.

Fast forward three months. I didn’t have any pancreatic pain but I did notice something peculiar. And please beg my pardon and know that as a girl I find it a bit weird to talk about. There was blood in my stool. Ew right? And who do you talk to about that? It’s horrifying and weird and girls don’t poop in the first place, as we all want you to believe. So, I went back to the doctor. They had to run tests. At first the were simple. A little blood here, a little sample there and nothing. So, more tests. I had to do an upper GI and small bowel series which consisted of me drinking barium, a crazy white chalky liquid, that after you’ve ingested you have to lay on a table that spins around. This makes the barium reach all your intestines so they can x ray them. Which I have a fun little photo of here. You can actually tell how skinny I was. My skin is just barely covering my bones there. Anyway, they didn’t find anything. So more tests, this time an endoscopy and a colonoscopy. “Endoscopy is simply a procedure that involves using a small camera mounted on a narrow tube to look at areas inside of the body. Gastroenterologists (GI doctors) routinely use this tool to directly see areas within the GI tract. An upper endoscopy is used to see the throat, esophagus, stomach and first part of the small intestine (called the duodenum). A colonoscopy has its intended target in the name, the colon.” Ugh. I was 26 and had to go through all this crap, you have to sign a paper before the operation that says if you die you knew the consequences. They could puncture your insides and you could die. That’s it. I was so freaked out. I often thought, “what the hell is going on, why am I so sick!” I pretty much listened to the doctors. At this point I was still eating and then my pancreatitis came back. Ok, back to baby food. Ugh.

When your sick it’s often hard to talk about what your going through to your peers. Especially if most of them haven’t had to deal with illness yet and it involves poo. I started sinking into a pretty big slump. I couldn’t eat food. I had already lost so much weight and was once again eating baby food. It seemed as though my whole life up until that point had led me back to where I started, a baby. I was totally dependent on others, I was unable to really get about from weakness and I was depressed. I couldn’t work and my good credit started to crumble. It was around then I had a conversation with a friend and we talked about my past experiences with PTSD and how maybe I was in that physical state because I needed to learn how to care for myself starting at the utmost basic level. Like my life was on reset. It was a strange idea, but because the doctors had no ideas and I had PTSD caused from my childhood I was willing to so call “chew” on the theory. She also mentioned that because I wasn’t having compassion with myself. I was feeling pretty guilty about relying on others and not being able to take care of myself and our conversation revolved on the idea that I needed my own compassion to heal. That led me to really thinking about both my mental and physical activities up to my illness. I didn’t have what you’d call a very big self esteem and I never ate properly. Those two things might lead to illness.

When the doctors did the endoscopy and colonoscopy they found the problem. My entire digestive track was inflamed. My stomach was so inflamed it had little stretch marks on it and my colon had sores all over it. This was caused by Ulcerative Colitis, basically ulcers of the colon, a disease. “Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. The cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown. People with this condition have problems with the immune system, but it is not clear whether immune problems cause this illness. Although stress and certain foods can trigger symptoms, they do not cause ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis may affect any age group, although there are peaks at ages 15 – 30 and then again at ages 50 – 70. Hospitalization is often needed for severe attacks. Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. You may be given nutrients through a vein (intravenous line).”** So, they prescribed me the corticosteroids and sent me to a specialist. I waited for a month to see the specialist and when I finally did he came into the room shook my hand, had me lie down, poked my belly, told me to keep taking my medication, then left. That cost 700 dollars. A belly poke and a handshake. While I was sitting in the room after he left I noticed a poster that was all about how to treat ulcerative colitis. The number one on the poster was take your medication and at the bottom in tiny little print it said, provided by such and such pharmaceuticals. That made me laugh. The doctors up until then had been helpful but pretty vague. They told me not to eat but after months of that did no nutrient tests and didn’t send me to a nutritionist. Only after I discovered these things online and mentioned it to them did they say, oh right I’ll send you over, or I’ll do that test. But why was I coming to them with what they should already be doing?

Then my new drugs started working in more ways than I would have liked. When you have active ulcerative colitis you can’t go anywhere. You can’t do anything, because basically you always have to poo. I was going about 6-9 times a day and they were pretty unpleasant. My job as a gardener went completely out the window. So, the medication helped a little with that as did the pain killers but the worst part was the weakness. I was already weak and one of the main side effects of the steroids oddly was weakness. I could barely walk. I got winded walking to the end of the drive way. I became pale and gaunt, I couldn’t walk up the stairs. I was eating again, but I couldn’t tell because my weakness was so considerable. I went to the doctors again to tell him and he sent the nurse into see me. I told her of my side effects, she went out, came back, and told me to keep taking my medication. I looked at the poster again and sighed. I wanted out. I wanted out of the illness, the tests, the medical pharmaceutical industry, the weakness, everything.

I went home got online and found a book. “Self Healing Colitis & Crohn’s” by Dr. David Klein the Director of the Colitis & Crohn’s Health Recovery Center, currently located in Sebastopol in northern California, since 1993. In the first chapter it talks about healing your body. He actual says you can heal, which is the opposite of the doctors. They told me medication was now a way of life for me and that if I quit taking it I would get sick. I would have to take these weakness causing meds for the rest of my life. The idea that someone was saying I could heal was very welcome, but because of all I had been hearing I was also skeptical. Another of his number one’s was stopping the medications, because they were making you sicker. This I knew to be true, but was worried about not taking the meds for fear of getting sick. I found a natropath that could help me during the transition.

One of the main things talked about in the book is that many illnesses are caused by our diets, which also brings me back to “Forks Over Knives”. This same theory is prevalent in the documentary about how to heal our illness with the way we eat, not the meds we take. Putting a stint in your heart doesn’t heal your heart disease nor does the medications you take for your high blood pressure, but if you change your diet these problems go away.

The first week I stopped taking my medication my weakness went I away. I was still underweight but didn’t get winded walking to the bathroom. Some of my symptoms came back, but the book explained this was normal and a result of detoxifying my body of the medications. Another interesting thing taking all the medications was doing was causing my intense allergies to foods and other things I had never been allergic to. My naturopath explained that your liver only has a few pathways to filter toxins from the body and when we take many different medications our pathways become clogged, this leads the body to recognize normal substances as allergens and you begin to have crazy allergies all of a sudden when you are in a toxic state. My toxic state was from all the medication and no food. I was a walking drug zombie.

I followed the diet in the book “Self Healing Colitis & Crohn’s” to a T. I knew that that a life of weakness, pills, and then more pills for the side affects was not how I wanted to live my life. I began to detox by slowly weaning my self off my medication and immediately started feeling better and putting on weight. My natropath recommended I start taking probiotics, the healthy flora found in our digestive tract because the medications had ravaged my natural flora. This would also help me breakdown food. The diet I was on was a strict vegan, gluten free, and 90% raw food diet which is hard but when you weigh the consequences totally worth it. My energy came back, my weight came back, and my symptoms started to disappear. After a month I was able to return to work. After basically getting a life sentence of drug taking and weakness I was gardening again a month later. It was unreal and totally unexpected. I went to the doctors again to make sure that my recovery was not just mental, and they found nothing. My enzyme levels in my pancreas were normal, my colon was healthy. And I had my first normal poo in a year. I know as a girl I shouldn’t be excited but I was ecstatic!

Fast forward four years later and I just watched “Forks Over Knives” a documentary dedicated to opening up the eyes of many Americans and those who follow an American diet. I am pretty well convinced that my illness was caused by the way I ate. Processed foods, mac and cheese, hamburgers, french fries, sugary foods, etc was how I rolled. I spent a year in agony because of it. I also later learned that Ulcertive Colitis is also affected by stress. What my friend said about having compassion for myself wound up true. As the site says, “STRESS: You may feel worried, embarrassed, or even sad or depressed about having a bowel accident. Other stressful events in your life, such as moving, or losing a job or a loved one can cause digestive problems. Ask your doctor or nurse for tips on your to manage your stress.”** I’m also pretty well convinced that my PTSD was related to my problems but not quite as much as my diet. I say this because after four years in remission I still suffer from some stress, but I am physically healed. There was also a study I read about on the BBC that related stress in our lives as children leading to inflammatory disease in adults, so, there could be a connection.

I also know that what we eat makes a huge impact on our health. I still follow a pretty much vegetarian diet of a lot of leafy greens, kale, etc. and stay away from processed foods, red meat, and alcohol all together. I suffer from less colds and flu’s than I had before I got sick and my stress level is better because I get all the energy I need from healthy foods, not fake stress causing energy from power drinks and caffeine. I’m also back to my normal weight and ride my bike 5 miles to work every day. These things would have seemed impossible to 26 year old me. I healed, and I healed by changing my diet.

“Forks Over Knives” talks about how the American diet is responsible for all of our illness and even cancer rates. “Two out of every three of us are overweight. Cases of diabetes are exploding, especially amongst our younger population. About half of us are taking at least one prescription drug. Major medical operations have become routine, helping to drive health care costs to astronomical levels. Heart disease, cancer and stroke are the country’s three leading causes of death, even though billions are spent each year to “battle” these very conditions. Millions suffer from a host of other degenerative diseases.Could it be there’s a single solution to all of these problems? A solution so comprehensive but so straightforward, that it’s mind-boggling that more of us haven’t taken it seriously? FORKS OVER KNIVES examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.”*** After watching it I realized I’m not the only person who could gain from my lifestyle changes and wanted to share my story in case it helps you in any way. You do have the power to heal. If your not sick you have the power to prevent it. We don’t have to be a nation of sick over weight citizens with our children suffering from high blood pressure at the age of two. We just have to eat right and we can turn things around. Here are three important quotes from the film.

“There is no money in healthy people or dead people. The money is in sick people.”

-Bill Maher

“Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.”

-Hippocrates

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”

-Thomas Edison

Let us hope that together we can convince our doctors and our food industry to do just that. If I could heal my body with food I know you can too. Thank you for taking the time to read this insanely long post. I hope it helped you in some way. Changing my diet changed my life. I haven’t been sick since. I highly recommend watching this documentary and making the changes you need to in your diet.

*http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/pancreatitis/
**http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001296/
***http://www.forksoverknives.com/about/synopsis/

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3 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing Angel. People in this country really need to go back to cooking from scratch and read labels carefully. Most of the stuff on the supermarket shelves are poison, it is really frightening…

  2. Thank you for sharing!!! I am currently dealing w pancreatitis (about a month off and on) which is so far proving ‘idiopathic’. I also have been diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis within the past year. I recently watched “forks over knives” and am switching to a vegan diet. Your story gives me hope and inspiration. Thank you again!

    1. Thank you! I’m here if you have any questions. I’ve been living in remission mostly now since 2009. Self Healing Colitis and Crohns is a great book for this. It is a little intense at times but it worked for me.

      Also I highly recommend Pearl probiotics for the colon and papaya enzymes for the pancreas. Don’t eat fruit after 12pm. And cut all processed food and sugar. The pancreas pain if flared can be helped by drinking a glass of water. My pancreas issues are mostly gone now since 2009 with no red meat, alcohol, or sugar. I did go off the diet and got sick again and now I’m starting all over. I have always been medication free. ❤🙏🏻💪🏽

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