Monday, 5 October 2015

Why I'm Shaving My Head for Charity (Seriously)

So there I was, 28 years old, and expecting my first baby. I was very excited, and a little bit nervous, naturally. 

I'd have a home birth. Or maybe one in a cosy tub filled with warm water with twinkly music playing on a CD and candles. That would be nice. 

But there was a point, when I was 28 weeks pregnant, as I was being hurriedly daubed with antiseptic and placed onto an operating table with a light shining in my eyes and a needle about to go into my hand, while nurses rushed about, barking orders, scrubbing themselves up - when I thought that something obviously hadn't quite gone to plan. 

I'd developed HELLP Syndrome, a serious condition that can develop (although it is rare) in some pregnancies, where the liver stops working properly and you don't have any platelets in your blood. It's kind of a race against time to operate while your blood can still actually clot. As it turns out, I was having an emergency Caesarian to try and save mine and my daughter's life. The surgeon later told my husband that I was 'hours' away from dying. Scary stuff.

So anyway. Unbeknownst to me, my daughter was born - tiny, blueish and weighing just 941 grams - while I was wheeled over to intensive care. I woke up the second day. 

I was released from hospital about a week later, on strict orders to rest. 

My daughter stayed in for the next 3 months. 

It was difficult. We'd get to go in and change her nappy, hold her swathed in big bundles of blankets (if she was up to it) and we learned how to feed her through her nasal gastric tube. We learned what all her SATS meant on the machines that beeped and flickered above her incubator. The nurses at the hospital were INCREDIBLE. They made sure to allow us to bond with her as much as was possible. 

Sometimes things weren't so good. We'd arrive to see her and then be stopped in the corridor and asked to wait in the waiting room while emergency doctors worked on her. The phone might ring in the middle of the night. We always feared the worst. Which is where Bliss comes in to the story. 

Bliss are a charity that support the parents of premature babies with information, a helpline and through their forums, they helped put us in touch with other parents we could talk to. It meant so much not to feel like we were alone in this. They also work to raise awareness of aspects of prematurity, and work with hospitals to help parents bond with the babies as much as they can, rather than feel like they're in a plastic box and unreachable. By 2020, Bliss aims to recruit 28 Bliss nurses - one for each region in the UK. I used Bliss quite a lot when my daughter was young. She's ten years old now. And so now I want to give something back. 

So I'm shaving all my hair off to raise money for Bliss, so that they can support other parents going through similar situations to ours. 

And that's not everything. 

When my locks are cut off, they'll be donated to The Little Princess Trust, which is an organisation that provides wigs to children who have lost their hair through cancer treatment. 

So that's it. If my story resonates with you in any way, then I'd love it if you'd support me, either by donating (seriously - 50p would make my day) or by sharing this post. The people at Bliss do incredible work and they helped me keep a sense of sanity while my world was turned upside down. I'd love to help give a little something back. 

Oh, and you'll get to see me with a shaved head. That's got to be worth 50p, right? 

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Pig's Cheek and Bacon Ragu

Pigs cheeks. 

It's the kind of cut of meat you don't buy regularly, not like chicken legs or minced beef. But we should. Firstly, because it's more ethical to use up all of the animal, and secondly because, when cooked right, they're pretty damn tasty. 

This pig cheek came from Farmer's Choice, an online butcher based in the UK, supplying free-range meats as well as fish and game. 

I'd once eaten pig cheek ragu at a restaurant and absolutely loved it. So when I saw this, I wanted to create something that would satisfy my cravings to go back in time and try it again. It's light, and when cooked for a long time, the pig cheek turns really tender and you can pull it apart. I cook mine in the slow cooker, mostly because I can clink on the lid and forget about it until it's time to eat. The recipe is paleo, as well as gluten and dairy-free. If you're AIP, this recipe is fine if you've re-introduced tomatoes. 

Pig Cheek Ragu
Serves 2-3
350g pig's cheek
4 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped roughly
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 small white onion, chopped
a splash of red wine or port
400g can chopped tomatoes
pinch of dried marjoram
pinch of thyme
pinch of salt, to taste

First, put the pig cheek into the base of a slow cooker that's preheated to high. Replace the lid while you make the ragu sauce. 

To make the sauce, drop the chopped bacon in a largish frying pan and leave it so that it turns slightly golden and the fat renders down. Once the bacon is cooked and starting to turn golden, add the garlic and onion to the pan, stir-frying until the onion is soft and tender. Once the onion is almost cooked, pour in the splash of red wine or port. Allow the alcohol to bubble off for a few seconds and then add the chopped tomatoes, herbs and a pinch of salt. Give it all a stir, simmering for a few more minutes. 

Pour the hot sauce over the pig's cheek in the slow cooker, replace the lid and leave to cook for 4-5 hours. 

Once the cooking time is up, check the pig cheek. It should be well-cooked and pull-apart tender. Shred the meat into the sauce with a couple of forks. Put the lid back on while you make your vegetables or whatever you're having alongside. Serve hot. 

I received a contribution towards the ingredients for this recipe, and the pig cheeks, from Farmer's Choice. I've always found the meat of brilliant quality and totally delicious. Do go visit their website. 

Monday, 28 September 2015

The AIP Reset: Why One Round of Strict AIP Might Not Be Enough

I've been AIP and then paleo for almost 2 years and I've seen some amazing changes. 

When I look back at myself two years ago, I was severely depressed, continually anxious and had really low self-confidence. I had psoriasis patches that speckled my elbows, knees and small spots on my tummy and chest. My entire scalp was covered in thick scales that alternated between angry, burning red and dry, flaky white. I had symmetrical patches of psoriasis on my eyelids, just below my eyebrows. And I'd see the white flakes falling off onto my cheek and shoulders during the day. People I was with would notice it too. And I'd been that way for nearly 25 years. 

On top of THAT I had really bad digestion, in and out of the doctor's surgery with IBS, 24-hour heartburn, constant nausea or stomach pain. I was on a lot of steroid creams and pills. They masked the symptoms for a couple of days at a time, but in the long run, they weren't really helping. 

I felt terrible.

And then I found AIP. 

I did strict AIP for about a month and then started to bring foods back in. I found that nuts aggravated my skin and digestion. I cautiously reintroduced eggs - one a week - to see how I did. I introduced the odd tiny nibble of very dark chocolate, along with some seeds and nightshade spices, and cooked tomatoes. The odd portion of potatoes. And my skin improved, along with my state of mind and digestion. I felt great.

All good, then. 

So I got braver. I enjoyed paleo treats, more eggs (almost every day) and more cooked tomatoes. I ate the odd bit of dairy. Butter. Rice. I'll admit that I ate the odd (gasp) non-paleo food. A slice of cake was given to me by my grandad at his 90th birthday party. It felt rude to refuse it. But, all in all, everything was mostly paleo and going very well for about a year and a half. 

And then a week or so ago, I was awake most of the night with stomach pain and indigestion after I ate a Bolognese made with tomatoes and beef. I was craving sugar quite badly, too. The last psoriasis patch on my scalp that healed started to itch again, and that familiar burning feeling came back. The patch on my eyebrow turned scaly. I started to feel uneasy and stressed, and even had a panic attack that came from nowhere. 

I had overdone it. 

Now I look back, I realise that after I started reintroducing foods, I got complacent. I started baking paleo muffins and chocolate cakes a few times a month and ate white rice a few times every week. I had a spoonful of pinto beans on my burrito bowl when we ate out. Sometimes a dollop of sour cream, too, and Cheddar cheese. I ate this kind of thing very rarely - not even every month. And although nothing happened on the day I ate these non-AIP foods - or even the next day - it doesn't mean everything was going on fine and dandy inside my body. And, as I understand it, all these things start to add up, over time.

Paleo, yes. And delicious. But probably not the best thing for my health, in hindsight.

Paleo treats were still packed with honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar and dates. I could go months without a treat but then the day I had one, I just wanted more as I started to crave the sugars again. And I already knew that sugar - even natural sugars - was one of my triggers for psoriasis. 

On top of all this, I wasn't sleeping - preferring to stay up late working or reading. I was feeling tired and lethargic. And when I'm tired, I crave sugary things. I also found I became more stressed and emotional when I was tired. See the pattern? I did. It was no wonder my psoriasis had started coming back.

So I started AIP all over again. 

The good news is that after 3 days, I no longer craved sugar. The psoriasis patch above my eye smoothed out and is now hardly visible. My scalp has some more healing to do, but no longer itches. I'm feeling much better and my mind is calmer and lighter.


For me, my healing was much quicker this time around, but then I'd had two years of AIP and paleo healing behind me before. But I'm now learning my lesson and avoiding the foods that are my personal triggers: sugar, dairy and nuts. I'm continuing with AIP now because I want to get my psoriasis in remission. I was nearly there before, I can get back there again.

So why am I telling you this? 

Well, you can't always just wave off the strict elimination phase of AIP in a 'thank goodness THAT'S all over' moment and think you'll never need it again, while you spoon scrambled eggs, nuts and paleo chocolate cake into your mouth. Some people might be able to do it, but it didn't work very well for me. 

So I'm currently on an AIP reset. But I don't think I need to go back to extremely strict AIP this time. I know for a fact that I can tolerate egg yolks and they're too incredibly nutrient dense to leave out. And I do know that seeds don't affect me at all, as well as green beans and peas. So I'm basically AIP with those things on top.

And, although I'll miss whole eggs, tomatoes and, yes, the paleo chocolate cake, too - it's reassuring to know that I can use AIP to settle myself back down again. And it's amazing that it can have such an impact on my skin in such a short time. The healing on the inside, though, I imagine will take a bit longer (even though I can't see it). 

This time round, I'll be reintroducing the other foods a bit slower and more carefully than before. 

Maybe I'll just have to settle for eating eggs a couple of times a week in the end, instead of all the time. Sugar, even natural, is out for me for the foreseeable future, as is rice. Maybe, in hindsight, tomatoes are out for me for a lot longer than I thought. 

But it's good that this happened. Because it helped me see a different side to AIP: that it's a learning process that goes way beyond the first elimination stage. My personal plan just needs a bit of tweaking, that's all. I think AIP is a very powerful healing tool. And let's be honest - it never was meant to be a one-time "magic" solution, was it?

Have you done an AIP reset? How did it help you?

Just to be clear: I'm not a doctor. Please don't take any of this as medical advice. I'm just sharing my own personal story and challenges trying to heal psoriasis with diet and lifestyle. I hope it helps.


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