To say that last week’s post, which detailed Curt Chaffee’s dramatic story of healing, got a lot a lot of attention is, er, an understatement. Clearly we all feel that the conversation about the role of food in chronic pain is a very important one to be having. So let’s talk in more depth, shall we!? In case you missed it, Curt is a patient of Dr. Aimée Shunney’s. After decades of severe chronic pain, 7 highly invasive surgeries, and many doctors and specialists he resolved his pain when Dr. Shunney recommended he try an elimination diet challenge. Wowzers. Going back to basics can be profound.
Since I am a manual and movement therapist professionally, I spend my work life helping people to resolve pain through those means. However, I’ve been in my career for long enough that I have seen how markedly pain (and tissue quality and movement quality) is impacted by food. So I brought in the big guns to talk about it more.
Aimée is a naturopathic doctor who practices in Santa Cruz and Campbell, California. She is also the co-creator of the Cleanse Organic program. And she’s got a lot to tell us about how food affects not just pain, but, you guessed it, everything. So take a gander at the interview, and/or scroll below to see the transcript if you wish to skim.
1:34 I mention the Curt Chaffee interview and his profound experience healing from severe chronic pain when he stopped eating gluten. Aimée talks about her initial overwhelm when he came to her, so she opted to go back to basics, and that was what, ultimately, was profound for him.
2:30 Shortly after I interviewed Curt for the site a colleague of mine sent me another story about a person who had severe migraines. Their grandfather had had the same pattern, and ultimately had brain surgery to address the pain. This person was, clearly, determined to not go their grandfather’s route, and through the process of trying to get well they found out it was gluten too. It’s pretty shocking.
3:30 [me] So what is the connection between pain and food [Aimée] I think that if you are unwittingly eating something that is not good for you, even if it seems like a healthy food but your body is having an immune response to it, your body might compensate for it for a long time, but you’re having this chronic inflammatory hit every day. Couple that with other stuff that happens in life and it all adds up into this perfect storm and you start exhibiting symptoms.
4:19 [Aimée] It’s hard to tell with food. We usually think of allergies as the immediate response stuff that our allergists test us for. But there are delayed response allergies that take a while to show up, there are food sensitivities that we really don’t understand very well, and food intolerances. So we just think it’s our normal state. Bloated, in pain, whatever it is, it becomes our normal.
5:09 [me] Are there typical foods that you see as the most common offenders? [Aimée] The big 5 are: dairy, gluten, corn, soy, and eggs. Those are foods that are in everything. So we’re getting them a lot. And then I’m always looking at sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. When those things are consumed too much, or even for some people just a little, they can be problematic. So it ends up being a cleanse, which is how my program, Cleanse Organic, started. I feel extremely confident in telling people if they are in pain, they should do an elimination diet. People who were on on pain killers, people who had movement problems, they get better. Beyond that, their energy improves, they start sleeping better than they ever have, headaches go away, mood stability gets better, and their digestion returns to normal. Then blood levels of course change too- cholesterol, etc.
8:28 I mention the well known DO that I know who is in very high demand. She has a rule that she will not work with patients if they are not following an anti inflammatory diet. We talk about how you can feel the change in people’s tissue really dramatically with food.
10:07 I think that sugar is really profound. I think we’re just starting to understand it. A study just came out recently in the Journal of Nutrition that showed what it really does to the body. From the world of holistic nutrition it’s like a, “Duh”, but in a conventional medical model they’re just catching up with the fact that these things cause inflammation and promote chronic disease.
11:00 Part of this study was this concept of these foods as addictive substances. I was doing a radio show where the host got out the DSM V and was reading the criteria for addiction, like to heroin or cocaine, and it fits my sugar addicted clients perfectly.
11:47 And that first week [on a cleanse, specifically removing sugar] is terrible! But then you really change, your whole chemistry starts to change. And your taste buds change too.
12:33 In the Cleanse Organic program we had people take out sugar and artificial sweeteners, but then we found people were subsisting on agave, honey, etc. So we had then take out all the natural sweeteners too so that they could reset their taste buds. And we found they got much better results too.
14:15 [me] People are asking me, “Why does everyone have celiac now?” Or at least, “Why is everyone gluten intolerant now?” Do you have an opinion about what’s changed that now so many people have at least sensitivities or at most this autoimmune condition?
14:40 [Aimée] There are multiple factors. One of course being that it’s just not good for us. But we ingest so much of it now! Many of us are also eating animals, and animals are being fed it and they don’t digest it well. Then there is the GMO component; Is the grain we’re eating the same grain our grandparents were eating? Throw all of this on top of the standard American diet and the standard American lifestyle and you have a real problem.
16:02 I think for a lot of people it’s just that they are at threshold. Your body is managing everything it can. You go back to that shopping cart theory; Where we all come into the world with a shopping cart, some of us already have some stuff in there, but you go through life and add things into the cart until we hit threshold, and once we’re there, it doesn’t matter what goes into the cart now, it’s going to tip over. So the question is what can I take out of my cart? Which is a beautiful place for food to come in because we actually have some control. You pull something like gluten which we’re eating so much of, and people get relief. Is it that they actually have an intolerance, or is it that they have just lowered their threshold of overwhelm?
17:40 [We both beg you to please not do a “water for 30 days” type cleanse]
17:48 [me] What can people do at home that would be safe and fruitful? [Aimée] Doing an elimination diet is a great way to get to the bottom of how food is affecting you. Remove those big 5: gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and eggs. Do this for at least 3 weeks, and if you are so inclined, pull out sugar and sweeteners, avoid alcohol and caffeine and eliminate red meat. Then reintroduce your foods one at a time. The challenge part of an elimination challenge diet is just as important as the elimination. Don’t break it with a beer and a burger. There seems to be a 72 hour window for food sensitivities to manifest symptoms, so you reintroduce a food once every 3 days. Eat it twice a day for 3 days, if you still feel as good as you felt on the elimination, you keep going. If you get a response, you stop, and reintroduce it again because there can be flukes. The challenge part can be slow going, but it’s the most important part because it’s where you actually mine the data that you created in the last 3 weeks.
20:22 Now that’s a simple outline to follow at home, but I created Cleanse Organic with a chef, because a certain number of people can just do these recommendations on their own, but lots of other people need support. So Cleanse Organic has coaching, meal plans, shopping lists, and the food is amazing. I’m a big foodie. It it doesn’t taste good I’m not going to eat it. you have to be willing to keep doing what you are doing to feel better once you get there. It has a real structure to follow and to help hold your hand.
21:35 It also includes some supplements, because I do think there are some things you can do minimally when cleansing. Basic support for the liver and for the gut with probiotics. And you want to be sure you continue to get enough protein. When protein goes away we feel terrible. you may want to get a protein smoothie, like hemp or rice to have every day.
22:29 The protein is going to help your liver to detoxify properly because the amino acids in the protein actually run your liver’s detox pathways. but it’s also going to give you stable energy and make you not terrible to your partner and your children…and if you don’t get the amino acids from the protein, then your body is going to pull it from your muscles, and then you’re losing muscle mass and thinking you’re losing weight, but it’s not what you want to lose.
23:10 I also think that fish oil is super important. It is probably the most potent natural anti-inflammatory that you can get your hands on. So if it’s something easy you’re looking to do at home, fish oil and an elimination challenge diet is a good way to go.
24:45 The changes, especially in the realm of pain, are profound. Somehow food has become alternative medicine, which is crazy! But I think we forget that what we put in our mouth is the way we can have the most control and the ability to make the most impact over our health.
25:17 One of the most successful and sustainable things about doing an elimination diet and a cleanse is that you get back to cooking, you get back to reading labels, you just get really conscious again.
25:48 [me] I ask that people fight back from white noise syndrome where you feel kind of crappy, but are not debilitated, so you just put it on the back burner and live that way. A lot of people will hear “Oh I have to give up all this stuff!” But think about how your life changes when you remove the constant grating agitation that is in the background. It affects how you treat your partner, how you treat your children, how you show up for work, It changes the whole way that you show up for your life, which is not a small thing!
26:32 [Aimée] We are so willing to accept the terrible mediocrity. I hear from patients, “Oh I’m just getting older.” Don’t believe the hype! You can be amazing! It doesn’t’ matter what age you are. Chances are you aren’t going to react to every food. You’ll get some back. and then you can make choices. When I have wine at night I get the sniffles. Does that mean I will never have wine again? Well that’s up to me. But at least I have informed choices.