Healing and Getting Off the Hedonic Treadmill

There are many things that we think will make us happy – having a few cocktails, that new pair of heels, indulging a chocolate craving or being a total couch potato. However, these things don’t offer long-term happiness and after the short-lived emotional high you’re back to square one.

Psychologists refer to this as ‘hedonic adaption’. Often the pursuit of positive emotions will give you a short-term high when you finally purchase that pair of expensive shoes or achieve your goal, but the pleasure soon wears off and you return to how you felt before.

In the pursuit of happiness many of us spend our time chasing the next ‘best thing’. We feel motivated by earning the right to be happy through achievements or indulgences. While for some high-achievers this might be a successful tactic to remain goal-orientated, if the journey is nothing more than a chase then it’s time to get off the treadmill. After all, life is happening right here, right now and we owe it to ourselves choose activities and habits that give us a full life that is healing, nourishing and sustainable.

When suffering from hypoglycemia, life becomes a practice in balance. Balancing the stresses of everyday life with the restraints of a restricted diet and health regime. Some days it’s easier to tip the balancing scales and give into the short-term emotional pleasures that we’re often denied and our body craves (3pm sugary pick-me-up anyone?). Here are three ways that might help you finally get off that hedonic treadmill:

  1. Give Up Alcohol. There comes an age where you start to realise your adolescent routine of getting drunk every weekend is not a sustainable way to live. Your body and blood-sugar levels end up as trashed as the nightclub you were in last night doing tequila shots until 3am. Hypoglycemia and alcohol do not mix, and if you’re anything like me you end up with a two-day hangover as your body cries out for quick energy. Since quitting alcohol, I have more energy and my symptoms have reduced significantly. The benefits far outweigh the negatives (which, by the way, are looking like a weirdo drinking coconut water and snacking on celery sticks while your friends are eating from the normal 22-year-old food pyramid consisting of pizza and beer).
  2. Ditch the White Stuff.  “White” foods consist of pastries, pasta and bread. Unfortunately, we cannot have our cake and eat it too as these types of foods cause irregular blood-sugar levels and make your immune cells “stupid” and ineffective at fighting off diseases. Eliminate all “man”-ipulated foods from you diet and eat like a caveman- meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds and seasonal fruit (for more information research the ‘paleo diet’).
  3. Be Present and Grateful. Did you know that 40% of your happiness is controlled by intentional activities? That means that choices we make on a day-to-day basis really matter. Sometimes when you’re chasing the next thing on the hedonic treadmill, it’s difficult to remember why you stepped on it in the first place. Take a moment to think of something you’re grateful for. Chances are it isn’t that pair of heels or that chocolate you ate earlier, but the relationships you have with your friends and your family. Practicing gratitude may counteract that hedonic adaptation process and help with that daily hypoglycemic balancing act.
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Tulsi Tea: The benefits

Tulsi, otherwise known as “holy basil”, has been used by Indian and Sri Lankan culture for centuries for its medicinal properties. Beyond its benefits as a seasonal flavouring, the herb is considered an all-purpose remedy for fighting off colds and flu, boosting the immune system and purifying the blood.

The best-known medicinal properties of holy basil are its blood-sugar moderation and stress-fighting abilities. Studies have linked the plant to hypoglycemia and diabetes treatment due to its ability to moderate and lower blood-sugar. Hypoglycemic individuals may find that tulsi tea helps to regulate blood-sugar levels as well as reducing stress and anxiety. Uneven blood-sugar levels can create energy crashes, depression and mood swings, thus tulsi tea can help stabilise an individual’s mood and energy levels. Additionally, this stress-reduced benefit may help decrease the frequency of stress-induced hypoglycemic episodes and prevent sugar cravings (plus it’s delicious!).

The benefits of tulsi do not stop there. The tea also contains antioxidants and cleansing properties that may help prevent diseases. Antioxidants help prevent certain types of cancers and fight free radicals to slow the ageing process. The herb is often incorporated as a part of an overall detoxification diet designed by qualified health professionals and is a common active ingredient in various detox programs. As a herbal supplement, tulsi has few side-effects, is caffeine free and it’s possible to drink it daily. However, users should be aware of its potential conflict with blood thinning medications and further medical supervision may be needed before consuming the herbal supplement. It is always recommended to consult your health care professional before trialling any herbal supplements.

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Health Inspiration: The Wellness Warrior

Hypoglycemia comes with bad episodes. You’ll have days where you become overwhelmed, emotional and decide that the condition is winning. It’s okay to have these days, as it’s all part of the healing process. However, it’s equally important to stay strong and positive. All of us at HypoAware were so inspired by Jess Ainscough’s story, we thought we’d share it with all of you. While she does not suffer from hypoglycemia, her strength and determination is a reminder to all of us that we are responsible for our own health. Be strong, Be Aware, Be kind.

What Cancer Has Taught Me – by Jess Ainscough, the Wellness Warrior

For the past four years, I have been living with the knowledge that I have cancer in my body. Like anyone who has ever been given a terminal diagnosis, this experience has changed me. I have gone through the usual changes – life becoming that little bit more precious, petty drama becoming totally insignificant, and priorities being completely reshuffled. However, there has been so much more.

Before cancer I was a big meat eater, now I am vegan. Before cancer I drank a lot of alcohol, now I am sober. Before cancer I was self-critical and full of self-judgment, now I love myself unconditionally. Before cancer I associated the disease with pain, sickness, hair loss and death. Now, cancer is my greatest teacher, my guru, and the catalyst that lead me onto a path far brighter and more fulfilling than I ever knew was possible.

I was one of the lucky ones – conventional medicine had no answers for me. My doctors wanted to amputate my arm to remove the cancer, but they said there was a high chance that the disease would come back somewhere else in my body quite rapidly. I decided that this wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t ready to die, I wasn’t willing to be an amputee, and I wasn’t willing to hand my power over to some people who didn’t really know what they were doing with it.

So I became one of those difficult patients and started thinking for myself. I researched anything and everything to do with healing cancer, and what I discovered is that our bodies have this incredible ability to self heal – as long as we provide the right environment for them to do so.

The first stop on my healing path was The Gawler Foundation. My boyfriend and I spent 10 days soaking up every bit of wisdom and comfort we could at the Life and Living retreat. We learnt how to meditate and how to express our emotions in a healthy way. But most importantly, we learnt that cancer does not need to be scary. It can be empowering, and the catalyst to an amazing life.

The other healing modality that resonated most with me was Gerson Therapy, so a few months after Gawler, I flew to Mexico with my mum to spend three weeks at the Gerson clinic. Here, I learnt how to implement the therapy, which involves hourly juicing, a specific vegan diet, various supplements, and up to five daily coffee enemas.

When the three weeks was up, I came home to carry out the Therapy for two years with the help of my family. For two years I dedicated every waking hour to saving my own life. To thriving against the face of adversity, and carving a new reality for myself based on the wisdom and inspiration I’ve gathered along the way.

It has been far from easy. For two whole years I have not been able to go out for lunch, go out for dinner, go out drinking with my friends, or even sit through a whole movie without having to get up and make a juice. But I would not trade one moment of this journey for anything. The power, wisdom, and deep self-respect that have been born of riding out these challenges is something I feel incredibly blessed to have.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I thought I had something in my body that needed to be “killed”, “eradicated” and “beaten”. Now I understand that cancer is not the enemy. I have realised that you cannot wage a war against yourself and win. No one wins when you go into battle with something that is part of you. And contrary to conventional belief, cancer is a part of you.

Cancer doesn’t need to be “killed”; it needs to be “healed”. Cancer is simply your body’s way of giving you one final opportunity to clean up your health.
I have completed two years of Gerson, but healing doesn’t end now. Healing is ongoing, and I will live the rest of my life being as kind and respectful as I possibly can to my body.

Even now, after two years of intense natural treatment, I cannot say that I am cured. I’m not sure if I will ever be “cured”, but I will always be healing. Cancer is something I will always manage with my clean lifestyle.

I don’t plan to have any scans, partly because I don’t want to subject my body to the poison and radiation, but also because prior to my diagnosis scans were not detecting that I had cancer. Only a biopsy did this, so I don’t really see the point.

Many people think I’m crazy for not “checking up” on the status of my condition, and once upon a time I would have agreed. My path is not the right one for everyone, but it is right for me. The moment I stopped struggling, and fighting against myself and the cancer, was the moment that fear left my mind for good. Now, I never fear that I will die of cancer – and that is the most empowering feeling ever.

The number one thing I have learnt over the past four years is that our bodies heal in their own time. Sure, it is our job to do whatever we can to make sure this is possible, but we can’t force anything. Our bodies are incredible, and as long as we listen to them – truly listen to them – give them what they need to heal and remove any obstacles that will prevent the process from happening, healing is inevitable. Healing is possible for all of us.

Connect with Jess on …

Twitter: twitter.com/#!/JessAinscough

Facebook: facebook.com/thewellnesswarrior

Website: thewellnesswarrior.com.au

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Being HypoAware: the behaviour and signs of hypoglycemia

1. Early Warning Signs of Hypoglycemia

What you had for dinner last night can play a significant role in how you feel today. The primary fuel for the brain that plays a role in virtually every aspect of your life, is a steady supply of glucose. When glucose levels in the blood begin to drop, you’ll often feel lightheaded, shaky and experience headaches, excessive sweating, irritability and even depression. In worse case scenarios, low glucose levels sustained over extended periods of time can result in marked personality changes, mood swings and even a coma.

2. Know Your Body

Even though your body can handle extreme changes in diet and health, it prefers to keep things on an even keel. Through a series of checks and balances, your body will let you know when things aren’t right. For instance, significant drops in your blood glucose levels will usually result in corresponding drops in energy, enthusiasm, temperature regulation and personality changes. If you feel that you’re not your “self,” it could be that you’re suffering from hypoglycemia. Try eating something sweet like a few pieces of hard candy, 1/2 cup of fruit juice or commercially prepared glucose tablets. If the feeling persists, contact your physician.

3. Your Appearance

Your physical appearance is your “mirror of health.” Whatever you’re feeling inside will often times reflect how you look on the outside. Acute drops in blood sugar typically result in a sallow, “washed out” appearance due to fluctuations in blood pressure, nutrition and emotional health. Furthermore, if you’ve experienced profuse sweating or diarrhea over a 24-hour period, you could be dehydrated and depleted of important electrolytes that regulate the body’s functions. If you’re concerned about what you see in the mirror, try drinking more water over the course of the day and eat some simple carbohydrates like hard candy or fruit juice.

4. Pay Attention to Behavior Changes and Mood Swings

In addition to the myriad of physical symptoms underlying hypoglycemia, if your blood sugar is low, you may experience sudden unexplained moodiness, crying, difficulty with paying attention or mental confusion. All of these are the brain and nervous system’s way of telling you that it’s short of fuel. Long before you feel these emotional symptoms, your body will send out warnings in the form of uncontrolled sweating, hunger, headaches and pale skin color. Pay attention to all of these warnings and contact your physician if you feel like something is out of the ordinary. If left unchecked, they could progress into permanent impairments.

5. Depression

While many people are familiar with the physical symptoms of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, they’re often surprised to learn that it can also be responsible for a number of emotional and psychological symptoms such as dizziness, mental confusion and depression. Since the brain depends on glucose for proper functioning, it’s no surprise that hypoglycemia can be responsible for mood swings and depression. Glucose is also important for proper functioning of the nervous system, so low concentrations may result in tingling in the feet, hands and even the face.

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Exercise and Hypoglycemia

Your brain and you body uses serum glucose in your blood as a mainstay of energy. To function properly, you body relies on this sugar in your blood. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, occurs when blood glucose fall below a level that prevents your body from operating efficiently.  Exercise can trigger hypoglycemia, so working out with the condition requires knowledge and preparation of potential interventions.

Here’s a step-by-step guide that might work for you.

Step 1: Make sure to measure your serum glucose level before your workout. Exercising responsibly with this condition requires frequent blood glucose testing. It is important that you know your numbers before exercise so that you can intervene if your numbers are too low.

 Step 2: Eat a healthy snack, such as apple slices and a handful of nuts, if you need to raise your serum glucose level before beginning exercise. This type of snack is ideal before exertion, as the carbohydrate from the apple will raise your blood sugar, and the protein from the nuts will help you maintain a healthy glucose level throughout your workout.

Step 3: Before exercise, avoid hypoglycemia triggers such as fasting, eating large meals and drinking alcohol. Eating large – particularly high-carbohydrate – meals puts you at risk for a post-meal blood glucose crash. Stick with several small nutritious meals spaced evenly throughout the day. Also, alcohol’s effects on the liver can make blood-sugar regulation challenging.

 Step 4: Comply with your doctor’s suggested prescription medication regimen to allow for steady blood glucose control. If you take medications for diabetes — either oral or insulin — these can cause hypoglycemia shortly after taking them. It is best to wait several hours before exercising after taking these medications.

 Step 5: Listen to your body during your workout, and know the symptoms of hypoglycemia. Early symptoms include headache, cold sweats, irritability and shaking. Other symptoms you may notice include unequal pupil size and paleness. If you notice any of these symptoms is the best time to intervene. You should always remember that hypoglycemia can progress to seizures, fainting and even coma, constituting a medical emergency.

 Step 6: Consider working out with a partner and carry hypoglycemia interventions with you. Before working out, pack several small snacks, each containing approximately 15 g of carbohydrate. If your hypoglycemia is severe enough that your doctor prescribes glucose injections, keep them with you, and instruct someone you trust regarding administering the injection should you lose consciousness.

 Step 7: Measure your post-workout blood glucose level. During exercise, your body requires more fuel to get you through your routine, and you are using glucose more rapidly than at rest. This step is also important to avoid the crash that can occur from your body’s increased metabolic needs during your workout. To avoid such a crash, a healthy snack is always a good post-exercise intervention.

Note: I am not a medical practitioner, medical questions should always be directed to your doctor.

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Preventing Hypoglycemia

1. Hypoglycemia is a Condition Not a Disease: One of the most important things to remember when dealing with hypoglycemia is that it is a condition and not a disease. Hypoglycemia can result not only from diseases such as diabetes, immune deficiencies and candidiasis but from a number of behaviors such as prolonged fasting and exercise. It can be an unfortunate side effect of certain medications such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), salicylates (such as common aspirin) and quinine sulfates. However, the overwhelming cause of hypoglycemia is an imbalance between the amount of circulating glucose in the bloodstream and the production of insulin- when there is too much insulin and not enough glucose, hypoglycemia will result.

2. Understand Your Family Tree and Your Risk Factors: The old adage goes, “Choose your parents wisely.” And, when it comes to managing the risk factors for hypoglycemia, nothing could be closer to the truth. In addition to a number of factors that you CAN control, there are others that you can’t. For instance, hypoglycemia tends to affect women more than men, especially if they have a family history for diabetes or other metabolic disorders. You are also at higher risk if you are prone to chronic disorders such as liver diseases, pancreatitis, kidney diseases, thyroid disorders or adrenal insufficiencies. While there’s not much you can do about having predispositions to these diseases, it can help you to put your risks for developing hypoglycemia into perspective.

3. Diet’s Role in Preventing Hypoglycemia: If you’re a type 2 diabetic or just prone to large fluctuations in blood glucose, diet is probably the best way to manage your condition. Preventing hypoglycemia revolves around a balanced diet that is free from alcohol, refined and processed foods, white flour, soft drinks, grape and prune juice and saturated fats. Like most other “heart-healthy” diets, diabetics should follow a diet that is high in raw or steamed vegetables, low-fat proteins in cottage cheese, fish, raw nuts, skinless white turkey and low-fat yogurt. Try to limit the amount of starchy foods you eat, such as corn, noodles, pasta, yams and white rice.

4. Regular Exercise: Now comes the good news. If you enjoy regular physical activity such as walking, running or cycling, you’ll be happy to learn that aerobic exercise is one of the best ways to prevent your disease from getting worse. Studies have shown that regular physical activity increases the sensitivity of insulin that is important in regulating normal blood glucose levels. In fact, many people can successfully manage their diabetes through a combination of diet and exercise, eliminating the need to take oral medication or insulin injections. Before you begin an exercise program, it’s a good idea to speak with your health care team to come up with the best approach for your exercise program.

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Hypoglycemia: a personal diagnosis

Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with hypoglycemia? Here’s a special edition HypoAware blog from a 21-year-old who has recently been diagnosed with the condition. She gives you some tips to remember during the diet and lifestyle adjustment period. 

I was diagnosed with reactive hypoglycemia about three months ago at the age of 21. Before the diagnosis, I had no idea what hypoglycemia was or had even had heard of it. I had experience symptoms ranging from tiredness to passing out in the mornings from about the age of 17. I had gone to doctors with my concerns, but they had always dismissed my symptoms as iron or magnesium deficiency.  While I think part of me knew there was something else going on, I mostly ignored my symptoms and continued to eat sugary foods to counteract my afternoon sugar crashes. While the diagnosis was overwhelming (as there is no cure), it was mostly a relief as I finally knew the source of my symptoms.

After finding out I had hypoglycemia, all I could do was research and learn as much as I could. From this process, I realized that hypoglycemia is a condition that remains largely undiagnosed and suffers still remain confused. Information is often conflicting and just plain puzzling- what should I eat? Are there effective medications? What should I do if I start to experience symptoms?

From personal experience, I have come to realise five things:

  1. Protein, protein, protein. Eating protein is essential at EVERY meal. Having a protein shake in the morning, eating nuts and seeds in between meals and incorporating lots of veggies into my diet has made a huge difference. I have found that protein bars often make me feel clouded and sick (probably due to their highly processed nature) even though my doctor recommended them. This leads me to realisation number two…
  2. Hypoglycemia diets need to be customized. Everyone’s symptoms and experience of hypoglycemia is different. What works for some (like protein bars) won’t work for others. You need to listen to your body and understand your symptoms. Hidden food allergies are often linked to hypoglycemia and make hypoglycemic symptoms more pronounced. As such, you should get yourself tested for food allergies. Common allergies include wheat, soy, dairy and foods containing chemical food additives. I have found that a diet similar to the paleo diet free from dairy and wheat has worked the best for me, but I’m still figuring it out.
  3. Caffeine is the devil. Since being diagnosed, I have quit my coffee and have feel a lot better. While I miss my daily caffeine hit ALOT, I’ve since realized that the crashes I used to have in the afternoon were caused by my coffee consumption. After the initial post-latte high, I would become tired and cranky.
  4. Exercise! While you have to be careful about working out when you have hypoglycemia (see the post below “Exercise and Hypoglycemia”) it has made a big difference to my energy levels and the endorphins don’t suck either. Exercise is important in a hypoglycemia health plan, but know your limits. I only exercise for 30 minutes because after that I start to notice symptoms, including shakiness, dizziness and paleness.
  5. It’s hard for people to understand what you’re going through. I am fortunate enough to have amazingly supportive family and friends (after my diagnosis my lovely mother actually followed my new diet with me) and all of them are very sympathetic. However, you’ll come across some people who just don’t understand or dismiss your symptoms as a case of hypochondria. I had many people thinking I was changing my diet to loose weight and didn’t understand why I couldn’t eat sugary food. This skepticism combined with difficult process of dealing with daily symptoms (tiredness, mood swings, lack of concentration, etc) may cause you to come down with a case of  “why me?!” syndrome. While you’ll have bad days, it’s important to remember that hypoglycemia is manageable. You can get symptoms under control through a process of trial and error and live an energetic, happy life.
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