Unwanted Weight Gain on the GAPS Diet

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know the last major change I made to my diet was to try the GAPS Diet but with a high fibre spin.  So how did that go?

 

High fibre certainly made a difference, although I can’t say it was necessarily a positive one.   Things did seem to move through more quickly, if you know what I mean, but there was no real change to the symptoms I’m trying to heal.  My reflux was unaffected and my abdominal pain was unimproved.  I must say I feel better for having the Western standard “recommended” amount of dietary fibre but the benefit is minor and I suspect it may even partially be a placebo effect.

 

Increased Mass

I have been on the GAPS Diet for a couple of months now and I noticed something was happening to me… I wasn’t getting better, no… rather, I was getting bigger.  The GAPS Diet is supposedly the most healthy diet and considering how closely aligned it is with the Paleo Diet, I had naturally assumed I would lose weight on it.  No grains, no potatoes, no sugar… surely I would lose a few kilos, right?  Well, sort of. I did in fact lose exactly 3 kilograms in the first week of the GAPS Intro Diet.  This stayed off for the following week and right up until the point at which I introduced nuts and honey.  From there on in, I not only gained back the few kilos I’d lost, but gained a few extra to keep ‘em company.

 

Now, I want you to know I was not underweight to start with, this is not the GAPS Diet making a wan body healthy.  I wasn’t obese either, just a teensy bit overweight.  I had been a pretty healthy weight and size prior to getting sick but feeling like death all the time is not conducive to exercise nor even healthy eating.  I had tried to smother my nausea in starchy white crackers and breads, giving myself an energy boost with an array of gelatine based confectionaries.  Apart from, no doubt, making my gut health worse, this lead to an increase in physical mass of around 10 kilograms.  I really didn’t need to gain any more.

 

GAPS is a high fat diet, no doubt.  In fact, for patients who suffer from constipation based problems such as abdominal pain, Dr Natasha recommends high fat, suggesting half a cup of crème fraiche a day!  GAPS is not meant to be a high calorie diet though.  The energy you would normally have consumed by eating grains is supposed to be replaced by GAPS-legal fats, avocado, ghee, nuts and animal fat.  I wondered if maybe I had gone overboard and so I visited Calorie King, a website I used to utilise when I was younger, to figure out exactly how much energy I was consuming on an average day.  I was shocked at what I found.  What with all my crème fraiche, nuts, oils and fatty meats, I was wolfing down almost twice the calories a woman of my age and stature ought to be!  No wonder I was gaining weight… it was a miracle I wasn’t humungous!  There were only 2 things for it, I would resume exercising (properly this time, not just my casual strolls around the block when I felt so inclined) and I would need to make a meal plan with a reasonable amount of calories.  Say, around 1500 a day.

 

I began by joining my local gym.  I have actually been thinking about doing this for over a year now.  Ever since moving into the area I have been dissatisfied with the prospect of my local, looking for something better to replace the old gym I had frequented but had to leave when we relocated, to no avail.  I had toyed with the notion of taking up yoga again, resuming the belly dancing I had loved in my teens, or even starting a hip-hop dance class but discovered the cost of one dance class a week was nearly the same cost as an entire week’s worth of gym membership… a membership which entitled me to unlimited fitness classes including dance and yoga and all the other stuff too.  Even if it wasn’t the best gym in the world, it was the most sensible option, and I am all about sensible.

The Plan

To lose weight, get strong and fit again and to just generally feel well again, I was going to need to do a combination of workouts.  I have never liked running, I get bored really fast doing most cardio, and I lack the discipline to simply work out on my own.  I like classes.  Music is good, having an instructor is better and the best bit of all is if I stand up the front and convince myself people are judging me, I dare not slack off in front of them all!  I am very fond of the Les Mills fitness classes and have always enjoyed them, despite the epic legal saga which prevented them from using original music.  My favourites are:

 

BodyPump

An intense weights based class, the first of its kind!  Class members use a barbell with weights while an instructor leads them through a workout set to music incorporating squats, lunges, chest presses, tricep presses, bicep curls, the clean and press and more.

 

BodyBalance

A calming, strengthening workout which combines moves form tai chi, yoga, pilates and dance, all set to modern music and with a short, guided meditation at the end.

 

Sh-Bam!

Back in the day I used to take BodyJam classes and I loved them.  Awesome modern dance routines set to funky music (I was particularly fond of TV Rock vs Dukes of Windsor’s “The Others”), I would get so engrossed in the class I wouldn’t notice I was out of breath ‘til the hour was over.  The only problem was, not too many other people loved it.  There seem to be a lot of very self-conscious types out there who would stand awkwardly at the back of the room, watching the instructor’s feet, afraid to even try lest they get the move wrong and “embarrass” themselves (I need you to understand, I am not a good dancer.  I made heaps of mistakes and probably looked quite ridiculous but the point is, I choose not to be embarrassed because at least I’m having a go).  Anyway, the gym finally phased BodyJam out, despite my multiple objections and strongly worded letters and replaced it with an easier, more accessible dance based class.  Sh-Bam is easier to follow with simpler moves.  It’s a shame, because BodyJam was starting to make me feel a bit like the next Michael Jackson, but at least with Sh-Bam I get a good work out and any class that incorporates a bit of Skrillex is alright with me.

RPM

Ok, so I don’t actually love this class… it is really hard.  But, as my calf muscles rip off their tendons just thinking about high impact aerobics, it is the best cardio workout for me.  Members sit on stationary exercise bicycles and an instructor leads them through a guided workout to thumping music.  Guaranteed to get your heart racing!

 

Here’s my weekly plan:

 

Monday

BodyPump

 

Tuesday

BodyBalance

 

Wednesday

Warm up + free weights

 

Thursday

RPM

 

Friday

Warm up + free weights

 

Saturday

Sh-Bam!

 

Sunday

Rest

 

In combination with my 1500 calorie diet, this should get me back to normal.  Yes it will be tough to begin with but I’m hoping some pain = no more gain!

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Fibre: Friend or Foe?

Fibre.  It’s one of those modern holy words that promises infinite health and conjures mental images of healthy elderly folk, jogging on beaches and enjoying what I can only imagine must be the benefits of their perfectly functioning bowels.  Every doctor in Christendom and beyond touts fibre as the intestinal cure-all and the advertising industry has latched on to this, peddling an array of high-fibre “health” foods and supplements.  But what if fibre isn’t the answer?

Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, creator of the Gut And Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet, claims fibre is in fact more trouble than it’s worth for some people.  Now, before all the critics start stomping their feet, let me clarify this.  No-one is saying fibre has been misjudged and is in fact an evil in society, cloaked in the shroud of health food (like, say, supermarket yoghurt).  No, what Dr Natasha points out is that fibre is fantabulous is you have healthy gut flora.  But if you don’t?  Then it’s downright wretched.

The reason fibre is so darned good for the digestive system is not just that it provides roughage, indigestible solids that slough along the intestinal wall, giving you an internal Spring-clean, but also because it provides a feast for intestinal flora.  They eat it, bathe in it, sleep in it, frolic in it and generally just adore being smothered in fibre.  As a result, the happy bacteria activate the fibre to absorb toxins, boost water and electrolyte metabolism, recycle bile acids and cholesterol and more.  So if you had, say, irritable bowel syndrome or gut dysbiosis, you would automatically think fibre would be the solution, right?  You wouldn’t be alone.  When I first began experiencing symptoms of digestive disorder I visited GP after GP, gastroenterologist and eventually psychiatrist and psychologist.  The first thing all of these medically trained practitioners wanted to know was how much fibre did I eat and had I tried a supplement?  It came to the point where I was so frustrated by answering the same insultingly obvious questions, that I typed up a chart of my diet, my supplements and what I had already tried.  Still, I can’t really be angry with the medical profession for asking about my fibre intake because, as we’ve seen above, it is actually really good for us if our gut is functioning properly.  It all goes horribly wrong you see if the gut is not working right.

Should you suffer from a disorder which causes your intestinal flora to be out of kilter, where the bad bacteria have overtaken the good, then fibre will not save you.  The problem is, funnily enough, the bad bacteria love fibre too.  The pathogenic strains will thrive in the high fibre environment but do not perform the same symbiotic functions.  Instead, the fibre is not processed properly and it further inflames and irritates the intestinal wall.

For these reasons, the GAPS Introduction diet dictates weeks of a virtually fibre-free diet in order to kick start the system, starving out the bad guys before repopulating with the good.  The problem with this is, no fibre often means no bowel movements and if you’re on GAPS due to symptoms of constipation or abdominal pain caused by distension, this is not going to heal your problems at first but initially make them worse.

To counter the unpleasant sensations that accompany the low-fibre diet, Dr Natasha recommends daily enemas but for many, this just isn’t a real possibility.  For those patients who have the courage to attempt what seems like a totally foreign act, they are time consuming, inconvenient, invasive and often painful.  Further, enemas, although widely used in Europe and the US, are not considered acceptable in Australia.  Enema kits are virtually unheard of and are associated with a stigma of something dirty, juvenile or perverse.  Requesting an enema kit in a pharmacy will be met with raised eyebrows and that’s if the staff actually even know what you’re asking for.  The only way to acquire a kit is to purchase online and for those who are have internet access, are techno-savvy enough and, let’s face it, are brave enough, this is a slow and expensive purchase.  Buying an enema kit from overseas can cost upwards of AUD$100 and the wait time on delivery can be weeks.  As such, many Australian GAPS patients struggle through the low fibre Intro Diet with no assistance to get things moving.

I was one of these unlucky patients and as such, I was thrilled when I finished the Intro Diet and was able to add foods like dried fruits and, praise be, beans!  Grains provide the majority of fibre in the “ideal” modern Western diet, closely followed by vegetables, then fruit and legumes after that.  Once the patient has re-introduced GAPS-legal vegetables and fruits, she can begin to introduce lima beans, haricot beans and lentils.  Of course, being the GAPS diet, nothing is ever simple.  You can’t just use any old beans, oh no.  The list of legal legumes must be properly prepared, involving soaking in water and whey overnight before cooking until soft.  Nonetheless, I was thrilled.  Having been a vegetarian by choice for many years, legumes form the basis of many of my favourite meals and I had sorely missed them whilst living on meaty meals.

The question is, once all the introductions are over, can a person on the full GAPS Diet actually get enough fibre without supplements?  According to the Mayo Clinic, adult humans need between 21 and 38 grams of fibre each day in order to maintain healthy digestive functions[i].  That’s a lot of fibre!  Fortunately, as a female, I need much less than the 38g and can settle for a reasonable 21g.  So what GAPS-legal foods are fibre rich?  I began constructing a list and it turns out it’s not that hard.

Dried figs

I love figs.  I am a fig pig.  When figs are in season I will gorge on them, finding a way to incorporate them into every meal and snack until they disappear from the farmers’ market again for another 11 months.  Dried figs are available all year around and as such not nearly as exciting, but they are nearly as delicious.  Just three dried figs for morning tea packs 10g fibre, that’s nearly half the day’s requirement!

Coconut flour

Coconut flour is the saviour of the GAPS and paleo diets, allowing almost traditional baked goods to be enjoyed once more.  It also just so happens to be extremely high in fibre!  A quarter of a cup of coconut flour has 12g of fibre compared to 0.8g for the same quantity of wheat flour.  Make yourself some coconut banana bread for brekkie and you’re well on your way to a high fibre diet for the day.

Avocado

I wouldn’t have thought of avocado as being a naturally high fibre food, being as creamy and soft as it is, but it turns out half an average avo’ contains 5g of dietary fibre.  It’s also a fantastic way to get more of those healthy fats in to your diet which are necessary to replace the calories we would normally get from grains.  Avocado is a great addition to salads, makes a great snack on its own and pairs beautifully with Mexican dishes.  I’m actually eating some chilli con carne with avo’ right now.  So tasty!

Beans/Lentils

Look, they’re called the musical fruit for a reason, ok?  But don’t worry, when soaked and prepared properly, legumes shouldn’t give you any excess gas or digestive problems.  Dr Natasha recommends soaking your legumes overnight in cold water and whey to activate them and to wash away all those nasty lectins (a naturally occurring protein that causes intestinal irritation for many people).  Some people swear by soaking beans in water with lemon juice and I personally find I can handle just plain old water.  100g of dried haricot beans will give you 7g fibre and a quarter of a cup of dried lentils provides about 15g of fibre.  Legumes are also marvellously versatile, good for breakfast lunch and dinner.  Remember that chilli I was eating?  Full of beans!

Nuts & Seeds

Nuts are a powerhouse of nutrition.  Full of good fats, protein and fibre, it seems impossible to conceive that nature might not have intended us to eat them (except of course if you are allergic, then definitely don’t).  30g of mixed nuts yields 2g fibre so tuck in.

Nut breads and nut butters add extra fibre to the table.  A wedge of almond bread for breakfast is a great way to boost your fibre intake.  Want more?  Try mixing dried figs into the batter before baking and serve with lashings of melting butter for a super-fibrous gourmet breakfast treat.

Berries

The only fruit, possibly even food, I love more than figs is raspberries.  There’s something about that sweet, tart, spongey little berry that tingles my palate in just the right way.  Serendipitously, they also happen to have about 4g of fibre per a lahf-cup and other varieties of berries have comparible fibre levels too.

Pre-GAPS I would scoff down berries with mascarpone, meringue and powdered sugar but they also make a delicious accompaniment to yoghurt or crème fraiche, drizzled with a delicately flavoured honey.  You can mix them into your coconut flour banana muffins or enjoy them dried with some nuts just as our ancient ancestors would have done.  And really, that’s what this whole GAPS thing is all about, isn’t it?


[i] Mayo Clinic, n.d., Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet [sic], online, available 14/09/2012, URL: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fiber/NU00033.

GAPS/Paleo Choc Coconut Fudge – yum!

Coconut oil is oft touted as being a supremely healthy superfood. In fact, this sumptuous saturated fat is reported to be beneficial for heart, thyroid, metabolic and immune system health whist also actually assisting with weight management[i]. Moreover, because coconut oil is rich in caprylic acid, it is a powerful natural fungicide, read to knock off both external fungi like athlete’s foot and internal, like the dreaded candida[ii].  What’s more, unlike olive oil which smokes at a low temperature (and will ruin your expensive non-stick pans!) coconut oil doesn’t break down at high heats, making it a perfect oil to cook with.  Aaaand, because it’s a solid at room temperature, it’s a great dairy-free/vegan substitute for butter in baked goods.  Is there nothing it cannot do?!

Personally, I like to fry and bake with coconut oil but I still didn’t feel I was getting enough in my diet.  Then it occurred to me that chocolate is primarily made of dairy fat and sugar, so what would happen if we replaced those things with coconut oil and say, some honey?  I’ll tell you just what happened- deliciousness!  Medicine has never tasted better.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup coconut oil (solid)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 Tbs shredded coconut

Method

  1. Grease a fudge pan with a little coconut oil and line with baking paper.
  2. Place coconut oil, cocoa and honey in a blender or food processor and pulse until just combined, taking care not to over-process or the mix will separate.
  3. Pour mixture into a fudge pan and sprinkle with shaved coconut.
  4. Place pan in refrigerator for at least an hour or until set solid.
  5. Removed fudge from pan and slice into small pieces with a hot, sharp knife.
  6. Store any uneaten fudge (if there is any!) in the refrigerator to avoid melting.


[i] Dr Jospeh Mercola, 02/14/2011, “Coconut Oil Benefits: When Fat Is Good For You”, The Huffington Post, online, URL: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mercola/coconut-oil-benefits_b_821453.html.

[ii] Marek Doyle, 02/09/2012, “Medicinal Uses For Coconut Oil”, LiveStrong.com, online, URL: http://www.livestrong.com/article/213558-medicinal-uses-for-coconut-oil/?utm_source=undefined_R1.

Kefir Creme Fraiche Recipe

Cultured food, as you may have notice, makes up a large part of the GAPS Diet.  It’s oh so important to get those good bacteria back in to your system and while taking probiotic pills can do it, there’s nothing quite like the broad spectrum of goodies you get from eating food au naturale and crème fraiche is a very delicious way to do that.

I can sense your hesitation, I was ginger too.  Dairy is for so many of us with IBS, the enemy.  For some, it’s the lactose that gives them dreadful diarrhoea.  For me, it was the casein, the protein in dairy, that when consumed in bulk, would render me crippled with agonising abdominal pain.  The beauty of the GAPS Diet though is that it heals dairy intolerances and many who could not eat dairy before find that after being on GAPS for a while, all of a sudden they can- no problems.  While I haven’t yet had the courage (the guts?) to try drinking milk, I have slowly introduced crème fraiche, butter and even yoghurt and to my delight, have found that I am no longer experiencing the disabling symptoms I used to.

Crème fraiche literally translates to “fresh cream” which is ironic because that is precisely what it isn’t.  Ok, well it is cream, but it sure aint fresh!  Just as yoghurt ferments when cultures are added, turning it from plain old milk into a thick, delicious treat, crème fraiche is just crème that has been fermented and it’s so easy to make.

Dr Natasha suggests you first begin by making your crème fraiche with a yoghurt starter before progressing to kefir as the bacterial strains in the former are likely to cause fewer die-off reactions (the uncomfortable symptoms experienced when the bad bacteria in the gut are dying- they will put up a fight!).  I however, have never had any luck making my own yoghurt and, unable to find a commercial yoghurt starter, I decided to skip straight to kefir.

My first batch was made using a commercial kefir starter, basically a powder that you stir into the cream.  It worked out quite nicely but I felt as though I hadn’t quite achieved what I’d set out to.  I wanted the real thing but to make real kefir, you need kefir grains- clusters of microbes that eat the sugars in dairy and give off an awesome array of probiotics.  I found a lovely lady on eBay who sells live kefir grains and posts them anywhere in Australia, her username is Tumbletree.

Once I had my kefir grains, it was simply a matter of making a cup of kefir and stirring it through some fresh cream.  A word of warning: do not add kefir grains directly to cream.  You won’t be able to fish them out and not only will you lose your lovely grains (they are re-usable) you won’t be able to enjoy the cream either as it will have microbial clusters in it!  Not pleasant.

Kefir Crème Fraiche

Stuff You Need

  • Kefir grains – about 1 Tbsp
  • 1 cup (250ml) organic, unpasteurised whole milk
  • 500ml organic whole cream
  • Equipment
  • Sterilised jars
  • Cheesecloth
  • Rubber bands or string
  • Fine metal sieve
  • Large bowl

Method

  1. In a sterilisied jar, combine the kefir grains and milk.  Place a square of cheesecloth over the top and secure with a rubber band or some string.
  2. Place your kefir mix in an out of the way corner and leave to ferment for a few days.  If it starts to separate into curds and whey, it’s ready!
  3. Give your kefir mix a good stir and pour through a fine sieve into a large, clean bowl.
  4. Do not discard the grains! – Put these back in the original jar with another cup of milk and start again for your next round of kefir.
  5. Add 500ml cream to the kefir in the bowl and combine thoroughly.
  6. Pour or spoon cream mixture into a sterilised jar, top with a fresh piece of cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band or a piece of string.  Do not put the lid on, we want the creme fraiche to be able top breathe!  Now just leave your jar somewhere out of the way, at room temperature, and allow to ferment for a few days.
  7. Once the cream has achieved the tangy taste you want, simply place a lid on the jar and store in the fridge.  Simple!

Kefir crème fraiche is tasty with so many things, sweet and savoury.  Use it in place of yoghurt, fresh cream and sour cream.  I’ll be having it on top of my chilli con carne and with strawberries for dessert- yum!

Working With A Chronic Illness – Part 4: New Pathways

Accept It.

The key to dealing with anxiety is acceptance.  If you fight it, you will only make yourself more anxious about it and then, ironically, should you feel even the slightest hint of anxiety, you feel more anxious… about feeling anxious!  Humans can be very silly beasts sometimes.

Dealing with a chronic medical condition is hard enough at the best of times but trying to attend work when you’re sick is enough to make anyone feel anxious.  Once again, the secret to overcoming it, is acceptance.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying if you have epilepsy and you “accept it” that your seizures will miraculously stop and life will be peachy, I only wish it were that simple.  What I am saying is that if you, like me, have a condition that makes you feel sick sporadically and that makes you worried that you’ll be unable to work, then accepting your condition and your limitations may well be your ticket to freedom and happiness.

After a year of therapy with my psychologist and several months working with my biochemical doctor, we decided my gut problems might never go away entirely and although I could wait for my anxiety to subside before I went back to work, I wasn’t going to have any income until that day.  In addition, we agreed, the line of work I had been in was a very high-stress environment and possibly wasn’t suited to me.  The very notion of having to back to that job was making me feel anxious in and of itself so my therapist suggested looking for “new pathways” that suited my needs rather than trying to squeeze a piece of myself into someone else’s jigsaw puzzle.

So, what next?

So what next?  A different kind of law, perhaps?  It was what I was trained to do after all.  It seemed a waste to throw away 6 years of full time study (and a $30,000 HECS debt too, thank you very much Howard Government) but I wasn’t sure.  Law is, by its very nature, confrontational.  Law is generally about conflict and the clients who come to us are in states of high emotional distress.  Being the person I am, I can’t ignore that.  I want to help them.  I want to go above and beyond, bend over backwards and extend myself to help them, to ease the suffering.  This unfortunately at legal aid, resulting in me doing far too much overtime, feeling quite devastated when the cases weren’t successful and being especially crushed when my clients became angry and accused me of intentionally not helping them for whatever personal reasons they imagined I had.  My therapist said to me, “It sounds like you’re just not suited to being a lawyer.  That’s not actually a bad thing, you know.”

I tried to think what other kinds of law there might be that didn’t involve emotional clients.  Barristers didn’t have to deal with clients but they did have to deal with scary judges and even scarier, court.  It’s kind of funny; when I originally set out to study law I thought I would be a crash-hot barrister because I was a fierce and fearless public speaker, confident on stage and very quick at picking flaws in testimony.  But 7 years later, after 1 year in practice, the thought of attending court terrified me.  All of a sudden, it wasn’t about striding past the lectern, gesticulating wildly to a rehearsed and flamboyant speech about what we, as humans, can possibly ever truly “know”.  Now it was about real people’s lives and if I stuffed up, it wasn’t just my shame that would occur.  My clients could lose their homes, lose their families or go to prison.  The pressure was intense and I confess, I simply couldn’t handle it.  In a nutshell, I cared too much.

At this stage, my body was giving me grief.  Daily nausea and IBS do not make for a happy worker and trying to imagine a workplace where I wouldn’t be bothered by it was virtually impossible.  I decided to search for options working from home.

Working from home…

Anyone who’s ever tried to work from home will tell you, it ain’t easy.  First, there are no real opportunities.  I mean, what are you going to do?  You can set up your own online store if you have the know-how but so few of them are profitable, it’s a huge risk and you generally need financial backing to get started (I actually sell quite a lot on eBay but it’s only ever made just enough revenue to scrap by).  You can contract for someone else, there are typing jobs that can be done at home but you will need specialist equipment and software and the pay is low.  I actually decided to give that a go as I type fairly quickly, but after filling out countless application forms and online tests, never heard back from any agencies.  I decided this illness was my serendipity.  I had an opportunity to change my life, to start afresh doing something I loved.  Ok, so I’d studied law, big deal.  I never signed a contract saying I had to be a lawyer (and any lawyer would tell you contracts can be broken anyway) so why spend the rest of my life being miserable just ‘cause?  What did I love?  What was I inherently good at?  What would suit my needs now and forever?  Then it hit me; writing.

I originally studied law not because I actually have any interest in law (I don’t) but because I had a gift with English and I wanted a guaranteed income from it.  Let me tell you now, if your parents ever tell you to study law because “you’ll always have a job at least” (thanks Mum) do not listen.  In fact, as I graduated, two other universities in Adelaide were cranking out law grad’s like a catholic rabbit makes babies and my grades were not the best.  To add fuel to the fire, I happened to complete my studies right smack bang at the crescendo of the Global Financial Crisis and also happened to possess the dubious honour of being a woman of childbearing years… read: risky.  I applied for literally over a hundred jobs, interviewed for about ten and still it took me twelve months to get my first job in law.  Actually, it’s a bit of a funny story… I eventually got that job not because of merit or even because I applied for it but because a man abused my father on a holiday in Borneo and then wanted to do him a favour to make up for it.  Turns out he was a lawyer, so you can put two and two together…  It’s like an episode of Seinfeld!

Anyway, the point is, I like words.  I am a wordsmith (or so I like to think).  Other people out there were “writers” so why couldn’t I be one too?  Now was the perfect time to try.  I had time on my hands and my hands on my keyboard.  It might not happen straight away, but nothing ever happened without somebody starting it.

I’m not cut out for novels (short attention span) and I’ve never been good at fiction (lack of imagination) so I decided to start a blog.  I wrote my political opinions, product reviews, film critiques and quasi-comedic commentaries.  It was a bit of fun but it wasn’t going to draw an income.  I needed an actual writing job.

How to be a writer

I wish I had the answer to this question; I don’t.  I guess in a way I do… just write!  But of course, the getting paid to be a writer part, I’m still kind of stuck on.  Ok, so that’s not entirely true.  I am actually a writer now and I do actually get paid.  BUT I only have one client and I get paid peanuts.  So how did I get my first gig?  Well that’s the hard part.  Waiting for your first big break can be what puts most people off freelance writing and I’ll be honest, had I not struck it lucky, my patience would have run out too.  Being a sickie and something of an internet-freak, I spend a lot of time on Facebook.  And websites.  And forums.  *blushes*  Yes people, I am a nerd.  Now that we have that out of the way, we can understand how it was that when one of my favourite personal finance websites posted in my Facebook stream that they were looking for guest writers, I pounced.  Within 10 minutes I’d penned an extensive (rambling) application letter explaining my history, my health and my ambition to write.  I don’t think I even proof-read it, I just typed and clicked “send”.  Within a day I had a response, they’d love to have me, and before I knew it I was negotiating a contract to write regular articles for a prominent savings site.  Not everyone will get an opportunity like this and I must say, finding the next one has been much harder than I thought (editors it seems, will simply ignore your emails if they are busy or don’t like you).  But a start is a start!

But what about the money?

Writing a few short articles a week does not earn me much.  I am not Sarah Wilson or Mia Freedman with an entourage of sponsors and followers.  I have neither the credibility nor fame to charge high prices.  It is something I am building upon gradually, week by week my portfolio grows and one day I hope my name will be one that a few learned readers will recognise.  In the meantime, I have to do something else to make a crust.

I extremely lucky that my partner owns his own business.  Well, it’s a mixed blessing actually because it means he’s extremely busy and if he worked for someone else, he’d be making double and probably wouldn’t need me to work.  But c’est la vie; we play with the cards we are dealt and I choose to consider this an opportunity, not an obstacle.

When I became ill and was home all day it seemed silly that I not help out with the business.  I’d previously worked in an admin role and knew vaguely what needed to be done.  I started keeping a register of all incoming mail, date stamping everything and the like.  I drafted procedural documents, office policies, employment contracts and more.  As time went by and my health improved, I was able to come to the office and assist with more and more things, eventually taking over the invoicing and the accounts.  I became the self -proclaimed “administration and finance manager” and excelled in my role.

Having a job to go to can feel a burden when you are feeling really sick but it can also be extremely rewarding.  Even a relatively banal job like admin can be self-actualising in that you are actually doing something with clear and obvious results.  It may sounds silly, but I get a little kick every time I post out an invoice or deposit a cheque.  And what I love about business is that while problems do arise from time to time, it is not intrinsically confrontational.  Most people I deal with are friendly and happy and trying to make an effort to get along.  We are focused on building relationships and construction systems (it’s an engineering business) not destroying people and cutting them down.  I’m confident in what I do and I know if I feel wretched I can generally still hunch over my desk and get my work done without over-hyped clients thinking I’m not really listening or managers breathing down my neck about billable hours.

Onwards and Upwards

While I write about money to earn money, it’s not the love of my life.  It’s not my true calling and it doesn’t fulfil me spiritually.  Further, writing for someone else is a good gig in that you get paid regularly, but if the business isn’t in your name, you can never build upon the reputation and more importantly, the profits.  I don’t even own the intellectual property rights of my own articles!  I decided to start a different writing venture… one I could update when I felt like but knew wouldn’t be too mentally demanding to require research for each post.  I started “Get Well Or Die Trying” as my own little way of telling the world (or whoever would listen) about my stories, my experiences and, of course, my recipes while I was getting better.  Every time I write I feel better and I hope, my dear reader, that some of what I say can make you feel better too.

I’m not sure what the future holds for my career.  One thing is for certain, it looks good.  My partner has recently decided to expand his business to include an online shop and I, with all my eBaying experience and the anally-retentive attention to detail (typical undermethylator), am to be the e-commerce manager.  It’s a little bit exciting and a little bit scary but working for the “family business” is kind of like being your own boss and I’ve come to the conclusion that if you suffer an invisible chronic illness, that’s the way to go.

Working with a Chronic Illness – Part 3: the Insurance Debacle

Last time I spoke to you, I told you how I’d become sick and lost my job, tried to make a welfare claim from Centrelink and, despite reports from two medical professionals, had been rejected because: a) I lived with my partner (even though we weren’t sharing finances) and b) my condition wasn’t “settled”.  I’d like to now tell you how it all got better but unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

Having been rejected for my Centrelink claim, the panic began to set in.  What was I going to do for money?  How would I pay my rent?  How would I buy food?  And more importantly, how would I pay for my myriad of doctor’s appointments and medication?  Sucking up my pride, I raised the subject with my partner.  At first he was furious with Centrelink.  How dare they assume he should support me just because we are living together?  I reasoned that if they did not have that policy, many couples would take advantage of the system.  He seemed to accept that but then became annoyed with me.  Why had I let myself be fired?  How sick could I really be?  Why didn’t I just “tough it out”?  He opined that I’d never liked the job or even working at all, and this was all an elaborate ruse to get me to stay at home on some kind of lovely never-ending holiday.  Anyone who’s ever had an invisible chronic illness will know these accusations.  Chronic illness defies the usual pattern: get sick, get diagnosed, get well.  When doctors, in whom we put so much faith, say “we don’t know what’s wrong with you and we can’t make you better” the people around us, trained and lay alike, start to get suspicious.

This arguing went on for some time, putting a huge strain on our relationship, but to his credit, my partner said he would not see me out on the street.  We came to an agreement, I would pay 1/3 of the household costs until I was back on my feet.  Not daring to push my luck, I agreed.  The only problem was, with an income of zero, how was I going to pay a third?

Things went from bad to worse.  Shortly after my Centrelink rejection I received a letter from my employer.  The letter not only confirmed my dismissal but added that I had actually been overpaid in excess of $1,000 and that I would have to pay that back immediately.

Through tears of humiliation, I emailed my old manager.  A man I’d previously had a fun and friendly relationship with.  I explained my situation, that I had no income, that I couldn’t even get benefits and that I was unable to pay a cent right now but would be willing to pay by instalments.  It is a sickening feeling when you know someone who has previously liked and admired you, pities you.  I went from being a capable, confident and attractive colleague to being a charity case.  The only difference was that our clients were probably better off than me as most of them received Centrelink payments!

Word soon got around of my demise and I received a few kind and thoughtful emails from my co-workers, one of whom suggested I might be able to claim income protection insurance through my superannuation.  A brilliant idea!  It had not occurred to me.  I’d never taken out an income protection insurance policy (and if you are in any kind of employment right now, I strongly suggest you do so immediately!!) but I was a new member of the superannuation fund for South Australian Government employees and part of their plan was to automatically include all members in an income protection insurance plan.

Elated, I downloaded the application form and began filling it out.  I discovered I already had all the documentation I needed from my doctors!  I checked the time periods and found that I had been a member of the fund long enough to apply and that if my application was accepted, I would be entitled to 75% of my salary for up to two years or until I was recovered.  I was thrilled!  75% of my salary would easily continue to pay my half of the bills and the relief of knowing I could take my time and heal without worrying constantly about money meant I would most likely get better sooner.  I was confident my application would be accepted, after all the insurance was intended to cover acute instances of illness, not “settled” conditions, like the Disability Support Pension I had been denied.  I posted my forms off and waited, quietly happy that my problems had been solved.

Then I got the rejection letter.  My application for income protection insurance, it said, had been denied due to “legislation”.  It did no further to explain what legislation, which provisions or why.  There was however, a name, email address and an invitation to contact them should I have any “further inquiries”.  I typed out my email, a polite enquiry as to which sections of which act/s were applicable and a reason for the decision to deny my application.

That afternoon my phone rang.  I can’t really explain what it’s like to be anxious to someone who hasn’t ever had the condition, but the notion of answering a phone to a private number when it may well be about something very serious, is terrifying.  The adrenalin racing through your body means you’re barely capable of constructing a coherent sentence and the likelihood of remembering anything that was discussed is slim to none.  Plus, being a lawyer and all, I prefer email over phone calls… I just like to have everything in writing.  I let it go to voicemail and listened to the message.  It was the lady from the super fund asking me to call her back.

I waited until the next day and wrote another email.  I thanked her for her call, apologised for missing it and asked if she could please reply to my query by email as I suffered from such severe anxiety at this time that talking on the phone was very difficult for me.  She did not reply.  I waited another week and emailed again, forwarding the previous message, and asking if she could kindly answer my questions by email.  Still nothing.  Two more weeks passed before I sent a third and final email asking if there was a reason no-one could email me?  This was a service for people who were unable to work due to whatever illness and I was surprised they weren’t more accommodating of each particular ailment.  If I was in a wheelchair, I said, they would hardly ask to me to walk up stairs to an interview room so why, with crippling anxiety, the very reason for my application, would they ask me to talk on the phone?  Still no reply.

At this stage, I was fuming.  I went in to law in the first place because I have a strong sense of social justice and this reeked of discrimination to me.  They knew I had anxiety, that was the symptom preventing me from working!  They knew I was uncomfortable with phone conversations and they knew how to very easily contact me by email or, heck, I would have even been happy with snail mail.  Society still has problems accepting mental health problems.  Those who have never had it or seen it first-hand seem to think its sufferers are either making it up, exaggerating or are “crazy”.  I was not crazy, my rational mind was functioning clearly.  I simply had adrenalin coursing through my body constantly and certain situations made it worse.  So why were they treating my ailments differently to “physical” ones?

Working in legal aid has taught me a few valuable things and one of those is to whom you complain when things aren’t going your way.  I wrote to the ombudsman about my situation, explaining everything in detail and declaring that I felt discriminated against.  They responded fairly quickly with a letter explaining that my application had been denied because I had not met the requisite time frame.  According to the legislation (which I had found on my own by this stage through research) an applicant had to be unwell for work for at least a week after their employer’s sick leave entitlements ran out, and only then would they be considered.  According to the ombudsman, the super fund was saying I had not met that threshold.

By this stage, I had been too sick to work for over three months.  I had no financial support from the government I’d happily paid my taxes to when well and now my own income protection insurance fund was trying to screw me- I was furious!  I wrote to them explaining in no uncertain terms that I most certainly did cross the threshold in that my sick leave had expired many months ago and since then I’d been living on sheer willpower.  Then the ombudsman started phoning me.

The second important lesson I have learnt from legal aid is to know when you’re defeated.  If you have already gone to the ombudsman, there is no higher authority to complain to, so if the ombudsman asks you to jump you either ask how high or get out of the contest. If they weren’t going to agree to email communications, I was at the end of the line.  Reluctantly, I returned the call.  Oh, now, I didn’t do it straight away!  No, that would be what a healthy person does.  I waited for a day or so, making notes of what I would say, outlining the relevant act and generally getting myself all worked up about it.  I dialled the number and hung up before it rang several times, like a teenager trying to call a cute boy.  Finally I worked up the courage to call and spoke to a polite young lass at the ombudsman’s office.

She apologised for making me use the phone but felt it would be “easier”.  I’m still annoyed by this statement to this day.  Of course it would be “easier” for her, that is what she wanted.  It was by no means easier for me.  In fact, considering the confusion regarding the facts and the laws, I felt it would have been much easier for any normal person to put the whole story in writing.  However, I had already done that and she still did not quite seem to understand the crux of my argument, so I suppose I must concede that for some people, written communication may not be very easy.  Although why they are working for the ombudsman in a quasi-legal role is another question altogether…

Anyway, the young girl I spoke to was very nice and genuinely tried to help, I’ll give her that.  The problem was, she’d never read the act and was unfamiliar with this kind of application.  The poor thing was probably new to the role and I had thrown her in the deep end.  We went over the problem again and again and she kept coming back with the same answer, you haven’t been sick for long enough.  I felt like banging my head against a wall!  I had been sick, too sick to work, and had doctors’ reports to confirm it, I said, for several months.  How on earth could that “not be long enough”?  Well, she looked into it and I looked into it and much to my dismay, one afternoon, I found my answer.  It was not in the relevant act itself, but the subordinate regulations… right down the bottom.  The way it was worded was unclear at first instance but after several readings it became clear, I was not entitled to any income protection insurance because I had lost my job.

I couldn’t believe it.  What on Earth is the point of income protection insurance if it doesn’t cover you in times of unemployment?  If I was still employed, I would have had an income and as such, would have no need for the insurance!  It was a complete catch-22.  If you don’t need help, you’re entitled to it but if you do, you’re not.  Ridiculous.  I was beside myself with anger but alas, that was what the law said and as I knew all too well, there is no arguing with the law.  I had lost and would not be getting any insurance payments.  I informed the ombudsman of my findings (I’m still not sure she really understood what had happened) and resigned myself to failure.  I was going to have to think of a new way to make money, something that suited my needs.

Working with a Chronic Illness – Part 2: The Welfare Nightmare

When I last talked about this, I told you of the many trials and tribulations that anyone with an invisible chronic illness faces if they try to stay in the workforce.  I told you how I’d felt progressively sicker and sicker, to the point where I simply couldn’t go in to the office anymore and eventually lost my job.  Today I want to tell you what happened after that.

For the blessed few, money is not a concern.  For the rest of us, it poses an every-present peril, a perpetual sword of Damocles, threating to drop and impale us should we put a fiscal foot wrong.  Losing your job is a pretty quick way to tempt the dangling sword and once it starts to drop, you better look out because it’s hard to hang a sword back up again when it’s sticking in your heart.

Let me take you back a little way.  I have never come from a wealthy background.  My family weren’t badly off, but we weren’t rich either.  I was one of the kids who had to stay home when my class went on the ski trip and our holidays were more around the house than around the world, so I’m used to having an inextravagant lifestyle.  When I was 14, my family kind of fell apart.  It’s a long story and for another time, but save to say I’ve been living independently on and off ever since then and when all you have to live off is $50 dollars a week, you learn to be thrifty!

When I finally hit the ripe old age of 20 and decided I wanted to go to university I was living alone, paying commercial rent and working 2 part time jobs.  This continued for the next 6 years while I studied, often taking on extra catering or promotional jobs to add to the kitty.  Life is expensive, particularly here in Australia, and the bills kept rolling in faster than I could earn.  Law textbooks are not cheap and a series of emergency dental care, root canal therapy, finding I needed glasses and having to buy an iPod (no really) put me in serious debt.  I don’t know quite who authorised the decision to give me accredit card in the first place, but some darn fool did and I took full (dis)advantage of it.

With an excess of $5,000 in consumer debt, my first priority on attaining professional employment was to pay it off.  I’m proud to say I did and it only took me about 18 months.  The down side is, I’d only just started to make actual savings when I got sick.

Being sick is expensive.  Or at least, trying to find out why you are sick is.  I spent literally thousands having test after test, being sent to a seemingly endless parade of specialists, each more useless than the last, and even having a colonoscopy to eliminate the threat of bowel disease.  Of course, the medical insurance I shell out over $70 a month for would not cover any of this (apparently it was all elective or “alternative”) so guess where that money came from?  Remember those savings?  Yep.  All gone in the blink of an eye.  By the time my sick leave ran out and my employer was saying bye-bye, I had nothing left to my name.

We Australians sometimes forget how lucky we are to live in a welfare state but when you fall on hard time, it’s reassuring to know the “safety net” (aka Centrelink) will be there to catch you.  Unless you happen to be in just the situation I was in, it would seem…

The day I was told my job contract would not be renewed (which also happened to be Valentine’s Day, how lovely) I contacted Centrelink.  (I tried to phone them, but those of you who have ever attempted calling Centrelink will know this is a feat near impossible.)  I registered my intention to claim and waited patiently, relieved after my hysteria that I would not be out on my bum, but that the taxes I’d paid would support me in my hour of need.

When the application pack arrived, I discovered things weren’t going to be simple.  I’d applied for welfare before as a youth but things were now considerably more complex; I had a partner.  Centrelink consider that you are legally living in a de-facto relationship if you live with anyone you are romantically involved with.  It does not matter if you are hetero or homosexual, married, committed or even monogamous.  If you live with them and you’re more than just friends, it will affect you.  I guess if you are just friends you can be “friends with benefits” (Government benefits!)

I suddenly realised that after living with my partner for less than a year, Centrelink was now treating me like a wife.  They did not just want to know my income, my assets, my savings, but his also.  This was difficult for many reasons, none moreso than the fact that we simply weren’t at a stage of the relationship where we shared that kind of information with each other!  My partner and I had an arrangement whereby we split the bills 50/50 and spent the rest on whatever we liked.  He was trying to start up his own business, I was paying off debt and buying food.  For me to have to ask him to provide written evidence of all of his income and assets including his personal and business tax returns and the company’s BAS statement, was not just inconvenient but painfully embarrassing.

Now, you need to know that we weren’t rich.  My car was a 1996 Barina worth less than $5k and I had no assets whatsoever.  My partner had invested what small savings he had into his new business and while that appeared to be a significant amount on paper, the reality is that money needed to stay in the business just to keep it breaking even.  With his less than average income and my income suddenly gone, we were only just getting by.  Centrelink apparently felt otherwise, according to their scale, we were too well off and I was denied sickness benefits.

Simple sickness benefits aren’t the only option if you’re unwell, Centrelink also has the Disability Support Pension for people with long-term ailments.  The interesting thing about the DSP is that it pays a substantially higher amount than sickness benefits… almost double.  Both require medical evidence in order to be granted, the only difference is with the latter, Centrelink has to be satisfied that you are unable to work for at least the next 2 years.  I decided to ask my doctor.

At this stage, I had two medical professionals, my GP and a psychologist I’d been seeing.  I’d been referred to the psychologist after my previous GP could not diagnose my problems and thus concluded they must be “all in my head.”  My psychologist had, after a year of therapy, opined that he didn’t not think my problem was mental at all, and referred me to a different GP.  Both agreed that I was very unwell.

On discussion with my GP it became evident that it is not enough to be sick to get the DSP.  You need to have a medical condition that Centrelink accept as being disabling.  Irritable Bowel Syndrome, no matter how crippling, is apparently not enough to keep you from working, and Pyrroluria?  Don’t even bother, she said.  Anxiety was a symptom I was struggling with at this time so my GP suggested applying on the basis of that.  She certified that I was suffering from severe anxiety and that, in her professional opinion, I may not be able to work for the next two years.  My psychologist was happy to confirm this diagnosis, writing a complementary report.  I submitted these to Centrelink and felt confident that at last, I could relax.

It came as a rude slap in the face when Centrelink advised I would have to attend an “assessment” meeting.  I was to attend a local office where a mental health professional would examine me for 30 minutes and make a decision regarding my health.  Even in theory I find this practice outrageous.  It is hard enough for a person with severe anxiety to leave the house just to go and see their own, trusted health professionals, let alone be critiqued by a stranger.  Moreover, I wonder at the scientific validity of their findings.  I fail to see how the 30 minute consultation of a highly strung patient can compete with reports from a doctor who had been treating the patient for a year.  Nonetheless, I attended.

I remember being as tightly wound as a spring as I sat in the Centrelink waiting room.  I crossed my legs hard against each other, resisting the urge to run.  Anxiety is a perplexing condition, it makes you feel under attack even when no threat is present and I felt like a gazelle with a pride of lions closing in.  My heart was racing, my mouth dry and every muscle clenching so tightly it hurt.  I have very little memory of what was said when they called me in except that I was asked an awful lot of questions I couldn’t answer.  What was my diagnosis?  What was I taking?  What had I had in the past?  Who had I previously seen?  With all the blood in my body fuelling the thumping heart in my chest, my poor brain was running on empty and I think I actually cried for the shame of not knowing these simple things.  I felt put on the spot, examined like counterfeit tender, exposed, raw and ashamed.  Had I done enough to convince them I was feeling the way I was?  Who could say.  I tried to remain positive and hoped for the best.

Two weeks later, I received my rejection letter.  The reason for the decision, it stated in black and white print, was that I was well qualified.  With two university degree and recent employment history, the assessor felt I was capable of working.  At that moment, I could have punched him.  How on Earth does having a degree (or two, as the case may be) make a sick person better?  Would a man with cerebral palsy be able to continue working regardless of his condition, simply because he was well qualified?  I think not.  I felt discriminated against and ripped off.  I was genuinely sick, had the doctors’ reports to prove it and Centrelink still weren’t going to pay out because no doubt they have some money-saving policy that says if you can’t measure an illness, just say it doesn’t exist.  I cried a lot that day… that whole month actually.

Centrelink has an appeal process put in place by legislation.  This is to ensure the rights of the weak are not trampled by those of the giant.  I know there are centres who assist people in situations like mine but my mixture of anxiety, pride and shame prevented me from calling them.  How could I say “I was a lawyer who used to help people, and now I’m just a person who needs legal help”?  It was all too embarrassing.  I began drafting a letter to Centrelink, demanding a review and explaining why I did not believe my qualifications or experience were relevant considerations.  I knew I had ample time and was in no rush to post it, fearing that it may actually go to the tribunal and that if this eventuated, there was no way my anxiety would allow me to represent myself in a quasi-courtroom.

It is an ironic flaw in the system that people who need help cannot get it.  The realities of anxiety and depression are oft overlooked by lawmakers who do not seem to realise that truly anxious and/or depressed people will not continue to fight even when the law is on their side.  The will back down at the first rejection, the stress of an ongoing battle is simply too much to consider enduring.  I wonder how many people with mental health issues have had to go without the benefits that rightfully ought be theirs simply because they were too mortified by the prospect of an appeal?  I would wager there’d be a significant few.

The more I thought about it, the more I upset myself and, after countless sleepless nights, I decided to just let it go.  I would simply have to find another way to support myself.  Shortly after making this decision, I received another letter from Centrelink telling me again that my application had been denied (way to rub salt in the wound guys) but this time for an entirely different reason.  According to this letter, my condition was not “settled” and it was a prerequisite of the DSP that any medical condition be as treated as it possibly could be before a grant of aid would be given.  In short, because I hadn’t tested every single treatment method possible, I was not entitled to anything.  Because I had not seen a psychiatrist and taken psychotropic medication, despite the fact that this was pyrroluria and not purely mental illness, I was on my own.  By this stage I had run out of tears.  I was going to have to come up with something else.

To be continued…

All In a Ferment over Pickl-Its!

 

Today I am pleased to announce I did not give myself food poisoning and my linen press no longer smells like rotten cabbage.  What an achievement!  These might not seem like especially likely events but up until a few days ago, in my house, they were.  You see I have been experimenting with the ancient food preparation method of fermentation and, well, let’s just say I’m not naturally gifted at it.  There have been more disasters than successes, but I have finally found the secret… it’s Pickl-It jars!

Those of you who are familiar with Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride’s Gut And Psychology diet (GAPS) will know how strongly she recommends naturally fermented foods.  This is because the GAPS patient is bereft of the “good” bacteria in our digestive system and it needs to be replaced.  We can be low in good bacteria for a number of reasons; maybe we took too many antibiotics or analgesics, the contraceptive pill, had a poor diet (low fat is particularly bad apparently!) or maybe we just inherited too few good bacteria from our mothers.  For me it was all of the above and the result is Gut Dysbiosis and Leaky Bowel Syndrome.

Why can’t you just take probiotics?  Well, you can, in fact it’s recommended, it’s just you’re unlikely to actually find a commercially available probiotic product that’s got enough good stuff.  Dr Natasha opines that most probiotic products on the market are either not strong enough, do not contain strong enough strains of bacteria or simply do not contain enough variety of bacteria to be beneficial for the gut (over a hundred species of bacteria have been identified as being beneficial for the gut and a healthy digestive system should contain most of them).  And that’s if the bacteria are even still alive which, due to the poor quality control systems in the industry, many are not.  The best way to ensure you’re getting a wide variety of live probiotic bacteria every day is to grow it yourself and eat it.

I tried to make my own fermented foods a few times… it did not pan out so well.  I followed a few different recipes I found online, some using starter cultures, others au natural.  I made sauerkraut take 1, sauerkraut take 2, pickled vegetable medley, dill pickle cucumbers and more.  The sad part is, most of those ended up in the great beyond (aka the wheelie bin), frothing with mould and emitting a foul odour that I can only speculate would rival the Bog of Eternal Stench.  You see, fermentation is an anaerobic process and if air gets into it, it’s ruined.  It is for this reason that trying to do your ferments in jars and buckets is hit and miss.

And then I discovered Pickl-Its.  Pickl-It is a US company who took the simple Fido jar, drilled a hole in the lid and added a one way air-lock which allowed CO2 to escape, but no air to get in.  Brilliant.  There’s no more faffing about with plates in buckets, the Pickl-It jar works every time.  Simple as that.

I’m pleased to say that after all my previous failures, I made 2 huge jars of vegetable medley and, after 4 weeks of fermenting, they are perfect!  And all I had to do was sterilise the jars, chop the veggies and put it all together.  I love it when things just work, don’t you?

Dressing for Digestive Illness: The Drapey Lady Look

I was shopping with a friend of mine the other day on King William Road.  For those of you who know Adelaide, you’ll know that the shopping strip along KW Road in Hyde Park is infamously well-to-do and predominantly inhabited by wealthy mature ladies.  As my friend and I peered in the windows of the clothing stores who cater to this market, she stated to me most matter of factly, 90“There’s a look I really don’t like for older women… the drapey lady look”.  I quizzed her on this subject and it seems the “drapey lady” look essentially comprises of leggings and long, loose, “drapey” tunic tops and cardigan coats.  The kind of thing you might see at Metallicus or the like.  I looked at her, looked in the shop window, looked down at myself and began to laugh.  I may only be 32, but it would appear I am already one of the dreaded “drapey ladies”!

You see, draping is brilliant for covering up less than desirable lumps and bumps.  It is the perfect style for the mature woman as it is feminine, functional and bets of all, conceals tummy, hips and thighs.  A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have dared attempt this look.  I was fit, firm and happy to wear jeans and a tee shirt.  But then I got sick.

Maintaining a slim figure never came easy to me.  I exercised 6 times a week, doing resistance and cardiovascular training as well as yoga and dance.  I ate a dietician recommended diet, low fat, low calories and truckloads of vegetables but still it was a struggle.  So when I got sick and all of a sudden I didn’t feel like going to Pump class and eating a green salad, the weight came piling on.

In addition to getting bigger all over, there was the daily bloating.  My midriff may not actually be expanding like some kind of gas-filled blimp but by Jove, it sure feels like it!  Some days just wearing clothing with a waistband can be excruciating and so enter drapey lady fashion.  Hey, any excuse to buy a new wardrobe, right?

I’m a bit of an unusual drapey lady, my shape is more hourglass/skittle than apple, so the draping for me tends to begin at the high-waist, rather than the chest.  By wearing clothing that fits snugly through the bust and high waist, then skimming over my hips and thighs, I feel I’m adequately concealing my sore and swollen belly and what’s more important, I’m comfortable.

Here are a few pieces I bought recently to further my drapey lady look.

Glunge, long sleeved pullover in Limeade, $24.95, Cotton On

This works well with stretchy skinny jeans or leggings and a mini skirt for a Rodarte Black Swan inspired off-duty ballerina look.  Plus, because it’s such a sheer lightweight fabric, it drapes gently across the body without adding extra bulk so can be worn layered on cold days or as is on warmer ones.

Chic Style oversized white shirt, $46.99, Romwe.com

Every lady, drapey or not, needs a classic white shirt and this season’s oversized interpretation is perfect for covering thunder thighs.  I’m a big fan!

Neutral Pleat Detail Culottes, $25, Warehouse

Ok, so it’s not exactly the drapey lady signature style, but it is drapey and it works for me.  I love anything high waisted… I can cinch the waistband up and over my bulging belly on bad days and take the pressure off.  Waaaay better than the whole hipster jeans trend, that was just painful.

Meridian Wood Post earrings in Neon Lime Green, US$7, Paragraph Loop on Etsy

I’m a bit excited about the coming neon and pastel colour trend coming for Summer, even though both neons and pastels typically make me look sick.  Well, that’s one good thing about being sick I guess… nothing can actually make you look any worse- ha!  Seriously though, I’m in love with these earrings and if a drapey lady needs one accessory, it’s a pair of bright and exciting earrings to draw the eye up and away from all that drapery.  These definitely nail the brief.

The Gar-ject Garlic Press

I want to tell you today about a rather brilliant little device I’ve found that’s making my life less, well, smelly.  Now don’t worry, I’m not going to start talking about enemas again, I’m talking about the smell of garlic.  You know that pungent aroma, it can be so intoxicating, drifting through the house, mixed with hot butter and baking bread.  It does not smell so sweet however, on your fingers… for hours afterwards.

Normal garlic presses require first for the garlic to be peeled.  The artful cook can peel a clove with limited skin contact but it after crushing that the problems begin.  To get the remaining bits of skin and flesh, trapped in the regular garlic press, must be picked out with a knife… or your fingers.  Dreamfarm designs has done away with these tedious requirements in one fell swoop with the invention of the Gar-ject!

The name “Gar-ject” is a contraction of “garlic” and “eject”, named so because that is precisely what it does.  After crushing the garlic, you simply lift the lever around to the other side, give it a little squeeze and press the “eject” button.  There is nothing quite so satisfying as watching the garlic scraps fling out of the Garject and into the bin!

What’s even better is that the Gar-ject eliminates the need to peel the garlic too.  You simply plonk your clove in the device, squeeze to crush, invert and eject.  No skin-to-garlic contact at all!

Since the dawn of civilisation, wise folk have known the benefits of eating garlic.  And for the very reasonable price of $39.95, that’s something I’ll be able to do frequently… without the giveaway stinky hands.

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