Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Day in the Life of Our Homeschool (with a nearly-3 and nearly-6 year old)

My homeschool philosophy is based largely on Classical Education and Charlotte Mason. My daughter Alina is in first grade, studying reading, math, handwriting, history, science, and music. My son Ian is young enough that I don't require any formal schooling of him, but he does choose to do some preschool workbook pages most weeks.

Our weekly school routine is planned so that we do more school work towards the beginning of the week, and have more free time and outings later in the week.

We start our school day bright and early, typically finishing up no later than noon.  While every day seems to have some variation, a typical day for us looks like this:
  • 5:30-6:00AM
    • I wake up early a few days a week.  Since my youngest is still not sleeping through the night, I never set an alarm, but I do seem to wake around 5:30 a few days each week. I use this morning time to grab a quick snack and do some blogging or homeschool planning. 
  • 6:00-7:30 AM 
    • My son is an early riser, so he usually gets up between 6-6:45AM.  We get up together and relax a bit; usually he nurses while I check e-mail and read a few blog posts.  
    • A few times a week, I offer the option for my son to do some school work, and he typically chooses to do so about twice a week. Even though it is early, this is the best time of day for him to do school work, when I can have some one-on-one time with him and he hasn't yet gotten involved in playing with his cars.
    My current stack of math, science, and history read-alouds
  • 7:30-9:00 AM 
    • My daughter usually wakes up between 7:30 and 8:30AM.  Once she gets up, she can choose to have breakfast right away or to do her quiet reading time. 
    • During breakfast, I read aloud from a history, science, or math book (depending on the day). 
    • Alina during quiet reading time
    • For quiet reading time, my daughter will settle onto the couch for 30 minutes on her own. She is an advanced reader, so she gets to choose her reading material from a stack of books I've placed on the couch. While she reads, I start a load of laundry or clean up breakfast dishes. 
  • 9:00-10:00 AM
    • My daughter does her writing practice for the day. 
    • I often join her at the table so I can get in my own study time as well (I'm studying homeopathy these days).  
    • Little brother plays with cars or trains on his own.  
    • When she is done with her writing, Alina gets a 20 minute recess to play and I skip off to get dressed for the day.
  • 10:00 AM-noon
    • The kids can have a piece of fruit for a snack. (Fruit is their only food option for this snack time, and it makes things so much more simple.)
    • Math time for Alina. Twice a week this consists of playing a math game with me (usually Addition or Subtraction War, 21, Yahtzee, or sometimes Monopoly if we have extra time). Ian likes to play along sometimes too by playing with the dice or cards. Once a week, Alina gets to do Khan Academy for math (which has short arithmetic demonstration videos and a chance to try her own arithmetic).
    • Alina gets another recess to play for 20 minutes.
    • I work on dinner prep, making lunch, and doing laundry.
    • our current science project
    • We have lunch and then finish up any remaining school for the day.
  • noon-1:30 PM
    • Free play time for the kids.
    • I clean up lunch dishes, finish dinner prep, break up sibling squabbles, and work on laundry.
  • 1:30-4:00 PM
    • Quiet time for everyone!  
    • Ian naps for ~2 hours.
    • Alina is in her room with the door closed.  She is allowed to listen to music, color, read, work on a sewing/bead project, or do whatever strikes her fancy so long as she's in her room and cleans up before she comes back out.  
    • I take a short power nap (essential for a mom recovering from adrenal issues!).  The remainder of quiet time I spend blogging, working out, doing yoga, or finishing up laundry in blessed solitude.
  • 4:00-6:00 PM
    • The kids have a snack of fruit or homemade cookies. I sometimes read aloud during their snack.
    • Free play time for the kids.
    • I empty the dishwasher and make dinner. Sometimes a little helper will join me if anyone is willing.
  • 6:00-8:30 PM
    • My husband arrives home from work.
    • We eat dinner as a family.
    • My husband and I clean the kitchen. Meanwhile, the kids play.
    • Free time for all: chatting, reading, playing games, coloring, etc.
    • ~30 minutes of read-alouds before bed. Everyone is in bed by 8:30 PM (us grown-ups too, although my husband and I use this time to read in bed, enjoying the calm and quiet before going to sleep around 9:30-10).
That's a typical weekday for us. If there is interest from you readers, I'll post more about the specific curricula/resources we use for each subject soon.

Do you homeschool?  If so, do you follow a routine, or have things more free-form?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Our Easy Weekly Dinner Routine

Cooking nutrient-dense foods can be quite time consuming, but over time I have come up with a dinner routine that works well for us without me having to spend copious amounts of time in the kitchen.  With this routine, I only have to cook two or three full dinner meals each week. I plan the week so that I don't have to do any substantial dinner cooking at all on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. This gives me a wonderful break from the kitchen on weekend evenings. This routine relies heavily on leftovers, plus we have one super easy night each week on Saturday.

Our Dinner Routine

  • Monday - Cook a full dinner meal
  • Tuesday - Leftovers from Sunday
  • Wednesday - Cook a full dinner meal
  • Thursday - Slow cooker meal
  • Friday - Leftovers from Monday
  • Saturday - Family Movie Night, so we have a homemade smoothies and popcorn for dinner
  • Sunday - Leftovers or dinner at my mom's house

Make a Large Amounts!

One of the keys to making this dinner routine work is that I make large portions whenever I cook.  This means I often double or even triple recipes.  It doesn't usually take much longer to cook a double amount of a recipe.  Usually, there are just more vegetables to chop or more meatballs to make, but the overall prep and cook time only increases a bit to accommodate larger portions.  

Having large cooking dishes on hand is crucial to making large portions work out.  I have a very large 12-inch heavy bottomed skillet that can be used for large portions of recipes calling for pan frying or sauteing.  I have a 6-quart slow cooker, and of course I have a large stockpot that can be used for making huge batches of soup.

Storing Leftovers

We have lots of glass Pyrex dishes on-hand for storing leftovers.  These glass dishes are great because:
  • you can reheat directly in the bowl without creating any extra dirty dishes, 
  • glass is superior to plastic since plastic may leach into food, and
  • they come in many handy sizes.
I freeze single portions of meals in 2-cup Pyrex bowls.  My husband typically takes these to work for lunch.  For family meals, I use 4-cup or 7-cup Pyrex bowls.  If we'll be eating the same meal later in the week, I just put the glass dishes into the fridge.  Or I store them in the freezer if we'll be eating the meal at a later date. 

One caution about leftovers: cooked greens and cruciferous vegetables don't store very well in the fridge.  Some people also say that cooked green veggies form excessive nitrates while stored in the fridge.  But I do find that these types of cooked veggies store fine in the freezer. 

What if You Need More Variety?

If you don't like to eat leftovers because you want more variety, try freezing the leftovers and eating them another week.  I have found that all soups, stews, roasts, and even hamburgers freeze well.  I freeze family size portions in glass Pyrex dishes. I try to always keep at least two family-sized meals on-hand in the freezer; this way, there is always an easy dinner available and this keeps us from needing to eat out much.

To reheat frozen meals, we generally use a toaster oven.  Technically, a frozen Pyrex dish could crack when put into a hot oven, but I have never had that happen.  To be on the safe side, I always put the Pyrex dishes into a cold toaster oven (rather than a preheated oven).  (Of course, the plastic lids do NOT go into the toaster oven, only the glass bowl.) When time allows, I will let frozen meals thaw in the fridge for several hours before reheating them.  

Most foods will do best with a long-and-slow reheat at 250 degrees.  But that can easily take one to two hours, so sometimes I bump up the temperature to 300 or 350 if we are in a time crunch.  If we need to have something ready really quickly, frozen soups/stews can be quickly reheated by thawing briefly in a bowl of warm water (just enough to loosen the soup in the bowl) and then dumping it into a saucepan to warm on the stove. This is our version of a fast-food dinner.

Do you have a dinner routine?  What tips can you share for making real food dinners easier and less time-consuming?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to Make Bone Broth and My Favorite Glass Container for Freezing Broth

Bone broth is a wonderful superfood that was a critical part of many traditional diets.  I make sure we always have bone broth in the freezer, and use it liberally in cooking.  Besides using broth for soups, I also incorporate it into many recipes such as curry meatballs and veggies, braised cabbage and sausages, white beans, rice, and veggies such as beets and green beans.

When I first started making homemade broth over 6 years ago, I followed the recipe in Nourishing Traditions which uses uncooked chicken. But over time, I figured out a much more cost effective and easy method that uses a roasted chicken carcass. Then last year, I started to incorporate some ideas from Nourished Kitchen's post on perpetual broth into my usual method.  So now, I am able to make LOTS of bone broth with just one chicken carcass. 

How to Make Chicken Broth

  1. Start by roasting a chicken and then picking the carcass clean. We love to eat roasted chicken.  After everyone has eaten their fill, I bring the chicken carcass to the table and pick the meat off the bones.  The meat gets stored in a glass container in the fridge to be used for another meal such as pizza or soup. 
  2. Put the chicken carcass into the slow cooker. All of the bones, juices, leftover skin, and chewy bits go straight into the slow cooker. If I have any on-hand, I also add some chicken feet to the stockpot.
  3. Add some fresh veggies and filtered water. For one chicken carcass, I usually throw in one quartered white onion and two carrots (peeled and cut into 2 or 3 chunks).  Add enough filtered water to cover it all. 
  4. Turn the pot on LOW and cook for 15-24 hours. 
  5. After the broth has cooked at least 15 hours, ladle and strain about half the liquid from the pot.  I especially try to make sure to get most of the fat out of the pot along with the liquid, as I don't think it is a good idea to let the fat keep cooking for an extended period of time. I pour the broth into glass jars for freezing (I talk more about that below).  Anytime after the 1st night of cooking, feel free to dip into the pot to get stock for any cooking needs, or even enjoy a nice warm cup of salted broth first thing in the morning. OPTIONAL: At this point, you could pull out the veggies and pick some more meat/skin off the carcass. There is quite a large amount of meat, skin, and connective tissue that was too tough to eat before making broth, but these parts are wonderfully tender after being simmered in the broth. Add a splash of broth and some salt and pepper to make a large bowl of soup (enough for 2-3 people). This soup can either be eaten right away, or stored in the fridge as an easy meal for later. 
  6. Add more filtered water to the pot and cook the bones some more. And you can throw in some more fresh carrots and onions if you removed them during the previous step. Continue to cook on Low. 
  7. Each day, ladle off some more broth and add fresh water. In this way, you can make lots and lots of broth with just one chicken carcass.  I usually continue this process for about 4-6 days to really stock up the freezer.  And, despite what you may think, the broth does not get watered down with this method.  The broth actually gets more and more rich as the days go by, peaking around day 4 or 5.  This is because the bones continue to break down into the broth over time.  I find that the broth made after the 2nd day has a very concentrated, rich flavor and a deeper brown color, so that I need to use only half as much in recipes (making up the balance with filtered water). 
  8. Strain and freeze the broth (or store in the fridge if it will be used in the next few days). I do not skim the fat off the stock, as it makes the broth more nourishing and flavorful.

Tips for Freezing  (and Thawing) Broth

I always freeze my broth in glass containers.  Plastic can leach into foods, especially with changes in temperature, so I don't use plastic for freezing broth. I've definitely had my share of glass jars that have cracked during freezing, but over time I have figured out the tricks to successfully freezing (and thawing) broth in glass jars.
  • Leave plenty of head space.  As the broth freezes, it will expand, so it is important to leave plenty of space above the broth for expansion during freezing. A general rule is to make sure you leave more than 1-inch of space above the liquid in the jars.  You can see in the picture above that I have left lots of space for expansion during freezing.    
  • Let the broth cool to room temperature on the counter without the lids on.  Once the jars are cool enough to touch comfortably, put the lids on and transfer them to the freezer. 
  • Not all jars are created equally.  For freezing large quantities of broth (such as pints or quarts), I find that mason jars work best.  Other jars, such as the ones you buy containing coconut oil, are more likely to crack in the freezer.
  • My favorite jars for freezing broth: tomato paste jars! These jars are great for many reasons: 
    • Since I use plenty of tomato paste to make homemade ketchup, I always have plenty of these little jars around.
    • These small jars don't seem to break as easily as bigger jars.  I've frozen hundreds of these little jars of broth, and only ever had one of them break (because it was overfilled).
    • Small jars are easy to fit into little leftover spaces in the freezer.
    • The amount of broth in small jars is perfect for when I just need a little bit of broth (such as when making caramelized green beans).  And of course, multiple small jars can be used when larger amounts of broth are needed.
    • Small jars thaw very quickly, so even if I didn't plan ahead, I can still use homemade broth in my recipes.
  • To thaw broth in glass jars:
    • If you have time, thaw jars of broth in the fridge overnight.  
    • In a pinch, it also works to thaw jars of broth in a big bowl of water.  The key to thawing jars in water is to make sure you do NOT use hot water initially.  Placing a frozen jar into hot water puts a big thermal shock on the glass, which can cause it to crack.  
      • Start by placing the frozen jar into cool water.  Let it sit for about 10 minutes.
      • Replace the cold water in the bowl with warm water and let it sit a few minutes. 
      • Then you can put hot water into the bowl to speed things up.  
      • There is no need to wait for the broth to completely thaw.  Just wait until there is enough thawed that the remaining chunk of frozen broth can come out into whatever you are cooking.
Do you have any tips for making and storing broth? 

This post is part of Pennywise Platter!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Shortbread (grain-free : primal : gluten-free)

I love shortbread.  Buttery, crispy and mildly sweet, it is my favorite cookie these days.  I enjoy it for breakfast, for a snack, alongside a square of dark chocolate, even as a crust for a pumpkin pie clafoutis. I bet it would be good dipped in coffee or hot cocoa, too.

I've been working on this shortbread recipe for a couple months, trying to get just the right texture and flavor.  It's been a tough job eating a batch of shortbread every week, but somebody had to do it.

Serves 8-10
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the arrowroot, coconut flour, ground nuts, and salt.  Whisk it all together.  Beware, the very fine arrowroot has a tendency to poof out a bit if you whisk too vigorously.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  
  3. Butter your baking dish.  I like to cook the shortbread in a 9-inch glass pie plate; a square 8-inch glass dish would work too.  Just make sure there is enough room to spread the batter out to about 1-inch thick or so.
  4. Beat the softened butter until it is light and fluffy.  I like to use my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer to put this recipe together, but you could also use a regular hand mixer.
  5. Add the honey and maple syrup to the butter and beat until well-incorporated.  If you are using a stand mixer, use a silicone spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix a bit more to make sure everything is mixed well.
  6. Add the egg yolk and beat until fully incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more and mix a bit more.
  7. If you are using a stand mixer, put on the pouring shield (or maybe loosely cover over the whole machine with a clean kitchen towel, but make sure it doesn't get caught up in the spinning action). If you are using a hand mixer, cover over part of your bowl with a clean kitchen towel (making sure not to catch the towel in the mixer). The reason for covering the bowl with the pouring shield or towel is that the fine texture of the arrowroot can make it go airborne while it is being mixed into the wet ingredients.
  8. With the mixer running, pour in the dry ingredients.  Mix until thoroughly combined. 
  9. Use a silicone spatula to spread the batter evenly into the greased baking dish.    
  10. Bake the shortbread for 22-30 minutes at 325 degrees F.  It is done when the edges are nicely browned and the center is fully cooked and not too wet-looking.
  11. Cool to room temperature before cutting.  Cut into wedges and enjoy! Store leftovers in the fridge.
*If you are using raw honey and it is very crystallized (to where it is no longer pourable), make sure you warm the honey over a bowl of warm water before adding it to the recipe.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Why We Stopped Taking Fermented Cod Liver Oil

(I've moved! You can see this article on my new website here!)

August 2015 UPDATE: See the shocking test results for Fermented Cod Liver Oil here.

We used to take cod liver oil every day. We would never miss a day.  Now we haven't taken cod liver oil in over 6 months... Why?

My Family Started Taking Cod Liver Oil in 2006

picture from
My husband and I started taking cod liver oil back in 2006 when we learned about the benefits of a nutrient-dense, traditional diet. At that time, the cod liver oil we took was called Blue Ice, and we chose that brand because it was one of the only cod liver oils produced in a traditional way. Most other cod liver oils on the market had their vitamins removed in processing and some even had synthetic vitamins added back in. We wanted our cod liver oil to be as natural as possible to get the most benefit from it.

The Blue Ice cod liver oil was very light in color; clear with a hint of yellow. It didn't have a very strong odor or flavor, but it did smell and taste like fish. We had amazing results when we started taking the cod liver oil, and noticed that it particularly benefited our immune systems. My husband and I took a daily dose of cod liver oil each morning before breakfast, and then made sure to eat plenty of grassfed butter with breakfast (since cod liver oil works synergistically with the Vitamin K found in grassfed butter). In 2007, we had our first child and as she started eating foods in addition to breastmilk, she also started having a daily dose of cod liver oil. She loved it and would ask for her cod liver oil every day.

A New Cod Liver Oil on the Market?

Fast forward a few years to 2009, when I was beginning my second pregnancy. I heard that the Blue Ice cod liver oil was no longer being produced, so we stockpiled about a dozen bottles. I started hearing about a new Blue Ice cod liver oil that would be even better because it was fermented. We regularly eat fermented foods, so fermented cod liver sounded fine. I ordered a bottle, thinking that I wanted to get the best nutrition for the baby growing inside me. When the new fermented cod liver oil arrived, I was surprised to see that it was very thick, very dark, and had a very foul odor. I went ahead and tried one dose; it was absolutely disgusting! It burned my throat, and it didn't help that I was already nauseous from pregnancy. After that one dose, even the smell of the fermented cod liver oil would turn my stomach. I was glad we had stockpiled lots of the non-fermented cod liver oil to last through my pregnancy.

Fast forward another year, and we ran out of our stockpile of the original Blue Ice cod liver oil. We now had two children, and by this time, I was hearing that the fermented cod liver oil was superior nutritionally, and that the initial strong taste and smell was no longer quite so bad. We went ahead and ordered some and made ourselves start taking it. My daughter hated the cod liver oil, but we finally found that she would take the combination butter oil/fermented cod liver oil in cinnamon flavor. She didn't like taking it, so I came up with all sorts of ways to get her to take her daily dose. My infant son, after one taste, refused to eat any food at all for a few days (so he just nursed more); I tried again every few months and he eventually started to take the orange flavored liquid fermented cod liver oil.

Digestive Problems from Taking Fermented CLO

Meanwhile, my husband often complained that the fermented cod liver oil made him nauseous. He had to try to find ways to take it to minimize the nauseousness. I found that it could also make me nauseous, especially if I took it on an empty stomach. Yet, through it all, we persisted in taking it. So many trusted people were saying it was good for us, and I wanted my family to have the best nutrition. And we still found that, particularly during flu season, the fermented cod liver oil really helped our immune systems. I even coordinated large group purchases of cod liver oil for others we knew who were taking cod liver oil.

Different Methods for Making Cod Liver Oil

picture from
About 8 months ago, while collaborating with a man named Archie Welch on another project, I learned that he was doing research into cod liver oil, after having problems getting his son to take the fermented cod liver oil. And what Archie learned was that there were traditionally several different ways to make cod liver oil. One ancient method used no heat, chemicals, or pressure to extract the oil, resulting in an oil with almost no flavor or odor. Another method used by Nordic fishermen, the livers were steamed, resulting in a pale cod liver oil with a light smell. In another later method, the livers were fermented in a barrel, resulting in a dark brown, strong smelling oil. This dark brown cod liver oil was likely to contain bits of rancid and putrefying livers, which contributed to its strong odor and flavor. 

As cod liver oil became more popular for medicinal use in the 1800's, there were practitioners who used the pale oil and also those who used the dark brown oil. Great health benefits were observed form both types of oil, but some people did have digestive problems from the dark brown oil. (Archie has put together a great article detailing all of this history here.)

Once I read Archie's article, I really understood better why we had such problems with the fermented cod liver oil. Because of the way it is produced, it is likely to contain some bits of rotting livers, and this is why the oil could be so offensive to us. (To be fair, some bottles of fermented cod liver oil were not as bad as other bottles. But some were downright horrendous.) But with no other good alternatives on the market, what were we to do?

The Last Straw

Upon taking a dose of particularly dark cod liver oil last summer, I had severe stomach cramping and diarrhea. Afterwards, I couldn't bring myself to take another dose. Over about a month, we all stopped taking the fermented cod liver oil. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop; wouldn't we start getting sick more often now?

Over the same time period, every member of my family has started undergoing constitutional homeopathic treatment. Constitutional treatment is a long process, sometimes taking a year or more, but rather than focusing on a single illness, constitutional treatment focuses on every aspect of a person's personality and health. This means that, over time, constitutional treatment actually helps the body cure itself of the tendency to even get sick in the first place. I have also been using my new knowledge of homeopathy at the first signs of any illness in my family (this is acute homeopathy treatment, as opposed to constitutional which I am not trained in yet). So, even though we haven't been taking our cod liver oil, this has been the best year for our family in terms of contracting illnesses. Each of us has had one cold in the last four months. The previous winter, we all had multiple stomach flus and colds. (I will be talking more about our healing through homeopathy in future posts.)

So as of now, no one in our family has taken cod liver oil in over 6 months. And thanks to homeopathy, we haven't been sick either!

Will we ever take cod liver oil again? 

We don't plan to take fermented cod liver oil again. However, I would like to have some light-colored cod liver oil on hand just in case (since it has worked so wonderfully for us in the past in helping us quickly get over illnesses). There hasn't been a traditionally prepared light cod liver oil on the market in the United States since production of the original Blue Ice cod liver oil was stopped years ago. But, after doing all of his research into cod liver oil, Archie Welch was able to find small company in Norway who was using the ancient extraction method with no heat, chemicals, or pressure to make ratfish liver oil.  As a result of Archie's prompting, this small company is now using the same method to make raw cod liver oil. Archie is finishing up the process of making that cod liver oil available here in the United States and he will be selling that light cod liver oil at We will definitely be buying some of the raw cod liver oil, and will be happy to once again have the lightly flavored, lightly colored oil to take just as we did years ago.

Does this information make you think twice about taking fermented cod liver oil?  Have you or your family had any bad reactions to it?

This post is part of Traditional Tuesdays, Pennywise Platter and Fat Tuesday

Affiliate Disclosure: As of May 2015, my family likes the extra virgin cod liver oil so much that I have signed up as an affiliate for EVCLO. The link to EVCLO above is an affiliate link.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

GAPS Diet and Adrenal Problems

(My blog has moved. You can see this article on my new blog here: 

The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet is recommended for curing a long list of autoimmune illnesses, including relatively mild symptoms such as allergies and eczema, and also more severe symptoms such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and even autism. The GAPS Diet typically takes one-to-three years to cure these autoimmune issues.

I decided to undertake the GAPS Diet back in Fall 2010, after having joint pain in my left shoulder for over eight months. This pain made it difficult to pick up my infant, exercise, or even to push the kids on the swings. In addition to my shoulder pain, I was also exhibiting signs of adrenal fatigue, such as balding lower legs, vertical lines on my fingertips, irritability, low energy, cold hands, and sensitivity to sunlight.

The first few months I was on the GAPS diet, I felt wonderful. My shoulder pain disappeared and my adrenal fatigue symptoms abated. I felt better than I had in years! But after about five months on the GAPS diet, I started to notice some energy problems. Specifically, I started having spells of extreme lethargy and fatigue. As in, "I have to go lay on the floor for awhile" and "I can't keep my eyes open". All of my adrenal fatigue symptoms came back and were even worse than ever. After lots of research and some self-experimentation, I figured out that this problem was caused in large part by eating too few carbohydrates.

Is the GAPS Diet Low-Carb?

The GAPS diet relies heavily on nutrient-dense foods such healthy fats, meats, vegetables, bone broths, and fermented foods. The diet allows no processed foods, starches (such as potatoes and corn), grains, or complex sugars. However, the GAPS diet is not necessarily a low-carbohydrate diet. Fruits, veggies, lentils, white beans, and honey are all allowed on the diet. But, I tended to shy away from things like lentils and white beans while on GAPS because they caused digestive upset for some of the other members of my family. I also tended to not each much fruit or sweets. So it was easy for me to unintentionally eat very few carbs while on the GAPS diet.

Does the Body Need Carbs?

Popular low-carb diets, such as Primal and Atkins, are quick to point out that people do not need carbs, since the body can manufacture them from other energy sources. However, it became clear to me that I do need plenty of carbs to have normal energy levels.

As I have researched this issue, I have learned that the body actually prefers to use glucose as a fuel, and the brain prefers to use ONLY glucose as a fuel. Glucose is delivered to the brain via the glucose in our blood. With a low-carb diet, the body strives to maintain optimal blood glucose levels through the process of gluconeogenesis. To achieve this, the adrenal glands send messages to the liver and kidneys to convert protein and fat into glucose. These messages from the adrenal glands come in the form of cortisol, which is one of the body’s stress hormones. The body sees a lack of carbs as a stress, and in the long term this can be detrimental.

When the body is deprived of carbohydrates for an extended period of time, the adrenal glands have to keep sending signals for gluconeogenesis over and over again. This can cause the adrenal glands to become overworked. It can also lead to other problems because the body is constantly in a state of elevated stress.

GAPS Can Worsen Adrenal Issues!

In my case, I had adrenal problems even before going on the GAPS diet, and the low-carb version of GAPS I naturally followed made my adrenals have to work even harder. To compound this problem, I was also nursing an infant while on GAPS, and a large amount of glucose was leaving my body in the form of breastmilk. My poor adrenal glands!

In talking with others on the GAPS diet and researching on the internet, I found out that adrenal issues such as low energy are not uncommon for people on the GAPS diet. The low energy problems seem to develop rather quickly for women who are pregnant or nursing, but they also develop for other women and men who stay on the diet for an extended period of time (and after all, the diet is recommended to last from one-to-three years, so it is intended to be used for an extended period of time).

How to Avoid Adrenal Problems While on GAPS

My body clearly indicated that it wasn’t ready to go off the GAPS Diet, with a recurrence of shoulder pain anytime I strayed from the strict GAPS diet. I had to learn how to nourish my adrenal glands while staying on GAPS, and this involved much more than changing my diet. The main principle of nourishing overworked adrenal glands is to allow them to rest by reducing all forms of stress on the body.

Any of the following can contribute to adrenal problems:

  • Inadequate sleep
  • Being stressed out
  • Too much exercise
  • Inadequate protein, fat , and/or carb intake
  • Intake of stimulants such as caffeine (which cause the adrenals to release more stress hormones)

After much reading and self-experimentation, I found the following to help in avoiding adrenal problems while on GAPS:

  • Get plenty of sleep. The more sleep you get, the better. 8 hours a day would be nice, but to really help adrenal health, aim for even more. Go to bed no later than 10pm, and stay in bed until at least 7am. If you feel tired, or if you have a hard time getting good nighttime sleep, take a nap every day! And don’t feel guilty about making sleep a priority, as this is really important for recovering adrenal health. Since my youngest child is not sleeping through the night yet, I have had to prioritize a daily afternoon nap for myself.
  • Do not workout excessively. When my adrenals were at their worst, I was surprised to learn that exercising made me feel worse and worse. If I did any intense exercise, such as strength training, sprinting, or interval training, the next day I would be absolutely exhausted and very irritable. Exercising also caused my basal body temperature to plummet, which is another sign of too much stress on the body and overworked adrenals. I stopped all exercise for a few months, and this was tremendously beneficial to my adrenal health. Then I started to gradually add in very mild exercise, such as yoga and walking. Initially, even those forms of exercise were too much for my body! Nowadays, I can do strength training and interval training with no ill effects.
  • Eat plenty of carbs. The following list of GAPS-legal carbs should be used liberally if you have any adrenal issues. I found it beneficial to eat at least one of the following with every meal, and to allow myself to eat much more fruit and GAPS-legal desserts than I would normally eat.
    • Lentils
    • White navy beans
    • Milk kefir or yogurt
    • Winter squash, such as butternut, pumpkin, and spaghetti
    • Fruit
    • Honey
    • GAPS-legal desserts such as ice cream and cookies 

  • Follow your body’s cues. If you are willing to listen closely to your body, it will tell you what foods you need. I tend to really over-think what I eat, by thinking about what is “healthy” and what I “should” eat. When I am willing to pay attention to my body’s cues, I feel much better. (Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, the author of the GAPS Diet, also advocates listening to your body’s cues to determine what to eat.) When I started eating intuitively, I was shocked to see that my body really wanted ice cream, lots of ice cream, as in two or three bowls of ice cream each day. I would normally have denied my body the ice cream, out of fear that it was unhealthy, but after struggling with energy problems for over a year, I decided it was worth a shot to go with the flow of my body’s cues. This really helped my energy levels and helped me kick-start the path to adrenal recovery. After about 6 weeks, my desire for ice cream dropped off dramatically. Even now, though, I find that my body wants more sweets than I would normally allow, and if I go with the flow my energy levels are much more even.
  • Do NOT intentionally try to lose weight. Restricting calories, just like restricting carbs, results in your body releasing more stress hormones, and can thereby cause more adrenal problems. If you try to cut calories while your adrenals are already stressed, you will likely see a rapid increase in your adrenal symptoms. I gained about 10 pounds in the first few months of really trying to heal my adrenals; although not ideal, this weight gain has corresponded to me feeling much better overall. And if I have to choose between being a bit heavier or feeling like the walking dead every day, I’ll take the weight! (And my weight has remained steady for the last 7 months, so there hasn’t been a continual gain for me while I’ve implemented these adrenal recovery measures.)
  • Make relaxation and stress relief priorities. When the adrenals are healing, the body really needs plenty of time to relax, and stress-relief must be a priority. I found it helpful to make myself take some time to sit on the couch every day (which is something I don’t typically do). To keep “busy” during this time, I like either watching the kids play, reading a book, or working on a crochet project (I’m a newbie to crochet, but I love that it can be such a relaxing yet rewarding activity). Once I committed to making relaxation and stress relief priorities, I was also able to take a step back and see that I was spending way too much time in the kitchen. I have simplified meal preparations by relying more on simple foods, and this has freed up quite a bit of time.
  • If all else fails, start adding in GAPS transitional foods. If, like me, you have had adrenal problems for quite awhile, even liberally eating GAPS-legal carbs may not be enough. I had to find the balance between following GAPS and allowing some carb foods such as potatoes and even white rice (which is recommended as a “safe” starch in The Perfect Health Diet, and which is much easier on my digestion and joints than brown rice). If you are near the beginning of your GAPS journey, then adding in these foods may not be an option, but if you’ve been on GAPS for quite awhile you may want to start experimenting to see what foods your body can tolerate without a recurrence of symptoms. 

My Progress

While I am not completely recovered from my adrenal problems yet, I have come a long way towards health in the last year. For the first time since I started tracking my basal body temperature back in 2006, my temperatures are now normal. I’ve lost my sensitivity to sunlight, the vertical lines on my fingertips are nearly gone, and I no longer have balding lower legs or cold hands. My only remaining adrenal complaint is that I still struggle with low energy at times, but my energy levels are still vastly improved over a year ago. I hope that my experiences in regaining adrenal health can help others prevent or recover from similar problems.

UPDATE: to learn more about my health recovery in the years after the GAPS Diet, check out this post:
Can a Perfect Diet Lead to Perfect Health?

This post is part of Pennywise Platter and Fat Tuesday