Home > Food, Health, Reflections > The work of feeling groovy

The work of feeling groovy


Less coffee, more water

Four months ago, I thought coffee was The Problem dragging me down.

Three months ago, I realized The Problem ran much deeper than coffee. I was running myself ragged and using coffee to conceal the degree of that raggedness from myself. Coffee worked to keep me going short term, but relying on it was a terrible approach to sustaining myself longer term.

I began investing in myself daily: first by rubbing my ears and temples for a couple of minutes twice daily, and then by adding in a few minutes of meditation. I created a bedtime routine to improve my chances of getting a good night’s sleep. I started listening to musicals, which I found were far more conducive to feeling human connection than was social media. Best of all, I practiced addressing myself kindly and with compassion, soon determining this was the single most powerful change I’d made.

This isn’t hippie, New Age stuff, but grounded in human biology. As I wrote in mid-April:

Long story short, we are supposed to spend most of our lives with our parasympathetic–calming–nervous systems engaged, with stressors only briefly activating our sympathetic–panic–nervous systems. Life these days involves constant activation of the sympathetic nervous system, at great cost to short and long term well being. The more you can do to consciously, repeatedly activate your parasympathetic nervous system, the healthier and happier you will be over the long haul. This is more than just a moment’s distraction; it’s a cumulative investment in you.

By quitting coffee and being kinder to myself, I’d solved The Problem! Yes!


Okay … no. Not quite.

There was more to it. Of course there was.

I’ve eaten my own variation of Paleo since a big health situation a few years ago. This dramatically improved my health in ways beyond the scope of this post.

With a keen eye to fixing things not working, I wondered if my diet was also impacting me. I found at least three different ways it was:

  • Sodium. In a world where many people are cautioned to eat less salt, I was eating far too little. I put a little salt in my weekly meatballs and soup. Otherwise, I had no added salt in my diet. The morning I wondered if this might be contributing, I calculated my daily salt intake as somewhere around 10-15% of the U.S. daily recommendation. I started adding salt to my food and noticed a positive difference almost immediately.
  • Carbs. I’d been avoiding fruit and eating only a little bit of sweet potato daily. I wasn’t doing this for weight reasons, but because most the Paleo resources I read indicated we’re healthier the more we run on fat instead of carbs. I recently happened to read an article by a Paleo dietitian that mentioned the body can interpret lack of carbs as a kind of stress; based on her address, I realized she was talking about me. I started eating a sweet potato or two daily and felt much less anxious. I found a little fruit and a little honey were also okay for me, though too much left me prone to hangriness I don’t otherwise experience.
  • Histamine. More on this below!

When I first started having health problems in response to toxic exposure a few years ago, I had allergy-like symptoms without having clear allergies to any particular thing. The allergist I worked with said I was clearly sensitive to a great many things, but that he wasn’t trained to address sensitivities. Searching the internet for information on “sensitivities” after our meetings was part of what began me on the road to Paleo through elimination.

It was only last February, though, that I had a terrible reaction to sauerkraut and learned about “histamine intolerance,” a condition much likelier to be diagnosed in Europe than in the United States. Before that reaction, I’d noticed certain foods caused my face to swell after the onset of my health situation. These included–but were far from limited to–cinnamon, pineapple, citrus fruits, nuts, bacon, and even coffee.

It all seemed so random until I read about histamine intolerance, in which failure to break down histamine leads to histamine overload. I was so thrilled to learn about this last year that I adjusted my diet … for about a week. I then forgot about it. Completely.

A couple months ago, I started noticing my face swelling and anxiety growing while eating certain foods. Eating sauerkraut one day, my whole body felt heavy in addition to the usual symptoms. I dragged myself to the bathroom to discover I was white as a sheet. Back at my desk, I consulted with Google to find myself once again at … histamine intolerance. I was flabbergasted how totally I’d forgotten about it.

I again started avoiding foods likely to prompt a histamine reaction. Since histamine grows faster in the fridge than freezer, I also began freezing cooked meat–such as my weekly batch of meatballs–in individual portions I removed from the freezer right before eating. I felt much better, but again slipped back down toward high histamine consumption to the point that the two cups of coffee I had Friday morning jacked me up. My reaction wasn’t the coffee alone, but the total histamine accumulation of a couple weeks of eating stuff I should’ve been avoiding topped off by coffee.

After three painful hours attempting to work, I finally threw in the towel and napped in my car until I was okay (enough) to drive home. That evening, I feasted upon antihistamine foods my husband picked up from the market … and actually kept those foods down.

Now to focus on not only starting but staying low histamine!

In the scope of all these changes, I revisited a post I’d written a few months ago. “Holy crap!” I exclaimed to my husband. “I feel so much better!” That better is in mind, body, and spirit, so that what I’d written three months ago might as well have been written by a stranger.

And yet, it will be important for me to remember that post was not written by a stranger. It’s easy to fall out of new habits, but these new habits of self kindness and food care are ones I cannot afford to lose. I’ll better keep them by remembering that was me.

Beyond “not affording”? Man, it feels grand to just, finally, feel good.


  1. July 4, 2016 at 6:40 am

    I gave up coffee on June the 9th this year, and already I feel better for it.

    • July 4, 2016 at 6:42 am

      I’ve been having a cup a day for the last month, but will be working my way back to (close to) zero in the coming weeks. It’s impossible to overstate how much calmer I feel moment to moment without coffee.

  2. July 4, 2016 at 10:24 am

    Bravo!!! Working on finding the healing path in foods myself right now lol – eliminating and reintroducing. And yes, even the parasympathetic nervous system (altho I had no word for what I was doing lol!) so YAY you! Inspiring and thank you xo

    • July 9, 2016 at 4:20 am

      I spent ages thinking, “Oh, geez, I’m supposed to make hours of unrelenting stress each day better by four or five minutes of calm a day?! Right.” Turns out those minutes are huge. I haven’t given myself those moments the last few days, and hoo-boy, do I notice the difference!


      • July 9, 2016 at 7:30 am

        I hear that! Here’s to feeling groovy baby lol xo

  3. July 4, 2016 at 10:48 am

    I was just thinking this morning, for the millionth time, that my stress hormones seem to be locked in fight or flight mode. I’m embarrassed by how much weight I gained while struggling with depression and medications for it. But worse than embarrassment, the trouble sleeping, hot flashes, headaches, and stress make it hard to do the muscle work and light areobics I’m trying to do with my sister at the local park facilities (bless her heart for paying the fees.)

    Trying to eat foods that work better for my body and persevering through workouts that trigger more depression, because it’s early in the process and I’m not sleeping long enough to recharge, feels like it’s all going to break me. So thanks for giving me something else I can look at. I’ve never heard of histamine intolerance, but I’m having so many of the symptoms. Maybe this is why I feel so awful now even though workouts have always helped before. I’m going to look into it and see what changes I can make. I don’t think I even remember what it’s like to wake up rested. Thanks for sharing your experience. ❤

    • July 9, 2016 at 4:28 am

      Oh, man. You’re describing exactly where I’ve been at the last several months. One of the things I was surprised didn’t change during my last 40ish-day round of clean eating was my weight. Usually it drops pretty quickly when I eat clean, so that I just feel 1,000% better all around. This was the first time where … I saw a little change, but not much. The positive self talk got me part of the way there, but the histamine intolerance was the big difference. I do also find that adrenal fatigue describes where I’ve been at, whether or not acknowledged by the U.S. medical establishment yet. It’s a slow climb out, but I know what it feels like to be out, and man! It’s worth the work.

      Much, much love. ♥

  4. July 6, 2016 at 9:45 am

    I’m on day 24 of the Whole 30 – the first time I’ve tried anything like this. I’ve learned A LOT. I will definitely be making some permanent changes. But I will re-introduce some wine….just not boxes of it like I was doing before!

    • July 9, 2016 at 4:30 am

      Whole30 was the big life-changer for me a few years ago! I’ve eaten mostly in accord with Whole30 AIP since then, but it’s gotten harder recently. In your recent post where you mentioned sustainability, I had to do a mental fist-pump in recognition; it’s too restrictive to sustain as is enduringly. I’ve decided, then, that it’s time for me to make a few deviations for sustainability, which works far better in the end than trying and failing to sustain something unsustainable.

      • July 9, 2016 at 4:35 am

        Thanks for that!! I was kinda feeling like a weenie. My mom does something similar, whereby she avoids anything with white flour and any product in which sugar is #5 or higher on the ingredient list. I’m thinking that may be way more doable.

  5. July 11, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    Ok ok ok ok…I know I’m doing this in reverse but I read this post then realized I’d missed a post on your other blog then came back here-so hi! I do love this post!
    I’ve been taking your life lessons and applying them to me where I can. I use to feel like it was such a chore to be well. Now I’m more mindful of how I feel post meal and if I need to avoid any food I just do it. But coffee, which I did great avoiding (for the most part) until summer, is my nemesis. Those cold frappy-dappy drinks I can get through a window are calling me as I speak. It’s a good thing I’m not rich or I’d have one daily!

    • July 23, 2016 at 7:58 am

      I have gotten myself back into coffee reliance the last few weeks, and it’s terrible! I’m trying to be mindful how coffee impacts some of my engagement choices, so that I don’t say (or say fewer things, in any case) that I then regret. *cough*

      • July 23, 2016 at 10:30 am

        Lol. Yes, I e been having trouble sleeping and as a result have been drinking more coffee. Then I have to take a calms around like ch for the anxious rattling that I tend to verbalize. It’s a cycle I’d like to leave behind but alas…it’s coffee!!!!

  6. November 14, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    This post got my attention and I wanted to take the opportunity now to say that you addressed a lot of issues that were happening in your life, all chemical-related (I guess I can relate to a fueling regiment of coffee). It is interesting to see the changes you made in your life that got you feeling better, and the supportive comments that have been left previously sympathizing with your struggle and relating to you. I’ve never felt histamine-intolerant, but I know what it’s like to have only that cup of coffee powering you first thing in the day, and how sometimes the day feels like it’s going to be a drag unless I drink six cups or some excessive number. Good luck maintaining your improved lifestyle habits and all the best to you keeping up the changes you’ve decided to apply to your routine. You seem like an interesting blogger given the couple of posts of yours that I’ve read and found thoughtful.

  1. July 3, 2016 at 11:34 am

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