From Brownies to Brown Rice

Trudi Pier        For years, I had numerous problems with my digestive tract. My mother used to refer to it as “nervous stomach.” I always leaned towards sweets; brownies were my favorite. Every time I ate them though, I felt lousy. In addition to my stomach problems, I also experienced bouts of depression, anxiety, and numerous upper respiratory infections. I went through life in constant acceleration mode. My doctor used to call me a racehorse.

As I grew older the problems became more severe, more chronic. I developed acid reflux, worse depression and anxiety, constant fatigue, and insomnia. I was given many different medications. Five years ago, one medication I was prescribed tore up my stomach and left me with gastroparesis, a condition where what little food you eat takes forever to digest, causes much pain, and nausea.

Eventually, I found a wise endocrinologist who discovered I had an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s disease, which he explained was likely the underlying cause of my many health issues. My stomach remained a disaster despite the new thyroid medication. In June 2007, I had a jejunum tube installed which allowed my body to by-pass my stomach and receive liquid nutrition.

Regardless, I still felt lousy and tired. I was a mess; my thyroid remained out of control, my hair fell out, my body ached. One afternoon in late August, I was at Dunkin Donuts with my dear friend, Maureen. Ever patient and helpful she said, “Trudi, do you remember those books I loaned you three years ago about the macrobiotic diet? Just try reading about it. I really believe it will help you. You’ve tried everything else. What do you have to lose?” I finally agreed to read them.

When I was done with them, I told Maureen I would like to look into macrobiotics. After several phone calls and internet searches, I found Denny Waxman, who was only two hours away. He was the counselor mentioned in the book “Recalled by Life” by Anthony Sattilaro that I read.

I got in touch with him, told him I was sick, down to my last dollar and on my last nerve. He responded to my weariness and hesitation by telling me he would need to examine me in person, but believed macrobiotics could help me. On August 26th, Maureen and I headed to my first appointment with Denny.

He was cordial, but very professional: he asked a few questions about my health, the usual sort of thing. He then leaned in and made his examination. “Your problem is with your pancreas and lungs. This is what is causing your stomach problems. No surprise, as Hashimoto’s is an endocrine disease and my asthma had become worse. What did surprise me was that he told me he would be able to help, but I had to follow the diet he outlined for me very strictly. No meat, no dairy, no sugar—ever. I couldn’t see how he could expect me to eat rice, vegetables or anything else when I tried to explain that there was nothing that I could eat because food caused so much pain. He said the food I was eating and had been eating my whole life was the problem. He also explained how I lost my relationship with food from living off of a feeding tube for two years.

He insisted that my body would gradually heal itself with whole foods and acupuncture. He then smiled and said, “You’re going to feel so much better.” It lit a spark within me. He ordered the use of special teas, issued strict cooking instructions, moderate exercise, meals taken at certain times and to walk everyday—rain or shine. I had to be in bed early and up early. I had to replace my electric stove with a gas stove and use no microwaves. I had to chew my food at least 50 times with each bite and to take meals without multi-tasking. I was to follow the diet to the letter and to make an appointment to see him in three months.

What he started me on was the first step, which was tailored specifically for the illness I had. Japanese people feed their babies and sick old people the diet I was on consisting of brown rice milk, rice cream, and nishime vegetables.

My stomach loved my first few dishes of rice milk and it was quite surprising. In addition, I managed a cup of miso broth and some tea. The bloating and irritation resulting from liquids with gastroparesis did not happen with this diet. At first I wasn’t able to manage more than that when I unhooked the pump for the morning. Gradually, I was able to eat more. It took three weeks before I could take a second small meal around noon, which consisted of rice cream and bancha tea. I did experience bloating and pain, but to my surprise it disappeared in about an hour.

I started walking almost every day, and I was so out of shape. Over a short period I was able to walk for a half hour and eventually worked my way up to 45 minutes. The more I walked, the better I felt. I found an excellent acupuncturist. After three sessions with her, I notice a distinct difference in how I felt. Throughout this treatment and the macrobiotic diet, I really started to feel, as Denny said I would, so much better.

About a month in, I was able to include nishime steamed veggies with rice and tea at lunch time. I was able to incorporate other grains as well, such as oatmeal and millet. Dinner was still out of the question; it was still too difficult and painful.I switched to a gastroenterologist my internist recommended to me because he felt this man would be more helpful. I told the doctor, somewhat hesitantly, that I was working with a macrobiotic counselor in Philadelphia who started me on the diet. I told him how my condition had been steadily improving. I produced a copy of the basic macrobiotic food diet and the foods I was presently eating. He read it over and said to my amazement, “I don’t know who this man is, but he just saved your life.” Because I was able to manage two small meals, he cut back the feeding tube time from 18 hours/day to 14-16. After performing some routine tests and procedures he informed me that the food I was eating was what was actually healing my stomach, not the medications. He said that the diet would be an essential part of my recovery. At the end of the appointment he said, to my astonishment, exactly what Denny said, “The body will heal itself. It knows how to.”

I went into the strange world of going to bed promptly at ten p.m. an getting up at five a.m. I spent no less than four to five hours a day at the stove carefully preparing rice creams, beans, lentils, miso soups, special drinks, and teas. I began to feel much, much, better. Better than I had ever felt in my life. My mind cleared up—foggy thinking vanished.

My internist was seeing me every month to follow my progress and he noticed my weight steadily dropping. I weighed 124 pounds before the macrobiotic diet and each time I saw him, I was 5 pounds lighter. I read about people on the macrobiotic diet losing considerable amounts of weight in the first year, so I was not concerned but my weight continued to drop. It finally held at 106 pounds. I was thinner than I anticipated, but I felt great.

My endocrinologist finally reduced my thyroid medication when my levels were normal. One January and February of 2010 I found myself dipping into the candy dish telling myself that a hard candy now and then wouldn’t be a problem. It was enough to drive my thyroid levels out of the normal range. My endocrinologist made a specially compounded dose of natural thyroid for me. Instead of bumping me from 60mg to 90 mg, he ordered 75 to see if I could stabilize on that dose. I wish I could say it worked, but another blood test showed my thyroid levels to be even higher than the last test, so he bumped me to 90 mg after all. I called Denny to let him know my thyroid was giving me problems again. He recommended the changes I needed to help me get back on track.

Finally, in April, I was able to get in the third meal: rice cream, nishime squash and tea. I experienced considerable irritation and bloating for about an hour, but then it would disappear. At a visit with my endocrinologist, I was describing my progress and it was the first time I saw him smile. He said, “Trudi, you did it—you broke the cycle. You have awakened your stomach and it is now functioning.” He then cautioned me that I still had a long way to go and ordered the feeding tube for 8-10 hours a day. He also told me to stop my medications from time to time to see how my body was tolerating it. I’m still working on that.

Once into macrobiotics, I began to feel the flow of the exact right time to cook, the right time to eat and the most efficient time to get things done; I felt “in sync.” I look forward to the day when I don’t need the supplemental feeding at all. I’ve made incredible strides and now enjoy a much happier, healthier life. I no longer have any “thyroid crashes” and my energy seems boundless.

I still have a long way to recovery, but as I was making a pot of miso soup one morning, the strangeness or the situation struck me. I have a nasty autoimmune disease, which is named after the Japanese doctor, Dr. Hakaru Hashimoto, who discovered it, and I am experiencing and amazing recovery through a diet brought to this country by another Japanese gentleman, Mr. Michio Kushi. Denny was right, I have never felt better in my life and all I had to do was switch from brownies to brown rice.