I Was a Teenage Mouth Breather: my life with chronic sinusitis

food, lifestyle, personal, sinusitis, Uncategorized, weight loss

In the moments when I have Facebook activated, (namely during politically neutral times, roughly 2-5 days a month), Facebook likes to remind me (only me, I assume) of my “memories.” On this day last year, I decided to embark on my first round of Whole 30. In the fall of 2016 I had suffered with chronic sinusitis and had completed 5 rounds of different, powerful, and increasingly gross, antibiotics. I mean it wasn’t all bad, it’s not everyday you get prescribed Anthrax-killing-strength Cipro and live to tell the tale. To be sure, I have had increasingly difficult sinus health since college, and every year it seemed to be more pronounced and unmanageable than the last.

I rationalized different causes for my mucus-defined life for a long time. I was a smoker from my junior year of high school til I turned 25, so that could’ve been the culprit. I have allergies to pet dander, and I was a cat owner for the better part of my early 20’s, so that could’ve been the culprit. I lived in Iowa, with excruciating cold and wind and a team of speech students who took turns getting sick, so that could’ve been the culprit. If you keep up with Greek mythos, Hippocrates would say I was of a phlegmatic temperament, and my body just produces an excess of (you guessed it) phlegm, so that could’ve been the culprit.

Needless to say, there were a lot of potential culprits for my constant congestion. By November of 2016, I was seeing an ENT on a bi-weekly basis, and he had scheduled a CT scan to investigate. The results of the CT scan showed my severely deviated (and yet, still charming) septum, and a few marked blockages in my left sinuses, but nothing my ENT deemed surgery worthy if I could live with the discomfort and semi-constant sinus flare.

In late December of that year, while home in Wisconsin, we visited our former co-workers and I ran into my training spirit animal Barb. She looked radiant, and I was all, WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING TO MAKE YOU LOOK LIKE AN ANGEL BABY. She and I both have had our unique and similar journeys with weight-loss, but have always seemed to err on the side of loving our bodies and owning our shapes. Beyonce wasn’t built in a day, and all that. But the weight-loss she had experienced was really secondary to me — she just looked so radiant and so strong– and I had to ask her. She told me about Whole 30, and basically gave me everything I needed to get started.

A few weeks later, with my hubby on board, we started our first round of Whole 30. Convincing 2 Wisconsinites that giving up dairy in all its forms for 30 days is a “good” idea is peppered, nay, DRENCHED with skepticism. In our daily lives we didn’t really drink a lot of cow’s milk, but I cooked and baked with butter constantly, cheese was a grocery staple, I ate yogurt every morning, we bought cream cheese by the Costco brick (yes, they make this, and it could kill a man if thrown), and pizza, stuffed cheesy bread, quesadillas, GRILLED CHEESE — these were our junk food soul food splurges of choice.

I mean I won Gideon’s heart with a homemade German Chocolate Cheesecake, a banana cream toffee pie, buttercream frosted cupcakes, my luscious (toot, toot) grilled pear & cheddar cheeses, and so. many. servings. of Culver’s custard. Our love language centered on dairy (and probably some mutual understanding of the toots associated with such a love). Now, the conversation about how radically changing the way you eat effects a relationship is another post for another week (and a time when I’m not on a Whole 30 and can have a glass of wine) — cause y’all — that transition is a still-in-progress PROCESS. Suffice to say, 30 days without our creature comfort foods would be a challenge.

In the first few weeks of our first Whole 30, I felt such a dip in energy. I was hacking up all this mucus crap constantly and I felt like my body was trying to kill me. I looked forward to when the 30 days were up and I could return to my morning routine of over-night oats made with Greek yogurt, and evenings with a glass of wine and a thick slice of cheese. Oh, and ice cream. On our honeymoon we toured the Ben and Jerry’s factory in Vermont. To say we MISSED ice cream is an understatement. Toward the end of our Whole 30, I had to admit I was feeling better. I was having oddly regular poops, sleeping better, and breathing better (like through my nostrils even– who knew a nose wasn’t just a decoration??).

Even so, when the 30 days were up, we crash landed. My first post Whole 30 meal had cheese all over it, and while I was eating it I felt like someone was shoving pipe cleaners in my nose. After the meal, my nose was stuffed and I returned to being, as Eleven would say, a mouth breather. I held onto many of the meals I learned to prepare during that first round, but didn’t really think to permanently avoid the foods the program had eliminated. I mean, its normal for humans to eat dairy on a daily, right? Its in the food pyramid for gosh darn sakes! They wouldn’t put it there if it wasn’t good for EVERY BODY. Period. Full stop.

Hi denial, it’s me, Sarah. You have a dairy allergy. You’ve probably always had it, and your body is getting progressively less awesome at fighting it, and that’s why your sinuses keep starting on fire and spewing dragon sauce everywhere. Maybe stop eating a cheese and see what happens. Just an idea.

Fast forward to some number of months later and I’m navigating an MS diagnosis, and I’ve decided on the fly to implement another round of Whole 30. This round felt familiar and empowering, and seemed to cut through my ever-looming fatigue shadow. After this round, I knew pretty definitively that dairy was a problem for me. A constant cause of inflammation, the cheesy kryptonite to my Super Sarah. Around the completion of this Whole 30, I was researching the Wahls Protocol and figuring out how I might go about eating this way (which is to say, dairy free, gluten free, refined sugar free) forevsies.

I’m currently embarking on my 3rd round of Whole 30 as a kind-of reset to the loss of routine that comes with the holiday season. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t binge on pizza and port wine cheese spread in the great state of Wisconsin, but I definitely didn’t eat my 9 cups of fruits & veg errrryday, and I definitely ate upwards of 2 of my mom’s butter-lovin’ famous Christmas cookies, and I definitely ate a whole darn donut during our family’s weekly Sunday fried chicken n’ donuts breakfast.

Now, I’m not divulging my indiscretions to get them off my chest like this is an old-school confessional booth, friends. I don’t feel ashamed of these indulgences like I might have during the diets of my yesteryear. Instead, what I felt was more like trepidation. I knew that my body would react, respond, revolt– in some way, shape, or mucus form. And boy did she. My immune system was already on the fritz after catching the Norovirus from my deeply generous nephews, and the introduction of these inflammatory foes during my recovery was ill-advised, to say the least.

In came the whopper of sinus infections like an unwanted Owen Wilson, You, Me, and Dupree style. After blissful months and months and (what?) months of sinus-infection free living (UNHEARD OF), my face felt like it had been beaten with tiny, heavy, sledgehammers from the inside out. And the mucus. Laawwwwwd the mucus was like a Culver’s concrete mixer without any of the Wisconsin-fresh farm charm. My words to my husband the morning after Christmas were as follows: “Everything hurts and I’m dying.”

Thankfully, I am more adept at healing myself in ways that do not include taking 2-4 Mucinex a day (which I obviously never did, of course not, especially not even after my ENT informed me that unless I was making Meth I should probably stop buying them). So with some combination of manuka honey, gallons of hot tea, hot baths with essential oils, sleep, bone broth, 3 boxes of kleenex and fairy dust, I am finally on the mend (just in time to meet my new students who are probably all raging with post-holiday illnesses – you know I love y’all deeply but come on, wash yo hands n bring you a kleenex).

All this to say, happy, sappy 1 year Whole 30 Anniversary to me. If not for this program, I wouldn’t have been able to isolate Dairy as one of the most prominent causes of my chronic sinusitis, and I’d probably be knee deep in a cheese/booger mash right at this moment, breathing through my mouth, as it were. Cheers to the New Year, may all your resolutions be revolutions (even if they are only just about the size of a nostril).

— Sarah