Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Tough Pill to Swallow

Soooo, you may have noticed that I've been M.I.A. for a little while.  I want to share with you a little tale of lethargy, fatigue, and confusion and how I'm getting back into the blog groove.

About three or four weeks ago, I started feeling really tired.  It was an unexplained tiredness though.  Eating didn't help.  Sleeping wasn't renewing my energy, and I really couldn't pinpoint anything specific that would have caused me to be as tired, no, exhausted as I was feeling.

Fast forward a week, I forced myself to go to dinner with a couple of my girlfriends.  I didn't feel like going because I was still so exhausted.  On top of that, I was feeling really depressed and starting to wonder if I was going crazy.  Like, seriously, there was nothing going on in my life that would contribute to me being depressed and I had been taking it really easy trying to get my energy up because the following week we were going to have family staying with us.  I wanted to be the "Hostess with the Mostest" but I just couldn't imagine myself being my energetic, gregarious self ( yeah, I'm gregarious - fond of company; sociable) while still feeling so emotionally and physically zapped.  

While at dinner with the girls, we kicked around a couple of ideas.  I knew that I wasn't preggers (took two tests just to be doubly sure), I knew there wasn't any unresolved, looming stressor going on in my life, and I knew that I had been eating regularly and hadn't seen a decrease in my appetite.  Actually, I felt like I was eating ALL THE TIME!

My friends started talking to me about friends or siblings they had that were anemic.  Up until that point, I hadn't considered the fact that the cause of the physical and emotional way I was feeling could be a nutrient deficiency.

I scheduled an appointment with my doctor right away because I wanted to get blood work done to determine if I was in fact deficient in some way.

The doctors appointment was set and that was all well and good but, that was over a week away and I had family coming to stay for five days in the mean time…

So, I got Googling.  I knew from all my reading that the two major things you have to be thoughtful of when adopting a vegan diet were a possible Vitamin D and/or Vitamin B12 deficiency.  Now, I already know that I am someone who feeds off sunlight.  We've had an uncharacteristically sunny summer where I live in the north east and I have been enjoying it to the fullest.  I love taking walks, getting outside and rollerblading, and just sitting on my front porch reading a good book, soaking up the late afternoon, early evening rays.  So, I felt confident that I was good on Vitamin D.

B 12 however, that was another story.  I knew that B 12 came from a bacteria and therefore, in the olden days, when our food, heck, everything wasn't as sterilized and sanitized as it is today ( I'm so not complaining by the way), historically, we were able to derive the Vitamin B 12 we needed from plant sources.  Nowadays, that's generally not the case.  I also new that many foods, for instance, the soy milk that I use to drink before switching to almond, was fortified with this vitamin.  But, in the five months I had been eating a whole foods, plant-based diet, I had not purposefully, through means of diet or supplement, been consciously getting any B 12.

I found this web page on symptoms of B 12 deficiency.

I was shocked to find a list of practically every single thing I had been experiencing:
shortness of breath - check
fatigue - check
cold hands and feet - check
heart palpitations, chest pain, numbness and tingling in hands and feet - check, check, check
confusion, depression, memory loss - check, check, check

I KNOW.  Scary stuff right?!

So, I didn't wait for the doctor's visit to confirm.  I ran to the nearest drug store, scooped up the highest dose of B12 I could find, and immediately took the first dose.  In a matter of hours, I was already beginning to feel more like myself and, within a weeks time, I was feeling right as rain.

By the time I got to the doctor's office, I felt fine.  We did the blood test just to confirm that everything looked good and the results confirmed that all my stats were very, very good.

I was embarrassed to say the least when I discovered that this was the cause of my symptoms.  But, the lesson I learned in all this?  When books or magazines say, "Consult your physician before beginning a new diet or exercise program," they're not just directed at old people.  I know that may sound harsh or naive… and maybe I am a little harsh or naive but, as I'm not a doctor and I don't know everything there is to know about the complexities of the miraculous human body, it behooves me to follow through on that often heard but probably seldom heeded, healthful advice.

I'm now feeling better than ever.  I'm taking a few supplements, which I wasn't doing before, I'm still eating a predominantly whole foods, plant-based diet but trying to incorporate at least one meal a week that might include fish.  The fact of the matter still remains though, eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains with very little meat and dairy consumption is still the healthiest way to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally.

But, honestly, don't take my word for it.  Ask your doctor.  Mine told me that, "[They] were not a proponent of eliminate anything entirely from [their] diet."  Because of my interests and reading about nutrition, I choose not to eat meat or dairy other than what could be characterized as extremely sparingly.  I've lost my taste and appetite for meat.  Dairy no longer appeals to me.  But, in 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul writes, " 'Everything is permissible for me' - but not everything is beneficial."  1 Timothy 4:4-5 states, "For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer."

So, what is my point?  I am not going to go around telling people they should never eat meat or dairy.  But, what I will say is, in order to be healthy, we do have to be proactive in learning what is best for our bodies.  The crazy thing is that, if you just look at food, you can probably determine fairly accurately if it's going to help fuel your body or not.  A Twinkie doesn't really look like it's going to do anything for you.  Food that doesn't expire for 2 years, probably isn't a living, life promoting food.  Food that will spoil in a week?  That's probably closer to what nature intended.  

Lovingly and benevolently, "everything God created is good," and can and should be, "received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer."  I find that to be a beautiful thing.

My pride was a little bruised through this whole situation as it is more than a little humbling to have to admit something like a self-inflicted, nutrient deficiency but, through the help of my wonderful friends, the advice of my doctor, and my good friend Google, I'm back on track.  I'm feeling better than ever.  And, while there's still time, I'm just soaking in the sunshine and flavors of summertime.


  1. christianne TaylorAugust 14, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    Hey Rachel,
    I read your latest blog post and I was about stunned.
    About a year ago the same thing happened! I thought I was going crazy too!

    I was just about knocked off my feet exhausted. I would wake up go to breakfast and half way through my muffin I would be gone. It would take every bit of energy to applogize to the people i was enjoying breakfast with and i was would start an exhausting two block walk home and then pass out for the rest of the day... this went on for months!

    For a vivacious 21 year old that was soo strange it persisted for two months. Finally i down some iron, b12, and folic acid pills and I was back.

  2. WOW! Thank you so much for posting this. I have felt run down and lathargic, and all the symptoms you described, as I read, amazed me! I was saying, "check, check" too! So I am going tomorrow as soon as i can to get some b12. thanks again!

  3. I'm so glad this has been helpful to you Anonymous. :)

    Christianne, I love to see your comments on here. I've been so surprised since I started sharing about this, how many other people have had similar experiences.

  4. I would love to get in touch with you about writing a column for the magazine I design. It's called the Trident, is published quarterly, and is a magazine that goes out to all Tri Delta Sorority members in college and alumnae who subscribe.

    My email is

    try to contact me asap if you can
    our editor found your blog but is no longer with us
    thanks-Liz T