Harrowing Tales of First World Deprivations

Visited the gastroenterologist yesterday morning in my continuing quest to discover why I have been stupidly anaemic. Was absolutely horrified to be told to STOP DRINKING TEA. Tea, people, which is a whole extra food group on its own. How is it legal to tell people to stop drinking tea??? Turns out there is not actually a law about it; I can tell you this, because I have checked.

Did you know that drinking tea significantly inhibits iron absorption? I sort of knew this, and back in that earlier post, Libi even reminded me in the comments. And I sort of paid attention, because, well, she is a health professional, so I sort of half-heartedly started drinking tea only between meals. Mostly. Because I really, really hoped she was making it up (sorry Libi, I was in denial..)

But then the man in the white coat sitting directly across the desk told me the same thing. I came home and looked it up, and guess what, it is an actual thing, there are studies in journals even.

This is very, very tricky. Tea is an institution in my life. It makes everything better.

And also, how does one get through a whole afternoon without tea to prevent attacks of nana naps? Well, funny you should ask that, because last week, just for a lark, I decided to go gluten free. I know, it seems like an odd way to amuse oneself, but everyone who ever goes gluten-free goes on and on a) about how wonderful they feel and b) how stupidly expensive it is. So I thought, why not see what all the fuss is about, and see if I can do it without buying anything extra. Thrifty gluten-free. Now with all the zillions of tests I have had, I know this - I do not have coeliacs disease, though I have the gene (lots of people do), and I have absolutely no intestinal damage caused by gluten intolerance. I even had a biopsy which showed that there is no damage in my gut at all, even at a microsopic level. I never get so much as a stomach ache or headache and have never had any symptoms which would indicate gluten intolerance. I was just having a go out of sheer curiosity.

Well, here are the notes I took of what I ate last week:

Day One
Breakfast: Apple, handful almonds
Lunch: Fried Rice (peas, corn, bacon, egg, parsley, tamari, fish sauce), Apple
Afternoon Tea: Orange, Choc Chips, Seed/Dried Fruit Mix, Almonds, Yoghurt
Dinner: Lamb chops, Mashed Potato, Broccoli, Peas, handful sultanas
Feel awful, terrible headache, want to go to sleep.

Day Two
Breakfast: Yoghurt, Seed/Dried Fruit Mix, Almonds
Lunch: Leftover Lamb Chop, Salad (lettuce, parsley, feta, marinated capsicum strips, piri piri sauce), Apple
Afternoon Tea: Orange, Choc Chips, Seed/Dried Fruit Mix, Almonds, Yoghurt, Cheese (what I really wanted was peanut butter on toast)
Dinner: Teriyaki Chicken (chicken, brown sugar, water, tamari, ginger, garlic, broccoli, marinated capsicum strips, snow peas, spinach, rice)
Feeling actually quite good, got lots done today.

Day Three
Breakfast: Apple, Almonds, Choc Chips (go so well with almonds!)
Lunch: Quinoa Salad with pear, walnuts, rocket
Afternoon Tea: Apple, Potato Chips, Choc Chips, Yoghurt and FAIL, but who could resist The Girl's new best Vegan Chocolate Cake. THREE slices (quite small slices)! It's really that good. Tummy felt awful afterwards. Realise this is how I often feel after toast/cake day. Too full, a bit ill..
Dinner: Creamy Scrambled Eggs. Was going to make salad, but suddenly exhausted. Is it that cake? I hope not. Everyone else has toast with their eggs.

Day Four
Breakfast: Boiled Egg, Sort-of Waldorf Salad - chopped carrots and celery, with apple slices and walnuts, French dressing.
Lunch: Handful Nuts, Seeds, Dried Fruit (busy, busy..)
Afternoon Tea: Cheese, Popcorn, Seeds, Dried Fruit
Dinner: Roast Potatoes and Carrots with Marinated Capsicum Strips and Piri Piri Sauce on Meatballs (wallaby mince - mistake, too lean for meatballs. Must get lovely fatty beef mince next time..) used Ren's recipe and whipped them up in the food processor. Easy peasy. Swapped onion for parsley. Have lots of parsley! Tiny handful of dried fruit for 'something sweet'. Have you guessed I am out of choc chips!
Feel fabulous today, lots of energy.

Day Five
Breakfast: Quinoa with yoghurt, blackberry and clover honey, seed mix, dried fruit, and prunes from a two year old packet at the back of the cupboard!

Lunch: Leftovers from last night's dinner, apple
Afternoon Tea: Hot chips at the pool!
Dinner: Got home late from the pool. Everyone making their own dinner. Last few meatballs from last night, then TWO slices delicious wholemeal bread with butter and peanut butter. And a bowl of milk and cereal. Then, (head on arms), may as well be hung for sheep as lamb, the last piece of chocolate cake. Two hours later, and I am still feeling very full, and very slightly unwell.
Woke up in the middle of the night feeling distinctly unwell and like someone had inflated my stomach with a bicycle pump. Was it the gluten, the refined carbohydrates, or the MSG in the chicken salt on the chips? Maybe all three. Realised that I regularly feel like this, but don't count it as 'feeling unwell'. It's how I mostly feel. It feels unwell only in comparison to feeling so good yesterday.

Day Six
Breakfast: Quinoa with yoghurt, honey, seed mix and prunes.
Lunch:What I have really been missing is a vehicle to transport peanut butter. Posy is forever eating celery and peanut butter. I decide to try it. Yum! Celery and carrot sticks with a mini bowl of ground peanut butter from the machine at the wholefoods shop. Cheese sticks. Almonds.
Afternoon Tea: Chocolate. In my defence Rosy bought chocolate to make brownies, and I can't eat the brownies, so I pre-emptively ate the chocolate.
Dinner: Jacket potato with Bolognaise sauce (wallaby mince - perfect in this application- onion, garlic, oregano, celery, carrot, tomato passata,  red wine), cheese, and half a glass of red. My first glass for the week. The Man is away, and no fun drinking alone (well, drinking tea and eating chocolate alone is quite fun). All the energy. Keep finding more jobs to do.

Day Seven
Breakfast: Ran out of quinoa, so moped around a bit, then ate carrot and celery sticks with peanut butter, and almonds. Actually a good breakfast.
Lunch: This is where the whole project falls apart as this is the moment The Boy discovers he has been successful in finding a house, and will be leaving home forever on the weekend, and I abandon all entertaining projects and fall into a decline and exclusively eat toast and chocolate for days on end. And it is not clear at this point whether me feeling awful is food related or not...

OK, so clearly I am not very good at sticking to a restricted eating plan, especially if no actual harm seems to be going to come to me if I don't. I did learn that it is theoretically possible to eat gluten free without visiting the gluten-free aisle at the supermarket. I also felt, well, disturbingly full of energy. Since I had the iron infusion a couple of months ago, my energy levels have gone from zero to about one hundred (one hundred energies, that is. It is a technical term), but it has been kind of intermittent. There are energy jags and lags, and often I just collapse mid-afternoon, and have to eat steadily until dinner to keep going, and drink multiple cups of tea. I don't know whether it was the gluten free (ish) aspect of this week, or the lack of refined carbohydrates, but those energy peaks and troughs just levelled out, and I was happily pushing on all day and into the evening without needing twelve cups of tea to keep me going.

The other effect I noticed was feeling extraordinarily well. I have always been more or less healthy. I don't really ever get sick, or have headaches or stomach problems, or any health issues at all (well, apart from being severely anaemic as it turns out. Ooops. Feeling like you might be going to die while walking up hill turns out to be not normal. For future reference). But, last week I felt really, very, very well indeed. Like being a child again, when you forget you have a body because it does exactly what you want it to do and it never complains. It was a compelling feeling. But then, so is eating toast.

So my unsettling conclusion is this: if I give up tea to (hopefully) improve iron absorption, I will have nasty caffeine withdrawal (happening already) and will need daily naps due to afternoon energy failure. If I don't give it up I will need daily naps due to being anaemic. However, if I stop eating gluten (or possibly refined carbohydrates) I won't NEED cups of tea so much, because those energy troughs just did not happen while
I wasn't eating toast and cake. But I like toast and cake. And tea. I am very grumpy. I have had several tea-free hours now, and it is not fun, for me or anyone near me...

However, let's put this into perspective. Ten thousand people have died in a giant typhoon, and millions more are homeless and hungry and would give anything to have my problems...


Well I'm just amazed that you managed to keep such a great food diary in the midst of all that was going on at the time. Good luck with the iron bizzo - and good luck with giving up tea......I'm with you on that count.
Just a thought re the gluten thing. Son is on a massive paleo lifestyle (caveman) diet which involves lots of meat and few refined carbs. In the interests of sanity, we all seem to be more or less on the bandwagon with this now. I don't buy bread, butter, sugar, potatoes, flour etc etc any more. Don't miss bread at all, and feel (mostly) more energetic for it all. Maybe just try cutting out bread to start with? I find that easier than looking for alternatives. Good luck with it all! Hope your next blood test is more impressive. cheers Wendy
For me it has been meal planning as in sitting down and actually eating a proper breakfast lunch and dinner with one or 2 snacks each day (used to eat toast for brekky and nothing or crap for lunch and then aftrnoon tea with the kids and big dinner and snack on junk after dinner and loads of coffee). The other real big change for me making heaps of difference is eating more protein ie chicken for lunch or steak sandwich for lunch and also drinking loads more water (3l rather than 1 or none) and eating mostly "real" unprocessed foods low in added sugar has stopped me hitting the 2 oclock slump e very day. Started the 12WBT program and while I am not saying to do that I realised that I had LOADS more energy. Also taking Floradix and Astraforte has helped plus learning to run/making sure to do daily exercise. Finding I am tireder in a way but also at the same time so much more full of energy if that makes sense. Physically tired and so sleep better. Less foggy headed/wiped out/exhausted tired. B vitamins a godsend too. And cutting out stressors and extra energy sucking tasks as much as possible - really slowing down and stopping rushing around like a headless chicken. Much better now!
CAN have GF cake and bread/toast

Also loads of nice sweetish things that are paleo or Gluten and Grain free

I make little bliss balls if want something sweet you know the date/vanilla/nuts/seeds/cocoa combo all whizzed up and rolled into balls YUMMO - but have one not 10 in place of a sweet bikkie
oh and Licorice tea (I buy Kin Kin brand) is delicious, tasty and a little sweet, and peppermint. Maybe sub that for tea habit?

Is it the caffiene or the tannins ? I read a tip that said to reduce this dip teabag and discard first cup as that releases all the "baddies" then make your cuppa with the same teabag same taste but weaker caffiene count
Anonymous said…
I have so much iron I might rust! (you want some?) I've got so much as a rule that if my iron levels are 'normal', I know I need some red meat and maybe an iron tablet or two for a few days.
Anonymous said…
You know my view on restrictive eating plans! They just set you up to fail. And feel deprived.

And I knew about tea and iron. When I was low on iron and taking iron tablets daily, my GP said to not drink tea for a couple of hours after taking a tablet. But I say pfft to not drinking tea. I need three mugs before 11am at work. Just has to happen! Major drama if there is no milk. And everyone suffers with me, as I do not suffer in silence.

But, yeah, maybe you should cut back on the cake and toast? I'll join you in feeling deprived and cut the alcohol midweek.
Anonymous said…
Erk, pressed something I shouldn't have then - I am sure I had more to say. That's right - I am thinking about cleaning up my diet a bit. Went away for the weekend, and ate nothing but garbage every meal for four days. Normally, my stomach has forgiven me but this time... We still aint talking! I do breakfast well, but the rest of it? Pfft! I think I am going to have to get back into seriously planning meals and NOT letting any chaps convince me that something else would be good.
Jo said…
Hi Wendy, yes, there are a number of paleo people around telling me how wonderful they feel, I'm sure we would all be healthier for eating like that.
Michele, I hear you on the meal planning thing. Toast is so convenient, as well as comforting. Who needs to think about snacks when there is toast? I know you have to be gluten free for your son, and am very impressed, because it does require quite a degree of organisation..
And the problem with tea is the flavanoids and phenolic acids which bind with the iron and take it out of the body. Today I have been drinking rooibos. Which is alright, but not quite the same...
Miss Maudy, yes please, I will have some of your iron! Yes, planning meals, so boring but necessary for actual vegetable intake. And when I don't, like you, my children think up something 'better', generally something pasta-based with no vegies...
Lucinda, so nice of you to offer feeling deprived with me. Maybe we can all be healthy and gorgeous together... tea-free is a serious strain though..
Anonymous said…
Which part of the tea inhibits the iron being absorbed? If it is just the caffeine, I think rooibos tea might be an option for you. :) Caffeine free and tasted like normal tea! :) If it works you can worship at my feet by way of thanks. ;) Seriously though, I do recommend trying nettle tea. It's rich in iron and pretty much all other minerals and vitamins. I mix it with chamomile for taste reasons. It might also help fill in the gap left by tea.

We're gluten free here now after watching my eldest go from cherub to fiend within the hour of eating a slice of bread. So far the behaviour has been significantly better, for the kids and from myself and to date, no crippling stomach cramps either. I've had no testing done but my paternal grandma was coeliac and my dad is gluten intolerant too. No more pasta (staple food), no more bread, sourdough or otherwise, and we now become the family with more than 1 food restriction. *sigh*
Jo said…
It is the phenol acid, which is in the tannins that does the inhibiting. Also the flavanoids in peppermint and chamomile tea, but rooibos seems to be fine.
Staggered into the whole foods shop yesterday and moaned to Lee the wholefoods lady who sent me home with the rooibos which DOES NOT taste like proper tea. It's not nasty, quite palatable, but just not the same. OK, no more whining now...
And I might try nettle..
I can see why you went gluten free, children's wild behaviour is a fairly compelling reason.
What do you have for breakfast?
Anonymous said…
Mr Sans and I agree. We'd sooner go without alcohol than tea. Nothing better than a cup of tea in the morning. Or a big mug after a big day out and about. And a thermos for a road side stop during a road trip on holidays.

Sorry, know it isn't making it any better.
Heather said…
I have thought about going gluten-free, but year after year it seems as if my diet get more and more restrictive. First allergic to nuts, then to chocolate, then my daughter comes home and tells me she has decided to become a pescetarian and I agree to give up meat with her. I am fine without nuts, chocolate (amazingly), and meat, but to give up pasta and bread...I just don't know if I could. I did give up coffee/caffeine at one point in my life and I felt GREAT after the withdrawal process, but I really missed the comfort of coffee, so I went back. Changing the coffee each morning from caffeinated (for my husband) to decaf was just inconvenient and I found out that it was harder to avoid caffeine outside the house than I thought it would be. Anyway, I'm glad gluten-free is working for you. Good luck finding a substitute for your tea. There's just something so comforting about a warm cup between the hands that is hard to give up, huh?
Anonymous said…
No tea?!!!! NO TEA!!!!!! This is a crisis. I, too, am somewhat anaemic and would rather eat my own feet than stop drinking tea. Is the man mad? Surely there is some horrific thing that we can both do to ourselves to get iron into our teetering bodies and that would allow us to still drink the elixir of life? Bugger...but I am not going to give up tea, just only limit it to 1 - 2 cups a day in the morning (that's actually cheating because I already do this but no-one knows that and thinks that I am making a huge sacrifice...right?...) I think that the gluten free trend is all about being "exclusive DAHHHHLINK" and elevating certain foods up the ladder of exclusivity (and coincidentally making them heinously expensive in the process). Use chickpea flour. It's cheap, can be made from chickpeas (again...coincidentally...) and is magic stuff.

There are so many recipes for breads that taste like actual bread out there without gluten. I could care less about the gluten portion of the bread and am more caught up with the entire packet disappearing along with a fair bit of butter into my ever questing maw so I just abstain conscientiously now. I, like you, am discovering a wealth of energy from the way that I am eating now. I don't think it is anything to do with gluten or tea to be honest. I think it's all of that fruit and those veggies that you need to pad out the spot that carbs and gluten once filled. They are filling foods and once they are gone they leave a very large hole that needs to be filled.

I commiserate with you about that headache. It’s a 3 day event and it turns you into a werewolf for the duration. The girls are going to all get together in the safety of their rooms and start planning their own escape. Fill yourself full of turmeric tea, lemon tea (lovely stuff :)) (just boiling water and lemon slices) and anything herbal and flush that headache out of you a bit faster. I have given up tea drinking several times in my life but that memory of "that headache" is right up there with the pain of childbirth. At least that is over in a few hours...3 days...sigh...

I agree about putting things in perspective. I was mentally muttering about having to do a unit in OH&S the other day. I was wading through the morass of bampf and sending up smoke signals of protest to the powers on high until I took a break and found a series of images that a man took of his wife from the moment that she discovered that she had breast cancer through to a bleak image of an empty bed. The images haunted me and shamed me at the same time. Here I was...50 years old, complaining about something inconsequential and this beautiful brave woman wasn't given the chance that I have been given to keep living on this gorgeous conundrum of a planet. It certainly levelled out my playing field in a hurry. Give up tea? Why don't mind if I do! Hugs from Sidmouth (but not too close as I may get a punch in the nose for my troubles ;) )
Jo said…
Lucinda, no, NOT helping!!:)
Heather, I wouldn't be changing my diet if I didn't HAVE to. And yes, that warm cup is comforting. I am drinking rooibos and my favourite herbal, lemongrass and ginger (way down the favourites list from actual tea of course!). I will probably survive..
You are very kind to be going nearly vegetarian with your daughter. And at least I don't have to give up chocolate! How are your tests going? Any light shined on your mysterious symptoms yet?
Fran, I knew you would appreciate the gravity of the situation. I am sure the evil doctor doesn't drink tea himself, so it's very easy for him to airily command these things. And yes, stay away until the headache subsides!!
Judy said…
Peanut butter on toast is definitely my downfall too! And hot soup with a crusty bagette. I really want my energy back though, so time I gave it up as well.

I do like herbal teas, but I hate the headache I get if I drink less than 2 cups of real tea a day. I have got decaf for the kids though, because I dont want them to become hooked on caffeine too.

Nettle tea from the shops is lovely - I tried making my own but it smelt pungent like sweaty trainers! Dandelion tea or liquorice are also good. My main reason to give up tea is because it induces cravings for biscuits or cake to go with it.

Are you allowed to stuff yourself with chocolate to help you get through the lack of caffeine from tea?
Jo said…
Judy, I am hearing you. There is no real point to eating cake and biscuits without tea, so I may get thinner as well! Tea withdrawal headache subsiding, but you are right, I should definitely go get more chocolate, for medicinal purposes.
You have convinced me not to make my own nettle tea! Will buy some instead..
Jen's Busy Days said…
Headache here this morning... more likely grass allergies than tea withdrawal although it could be the toffee I had for "breakfast" and not much else. Anyway... gluten free sounds good in theory, not sure I want to go there in practice. We barely eat any bread here because I get an afternoon slump after a high carb lunch. Couldn't miss my baking though!

Can give you some iron too. Had good stores even when pregnant.

I just need to get my boys eating more vegetables, raw or cooked. Easier in winter. One of them tends to love his carbs a bit too much.

Ack! Not making sense, off to drink some water and go shopping where the aircons filter out the allergens.

Best wishes
Jen in NSW
Jo said…
Hi Jen, so sorry about those grass allergies, that would be just awful. I did find I ate more vegies last week, because no toast to fall back on for snacks! Hope the toffee diet helps the allergies:)
Jen's Busy Days said…
No, toffee wasn't much help. :-P But a small bottle of coke cleared the headache, works better than most other medicines ironically.

Jen in NSW
Unknown said…
Cannot offer you any advice re drinking tea because i have a coffee addiction of many many years. I know its bad but since i dont smoke, cant drink alcohol, dont have sex (married) and dont swear (except in acronyms) then i allow myself this forbidden indulgence. I know my Aspie's should be gluten free but it does take their cooperation and they are unwilling to let go of the carb habit despite my rantings. Good Luck with making grass water (oops herbal tea). LOL while i sip on black nectar.
Jo said…
Lynda, you are a paragon of so many virtues! I did make all gluten free dinners last week without anyone noticing.. maybe gluten-free ish by stealth?
I will now go and put some grass in some hot water..
Joanna Dobson said…
This is so interesting! But GIVING UP TEA! I actually don't think I could. I can't imagine how I would even get started in the morning. Which, on reflection, is almost certainly a sign of addiction and we all know how good addictions are for our bodies ... sigh.
Jo said…
Joanna, lovely to see you here, and I know, I could never have imagined it either... and it turns out that tea has literally been keeping me awake for 20 years. All I've been able to do for the last couple of days is nap on the couch. Ridiculous!
Linda said…
In today's paper, The Daily Telegraph:
"Drinking 3 cups of tea a day can reduce the risk of a stroke by around 20%, new research shows. Scientists found Britian's favourite hot drink offers powerful protection against the deadly brain clots that kill about 200 people every day in the UK.
The findings, by researchers at the Univ of California, back up research results published earlier this year that suggests 4 cups of tea a day significantly reduce stroke risk." So, what to do??!!!
Jo said…
Linda, I know! Food can be a minefield! But as I'm in no way at risk of having a stroke, and in very real danger of keeling over from lack of iron, I think I'll stick with ditching the tea... I'm kind of hoping it won't work, so I can go back to drinking it with a clear conscience!
Sorry late to the party (again).

I like Tea, but not the fiend you seem to be. I used to be a regular one for tea with breakfast, as a student when I had leisurely starts of 9am classes, not 7am work like now! So I can't empathise as much as I could, but I do think eventually the herbal teas will become 'normal' to you! At least I hope so.

As to the gluten free/Paleo. I eat gluten free (mainly, I try not to be 'that person' so I just pick gluten reduced menu items out, and don't make a song and dance at people's house). I did it to help my psorasis, not sure it's helped, it's certainly not 'cured it' but then nothing really does. Anyhow, like you, eating gluten now makes me feel SUPER full and uncomfortable, though without it I don't feel the empty/hungry I feel when I eat a seriously healthy diet (ie just fruit and vege). So it's good to hear you have similar reactions. I think your gut gets used to gluten, but once you scale it back, it struggles with it.

For breakfast, I have porridge. I'm not sure it's gluten free, but it's better than weet bix etc. And it keeps me going. GF bread ready made is horrid, and pricey, so no recommendations there, I'm sorry.
Jules said…
Hello - good for you!! You're doing SO brilliantly. My husband (would usually rather eat his own socks than drink anything remotely herbal) and I have just discovered rooibos with vanilla and have almost totally given up normal tea - can't believe it. I can't stand normal rooibos either, but somehow the vanilla stuff works for us. And I've converted my mum and brother too! And I'm v inspired by your food diary - I'm heading to Oz in 3 weeks' time and desperately want to clear out my system with a month of gluten-free eating so that I can have a month of guilt-free eating when I'm there! So I know it's not a medical reason like you have, you poor thing, it you've really inspired me, yet again. Need to investigate these bliss balls!
darling jo, your posts are on fire lately. another excellent one!
i cannot fathom NOT drinking tea -surely somethign like absinthe ro cocaine is far worse for your health than tea?! but, for me tea is mostly green, except for a 3.30pm earl grey to get me thru the rest of the day. i drink a lot of boiled water, too; i like it better than tap or cold water.

but my goodness, if toast and cake and tea make you happy - in this first world, we are lucky enough to have choice, and enjoy our choices. be healthy, yes, but be lovely to yourself as well.
Anonymous said…
Very sad about both the boy leaving home, and the no tea thing :(
I am gluten free. I don't buy much gluten free stuff like bread, biscuits, pasta etc.. I just don't eat that stuff anymore.
If we are having spaghetti bolognaise, smoked salmon pasta etc... for dinner. I will have mine with steamed veggies instead of the pasta.
I LOVE the SBS almond and orange cake on their website. It may not be as good without a cup of tea though. Can you drink herbal tea?
Anonymous said…

This is what I eat for breakky, otherwise eggs and veggies, sometimes with bacon or smoked salmon.
Jo said…
Hi Sarah, interesting that we are having the same reactions to gluten/carbs, though we don't seem to be intolerant.
Jules, rooibos is now my cuppa of choice! One day away from my last cup of tea I was not at all convinced, but a week away, and I will take anything that looks like a proper cuppa. I love that you can drink it with milk! I will look out for the vanilla. Enjoy your trip Down Under, don't come to Tas because it is still raining here...
e, GP probably wouldn't recommend absinthe or cocaine either, though must admit, haven't asked! Your tea habit is much more restrained than my six cups a day..
I am being lovely to myself and eating lots of chocolate:)
Jo, I am cooking more and more gluten free dinners, and no-one has noticed.. yet. I like the idea of steamed vegies instead of pasta. Will give it a whirl.
Orange and almond cake, yum, will eat it with rooibos tea.
Thanks for the muesli idea:)

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