Cold front

Olympics from Space Needle

Deep breath.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about me: I have a damp spleen. I didn’t know that about me either, although I suppose if I’d thought about it, I’d have come to the same conclusion. It’s inside my body, after all, and I hear it’s damp in there.

The recent diagnosis comes from my new acupuncturist. To be fair, he’s my first acupuncturist. I’m seeing him because I have lupus, and a back injury that still hasn’t quite healed, but mostly—and most importantly, perhaps—because I’ve lost my appetite.

No Western doctor I’ve come across seems to think this is a giant problem—apparently many women have appetite failures after having children. Physically, it’s a convenient natural counterpoint to a recent pregnancy, and to too many years of steroid treatments, sure. But with all due respect to people who are actually missing limbs, I have to say losing my hunger feels a little like an amputation.

I’ve never had an appetite problem before. Or, if you look at it another way, I’ve always had an appetite problem. I’ve always been the one who gets hungry two hours after a meal, no matter how big. I can test recipes all day and gorge on every single one. My workday often consists of eating breakfast, snacking at a coffee shop, having two lunches, testing a recipe, grocery shopping, then launching into dinner. I grew up with a mother who examines what everyone eats extremely carefully—“would you like to eat that, or glue it to your thighs?”—so my idea of teenaged rebellion was baking a batch of cookies and eating the whole thing. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you can relate.

But in the last few months—and if I’m honest with myself, I’d have to say it’s been a bit longer, even—I’ve learned that approaching the world stomach-first has its drawbacks. For one, I’ve built my career around said organ. Walking into a restaurant when I think I’m ravenous, finding only one or two things that sound even mildly appealing on the menu, then picking at my food does not feel normal (or productive, for that matter). I have phantom hunger; it disappears the moment something good hits the table. I’m eating out of habit, but it feels like I’m no longer tasting. It’s become so disappointing (and at times, embarrassing) to sit down over and over, expecting to love what someone has put in front of me, only to discover that I feel like eating about four bites—especially when the person cooking is me.

Once in a while, things taste good. Pasta’s been okay. I do seem to have an appetite for soups—hence the recent streak of hot and sour, and the fact that I went out for pho three times last week—but overall, it feels like something inside me has simply died. And it does not feel good.

So a few weeks ago, I started seeing this acupuncturist. He looks like your average software engineer: white as Wonder Bread, with a gentle, kind demeanor. I trusted him the moment we met. When I see him, he does the whole acupuncture thing—you know, hair-thin needles in strategic places—and he also suggested I start tinkering with my diet.

I hate the word diet. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it has the word “die” in it, because in my mind, controlling what you eat, in the strictest sense, kills the part of eating that’s most enjoyable—the impulsiveness of trying something new, the serendipity of combining flavors that work well together. But Chinese medicine isn’t the only medical culture to claim certain people benefit from eating certain things. Remember when it was popular to eat for your blood type? And oh, yeah, thousands of years of ayurveda?

To start, since I’m apparently what Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) defines as a “cold” person (keep those jokes to yourself!), I should be eating “warm” foods—both physically warm foods and energetically warm foods. I’ve started with the former, trying to avoid putting anything in my mouth that’s actually cold (which is harder than you might think, even in January), and I’m hoping to branch out into the latter, which is, as they say, a whole other can of worms.

After a few weeks, I’ve noticed significant improvements with both the joints affected by lupus and my back pain. I’m peeling apples again. I’m checking my car’s blind spot without wincing. It’s awesome. (To be fair, I’m also tinkering with my traditional medications, and doing regular old physical therapy for my back, both of which may be helping, too.)

But this appetite thing? Still pretty much MIA. And if the acupuncturist is correct, we may actually be dealing with two separate problems—one of appetite, which in TCM is often spleen-related, and one of actual taste, which is more often heart-related.

So, now you know what I’m working on in the kitchen these days.

(Phew. That feels better. I was so nervous to tell you.)

Has this happened to you?

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22 Comments

Filed under commentary, kitchen adventure, lupus

22 responses to “Cold front

  1. Megan Sukys

    I’m suddenly having problems with meat.
    Some people have a ‘sweet’ tooth. I had a ‘pork’ tooth. And for the past couple months, I can’t stomach it.
    I feel terrible after beef, pork, even chicken.
    So, I’m trying to use it as a reason to explore the long-neglected vegetarian cookbooks on my shelves.

  2. I’m at about 18 months into my appetite loss. (I’ve always been skinny and picky, but I loved food.)
    Now, I wait until I’m racked by hunger pangs to put something in my mouth. Gastroenterology exams find nothing wrong.
    Wishing you the best; hope to hear how it comes out.

  3. vicvickvicky

    Hi there,

    I totally believe in the wnder of TCM. I hope you get better soon. Losing your appetite seems to take the fun out of, just about everything. Im glad TCM is helping you though! Did you accupuncturist also recommend that you try chinese herbs? I used that to help with some stuff and it seemed to work…:)

  4. Haven’t tried the herb thing yet, but yes, it was recommended.

  5. autoimmunelife

    Out of curiosity, are you on Plaquenil or Hydroxychloroquine for your lupus? I know you are doing TCM meds, I don’t know if you are doing any Western meds or not… but if you are that will cause appetite loss. Also lupus flares can cause appetite problems and it can take awhile to come back.
    I hope you have luck with the acupuncture and new diet, etc.! :)
    J

    http://autoimmunelife.wordpress.com

  6. Thank you for this post. You gave me a fantastic recipe for telling the truth. You are a brilliant writer. Some parts do indeed resonate. Such as the word “diet” bothers me, too, even when used to mean a good neutral thing like “how/what one eats” ;the words “Scarsdale” and “crash” pop in there unbidden and then I’m frowning already. And the eating as “I’ll show her/them” — yes, I can relate. Your posts are my hot and sour soup. And I have found acupuncture to be very valuable and worthy; and did it in concert with other forms of medicine. Your writing is such a gift to me. Thank you.

  7. J – yes, I’m on plaquenil. I’ve taken it for years without any ill effects at all, which is why I started it again recently. But good thought – perhaps it’s treating me differently this time around?

    And Nancie, thank you. I’m blushing, getting this from you.

  8. tonya

    It also happen to me- loss of appetite, loss of desire for food, losing the drive to create something delicious-it all seemed to go together.It is a bit confusing that the passion for food for me is so egocentric- that there would not be satisfaction in cooking/”creating” for our loved ones. That the inspiration in cooking comes from seeing a nice looking plate of food, smelling amazing food cooking and tasting great food. Yes like central part of me just went away. But a year later it all came back slowly. Apparently food and creation are a basic part of me that won’t be denied- give it time!

  9. annie

    Jess,
    I was going to suggest seeing a naturopath to help you with your appetite problem, but your acupuncturist sounds very competent. People with chronic and autoimmune health problems should be seen by medical doctors, but they can only do so much. We benefit by also seeing doctors that deal with alternative medicines, because they treat your whole body, and not just the part of your body that isn’t functioning well. My naturopath has helped me tremendously in the past when I had food issues. I no longer eat dairy, flours, and other foods that my body can’t tolerate. Sometimes in autoimmune diseases, we do have higher incidences of intolerance, whether it’s in foods, smells,etc. Maybe your plaquenil is to blame for that. Good luck, and stick with your acupuncturist, I think he will be of great help to you.

  10. autoimmunelife

    The plaquenil definitely causes appetite issues for me, which is why after reading your post I had to ask, since I know I generally have to force myself to eat, and at times I have to be reminded to eat. If you took a break from it you definitely could be having a different reaction this time around. Something to potentially discuss with your doctor is if you are on it twice a day see if you can go down to once a day or cut the dose in some other way… doing that helps my appetite, but unfortunately my lupus quickly takes advantage of the lowered meds and comes back to life. However, I seem to be an unusual case in that way, so it could be that doing that will help you immensely.
    I hope you find one or more ways to deal with the appetite loss, and that your appetite comes back soon! ((hugs)) I know how frustrating it is.
    J

  11. Brenda

    I would recommend going to see my Naturopathic doctor, Dr. Christine Riggin in Bellevue. She is brilliant – took care of me in the months prior to getting pregnant.

  12. annie

    Jess, I forgot to mention in my earlier comment that if you are being followed by one alernative doctor, do not see another alernative doctor.I.E. you’re seeing an acupuncturist, do not seek a naturopath or even a chiropractor. Each of these alt. doctor treats with certain modalities, and if you mix them up you won’t know what is working for you. Also, one might work against the other and create different problems.

    • s*

      I agree with Annie re: multiple doctors. (But I’m not recommending you quit your MD. MD and LAc sound excellent. No need for more to confuse the world paradigms. Not that you’re asking for our recommendations anyway…)

  13. Lulu

    nobody is talking about the soup! I found the cloud ear mushrooms at co-op in Boise, Idaho on my second try even though nobody in the store knew they had them. In a package of dry mushrooms with the spices (not with the dried mushrooms). They are from “India Tree” Seattle WA. Go figure. Still struck out on Lilly Buds. The Asian market is about 12 miles away in Meridian on the other side of town. Not a fun drive on a Saturday through traffic. WINCO might have them, they have a lot of esoteric foods. The woman who taught the Indian cooking class I took gets all her spices there. But I made the soup anyway. It was fantastic. I also did your “Ninja night” and used the rest of the tofu instead of pork.

  14. I’ve lost my appetite a few times In the past, but only for about a week each time. People think somethings wrong with you when that happens, and since I’m already thin a friend thought I was developing an eating disorder (far from the truth). I didn’t worry since my appetite didn’t stay away too long. I hope yours comes back soon though.

    Also, two years ago, I developed a distaste for meats. I’m a vegetarian now and quite happy. Is there perhaps a particular type of food that’s putting you off?

  15. Major Depressive Disorder here … and I have the opposite of a loss of appetite. I have deep cravings for nothing. I’ll eat a box of crackers or a loaf of plain toast. Then, when I have something with actual flavor in front of me, I’ll just pick at it.

    By the way, my dog gets acupuncture. Works like a charm for his arthritis. Anyone who thinks that if it does work, it’s only because of the placebo effect, needs to talk to my dog.

  16. dre

    Jess,

    My heart sank a little after reading your post. It’s a rather frightening thing to lose something as fundamental as one’s appetite.

    I hope it hasn’t affected your weight and that it doesn’t. If it does please consider medical marijuana. Seriously. I’ve known several people with various serious illnesses for whom pot has been the difference between wasting and living. If you’re interested I can get you more details about the legitimate use of marijuana for appetite boosting.

    Secondly, I know you have all the lupus stuff going on but consider the possibility of depression playing a role here. Not sure if that fits for you at all, but depression as you may know is a common culprit in terms of appetite.

    Go accupunture! It cured my back a few years back.

    Good luck and much love and looking forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks!

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  18. What an amazing and heartfelt post. Obviously you have resonated with so many people. I started a medication a couple of months ago that has not killed by significantly decreased my appetite. To be truthful, I haven’t minded all that much because I have lost some weight. But it doesn’t feel like me to not be hungry. I still eat, I still enjoy food, but I don’t feel the hunger and I get full faster. What to do? Not sure. Glad to know there are others in the same boat.

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