Following the parasite party in my gut, I had a few months of sulfurous burps that just would not go away. I was the weakest I'd ever been in my life. If my memory serves me correctly, this was the start of years of funky stools (the description of which I'll spare all of you readers out there unless you personally inquire), as well as a sudden increase in the lower back pain I'd had since high school. One day, maybe a year after the gut bug debacle, I was shoveling dirt in a garden when all of the sudden I tweaked my back into immobility. This lasted 3 days. It was incredibly painful and a huge wake-up call for me -- something about what I was doing for my health wasn't working. Rather than blame it on being weak and malnourished from vegetarianism and parasites, I turned to purely external physical solutions, such as yoga, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, and body posture practices. I focused on keeping my spine aligned and balancing the use of my muscles. To a certain extent, this worked quite well and kept me somewhat capable physically, although I honestly could not imagine having to do yoga or pay attention to my posture the rest of my life -- it seemed unsustainable. And why was it that primitive peoples -- who I had begun to study in depth -- appeared to be so light and tension-free in their bodies without needing to do daily maintenance practices such as yoga? Also, working around kids a lot in summer camps I noticed how they naturally had absolutely perfect posture without any kind of attention to it. I decided it was my goal to experience this natural freedom from tension. Yet all that seemed to work was doing yoga three times a day and paying careful attention to my body posture. There had to be a better way.
In the summer of 2005, I began work with a wilderness therapy program, called The ANASAZI Foundation, and was spending weeks in the backcountry with troubled youth. Not learning my lesson from the experience with Vince Pinto in the Chiricahuas, I was confident that I could drink from streams without purifying the water. I was so convinced psychologically that I was the healthiest, most resilient dude of anyone I knew that I believed I could withstand whatever nature threw at me. I was wrong. Again. Three more parasitic episodes over a couple of months and I finally started purifying my water like a logical person would. I no longer felt invincible and really started to question some of the crazy things I was doing, such as constant yoga and a vegetarian diet.
During my time at ANASAZI, I also realized something profound about my back pain: it would subside to almost no pain at all while I was in the wilderness. At first, I thought this might be the product of living a more natural lifestyle and walking the earth as humans had done for millions of years before me. Over time, however, I began to realize that there was something about the food I was eating in the backcountry -- both in amount and type -- that appeared to lessen the pain. Lentils, rice, and ash cakes in small amounts were my staples in the field. When I came back to civilization, I'd load up on loaves of bread, peanut butter, salad and tons of yogurt. So I tried an experiment: eat how I ate in the field while I was at home in the city. The results were the same: far less back pain and an overall feeling of being lighter in my body. I thought I had found an answer. I remained underweight and felt dizzy upon standing, had sunken eyes and a lack of energy, but without back pain, I felt 1,000 times better. It seemed that more pure food -- and less amounts of it -- was the key to regaining my health. Or was it?
Part 3 of "My Intestinal Saga" up next ..