Autoimmune Thyroid Disease

An Unfortunate and Lengthy Adventure in Misdiagnosis

The porker diet

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Or, “Yet Another Health Saga”

Where did it all go wrong?

Four months ago in December I was absolutely desperate: the eczema that had reappeared on my face in August was getting worse and worse, I was absolutely exhausted and strung out, and really, really worried that I was re-developing the hypothyroidism and fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome of my teenage years. My hypoglycaemia seemed to have returned with a vengeance.

Atkins had fixed all these problems a year and a half previously. Had I simply staved off some horrible disease in my body by going on Atkins? Was I becoming diabetic? Things just weren’t right with me. In France in the spring I’d felt absolutely fantastic and slim, but following an extremely stressful June/July in which everyone descended on us in France, I came down with a serious chest infection and was knocked out for a couple of weeks. I developed spells of heart arrhythmia, leg cramps from mineral loss, and dry eyes that were only fixed by huge (but miraculous) doses of vitamin A (50,000 I.U. +). I put on half a stone in the space of that two week illness. I could feel myself getting fatter every day, my body was totally out of control in spite of being very careful with my diet, and it was horrible. Stress can cause weight gain by messing with blood sugar and the thyroid. The whole time people were visiting I was downing 500mg of vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) every day, because I just couldn’t cope without it. I was irritable and tired and snappy and really just wanting some peace and quiet to recover.

What Was I Thinking?

When I returned to England in August I bought an electronic scale to replace the €20 piece of crap I’d been using in France, and realised I really had put on nine pounds in France, going from 7 stone 12lbs to 8 stone 7lbs . I (stupidly) blamed this on liberal use of dairy products and embarked on Atkins Induction again, cutting out all of the nourishing yoghurt and cream I’d been eating because of the carbs and calories it contained. Then I had to go on a gruelling (yes, gruelling!) shopping spree as having given most of our household items away before we left for France, we were without many of the essentials that had been in our fully equipped French flat. For example: pans, plates, cutlery, utensils and mattresses! So I did all this whilst on Atkins Induction, had a rotten headache the whole time, didn’t eat enough calories because I thought the weight would come off faster, and thought I would either collapse from exhaustion or die from constipation. I got down to 8 stone 2lbs and then relaxed. Within a few days I was back at 8 stone 7lbs. I gave up for a while. I was still taking my pantothenic acid in order to cope with all the stress.

A couple of weeks after this I developed eczema again. I’d had eczema before going on Atkins, but after changing my diet the eczema had cleared up all by itself. Now it was back, I felt like a freak and I was constantly fatigued.

Pill Popping

I bought pill after pill to try and fix the eczema. Eczema is sometimes a zinc deficiency, yet zinc actually made my eczema worse! Omega 3s didn’t work. I even resorted to those horrible steroid creams. Tiny amounts sent me nuts and gave me the shakes. My eczema did not respond at all, in fact, it would flare up even worse after about three or four days of using the cream. Eczema can be associated with hypothyroidism, and all of my other symptoms corresponded with hypothyroidism too. I was at a loss, because trying to treat the hypothyroidism with the usual vitamins and minerals (iodine, selenium, vitamin A) made no difference at all. I couldn’t cope without the B5; I would be a physical and emotional wreak without it. Over the next few months, three more times I tried to lose weight and the same thing happened each time: I’d take two weeks get down to about 8 stone 4lbs, relax, and within three days I’d be back up to 8 stone 7lbs, except it turned into 8 stone 8lbs, then 8 stone 9lbs, then 8 stone 10lbs.

There wasn’t a vitamin I didn’t try. I worked my way through all of the B vitamins one at a time. Having spent at least a couple of hundred quid on different vitamins and vitamin combinations and hours and hours of time on the internet, I finally focused on B5, and I learned that the reason B5 was called the “anti-stress vitamin” is because it makes coenzyme-A, a miracle energy-producing enzyme that sounded amazing. Maybe I was coenzyme-A deficient and that was the problem?* I had no energy at all. Only one company makes coenzyme-A. It’s incredibly expensive, around £60 to buy from anywhere but the manufacturer, where it cost me $70 for ninety capsules. Desperate enough to pay that kind of money, I placed an order with them and I have been waiting for my coenzyme-A to show up ever since! But more about that in another post.

Biotin, duh

I’ve since discovered the most stupid piece of information, hidden away and not published anywhere on the usual nutrition websites. Biotin deficiencies can sometimes cause facial eczema; they’re usually only seen in very small babies as biotin is made in the colon from beneficial bacteria, and these babies don’t yet have those bacteria. The eczema is very distinctive: it appears on the chin, around the mouth and nose and the eyes, often in symmetrical patterns. But I was still eating live yoghurt and kefir, though not as much as I had done in France. Surely I couldn’t lack beneficial bacteria! So could a biotin deficiency be caused by antagonism with another vitamin?

Yes. Vitamin B5, pantothenic acid, when taken in large doses for an extended period of time causes a biotin deficiency because biotin is also required to make the enzymes that pantothenic acid produces. Wasn’t I stupid?

The next morning I didn’t take my B5. I felt absolutely shocking, but I realised straight away that my eczema wasn’t burning as much. I went out and bought some biotin. It was the best £7 I ever spent. It substituted for the B5 and calmed me down, and within two weeks my eczema was under control. I stopped taking the biotin and weaned myself off all of the other high dose B vitamins I’d been taking to try to control my stress. My eczema faded right down to a simmer. I still had some pinkish patches around my eyes and on my chin, and I had peeling skin around my nose. I was more irritable, but I was just about coping, and now I was off the B vitamins my skin had calmed down. I felt constantly exhausted and certain I was hypothyroid.

So What IS All This Calorie Crap Anyway?

The stupid thing is, the most obvious cause of hypothyroidism is dieting. I thought that on a satisfying diet of 1,800 calories a day I was eating enough and possibly too much. I wasn’t. That’s really fluffy logic considering the government admits the average UK woman claims to eat 1,500 kcals a day and is about a stone overweight. No wonder I couldn’t lose weight. On a diet of 25% protein, 15% carbs and 60% fat, somehow I was in Rabbit Starvation, eating too much protein and not enough fat.**

What’s Rabbit Starvation?

Rabbit Starvation is a term used by the North American Indians and the Eskimos and reported by arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson during the early part of the 20th century to explain the curious phenomenon of illness, hunger and speeded-up starvation on a high protein, low fat, low carbohydrate diet of rabbits (a sort of native nutrition version of dubious diets like South Beach). Rabbits and Caribou (reindeer) are just too lean for natives to live off. A man can eat and eat and never feel full, he becomes sick within a few days without enough fat or vitamin A required to process the protein, which causes great strain on the body. The natives agreed it was better not to eat at all than eat rabbits and other lean meats, because one would starve to death more slowly by fasting. Incidentally, the same is true of a diet composed entirely of white rice because of the B vitamins it drains from the body, beriberi is a faster and nastier way to die than starvation.

Another Example of Orthodox Medicine Being Thick

The stupidity about hypothyroidism is that because most hypothyroid patients are overweight they’re told to diet to “cure” their condition. This usually doesn’t work and the patient ends up on drugs. There is possibly nothing worse that a hypothyroid can do than restrict calories. We should by now all know the old adage: diets don’t work because restricting calories slows down the thyroid and causes weight gain in the long term.

Coco Nuts

I tried coconut oil. Coconut oil is amazing for the thyroid as any alternative medicine site will tell you. As soon as the packet arrived, I opened a tub and ate three tablespoons. I was almost sick. Extra virgin coconut oil, the sort you should use, has a kind of a sickly taste to it. I had a brief spell of indigestion because I’d never eaten it before (this has never returned). Coconut oil is full of medium chain fatty acids, which the body physically can’t store because they’re too short, so it’s forced to burn them which raises the body temperature and stimulates the thyroid. I had so much energy that day that I went out and did a ton of shopping and bought a box of dumbbells and a rebounder (mini trampoline) from Argos and carried them home on foot without stopping. I then leapt on the rebounder and jumped up and down to Kylie for about an hour and a half. I was zinging. For the rest of the day I walked around saying things like “I’ve never had such a rush,” and “I feel like I’m on speed!”***

Unfortunately it didn’t last: some people can stomach it, but the coconut oil was just too sickly to eat by itself, and I’d be overcome with revulsion at the thought. I couldn’t find a way of cooking it into something that would disguise the flavour. Scrambled eggs just tasted of coconut. J. wouldn’t cook with it at all, so I couldn’t fry meat in it. The only way I could consume it was in Thai curries, and there’s only so many of those you can eat in a week. The other problem was, I’d eat some, have a huge energy rush for a couple of hours, then get a come down later in the day in which I would feel exhausted again, have a headache, and get really, really hungry.**** I still believe in coconut oil, but I think with me at least, it needs to be moderated with other fats.

The Caveman Diet

My next venture in this farce was going Palaeolithic. No grains, no dairy, just like a caveman. Eczema and thyroid problems can be caused by food allergies and orthodox medicine generally defines eight groups of common food allergens: gluten grains, nuts, peanuts, soy, eggs, cow’s milk, fish, and shellfish. I excluded those all in rotation, and together, and got nowhere at all. In fact, my eczema flared up again.

I was so hungry in the afternoons that I ate nuts by the bagful. I got constipated pretty quickly doing that, because nuts and grains contain enzyme inhibitors (designed to stop them growing before they’ve been planted) that do horrible things to human digestion. To eat them as a staple, you have to sprout them or soak them in brine and then bake them in a low temperature oven to neutralise the enzyme inhibitors, but its just not practical to find the time unless you’re a dedicated housewife.

Palaeo is very useful and cleansing for people with food allergies. But the problem with Palaeo is what it leaves out it doesn’t replace: the average caveman ate a variety of interesting foods that we’d find repulsive today; from gnawing on raw bones to crunching on insects. It’s impossible to get enough calcium or magnesium on Palaeo unless you make a bone-stock every day and eat a whole bunch of nuts. It’s also pretty damned difficult to get enough fat, as we eat so much muscle meat in the West, cut off the fat before it’s even sold, and breed our animals lean. Our ancestors prized high-fat organ meats, brains and marrow. Many Palaeo folk actually still cook with butter as they’re unable to get (or don’t want to try) lard and tallow anymore. We’ve evolved to a high fat diet. Remember those ice ages we lived through? We hunted the woolly mammoth to extinction just to get at the fat.

Fat, duh

So during this saga, I developed a theory. Thinking about Palaeolithic and Neolithic nutrition I kept coming back to Rabbit Starvation. I kept thinking about the Eskimos who enjoyed such perfect health on nothing but fish and seal blubber, about how their diet was 80% fat, and that they had enough energy to only eat two meals a day, and had a reputation as the most cheerful, calm and optimistic people on the planet. They would gorge on fat yet despite their beautifully formed round faces and underneath their heavy furs, they were actually a very slender people. Like the French, who according to epidemiological studies eat an average of 2,500-3,000 calories a day, 1000 kcals more than the British, yet are more slender and more healthy than the British.

Then I read an interesting article about body builders on muscle beach, prior to the drugs era, who would eat 32 egg yolks for breakfast, and as much as 6000 calories a day without putting on fat (surely they didn’t burn it all!), in order to gain muscle. It turns out that calories are more important than protein for gaining muscle weight, it’s just what you do with those calories that counts.

Eat Fat, Lose Fat

Then I readSally Fallon & Mary Enig’sEat Fat, Lose Fat, which turns out NOT to be another low-carb bandwagon book. They advocate a lower carbohydrate consumption (less than 70 grams a day), moderate protein consumption (around 15% of energy intake), a 2,500 in their words, “moderate calorie consumption diet for weight loss” and a LOT of different types of fats.

Polish Atkins

I also checked out “The Optimal Diet” website. It’s been nicknamed “Polish Atkins” in the press. Dr. Jan Kwasniewski is the author of the diet and formulated it after considerable experimentation on himself, his family and his patients. He uses it to cure chronic illness as well as obesity, including arthritis, nerve disorders, mental problems, atherosclerosis and calcified arteries, and (interestingly to me) chronic venous thrombosis. On “The Optimal Diet”, you eat about 10-13% protein only, limiting total protein consumption to around 50 or 60 grams a day depending on your weight, about the equivalent of a six ounce steak for the entire day.***** This partially is because any excess protein above your body’s requirement gets converted to glucose at a rate of 56 grams per 100 grams, which can mean an extra 25 grams of glucose to a typical Atkinser, and it’s also quite an expensive, taxing process for your body. You eat slightly less carbohydrate than protein, around 40 or 50 grams, and the remaining energy – all 80% of it comes from fat. That’s much more fat and more carbohydrate than the diet I was on, not losing weight and feeling worn out.

Back To France

I also began thinking back to when I was in France and I how great I felt in the spring when I was really thin and energetic and calm. I remembered how it was on a short weekend trip to France in January before we moved, I’d fallen off a six week weight-loss plateau and came back about 4 pounds lighter than I’d left. I’d eaten some really fatty hotel meals, including foie gras (goose liver pate) and confit de canard (duck preserved in its own fat). I realised how much dairy, foie gras, liver and super-fatty French lamb chops (the English ones just don’t compare) I’d been eating during the spring. I knew I was eating far more calories than I ought to but I hadn’t gained any weight. Another sign of hypothyroidism is constipation, something I’d always suffered from prior to Atkins, that had actually improved after the first few weeks of Atkins, and every time I went to the loo in France I remember thinking how brilliantly healthy my movements were! Additionally, fat also acts as a lubricant in the bowel. Why are all those Niçoise girls so slender and hourglass shaped with waists to die for? The Niçoise had to be the most attractive race of human beings I’d ever seen. It’s all the duck and goose fat and the butter they eat! Duh!

The Grand Unifying Crazy Theory

So the theory about hypothyroidism is the dumbest, most obvious theory in the world:

A cause of hypothyroidism and fatigue in the Western world is saturated fat deficiency. Fat soluble vitamin deficiencies and mineral deficiencies combined with trans-fat and vegetable oil consumption are real problems for the thyroid, but only contributing factors to an underlying problem: not enough calories, and not enough high-quality fuel. Furthermore, eating more fat in the absence of glucose (both from carbohydrate and protein) speeds up the metabolism and enables the extra calories to be burned instead of stored. In fact, you can eat slightly more carbohydrate than on Atkins, because fat lowers the glucose index and glucose load of all food.

Duh

I finally got this realisation through my stupid, thick head a few days ago. I was too scared to try eating more in case I put on weight, because after all, Dr Atkins says (though he is very often misquoted) “calories do count, but not as much as carbs”. I think I must have lost my way.

Pigging Out

I’ve been eating nearly 3000 calories a day for the last three days. I have deliberately gorged and have eaten so much I’ve felt sick a couple of times. I have felt so satisfied all the time that I’ve been almost uncomfortable. On day one, I had a 1000 calorie breakfast of scrambled egg made from one whole egg, two egg yolks, butter, pork dripping and a couple of fluid ounces of cream, followed by a whole slice of rye bread absolutely slathered in pork dripping and a large handful of raspberries, and on top of this a bitter cocoa drink with another couple of fluid ounces of cream in it.****** I had so much energy I ran all over town doing errands and even had the courage to use the telephone (I’m scared of talking to people on the phone) not once but twice, and even went into a kitchen shop by myself to arrange a measuring for the kitchen. I spent about five hours on my feet and I wasn’t hungry until four o’clock in the afternoon, when I had another huge meal composed mostly of fat. Then I sat down and set about sending a strong-worded email to the coenzyme-A people who still hadn’t sent me my order!

When your body starts working properly it’s amazing. I’m left with a feeling of wonder as I realised a pesky purple bruise that had been hanging around suddenly turned yellow and has now disappeared. My troublesome sometimes-dry eyes leaked gunk for the first day, then cleared up and now I swear I can see better. Perhaps I had a low-grade infection my body realised it needed to fight now it’s got more calories. I normally ache the day following large amounts of walking. I didn’t, I awoke revived and even bounced on the bed. My thought processes are clearer again. The patches of eczema under my eyes and on my chin suddenly pimpled and then shrank right down and I’m sure this time they are going to disappear for good.******* I no longer need to take my essential fatty acids to lubricate my skin, my skin is lubricating itself without them. I’ve stopped all my vitamins because I don’t need them. I forgot to take them (I never forget to take them, because I feel atrocious without them). I’ve put my E45 cream away because I don’t need that either. My pesky ovulation-time problems are under control. My previously bloated belly has flattened out completely. I noticed this phenomenon in France but was never able to figure out what it was that I’d eaten that some days had such a positive effect on my body shape! It was FAT, duh! I feel incredibly warm and had to throw the sheets off the bed, when normally I’m huddled up. My after-meal sweet cravings are gone. I was just looking for energy. This whole time I was so fatigued, all I needed was energy! Duh! Oh yeah, and in the last three days I’ve lost three pounds. Go Figure.

J. is having problems coming to terms with what I’m eating. He’s nicknamed it “The Porker Diet” and thinks I’m being “very naughty”. Admittedly, I would probably get first prize in an “Xtreme Dieting” competition for this one. My mother would be absolutely horrified. But J. can’t deny that I’ve lost weight. I actually think the reason my skin and scalp condition is better than his (apart from the eczema…) is because when he wants a snack he goes for the leaner ham, whereas I go for the fatter cheese.

Of course I’m not going to keep up the 3000 calorie routine; I’ll continue to monitor my weight and probably reduce it to that “moderate” 2,500 calorie intake Sally Fallon talks about, depending on the effect it has on me.

The Moral of This Story?

You might think you’re eating a healthy diet on Atkins, but unless you’re eating like an Eskimo, you’re probably not.

The Porker Diet:

  • Protein foods are not free, and they’re not as filling as fats. You’ll probably only manage to eat about 4 ounces at dinner time if you’re eating enough fat through the day.
  • Think Animal Fat. Vegetable oil is BAD. Olive oil should be limited to small quantities because your body prefers storing oleic acid. Coconut oil is great if you can stomach it.
  • If you cut the fat off your meat (or you don’t eat meat) you’re doing your body a great disservice. Don’t do it, it’s wrong. You’re only saying “ugh” because you’re confusing the chewy gristle with the melt-in-mouth fat, and as you’ve never actually tasted it so you don’t know how good it is!
  • Eggs should be eaten in abundance. Throw away some of the whites and add some cream to your scramble to get the fat content really high. The protein in the yolk is of extremely high quality, as is liver and kidney protein, and is therefore valuable in a lower-protein diet than Atkins.
  • A slice of smoked salmon goes very well with a big dollop of cream cheese. Mmmm.
  • Make chicken liver pate and have a slice with some vegetables or salad for lunch. Then eat an entire 200g pot of high-fat Greek Yoghurt. I dare you.
  • Add fat, fat and more fat to everything! Eat like a pig! Make stews and add fat! Add fat to sauce reductions! Add it to gelatinous soup stocks! Butter your vegetables until they’re yellow!
  • Drink really creamy cocoa or coffee, it will satisfy you for hours. Don’t worry about how much cream you eat, just eat until you’re full. Preferably it should be organic Jersey cow cream. I want to see butter globs on top of your coffee!
  • Try some lard, go on, don’t be scared. Pork and beef dripping are really tasty and not at all unpleasant to eat once you overcome your conditioned prejudices. Slather rye bread with lard, it’s absolutely delicious. It’s not too high in carbs and is slow-release (at 35% carbs for a 12 gram slice) and will have a really low GI/GL with all that fat, and won’t harm your bowel as the fat will lubricate it).
  • Allow yourself some root vegetables for the same reason (slathered thickly in butter of course). Remember you’re not doing Atkins Induction.
  • You can get away with more fruit too (drenched in cream). Clotted cream is the densest material known to mankind and really good on raspberries.
  • Home made custard and ice cream is a GREAT IDEA. Keep the sugar low, and enjoy all the cream and the egg yolks in it.
  • Saturated fat deficiency gives you wrinkles and pimples, ages your skin prematurely and dries it out. It also gives you cellulite. Throw out your moisturiser and use coconut oil, olive oil or butter on your skin.
  • No artificial sweeteners or soy. They screw up your thyroid.
  • Nuts are pretty much a waste of time as a staple because they’re high in lower-quality protein and the fat is of a kind your body really much prefers to store. And those enzyme inhibitors in them constipate you. A tablespoon of nuts is plenty, so control yourself.
  • It’s really not that hard to enjoy fat. If you start off suddenly eating a lot and you’re not used to it, you might feel a bit gippy or eat too much and feel sick. This is actually because your thyroid is sluggish, and good thyroid function is required for proper digestion of fats (Fallon and Enig recommend starting out on coconut oil as it requires less digestion. Cream and butter are good too, though not as good as coconut oil). So start out slow and build up, you’ll soon discover you’re in an upward cycle of recovery.
  • If you feel hungry at an odd time then drink some water in case you’re actually thirsty, and if you feel hungry five minutes later then eat some more fat. Hunger is bad. Hunger tells your thyroid to slow down.
  • If you feel tired or lethargic and it isn’t bedtime, you’re hungry. Eat some fat!
  • If you feel cold and your thermostat is above 20 degrees Celsius, your thyroid is sluggish. Eat some fat!
  • You have a digestive tract similar to a wolf. You are supposed to gorge until you’re full, then rest between meals. Eating less often helps to control your insulin levels. You won’t need to snack if you’re eating enough.
  • Once you’ve burned off the fat around your stomach, your belly will get really full and stick out when you eat, then go almost concave the next morning. I call this the “Jennifer Aniston”.
  • Recite this daily: “Bugger off Dr. Gillian McKeith and all ye contemporary nutritionalists with thine constipating sermons of skinless chicken breast, tofu and sunflower seeds! ‘Eat lots of nuts and seeds.’ What am I? A f*cking budgerigar?”

Edit: please note, you can’t eat 3,000 calories a day forever and then complain when you haven’t lost any weight. Duh! Did I ever say that this was a long term weight loss diet? NO! This diet is designed to stimulate the thyroid in order to help heal the body and resolve health problems. By stimulating the thyroid it MAY cause short-term weight loss. For sustained weight loss, it should be followed up with a FAT FAST. Weight loss should never be attempted by people who are ill, pregnant, or breast feeding.

Update

I noticed I got a comment on the Aussie Optimal Diet Forum. I am really amazed by how much interest this article has generated. It’s flattering to read about yourself as being “great”!

The comment also says I didn’t give Dr. K the right credit for the diet, so I just wanted to defend myself a little bit… I didn’t want to credit a diet of 3,000 calories to Dr. K because I read that he would only recommend 1,800-2,000 calories for me per day. My health was such at the time that I needed to give my system a bit more of a kick than that. The macronutrient ratios are the same as Dr. K’s for weight loss only, Dr. K doesn’t recommend you try to stay in ketosis forever. The diet is also very similar to The Ketogenic Diet recommended for epileptics, and the Atkins Fat-Fast. I didn’t want to credit one person without crediting the rest as I felt it would be unfair. I’ve since learned that Dr. K feeds his patients diets of 3,000 calories per day when they visit Arkadia. Wow. I needed to give him more credit than I knew!

However… in the update to the porker diet I wrote you’ll notice I’m virtually following The Optimal Diet apart from not eating quite enough carbs. My body is particularly resistant to weight loss, I also have some serious blood sugar problems, and whilst a lot of people can lose weight on the regular Optimal Diet, I can’t. But I do intend to follow The Optimal Diet to the letter eventually, as soon as I stop being afraid of gaining weight!

Notes from October 2007

* I was in fact genuinely coenzyme A deficient – salicylates block the recycling of pantothenic acid and require coenzyme A in order to detoxify them.

** Yes, I really was in Rabbit Starvation. Rabbit starvation happens when you break down protein for energy. Breaking down protein for energy causes higher levels of ammonia, and when the liver’s ability to remove ammonia from the body is exceeded, it results in exhaustion and diahorrea. I didn’t have the diahorrea (though I had bouts of IBS), but I did have the exhaustion. Whenever I eat too much protein this happens, and I believe it’s because I have high ammonia levels due to a genetic upregulation that is common in autism.

*** It’s only just occurred to me that coconut oil is so high chemical it actually gave me a salicylate happy-high. Which also explains why it gave me low blood sugar and the shakes.

**** See what I mean about coconut oil being very high chemical? I was very lucky to spot these symptoms from coconut oil as my diet was full of salicylates at the time.

***** Prior to changing my diet, I’d been eating roughly double this – around 100+ grams of protein per day in the form of meat and nuts.

****** As you can see from this breakfast, my high-fat experiment caused improvements that were’t due to me lowering the chemical content of my diet!

******* Sadly, my eczema didn’t disappear on the high fat diet, but there was a big improvement in my skin.

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Written by alienrobotgirl

31 March, 2005 at 7:47 pm

Posted in My History

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