I’m coming to the USA!

20160126_220948

I know I’ve neglected this blog terribly, and for that I am awfully, awfully sorry. Thank you to those of you who’ve found my posts, read them (or at the very least skimmed), left comments and shared your stories.

To sum up briefly what’s happened over the last year: I’m continuing to take Asacol (800mg) daily, but – and here’s a confession not even my physician knows – I’ve taken it down to once a day and I’m totally fine. Diet-wise I eat a bit of everything. I try to keep it LCHF, but it’s less hit than miss. I also try to stay away from dairy because lactose intolerance is for life…

… which brings me to – I’m coming to the USA!  

K and I have been planning this trip for months and months, and of course it’s the craziest time to be coming over, with the Rand plummeting through the floorboards and currently languishing at about R17:$1. So it’s going to be a pricey trip to say the least, but I’m so very excited.

We fly out of Cape Town on Thursday and arrive at JFK on Friday. We’ll spend a few days in NYC, staying with a friend, and then we’ll fly to LA for the weekend. Then it’s on to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and then Florida. From there, we’re hopping aboard a West Caribbean cruise (Mexico, Jamaica, Haiti and Grand Cayman) and once the tour finishes, we’ll fly back to NYC for a last few days.

A whole MONTH of travelling – longer than I’ve ever done before – and all I can think about is the food! We have some amazing cuisine and treats here in SA, but the US is on a whole different level. I mean, these insane milkshakes?! I’ve seen on Instagram (yup, I’m there now – come say hi) that people are waiting TWO to THREE HOURS for these things. We won’t have that kind of time to waste, but I’ll certainly be indulging – and overindulging – in all the things I’ve only ever seen on TV (and on Buzzfeed, and on all your blogs).

Which is why I’ve stocked up on Lactase – I don’t want to miss a single bite of the excitement and I certainly don’t want my holiday to be marred by bloating and cramps – ugh, who has the time?! I don’t usually take these (I simply avoid dairy for the most part) but I think it’ll be extremely worthwhile for this trip.

If you have any food or sightseeing suggestions or recommendations, please send them my way. On the list is drag shows, drag bars, gay bars, museums, major landmarks, New York cheesecake, steamed burgers, tacos and New York pizza. Oh, and as many of your candies as I can muster🙂

Maybe see you there!

Ways to get rid of bloating

b0d1bad62125c93ebfa8b9625a73b7a67a6dc35e81b8dfebbc4b477a4b395950

If you have any kind of gastrointestinal ailment, you’ll be no stranger to bloating. For me, it’s just one of those things I’ve come to accept. I think there’s a genetic component perhaps – my mom has been prone to bloating her whole life, and has been diagnosed with IBS – and I started experiencing it myself several years ago.

When my ulcerative colitis was at its worst, bloating was a constant issue. As I experimented with different diets – SCD, paleo, autoimmune paleo, LCHF – it came and went, and I’ve become fairly good at knowing which foods will leave me feeling like I’ve been pumped full of air like a giant balloon.

But then there are those days when you eat all the things you usually do, you drink the same things, and you end up with a distended and uncomfortable belly.

I know what I need to do to help avoid bloating in the first place. While some of these points may differ on a case by case basis, generally it’s safe to say that to help minimise bloating, you should:

  • Avoid gas-producing foods, like certain types of fruits and vegetables (for me, onion, broccoli, cauliflower and zucchini are especially bad, but mostly any veg can bloat me up)
  • Avoid gassy drinks (including sparkling water)
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid coffee
  • Avoid chewing gum and anything else with artificial sweeteners (look carefully at ‘sugar free’ or ‘dairy free’ chocolates and sweets too, as these are often made with replacement substances that can lead to gassiness and even diarrhoea)
  • Avoid dairy if you’re lactose intolerant (I am)
  • Avoid eating raw veggies. It’s harder for the body to break these down, and if your gut is already damaged, you want to give it as little work as possible
  • Avoid wearing overly-tight clothing
  • Avoid heavily processed food and/or unhealthy takeaways
  • Avoid drinking large quantities in a single go – i.e, try not to gulp down entire glasses of water
  • Be careful with foods like nuts, eggs and fruits, which can cause bloating in people who are sensitive to them
  • Take good quality probiotics

If you’ve struggled with bloating a lot and have played around with your diet to try to manage it, you may have made some surprising discoveries. For example, if I eat white bread and rice, pasta and even pizza, I experience very little bloating. I can eat plenty of junk food without ill-effect if I’m having a particularly healthy week. In fact, when I flare, I tend to live on basmati rice as it’s the only thing I can keep in.

Obviously though, one cannot live on a diet of refined carbs – particularly if one is gluten intolerant or sensitive to gluten or wheat (thankfully, I am not).

Most of us want to eat healthily, cleanly, but unfortunately it’s the healthiest of foods that often lead to uncomfortable bloating. Give me a burger, and I’ll be just fine. Give me a salad, and suddenly I look like a little Buddha. The same happens when I swallow down a whole glass of water.

So now that I’m bloated, what can I do to make it go away?

Bloating is particularly awful when you’re trying to be productive or have a good time. Ever been out partying on a bloated stomach? It’s the worst. Trying to work at your desk with your belly pressed against your keyboard? Not gonna happen. So what can you do once the bloat sets in? Here are some tips to try:

  • Unbutton your pants. Don’t fight it. Just trust me – you’ll immediately feel a whole lot better.
  • Spend some QT in the bathroom. Obviously you don’t want to force anything, but if you’re able to have a BM, you’re likely to feel a helluva lot better for it.
  • Don’t eat or drink anything for a little while. Give your tummy a chance to rest.
  • Don’t hold in your gas. Go to the bathroom or find a private place, but holding it in is only going to make you feel so much worse.
  • Drink some herbal tea. I haven’t tried this for bloating because I hate herbal tea. But if you enjoy it, give it a try. Ginger, chamomile and peppermint are particularly favoured for bloating, or you could try drinking some lemon water.
  • Get moving. Going for a brisk walk or run or doing yoga could help to ‘get things moving’ and relieve you of some of that gas. I remember many of the old ladies in my yoga class farting while stretching into their poses. Yoga is known to activate the GI system, as is running/walking. Just make sure you’re never too far from a bathroom! The idea is to get the heart pumping and the blood circulating, as this stimulates the release of gas.
  • Make sure your next meal is simple, spice-free, low in salt and won’t irritate your belly. Choose foods that you know won’t leave you bloated.

What are your best remedies for bloating? Please share🙂

LCHF diets and sugar cravings: Exactly why you shouldn’t cheat

funny-regret-nothing-cat-eating-mouth-full-pics

I decided to try a low carb, high fat diet last year after a particularly bad sugar binge, and the results blew me away.

But let’s go back a minute, to the binge. It started with a single small slice of red velvet cake at work one November morning last year. By the end of the day, I’d devoured something like five slices of cake, a packet of chocolate biscuits, whatever random old chocolate I could find at home (I don’t really keep chocolate in the house) and most of a jar of hot chocolate powder. Yes, hot chocolate powder. Straight out the jar. My nemesis.

In fact, I decided to write this blog post now as a distraction from that self-same powder currently winking at me from our kitchen at work – a large jar that someone has lovingly donated to the office. I can’t stop thinking about ladling several heaped spoons directly into my mouth, which would probably be frowned upon by my colleagues and also extremely embarrassing because I usually inhale half the powder and end up choking.

But that’s besides the point. Or, not really.

Because as I lay on the couch that night in November regretting every morsel I’d binged on – and it really was a binge – I realised that things needed to change. I’d read a lot about LCHF diets and since it was one of the few I’d never tried, having always been terrified of the idea of eating FAT, I decided I had nothing to lose.

cookie-monster

Within one week of strict LCHF eating, I’d not only lost 2kgs, but I’d also almost lost my sugar cravings. It was INCREDIBLE. I think I’ll always struggle to resist sugar, but I wasn’t having hourly – okay okay, ‘minutely’ – thoughts of chocolate and cake and chocolate cake. I felt so good, and I was eating right: meat, vegetables, eggs, salad, coconut and olive oils, avocado, almonds. I was satiated all the time and didn’t feel any need to snack or cheat.

Then about a month later, my birthday rolled around, and I decided to treat myself – and for me, treating myself ALWAYS means food, never shoes or handbags or teacup pigs. For  several days, I gorged myself on chocolate, cake, wine, bubbly and all the carbs that were within arm’s reach.

I tried to get back on the wagon, and it felt like I had one foot on and one foot off. Through December, January and early February, I kept trying to claw my way back onto the eating plan but kept slipping. I added dairy (which some people can do) but it didn’t help with the extra kilo or two that had crept back. I drank diet drinks, which isn’t advised, and once or twice I dipped into the remnants of the hot chocolate powder. I started drinking lite beer, because it’s just so damn boring to drink water at a bar, and when I found a months-old Lindt chocolate in my girlfriend’s car, I devoured it greedily before my brain had a chance to talk some sense into me. It was the day before Valentine’s Day, I rationalised, and tomorrow I’d be indulging. So that day was a write-off (I think I remember some chocolate powder too) and the next day there was dessert… and then K’s mom arrived for a 10-day holiday from Malaysia, so it was all about the pina coladas and French fries.

Things were not good.

They came to a head this past weekend, when I clocked four slabs of chocolate in a single day. K’s mom’s here, we’re eating out anyway, I’m just gonna go balls-to-the-wall and then get back on it when she leaves was how I made it okay. But my clothes aren’t fitting anymore, and this has NEVER happened to me before. I feel gross, and parts of me jiggle when I drive on bumpy roads. I HATE it.

louis-c-k

What I’d been struggling to understand was why this diet had worked so well the first time, and not when I tried to get back onto it in Jan. Obviously, it’s because the first time, there was NO cheating. Not a grain of sugar, not a drop of booze. The second time round, I got a bit more slack. Lots of dairy, the odd drink here and there – and of course a day or two of cheating every few weeks.

Not only was my body completely confused – high carb? high fat? what’s going on? – but I also wasn’t allowing it to overcome its sugar cravings. If you cut the stuff out completely, it sucks for a couple of days but you get over it. If you keep having tiny bits here and there, you never stop craving it. Basically, it’s like a drug – we all know that – but I needed to come to that realisation physically, if that makes sense.

“Maybe you just shouldn’t keep chocolate in the house.” – my sister. Very wise, she is.

I must point out that K is also on this diet, and she has lost 10kgs! She’s been amazing and so much more committed than I. Her willpower and reserve is just phenomenal, and pretty damn inspiring, given her own sugar cravings.

So what now?

Now I’m back on the wagon, albeit shakily, and doing my utmost to get this right. I loved how I felt when I was doing LCHF properly, and I loved the results. I especially loved not craving sugar. It’s hard at first but it’s an investment well worth making.

I’m not quite sure why I wanted to write this – I think that unlike many of my other posts, it was more for me than anything else. Perhaps to remind myself why I’m doing this and why it’s so worth it. And maybe, if you’ve also fallen off the wagon, it might help you too🙂

Every time, it's a victory. Strive for these victories!

It’s a victory every time. Strive for these victories!

IBD joint pain (and what you can do to ease it)

knees

Before I was diagnosed with UC, I visited a doctor and told him that I had severe diarrhoea and pain in my wrists and ankles. He must never have encountered IBD before, because he was stumped.

Of course, my more experienced doctors immediately put the two together, and since I’ve started treatment, the pain has mostly disappeared.

However, from time to time, I’ll get twangs in my knees – more niggles and annoyances than anything else, and I’m wondering if any other IBD sufferers experience the same thing? My GI issues are completely under control, but yet I still get these strange pains from time to time.

A few things that help are:

– Warming the area. Put a blanket over your knees or have a hot bath. Don’t worry if it makes you feel like a granny – it works!

– Avoiding tight pants/jeans. Maybe it’s a no-brainer or maybe it never occurred to you (it never occurred to me until I was like, “Duh!”), but wearing pants that put pressure on your knees can exacerbate the pain. More reason to wear tracksuit bottoms (yay!)

– Not sitting still for too long in the same position. Stretch your legs and walk around often, but don’t overdo the exercise (until the pain goes away).

– Not sitting with your legs crossed (a leg swung over your sore knee can make the pain worse).

– Adding more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, like coconut oil, almonds, avocado, tumeric, blueberries, fatty fish, sweet potatoes, leafy greens and almost any other vegetable you can get your hands on.

– Taking a good quality fish oil supplement.

– Taking anti-inflammatories (if you MUST). Only when my pain became so bad that I couldn’t walk did I take anti-inflammatories, but it really did help and it gave me several hours of mobility that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Always check with your doc, though.

What solutions/suggestions do you have for IBD-related joint pain?

Diet vs drugs: Why I’m sticking with my UC medication in 2015

tumblr_mj6p9ihnrb1r4nzfzo1_1280

So let me begin with a disclaimer: I’m not a doctor (yada yada); I’m not any sort of medical professional (blah blah blah) and I speak only from my own layperson experiences (etc etc).

Today I saw my doctor for the first time in a year! Time was when I saw him monthly, before I was diagnosed with UC, and soon after, while I struggled to get my last flare under control.

Am I in remission?

Hard to say, says the doc. And for that reason, he doesn’t want to take me off my meds. I’ve been taking Asacol (800mg) twice a day for almost a year and a half. I have been fortunate in that I haven’t experienced any side effects that I’ve been aware of, although I know this isn’t true for everyone.

Asacol is a very small, very simple part of my life. I take it every morning and most nights. I say ‘most’ nights, because sometimes I forget (and I’m totally okay anyway). But doc says that coming off it completely may send me back into a flare, and considering I’m doing so well, I’m so healthy, and I’m experiencing no side effects, there’s no reason to come off it.

Medication vs. diet: What a year has taught me

tumblr_mp9jvcQHKu1rp3o0qo1_1280

When I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, I read loads and loads of blogs and forums and really anything the Google results returned. I found that many, many people were successfully treating their autoimmune diseases through diet, and I wanted in. I didn’t want to rely on medication, and so my healing diet journey began.

First up was SCD, and I believe it did great things for my body, flushing it of toxins and giving it a good long time to just recover. Essentially, I treated my gut like a baby’s, and that was exactly what it needed…

… but it wasn’t a permanent fix. Next up I tried autoimmune paleo for a while, and struggled with it (it was just too restrictive, so I kept cheating and bingeing, and then guilting myself and it was ALL TOO MUCH). Paleo was next, and that’s probably the diet I stick closest to now, although I’m certainly not strictly paleo.

I try to eat a high fat, mid protein, low carb diet. Basically, a healthy diet devoid of processed junk. I stick with it around 90% of the time, and I’m happy with that.

But that said.

I do not believe that diet alone could have helped me get my symptoms under control – because I tried; I did. I was terrified of going to the doctor when I was bleeding daily, severely – I didn’t want to know what was wrong with me, and anyway I was convinced it was cancer (aren’t we always? Thanks Dr Google). So I searched for holistic, natural cures for diarrhoea. I had a freezer crammed with blueberries, a fridge full of fresh ginger and cupboards creaking under the weight of white rice and salted crackers. I tried doing a completely ‘white’ diet – rice, bread, pasta, etc – and that helped for a while, until it didn’t any more. I tried avoiding fibre, but I was way too far gone for that. Then for a while, I lived on boiled eggs and basmati rice because it was all my tummy could handle.

None of it stopped the diarrhoea, at least for any significant period of time – and that of course is because I was in the midst of an aggressive flare, and I needed cortisone, and then long-term medication to manage it.

Asacol has changed my life. Throughout all my dietary experimentation of 2014 – and there was a lot of it – Asacol staved off flares and helped keep my system in check, even when I had cramps and discomfort and the occasional bout of OMG-it’s-another-flare panic.

I’m not saying that a dietary change can’t help some people – we’ve all seen piles and piles of evidence stating the opposite. But diet alone wasn’t the answer for me; medication has been.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I abuse my body. I don’t fill it with unhealthy rubbish just because Asacol is so good at keeping the junk from causing trouble. I try to stick to my healthy, clean eating as much as possible, and I won’t go back to grains, or too much dairy, because it places strain on my body that it simply does not need. I want to know, one day when I’m old, that I did everything I could to promote good health long into old age. As anyone with IBD knows, it can lead to many other horrible complications later in life.

For me, the answer so far has been meds first, diet second, but always focusing on eating healthily. I know this flies in the face of what many bloggers say, and as I reiterate, it’s simply my own experience.

If you’re flaring, if you’re very sick and you can’t get your symptoms under control, see a doctor. And if what you’re doing is working for you, that’s simply great.

Interesting note about dairy

Ba

   Basically exactly how it feels  

I’ve discovered fairly recently that I’m able to tolerate small to ‘mid’-sized amounts of dairy, despite being lactose intolerant.

There is a belief that if you’re intolerant to a certain type of food, and you cut it out completely for some time, your body begins to ‘recover’ and may be able to handle it in small quantities again. This has been my experience (this in particular I think is more due to diet than medication, but obviously the meds must help). I cut dairy out for about a year, so I think that gave my body some much-needed recovery time. But I don’t push it – after all, I’m still lactose intolerant, and overdoing it could be a contributing factor to flares, so I (mostly) take it nice and slow with foods that are very low in lactose.

Here’s to another flare-free year.

One year later: The foods I stopped eating in 2014

SugarCoated

In an effort to find an eating plan that helped me manage my IBD, I tested a lot of different healing diets in 2014 (hence this blog). Turns out, there was no one specific diet that gave me the answer. I had to tweak my eating plan to add and remove foods that my body did and didn’t like, and to find a way of eating that suited me. Here’s a list of what didn’t work for me – it might help you to pinpoint your problem foods. Lower down is a list of all the things I can (and am) eating and drinking now, a year later.

Artificial sweeteners. I used to drink a ton of diet cooldrinks as well as multiple cups of tea and coffee every day, each sweetened with low-calorie sugar replacements. I knew that they were causing me intestinal discomfort, but I ignored it until I was incredibly ill, and then it was the first thing my nutritionalist cut from my diet. The carbonated drinks caused bloating, and aspartame – the main ingredient in many sweeteners – is known to cause GI distress in those predisposed to gastrointestinal disorders. Meanwhile, sorbitol – an ingredient in gum, some diet drinks and even fruit like apples, peaches and prunes – is hard to digest and can cause gas, bloating and diarrhoea. Some researchers have gone a step further to say that sweeteners can cause IBD – just give this scary article a read if you needed any more convincing.

Processed food. I’m hardly an angel – I definitely slip up from time to time, and even since my diagnosis have been known to indulge (one time) in Nutella cheesecake. But for the most part, I avoid anything packaged (unless it has just one or two ingredients, like tomato paste made only from tomatoes and salt). I don’t eat takeaways, sweets, chips or cheap chocolates (when I do have chocolate, I usually go for good quality bars with a high cocoa content). Again, there is the occasional instance in which I slip up, but the norm is for me not to include these items in my diet.

Most dairy. I am lactose intolerant, and when I found out, about two and a half years ago, I cut out all dairy immediately. When I let some sneak back into my diet, I’d have terrible flares. Now that my IBD is under control, and I’ve been lactose-free for so long, I’ve found that I can eat certain dairy products in limited amounts without experiencing horrible side effects. Cheese in small quantities is fine, as is butter and very limited amounts of cream cheese. I still avoid milk, cream and yoghurt, and feel that I’m getting the best benefits of dairy from the items I can eat, and avoiding the dairy products that are usually laden with unhealthy additives (ie, sweetened yogurt).

Sweetcorn. I seldom, if ever, eat sweetcorn. This is because it’s aggravated my belly in the past, so instead of taking a chance, I skip it (and don’t miss it). Baby corn seems to be okay in small amounts.

Bran flakes. If you have IBD, chances are you don’t need much additional bran in your diet. I only realised this well into my second bad flare. These days, if I need a little ‘help’, I drink more water and eat more vegetables. I LOVED bran flakes (especially with milk and sweetener) and I miss breakfast cereals. But believe me, it’s better this way.

Gluten. Both nutritionalists that I’ve been to have strongly recommended I remove gluten from my diet, even though I’m not coeliac. When I’ve tested it, I haven’t had a problem with it, but that said, I’m trying to eat clean, and without gluten in my diet, I feel healthier, lighter and less bogged down. Also, by avoiding packaged foods, I’m automatically avoiding 90% of gluten. I won’t lie – it’s hard to resist the other 10%: the bread basket on a restaurant table, or the birthday cake calling my name. But I do, as much as I can.

Sugar. I have a serious problem with sugar – my problem being that once I start, I can’t stop. No one should be consuming sugar in large amounts, but lots of people can have a slice of cake and stop. I can’t – which is a particularly serious problem for someone who shouldn’t be eating most of the constituents of those two three six slices of it. Sugar is responsible for all manner of horrible illnesses, and for me, given the fact that my GI tract is already compromised, there’s no need for it.

So what do I eat? Everything else!

Healthy Snacks

It might seem like I’ve cut almost every type of food from my diet, but that’s really not the case – not if you know how to eat clean. I eat meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, dark chocolate, cheese and all the delicious dishes you can make from those ingredients. My diet sustains me, makes me feel full, healthy and, most importantly, not bloated and kak (that’s a wonderful South African term for which there isn’t really a translation, but look it up anyway).

And what do I drink?

It’s a very common concern: what can I drink on SCD/paleo/autoimmune paleo, etc. For a start, everyone should be consuming at least two litres of water a day. It’s much easier than you think if you keep water with you all the time.

I also drink good quality black coffee (without sugar – takes some getting used to), but this isn’t allowed on autoimmune paleo. Herbal teas are good, as are pure fruit juices on SCD, if you aren’t avoiding fruit sugars. Sparkling water with berries, lemons, cucumber or orange slices added is a delicious alternative to a fizzy cooldrink, and you can also make your own iced teas and coffees. Play around with the ingredients you’re allowed to have/can tolerate, and avoid adding anything processed to your drinks. Sweeten with honey.

As for alcohol, this is a very personal choice. I’m not a big drinker and I’ve never enjoyed beer, ciders, etc. Some diets will tell you that dry wines and vodka are okay (this is the only spirit I drink), while others (autoimmune paleo, for example) will ban all alcohol. If you are flaring, you should definitely avoid alcohol. If your IBD is under control, test it carefully. Here’s a detailed piece I wrote on what to drink on a healing diet.

What diet am I following now?

I tend to jump around and try different eating plans that work for me, so there isn’t one specific diet that I’m following. It’s not SCD, paleo or AIP. If anything, at the moment, it’s a low carb high fat diet (LCHF). But mostly, it’s a clean, healthy diet devoid of unhealthy packaged foods and excess sugar. And it’s working for me, which is the most important thing.

You need to find a diet that works for you, and if it doesn’t fit into the framework of any specific healing diets, make it up. Tweak, change, add and remove according to want your body likes and wants, and call it your specific diet🙂