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!
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 🙂