Anyone else been struggling to find a diet that works for them?
Since being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis about a year ago, I’ve embarked on various diets to try to ease my symptoms and heal my body (hence this blog). In fact, I started this blog to document my experiences on the SCD diet (see a summary here), which has helped many, many people to heal after the ravaging effects of inflammatory bowel disease.
But it’s been really tough to find a diet that stuck.
SCD wasn’t the answer for me, so I moved on to autoimmune paleo after consulting a nutritionalist. I followed it mostly strictly for a month or two (AIP is not a long-term diet), and then switched to paleo. By this time, my various diets had exhausted me psychologically, and subconsciously I think I felt imprisoned by them. I was either restricting or bingeing, and I constantly felt guilty about my slip-ups. How could I care so little about my health that I couldn’t find the willpower to avoid gluten or dairy or all the other things that were so bad for me? Restrict, binge. Restrict, binge. Guilt guilt guilt. I was trapped.
Cravings, weight gain and other un-fun things
Compounding all of these negative feelings towards myself and my diet was the fact that my clothes were getting tighter and the number on the scale was steadily rising. Having faced some weight demons for many, many years, this just made everything so much worse. I was constantly going back onto my restrictive diets simply to lose weight, even though I said it was because of my IBD. They didn’t work, so I’d binge some more.
Perhaps most ironic of all was that, apart from one or two isolated incidents, my UC symptoms were completely under control and, thanks to my Asacol, I was never aware of any issues.
Coming round to ‘high fat’ way of thinking
Several weeks ago, spurred on by yet another attempt to trim down, I decided to give the high-fat, low-carb diet a bash (also known as a ketogenic diet). Although I’ve been hearing about it for months, it’s taken me ages to come around to the idea. Eat fat? No, surely not. I’d spent the past decade avoiding anything with fat, oil or even a single additional calorie. And fat has the most calories of all! Plus, everyone was doing the diet (especially here in SA, where Tim Noakes has become something of a ketogenic legend), and that made me not want to do it even more. Ugh, fads.
But I was also desperate to kick my sugar habit (which by this point I had labelled an ‘addiction’ – read about my binges and attempts to overcome them here), and I thought that severely limiting carbs, at least at first, might help.
I read up about the Atkins diet, which is essentially a ketogenic diet (at least in the early phases), and thanks to the guidelines provided, I figured I’d be able to give it a shot.
That was several weeks ago, and I hate to say it (because it still feels like such a fad), but it is actually working.
How I feel on a high fat diet
This is the first eating plan I’ve followed where I haven’t felt hungry, haven’t had many cravings (I’ve had perhaps two or three bad sugar cravings in total, as opposed to several every day) and have actually felt completely satisfied at all times. Plus… the weight has started to melt off. I can’t understand it because I’ve been eating fat – and a lot of it (for me). I eat handfuls of almonds every day, I add oil to my food (olive or coconut) and I’m consuming plenty of avocado. I eat several eggs each day (my nutritionalist has assured me that four a day is fine, but I usually consume about three), and lean red meat a few times a week.
Making the switch: a bit of a mind-fudge
What has been strange for me, as someone who grew up in a household that was 50% vegetarian, has been cutting down on the amount of fruit and veggies I eat. Fruit I can understand – it’s healthy, but not in the quantities I was consuming it. I could eat 10 bananas in a day, or five pears in the space of several hours. Unnecessary, and probably feeding my sugar addiction. I decided to cut out fruit altogether for the first few weeks, to break the sugar cycle, as well as starchy veg, just as the Atkins diet advises. Eating less veg has been weird for me (I never realised how many carbs there are in vegetables, especially when you’re trying to limit your carb intake to 20g per day!).
That said, the way that ketogenic and Banting diets work is by getting your body to stop using carbs as your primary energy source, and to use fat instead. It takes a few days to ‘switch over’ to this way of burning calories, and – for me anyway – it seems that once it kicks in, it’s EFFECTIVE!
What I eat each day
For breakfast, I either have a boiled egg or avocado on grain-free seed toast. For lunch I’ll have two boiled eggs with salad, and as a late afternoon snack, I’ll have almonds. Supper is usually lean steak or chicken, or if I don’t feel like cooking, biltong. I serve it with cauli-rice or a portion or two of other low-carb veg (broccoli, zucchini, etc) and avocado. In between, when I’m hungry, I snack on raw almonds or biltong.
In fact, the one area where I slip up is when it comes to snacking. I’m a notoriously big snacker, but on this diet, I don’t really get hungry between meals, and sometimes I’m not even hungry at meal times (I always eat though). Not being hungry has never been a reason for me to not eat – but I simply am not craving food the way I used to. This means I don’t have a mid-morning snack, but I do tend to have something small in the late afternoon/early evening in the hours before dinner.
Dairy and high-fat diets when you’re lactose intolerant
On a high fat diet, one of the primary building blocks is full-fat dairy, and being lactose intolerant, the majority of dairy is off-limits to me. I can have small amounts of hard cheese (ie, parmesan), but soft cheese does weird things to my belly… and I can’t even look at cream! However, this might also be why I’m losing more weight: Some people have complained that they haven’t lost the amount of weight they were expecting on the ‘Tim Noakes diet’, which the professor attributes to too much dairy. After all, while butter and cream contain healthy fat, they’re also LOADED with calories.
Either way, you do need certain vitamins and minerals that come from dairy. If you don’t eat the stuff, make sure you’re taking supplements or getting what you need from other food, which you should continue to include in your diet.
How’s my belly?
As always, it comes down to this, as it should. My belly has been fine, and I haven’t noticed any major differences in its activity since starting this diet. But that’s probably also because Asacol does a powerful job of keeping everything under control. Plus, the right kind of fat is extremely healing: avocado and coconut oil especially are very beneficial to the gut and should always be included in a healing diet.
I do have to be careful with almonds, because if I eat too many, they can give me cramps. And I also have to be sure that I include my five portions of fruit/veg in my diet every day – something I never used to struggle with, but which I now have to actually make a concerted effort to do. My stomach is perhaps not as active as usual (normally I have daily BMs, but sometimes now I skip a day). That said, I haven’t experienced any bloating, constipation or discomfort, so I’m not concerned about it.
Overall, I’m loving how I’m feeling on this diet. I LOVE not having cravings, I LOVE that I never feel too hungry, and I’m enjoying the actual food itself (steak, avocado, nuts, caul-rice – what’s not to relish?!). I’m aware of the potential pitfalls (too much fat, too little veggies/fruit), and I’m being careful to avoid them. So far, so good, and out of all the diets I’ve tried in the past year (SCD, paleo, autoimmune paleo), this has been the most enjoyable, the easiest to follow, and the one that has made me feel the best.
Have you tried a high fat, low carb diet/banting? Would love to hear your feedback 🙂