5 things you need to do for success on AIP/SCD

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I’ve been more-or-less following the autoimmune paleo protocol for the past two months (more ‘more’ than ‘less’), and I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in my body. Most noticeably, I’m less bloated, I wheeze less, and my eczema/psoriasis seems to be less angry. I didn’t experience this level of improvement during my time on SCD, so I’ve given some thought to why AIP is working better for me than SCD did.

Bearing in mind that I embarked on SCD alone, and AIP with the guidance of a qualified nutritionalist, here are the five factors that I think are most critical to success on a healing diet.

1. Find out what’s going on in your gut

Yup, I’m talking about seeing a nutritionalist and getting the tests done. Yes, it costs a bit and yes, it’s icky doing those tests, but it’s worth it. Until you know what you’re actually trying to fix, how can you be sure you’re doing the right thing? For example, if you have yeast overgrowth but you’re continuing to include sugar in your diet, you’re not going to notice substantial improvement and you won’t derive maximum benefit from your diet.

For this step, you’ll need to visit a nutritionalist or a gut-health specialist. Surprisingly, I discovered that I don’t have any yeast issues, but I do have low stomach acid and lingering inflammation. We also found that there’s a big bad bacteria party going on in my gut, and hardly any good guys to balance them out. Each of these issues requires specific supplements, which work in conjunction with diet, exercise and medication to help bring my symptoms under control.

2. Cut out nightshades

It’s very, very difficult to do this, but I do believe it’s worth it. Some might say that a life without tomatoes (or potato chips) is no life at all… and it’s hard to argue with that. But a happy belly might. Although I’ve made lots of changes, I think this has been one of the most beneficial (for me. Loads of people have no issues with nightshades). I can say with certainty that when I eat spicy foods, my belly doesn’t thank me for it. On that note…

3. Listen to your belly pain (and all other aches too)

One of the most pervasive symptoms of IBD is pain. Stomach cramps, of course, but also joint pain and other aches and niggling pains throughout the body.

When you’re in a flare or in an untreated state, your stomach cramps are likely to be constant or at least fairly frequent. One of the great joys in healing is that this pain finally starts to abate. Which is why it’s so important to pay attention to stomach cramps when you’re on a healing diet. They indicate that your body is reacting badly to something you’ve put in it. Now that you’re healing, the amazing thing about this kind of pain is that it’s pinpointing something specific – that is, something you’ve ingested – rather than a general state of illness. It means that you can take action and cut that item out of your diet – either temporarily so you can re-test it later, or permanently. Always, always listen to your gut pain. If I eat dairy – bam, cramps. Same goes for spicy food or anything too rich.

By the same token, you should listen to the other pains too. They indicate that your condition is either improving or worsening. For me, one of the prime indicators of a flare is the terrible pain I get in my knees, ankles, feet and wrists. Now that I’m healing, the pain is less frequent and far less severe. However, the fact that I do still experience it tells me that my gut is yet far from healed.

4. Pay attention to visible indicators

People with autoimmune diseases tend to have more than one of them – lucky us! I have UC, but I also have eczema/psoriasis, dry eyes and many allergies. Monitoring these more visible, measurable symptoms of autoimmune disease are an amazing indicator of your overall health. Because they’re all linked to each other, when they improve, you can be fairly sure your gut is healing – and vice versa of course. Now that the angry, scaly red spots on my legs are healing, I feel confident that my gut is starting to heal (FYI: Spending time in the sun, which is something I rarely do, also helped to dry them up quite nicely. Use sunblock!).

5. Eat good fats but don’t overdo it

After meds and supplements, the most beneficial thing for an inflamed gut is healthy fats like avocado and coconut milk. Try to include these in every meal, but in moderation. I find that if I overdo them, I become extremely nauseous, and may be rewarded with cramps and diarrhoea. The same goes for nuts – again, I’m speaking for myself here. I can tolerate nuts in small quantities but if I overdo it, especially in combination with alcohol (come on, what’s better than nuts and wine?!), I can become quite violently ill. Too much of a good thing, right? 🙂 PS: speaking of alcohol, it’s actually prohibited on AIP, but if you do choose to consume it, stick to dry wines only (nothing else is legal), and don’t overdo it, or this might happen.

As I say, these are the factors that seem to be working for me, but they’re different for everyone. What are your most important success factors for diet success?

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Why you need to be accountable for your diet

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The other night, at an event I attended for work, an incredibly overweight woman walked in and was offered a bottle of pink lemonade, as we all were. “Does it have sugar in it?” she asked. “I have diabetes.” The host confirmed that yes, unfortunately it did, and gave the lady some cold water instead.

Minutes later, the diabetic lady returned to the drinks stand. “I’ll just try one bottle,” she said sheepishly, “diluted with water.” Over the next half an hour, I watched her guzzle down two bottles of the stuff, while her young daughter – probably around 13 and already overweight – looked on.

It made me sad, but it also made me feel guilty. Her disease may manifest more obviously than mine, but I am making the same mistakes despite having a serious illness. We both need to be accountable to someone for our dietary choices. She clearly isn’t – and at the moment, neither am I.

Why it’s hard to stick to a disease-fighting diet

It’s incredibly tough to stick to strict diet, even when you have an illness and you know that diet is integral to the healing process. For me, the hardest part has been sticking to SCD or AIP (autoimmune paleo) while my medication keeps everything under control so well. Even dairy, which in the past has left me a bloaty, achy mess, is no match for my Asacol – I could probably eat a tub of ice cream and feel little if any discomfort.

Add to that the fact that I don’t experience any negative side effects of the mediation – or at least, I haven’t yet – and you’ll understand why it’s sometimes so hard to stick to my diet.

When I did 100 days on SCD, I was fastidious about sticking to it – and that’s because I was accountable here on my blog. Now that I’m not documenting my daily progress, it’s been easier and easier to ‘slip up’; to take chances with my diet. And when I do – and I’m fine – I once again think, ‘why bother?’

Oh hey! Just having a binge. But I've taken my meds so it's cool

Oh hey! Just having a binge. But I’ve taken my meds so it’s cool

Why diet matters

For anyone whose IBD is raging out of control, medication is essential. Steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs like Asacol can get the dangerous symptoms under control before you end up dehydrated, anaemic or worse.

But over the long term, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the foods you eat, and to modify your diet if you know that certain foods can trigger flares. For me personally, I feel that while the drugs are keeping my symptoms under control, they may also be masking the effects that food may be having on my gut.

Over and above ulcerative colitis, I could be suffering from leaky gut (which can be exacerbated by certain  food), or a variety of gut infections, excess yeast (fed by sugar), low stomach acid or other ailments that are preventing me from enjoying optimal gut health, and many of which can be improved through proper diet.

Why accountability works

Everyone knows how hard it is to drastically change one’s diet. Which is why having someone that you’re accountable to is essential. The diabetic lady needs it, I need it, and you probably need it. Identifying who that person is is the hard part – after that, it gets a lot easier.

I’ve kept a food diary for myself in the past; it hasn’t kept me accountable. Because after I’ve berated myself for those chocolate-coated indiscretions, I’ll forgive myself. Keeping a food diary for my nutritionalist, however, worked a treat. She’d be seeing everything I ate, and I’d be embarrassed and ashamed if she could see that I was abusing my body with food.

This blog kept me accountable too – especially as I gained followers, and read your amazing comments, felt your support and heard your stories.

Lately, while I’ve mostly been sticking to the AIP protocol, I have slipped up. I’m eating nuts when I shouldn’t; I’m consuming way too much sugar (“natural” sugar from fruit is STILL sugar – a little fact I like to kid myself about); I’m shovelling the odd mouthful of rice when I’ve had a drink or two – both of which I shouldn’t be doing.

Getting back to blogging, for me, might be the best way to get my bad habits back under control. What’s it going to take for you? A nutritionalist, a blog, a family member, a friend? Find who or what it is, let them know, and then stick with it. It’s one of the most important tools you need in sticking with your new lifestyle. And, if you can do the diet with someone else, even better! Strength in numbers, after all.

Who are you accountable to?

My light-bulb moment: Autoimmune paleo

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Today I had my first appointment with the only nutritionalist in Cape Town, that I know of, who deals with SCD. It was like a light bulb switched on for me.

As you all know, I painstakingly did my 100 days of SCD, and for those 100 days, I was fully committed to the diet. Here on my blog, I carefully reported all the good and all the bad, to give you guys – and myself – a complete and honest overview of exactly how it was going.

When I told my nutritionalist about my experience, she said two things. First of all, for SCD to be truly effective in healing the gut, you need to be on it for a full year at least. And secondly, she said, “It doesn’t seem like SCD really worked for you.”

BOOM! There it was. I hadn’t wanted to admit it because I invested so much in this diet, and I’d had such high hopes of it being the ‘miracle cure’. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think you can do yourself any harm by following the diet – in fact, if everyone ate SCD, we’d all be a lot healthier on the whole.

But if I’m honest, I can see that SCD wasn’t the perfect solution for me, because:

  • I’m still experiencing bloating, cramps and general abdominal discomfort
  • I still suffer from frequent constipation
  • I haven’t managed to get my sugar cravings and binges under control (*yes… hangs head in shame – no binges during SCD though!)

Even though my most recent blood tests, about three months ago, revealed that my inflammation levels were FINALLY normal, my nutritionalist believes that my body is far from healed. The evidence is:

  • Eczema/psoriasis (angry red spots all over my legs)
  • Joint pain
  • Dry eyes

She explained that when you have one autoimmune disease, you’re far likelier to have others – and my symptoms are all indicators of ongoing gut problems. In fact, she pointed out that once these symptoms start to clear up, I’ll know that my ulcerative colitis is truly under control.

She suspects I have leaky gut (and I finally understand it properly!), and she’s testing me for several things that she feels could be contributing to inflammation, namely: bacteria levels in my gut, stomach acid levels, and iron and Vitamin D levels.

For months now I’ve been stumbling around in the dark on my own, and although I’ve used many excellent and reputable sources for guidance, it’s great to have a real, live, QUALIFIED person to talk to. Gut feel alone is not enough – if you’ll excuse the pun.

The diet: Autoimmune paleo

Here’s where autoimmune paleo comes in. I can’t believe that in all my research, I hadn’t stumbled across it – and it makes so much sense! Autoimmune paleo (AIP) is essentially a diet that aims to help heal inflammation and the lining of the gut – very similar to SCD. Plus, like SCD, it takes a phased approach to adding foods to your diet. The Paleo Mom can tell you a lot more about autoimmune paleo here.

However, there are some major departure points from SCD – namely, the omission of nuts, which can be very harsh on a damaged gut; reduced fructose intake, and the omission of dairy, dried fruits, artificial sweeteners and the nightshade vegetables (tomato, peppers – all kinds – potato, mustard seeds and egg plant). AIP also doesn’t allow eggs, but my nutritionlist has recommended that I keep these in my diet.

I’m excited about certain things – hello, sweet potatoes! – and sad about others – goodbye nuts, goodbye nut butters, goodbye tomatoes, goodbye ten million bananas a day. But mostly I’m excited, because I’m always hopeful and I fully, FULLY believe that I’ll one day be able to come off my meds – but I know that the power to get there is in my hands.

I also feel like I’ve invested so much time, energy, thought, planning and labour into my diet that I can’t give up now. I’m willing to pursue this new route and see where it takes me. It certainly can’t do any harm, and maybe this will the road that leads to lasting health. If not, I’ll find something else. Or move to Southeast Asia and live on Nasi Goreng. That’s Plan B 🙂

As always though, I’ll keep you in the loop!

Day 98: What to eat (and what to avoid) when you’re having a ‘bad GI’ day

After everything my poor GI system went through last night with the nuts, it was still feeling very fragile today… and the legacy of the assault remained. I spent more time than I’d have liked to in the bathroom, but I didn’t panic, unlike the times before.

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There’ve been about three occasions on this diet when my stomach has reacted quite violently to something. The first few times I freaked out, thinking that it was a sure sign of a flare. Slowly I came to realise that a) sometimes your system just has an ‘off’ day, due to any number of factors from food to stress to hormonal imbalances or state of mind, and it doesn’t mean you’re flaring, and b) there’s no point stressing about potential flares – you’ll only make your symptoms worse.

Instead, it’s about eating (and drinking) right on those days to ease the symptoms instead of exacerbating them. Don’t ignore what your body is telling you, and if your GI system is out of whack, treat it delicately to help restore it to health.

What you should and shouldn’t eat when having a ‘bad GI day’

Let’s start with a list of foods to avoid:

  • Avoid foods high in fibre like fruit, nuts, high-fibre vegetables (beans, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc) and lentils
  • Avoid dairy, as it can aggravate an inflamed gut
  • Avoid fruit juice (too much fibre) and carbonated drinks (can cause bloating)
  • Avoid nut butters
  • Avoid any foods to which you know you react badly
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid any foods you have not yet introduced to your diet – now’s not the time to be adventurous.

What you should eat:

  • Bone broth soups, which help to restore the body, especially after a bout of diarrhoea. They’re highly nutritious and packed with vitamins
  • Herbal teas – add ginger to soothe your belly
  • Starchy vegetables like squash, pumpkin and butternut
  • Your ‘safe’ flare foods
  • Plenty of water – aim for 2 litres
  • BRAT foods – this works very effectively for some people (Banana, Rice, Applesauce, Toast)

While it’s frustrating cutting back on an already limited diet, it’s worth it for the day or two that you feel so, well, crappy. If you’ve been through your fair share of flares already, you’ve probably established a group of ‘safe’ flare foods. For me, it’s basmati rice (which I craved SOOO badly today but I wasn’t prepared to cheat so close to the end!) and eggs. I used to find that crackers were also very soothing, before I had to cut out gluten.

All things being equal, your bad bout should pass within about 24 hours, if it was just something that you ate. If it doesn’t abate or if you start bleeding, suffering from bad cramps, nausea, night sweats or joint pain, it might be a flare and you should contact your doctor ASAP to get it under control.

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No.

Day 90: SCD challenge complete – a review of the past 90 days (but it’s only the start!)

Today marks 90 days on SCD – the goal I set out to achieve based on the challenge in Surviving to ThrivingJordan Reasoner and Steve Wright – the authors of the book and founders of SCDLifestyle.com – used the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) to help heal their guts after being ravaged by IBD, and continue to survive – and thrive – on the diet today.

I came across this diet last year, after researching alternative ways to fight my ulcerative colitis. I was newly diagnosed and my symptoms were under control thanks to steroids and chronic medication, but I knew I wanted to take a more active role in healing myself, and I knew that diet was integral to that. Most importantly, I knew I didn’t want to be on meds for the rest of my life.

Fast forward to January 2014, and after reading the book, I finally made the commitment to do its 90-day challenge. And here I am, 90 days later, having followed it to the T (albeit cheating once!).

Why I decided to document my 90 days

I started this blog for others who may have wanted to take up the challenge but who, like me, were unable to find any resources that explained, on a day-by-day basis, what it would be like to be on this diet. After all, the idea of the diet is terrifying! It’s extremely difficult, it takes a TON of patience, willpower, perseverance and commitment, and it’s definitely not easy – at least at first.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I went for it. And what I can tell you is that:

  • It is difficult
  • It is doable
  • It is absolutely worth it
  • YOU can do it

Apart from anything else, knowing that you are taking an active role in your own health, and discovering that you have the stamina to stick with something really hard, even in the face of daily – hourly – temptation – gives you a sense of accomplishment that is hard to beat.

Many of us fighting IBD got here due to poor diet – at least in part. I don’t know about you guys, but prior to SCD, I never met a sweet treat I said ‘no’ to. In fact, I discovered on this diet that saying ‘no’ is the best yes you can give your body (read about that here).

I realised that I needed to take responsibility for my health, so that if I ever end up facing surgery one day, at least I’ll know I did everything in my power to prevent it. How could I allow myself to continue on my unhealthy path knowing that I might be throwing myself under the bus? Moreover, I really hope to get off the meds one day – who wants to spend their life on Asacol and steroids?

After researching SCD for several months, I decided it would be worth a try – thousands of people swear by it. I finally took the leap and I’m so glad I did.

Did SCD work for me?

SCD has definitely helped to reduce some of the discomfort I experience, but more to the point, it’s helped me to pinpoint what is causing it (veg, mainly. Sob).

It’s also helped me to look more closely at some of my ‘less ideal’ eating habits, like binge eating, over-eating at meals, eating too fast and not paying careful attention to everything that I put into my body.

It’s allowed me to overcome my fear of flares. As you’ll know if you have IBD, the thought of flares is terrifying: you never really know when they’ll hit, but you may know that certain foods can trigger them. On SCD, I’m not eating ANY foods that are known to cause my flares (this is different for everyone). It’s great to not live in fear of the next flare striking.

It’s also taught me (out of necessity rather than choice!) how to make the most amazing foods at home – like nut milks, 100% natural meals and YOGURT! I make my own yogurt, guys (recipe here). I mean, that’s insane! It’s taught me how to pay even closer attention than I did before to food labels; it’s taught me how much crap can be found in foods that we’re tricked into believing are good for us. And it’s opened up a whole new world of fresh, natural, organic foods (including desserts!) that actually help to heal my body as I’m eating them.

Has SCD ‘healed’ me? Well I can’t say at this stage. I’m still taking my meds, as it would be silly for me to come off them without the green light from my doctor. However, at my last check up in February, there was ZERO sign of inflammation – something that I’ve had since 2012!

Also, I was really hoping that SCD would help me overcome bloating, but that’s still a work in progress – as is the quality and consistency of my BMs. But again, this is okay – there’s no blanket cure that works for everyone, which is why any diet such as this must be tweaked over time to meet your body’s needs.

What next?

I’m going to do another 10 days on SCD, and then I’m rewarding myself with a well-deserved holiday to Malaysia and Bali (actually, the timing is purely coincidental, but I like the way it worked out).

I plan to transition to a paleo diet, as I feel that my body copes better with meat and protein than with veg and carbs, and also, I like the idea of paleo – I’m hoping it’ll work for me. It’s also grain, dairy and refined sugar free – items I intend to avoid indefinitely (plus I’m lactose intolerant) – and I love that it’s so clean. When I get back from Bali, I’m hoping to turn out whole apartment into a paleo zone! It’s going to be so much easier if we’re both following the diet.

Today’s meal

Did I cheat today, on day 90? Nope! Although I did do something naughty that I warned you guys about waaaaaaaay back in the early days: I ate at a restaurant (probably only the third or fourth time I’ve done this on SCD), and I didn’t ask them to cook my food without seasoning (here’s what not to do at a restaurant if you’re on SCD).

I ordered steak and veg, and luckily all the vegetables had already been added (successfully) to my diet: zucchini, green beans, broccoli and spinach. The steak, too, was fantastic, though it all came with seasoning and I suspect the veg had butter on it – eek! Bear in mind that dairy is totally fine on SCD after about 30 days, IF you can tolerate it. Butter is SCD legal, as are certain cheeses.

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This photo was very hurried as we were in a trendy restaurant and I didn’t want people thinking me a hipster

And of course, you’ll see the stem of my wine glass – we had the most delicious merlot to accompany our meal, and I toasted to the final 10 days on the diet. So cheers to that!

Day 88: Colitis risk factors & a few more tips to beat the bloat

Before I get into this post, I just have to tell you that I fed K another SCD meal tonight, and she loved this one so much she had THIRDS! As a once-vehement opponent to anything SCD, this is AMAZING progress and I’m so proud of us both – me for cooking something awesome and K for being brave enough to try it!

Anyway, onto the important stuff. As you’ll know if you follow my blog, one of my biggest GI problems (now that my UC symptoms are under control) is bloating.

Despite being a super healthy eater (or maybe because of it!), my mom also suffers from frequent bloating, and she has for pretty much her whole adult life. She suspects that she may have a sensitivity or intolerance to lactose, but unlike me, she’s never been tested (I think she’s too afraid to have to give up her cappucinos!).

Do you have similar GI symptoms to anyone in your family? Many researchers believe that there is a genetic link or predisposition to gastrointestinal disorders and diseases like UC and Crohn’s. Of course, no one knows the actual cause for sure, and there are many factors that are known to increase your risk of developing it, such as:

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I tick many (if not all) of those boxes. How about you?

Anyway, now that the most severe symptoms are mercifully under control due to diet and medication, I’m focusing on beating the bloat. Turns out, it’s much harder to conquer bloating than the symptoms of colitis!

That said, here are a few more diet tweaks that can help to minimise bloating (these target all my personal trigger factors):

  • Eat smaller portions of fruit and veg
  • Eat more lean protein and less veg at meals
  • Don’t drink large amounts of liquid in a single go (like downing a glass of water)
  • Don’t wear too-tight trousers or jeans – this makes me feel sooo uncomfortable even before I’ve eaten anything
  • Keep a food diary and track your intake and symptoms to identify problem foods
  • Reduce or cut out dairy (it’s worth being tested to find out if you’re lactose intolerant)
  • Eat less salt
  • Don’t binge eat!
  • Avoid carbonated drinks

What works for you?

Bloated

Day 87: 6 points to keep in mind about raw foods & IBD

On Phase 4, one can start to introduce raw fruit and veg. It’s much easier to prepare obviously – rinse and chop  – but for me, that’s about where the benefits end.

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I can’t comment on raw food diets – I don’t know much about them except that proponents swear by them and theoretically speaking, they should offer a number of benefits to the body.

For me, given the state of my GI system and UC history, I know that eating raw veg is a Very Bad Idea. The only two raw items I eat are bananas and avo – both of which must be very ripe before I consume them.

Raw food can seriously aggravate a damaged gut and even before my colitis diagnosis, my nutritionalist advised me to avoid it as my colon was in such a sorry state and struggling to digest hard, fibrous foods.

While some sources say that cooking fruit and vegetables destroys the enzymes and nutritional value, there are just as many sources that say this isn’t true.

It’s up to you to decide whether to include raw food in your diet, but if you have IBD, it’s worth considering the following:

1. As anyone with IBD knows, raw food contains lots of insoluble fibre which can be irritating to the gut and very hard to break down. This can aggravate your IBD symptoms and lead to bloating, gas, cramping and diarrhoea. Yup, I probably don’t even need to mention this to you!

2. When you’re flaring, avoid veggies that are known to cause these symptoms – the sulphur-containing veg like cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, beans and broccoli. Instead, stick with those that are easier to digest – the phase 1 veggies like butternut, carrots and zucchini, well cooked and blended.

3. If you’re prone to bloating and gas, peel all your fruit and veg before eating it, and remove all the seeds. Yes it’s a time-consuming task, but it may well be worth it.

4. Also be careful to avoid vegetables high in insoluble fibre when you’re flaring, like peppers, celery and sweetcorn. These can also be damaging to people with strictures. I know from past experience that sweetcorn wreaks havoc on my system and I always avoid it.

5. If there are fruits or vegetables that you can’t tolerate raw, try peeling, de-seeding and cooking them and see if your symptoms improve. You may even be able to tolerate them raw but without the skin and seeds – like cucumber for example. Test, test, test!

6. The guys at SCDLifestyle.com recommend starting with berries when you transition to raw food on SCD, as they’re the easiest to tolerate and they can have a very healing effect on the gut.

Raw food is okay for him but not for you - and not for kitties with IBD (it's a real thing!)

Raw food is okay for him but not so much for you – and not for kitties with IBD (it’s a real thing!)

For now, I’m mostly avoiding anything that isn’t well cooked, and even so, I’m still experiencing major bloating, gas and cramps. Vegetables are my UC kryptonite but I’m not keen to give them up. I’ll keep phasing in more of them as I progress on phase 4 and see how I fare.