Guilt: the worst thing you can eat on your diet

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I saw this quote today and it almost made me cry with relief. Not because I didn’t know this – I suppose somewhere deep down, buried beneath the constant guilt and occasional self-loathing and hidden behind the ‘how could you’s, I did – but because sometimes, you need to hear it from someone else.

For me, cheating is a highly charged, highly emotional issue that can either cause a horrible domino effect (more and more cheating until I’m nauseous or in pain) or a quick, instantly regretted decision that I beat myself up about for hours or even days afterwards.

It’s okay to cheat. It really is. Especially when you’re trying so hard most of the time, and particularly if you learn from it. Endlessly berating yourself for it is far more damaging.

Cheating shouldn’t be a regular thing, though I can’t tell you how much or how little to cheat. Only you know what your body can handle. What I am pretty sure of, even though I’m not a doctor or psychologist or any kind of medical professional, is that the constant guilt and self-castigation must surely be more harmful to your body. You know how guilt is often described as ‘eating away’ at a person? I just imagine that guilt in my gut, eating away at the healthy lining I’ve worked so hard to build up, and I realise that it’s probably far more damaging to my health than the few blocks of chocolate I just ate.

Try your best with your diet and know your cheating ‘limits’. You’ll break them sometimes, but you need to forgive yourself. A healthy mind is SUCH a big part of a healthy body, and without it your body will constantly be fighting for health.

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How to give up sugar (and why it’s so hard): 2 methods that work

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Following a healing diet means removing all added sugar from your diet – that is, sucrose/table sugar and unhealthy fructose – and it can be really, really hard.

Where you’ll find added sugar

When you start reading food labels, you’ll probably be shocked to discover just how many foods contain sugar. Apart from the obvious culprits like cookies, cakes, chocolates, sweets and fizzy drinks, you’ll also find added sugar in cereals (even ones marketed as ‘healthy’), bread and bread products, canned fruit and vegetables, sauces, condiments, pickles, savoury crackers, processed meat, biltong, fruit juice, some packaged non-dairy milks, flavoured water, peanut butter – the list goes on. Foods that are not supposed to be sweet; foods that you’d never imagine would contain sugar, all do.

Recently, a colleague discovered that the small jar of guacamole he purchased from Woolworths (South Africa) contained a whole teaspoon of sugar. Why? I don’t know about you, but I for one have never put sugar in my guacamole!

Last week, when K and I ate out at a smart restaurant, we found that our starter (carpaccio, which is simply very thin slices of raw meat) was covered in a sweet glaze and topped with grilled pear. The couple at the next table ordered two meat-based main courses that must’ve been completely drenched in something sugary, because I thought they’d gone straight to dessert when I smelt the food being carried up behind me.

And, when I worked as a TEFL teacher in Cape Town, my students (particularly those from other parts of Africa) constantly complained to me that the food here was ‘too sweet’. “Sugar in everything, teacher,” they’d say. “Sugar in the rice, sugar in the meat, sugar on the pizza.” From raisins in the rice (a Cape Malay tradition) to sweet chilli sauce on pizzas, they were right. I was at a loss to explain it. After all, I love nothing more than a rich, decadent chocolate chilli steak myself. But even I knew that the amount of sugar we were all consuming was ridiculous.

Why it’s so hard to give it up

If you’ve tried to give up sugar, or are in the process of doing so, I sympathise. It is almost everywhere, which is why it’s so important to read food labels. Whenever possible, eat foods with a single ingredient – like fresh vegetables and fruit, unprocessed meat, raw seeds and nuts, and home-cooked food.

But it’s not just about avoiding foods that contain sugar. If it were that easy, it wouldn’t be difficult to give up the sweet stuff. A bit of a bind, maybe; a bit time-consuming perhaps, but not hard. However, if you have tried to quit it, you’ll know just how challenging it can be. Why? Because sugar can be addictive, and food manufacturers are banking on this fact – literally banking on it – to keep you hooked and keep their millions and billions rolling in.

Have you ever had a sugar craving? Ever desired ‘something sweet’ straight after finishing a healthy meal? Ever associated sweet food with an event or special occasion – cake on your birthday; ice cream on the beach; cocktails at sunset; cookies with your coffee? Most people do, and for some people, it can be more than just a craving – it can actually be an addiction.

Sugar addiction

Recently, I discovered a website called Authoritynutrition.com and it’s been a complete wake-up call for me. It’s helped me to understand why I battle sugar cravings and why, from time to time, I have uncontrollable binges. It’s helped me to realise that I am addicted to sugar (that’s the first time I’ve written that), and that, for me, there’s only one way to stop it (although I’m going to discuss two ways here): abstinence. I highly recommend visiting the site if you battle with cravings, food addiction and/or bingeing behaviour.

How sugar addiction works

Here, I am borrowing greatly from Kris Gunnars’ book, Vicious Eating, which is a valuable tool for food addicts and available for free download here.

Gunnars explains that added sugar triggers reward-seeking behaviour in our brains, which leads to a vicious cycle of repeated unhealthy eating/bingeing. Essentially, eating sugary foods releases dopamine in our brains, a hormone that gives us a feeling of pleasure. Because our brains are wired to seek pleasure, we start to seek out these sugary foods – and the more we consume, the more we require to achieve the same levels of pleasure over time. Simply put, we get used to the amount of sugar we’re eating, and we start to need more of it to attain the same ‘high’. The enjoyment we used to get from eating a single chocolate can now only be achieved when we eat three chocolates and half a box of cookies. You can read more about how sugar addiction works here.

Two types of sugar

It’s important to point out at this juncture that there are two types of sugar in food. First of all, there are the natural sugars you find in carbohydrates. We need these sugars to function, survive and perform at our peak. They fuel our bodies and brains and give us the energy we need to complete everyday tasks.

The other kind of sugar – the bad kind – is not actually required at all by the human body. This is the sugar I’m talking about in this post. Added sugar, table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose – it has many names but it’s all the same thing. It’s the stuff that food manufacturers want us hooked on. It’s also worth noting that while honey contains natural sugars, it’s not wise to consume it with abandon, especially if you’re watching your weight or simply concerned about your health. It’s true that honey is healthier than sugar, but as Gunners points out, it’s not entirely healthy either.

How to give up sugar: Two approaches

So now you understand why it’s so difficult to give up sugar, and you shouldn’t feel bad about it: we’ve been conditioned over decades to want, desire, even crave the stuff. We’ve consumed it at almost every meal, some of us since we were kids, so giving it up is no mean feat. Then of course, there are those of us who are actually addicted to the stuff, and for us, it’s an even greater challenge.

How do you know if you’re addicted to sugar, or other kinds of foods? You’ll probably have a suspicion, but here are 8 useful ways to tell.

If you are not addicted to sugar, you can give up sugar by gradually removing it from your diet and/or enjoying it in moderation. 

If you are addicted to sugar, you need to cut it out altogether.

First approach: Cold turkey (for ‘addicts’)

I know that I’m addicted to sugar because once I start eating it, I can’t stop. I can go months and months without the stuff, but when I binge, I binge hard. Which is exactly what happened to me a few weeks back, when I consumed the following in a single day (this is everything and all I ate this day):

‘Breakfast’:

  • 1 x 65g bag chocolate shortcake balls
  • 2 x 25g milk chocolates

Rest of the day

  • 150g slab of wholenut chocolate
  • 45g Kit-Kat
  • 1 x kitka roll (this is relevant because kitka bread is sweetened)
  • 1 x large slice caramel éclair cake
  • Several small bowls of raw almonds
  • 1 chocolate Pop Tart
  • Wine (also contains sugar)

This is what I consider a proper, all-out binge. I probably consumed around 3500 to 4000 calories in a single day (more than twice what I need per day at my height and weight), and I felt guilty, remorseful and quite nauseous. I loved every bite as I consumed it, but afterwards I felt awful.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat, even though I keep promising myself that I won’t.

Clearly, I cannot control myself around sugar, and I can honestly tell you that I’d have eaten more chocolate that day if there had been any in the house.

For me, ‘moderation’ doesn’t work. It used to, but clearly my recent years of bingeing and restricting have broken that mechanism in my brain. I can’t have ‘just a little sugar’ from time to time. It’s all or nothing – but when I set my mind to ‘nothing’, and don’t even give myself the option of eating it, I do just fine. This is something that Gunnars talks about a lot in his book.

This is why when I started the SCD diet, I was able to cut out sugar fairly easily. I of course had lots of cravings but never once did I consider giving in to them, because it simply wasn’t an option. When I switched to paleo, and started seeing a nutritionalist, the lines started to blur. She told me (not knowing about my problem – I hadn’t even identified it then) that it was okay to have a bit of gluten-free chocolate from time to time, or to enjoy foods on the odd occasion that I was craving. In my mind, this information caused a weird and constant battle between abstinence and bingeing and I simply couldn’t find a middle ground.

This battle continued until I discovered Vicious Eating and read it from start to finish. Now I realise that moderation isn’t an option for me, because one bite, two bites, ten bites, are never enough. No amount of sugar will ever be enough, and every time I give in to my craving, I make it worse.

I’ve now made the conscious decision to eat NO sugar. I am having cravings but, taking Gunnars’ advice, I’m working hard to break them. I always crave something sweet after supper. Now, I won’t even touch a piece of fruit after supper (even though I still eat fruit), because I’m trying to stop the cravings. I am trying not to think about the next time I’ll binge on cake, because there won’t be a next time. I’m not telling myself that this is ‘just for now’, because that leaves the door wide open for relapses. It’s not easy but for me, it’s the only option.

Second approach: Reducing/limiting sugar intake

If you aren’t addicted to the stuff, that’s awesome. It’s going to make it a lot easier to avoid it. Not only will you find it less of a challenge to remove it from your life, but you’ll also find that even if you do happen to consume some sugar inadvertently, you won’t fall right off the wagon.

Check all your food labels and start to remove the biggest culprits from your home – the processed cakes and cookies and cereals. If there is sugar listed in the ingredients of food you like, but it’s not one of the main (top four or five) ingredients, you could let it slide.

You could also slowly start to remove sugar from your life, until you reach a point that it’s mostly gone. Remember that alcohol contains high amounts of sugar, and that when you drink it, it also lowers your inhibitions about eating other foods you shouldn’t be.

You could also allow yourself to enjoy sugary treats in moderation, from time to time, because you know it won’t spark an all-out spiral into bingeing and regret. This might also help you to give up sugar at first – knowing that on special occasions, you could enjoy a treat or two. This doesn’t work for everyone but it might work for you.

How to handle cravings

If you experience cravings, push through them – don’t give in to them! They WILL start to ease up, as long as you ignore them. You are trying to undo years of habit, so it will take time. For some people, just a few weeks can break the sugar habit; for others, it takes a few months, but it WILL happen and you WILL get through it.

Make sure all your meals are healthy and satisfying, and always carry healthy snacks with you (nuts, biltong, fruit) so that you avoid getting hungry and bingeing sugary treats.

For me, it’s a huge help knowing I’ve made this decision and the option to eat sugar isn’t even there. Last night, my post-supper sugar craving hit and I pushed through it. Within minutes, I actually realised I was too full for any more food, and that was it. I had a glass of sparkling water before bed (very satisfying for some reason) and I was fine until breakfast this morning. It was a small achievement, but a significant one for me. And it’s all about the small, significant achievements – after all, these are the ones that become habit.

An overview of 7 different healing diets

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When it comes to healing diets, there are a number of popular options that have proved effective for people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease or various digestive complaints. If you’re looking to help heal your gut through diet, it’s a great idea to pick one of these tried-and-tested options – but which one?

Here’s a (very high-level) run-down of each of the main healing diets to help you decide. Bear in mind that, just like medication, different diets work for different people, and you’ll have to try them yourself to discover which one works best for you. Also remember that you’ll need to tweak and ‘engineer’ whichever diet you end up selecting – that means adding, removing or limiting things based on your own unique set of food intolerances, sensitivities or allergies. Each of these diets provides a great path towards health – you just need to pinpoint your exact route!

SCD – specific carbohydrate diet (long-term/indefinite)

I started this blog to document my 100 days on SCD – a diet aimed at helping to heal IBD and other GI complaints by removing grains, starches, processed sugar and processed food from the diet – food that are known to irritate the gut and promote inflammation. Many people claim to be medication-free and in remission thanks to SCD, which is why I initially attempted it. It works in phases: You start by removing virtually everything from your diet except for eggs, meat and carrots, and gradually re-introduce foods slowly, week by week, month by month, until you know what your body can and can’t handle. It is an extremely slow process that gives your gut a chance to heal and recover from months or years of damage. SCD offers amazing results for some people and ‘meh’ results for others – simply proving that every ‘body’ is different and requires different approaches.

SCD wasn’t the perfect solution for me, but I’m very glad I did it, if only for 100 days. Here’s a summary of my experience on the SCD diet. You can visit the SCDLifestyle.com site for loads of info about the diet, or view the stages of the SCD diet here.

Paleo (long-term/indefinite)

Paleo wasn’t intended to be healing diet per se, but many IBD sufferers have adopted it due to the fact that it cuts out many foods known to cause inflammation and aggravate the gut. Like SCD, paleo focuses on ‘clean’ eating that is free of refined/processed foods, sugar and grains, but unlike SCD, it also prohibits dairy and, depending on how strictly you follow it, honey. Like SCD, the paleo diet consists mainly of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, unprocessed/organic meat and eggs, as healthy oils. Unlike SCD, you don’t have to take a phased approach to the diet, which has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that you can enjoy all these foods right from the get-go, but the disadvantage is that if certain foods on the paleo ‘legal’ list are causing you gastric distress, you won’t know which ones they are due to the fact that you aren’t testing them individually.

Paleo has gained massive popularity around the world in recent years, because more and more people are wanting to remove unhealthy processed foods from their diets. This also means that more restaurants and grocery shops are catering to this diet and it’s easier to change to a paleo lifestyle.

AIP – Autoimmune Paleo diet/protocol (short-term/indefinite)

AIP is a healing diet aimed at restoring the gut and immune system. It’s based on the same principles of the paleo diet, but it has the added bonus of having many of the problematic foods removed, as well as the opportunity to test these foods and either reintroduce them slowly or cut them out altogether if your body doesn’t like them.

AIP is not intended to be a lifelong diet. It’s recommended that you follow it for a maximum of 60 to 90 days to help repair intestinal damage, which should theoretically give your body enough time to recover sufficiently for you to progress to a paleo diet. Things that aren’t allowed (particularly at first) include nuts, seeds, nightshade vegetables, many spices, dairy, eggs and various other foods.

I have followed the AIP protocol and I can tell you that it is very, very hard, but worth the effort. Knowing that it’s only temporary does make it easier, and from my experience, I do believe that it can be effective in the healing process. Here is a full list of foods you can and can’t eat during AIP. You can also take a phased approach to reintroducing them to see what your body can and can’t tolerate.

GAPS – Gut And Psychology Syndrome diet (long-term/indefinite)

GAPS isn’t as well known as SCD but its principles are similar, in that the underlying belief is that diet can aid in not only digestive disorders, but conditions like autism too. The foods consumed are almost the same as on SCD, but often dairy is excluded. It also takes a phased approach by removing and then reintroducing foods, and it is recommended that you follow it for at least two years, if not longer. Read more about GAPS here.

FODMAPS – Fermentable Oligo, Di, and Mono-saccharides And Polyols (long-term/indefinite)

This is another healing diet that you’ve probably come across during your research, but it’s less well-known than SCD or paleo. It’s also been designed to help relieve chronic digestive complaints, and many people swear by its effectiveness (I’ve never tried it). As with the other diets, it’s worth researching it and reading about the experience of others to figure out whether it might help you too. Get an overview of FODMAPs here.

Gluten-free/wheat-free/egg-free/dairy-free (long-term/indefinite)

A lot of people don’t have a digestive disease but do suffer from food intolerances – the most common of which include dairy, wheat, gluten and/or eggs. I am lactose intolerant and after discovering this fact, the only thing I removed from my diet was, obviously, dairy. I only later discovered that I had ulcerative colitis and that led me to change lots of other things too.

If you don’t have IBD or a digestive disorder, it might not be necessary for you to follow a healing diet, but simply to remove allergens/irritants from your diet. I have friends who, based on their intolerances, have removed those foods from their diets without actually following a specific eating plan. They’ve found a way of eating that works for them, and that’s great! They don’t need to follow an actual healing diet. If you don’t have IBD but suffer from something like IBS, for example, it’s well worth having yourself checked for common food intolerances. You might find that removing just one thing from your diet – like dairy for me, or wheat or eggs – might be a big part of the solution.

‘Rice’/‘White food’ diet (temporary)

This goes against every other diet I’ve covered above and it’s not even a ‘real’ diet. Plus, it’s also meant to be very, very temporary! Basically, this is my flair diet. When I’m flaring (which hasn’t happened in a year!), the only foods that seem to agree with me are white rice (with a bit of lemon juice), white bread, white pasta – all that icky refined stuff that I usually avoid. Plus starchier, low fibre veg like peas and carrots (cooked).

It’s well documented (maybe not scientifically, but certainly among sufferers!) that highly refined starches can actually help soothe aggravated GI tracts. That said, it should only be temporary solution because you can’t live on white rice, pasta and bread! I remember going through a phase some years ago when that’s exactly what I did – and I thought it was okay; that my body just ‘preferred’ these foods. It should in fact have been a HUGE red flag. If you have chronic diarrhoea and bleeding, white foods are NOT the solution. Get to a doctor!

That said, if you’re flaring, white rice and pasta can be very soothing, so if you can’t keep anything down/in, give it a bash. It works for me.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the healing diets out there, and as I mentioned at the beginning, any of these (or others that you choose) should be altered and tweaked over time to suit your body’s specific needs and sensitivities.

Please feel free to share your healing diet experiences, tips or advice in the comments 🙂

Healing foods to eat if you can’t afford supplements

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Having a GI disorder like ulcerative colitis is expensive. There’s the traditional medical route and all it entails – doctors’ appointments, blood tests, colonoscopies, gastroscopies, specialist appointments, hospital stays and medication – and there’s the functional/natural medication route, with nutritionalists’ appointments, tests, supplements and special diets.

If you, like me, have been willing to try virtually anything to heal your gut, you’ve probably found that the damage to your bank balance can be pretty extensive.

When I started seeing a new nutritionalist about three or four months ago, I was pretty upfront with her about the fact that while I was willing to undergo any tests she thought necessary, and willing to try any supplements she recommended, there was a limit to my financial resources. In spirit I wanted to try everything she suggested… but in reality, my credit card cried out in pain. She completely understood and tailored a course of treatment for me that I was able to afford.

Using food as a supplement

She cut down my supplements to the bare minimum for me (Vitamin D, fish oil, a good probiotic and curcumin), and said that it was now up to me to use food to make up the deficit. Although it wouldn’t work as quickly as UltraInflamX, for example, it would work and it would help to reduce inflammation and repair the damage. This is, of course, the whole point of a healing diet, and these foods would form the foundation of it.

Here are the items she suggested I include in my diet as often as possible, preferably every day, to help fight inflammation and heal my gut.

  1. Avocado
  2. Olive oil
  3. Coconut and coconut oil
  4. Turmeric
  5. Healthy fats with all meals and snacks for anti-inflammatory support
  6. Homemade chicken or lamb stock/broth
  7. Peas – a good source of protein. Pea protein to be used in fruit smoothies and soups
  8. Fermented foods
  9. Animal protein
  10. Seeds

I made my first batch of sauerkraut recently and it was really easy. It tastes very ‘sour’ so I know it must be right! I include all the rest of the foods in my diet regularly, if not daily, except for the broth. I just haven’t got around to making it, which is a sorry excuse! I think what puts me off is that not only is it a long process, but we also have a small, poorly ventilated flat and I’m just not sure I want to subject K to those smells!

When it comes to spices like turmeric, you can easily add little bits to curries, soups or broths, which is what I do. As for the pea protein, make sure it’s well blended into your soup or smoothie so it isn’t ‘grainy’, and when it comes to animal protein, always choose meat that has nothing added to it – no preservatives, hormones, spices, sugar, etc. Be especially careful of bacon.

What healing foods do you consume regularly?

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?

SCD & paleo: The good, the bad and the ugly (an honest post)

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Switching from a regular diet to SCD, paleo, autoimmune paleo (AIP) or any other healing diet is a massive adjustment. Not only is it difficult to give up your favourite foods (or even just the foods that are quick and easy to prepare), but it’s also a huge psychological commitment too. In fact, if you don’t have a very clear goal in sight, it’s going to be almost impossible to stick to it.

Every couple of months, I’m hit by a fresh wave of how difficult this diet is. After 100 days on SCD and just under two months (so far) on AIP, I’m mostly used to it. But every now and then, I snap and I’m like, ‘ARGH! I’m so OVER this diet!’. Like last night when I had an ‘egg meltdown’ in the kitchen, and threw a handful of boiled eggs around like a crazy person when I couldn’t peel them. “I’m SO OVER eating EGGGGGGGS!” I shrieked. “I’m so SICK OF THIS DIET! I want to be NORMAL!!”

But after a couple of minutes I simmered down, pulled myself together, and went right back to eating the way I always do – and quite happily too. It got me thinking about all the difficult things about this diet – but also, the things that make it so very worthwhile too. Here’s my list, bearing in mind that’s it’s completely subjective and based on my own experiences.

The good

  • Your belly will feel better. Well, mostly. I still get bloated and uncomfortable from time to time, but I have no cramps or diarrhoea – a mercy! A week ago when I cheated, I was reminded of just why I’m on this incredibly wonderful, belly-loving diet.
  • Your skin may improve. Cutting out processed and sugar-laden foods can only be good for you. I’ve noticed that my skin is clearer and smoother, and other people have noticed too. It might also be thanks to the 2 litres of water I drink every day 🙂
  • You may lose weight. I lost a couple of kilograms while I was on SCD. They’ve come back due to the fact that I can’t seem to stop eating nuts and nut butters, but SCD is an excellent diet for anyone who has a few kilos to shift. By the same token, these diets can also help you to gain weight if you need to, thanks to the inclusion of healthy fats, eggs, nuts, etc.
  • You seldom feel hungry. When I was on SCD, I found that I was eating all the time, not gaining weight (and losing in fact) and never feeling hungry.
  • The food can be delicious. This is not a diet of twigs and bits of bark. Sure, there’s no McDonald’s, but if you put a bit of thought and creativity into your cooking – especially when you’re eating paleo and have a bit more dietary freedom – you can create the most delicious meals that don’t taste like there’s anything ‘missing’ at all (and really, there isn’t).
  • Your bowel movements may improve. This isn’t a given for everyone, especially those with IBD or other GI disorders. You’ll need to tweak your diet carefully to find the foods that promote good BMs for you, but cutting out the processed, unhealthy crap is an excellent place to start.
  • You save money. People often think that SCD or paleo can be more expensive than a regular diet. Admittedly, free range, grass-fed meat is more expensive and things like nuts, seeds and grain-free snacks don’t come cheap. But at the same time, you won’t be wasting money on fast food, cooldrinks, beer, chips, chocolate and any other junk you used to eat. Also, you’ll eat out less. Plus, all that fancy ‘superfood’ you find everywhere? The bars and snacks and ‘chocolates’ and other treats? Ignore them. They’re overpriced and faddish. All you need is good, fresh fruit and vegetables, good quality meat and eggs, and raw seeds and nuts.
  • You’ll feel better psychologically. I love knowing that I’m putting good, healing food into my body rather than food that’s further aggravating my damaged gut. Psychologically it’s really good for me, and anything that’s healthy for my mind is healthy for my body!

The bad

  • Goodbye to (many of) your fave foods. If you, like most people, enjoy a good pizza or pasta, love to tuck into the occasional slice of cheesecake or feel soothed by inhaling three slabs of chocolate when you’re PMSing, this diet is going to be hard. There’s no way around it; there’s no substitute for gluten, dairy, processed sugar or Cadbury’s. Accept it and say goodbye. Pizza, pasta, chocolate and fast food – at least as you know them – are OUT.
  • Food boredom. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I don’t really get tired of eating the same old foods for weeks or months on end – well, I rarely do! But for some people, this is a real problem, especially if you’re used to eating a wide range of different food all the time.
  • Increased food prep time. On SCD especially, and especially in the early phases, you’ll be putting in hours of prep time each week. I used to spend my Sundays cooking up big batches of food for the week. As you progress on the diet, prep time decreases, and for paleo, you can learn to whip up amazing meals in minutes (especially if it’s steak and wilted spinach!).
  • Few ‘on the go’ snacks. On SCD and paleo, you always need to think ahead and carry food with you. There’s no more running into the shop to grab a sandwich or a chocolate. It’s very difficult and sometimes impossible to find SCD legal or paleo sacks at convenience stores, so you’ll need to eat ahead or carry food with you.
  • It’s difficult to eat out. Whether at a restaurant or a friend’s house for dinner, dining away from home when you’re eating SCD or paleo is hard. Personally, I hate being the person who asks what’s in every dish, or starts explaining my food intolerances to the waiters. I prefer to take my own food (if I go to friends for a meal) or to ‘pre-eat’ if we go to a restaurant that I know won’t serve SCD or paleo-friendly dishes.
  • Bye bye booze. Well, most of it anyway. Only dry wines, vodka and tequila are legal on SCD, and on AIP, it’s wine only (in fact, if you’re strictly SCD, paleo or AIP, you shouldn’t be drinking at all). 
  • Socialising is harder. It’s only when you start eating strictly that you realise just how much of our daily lives involves food. When I walk around markets, I have foods thrust under my nose to taste, and I find it hard to say no. When I meet new people in a setting where we’ll be eating, I inevitably have to explain my diet to them. At any kind of party, event or work function, you’re the one either not eating or having the host fuss around you, making sure there’s something for you to snack on. I know that for many people this isn’t an issue, but I hate being fussed over!
  • It’s almost impossible not to cheat. I’ve cheated a couple of times in the six months I’ve been eating SCD and paleo, and while I feel guilty about it, I realise that it was to be expected. Don’t give yourself permission to cheat – you need to commit to doing this properly – but if it happens unexpectedly, forgive yourself and move on. Strive to have longer and longer periods of clean eating between your cheats, until eventually you stop altogether.
  • Your energy levels may drop. Before I started the SCD diet, I used to do Jillian Michaels’ workouts about four times a week. I even had the beginnings of little biceps. After changing my diet, my strength plummeted. I couldn’t lift my dumbbells and I had zero energy for working out. Slowly over the months, my energy and strength have returned, and I’m actually, finally, able to complete a Jillian workout once again. I’ve read that it can take up to a year for your former energy levels to return if you’re on SCD.

The ugly

  • Unpredictable bowel movements. On a diet like SCD or paleo, your bowel movements are most likely going to change, especially in the beginning. For me, it meant long stretches of constipation, strangely coloured excretions (yellowy-orange) and a lot of type 1s on the Bristol Stool Chart. For other people it could mean diarrhoea. It really depends on how your body handles the diet, but definitely expect a change in BMs. Also remember that if the diets don’t work for you, move on. The whole point of SCD and paleo is to try to heal your gut, so if they’re not working, find something else that will.
  • Bloating. GAH! My old frenemy. This is one of my biggest problems and the great thing about SCD is that it can help you to figure out what messes with your gut. Thanks to SCD, I realised that the only veg I can eat without bloating is butternut and gem squash! That’s all well and good, but I can’t go the rest of my life without greens. SCD in particular is very heavy on fruit and veg, and this can cause bloating, gas and discomfort. If you’re struggling with this, try limiting the amount of fruit, honey, eggs and nuts in your diet (or eliminate one at a time to try identify the culprit) – or give up the gas-producing veg for a while.
  • Samples. If you decide to enlist the help of a nutritionalist, you are going to be asked for blood and stool samples. No, it’s not fun or pleasant, but it’s necessary and yes, they’ve seen it all before!
  • YOU! Well, me, at least – I can’t speak for you. On days when I’ve become fed up with the diet, I’ve turned into a deranged and ugly monster, sobbing in frustration or yelling about how restrictive ‘this stupid diet’ is. And, on days when I’ve cheated, I’ve spent more time in the loo than out of it, making life somewhat less fun for K, who shares this tiny flat with me! Food plays such an instrumental role in the way we feel, so it’s only natural that a new diet could cause mood swings and a range of emotions.

The verdict

For me, despite the drawbacks, the good definitely outweighs the bad (and the ugly). I know my diet still isn’t perfect and my gut is far from healed, but I also know I’m making progress (another great reason to enlist the help of a nutritionalist), and that the way I’m eating can only be benefiting my body.

It’s super hard and frustrating a lot of the time, but there are definitely rewards too. Knowing why you’re following the diet and reminding yourself of your goal every day will help you to stick with it. I don’t want to go back to being sick and chained to my toilet every day. And it’s also nice having my pants feeling looser 🙂 Overall, I’m extremely happy with my new way of eating, even if it’s difficult (and boring) at times. I’ve even stopped feeling jealous of people who indulge in junk food because I know what terrible harm it causes.

If you’re following SCD, paleo or AIP, what are the good, the bad and they ugly for you?

 

Flu-fighting power smoothie

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K started with the sniffles last week… which meant that two days later, I had them too – the day we were leaving for our much-anticipated weekend away 😦

Did you know that having an autoimmune disease makes you more susceptible to infections and illnesses in general? It explains why I’ve had more colds than usual over the past year or two – usually, I never, ever get sick. Aside from the colitis, of course, but I don’t consider myself ‘sick’ because of it – at least, not ‘sick’ in the way that I am when my nose is stuffed up and my eyes are streaming!

Anyway, I wasn’t going to let a cold ruin my weekend, so I got to work whipping up this vitamin-packed, protein-boosted smoothie. It ended up being way too much for a single serving and I only had half of it. Also, the protein powder – the first time I’d used it in a smoothie – made the drink really grainy. Should one dissolve it in something before adding it to a drink? Let me know.

Flu-fighting fruit smoothie

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 oranges (vitamic C and polyphenols protect against viruses)
  • a handful of ripe strawberries (vitamin C, fibre, calcium and iron, and they help to reduce inflammation)
  • a handful of frozen blueberries (vitamin B complex, C, E and A, copper, zinc and iron – blueberries are loaded with antioxidants)
  • 1 ripe banana (vitamins B6 and C, potassium, protein and fibre)
  • +- 1 cup of yoghurt  (I use home-made SCD/paleo coconut yoghurt coconut is a healthy fat that aids in reducing inflammation)
  • 1 serving pea protein powder (optional)

Method

Add all the ingredients to your blender and blend until smooth.

Pour into two glasses, wrap up warm and enjoy its flu-fighting power!

Flu-fighting fruit smoothie

Flu-fighting fruit smoothie