I’m coming to the USA!

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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!

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Ways to get rid of bloating

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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 🙂

One year later: The foods I stopped eating in 2014

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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 🙂

7 Ways to not cheat on your diet and still have an amazing Christmas

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Holidays can be a little fear-inducing for people on a strict diet. All that food, all that temptation… it’s so hard to resist, even when you know it’s bad for you or that it’ll make you feel totally crappy afterwards.

Last year, I prepared a full-on Christmas spread for friends, complete with a lot of food I couldn’t eat – and I managed not to cheat (lord alone knows how). This year, I’ve planned ahead and shouldn’t have trouble sticking to my diet again, even though we’ll be dining at someone else’s house.

From experience, here are my tips for avoiding the festive cheat (and its consequences).

1. Tell yourself that cheating isn’t an option. It’s taken me a good few years to GET THIS, but it’s actually not okay to cheat from time to time. Think about it: Have you ever strayed from your diet and felt okay afterwards? Probably not. More likely, you’ve been doubled over in pain, stuck in the loo or simply feeling yucky and remorseful. Why go through all that? It’s just food.

2. Tell everyone else that cheating isn’t an option. Your family probably knows you’re on a special diet, but just to cover all your bases, remind them that you can’t, under any circumstances, eat dairy/gluten/sugar, etc. It’s much harder (and super awkward) to cheat when you’ve been banging on about the evils of gluten to anyone who’ll listen.

3. Make sure there’s a lot of food you can eat. I’m not talking one or two side dishes added to the menu as an afterthought. I mean properly planned, carefully prepared foods that you’ll enjoy. If you’re eating at home, this is easy because you’re in charge of the menu. If you’re dining at someone else’s house, tell them (don’t ask) that you’ll be bringing a few dishes that you can eat. Make extra, because I guarantee people are going to want to try it.

4. Plan ahead. Always keep snacks on hand, because those dips and bowls of chips are going to start talking to you when lunch is delayed. Also, not being starving when you get to the table means you’re less likely to overindulge and eat foods you shouldn’t be eating.

5. Don’t think of it as a food fest. Most of us on a healing diet have come to realise that a special occasion isn’t a legitimate reason to binge (there’s never really a legitimate reason to binge). But the festive season is admittedly hard – I mean, everyone is eating, as opposed to on your birthday, when it’s only you gorging on chocolate cake and Tumbles and watching Spice World in your PJs while checking out the Mr Delivery menu (No? Just me?). Anyway, push through the urge to binge and think of it Christmas as an opportunity to spend time with your loved ones and enjoy each other’s company. I get that this is a challenge for some people, but even if your family drives you absolutely batshit crazy, don’t let it send you straight to the ice-cream tub (unless you’ve made your own ice-cream).

6. Have dessert. Speaking of ice-cream, one of the surest ways to feel like you’re missing out is by being forced to skip the dessert part of proceedings. It’s sad and depressing… and when everyone else is tucking in and being all like ‘OMG this is the BEST chocolate lava cake I’ve EVER eaten in my ENTIRE life’, you might just cave in and ruin all your good work. Bring your own or prepare something you can eat, but make sure there’s some kind of sweet treat you can enjoy. Pure Ella is a great place to find the most mouth-watering, healthy, all-natural recipes. Again, make extra, because everyone’s going to want a taste.

7. Stop feeling like you’re missing out. Stop rueing the fact that you can’t eat the bread pudding and start being grateful that you’re on a healthy, healing eating plan that treats your body right and ensures you eat only high quality, natural ingredients that make you feel great. That’s something to be ecstatic about! In fact, forcing yourself to think like this every day will make it a habit, and you’ll soon start to feel less hard done-by and more satisfied and happy in your choices.

If you have any other tips to share for sticking to your diet this festive season, please share them! We can all use all the help we can get 🙂

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.

What to drink on SCD, paleo and AIP

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Don’t these look delicious?

It’s important to remember that what you drink on a healing diet can have as much effect on your body as the foods you eat, so you need to make wise choices.

On all of these diets, it’s highly recommended that you avoid alcohol, especially if you’re flaring. If you’ve been in remission for a while or you feel that your body can tolerate limited amounts of alcohol, there are specific types that you should stick to – these are discussed below.

Hot drinks

Coffee

Coffee is not allowed on strict AIP, though once you transition to paleo and your colon has started to heal, you may be able to tolerate it. During the early phases of SCD, it’s better to avoid coffee, but once you introduce it, make sure it’s weak, and made from pure coffee beans rather than processed (instant) grounds that could contain additives and preservatives. Also avoid decaf coffee, as you don’t know what chemicals have been used to remove the caffeine. Bear in mind that caffeine can irritate the gut, which is why it’s not recommended during the early phases of a healing diet.

Tea

Herbal tea is allowed, and if you don’t like the taste of them on their own, you can add honey, ginger, lemon, mint, berries, etc. Just make sure the tea you use is pure and free from additives. In summer, use it to make refreshing iced tea.

Using milk and sugar

On healing diets, added sugar is generally not allowed, so don’t put it in your hot drinks – use honey instead. Nut milks can be used, though for some people, myself included, this is quite an acquired taste!

Cold drinks

Carbonated drinks

Both regular and diet drinks MUST be avoided. These tend to irritate the gut, and they can also exacerbate bloating and discomfort. Plus, fizzy drinks contain a whole whack of unhealthy ingredients that are best avoided altogether.

Sparkling water

If you really struggle to kick the cola habit, as I did, try transitioning to soda water/sparkling water. I say ‘transitioning’, because I find that ALL fizzy drinks, sparkling water included, really cause me a lot of bloating and GI irritation, so it’s best I avoid them. However, I sometimes find that pure, carbonated water really hits the spot when I’m wanting something fizzy. Add lemon, berries or other fresh fruit for fun but totally healthy cocktail vibe.

Fruit juice

Fruit juice is okay if it’s completely natural/pure, and free of any preservatives and added sugar. Believe it or not, this can be VERY hard to find! Most fruit juices are marketed as being healthy, but they’re actually loaded with a whole bunch of crazy additives, never mind a ton of sugar. Be on the look out for organic, additive-free juice, or make your own at home. Apples and pears can be boiled until really soft and then strained, or you can use a juicer to make super healthy varieties like carrot, beetroot, apple, etc. The options are almost endless.

Smoothies

From here on out, you can pretty much assume that all store-bought/pre-packaged smoothies are going to be a no-no. Most contain things you won’t be able to eat on your diet, like dairy, sugar, additives/preservatives, etc. However, it’s really easy to make your own healthy, filling and totally ‘legal’ smoothies at home. Use bananas and any other fruit you can handle, and combine it with homemade yoghurt, a dash of honey and a scoop of protein powder. Here’s a great smoothie recipe packed with vitamin C. Smoothies also work brilliantly as meal replacements when you’re on the go.

Homemade drinks

If drink boredom starts to set in – and it probably will – get inventive! Make your own ginger ale, lemonade or ‘sodas’ at home using sparkling water and natural flavourants, like lemon, fresh fruits and herbs, and honey.

Alcohol

According to Theultimatepaleoguide.com, alcohol is considered a ‘processed’ food and a toxin – two things that we’re supposed to avoid on a healing diet. Plus, it’s well known that alcohol irritates the lining of the gut and can worsen the symptoms of IBD, especially if you’re flaring.

This is not a club you should be hanging out at

This is not a club you should be hanging out at

That said, I know how hard it is to go out and socialise like you did before – when all you want is to feel normal – and you have to order a glass of water, because even cooldrinks and juice are off-limits. And let’s face it, no one wants to be that guy in the bar ordering coffee.

If you’re NOT flaring and your doctor/nutritionalist thinks it’s okay for you to have a bit of alcohol, then there are options – just don’t overdo it! Try to choose those with as little sugar as possible (all alcohol contains sugar), and definitely avoid those considered grains (ie, beer).

Alcohol that is okay:

  • Dry red and white wine
  • Apple ciders (make sure they’re gluten free)
  • Certain spirits (like vodka, whiskey and gin. Because they’ve been distilled, they are mostly free of gluten. However, if you’re very sensitive to gluten, avoid them.)

Alcohol to avoid:

  • Any booze containing grains, yeast and/or high amounts of sugar
  • Sweet wine
  • Passover wine
  • Brandy
  • Beer
  • Cordials

Important note about water

Apart from whatever else you drink, try to consume at least 2l of water every day. If you aren’t used to doing this, it is difficult at first, but it gets easier. I drink 500ml every morning before I leave for work, and I keep a 1.5l bottle of water on my desk at work, which I always make sure I finish. That means by the time I get home, I’ve already had my 2l for the day, and any extra is just a ‘bonus’. This also means I don’t find myself drinking water until late into the evening – and getting up all through the night to pee!