One year later: The foods I stopped eating in 2014

SugarCoated

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 🙂

My experience on a low carb, high fat (LCHF) diet so far

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Anyone else been struggling to find a diet that works for them?

Since being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis about a year ago, I’ve embarked on various diets to try to ease my symptoms and heal my body (hence this blog). In fact, I started this blog to document my experiences on the SCD diet (see a summary here), which has helped many, many people to heal after the ravaging effects of inflammatory bowel disease.

But it’s been really tough to find a diet that stuck.

SCD wasn’t the answer for me, so I moved on to autoimmune paleo after consulting a nutritionalist. I followed it mostly strictly for a month or two (AIP is not a long-term diet), and then switched to paleo. By this time, my various diets had exhausted me psychologically, and subconsciously I think I felt imprisoned by them. I was either restricting or bingeing, and I constantly felt guilty about my slip-ups. How could I care so little about my health that I couldn’t find the willpower to avoid gluten or dairy or all the other things that were so bad for me? Restrict, binge. Restrict, binge. Guilt guilt guilt. I was trapped.

Cravings, weight gain and other un-fun things

Compounding all of these negative feelings towards myself and my diet was the fact that my clothes were getting tighter and the number on the scale was steadily rising. Having faced some weight demons for many, many years, this just made everything so much worse. I was constantly going back onto my restrictive diets simply to lose weight, even though I said it was because of my IBD. They didn’t work, so I’d binge some more.

Perhaps most ironic of all was that, apart from one or two isolated incidents, my UC symptoms were completely under control and, thanks to my Asacol, I was never aware of any issues.

Coming round to ‘high fat’ way of thinking

Several weeks ago, spurred on by yet another attempt to trim down, I decided to give the high-fat, low-carb diet a bash (also known as a ketogenic diet). Although I’ve been hearing about it for months, it’s taken me ages to come around to the idea. Eat fat? No, surely not. I’d spent the past decade avoiding anything with fat, oil or even a single additional calorie. And fat has the most calories of all! Plus, everyone was doing the diet (especially here in SA, where Tim Noakes has become something of a ketogenic legend), and that made me not want to do it even more. Ugh, fads.

But I was also desperate to kick my sugar habit (which by this point I had labelled an ‘addiction’ – read about my binges and attempts to overcome them here), and I thought that severely limiting carbs, at least at first, might help.

I read up about the Atkins diet, which is essentially a ketogenic diet (at least in the early phases), and thanks to the guidelines provided, I figured I’d be able to give it a shot.

That was several weeks ago, and I hate to say it (because it still feels like such a fad), but it is actually working.

How I feel on a high fat diet

This is the first eating plan I’ve followed where I haven’t felt hungry, haven’t had many cravings (I’ve had perhaps two or three bad sugar cravings in total, as opposed to several every day) and have actually felt completely satisfied at all times. Plus… the weight has started to melt off. I can’t understand it because I’ve been eating fat – and a lot of it (for me). I eat handfuls of almonds every day, I add oil to my food (olive or coconut) and I’m consuming plenty of avocado. I eat several eggs each day (my nutritionalist has assured me that four a day is fine, but I usually consume about three), and lean red meat a few times a week.

Making the switch: a bit of a mind-fudge

What has been strange for me, as someone who grew up in a household that was 50% vegetarian, has been cutting down on the amount of fruit and veggies I eat. Fruit I can understand – it’s healthy, but not in the quantities I was consuming it. I could eat 10 bananas in a day, or five pears in the space of several hours. Unnecessary, and probably feeding my sugar addiction. I decided to cut out fruit altogether for the first few weeks, to break the sugar cycle, as well as starchy veg, just as the Atkins diet advises. Eating less veg has been weird for me (I never realised how many carbs there are in vegetables, especially when you’re trying to limit your carb intake to 20g per day!).

That said, the way that ketogenic and Banting diets work is by getting your body to stop using carbs as your primary energy source, and to use fat instead. It takes a few days to ‘switch over’ to this way of burning calories, and – for me anyway – it seems that once it kicks in, it’s EFFECTIVE!

What I eat each day

For breakfast, I either have a boiled egg or avocado on grain-free seed toast. For lunch I’ll have two boiled eggs with salad, and as a late afternoon snack, I’ll have almonds. Supper is usually lean steak or chicken, or if I don’t feel like cooking, biltong. I serve it with cauli-rice or a portion or two of other low-carb veg (broccoli, zucchini, etc) and avocado. In between, when I’m hungry, I snack on raw almonds or biltong.

In fact, the one area where I slip up is when it comes to snacking. I’m a notoriously big snacker, but on this diet, I don’t really get hungry between meals, and sometimes I’m not even hungry at meal times (I always eat though). Not being hungry has never been a reason for me to not eat – but I simply am not craving food the way I used to. This means I don’t have a mid-morning snack, but I do tend to have something small in the late afternoon/early evening in the hours before dinner.

Dairy and high-fat diets when you’re lactose intolerant

On a high fat diet, one of the primary building blocks is full-fat dairy, and being lactose intolerant, the majority of dairy is off-limits to me. I can have small amounts of hard cheese (ie, parmesan), but soft cheese does weird things to my belly… and I can’t even look at cream! However, this might also be why I’m losing more weight: Some people have complained that they haven’t lost the amount of weight they were expecting on the ‘Tim Noakes diet’, which the professor attributes to too much dairy. After all, while butter and cream contain healthy fat, they’re also LOADED with calories.

Either way, you do need certain vitamins and minerals that come from dairy. If you don’t eat the stuff, make sure you’re taking supplements or getting what you need from other food, which you should continue to include in your diet.

How’s my belly?

As always, it comes down to this, as it should. My belly has been fine, and I haven’t noticed any major differences in its activity since starting this diet. But that’s probably also because Asacol does a powerful job of keeping everything under control. Plus, the right kind of fat is extremely healing: avocado and coconut oil especially are very beneficial to the gut and should always be included in a healing diet.

I do have to be careful with almonds, because if I eat too many, they can give me cramps. And I also have to be sure that I include my five portions of fruit/veg in my diet every day – something I never used to struggle with, but which I now have to actually make a concerted effort to do. My stomach is perhaps not as active as usual (normally I have daily BMs, but sometimes now I skip a day). That said, I haven’t experienced any bloating, constipation or discomfort, so I’m not concerned about it.

In summary

Overall, I’m loving how I’m feeling on this diet. I LOVE not having cravings, I LOVE that I never feel too hungry, and I’m enjoying the actual food itself (steak, avocado, nuts, caul-rice – what’s not to relish?!). I’m aware of the potential pitfalls (too much fat, too little veggies/fruit), and I’m being careful to avoid them. So far, so good, and out of all the diets I’ve tried in the past year (SCD, paleo, autoimmune paleo), this has been the most enjoyable, the easiest to follow, and the one that has made me feel the best.

Have you tried a high fat, low carb diet/banting? Would love to hear your feedback 🙂

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?

Day 2: 10 types of veggies & some cooking tips

I have yet to meet a vegetable I didn’t like (okra included), but the same can’t be said for my girlfriend. While I can happily feast on any vegetable that happens to be in season/in our fridge, K is a lot more selective. Now that she’s agreed to eat paleo with me – a diet largely focused on vegetables; none of which is potato – I’m redoubling my efforts to cook the kinds of veggies she’ll enjoy.

Now, while I don’t discriminate, there are certainly some veggies I prefer. They happen to be the exact opposite ones that K prefers. So last night I found myself cooking no fewer than 10 different varieties: Broccoli, carrots, butternut, gem squash, peas, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, leeks and green beans. In all honesty it was pretty quick to do (except for the peeling of the butternut, which K actually did for me), and because I cooked so much, we have plenty left over for work and the next few days.

If for whatever reason you also find yourself cooking entire harvests of veggies each night (I’m looking at you, SCD), these tips might help. Many of them were ingrained during the long hours of SCD prep!

  • Cook (but don’t overcook) your veg. Many people with IBD or other digestive disorders is encouraged to avoid raw fruit and veg (especially when flaring) as it can be difficult to digest. That said, there’s no need to overcook your veg to the point of mush, because then you’re losing a lot of the goodness. Brussels sprouts, for example, need just three or four minutes.
  • Cook more than you need. Putting in the extra effort tonight means less effort tomorrow and more time to watch Parks and Recreation. It’s also great to have cooked veggies in the fridge as a warm, filling snack. I always, always cook at least three days’ worth of veggies on a Monday.
  • Use as little water as possible. Generally, I boil all my veg so that it can absorb the flavour of the herbs, spices and stock that I use. But there’s no need to drown your veg – just a bit of water prevents them from burning and helps them to retain their taste and crispness.
  • Recycle the cooking water. Certain nutrients can be lost or diminished during the cooking process, so if I’m cooking all my vegetables separately, I keep using the same water with each new batch (topping up with kettle water if necessary). If I cook all the veg together, I keep the water (which is now more like stock) for the next time I cook veggies – which is bound to be in the next few days. This obviously doesn’t apply to gem squash and butternut.
  • Read the labels carefully. Not on your produce (although the photo below begs to differ – this was at our local supermarket!), but on your seasonings. Some seemingly innocuous spices are actually full of gluten, maize, soy and even dairy-based additives, so you really have to be careful what you use. If the ingredients aren’t listed, it’s probably best to avoid it. If you’re following AIP, you have to be especially careful: Even if your spice is free of additives, it might still have other ‘illegal’ ingredients like pepper or tomato.
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This is why you need to go to school, kids

So it’s day 2 and K is doing… well, I’ll let her tell you how she’s doing:

“Day 2

15.45pm

I’ve been carb free for almost 43 hours.

I’m doing fine. It’s all in my head.

I’ve bread if you stay away from the kitchen it helps. And to keep a pizza biltong with you to nom on every now and then. I walked pasta sushi restaurant and didn’t even batter eye.

I’m wine. I mean fine.”

Ah, she’s such a trooper! And she’s getting steak tonight – not something we usually indulge in midweek, but I feel she needs a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Besides, any diet that includes steak and biltong is totally doable 🙂

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Not if you know how to make a cauli-pizza!

The partner-paleo challenge: I get by with a little help from my (girl)friend

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Lately I’ve been finding it harder and harder to stick to my diet. I don’t know why this is, because time was when I was fanatical about what I ate and I stuck to my diet with military precision.

When I started this blog I was 100% committed to my 100 days on SCD (which I successfully completed). Then I switched to AIP, and I just didn’t have the same kind of staunch commitment. A few ‘bad’ foods slipped in from time to time, and I’ve now reached a point where I’m cheating once every week or two, which just isn’t acceptable.

Knowing what I know about myself, I believe it’s partly due to my now-ingrained tendencies to binge, which began about five or six years ago. I don’t know exactly what triggered it but I do know (or at least think I know) when it started. It’s something I’m going to have to figure out and really work on, which I am trying to do.

The other trigger – major trigger – is alcohol. When I consume alcohol I lose all self control and I binge on anything I can sink my teeth into – anything ‘illegal’, that is. Because it’s really not fun to go wild on butternut or grain-free cracker bread (believe me I’ve tried). So I’m cutting back on how much I drink (I know it sounds like I have a problem and I know that by saying I don’t have a problem it sounds exactly like I have a problem, so I don’t know what to say to convince you that I don’t have a problem but that AGAIN sounds pretty damn unconvincing so you’ll just have to trust me on this one).

Weirdly, I’ve also found lately (and this is entirely new) that even when I don’t drink, I get to that late-in-the-evening point when I’m ready to binge, so I think I’ve set up a kind of Pavlovian response in my brain and I really, really need to stop it immediately.

Last week I read this extremely interesting piece by Eileen at Phoenix Helix called Top 5 Mistakes People Make on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol, and it was the last point that really resonated with me – for the first time ever. ‘Not getting the support you need’ isn’t entirely accurate in my case: my family (whom I don’t live with) and my girlfriend (who I do live with) are extremely supportive of my diet and often go out of their way to accommodate my food needs. However, my girlfriend is able to eat anything she likes, and has a well-stocked ‘treat’ cupboard (thanks in part to me), which is always the first victim of my late-night drunken binges. We’ve even discussed padlocking it!

But this got me thinking that my diet would be a whole lot easier to stick to if the other 50% of my household were following it too. And, as K is actually trying to trim a kilo or two and has recently starting going to gym, I figured that now was the ideal time to introduce her to the idea.

I pitched it, and she bought in. She’s agreed to do 30 days of paleo with me – not AIP, because that’s just crazy for someone who doesn’t have a digestive disorder – but straight-up, pure-and-simple paleo. And that’s what I want it to be: pure and simple. No refined sugar, no carbs, but plenty of fruit, vegetables, lean meat, salads and – although this isn’t strictly paleo – yoghurt-based smoothies for her (I’m lactose intolerant). I plan to do as much prep as it takes to help make this as painless and, hopefully, enjoyable for her as possible. I also know that the competitive streak in me is likely to emerge, and if she’s able to maintain it without cheating, well then so can I!

I’m incredibly lucky to have someone in my life who’s willing to embark on this journey with me, because paleo is hard when you’re switching from a SAD (or in our case, a S-South African-D!).

Today is day one and she’s already conquered a few hurdles. In fact, she emailed me at work to say:

“Day 1.

11am

The popcorn machine stirs from across the office. Weaving its perfume from room to room and down the passage, filling every crevice along the way.

There is no escaping the scent. It follows me. It haunts my nostrils teasing my brain. “Eeeeeeaaaat meeeeeee,” its sighs echo off the walls.

“Who will know?” it whispers. “One kernel won’t hurt…” it taunts.

But I must resist.

It is only day one after all. This is the very first test. The first hurdle. I must resist.

I pull out a tub of Vicks from the draw and smear a thick layer where my moustache would be if I were Mario or Luigi.

Nothing can penetrate the menthol guard it builds.

But I can see it. I see people munching away without conscience. They are all around me.

I

Must

Resist.

I turn up the volume on the headphones and position my monitor between me and the popcorn fiends.

I can do this.”

I’m so proud of her for starting on this journey with me, and I think the best way to keep it up will be to document it right here. So here goes, day 1 of 30. Wish us luck!