How your body feels after eating healthy food vs unhealthy food: A comparison of physical & psychological symptoms

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This morning as I arrived at work, our new boss placed a fresh, warm, just-out-of-the-oven croissant on each of our desks. My resistance didn’t crumble. It crashed in a single almighty explosion at my feet, sending shards of flaky, buttery pastry everywhere. The croissant didn’t make it (any further than my mouth).

The guilt was immediate – but what surprised me was that the physical symptoms set in almost as quickly. I don’t usually react so quickly to refined carbs and dairy, but today I did – and it got me thinking about how (great) I feel when I eat healthily, and how (bad) I feel when I don’t. I also immediately wanted – no, CRAVED – more. MOOOOOOORE!!! In fact I could easily have swallowed another three or four pastries without blinking. Possibly five. Definitely five.

After switching to a clean or healing diet, it’s easy to forget just how bad those ‘bad’ foods can make you feel. Which isn’t exactly helpful, because it makes it all too easy to go back down that sparkling, sugar-paved road. So, for my edification (and yours, if you need it), here’s a comparison of today’s croissant breakfast versus what I usually eat, and how my body feels after consuming each.

Cheat breakfast: Butter croissant

How I feel/physical symptoms after eating:

  • Instant headache that lasted several hours
  • Immediate craving for more junk food/sugar
  • Not satisfied/satiated
  • ‘Popping’ eyes, like my eyes were really wide open and everything was very bright (this usually happens when I have too much sugar)
  • Gurgling stomach (probably a reaction to lactose)
  • Hungry soon after
  • Guilty

Regular breakfast: Boiled egg on gluten-free seed toast 

How I feel/physical symptoms after eating

  • Immediately satisfied after eating
  • No cravings afterwards
  • Full/satiated
  • Not hungry for 3 to 4 hours afterwards
  • Not guilty

While the differences are vast, they’re probably not going to surprise you. But in the same way that keeping a food journal can alert you to issues that you may not have been aware of, writing down these differences is a great way to remind myself of just how bad bad food can make me feel.

If I’m 100% honest, every day is a battle between the foods that I should eat and those I shouldn’t. I find it really, really hard to stay on track, and that little ‘just eat it – go on, it’s not going to hurt you’ voice never, ever stops. Ever. At least, by writing out this list, I can show that little voice that YES, it is going to hurt me – here’s the proof! (I guarantee that won’t shut it up though. It’ll probably pause for moment, regroup its thoughts and then say, ‘Yeeees, but how bad will it really be? What’s a little headache between friends? A little bloating? You own a baggy shirt, don’t you?’).

I shouldn’t have cheated today but at least I gained something from the experience apart from just a headache, a sugar rush and a large serving of guilt. A little insight never hurts, after all.

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How to make your favourite dishes SCD legal/paleo

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When you tell people that you don’t eat dairy, grains or sugar, they often stare at you incredulously (and a little pityingly), before gasping, “What do you eat?”

The problem is that so many people have fallen into a groove of slapping together a toastie for lunch or a pot of macaroni cheese for dinner that thinking about creating a meal without bread or cheese or pasta or sugar (tomato sauce, I’m looking at you) seems virtually impossible. Pasta and puddings are easy, cheap, convenient and delicious to make, and without them… What will we EAT??

Here are some ideas: any kind of meat, basically any fruits and veg you can imagine (with the exception of one or two, like potatoes and bananas, if you’re doing paleo), nuts, nut milks, nut butters, seeds, honey (sparingly on SCD) and, once you start thinking a little more laterally, a ton of amazing desserts and treats made with these ingredients. If you’re doing SCD and you aren’t lactose-intolerant, you can add dairy products to this list too.

Of course, if you’ve become accustomed to eating pasta and bread-based meals, as well as the odd pizza cheat on weekends, it can be daunting to make the transition to ‘cleaner’ eating.  Yes, it’s a mindshift, but you’d be amazed at how quickly your thinking changes.

To help you along if you’re new to this, I’ve put together a list of some of the easier and more popular everyday meals that you can turn into SCD legal or paleo dishes.

Pancakes

Traditionally, these are made with milk, wheat flour and butter, so it seems almost inconceivable to make anything resembling a pancake without these ingredients.

Think again: For SCD pancakes, use eggs, almond flour and coconut oil – try this recipe or this one – or attempt an even easier 3-ingredient pancake that’s super light and quick to make.

Smoothies

Bought smoothies are often made with frozen yoghurt or ice cream and loaded with unhealthy sweeteners or sugar. Often they’re just as kilojoule-dense as milkshakes, and we’re tricked into believing that they’re healthy because they have a berry or two thrown in.

Make your own paleo or SCD smoothies at home by throwing your favourite fruit into a blender with a dash of pure fruit juice or a squeeze of lime, and instead of frozen yoghurt, use SCD yoghurt, coconut milk or coconut cream. Don’t forget to add a spoon of your favourite nut butter!

Get creative and come up with your own combinations – you really are limited only by your imagination (and taste buds).

Here’s a collection of great paleo smoothies and shakes to get your creative juices flowing.

Lasagna

This is an awesome hack for dairy, grain-free lasagna: Instead of pasta sheets, use slices of zucchini in between your layers of meat. You could also use butternut or even egg-white crepes that mimic the texture of pasta.

As for the sauce, use substitutes like cashew cream or cashew cheese. These ingredients may sound totally exotic to you now, but I promise that after making them once or twice, they’ll be old hat. If you told me three months ago that I’d be making my own yoghurt using nut milks and non-dairy cultures, I’d never have believed you. Now I do it once a week, and start to panic when my stock gets low!

Anyway, here and here are some fabulous collections of SCD/paleo lasagna recipes to try.

Spaghetti bolognaise

This one is super easy: The trick is not to be fooled by unhealthy packaged ingredients that you’re so used to adding to your bolognaise. It’s okay to use tomato paste, but make sure it has no added sugar. I’ve just about perfected my bolognaise recipe – it’s easy, affordable and totally more-ish. Here’s the recipe.

Instead of spaghetti, serve with cauliflower rice, roast butternut or – if you enjoy the ‘taste’ – shirataki noodles. This is actually a plant product that has a similar consistency to noodles, but zero calories and little-to-no taste (though I definitely detect a vague, odd flavour). It’s quite strange and expensive, but some people like it. Buy it here in South Africa.

Burgers

The only real problem here is the bun, so omit it and, if you like, wrap your pattie in lettuce. Of course, if you’re not doing dairy, omit any cheesy toppings. Bacon is also ill-advised because unless you’re buying organic, it’s usually laden with sugar and unhealthy additives and preservatives.

I have an amazing burger recipe that I’m super proud of – try it here.

Curry

Curries are GREAT for paleo and SCD, because they’re easy to serve without grains, and the recipe doesn’t usually call for dairy. This means that it’s so simple to make SCD/paleo curries. Simply omit any yoghurt and replace with coconut milk or cream, and for sweetness, add a dash of honey instead of sugar.

Make sure that any spices you use are good quality and don’t have any anti-caking agents or other additives in them. The best idea is to buy yours from a spice market, if you have access to one, or simply make your own spice mixes from scratch. This is more labour intensive but definitely worth the effort.

I’ll post K’s Thai green recipe soon, which ticks all the right boxes. In the mean time, browse this selection of paleo curry recipes. I’m also dying to try this SCD roast cauliflower soup recipe – it’s on my list for this winter (by the way, The Tasty Alternative has the most amazing SCD recipes).

Dessert

There are SOOO many healthy, clean SCD and paleo dessert recipes out there – do a quick Google search to see what I mean. Things you’d never even imagine existed. So you never need to feel like you’re missing out just because you can’t have caramel whip or cream cakes. In fact, because these desserts are so kind to your belly, you’ll finally get to enjoy a sweet treat without the awful after effects you’re so used to experiencing.

Here’s a baked apple crisp I made last weekend that was very easy to throw together, and enjoyed by everyone who tried it. My favourite review came from my mom, who said, “You can actually taste how healthy it is.” But yet, super delicious. Win!

Happy cooking, guys – and don’t be afraid to experiment!

 

What I learnt during 100 days of SCD

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Now that I’ve reached my personal goal of 100 days on SCD, I thought I’d share my overall thoughts on this diet with all of you who’ve patiently plodded along with me!

First, check out my 90-day SCD post where I reviewed my first three months on this diet – I won’t bore you by repeating myself here.

The 7 greatest benefits of SCD (for me)

1. Reduction in inflammation. Before I started this diet in January, I’d been on Asacol for about 2 months and I still had inflammation. My most recent blood test in March revealed zero inflammation – a first for me in about 18 months. Sure, the Asacol has probably contributed significantly to that, but I have no doubt that diet helped too.

2. Creating a ‘safe’ food zone. For those of us who know that certain foods can send us into a flare (but aren’t always sure which foods they are), SCD creates a priceless safety net. It not only helps you to establish a safe haven of foods that are kind to your gut, but also a way to test, with great accuracy, which foods knock you off balance. And, thanks to our safety net, we’re able to get back on track when we do veer off course.

3. Identifying food intolerances. This is linked to the point above. Over the course of this diet, I’ve learnt that fibrous vegetables simply don’t agree with me, and I need to find a way to incorporate them into my diet in smaller amounts so that I can reap the benefits without the bloating side effects. I’ve learnt that I can’t tolerate large amounts of whole, raw nuts, but that eggs and meat are fine. At any time I can go into the kitchen and cook a meal that won’t leave me bloated, gassy or in pain.

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4. Kicking my sugar habit. Prior to SCD, I could easily eat a slab (or two) of chocolate in a single sitting. I wish I were exaggerating, but no, I lived for sugar. Rooting it out was easier than I had anticipated, and while I had some cravings in the beginning, they quickly faded and I really don’t miss it. I do however add sweetness with honey.

5. It’s taught me to understand what I’m putting into my body. I always considered myself a fairly nutrition-savvy person, au fait with food labels, kilojoules, ingredients and so on. But it’s only since embarking on SCD that I’ve realised just how damaging processed and packaged foods can be, and I take extra care to put pure, natural ingredients into my body.

6. My skin improved. Multiple people commented on my skin looking clearer and ‘better’. This might also have something to do with the 2 litres of water I’m forcing myself to drink every day!

7. It taught me that there’s more to life than food. Sounds ironic, considering that during SCD, 90% of my time was spent thinking about food, preparing food or eating food. But actually, the diet taught me that it’s possible to go to a social gathering and gave a good time even when you’re not stuffing your face with canapes and cake. That was a true revelation for me – the person who has always asked, “Will there be food?”

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Drawbacks of SCD

1. Completely unpredictable BMs. I kept a food diary throughout this diet, and yet I still struggle to see a pattern. For the first few weeks, I was completely constipated, and after that, my BMs were yellow! (probably all that carrot and butternut – after all, this is like a baby’s diet, so I guess it makes sense!).

Sometimes, I’d go for a week with the most amazing, predictable, satisfactory BMs – twice a day, well formed and complete. Other times, I’d go for days with nary a peep. And other times still, I’d have diarrhoea – but that was usually the result of something I’d eaten and cleared up within a few hours or over night. Even now, I’ve had a good three or four days, followed by a couple of days of serious constipation, and I have no idea why. I haven’t changed anything obvious in my diet, not even since reaching the 100-day mark. I can however tell you that pure, freshly squeezed apple juice seems to be great for alleviating constipation.

2. Lots of gas. I think this is due to my intolerance to so many types of vegetables, and my tendency to overdo it when I eat them. I suspect the gassiness will improve when I change the way I consume vegetables.

3. It’s difficult to maintain a social life. But not impossible. In the early phases, when I was eating such a limited variety of food and not consuming alcohol, it sucked to go out with friends and order a glass of water and no food. And yes, I’ve also packed my own food for social gatherings – trust me, nobody cares, so don’t be self conscious. As I progressed on SCD, I was able to enjoy one or two SCD-legal restaurant meals, but I didn’t actually mind cutting back on eating out – it saved a ton of money!

4. Lots of prep. I needed to put several hours aside each week for shopping and cooking. Especially at the beginning, it was really labour-intensive, with veggies that needed to be peeled, deseeded and cooked until well dead. I usually did my cooking on a Sunday and made enough for the whole week. Also, if the rest of your household isn’t eating SCD, you may find yourself cooking two different meals every night.

5. Always having to think ahead. Because you can’t just go out and grab some food when you get hungry on SCD, you need to plan ahead and always ensure that you either pre-eat (as I call it) before you go out, take food with you, or carry some bananas in your bag.

6. I had less energy than before. I only really noticed this when I worked out – but then I really noticed it, and it’s been difficult to come to terms with my weaker body. Apparently normal energy levels do return within 6 to 12 months.

I’m struggling to think of other drawbacks so I’m going to stop here. Obviously SCD is not an easy diet to do, otherwise everyone would be doing it and you wouldn’t need me to be sitting here telling you what to expect 🙂 For me, it’s definitely had its ups and downs, with BMs being one of the most frustrating factors, and eating clean (and feeling clean on the inside) being one of the highlights.

As I’ve said before, I’ll be transitioning to a more paleo diet once I return from my trip in Mid-may (I can’t get too hung up on diet while I’m in Kuala Lumpur and Bali, BUT I always eat fairly clean and healthily when I’m in the east). The next part of my diet exploration will definitely be targeting the bugbears of SCD and reducing the bloating and gas. Oh, and I’ve had NO bloody stools this entire time!

If you have any specific questions about anything I haven’t covered, please ask! I’m sure I’ve forgotten something important… 🙂

PS: Yes, I cheated – once, at around day 85 or 86. I had two sugary cocktails and a few handfuls of deep-fried onion. I was filled with remorse and vowed never to do it again. I got back on track immediately and have behaved myself ever since!

This is not a cheat day. This is a cheat *year* and you are not allowed

This is not a cheat day. This is a cheat *year* and you are not allowed

Day 81: My foodie inspiration & today’s new food

Today, I started thinking about my mom, one of the healthiest people I know, and incidentally, someone who’s overcome ‘chronic’ disease. ‘Chronic’ is in inverted commas for a reason – you’ll see why. My mom is my foodie (and lifestyle) inspiration! Here’s why:

About eight years ago, she was diagnosed with Graves Disease, an autoimmune disease that mainly affects the thyroid. She lost a ton of weight and had a lot of other nasty symptoms that led to her diagnosis.

The specialist she consulted immediately recommended that she have her thyroid destroyed, which in itself can have very serious health implications. She declined this course of treatment and stuck to her meds. Fast forward eight or so years, and there hasn’t been a hint of her Graves Disease in years. Regular tests reveal, over and over again, absolutely no further indication of the illness in her body.

Why it spontaneously manifested, and why it subsequently beat its retreat, is not known. What I do know is that my mom lives one of the healthiest lifestyles of anyone I know. My whole life, until about three years ago, she was the same steady weight of 50kg (she’s very short so this weight is perfect for her). It’s increased a little over the past few years due to regular ageing (she’s 63 53 49), but she’s still a small little person with an excellent figure for her age.

Mom, my sister (on the right) and me

Mom, my sister (on the right) and me

She’s been a vegetarian for more than 35 years and eats every fruit and vegetable under the sun. When I was growing up, she cooked three to four different kinds of vegetables every night, and EVERY night we had a fresh salad with supper (and she worked a full day!). She snacks on things like nuts and never drinks alcohol, fizzy drinks or juice.

Instead, she loves her tea, which she consumes by the bucket-load every day (with the tiniest drop of milk and half a teaspoon of sugar), and her milky cappucinos. You’ll never see her eating takeaways or junk food, bingeing on cake or eating dessert after supper, as she simply doesn’t have a taste for these things. She’s never been given to over-indulgence, except when it comes to chocolate, which she seems able to consume in unlimited amounts, and of course that never-ending stream of tea and cappucino with the odd bran muffin thrown in.

At 63 53 49, she’s incredibly good for her age. She can’t sit still, so she walks her hyperactive Jack Russell several times a day, often for an hour at a time (a habit she’s had for decades – not the same dog of course) and she’s constantly on the go. She also practices yoga twice a week, which she’s done for years, and works as a voluteer teacher at a school for underprivileged kids.

This is what my mom and her Jack Russell are working towards!

This is what my mom and her Jack Russell are working towards!

Although she doesn’t sleep well and has the occasional ache or pain, overall her health is excellent. She’s fit, hardly ever gets sick, and her body is in good shape. If you ask me, I think so much of it has to do with the food she eats, her level of activity and, of course, genetics (yay for me!). So this is why I’d say my mom is my foodie inspiration. When it comes to living clean, my mom’s got it waxed.

Who’s your foodie inspiration?

Springing a leek

Thankfully, not that kind of leak. Tonight I introduced leeks, which is not a vegetable I’d eat very often, but it adds such a great flavour to your food. Also, the supermarket had such a limited variety of veg available this evening, and the Brussels Sprouts that I’d been planning on buying were super overpriced.
Who knew there was good bacteria in leeks!

Who knew there was good bacteria in leeks!

The leeks were fresh and organic, and they just looked amazing. I added them to some venison ‘bolognaise’ and thoroughly enjoyed them. Best of all? I can sneak them into meals without K realising – like soups, stews, sauces, etc. She thinks she doesn’t like them but I plan to sneak them into our food tomorrow night (oh, that’s another thing: I’m cooking an SCD meal for her tomorrow) and I’m 99% sure she won’t notice 🙂

There are still loads of fruits I can add now on Phase 3 but I’m still not in love with the idea of cooking my fruit so I’m giving it a skip until I can eat them raw.

How’s your diet going? How far are you and what new foods have you introduced?