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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Cut out nightshades

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

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

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

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

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

4. Pay attention to visible indicators

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

5. Eat good fats but don’t overdo it

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

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

Why you need to be accountable for your diet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why diet matters

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

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

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

Why accountability works

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

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

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

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

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

Who are you accountable to?

Day 44: Losing weight while eating more

SCD is not a diet in the ‘traditional’ sense – ie, depriving yourself of calories in order to lose weight. By now, most of us know that dieting for weight loss isn’t effective in the long term. Sure, you can deprive yourself to five, ten or even twenty-pound weight loss, but the minute you start eating normally again, the weight will come back – and usually it brings its buddies too.

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Yes, the specific carbohydrate diet has the word ‘diet’ in its name, but it’s not ‘a course of food to which a person restricts themselves in order to lose weight’ (to paraphrase the dictionary). Rather, it’s a way of eating designed to help heal intestinal damage caused by GI disease.

That said, many people with weight issues – on both ends of scale (pun not intended) – have used SCD to great success in maintaining a healthy weight.

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As someone who spent years starving herself to be super skinny (and just to put it in perspective, at my heaviest I was 60kg – that’s 132lb – and my lightest, just 49kg or 108lb), I have a deeply ingrained yet completely warped sense of calorie intake and ‘healthy’ weight.

This means that since the age of about 20, I haven’t given myself the freedom to simply enjoy my food without guilt. For the past 10 years, until SCD, I was either starving myself or bingeing and mentally punishing myself afterwards. If only gnawing guilt burnt calories!

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Eat more; lose more

When I decided to embark on the SCD, I decided that weight-loss would be a nice bonus, but certainly not a goal. After all these years of crazy eating, I’d done enough damage to my system, and I realised I needed to work hard to move away from the harmful binge/starve cycle I’d created.

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During the first few weeks of SCD, I lost some weight. It didn’t surprise me because I wasn’t eating much (I simply couldn’t stomach intro food). I fully expected to gain it back when I introduced more foods.

But I haven’t. In fact, I’m eating more than I used to, and my weight isn’t creeping up. Before SCD, I never used to eat lunch. At some point in the past 10 years, I developed this irrational fear of lunch. I can’t explain it, but I think I started associating it with hot, calorific food. Whenever I was invited out for lunch, I’d panic. I’d literally start doing the mental calculations of how much I’d have to starve myself prior (usually I’d eat nothing before lunch) and how little I’d be able to eat afterwards, for the rest of the day.

I improved a little over the years, and my mom and I would meet for lunch when we both worked in the city centre. I’d have a muffin or a salad, but never without guilt.

Clean food = clean psyche

On this diet, I’ve given up most of my old, warped ideas (it’s a slow process!) and I’ve realised that because I’m eating clean, I can eat pretty much what I want without putting on weight. And when I do overeat (YES, it’s possible on this diet!) I feel so uncomfortable that I don’t want to keep doing it. BUT I don’t feel guilt.

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These days, I have eggs for breakfast, bananas, vegetables and meat for lunch, and the same again for supper. I’m snacking on nut yoghurt (since yesterday) and drinking juice that has actual, real calories in it. Prior, I wouldn’t even walk too close to a drink that wasn’t calorie-free (wine and cocktails excluded, ironically).

The point is, I never feel hungry on this diet. I eat when I want to, I eat full, proper meals, and I eat whatever I want (that I’ve already introduced, of course). I never feel deprived. I always feel satisfied, and unlike my diets of yesteryear, when hunger pains made me think YES! I’m WINNING at weight loss!, I’m now managing to avoid that all-consuming food obsession; the constant tummy rumbling and the exhausting guilt, worry and shame.

The effect of my disordered eating on my GI tract

Sometimes I am prepared to admit to myself that I had some sort of problem with food. And I certainly recognise the effects that it had on my body, and its resultant, probable contribution to my ulcerative colitis. Which is yet another reason I’m so, so thrilled to have discovered this ‘diet’.

Each day, I’m filling up on good, nutritious food that is helping to heal my body. Best of all, I’m eating whenever I want to and I’m maintaining a healthy weight – right in the middle of my lowest and highest. This is a complete psychological revelation for me, and proves that I’m doing the best possible thing for my body.

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And of course, it makes sense that when you’re eating pure, quality food and cutting out the crap, your body will respond in a positive way. It seems pretty impossible to become overweight when you’re eating this healthily!

PS: Bananas

Apart from a midnight snack last night at about 1am (okay, most of my bad habits are dead, but not all of them – yet!), I haven’t eaten any bananas in TWO days! Guys, this huge and I MISS them. But I think it’s helping my belly a little, and it’s definitely helping me to test the effect of the yoghurt, which seems to be good so far.

If I had the self-restraint to eat just two or three a day, it wouldn’t be a problem, but if this post has shown you anything, it’s that restraint is not my strong suit 😉

What I’m eating now

Right now, I’m eating a range of veg (gem squash, butternut, tomato, garlic, green beans, spinach, zucchini, carrot), most types of lean meat, pears and bananas (usually), and eggs. Plus there’s the yoghurt, as well as pure fruit juices, tea and coffee, and wine and vodka. so my diet is feeling nice and varied, and definitely satisfying.

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Oh, the good old days!