Day 5 – Day 11: A week of challenges and triumphs

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K has been following the paleo diet for almost two weeks now. It’s amazing the psychological impact it’s had on me as well: I don’t want to cheat on my diet because I know how hard she’s working to stick to it, and how difficult it is for her.

To sum up briefly, here are the things she’s found easiest and most difficult about switching from a regular diet to paleo.

The easier parts:

– Eating more protein. As Paleo Leap says in this great article about paleo and protein, “healthy animal fats are the backbone of a paleo eating plan”. Although paleo isn’t meant to be a protein free-for-all (you really shouldn’t be eating steak for breakfast, lunch and supper), it’s also pretty hard to overdo it – your body simply starts to reject it, and you’ll feel pretty nauseated.

– Eating breakfast. K has never been one for breakfast and getting her to eat anything before midday has always been a struggle. But because she switched to paleo at the same time that she started working out pretty hard, she realised that she’d need something in her belly in the morning. I make her fruit smoothies every morning, using bananas, strawberries, pineapple, plain yoghurt and a dash of apple juice. I know that there’s no protein in it but it’s a start for someone who’s always shunned the idea of a morning meal!

Eating more fruit. Fruit is extremely healthy and I feel it’s a very useful ‘bridge’ between a standard carby diet and a paleo one. K often went entire days without eating any fruit, which means she was missing out on important vitamins and minerals. I’m so glad she’s including more of it in her diet.

The harder parts:

– Snack foods. Snacking on the paleo diet takes a fair amount of planning, which is ironic considering that a snack is usually eaten fairly spontaneously. There’s no grabbing a sandwich or having a bowl of popcorn between meals, which I know is hard for her. Most paleo snacks are protein-based, so I make sure that she always has things like biltong, fruit, hummus or yoghurt on hand (she’s still doing some dairy, but mainly yoghurt – no cheese).

Cravings. It’s difficult to give up comforting carbs in one fell swoop – but that’s what she’s done. She’s had the pizza cravings, the curry-and-rice cravings, and the eclair cake cravings. It’s normal, but that doesn’t mean it’s pleasant. That said, she hasn’t succumbed to any of them.

Bypassing the bread basket. We attended a fancy-shmancy event last Saturday that was packed to the rafters with Cape Town’s glam set – rich, blonde, tanned and skinny. When they brought the bread basket around, K really struggled to resist, and eventually succeeded by telling herself, “I’m not a prisoner; I don’t need bread!” She later commented that, were it any other event, the bread would’ve been demolished in minutes – but of course, these ladies and gents weren’t in the least bit interested!

– Set menus. At the same event, we were presented with a set menu with three options each for starters and mains. Because K is quite a fussy eater, even the meals that were paleo-compliant weren’t particularly appealing to her. The moral is, if you’re a fussy eater and you’re doing paleo, try to cook all your own meals. In fact, fussy or not, you should try to do this. It’s simply the healthiest way to eat.

Not eating eggs. K will eat eggs on occasion – but usually when they’re accompanied by toast, hidden in pancakes or turned into omelettes. I eat boiled eggs daily, and I find them an easy breakfast and a handy snack. Plus they’re also a great source of protein if you don’t feel like cooking. Not eating boiled eggs does make things a little harder, but it’s not impossible to navigate.

Alcohol. On strict paleo, all booze should be avoided, but some fervent followers will allow dry wines or certain spirits – neither of which really appeal to K.

So how is she making it stick?

Considering the harder bits far outweigh the easier ones, how does she stick to it? Well, the 30-day goal is really spurring her own (though secretly, I’ll admit that I’m hoping that some of the paleo principles stick long after that – after all, processed carbs are not good for anyone). She’s also signed up to do the Impi Challenge in October, and she’s knows she needs to be fully committed to her workout plan and her diet if she’s going to get through it successfully.

Of course, K and I are not doing paleo as strictly as we could be – although I, simply by virtue of my IBD and food intolerances, am probably far closer to it. If you are interested in following the diet, here’s a handy list of all the things you should eat and shouldn’t eat on paleo.

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Day 3 and some handy paleo food swaps

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I think most people who switch to a healing diet would be lying if they said there weren’t at least a few things they missed from their former way of eating. I also think for most people, sugar/carbs create one of the biggest holes – it’s classic comfort food, after all.

Today is day three of paleo for K, and I was super impressed to discover that she’s been drinking her coffee without sugar. Today’s email read:

You would actually be so proud of me and I have L [colleague] to corroborate the story. I was going to make coffee with sugar… I put the sugar in the mug (like half of half a spoon) and then sat down with L and R at the table. I decided against the sugar and surrendered my mug to L. SHE LAUGHED at how little sugar was in the mug. Then she went to add more.

I’m especially proud of K because tea and coffee, especially when sugary and milky, is ultimate comfort ‘food’ for me. Growing up, if I had a shock or a heart break, my mom would make me a cup of strong, sweet tea. For stomach bugs, the solution was the same, with Marmite toast added to soothe the belly. As an adult, five or six cups of sweet tea or coffee would get me through the work day, and would also assuage my sugar cravings.

When I started worrying about my weight, I switched from sugar to sweetener, which is super-duper sweet, and I could easily drink six cups of tea a day, each with three sachets of sweetener added. I also drank a ton of diet cooldrinks. At the back of my mind I suspected that the artificial sweeteners were wreaking havoc on my gut, and I was right! Cutting them out was the first, and one of the biggest, steps to healing.

But I’d be lying if I said it were easy. Now, I drink black coffee with no sugar (two cups a day max, and seldom on weekends), and I never drink regular tea because I can’t stand the taste of it without milk and sugar.

I deeply miss my comforting mugs of tea, and while there isn’t an ‘exact match’ replacement for them, there are ways to soften the blow. Here’s how I’ve replaced some of my best-loved, and most missed, foods and drinks.

  • Sweet/milky tea and coffee: organic flavoured teas with lemon, honey and ginger added.
  • Fizzy drinks: organic apple juice with no added sugar or preservatives (limited to a couple of glasses a week).
  • Alcohol: Should be avoided if you’re flaring and if you know you can’t tolerate it. Fill a glass with ice, lemon wedges, mint or frozen berries and top with sparking mineral water. It’s the easiest way to fool your brain (and everyone else), and you won’t feel like you’re missing out. If you can tolerate alcohol, stick to dry wines and grain-free spirits only, like tequila (if you can stomach it!).
  • Desserts/‘something sweet after supper’: Fruit with honey; banana ‘ice cream’ (frozen bananas blended up) with cinnamon; dairy-free yoghurt; nuts drizzled with honey (and a shake of salt! Try it; it’s delicious).
  • Rice/mash: cauliflower rice/mash.
  • Potato: sweet potato (paleo, not SCD). Season with rosemary, garlic and coarse salt.
  • Pasta/noodles: Sounds strange, but if I make a delicious pasta sauce or curry, I pour it over butternut or steamed cauliflower and it’s just as enjoyable.
  • Sugar: honey/maple syrup/leave it out (you become accustomed to eating less sweet-tasting food).
  • Cake: There is no replacement for cake. Nothing. Accept it, grieve, and move on. It’ll become like a phantom limb: the pain is always there, but you learn to live with it. Seriously though, you can find ‘legal’ replacements for most cake ingredients: almond flour or gluten-free flour instead of regular cake flour; baking soda instead of baking powder; honey/maple syrup instead of sugar; coconut butter/oil instead of butter; avo instead of butter; egg replacements/flax seed instead of egg, etc. The list goes on – you just have to be adventurous. But you also have to accept that cake, as you knew it, is off the table and a thing of the past (but also, remember how bloaty and ugh the past was!).

I also wrote this post about making your favourite foods paleo, which has got some useful food switches.

The benefit of these replacements, especially when it comes to the hot drinks, is that my teeth are probably in much better nick than they were! Tea and coffee can leave some really tenacious stains. Cutting out fizzy drinks has drastically reduced my bloating, and no chocolate/dairy means no more frequent trips to the loo, and much less gas/bloating.

It’s hard not to lament the losses, which is why it’s so important to make healthy, sustainable switches. And bear in mind that while drinking only water is depressing (I’ve tried it), it’s still important to get your 2-litre fix each day, in between the other drinks.

If you have any useful food switches, please do share!

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

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

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

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

The good

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

The bad

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

The ugly

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

The verdict

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

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

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

 

My light-bulb moment: Autoimmune paleo

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Today I had my first appointment with the only nutritionalist in Cape Town, that I know of, who deals with SCD. It was like a light bulb switched on for me.

As you all know, I painstakingly did my 100 days of SCD, and for those 100 days, I was fully committed to the diet. Here on my blog, I carefully reported all the good and all the bad, to give you guys – and myself – a complete and honest overview of exactly how it was going.

When I told my nutritionalist about my experience, she said two things. First of all, for SCD to be truly effective in healing the gut, you need to be on it for a full year at least. And secondly, she said, “It doesn’t seem like SCD really worked for you.”

BOOM! There it was. I hadn’t wanted to admit it because I invested so much in this diet, and I’d had such high hopes of it being the ‘miracle cure’. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think you can do yourself any harm by following the diet – in fact, if everyone ate SCD, we’d all be a lot healthier on the whole.

But if I’m honest, I can see that SCD wasn’t the perfect solution for me, because:

  • I’m still experiencing bloating, cramps and general abdominal discomfort
  • I still suffer from frequent constipation
  • I haven’t managed to get my sugar cravings and binges under control (*yes… hangs head in shame – no binges during SCD though!)

Even though my most recent blood tests, about three months ago, revealed that my inflammation levels were FINALLY normal, my nutritionalist believes that my body is far from healed. The evidence is:

  • Eczema/psoriasis (angry red spots all over my legs)
  • Joint pain
  • Dry eyes

She explained that when you have one autoimmune disease, you’re far likelier to have others – and my symptoms are all indicators of ongoing gut problems. In fact, she pointed out that once these symptoms start to clear up, I’ll know that my ulcerative colitis is truly under control.

She suspects I have leaky gut (and I finally understand it properly!), and she’s testing me for several things that she feels could be contributing to inflammation, namely: bacteria levels in my gut, stomach acid levels, and iron and Vitamin D levels.

For months now I’ve been stumbling around in the dark on my own, and although I’ve used many excellent and reputable sources for guidance, it’s great to have a real, live, QUALIFIED person to talk to. Gut feel alone is not enough – if you’ll excuse the pun.

The diet: Autoimmune paleo

Here’s where autoimmune paleo comes in. I can’t believe that in all my research, I hadn’t stumbled across it – and it makes so much sense! Autoimmune paleo (AIP) is essentially a diet that aims to help heal inflammation and the lining of the gut – very similar to SCD. Plus, like SCD, it takes a phased approach to adding foods to your diet. The Paleo Mom can tell you a lot more about autoimmune paleo here.

However, there are some major departure points from SCD – namely, the omission of nuts, which can be very harsh on a damaged gut; reduced fructose intake, and the omission of dairy, dried fruits, artificial sweeteners and the nightshade vegetables (tomato, peppers – all kinds – potato, mustard seeds and egg plant). AIP also doesn’t allow eggs, but my nutritionlist has recommended that I keep these in my diet.

I’m excited about certain things – hello, sweet potatoes! – and sad about others – goodbye nuts, goodbye nut butters, goodbye tomatoes, goodbye ten million bananas a day. But mostly I’m excited, because I’m always hopeful and I fully, FULLY believe that I’ll one day be able to come off my meds – but I know that the power to get there is in my hands.

I also feel like I’ve invested so much time, energy, thought, planning and labour into my diet that I can’t give up now. I’m willing to pursue this new route and see where it takes me. It certainly can’t do any harm, and maybe this will the road that leads to lasting health. If not, I’ll find something else. Or move to Southeast Asia and live on Nasi Goreng. That’s Plan B 🙂

As always though, I’ll keep you in the loop!