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 🙂

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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?