Why alcohol is the worst thing for a healing diet – but not for the reason you think

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Any of us with IBD or other digestive problems know that alcohol is anathema to a healing diet. It’s highly inflammatory which basically means it can make your horrible symptoms a whole lot more horrible. But that’s not my problem with alcohol – not my primary problem, anyway.

I am in remission and while I took alcohol out of my diet completely for my first month on SCD, I reintroduced wine and vodka slowly – which is okay to do if you’re in remission. I often enjoy a glass of wine in the evenings, and occasionally vodka mixed with juice. But what happens when it’s more than a single drink in one night?

Willpower + alcohol = diet disaster

I don’t think there are many people who find it easy to follow a strict diet, be it SCD, paleo, autoimmune paleo or something else. This means that every day, you need to make an active decision to eat properly, and every day is a concerted effort to avoid the foods you’d love to eat. For me, it’s a daily battle of wills, and most days, I win. Most days, I’m not two or three glasses in.

When I’ve had more than a drink or two, it becomes infinitely harder to fight the voice of temptation in my head. Because alcohol lowers one’s inhibitions, it’s means that not only do you sing louder than usual or propose to strangers, but also your usual steely reserve – at least when it comes to your diet – starts to crumble.

Your brain on booze: The drunken munchies

Fast forward two, three glass of wine, and suddenly you’re cured of your lactose intolerance and gluten really isn’t that bad. The angel on your shoulder has given up the ghost, cracked open a beer and is chilling with the devil on the other side – probably taking bets about how long it’ll be before you termite your way through your girlfriend’s treat cupboard.

Cookies, chocolate, burgers, cereal, pure lumps of sugar – nothing is safe from my greedy, sugar-seeking paws when I’ve had more to drink than I should. I don’t even bother bargaining with myself – I pre-forgive myself and reason that it’s been so long and I’ve been so good.

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The last time the booze-binge monster came out to play… and the time before that

Last Friday we played a zombie-themed board game at a friend’s house. Board games are not my bag at the best of times, and zombies bore me to tears. So, I played halfheartedly while knocking back glasses of wine. We all were; it was merry!

But when I got home, the booze-binge monster was raring to go. Luckily, I only had ‘healthy’ food to binge on – but it didn’t stop me clocking a bag of cashews (I shouldn’t be eating them) and several handfuls of dates (a big hit of sugar) before managing to get myself under control.

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The time before that, however – about a month earlier –  the binge included several chocolate eggs left over from Easter, 12 chocolate chip cookies and several lemon-flavoured ones – all from K’s cupboard, and all within a space of about 5 minutes. I was out of control and reasoning that it’d been so long since I indulged, but also that we’d just got back from Bali and I’d eaten like mad so I was still kinda on that vibe, but also they’re just cookies and tomorrow is a new day… blah, blah bloody blah. It’s all boozy bullshit.

For K

Dear K…

Testing your own reactions to alcohol

We all react differently to booze. I don’t actually dance on bar stools or propose to strangers. I don’t do daring or stupid or crazy things when I’ve been drinking. I talk a lot – but I do that when I’m sober too (so I feel pretty sorry for those around me). And I eat ferociously. If this sounds like you too, then you – like me – need to limit or restrict your alcohol consumption. We work so hard to control our diets, that it simply isn’t fair on us to let our drunken selves destroy the solid foundation laid by our sober selves.

Do any of you experience these kinds of booze-food binges on your diet, or do you avoid alcohol altogether?

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Day 31: Coffee, wine and coconut tea. The fun has found me.

(Note: I apologise in advance for typos, rambling and general annoyance. The wine testing is already underway).

So it was probably silly of me to try coffee and wine on the same day, after my extremely careful 3 or 4 day testing of EVERYTHING, but today I really did throw caution to the wind.

First of all, the ‘completely natural’ orange and coconut-infused tea that I ordered from Wellness Warehouse (they’re amazing; every time I order something they throw in some deeelicious freebies, like strawberry body lotion or mango body butter) actually has ‘natural flavourings’, which we’re warned about time and again on SCD. I’m sure most other people can handle it fine though.

Anyway, I took a chance and tried a cup, and it made me a little bloated. Plus I didn’t like it very much, so no loss. I’m still loving the rooibos and vanilla tea and the apple juice I ordered, and this time round I bought some pear juice too.

If you have 4 minutes to spare, definitely watch the video below. It’s brilliant, and anyone following a clean eating path will be nodding along the whole time!

Testing, testing, come in coffee

First thing this morning, with my boiled eggs, I had my first cup of coffee in 31 days. I used the Nespresso machine at work so I diluted it with hot water, and it was lovely (if black, sugar-free coffee can be described as ‘lovely’). Plus, I didn’t seem to suffer any ill-effects, like the ‘coffee cramps’ my sister and I often joke about.

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First coffee in 31 days. Even my owl felt perked up!

Then of course, tonight was WINE.

I made it a big deal. Instead of eating supper in front of the TV, I insisted we lay the table, whip out the ‘for guests’ serviettes, light some candles (despite the heatwave) and make it a bit of a ceremony. K had wanted to take me to a roof-top bar near our apartment for my first glass of wine, but as usual my stress kicked in (“When will I cook supper?” “What about traffic?” etc etc – my tendency to stress is going to be my undoing).

So here’s what dinner looked like:

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(In case you’re wondering, that’s a plate full of gem squash, butternut, roasted garlic and minute steak. AND WINE)

And here’s a close-up of my beautiful wine, which was actually a bottle I got for my birthday in December. My friends have good taste. Just FYI, I think a chenin might actually be too sweet for this diet, so next time I’ll go for something drier.

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I’m a little bloated after dinner, wine and bananas for dessert, but nothing major and nothing I can’t handle. I am well aware that wine might well cause me bloating, but it’s a risk I may be willing to take a few times a month. I’ll wear stretchy pants on those days 😉

I’ve had no other bad symptoms today despite the weird tea, coffee and wine, but let’s see how my tummy behaves in the morning. My morning BMs are always a great indication of my overall response to the food I’m eating.

I feel I must just note: if you still have symptoms, or you’re in a flare, DO NOT DRINK. It’s recommended that you only consume alcohol once you’ve been symptom-free for 3 months. I started Asacol in November and have been symptom-free ever since. Alcohol is an irritant and it can be extremely harsh on your gut. Drink with severe caution and if you feel it’s worsening your symptoms, STOP. And always drink in moderation.

What’s the toll of this diet on my relationship?

Today was a hard day for K and I. It was the first time in a month that I’d turned down a social outing (drinks at the Piano Bar) because I needed enough time to cook and exercise. I can no longer just grab a chicken wrap on the way home, after all, and when I’m feeling strong, I want to take advantage and spend a quality 30 minutes with Jillian.

I realised that I’ve been fairly selfish this whole time, making it a lot about me, and K has been so incredibly supportive. Sometimes I need to let go (I’m a TOTAL control freak, and if I can possibly find a way to stress about something, I will). And I need to learn to compromise more. But we also both know that these 90 days will be the hardest – and actually, as they progress, it’ll get easier. I think life will be SO much simpler when I can eat raw fruit and veggies that aren’t cooked to death, and dinner can be cooked in half an hour rather than 2 or 3 hours.

Also, it’s hard because K sees me striving towards a healthier life, but doesn’t really have the inclination to do it herself. She is trying to eat healthier these days, and she’s doing really well, but she feels like she should be doing more to get healthy because I am. But she doesn’t have a serious digestive disease, and she’s making an effort on her own path, so she needs to go easier on herself (without giving up).

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This diet doesn’t just affect you. It affects your partner too. I’ve heard of people who’ve done it as a couple, but I would never subject someone to this diet unless they too had significant health issues. I think it’s enough that K reminds me not to contaminate my SCD counter. She’s been an amazing support and I’m pretty sure I’d have thrown in the towel without her beady eye watching me.

More wine, madam?

Don’t mind if I do! No, I’m just kidding. I’d love another little splash, but I had one glass and I’m going to leave it at that. Too much could skew my results. But ahhhh… okay, maybe another little sip…

The other problem, of course, is that the minute I start drinking wine, I start craving BAD SUGAR. I have a mental block in place now that says I CANNOT HAVE ANY, but I’m not sure how far I want to test that resilience.

I’ll certainly keep testing the wine, and I’ll definitely let you all know how it goes 😉

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A cautionary tale