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!

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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

Recipe: SCD/paleo burger patties with guacamole & steamed vegetables

Here’s the recipe I promised you for the AMAZING burger patties I made the other night. They’re SCD/paleo/GAPS, super easy to make an they’re knock-your-socks-off good! How do I know this? K said, “I feel like I’ve just eaten at a restaurant” after finishing hers – which, let me tell you, is high praise!

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Bear in mind that the bun and chips aren’t SCD or paleo. The plate on the left is 100% SCD/paleo/GAPS

Ingredients

  • 800g mince (I used half ostrich and half venison; I haven’t tried these with beef)
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 1-2 tsp minced garlic (depending on taste)
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 1 small tin (50g) tomato paste
  • 2 handfuls fresh coriander, stems removed and leaves chopped (divided)
  • A good shake of ground nutmeg
  • A good shake of ground coriander
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Mixed veg of your choice
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • lemon juice

Method

1. Add your onion and garlic to a pan and soften for a few minutes. This is not essential but it’s a good idea for anyone who requires their veg fairly well cooked.

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2. Meanwhile, place the rest of the ingredients, minus 1 handful of coriander, into a large bowl and add the onion mixture once ready.

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Get in there with your hands and work all the ingredients together, mixing well. I asked K to add a few more dashes of salt and pepper as I mixed.

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3. Now shape your meat into patties. I made 6 big patties, but you could easily turn these into 8 or 10 smaller ones. Place them on a lined chopping board or plate, and allow to firm up in the fridge for a few minutes. This probably isn’t essential, but I gave mine 20 minutes of chill time.

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4. While the meat is chilling, make your steamed veg. I used carrots, zucchini, green beans and broccoli. If you don’t have a steamer, simply put your veg into a colander and place it over a pot filled with about 3-4cm of boiling water. Cover the colander with a lid and steam until desired doneness. I usually cook mine for about 10 mins. Just be sure the water doesn’t evaporate, as you’ll burn your pot! (I’ve done this more times than I care to admit!)

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5. Add a drop of coconut oil to a pan, heat to medium, and add your patties. I fried mine in two batches. Because I hate using oil (it makes me a little queasy), I added dashes of hot kettle water to the pan whenever it needed moisture. I know that purists would recoil in horror at this, but it kept the patties so moist while still allowing them to brown. Cover with a lid while cooking, and cook for about 6 minutes on each side, depending on thickness.

Guacamole

While the meat is cooking, make your guacamole. Place the avo and coriander in a bowl, drizzle with lemon juice and add a good crack of salt and black pepper. Mash it all up together with a fork.

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And voila! There’s your 100% SCD/paleo meal, super healthy and (I promise) totally delicious. Place 1 – 2 patties on each plate, top with guacamole and slices of gherkin, and serve with veg. If you don’t have a dairy intolerance, go ahead and add some cheese to your burger too 🙂

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K’s plates always look a little more fun than mine!