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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Day 98: What to eat (and what to avoid) when you’re having a ‘bad GI’ day

After everything my poor GI system went through last night with the nuts, it was still feeling very fragile today… and the legacy of the assault remained. I spent more time than I’d have liked to in the bathroom, but I didn’t panic, unlike the times before.

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There’ve been about three occasions on this diet when my stomach has reacted quite violently to something. The first few times I freaked out, thinking that it was a sure sign of a flare. Slowly I came to realise that a) sometimes your system just has an ‘off’ day, due to any number of factors from food to stress to hormonal imbalances or state of mind, and it doesn’t mean you’re flaring, and b) there’s no point stressing about potential flares – you’ll only make your symptoms worse.

Instead, it’s about eating (and drinking) right on those days to ease the symptoms instead of exacerbating them. Don’t ignore what your body is telling you, and if your GI system is out of whack, treat it delicately to help restore it to health.

What you should and shouldn’t eat when having a ‘bad GI day’

Let’s start with a list of foods to avoid:

  • Avoid foods high in fibre like fruit, nuts, high-fibre vegetables (beans, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc) and lentils
  • Avoid dairy, as it can aggravate an inflamed gut
  • Avoid fruit juice (too much fibre) and carbonated drinks (can cause bloating)
  • Avoid nut butters
  • Avoid any foods to which you know you react badly
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid any foods you have not yet introduced to your diet – now’s not the time to be adventurous.

What you should eat:

  • Bone broth soups, which help to restore the body, especially after a bout of diarrhoea. They’re highly nutritious and packed with vitamins
  • Herbal teas – add ginger to soothe your belly
  • Starchy vegetables like squash, pumpkin and butternut
  • Your ‘safe’ flare foods
  • Plenty of water – aim for 2 litres
  • BRAT foods – this works very effectively for some people (Banana, Rice, Applesauce, Toast)

While it’s frustrating cutting back on an already limited diet, it’s worth it for the day or two that you feel so, well, crappy. If you’ve been through your fair share of flares already, you’ve probably established a group of ‘safe’ flare foods. For me, it’s basmati rice (which I craved SOOO badly today but I wasn’t prepared to cheat so close to the end!) and eggs. I used to find that crackers were also very soothing, before I had to cut out gluten.

All things being equal, your bad bout should pass within about 24 hours, if it was just something that you ate. If it doesn’t abate or if you start bleeding, suffering from bad cramps, nausea, night sweats or joint pain, it might be a flare and you should contact your doctor ASAP to get it under control.

No.

No.

Day 50 and my least favourite F-word

I had so much I wanted to write today. I wanted to tell you about all the awesome food I cooked and that I’d prepared some onions to try and how much fun our facemasks were and how I’m going to make almond milk tomorrow for a new batch of yoghurt.

But then 4pm happened, and brought with it a dreadfully familiar routine. Since then (5 hours ago), I’ve been in and out of the bathroom at least 6 times with diarrhoea (and tears of frustration), but I’m trying to stay positive. I’m hoping it’s simply the booze and the litre of yoghurt I consumed on Friday that’s caused this, and that’s it’s just a hiccup and it’ll be out of my system by tomorrow. But even as I type, I feel my tummy gurgling, and I can tell I’m going to have to jump up any second.

I just can’t. I want to crawl into my bed and stay there until this passes. More than anything, I don’t want this to be flare. And that’s exactly what it feels like. If it is… where to from here?

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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!

Day 13: What my doctor said today

I have an amazing physician whom I really really like. He’s experienced, caring and has a lovely bedside manner, and he’s put me on the path to recovery, for which I am eternally grateful. I had been to other doctors with my weird symptoms and they couldn’t help. Dr Neethling fixed me.

Today was my 2-month check up. He put me on a strong dose of cortisone to get my last flare under control, about 3 months ago. Then he switched me to indefinite Asacol, and wanted to see how that was going.

The short answer is: Excellently. Today’s blood tests showed normal ESR levels – that is, no inflammation!

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Inflammation is an indication that your gut is damaged and fighting to recover. My ESR levels and white blood cell count was very elevated in October last year (ESR around 60, when it should be negligable or in single digits). By November, thanks to Pulmison (cortisone) they’d dropped noticeably. Today’s blood test showed a complete return to ‘normality’. YAY!

The 2 important things that this means 

1. I cannot stop taking my Asacol, especially now. While I think that diet is really helping a lot – and I have no doubt SCD is helping to reduce inflammation – I can’t deny that the Asacol got me right. Prior to medication, I was having between 8 and 12 BMs a day. Most days I lost count. The Pulmison cleared that up within days, while the Asacol has kept me on an even keel ever since, with regular BMs, no diarrhoea and no bleeding.

2. Medical treatment for IBD is essential. I believe in following both a medical and an holistic path, and what you choose to follow is up to you. But if you’re flaring; if you’re bleeding and dehydrated and anaemic, seek medical treatment. Even a nutritionalist or naturopath will encouarge you to use science as an immediate intervention in an emergency (and if you’re flaring, you’re having an emergency), and then to phase in the natural remedies when your symptoms are under control.

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I’m so glad I got this encouraging result today because I needed something bright on the horizon. I’m SICK of this diet! I actually threw away half my dinner tonight (pureed carrots and chicken) because I could no longer stomach either the smell or taste of it.

I’m also sick of bananas – who’d have thought the honeymoon would ever end?! – but I guess that’s what happens when you eat 7 a day.

The reason my diet is going so slowly is because I’m following the advice of the guys over at SCDLifestyle.com and phasing in a new food once every four days, which I now see they’ve amended to 3 days, which is such a bonus. Nonetheless, even a 3-day gap between each new food item makes the progress infinitely long and drawn-out, but it is the safest way to do it. Here’s why.

And with that, it’s most definitely time for bed, where I’ll no doubt dream of cheating on my diet with my favourite seductress, milk chocolate.