January 22 is like a second birthday for me. One year ago today, on January 22, 2013, I made the life-changing decision to take a shot at healing myself and managing Crohn’s disease through diet. I had read the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall and was embarking on a 30 day trial of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), per her instructions.
I told myself that I would do the 30 days no matter what and if I wasn’t feeling at least a little bit better at that point that I’d go back to my old belief that diet didn’t matter. I’ll confess, those first 30 days were hard. It wasn’t immediately clear that anything positive was happening at all. I lost some weight I couldn’t afford to lose, I had some strange side effects like my skin breaking out, and it was really hard to give up my favorite foods.
But I also saw immediate small improvements in my digestion. My trips to the bathroom started to decrease and my bowel movements were more formed. I began having nights where I didn’t get up to go and instead slept straight through. The dull ache and on-and-off cramping I’d had in my belly for as long as I could remember started to go away. My doctor was pleased with my colonoscopy results and my blood results showed that I was finally turning the corner on the chronic anemia I’d had for years.
I continued on with SCD beyond the 30 days and continued to see small improvements. Eventually I transitioned to a paleo autoimmune protocol (AIP) and saw even more dramatic improvements. Slowly, I was able to add back in many foods so that today I eat fairly close to a standard paleo diet.
How I eat today
- I am strictly gluten free. Ever since I first heard Alessio Fasano speak about the research he and his team did that found increased amounts of zonulin (the protein that triggers intestinal permeability) are produced in the guts of people with Crohn’s disease but decrease when gluten is removed from the diet, I knew I would never return to eating gluten even though I have had negative tests for celiac disease. This is the element of my dietary change that has the most science behind it, so it is my one absolutely non-negotiable.
- I do not eat legumes, including peanuts and soy. In my pre-paleo days I always thought I should eat beans because they are “healthy” but I never liked them and they often made me feel rotten. On the other hand, I was a peanut butter fiend. I could eat it straight out of the jar and it was the hardest thing for me to give up when I transitioned from SCD to AIP. I’m afraid to experiment with it again because I don’t really want that craving to come back, so for now I leave all legumes out of my diet.
- I am mostly grain free. I have experimented with small amounts of white rice when I was traveling recently and did not note any problem with them. I have also had gluten free bread a few times, but I don’t want it becoming a big part of my diet and supplanting the other more nutrient dense foods I would eat in its place so I never buy it and rarely make it.
- I stay away from nuts. A couple here and there seem OK, but my body doesn’t do well with almond flour treats or eating almond butter out of the jar like I once did with peanut butter, so I mostly avoid them. When I do make treats, I use other gluten-free flours like coconut and tapioca flour.
- I am mostly dairy free. I eat grass fed ghee at home regularly and have done limited experiments with butter and cream with mixed results.
- I prioritize nutrient dense foods. This means bone broth, organ meats, pastured eggs, grass fed beef, pasture raised pork and poultry, organic vegetables and fruit, fermented foods, fish and seafood.
The results speak for themselves… I feel amazing! I have energy I didn’t dream of last year. My stomach doesn’t hurt anymore – a state of existence I’d forgot was possible. Aches and pains in various joints are gone and I can’t remember the last time I had a headache. I’m sleeping better too and my visits to the bathroom are far less frequent.
Probably the most exciting part is that I’ve learned to love food again. I’m no longer craving the crap I’m “not allowed” to eat. In fact, I barely give it a second thought. Instead I’m looking forward to every meal, knowing that the whole real foods are going to nourish my body and taste good. I love paging through cookbooks – both paleo and standard – looking for new ideas and ways to prepare both old favorites and new treats. And over the past few months I have enjoyed sharing those new creations with you on this blog, which I started because I thought perhaps someone would benefit from hearing my story. It’s just a bonus that I’ve discovered how much fun blogging is!
In the year ahead, I plan to continue to refine my diet and improve my health. I realize that there is no destination for this journey I’m on. There will always be twists and turns in the path, especially given the complex medical history behind me. But I’m more optimistic about the future than I’ve ever been before and look forward to the adventure of the coming year. Thanks for being part of my journey!