Hello again! I took a hiatus from this blog for a few reasons; mostly, I was sick of thinking about and writing about my UC. I wanted to focus on more positive, less self-centered things, things that didn’t remind me 24/7 that I have an autoimmune disease that will never go away. And since every meal and snack, and nearly every social situation, takes care of that, it was important I cut out the nonessential reminders. I also wanted to focus on my novel, take some writing workshops, travel, cultivate new friendships…pretty much dive into my “new” normal without looking back. However, next Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the onset of my lovely Ulcerative Colitis symptoms, and with that date looming, I thought it was time to return this site, blog a bit, and then reinvent it, as I’ve reinvented myself. What’s this got to do with diet, you ask?
I invented my own. Well, maybe not so much “invented” as reinvented my digestive health by cherry-picking from many of the popular cult diets to customize one that finally works for me. A bit here, a bit there, and the end result is Frankendiet. Makes sense that if no Irritable Bowel disease is quite the same from person to person that no one diet can cure them all, right? Right. Am I saying this diet has cured my UC or sent it into remission? No. Unfortunately up until the Remicade treatment before last, in early June, I was still seeing symptoms. This past 6-week stretch has been the only one where a few days before the infusion, itsy bitsy symptoms weren’t cropping up, only to be put back to bed after the treatment. I have my fingers crossed that this is the green light that my doc and I can begin stretching doses, and that I can then fine-tune this diet to keep me in remission. Until then.
I think of this diet as the “I-Can-Go-Out-To-Eat” diet because nine times out of ten I can walk into any restaurant – save for a pub or fast food joint – and find at least one or two things on the menu that I can eat, if not more. Farm-to-table establishments and more “foodie” establishments are best because they use fresher ingredients, more natural ingredients, and tend to be lean on sodium and heavy fry and cooking oils. Still, even when the venue is less than ideal, Frankendiet’s enabled me to retain my social life, travel, and not starve when I find myself out of my normal environment and effectively screwed in the nutrients department mandated by the more restrictive, militant diets.
Frankendiet has a few hard and fast rules but is otherwise fairly flexible, depending on how the tummy feels. Mostly it comes down to small meals, limited quantities, and eating many of the same things every day, creating a routine that my tummy comfortably predicts, right down to the time of day it expects to be fed. I’ve been on Remicade since November 2013, but until I figured out my body’s food “rules” about a month ago, I was going 2-3+ times per day, swelling up like a balloon with bloat but not knowing why, etc. Now, so long as I don’t go off the rails, I’m virtually discomfort-free and going once per day like a normal, healthy person!
I eat lots of nuts, including those wonderful gluten-free KIND bars; raw meats and seafood as well as cooked, but only lean red meat; limited raw veggies–really just fresh, chopped basil–as well as some specific, very well-cooked veggies; limited low-sugar fruits; no alcohol save wine; only dark, dark chocolate; full-fat Greek yogurt and hard cheeses; and above all, nothing fried, no gluten and no Xanthan Gum. Sounds like most every other diet out there, right? Well…I still eat sushi with zero side effects, though it contains seaweed and the soy sauce usually contains gluten. I enjoy gluten-free lentil crackers even though that’s a “Paleo” no-no. Grapes give my stomach grief but ironically wine does not. You’re not supposed to have hummus or chickpeas in the SCD diet but every now and then I do, to no ill effect.
The SCD diet works for thousands of people, but it didn’t work for me. For one, I’m still not able to consume raw veggies and the majority of fruit without some serious IBS-like symptoms, and that diet emphasizes veggies. Only recently have I begun doing better with cooked vegetables, but even still, I found this diet too restrictive. My new GI described it as a “religion” and I am not a particularly religious person. Spiritual, yes, but I’m not devoted to one ideology, and one only. A coworker/new friend has been on the Paleo bandwagon for some time, and started sending me recipe links to Danielle Walker’s blog Against All Grain. Without realizing it, I’d asked for and received her cookbook for Christmas, so I already had the tool in hand. I requested it because at the time, I was struggling with my new gluten-free diet. I didn’t realize she was “Paleo.” That aside, her recipes are highly creative and most importantly, DELICIOUS!
Now, having a background in Anthropology, the theory that our bodies can’t process grains drives me crazy. For one, the Middle and Upper Paleolithic period – effectively the Stone Age – was a turning point in early human history because we began eating grain! Neanderthals baked bread and ground wheat using stone tools! I want to smack my head against something hard whenever I hear “Paleo” in relation to the concept of this diet. If you’re truly eating Paleo, then you’re eating grain, because your ancestors were doing it more than 40,000 years ago. It’s not bad for you. However, if you have IBD, Celiac or grain allergies and sensitivities, then yes, it might be a problem for you, and now that’s reason to eliminate it from your diet. What Paleo gets right is low-to-no-sugar and keeping what you eat as balanced, simple and pure as possible, grains or no grains. And don’t get me started on wine. Wine has been around since 6,000 B.C., or for more than 8,000 years. I’m pretty sure we’ve evolved to digest that, too, so unless you really, physically can’t handle it, don’t stress about it.
A doctor once told me that it seems silly that we create all these “rules” around a disease or treatment, and then struggle in giving ourselves permission to “break” them in order to find a solution that works for us as an individual, and one that restores our quality of life–ours, and no one else’s version of what a healthy, happy life should be. It’s taken me almost a year, and it’s been a food-and-bathroom roller coaster, but Frankendiet has come together and in doing so, has given this UC gal a new, healthier lease on her thirties. Hopefully some part of this diatribe is useful to you, or someone you know, especially if they are feeling pressure to adhere to a diet they’re less than thrilled with, or are unable to commit to, for one reason or another. Til next time!