BREAKING AWAY & MAKING MY OWN RULES
After years of experimentation, the Low-FODMAP diet, dietary re-introductions with a dietician, and a number of personal and professional changes along the way…I decided to move forward and try some new options on my own again. In order to do so, though, I first reflected on a few things:
- How was I feeling? What exactly were the symptoms that were bothering me & that I wanted to improve?
- What did my current diet look like? If I was being honest with myself, was it really working? If not, why?
I realized that my IBS symptoms were still intermittently plaguing me, but along with that was also consistent fatigue that wouldn’t let up. I had to admit to myself that I was still, in part, relying on a number of packaged/convenience foods, and that maybe my overall diet wasn’t as nourishing as I thought. Even though many people would consider these foods “healthy”, they did contain ingredients that I wasn’t digesting well. (This unfortunately included gluten-free breads, granola, and other similar snacks.)
Additionally, I wasn’t recovering well from workouts, even when they weren’t very intense. I had been using protein powder (mostly whey-based) and greek yogurt for years, and finally had to admit that these supposedly stomach-friendly and allergen-friendly versions of dairy just didn’t work for me. (There were a number of other discoveries along these lines, but these were the most prominent, and I imagine the ones that most people can relate to.) I realized the bro-science had to go, and I needed to get more in tune with my body.
After some research, there were a couple steps that I took in order to really get to a place of healing.
BYE BYE SUGAR, BYE BYE HANGRY!
There is probably a lot about the concept of a sugar detox that concerns or confuses people — and I get it. There is a TON of messaging out there to just “eat everything in moderation”, along with the idea that “the body detoxes itself” (sort of, but we’ll talk about that more later)… but you know what? It’s so much more complicated than that. I’ll give you the 2 major reasons that I believe in the idea of a sugar detox:
- The addiction effect. Have you ever read those articles/studies about how sugar affects the brain in the same way (or worse) that drugs do? If you haven’t, check out citations at the bottom of the article to find some sources 🙂 . If you are constantly consuming simple/processed sugars [and products that contain them], I truly encourage you to take a step back and observe how you behave an interact with them. Do you crave them? Have trouble giving them up? Crash, or feel hangry or terrible when you don’t eat them? The brain’s (and palate’s) tendency to become addicted to sugar is real, and something I decided to start taking seriously.
- Blood Sugar Regulation. With the internet + the easy availability of information these days, I imagine most of us have heard at least a basic explanation of how sugar/carbs get processed by the body. The VERY simplified version is that when we eat carbs, they ALL get broken down to sugar (glucose, specifically), which enters our bloodstream, and our blood glucose level rises throughout the body. Next, our body (I won’t get into the organs at the moment, but keep an eye out for future posts!) must release insulin — the hormone which indicates to the cells that they should take in that glucose and store it for energy. This makes our blood sugar go back down, where we want it to be. BUT….
- what if we eat lots of simple sugar all day? Then our body must be working to release insulin all throughout the day. This is a lot of work for the organs involved + requires resources [that might be needed by other organs or bodily processes!]
- what if we eat a lot of carbs at once? Then our body can react in such a way that a lot of insulin is released at once, possibly leading to a crash a little while later (think post-meal fatigue/lightheadedness, or that hangry feeling within a couple hours)
- what if most of the food we are eating in general is carbs, but we don’t need that much quick energy? Then our cells may run out of room to store the glucose. It may get stored as fat, or our cells might start rejecting it completely b/c there is no more space.
AGAIN, this is very oversimplified, but the point here is that excessive sugar consumption can exhaust and overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar — and this is the first of many steps on the way to insulin resistance, metabolic disorder, and even Type II Diabetes. For me? I already knew I was getting those hangry feelings and sleepiness after meals; and I knew that there is a history of Type II diabetes in my family. So in my mind this was a no-brainer. Genetics don’t have to control our lives and health, but they ARE indicators of how our bodies will react if we treat them poorly or put them under too much stress. This wasn’t something I was willing to roll the dice on.
In any case — once I decided I wanted to do this, I took a few weeks and removed packaged foods, higher glycemic-index foods, and ones with artificial sweeteners. The goal was to change my palate, reduce cravings/carb dependency, and to rely on food that would provide sustained energy without the “hangry” feeling a couple hours later. I continued with this protocol for a few weeks; and then for a few months after, tried to stick to it 80%, with a few of the previous treats sprinkled in.
Overall, this was a great start. My digestion, as well as a number of the symptoms mentioned about, definitely improved. But let’s be honest — its easy to start getting back into old habits. At some point, I realized this was starting to happen to me, and I was not about to let myself slide backwards after all I had done, and learned.
DITCHING THE MODERATION: SAY WHAT?!
After conducting a sugar detox and attempting to work back in some foods afterwards, I realized that many of my previous symptoms were creeping back in. When I noticed this….that was it! I decided it was time to take things to the next level. I needed to find a diet that would work for me long-term.
After a lot of research, I decided to give the Paleo diet a try. I had heard about Whole 30 and Paleo for a couple years, but hadn’t felt ready or convinced yet. However, I had gotten to a point where I knew I needed to make a bigger change. Paleo was a solution that encouraged eating whole foods over processed or packaged ones, and also limited foods that commonly form intolerances, like gluten, grains, dairy, and peanuts.
This likely seems extreme to some — I get it. But, as I had already been through elimination diets in the past (recall Low-FODMAPs from my previous post!), I knew it was doable. While paleo can certainly be a lifestyle (and I still default to it during times of stress or if my digestion has regressed), I chose to view it as an elimination diet when I began. In other words, a plan that would eliminate foods likely to be irritants, allowing the digestive process to heal.
*The other concept I’d like to note here — which I recently heard explained by Ali Miller, RD, a functional RD — is that there is a certain FREEDOM in being selective about what we eat. I have been stewing on & trying to find a way to vocalize this concept for years, but I think this is the best explanation I have heard. If you are sick or hurting and need to heal, the fact is, many of the “foods” that we love to eat in moderation can be harmful. This may include gluten, sugar, hormone-disrupting forms of soy or dairy, hydrogenated oils, and the list goes on (and is different for everyone). So, if these foods are harmful — if they are contributing to our illness, our physical inflammation, or our pain….is it really freeing to KEEP EATING them? I’d say no; but we WILL gain freedom in our lives and actions, to move well, think clearly, and take part in activities we enjoy, if we are choosing the foods that serve us.
WRAPPING IT UP
Paleo worked incredibly well for me, and made huge changes in my digestion. By allowing me to heal, I was able to start eating most higher FODMAP veggies again, and more recently, a bit more fruit. I occasionally have some gluten-containing food & don’t react as poorly as in the past, but I know that adding it in constantly would simply bring me back to the damaged place where I started, so I usually avoid it.
I still play around with different styles of eating, such as lower carb/keto, and will happily share about those experiences in the future when I have a better handle on exactly they mean for my body. But for now, I want to simply encourage you to:
- keep an open mind. If you are in need of healing, therapeutic elimination diets can do wonders
- have perspective. Even adhering to one of these diets at 80% can be better than nothing. Don’t stress about it too much.
- keep your diet as diverse as possible. In other words, only complete an elimination diet if it is necessary for your health and for feeling well. If you feel great eating all foods? Go for it!
- work with a professional. Guiding clients through choosing and implementing dietary changes is exactly what myself and other nutrition professionals are trained for. There is a lot of information to take in, and we can educate and support you along the way. (If you want to work with me, check out my Coaching or Contact tabs!) I often look back and wonder how much more quickly I could have healed myself if I had gone to a professional sooner, rather than scraping by on free resources and trying to learn everything on my own.
Thanks so much for reading, and I hope this 3 part series that explains some of my journey helps you understand that we all struggle, but we can all find success if we remain determined!
Yours in health,
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2235907/ “Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake”
Below: “This is Your Brain on Sugar” ~ TedTalk by a neuroscientist!