It’s about what you CAN eat, not what you CAN’T

I made a huge mistake.

I thought that I was going down the correct nutritional pathway, away from the bad, bad foods that were causing me problems.

I got tunnel vision so bad that I kept burrowing down and down and down, dreaming about the light at the end but forgetting that in order to get to the light, you have to start burrowing UP at some point.

My dietary approach has centered around the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle, which is all about how “bad” bacteria bully their way in your gut and cause a multitude of problems. According to this way of thinking, you must kill the bad bacteria by starving them, which of course means that you yourself cannot eat any food that would feed the wrong types of bacteria in your gut. This diet equates roughly to a paleo diet and emphasizes eliminating grains, sugars, and lactose (but not dairy altogether). Once you get a handle on the reasoning behind the diet, it’s pretty intuitive to follow (albeit strict).

This approach worked about 80% as I eased stepwise into it (first by going gluten-free, then sugar-free, then dairy-free) but it never quite did the trick. I never reached what I would consider remission.

What next, then?

After some research, I turned to the low-FODMAP approach, which also focuses on non-fermentable foods in your gut that feed the bad bacteria. Again, we revisit foods and start weeding out those that aren’t optimal. This one is incredibly non-intuitive, and also includes foods that you can eat a little at a time (1/4 cup of beets, y’all) to stay under the fermentable “threshold” that your body can supposedly handle. This led to me cutting back the amount of food I was eating, trying to keep things digestible in small amounts.

Was this helpful? Maybe. But it definitely wasn’t the “silver bullet.”

At some point I read that nightshades cause inflammation in certain people, so I cut those out too–just to be safe. My body hated it when I tried adding back tabasco sauce (way to go starting on the most difficult level, self) so I quit again.

And then I “knew” that raw foods and too much fiber would scrape up the inside of my gut, and were therefore problematic, so those had to go, too.

When I was having major problems, if I could identify a food in the toilet, I would eliminate it altogether. (Except carrots, I never did quite quit those.)

Oh, and I eventually quit all fermented foods as well.

Here’s where I ended up*:

  • Limited amount of fruit and vegetables
  • Mostly cooked, under the 1/4-1/2 cup limit for each serving
  • Lots of meat, fish, and eggs
  • An embarrassing dependency on sunflower-seed butter with honey, because I wasn’t getting satisfaction with my food

Not a lot of food, not a lot of nutrition, not a lot of energy.

Guess what? I never got to a sustainable, good-poop routine on this diet.

I focused so much on taking foods OUT that I didn’t think about what foods to keep IN for the maximum nutrition needs of my body. You know, to provide the building blocks that it needs to repair and fortify my leaky gut, and to function optimally to create those good poops that I’m after.


And so I’m finding myself slowly careening toward low energy, sadness, decay and despair. Also running to the bathroom 6 hours after I eat, which is an absolute pain in more ways than one.

Where do we go from here?

Obviously, a steady diet of Nothing Sandwiches™ is not the pathway to good health. My body needs good quality nutritional building blocks not only to run itself optimally, but also to repair itself.

Fortunately for me, I re-stumbled upon the Wahl’s Protocol and Ted Naiman‘s advice, both of which focus on nutrient density over all else.

In other words, focus on the eating the best, most nutrient-dense foods and getting all the different micronutrients that you need; worry less about the bad foods, because those will naturally be thrown by the wayside.

Like in driving, look where you want to go. Good food = good nutrients = good health.

Tunnel toward the nutritional light.

As with all things low-and-slow, progress isn’t regular and linear, so I’ll have a really good day between normal and borderline-bad days. It’s taking my body a bit to adjust to all the new vegetable matter I’m throwing at it (so I’m going slow) but I’m seeing promising results so far.

Onwards and upwards!


*I don’t recommend this, to be crystal clear

Nightshade-Free Salsa Verde

Technically “salsa” just means sauce, but I’ve yet to see a version that doesn’t include tomatoes (or at very least, tomatilloes). This poses a problem when you actively avoid nightshades (RIP, Mexican food) since tomatoes are therefore off-limits.

Gordon Ramsay to the rescue. Here’s a recipe for perfect roast fillet of beef with a salsa verde that is completely without tomatoes.

Made with a mortar and pestle, the salsa verde includes:

  • Anchovies + oil
  • Capers
  • Garlic (crushed)
  • Dijon mustard (I’d sub a sugar-free mustard)
  • Sherry vinegar
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Olive oil
  • S&P

Roasted potatoes notwithstanding, this is a dish I’ll be trying in the near future.

Another Player in the Game: Mitochondria

Now, mitochondria recently came up in a Twitter discussion of obesity. In order to burn fat, it’s not YOU that does the work, it’s your MITOCHONDRIA. That’s great, but what about those of us who don’t need to burn fat? To explore this, we must first as the question:

What does our mitochondria do for us?

Mitochondria are basically the digestive systems of our cells, creating cellular energy. Just like if our guts aren’t working properly, we won’t get enough nutrition, if our mitochondria aren’t working properly, our cells won’t have energy to do their jobs.

I’m wondering now if the kind of tiredness best described as “I’m fatigued but not sleepy” is related to mitochondria, because it never feels like it’s ME that’s tired.

In order to kick-start mitochondrial biogenesis, you need to create a short-term energy shortage. In other words, you need to “trick” your body into thinking it’s out of energy so that it will create more mitochondria, and therefore more energy.

How to jump-start your mitochondria

+ (High-intensity) exercise

+ Intermittent fasting

+ Low-carb diet

Funnily enough, this list dovetails perfectly with the paleo/primal lifestyle. It also (at least on the surface) explains why exercising gives you more energy.

Personally, exercise is the hardest thing to incorporate into my health routine, but I always have this nagging feeling that it will “fix everything” (even though I know that’s not true).

What’s your favorite way to jump-start your mitochondria?

More reasons to avoid food additives

Looks like titanium dioxide (yes, that stuff in sunscreen–they also put it into food) should be added to the list of stuff to keep out of our food. Science Daily reports on a new study that shows that:

  • Titanium dioxide crosses the intestinal barrier and passes into the bloodstream
  • Titanium dioxide alters intestinal and systemic immune response
  • Chronic oral exposure to titanium dioxide plays a role in initiating and promoting early stages of colorectal carcinogenesis (read: eating a lot of titanium dioxide can lead to a higher risk of colon cancer)

Now. Anyone who is on the Paleo/Specific Carbohydrate Diet/low-FODMAP/etc. bandwagon already realizes that food additives are at best problematic. But it is nice to get some confirmation, especially on some of the more out-there parts of the theory.

Bear in mind that this is a study on rats, not humans, but frankly that’s good enough for me.

“Fake News” isn’t going far enough

The problem with the idea of “fake news” is that it gives us this idea that it’s a simple fix–stop reporting wrong facts–instead of something much deeper. And yet, people (publications especially), like to pat themselves on the back because they’re not “the other guys:”

Science in its current state isn’t exactly keeping us safe from bogus research. Predatory publishers continue to churn out papers for a price, with minimal peer review — or very often no peer review — to vet the results. Unscrupulous researchers use those and other soft spots in the scientific publishing system to get away with presenting wild theories or cooking their data.

However, pointing out those lying liars who lie over there (who are far, far away from me, donchaknow) doesn’t change the fact that some problems are systemic in the system. “Science” has to perpetuate itself–if you don’t impress the grantor, you don’t get the grant. If you don’t follow the spoken and unspoken rules of your peer community, you don’t get good peer reviews. There is a lot of reinforcement of specific beliefs and views that happens with every published paper.
There are lies, or falsified data, or whatever–and then there is the context for those lies. And even if you’re reporting truth, if it’s in a false context, it’s false.
That is the hard part of veering out of the box and starting to look at problems for yourself; you have to understand the context of the research or article you’re looking at, and it can be difficult to discern truth when you’re new to the neighborhood.
Still, it’s worth doing.

Antibiotic Resistance

Medicine is not science. Science is never settled.

Even things we take for granted (like “always finish your entire course of antibiotics“) aren’t set in stone.

The rationale behind this commandment has always been that stopping treatment too soon would fuel the development of antibiotic resistance — the ability of bugs to evade these drugs. Information campaigns aimed at getting the public to take antibiotics properly have been driving home this message for decades.

But the warning, a growing number of experts say, is misguided and may actually be exacerbating antibiotic resistance.

This is an example of why I’ve learned to take what the medical community says with a grain of salt. Sure, they’ve been beating the same party line for years, and thus “conventional wisdom” says the same thing (how convenient!), but that doesn’t make it true.

It’s not true simply because a doctor says it.

The appeal to authority is extra-appealing especially in health issues, because the medical community has gone out of its way to build up a sheen of truthiness. It’s tempting to believe, because it’s easy and we want answers and want to believe that someone has them. It’s tempting, but it’s wrong.

Find a doctor you can trust, but always think for yourself.

Permission to Improve

The Teaching Tales of Milton Erickson are absolutely fascinating — a testament to the power of our own minds in both the beginning and end of our physical troubles. Erickson was a hypnotist (and somehow I don’t have a problem with that) who used his powers for good, in psychotherapy. His stories are incredibly motivating, even if you don’t share the subject’s ailment.

One part of a story on bedwetting has stuck with me since I first read it, mostly in how Erickson described the process of improving:

“Now, having a dry bed is a very difficult job. You might have your first dry bed in two weeks. And there has to be a lot of practice, starting and stopping. Some days you may forget to practice starting and stopping. That’s all right. Your body will be good to you. It will always give you further opportunities. And some days you may be too busy to practice starting and stopping,but that’s all right. Your body will always give you opportunities to start and stop. It would surprise me very much if you bad a permanently dry bed within three months. It would also surprise me if you didn’t have a permanently dry bed within six months.And the first dry bed will be much easier than two dry beds in succession. And three dry beds in succession is much harder. And four dry beds in succession is still harder. After that it gets easier.You can have five, six, seven, a whole week of dry beds. And then you can know that you can have one week of dry beds and another week of dry beds.”

I took my time with the girl. I had nothing else to do. I spent an hour and a half with her and dismissed her. About two weeks later she brought in this present for me—the first present she had ever given with the knowledge that she had had a dry bed

More than anything, this particular story has given me permission to let my body take the lead, and to trust myself more. To celebrate the small wins, when there are two days without accidents. That it’s okay to be imperfect, because you’ll be imperfect until you get it.

I see that in myself as I struggle to set up new healthy habits, or focus on updating this blog daily. I also see it in my own gut, with the starts and stops of healing, and it reminds me to celebrate the small wins.

One day at a time, then two, then three.

Keep going.