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.

Fiber: Friend or Foe?

When you’re diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and having a hard time, your doctor will often put you on a low-fiber or low-residue diet. Same difference, really. Basically, eat soft, mushy, bland food – and lots of carbohydrates. Rice! Toast! Don’t eat a lot of vegetables!

And honestly, this works. Pre-digesting your food as much as possible helps your gut to rest. Cook your food. Chew your food. (And not in the gross mama bird-baby bird way, eww.)

For me, as I’ve navigated the SIBO/low-FODMAP diet oceans, I’ve sometimes doubled down on this idea, drifting into days when I ate very little plant matter at all. Just meat and fat, and maybe a little fruit or something on the side. It’s very easy to do when the wrong type of sugar sends your gut into a tailspin of gassy diarrhea.

But lest you think I’m going to do an about-face and preach the gospel of high fiber (or even worse, the RAW FOOD DIET), it turns out that eating less fiber is actually better for you. Too much fiber means such things as straining when you poop (no bueno), screwing around with your Nutrient Density QuotientTM, damaging your gut wall, and buying in to poorly-research nutritional theories (and nobody wants to do that now, do they?). TL;DR eat real, whole foods and you’ll get enough fiber.

However, let’s back up to “damaging your gut wall,” Or, as it is called by researchers1, “mechanical stress.” AKA: maybe why our guts hurt so bad after we eat food.

What this means is that fiber damages the cells in your gut, which in turn respond by producing more mucous. This might be good, if more mucous automatically meant better health, but that is unlikely since a common tell for poor gut function is an abundance of mucous in the toilet.


The scientists aren’t certain how many times cells can take a hit, but they suspect turnover is so high because of the constant injury. Potentially caustic substances, such as alcohol and aspirin, can produce so much damage that natural recovery mechanisms can’t keep up. But they doubt a roughage overdose is possible.

My gut can tell you that a roughage overdose is indeed possible. So can my coworkers, based on the day after I ate a raw kale salad with dried cranberries.

Also interesting is that aspirin–banned by my first GI–and alcohol–self-imposed ban due to its gut-destroying properties–are just as bad.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. Let Dr. Eades tell you the whole story.


1 Full study at PLOS Biology

Recipe File: Whole 30 Roundup

Back when I first started cracking down on my diet in earnest, I would go through my monthly Bon Appetit subscription and earmark pages that had recipes I could actually eat (or that were easily adaptable). They weren’t the majority, by any means, but it was always surprising at how many I could pull out of a mainstream cooking magazine.

Fast forward to the current year, and the BA staff is now providing that service online! They recently posted a roundup of Whole 30 Recipes That Don’t Taste Like You’re Depriving Yourself.

Leaving aside the massive dig at dietary self-control, the recipe list is pretty on-point for paleo-style cooking inspiration. But like many recipes from people who do not fully understand the theory and practice of the paleo approach, there are a few missteps with ingredients (white potatoes? corn??). Never rely on someone else’s dietary interpretations; always evaluate critically for yourself.

Similarly, if you’re low-fiber or low-FODMAP like myself, most of these recipes won’t work either. BUT — at least it’s a start! There are a few that I can adapt. (Is this adapt-ception? I’m now adapting the paleo-adapted recipes!)

A few that caught my eye:

For now, I’m off green beans…and tomatoes…and almonds…but I’ll dream about that recipe anyway.

Happy Cooking!