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

Out of Control Health

I completely melted down in my naturopath’s office this week. Tears, about 500 tissues, profuse apologizing, all of it. I couldn’t even explain why I was such a mess. Usually I hold it together. This week? Not so much.

It’s the skin issues–they always get down, every single time.

My Crohn’s, when it’s acting up, is an “invisible illness” for better or for worse. Sometimes I look tired, or beat down, but mostly I look normal. That gives me the space I need to disappear quietly to the bathroom, or spend more time resting. I can mostly anticipate what my body will react to and what it needs to heal.

But the skin problems, they don’t hide. They sprawl themselves all over my face and neck and arms and hands like a neon sign. They practically beg for people to blurt out “OH MY GOD WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR ARMS.” (Yes, that did happen this week, thanks very much you kind, tactful person.)

They remind me how little control I have over my body.

Sure, I do tons of work on my diet and daily habits. Research. Medication. Supplements. Moisturizing like it’s my job. I put in the work. I deserve to have a body that listens to me, right?

I’m pushing all the right buttons, why doesn’t the candy come out of the chute? Or even better, I treated all these ladies like queens, why do none of them find me attractive?

Life doesn’t work that way.

I don’t have much control over my skin. Or my gut. My immune system doesn’t take orders. My gut bacteria certainly doesn’t listen to anything I say.

What I can control is the environment I’m in, and the food that I eat. I can anticipate all sorts of consequences to my actions, and plan for them. But I can’t dictate how my body functions. If you figure out how to do that, let me know.

That is the hardest thing, doing the work but not being able to full control the outcome.

It’s something I’ve had to come to terms with many times in my life, and (clearly) it still gets to me at times. If I were fully in control, I would be healthy all the time. But I’m not in control. Never will be.


My health is out of control, and that’s okay.


Are You a Patient?

James Altucher posted some thoughts on civilian life this morning:

I was a civilian for a long time.


I worked in my cubicle, hoping to get a raise … a promotion. Sometimes the cubicle changed and it would be a new title, new company, new “friends”, new employee handbook. New boss to choose whether I flourished or suffered.


Sometimes the boss would look at me: his eyes over his glasses, like I was the worst interruption he had ever suffered. Sometimes he’d laugh at my jokes and I’d feel happy. Sometimes he’d praise me and I’d call home and tell my parents about it.


It wasn’t that he was bad. It wasn’t even I was so pathetic (I was though). But that’s civilian life. I was a civilian. Not aware of the bigger world out there. Not aware I could survive in it.


We have two zones: the comfort zone and the Other zone. Civilians live in the comfort zone.

I’ve been thinking on the line between civilian life and, well, I don’t know what to call the other life yet because I’m not yet there. Not on a day-to-day basis, at least.

I’m definitely still a cubicle civilian, although I have the luxury (?) of an office with a window to the glorious Pacific Northwest. Sometimes the chains are gilded, yo.

But where I’m decidedly NOT a civilian is my health. This past year has been a process of breaking the chains, escaping the rat-race of Western medicine, and learning how to fly free.

I want to try an experiment.

Let’s replace “civilian” with “patient.”



I was a patient for a long time.


I went to the doctor, hoping to get better health … a cure. Sometimes the doctor changed and it would be a new drug, new insurance, new “goals”, new clinical approach. New doctor to choose whether I flourished or suffered.


Sometimes the doctor would look at me: his eyes over his glasses, like I was the worst interruption he had ever suffered. Sometimes he’d laugh at my jokes and I’d feel happy. Sometimes he’d praise my compliance and I’d call home and tell my parents about it.


It wasn’t that he was bad. It wasn’t even I was so pathetic (I was though). But that’s patient life. I was a patient. Not aware of the bigger world out there. Not aware I could survive in it.


We have two zones: the comfort zone and the Other zone. Patients live in the comfort zone.

Just like civilians, patients look to our doctors for the final word. If we’re good, and compliant, maybe we’ll have a chance at getting better. We’ll “admit” that we have a fever, or “deny” that we are allergic to medications.

We’ll receive infusions of weapons-grade immunosuppressants every eight weeks, dutifully billing insurance and denying ourselves a health savings account to qualify for subsidization by the same big pharma company that makes the drug.

Welfare, healthcare-style.

The drugs work, that’s for sure. But there’s a dark side to having no immune system. Inflammation built up. Infections wouldn’t heal. That nagging feeling at the back of my mind that kept saying something isn’t right.

But because I wasn’t yet at a crisis point, my doctors wouldn’t do anything about it. Maybe we would push the treatment out to 9, 10, 11 weeks, but that was it.

I was surviving, but I wasn’t flourishing.

My Western doctors were good people, don’t get me wrong. But they had their own perspective. They didn’t see my life, the little things that worried me every day.

No doctor cares more about me than I do. No doctor lives my life.

Eventually, I gathered my courage and made the decision to take control of my health. To make decisions myself, instead of letting my doctor make them for me. To make decisions that could have major consequences to my health, life, and finances.

Taking charge was scary, I can’t lie. The responsibility now lies with me, not with my doctor or my insurance plan’s rules. It’s me who makes the decisions. It’s me who has to follow through with the decisions I make.

I made the decision to walk away from the comfort zone of my health-cubicle.

I’m not a civilian anymore.

Not a patient.

I’m in charge.

Are you?


Do small changes really work?


Imagine a sunrise.

The world is dark, bathed in starlight. Maybe there are a few clouds lingering on the horizon, fog creeping in. Soon the sky begins to lighten. The stars start to fade, so gradually you barely notice at first.

Slowly, softly, you see the first shimmers of sunlight peeking over the horizon. The shimmer becomes a shine, bathing all you can see in pale colors that morph into one another quickly and seamlessly–grey, blue, violet, pink, golden.

Suddenly the air is bright, and crisp. The sun has crept high over the horizon, throwing trees and rocks and mountains into sharp contrast.

The world has changed.

You can change too.

The modern medical system has trained us to think of medicine as an intervention. You’re sick, or injured–the doctor will ride in on a white horse and save you.

And that’s great–when you’re acutely sick or injured. Emergency rooms are absolutely the place you want to go if you got in a car accident or have a sudden-onset kidney infection.

But when it comes to long-haul issues, to chronic illnesses, the white-knight method doesn’t work quite as well. A constant stream of intervention becomes an everlasting source of drama.

Drama equals stress.

Stress is not good for living things, especially human beings learning how to deal with chronic illness.

That’s where gradual change comes in. Gradual changes creep into your life like a sunrise, so subtly you often don’t realize it’s happening.

Stress-free. Or at least stress-less.

Most of us know the basics of human health: good nutrition, exercise, and sleep.

Most of us also know that when we start working out regularly, it takes a few weeks to start seeing major changes to our bodies. It takes a few nights to catch up on sleep debt. It takes a little while for our bodies to change.

So why not change your focus? Maybe now you think of your illness as a major crisis1 and are dreaming of a white knight riding to your rescue.

Consider instead adding small, gradual changes to your lifestyle. Getting enough sleep, becoming more serious about exercise, eating more vegetables–all are worthy goals.

Like a sunrise, small benefits can add up over time without you really noticing. Just all of a sudden, the trees are bathed in light, and the world has changed.


1 Assuming that you are not actually having a medical emergency, in which case please go to the emergency room.