Now I'm going to tell you all about something really, really interesting - the history of my gut and the current plan of attack on its evil residents. Aren't you excited!! Then let's get started!
(Or feel free to ignore me for the present.)
When I went to college (for one whole semester), I became severely lactose intolerant. So I stopped eating and drinking things with lactose. That would include soft cheeses, ice cream, and regular milk from the store. I learned that there were dairy products I could eat and ways to cheat. Aged cheeses like cheddar, colby, mozzarella, etc. don't have lactose; it breaks down during the aging process. There's "lactose free" milk at the store. This has the enzyme lactase added to the milk to break down the lactose. It's also ultra-pasteurized and tastes weird, but you get used to it. And there are little lactase pills you can take before eating ice cream. So it didn't turn out to be such a horrible thing as I expected.
Fast forward to about three years ago. Rohan was just born, and I started grinding our own grain for bread. I couldn't handle that bread. In fact, I started having trouble with any bread or cereal. Stomach cramps, diarrhea - it felt just like when I became lactose intolerant. This time, the culprit was gluten. Great. Do you know how many things have gluten? It wasn't just a matter of avoiding bread, cereal, crackers, pizza, muffins, doughnuts, bagels, pasta - you know, the things which obviously are made of flour. All kinds of other products sneak flour or straight gluten in. Things like soy sauce, most sauces for that matter, lunch meats, the list goes on and on. It seems like everything is breaded. Eating out meant eating a salad. But I made the necessary changes and went on with life. Cooking became more difficult. I didn't want to make my family eat gluten-free. That homemade bread from fresh-ground grain was good for them. Special gluten-free foods were either really expensive or nasty. So I kept cooking for them like regular. I made rice bread or rice crackers for myself occasionally, but it was too much to cook all their food and all my separate food. So I pretty much ate the food I could that I was already making for the rest of the family. I ate fruits, veggies, and meat. But I also ate a lot of rice, potatoes, and corn products. And I always had a cup of hot chocolate (with lactose-free, ultra-pasteurized milk of course.) I love hot chocolate. It's my ultimate comfort drink. But it started becoming more than that. It became a quick substitute for making myself an actual meal or preparing a healthy snack.
Oh yes, and add on top of that the fact that I'm hypoglycemic. I have to eat about every two hours, and I know that protein sustains me much better than junk food. And I was fairly good about not eating a lot of sugar, which, after an initial high, would send my blood sugar plummeting. Except for that hot chocolate. And occasional (with increasing frequency) handfuls of chocolate chips. Obviously, I had a chocolate addiction that was not helping matters.
A couple years ago, a friend introduced me to raw milk. This was a step in the right direction. No more ultra-pasteurized, yucky-tasting "milk." I truly felt that I was nourishing my body, and it tasted SO good. Because of the naturally occurring good bacteria in the raw milk, which broke down the lactose, my stomach was as happy as my mouth.
So now we're up to about a year ago. I started having stomach problems again, cramping and diarrhea. What now?! I was getting worried that either there wouldn't be anything left for me to eat in the world or I would develop something serious, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Crohn's Disease or something like that. I also started having weird food-related crying episodes. I would eat a whole, good-sized meal and then start crying. I just felt that I could never get enough to eat. I felt like I had to eat constantly in order to not fall apart. I went to church one Sunday morning, and after taking the kids to their Sunday School classes, suddenly started crying in the hallway. A friend told me to go to the store and get something to eat. And all I ever really wanted to do was go to bed. I remember one day being at the top of the steps. Rohan was at the bottom crying about something, and the thought of walking down the steps to comfort him and walking back up was so overwhelming that I ended up crying right along with him. This was getting ridiculous!
This past summer, I discovered Nourishing Traditions. I read the whole thing and was convinced. So much of what we ate was not even food, was not helping my body, but was actually damaging it. The old ways of preparing foods that enhanced or preserved the nutritional value of food has been replaced with packaged products with no nutritional value that are being passed off as "food" for the sake of convenience and monetary gain. I highly, highly recommend this book to everybody. Everybody, whether you have health issues or not, should read this book. The introduction is the main part to read. Then in the margins of the cookbook part are lots of quotes supporting the eating of real, traditional foods. Here, also, is an accompanying website where much can be learned. While I'm at it, check out these blogs related to real, whole, slow foods:
Keeper of the Home
Kelly the Kitchen Kop
Naturally Knocked Up
Then I considered reading about the GAPS diet. This involves eliminating starchy foods, including all grains and potatoes, as well as sugar and most dairy. It also involves drinking lots of bone broth, taking probiotics and cod liver oil, and eating fermented foods. I had heard of it some time before, but it sounded too crazy for me. Now, with my innards acting up again, I thought I should at least check it out. I ordered the book, and it sounded like exactly what I needed, the ticket for turning around this downward spiral of my health.
The premise of the diet is that "all diseases begin in the gut." All diseases - physical as well as mental, whether you have stomach problems or not. Healing the gut targets the primary disease instead of going after all the symptoms. I can't explain all this as well as Dr. Campbell-Mcbride. "Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride holds a degree in Medicine and Postgraduate degrees in both Neurology and Human Nutrition. In her clinic in Cambridge she specializes in nutrition for children and adults with behavioral and learning disabilities, and adults with digestive and immune system disorders." (Taken from her website.) So obviously, she's going to explain all this better than me. But I learned the reason I felt so hungry all the time and why I keep having stomach issues - a damaged gut can't process food and make it usable to the body and it also allows harmful things to cross into the blood stream more easily. We have, in our intestines, bacteria that is supposed to be there. Good bacteria and bad bacteria. We're only supposed to have a little of the bad and a lot of the good. The problem is that our SAD (Standard American Diet) of processed foods and refined flour and lots of sugar is exactly what the bad bacteria thrive on. On top of that, the use of antibiotics kills not only the harmful bad bacteria but the helpful good bacteria also. So we're left with a terrible imbalance in our systems. This can manifest itself in many different kinds of health problems. Think of it like this: if we're sick, we take medicine by mouth. It goes into our digestive system and then into our blood. It makes its way to our various organs, including the brain. Everything you put in your mouth does the same thing. That's how food or junk really effects your whole body, including your mental status. Dr. Campbell-McBride treats those with gut issues and mental issues - especially autism - successfully.
So I read the book, I read the GAPS Guide book, I started reading success stories in the yahoo support group. And I started.
(Fish head and bones for broth. Can you believe our local market gave me this for free?! Ha! I'm sure they were wondering what in the world I was going to do with this.)
I started with the intro diet, a detox diet. It was hard. I knew from reading that it would be hard, and wow - it really was. You start out drinking broth and gradually build up to the full GAPS diet. The broth helps with detox, but you've also cut out all the junk, so it hits hard. I was sick for a couple weeks on it. And I was sick of broth. With a family to take care of and cook for, a house to clean, and homeschool to teach, being sick for two weeks is rough on everybody. I needed my mommy to take care of me! But she lives in another state, and I was the one that needed to do the caring of everyone else. So I decided to go on into the full GAPS diet.
(In my fridge: beef bone broth, ghee (from a sweet friend), kefir, and kale. P.S. All that fat is a good thing.)
Then things started getting better. After being on full GAPS, I started feeling better. I had more energy - and this was significant. My stomach was feeling better. I didn't feel the need to eat all the time.
(Fermenting on top of my cupboards: sauerkraut and kefir.)
Still, it's been hard. I still need to cook separate foods for me and my family. Not that all my foods are separate, but for instance, I make broth and sauerkraut for myself and bread and potatoes for my family. It does increase the work load. I can't eat out at all, which means going anywhere requires planning and preparation. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, we traveled to Kentucky. I had to prepare all my food beforehand and take it up in a cooler. Fun. I can't eat out anywhere. Sure, I could probably have a plain lettuce salad, but what's the point? The hardest part is not eating my little frozen meal while everybody else feasts or missing out on all the yummy Christmas treats. It's not the preparing or not getting to go out to eat. The hardest part is telling people I can't eat their food. I hate that this diet has the potential to hurt other people's feelings. And nobody really understands no matter how I explain. They just keep offering me food, and I have to keep politely turning it down. I feel terrible about it, because I know some of these people are really trying to come up with food they can share with me. But I've stuck it out for four months so far. And here's why - I feel good. I mean, I really feel good! I get tempted to quit sometimes, but then I think, "What will I be going back to?" I'll still be lactose- and gluten-intolerant, which means I'll still have to turn down quite a bit of people's food. I'll go back to crying at random times because of food. I'll go back to being tired and generally down-in-the-dumps. And oh yeah! How about those stomach cramps that made me feel like I was literally going to die? Those were always fun.
So I'm going to stick with it. According to the book, two years is a good estimate for complete healing of the gut. Then, I should be able to eat a more regular diet. Not a SAD diet, mind you. I'm not planning to damage my gut again, but more of a Nourishing Traditions diet. But that means bread! And deserts even! And maybe the occasional junk for the sake of fellowship.
I pray to God that He will heal me through this diet. I know that all my efforts apart from Him will be worthless. He is the only true Healer. So if my gut is healed, I will thank Dr. Campbell-McBride, but I will give God all the glory.