By Jess Fisk, NZ Nutritionist.
Here is a little insight of my journey with Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and how I have stayed in remission for 3 years, almost symptom free without any medication.
UC is a form of inflammatory bowel disease that has an incidence of 1 to 20 per 100 000 individuals per year. Symptoms of UC are generally not a favourite discussion for sufferers, not many people I know love sharing information about their time in the toilet! The main characteristics of the disease (when the disease is active and flaring up) include ulcers in the large intestine with symptoms including diarrhoea, frequent toilet visits, stomach pains, bloody stools, mucus/pus in stools, bloating, gas and not to mention the exhaustion that comes with disease due to the inability to absorb nutrients efficiently and loss of blood resulting in anaemia. Anyone who has this condition or anything similar (Crohn’s Disease) will know exactly what I’m on about and the emotional drain that comes with it.
Current literature states there is no cure for UC, however there are a number of drugs that aim to keep the disease in remission. Genetics plays an important role in UC (my grandmother has the same condition, however due to severity has had part of her colon removed).The most common drugs used for treatment are Immunosuppressant drugs. These drugs are usually successful because they reduce the activation of the immune system. As the disease progresses or during a flare up the use of Corticosteroids such as Prednisone can work wonders due to their short term fast healing effects. Yet, like any pharmaceutical drug we are only putting on a band aid and not getting to the root cause.
Every person with UC will have their own story and how they manage the disease. But, sadly many will take the medication only option without realising there may be hope for them in a more natural way. This was me up until 3 years ago. I just want to make clear that this is my story and what has worked me, not necessarily for you. Although, with the evidence mounting up in favour of a more Traditional/Paleo style diet to improve and/or heal auto-immune disease I can’t help but feel my lifestyle has helped me get to where I am now and I want to share my story with as many as I can. It’s not much fun spending half your life in the toilet and remembering to take 13 pills a day (that was how many I was taking at one point)!
I was 15 when I was diagnosed with UC and at this time of my life I was a competitive swimmer (training 9x in the pool), while on top of this I competed in Surf Life Saving and Waterpolo. I remember the diagnosis being very scary, but a little young and naive I guess I just brushed it off and thought it would go away. Long story short, I gave up my dream as a swimmer and took time out to heal. I did what the doctor ordered, took my medication and gave my body a rest for the summer. I got back into training eventually but my body was just exhausted, I was having B12 injections each week as I was anaemic. After many emotional tears I threw in my love for swimming and fell into a bit of a depressed state with everything that was going on.
I can’t recall the doctor discussing my diet with me, but I believed I came from a healthy family so this was not a concern for me. My diet back when I was 15 was better than your average kid having grown up in a very health conscious family with no junk in the house. All thanks to my Mum and Dad who live and breathe nutrition and health and have helped many people throughout their lives with the guidance of Dads ‘Insulin control diet chart’. I still agree with him that many of our modern diseases are probably contributed largely from an excess secretion of Insulin hormone which comes with eating a typical modern western diet.
I grew up on eggs on toast for brekky, nuts/fruit and tuna sandwiches for lunches and a meat and 3 veggie style dinner. But like all teens I still ate a lot of crap too. When I compare how I eat now, to back then, I would admit my diet was very poor at times. The foods below I believe I was eating in excess around the time of diagnosis that I now have eliminated/moderated (as much as I can). Junk food of any kind was the worst culprit as these contain the first 4 on the list in excess).
Preservatives in all processed foods
Fast forwarding 7 years of Azathiaprine, Predizone and Asacol…………………… Three years ago I settled in Margaret River, Western Australia on a self-sufficient sustainable farm. During my time here I learnt how to live a more sustainable way and lived a more simplified life. It was only for 6 months but during this time I learnt a lot about Permaculture and more to the point I spent endless hours researching nutrition on the internet. I was having a year out from my degree in Nutrition which I am so grateful for, as it lead to hours of research and internet trawling and the discovery of what are now some of my most reliable blog sources for information. Including Julianne Taylor!
A huge turning point for my diet I feel was the near elimination of grains. I can’t say I ate a lot of grains prior, but compared to my diet now – well, yes I ate lots of grains. I turned to raw milk as this was one of my daily tasks – milking the cow! We would drink raw milk in our coffees, make butter and use the cream for cooking. Probably sounds like we ate a lot of dairy but because I don’t eat cereals or porridge, milk is generally only added to a hot drink. I have not found dairy affects me and I feel raw milk may have played a role in my healing process. I eliminated vegetable oils as these have proven to cause a lot of inflammation in the body and tip the Omega 3: 6 balance. I eliminated refined sugar, obviously had the odd treat but while I was strict I wouldn’t go near it. I ate fruit but no more than 1 piece a day, I prefer vegetables anyway so don’t tend to eat a lot of fruit. I never have protein powders, I can see their place for convenience at times – but I aim to eat everything in its whole form and protein powder just doesn’t fit this category! It just seems so clear that more often than not when man has tampered with food it comes back and bites us in the butt eventually….
A typical daily diet for me now would be:
Breakfast: Glass of apple cider vinegar in warm water with lemon, 2-3 free range eggs with veges of any kind (often spinach or Kale), Sprinkled with dried seaweed kelp (high in iodine) and depending on the day there may be free range bacon, mushrooms or a little bit of raw feta (that I’ve recently started making myself). All cooked in coconut oil or butter if fried. Plus a coffee with either a dollop of cream or unhomogenised milk (raw milk ideally). Sometimes I’ll even throw in some of the previous night’s dinner if I’m running low on ingredients.
Occasionally I’ll have a smoothie made with coconut milk or coconut cream (about ¼ can), tonnes of spinach or leafy greens, 1-2 raw eggs, half banana or berries and Cacao powder for flavour and added nutrients. My aim for my smoothie is nutrient dense, low-moderate carbohydrate and a good amount of quality fats (coconut, eggs and cacao).
Lunch: Protein of some kind (chicken, fish, red meat or lambs fry once a week). It’s usually always leftovers from the night before as I feel if you’re going to put in lots of effort to have a nutrient dense dinner then you may as well take the same for lunch. Beats reaching for a sandwich!
Dinner: Again, nothing fancy generally meat of some sort and LOTSSSSS of veggies. I basically just throw as many veggies I can into a dish. I go light on starchy vegetables as I will put on weight by literally the smell if it’s too high in carbs! I generally base my carb intake on my activity levels so if I’m surfing lots then I will up my starchy veggie for a bit more energy.
Snacks: I tend not to snack because my meals are hearty enough to get me through. Plenty of protein and fat to keep me full without the need to snack. But, if I do my aim is to avoid grains e.g. at a dinner party I’ll snack on a few bits of cheese or olives etc and skip the crackers and chips (to avoid wheat (gluten). It has become routine for me to make bone broths and I try to have a cup a day. I have started experimenting with Kefir yogurt also to help encourage good gut bacteria.
This is a typical day for me. Basically Paleo/Western A Price, without being excessive about dairy and legumes. But in saying that I would never put legumes in my shopping trolley as I prefer to spend my money on quality veggies and meat. I’m unsure about the big dairy debate, I have seen success without the elimination of dairy but I’m open to the idea of that I could be even better perhaps if I eliminated it.
Exercise: I aim to do 2 weight training sessions a week and surf as much as I can to keep fit. I find too much cardio becomes too exhausting. I tend to go easier on the cardio as I can easily become exhausted if I do too much. It can also be irritating for the gut (all the jumping around) and I just find the long duration needed for cardio can lead to fatigue. I used to take part in CrossFit 3x a week which was the perfect amount of exercise I found and enough to keep me in a good shape without hours of plodding the pavement.
Stress: I believe that the amount of swimming training I did would have caused huge stress on my body and being genetically pre-disposed to an auto-immune disease it may have been enough to tip me over the edge, with a bad diet and alcohol thrown amongst it all. Exercise as we all know is hugely beneficial for our health and wellbeing, but too much exercise, often referred to as ‘chronic cardio’ can lead to chronic inflammation in the body.
Cosmetics: Not only do I care about foods I put in my body but I am also very aware of anything I might put on my skin. Call me a hippie but I truly believe that we are what we eat and what we put on our body so that includes cosmetics and all lotions and potions! Cosmetics contain thousands of ingredients that I have no idea what on earth they are and I don’t care whether they have been proven safe on a rat in a laboratory. It is not natural to dose the body daily with unnecessary ingredients so I feel the less exposure the better for my health. I use natural or home-made shampoos and toothpaste. I use coconut oil if I need to for dry skin and my make-up bag goes as far as Mascara, very boring! The amount of cosmetic products on the market continues to baffle me, I don’t see a purpose in most of them and not to mention how bad they must be for the body. I won’t go into sunscreen as I know how much dispute it causes, but I choose not to wear it – but I am sure to be sun safe by wearing zinc when necessary and cover up with clothes or find some shade, like the good old days.
In many ways I am grateful for going through this journey as it has taught me a lot about life and my own body, in particular how much food really does affect the way our bodies function. I have learnt through both research and trial and error that most modern processed foods will send my health on a downward spiral. I could be less strict, take medication and eat the foods that aggravate my symptoms when I like (grains in particular) but I prefer the challenge to control my condition as natural as I can. I love cooking and making everything from scratch so not only is it the best for my body, but it’s my passion. I find it really sad that modern society is so out of touch with the food they eat. For me, cooking isn’t a chore it’s just a way of life and I will always find time to cook no matter how busy I am. If you can’t find the time to eat well, health is not your priority – end of story! I haven’t met anyone in person who has UC and does not take medication, but thanks to the internet I have found others who follow a similar diet/lifestyle and are also symptom free. I’m becoming fairly confident it’s not just luck! Eating the old fashioned way, the way our bodies are physiologically designed to eat just makes a lot of sense. A lot more sense than the hugely profitable food pyramid that’s for sure!
If you would like to learn how food can play an important role in the management of Ulcerative Colitis, or other forms of IBS and IBD you can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website www.eatwisenutrition.com to schedule in an online consultation.
Couple links to others who’ve had success following a wheat and/or grain free diet (these aren’t research articles, just personal experiences):