I feel over the last few months my posts have changed a little and there’s been a lot more recipes and informative stuff on here. That’s all well and good but I have missed personal blogging- just sitting down at my computer and sharing my thoughts with everyone; even if it’s not very Pinterest-worthy. Now today I’m reflecting on my relationship with food. I know that most of you who read along are struggling with food in some way: whether it’s coeliac disease, an allergy, intolerance or a gut issue like IBD and IBS. And I wonder if all of you feel somewhat like me; that this issue-whichever it is- has totally altered the way you see food.
Thinking back to my pre-diagnosed Crohn’s days. I couldn’t get enough of food. I used to always feel constantly hungry and as a very skinny teenager and nutrition value didn’t even enter my brain.
Looking back at old photos; when food choices didn’t even enter my head at all. I actually think I look terrible here- too skinny and pale (I also had terrible teeth but I’m pretty sure I can’t blame my crohn’s for that- god bless you invisalign)
Growing older, I had a bit of a rollercoaster relationship with food: I would eat healthily most of the time but food for me was definitely a reward- whether for a special achievement or a bad day. Still, I would know that certain foods ‘set my stomach off’ in some way but figured it was a small price to pay as my doctors had reassured my I ‘just had IBS’…
However, as soon as I was diagnosed with IBD; my relationship began to change. Each mouthful seemed much more important and food became something I felt I needed to take control of and be in charge of- although I wasn’t always successful. This is something I went back and forth with for a while: sometimes deciding that I must eat healthier if I wanted to get better and other times thinking ‘why is my insurance paying about £2000 a time for Remicade infusions if it still means I can’t eat a bloody McDonalds’
The turning point came when I went to Bali in 2013 (I promise I’m not going to say I found myself and committed my life to yoga- that’s not where this story is going AT ALL). I decided to see how I got on with giving up gluten (I was already dairy free at this point) and just eat as naturally as possible. Well, I loved it and began to feel so much better-and vowed to keep it up when I got back to China.
I felt so happy and healthy in Bali- looking back it wasn’t just my diet; it was the relaxed vibe, the sun and the fact I wasn’t at work probably helped too! 🙂
It was the first time that my symptoms actually felt much better- rather than my clinical inflammatory markers- don’t get my wrong, the numbers are so important but I also wanted to feel well too.
Now, unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there (it would be great if it did and I could sell you a 30 quid ebook or something of my winning formula) : I did manage to feel really well, come off my medication and then had a really great year but unfortunately my Crohn’s reared it’s ugly head after a colonoscopy. (you can read about this happening in this post) By this point, I felt completely confused by my relationship with food. Don’t get me wrong, I know I wasn’t being as healthy as I was in Bali, but I was still eating fairly well; avoiding gluten and dairy (which I knew were my triggers) and minimizing alcohol. I was about halfway through my nutrition course and while I found the facts comforting, it frustrating me that my body didn’t match my textbook. If turmeric was such a good anti-inflammatory, why was I dealing with a bloody abscess? If I was eating the right amount of iron, why were my stores low? I think that’s the most frustrating thing about food: we read everything about amino acids, fats, glycemic index but what if it just doesn’t match up to our body? How many times have you bought a supplement that on paper should make you feel better; has worked wonders for others and your body is just not having any of it?
So I then decided to tentatively step my foot back into the world of medication– since I felt I didn’t have such a grasp of food anymore. It was this point I think I started to avoid foods I wasn’t sure of (it wasn’t worth the risk) and massively depends on the ones I did ok with. Rice seemed to be fine so I soon couldn’t get enough: you name it: rice cakes, rice noodles, rice flour, rice pasta and err well just rice. (I didn’t even like rice that much before- but I think we’ve all bought something from the free-from aisle just because it’s free from!)
Back to the present and as I am currently in the finishing stages of my nutrition course- I was offered a free Cambridge Food Test 120, which, after doing my research, appeared to be one of the best on the market (I know these aren’t necessarily scientifically proven but neither is gluten intolerance and to me that feels very real!) I think I knew my issues went deeper than just gluten and dairy free so I was expecting some triggers but this is what came back…
Yep there was a lot of problem foods going on with my gut. After speaking to the nutritionist, she explained that I’m not actually allergic to these foods but over relying on some of them (goodbye, oats, my faithful breakfast companion) meant that my gut was struggling and put simply I was experiencing a ‘leaky gut’ type situation (there’s lots of controversy about this term but I feel it covers best with what’s going on with me at the moment)
Now, it’s easy to say that this could be a lot of rubbish but I know that my gut is still not functioning as well as it could be: it just seems to be really bloody weird and erratic. The slightest shift of food can seem to alter the gut bacteria and it feels like I’m tiptoeing around it- I can feel fine in the morning and terrible in the afternoon.
This past week I have been trying a paleo/AIP type diet– but it’s hard. I feel hungry constantly. I can’t find anything to have for breakfast and every time I google all I find is recipes for ‘breakfast meat patties’ I am not a meat for breakfast type girl; I’m an overnight oats type of girl. I tried to replicate oats with millet and I felt like I was eating hay (perhaps I should try eating that instead)
It just feels so complicated. When I hear friends talking about things like Slimming world or weight loss diets- it baffles me that for some people, food is only about how much weight it’ll help them lose or make them put on. It’s not their fault but, for me, it feels like food is so much more than that. And is it too much to say that I actually want to eat food that tastes nice too? I hear athletes that say that food is just fuel to them but even when a room full of textbooks tells me that should be the case, I bloody love food: eating out, cooking in, ordering a takeaway and even writing about it – basically every activity that is to do with food is my favourite pastime (and part of my job too!)
I know that this still a journey I have a long way to go on. I am not sure how or why (whether it’s simply the gut bacteria or the inflammation itself) but for me, food feels intrinsically linked to my illness. It ‘s not the whole picture-I know other things are important too: like getting a good night’s sleep, trying not to stress (easier said than done when your breakfast tastes like hay) and of course medication.
I look back nostalgically at a time when the only decisions I made about food was which place to eat and what to order. A time where I actually looked at a menu and could eat everything on it (rather than googling the menu and deciding what I could actually eat before I stept through the door). A time where I didn’t even think about checking a food label; something that is simply an automatic reflex now. I am the first to say that food can help us heal, but it can also harm us, confuse us, make us feel guilty or like we’re not doing enough. Perhaps, it’s these types of relationship with food we don’t talk enough about and while I will probably spend the rest of this weekend researching, trying new recipes and trying to get a handle on the situation, a part of me feels that perhaps my battle with food is one that is one that will take much longer to conquer.