How I Healed My Gut Through Food

I can vividly recall the days when I felt the way the woman in the photo shown above illustrates.

Painful stomach aches, bloating and every GI issue in the books.

For so long it was an absolute mystery; after all, I grew up eating real food.

It was the early 70s, my mom was a hippie and much of the food we ate came from what she grew in the garden, cooked on the stove or baked in the oven.

Sugar wasn’t allowed; in fact I had never even heard of a cookie until one day while watching the one show that was permissible — Sesame Street — I asked my mom what exactly was cookie monster eating?

Her response: he’s eating a potato cookie! This was followed by her baking a potato, cutting into circular slices and then presenting me with a round object that looked very much like the food I’d seen the furry blue muppet eat just an hour earlier.

Yet with all her best intentions, and what I now know to be an extremely nourishing, alkaline forming, anti inflammatory diet ticking off all the boxes (local, in season, organic, wild), somehow, I was always prone to stomach distress.

It actually goes back further than even what I can recall; as an infant still in diapers, my mom took me to the pediatrician to find out what might be the cause of my irregular digestion.

His response proved useless; nothing more than a mere suggestion to make sure she wasn’t ingesting too much fat which would potentially be causing an issue to me through breast milk.

The stomach distress remained mild for years; we chalked it up to me simply having a ‘sensitive stomach’ (thanks to another doctor’s synopsis) and I grew used to having stomach pains on a regular basis.

It didn’t prevent me from being a healthy, athletic kid; I swam on the swim team, ran and always active, and was only occasionally sidelined by real pain.

Once the pain became more intense and more frequent, the visits to specialists, and even a few trips to the E/R began.

Imagine my horror when, at age 14, the physician doing my intake in the E/R asked me, right in front of my dad, if I might be pregnant!

(That would be a big NO)!

Over the course of the next few years, I would experience varying degrees of pain, irregularity and overall discomfort (both physical and emotional ; not exactly easy to fear leaving the house in case of being too far from a restroom).

I would also experience several misdiagnoses; IBS (which we now know is a meaningless catch all), colitis, possible Crohn’s, all with accompanying medication and no question about what I was eating.

I also took away some of the most ridiculous pieces of nutritional advice including that I should avoid eating veggies as they were too taxing on the digestive system and trying to focus only on eating easy to digest foods such as white rice or toast, to give my GI tract a rest.

At that point, I was well into my twenties and was working on my degree at USC, studying exercise science and nutrition.

The dietary advice I thought to be sound was further underlined by what I was learning at school: eat a high carbohydrate, low fat diet.

I’d begun my foray at that point into endurance training as well, so by then, not only was I feeling great distress on a daily basis just in day to day, but when it came to training and racing, I was constantly sidelined by immediate trips to porta-potties, gas stations or even mom and pop store fronts who might be kind enough to let me use their facilities.

Something had to give.

I began researching.

How could I change what I was eating in order to allow my body to begin to heal itself?

Maybe a vegan diet was the answer.

I’d tested the waters with it earlier but only for a short period of time.

Could there be any truth to the idea that I was hurting my body by ingesting meat? And then, there was also the love of animals angle.

I committed to it, and I committed hard. I said goodbye to all animal products I was eating, wearing, using and in retrospect, became a bit militant about it.

I was in my early 20s, I had a degree from a renowned university and so as far as I could tell, I was entitled and I knew it all.

I even had a McVegan pin and a long list of the top ten reasons why being vegan was the only was to go.

I knew enough to not follow a silly vegan diet- one which may be animal-free but also lacking in nutrition, such as the type in which one eats pasta, bread and cereal.

I ate tons of organic, in season veggies. I ate avocados and coconut oil. Sprouted nuts and seeds in moderation; all of which still comprise much of my current diet, incidentally.

But I also ate beans including soy. And I ate grains. And I would occasionally eat the pseudo meats, which now seems like such an oxymoron to boycott eating animals yet opt to eat manufactured food items made to look, smell and taste like them.

About six months into my foray as a vegan, I began dreaming about eating fish. I’d wake up feeling guilty because I believed it to be wrong.

I forced my way through it for another 18 months until I finally gave in and had my first bite of what I now call my gateway protein: fish.

It would be a year or two before I would incorporate other flesh but my reason for doing so was more than two-fold and more than selfish.

First and foremost, I had an epiphany.

All the time I had spent boycotting eating animals, I was doing so in a very ignorant an inappropriate manner.

I was categorizing the good guys with the bad guys and sending out the message that they were all bad.

In other words, the Monsantos of the world with the local, grass fed farmers and the farmed-fish providers along with the wild fishermen.

One is unethical, in it only as part of food as an industry at any expense and without thought for the humane treatment of another being.

The other is the opposite: raising animals in a mindful manner, providing humane living conditions or hunting in the wild, focused only on creatures that live exactly where they’re supposed to live and at the appropriate time of year.

I realized that it’s not until we separate these two vastly different practices that we will see a demand for the humane provider’s prices come down and a decrease in the demand for low-cost, improperly raised animals.

I learned about the vast difference between the impact of grass-fed beef compared to conventionally raised beef, not just on the human body when the beef is ingested, but also on the environment.

And I educated myself on the one topic at the heart of it all which was whether or not it was ethical to eat animals.

Slowly, I began to reintroduce wild fish in small quantities back into the regime and while I felt I was recovering better from workouts and feeling more energetic during the day, my stomach issues hadn’t come close to dissipating.

Desperate, I went to yet one more specialist and asked for a test for Celiac Disease, in early 2000s.

This was before we had the current awareness of gluten sensitivity, allergy and intolerance, but I’d already begun to do a little research on the topic.

My results came back negative and the gastroenterologist advised me that I should absolutely not stop eating gluten containing foods because doing so would impair my ability to get enough fiber and B vitamins.

He then suggested I take prozac and sent me on my way.

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