When Healthy Food is Your Enemy

healthy food

I’ll admit it. As soon as I get in sight of the bakery section in the grocery store my heart skips a beat. I might drool a little. Donuts make me want to leap for joy. Why are those darn things so cheap and enticing? Don’t they know I’m trying to be gluten-free? Yet they taunt me from behind the glass all innocent looking with their golden, freshly frosted outside and creamy delightful inside. My arch enemy and guilty pleasure all rolled into one.

But the “eat whatever I want” era came to a screeching halt when I was diagnosed as autoimmune. “Natural” and “healthy” was now the new, or not so new, trend. My body no longer functioned properly and healthy food held the promise of possible recovery. 70-90% of the immune system is located in the gut. Fix the gut and you can fix your immune system. That’s what the research said. The argument that food and nutrition could be a better and safer form of treatment for healing chronic disease was all too convincing.

So I got to work. Out with the processed, packaged, and modified foods. Hello antibiotic-free, grass-fed, organic, clean and friendly foods. Donuts took a back seat to their nutritious counterparts (although I have still been known to sneak one on occasion). My disease changed my outlook on food as I began to slowly replace our “American” diet with foods that were hormone-free, organic, grass-fed, local, and non-GMO. Superfoods like kale, quinoa, avocados, kiefer, and nuts littered my diet. I went vegan. I tried vegetarian. I became Paleo. I experimented with exclusion diets and avoided 25 food sensitivities all at once for a month. I went dairy-free, gluten-free, corn-free, and egg-free…all at the same time, for a long time. I took a regimen of supplements so intense that I had 20 dixie cups all marked by time, an alarm set for each one. I saw a naturopath and drank dirt, or what I affectionately called, “bunny farm” (some of you know what I’m talking about). I made high fiber smoothies that made me gag but I plugged my nose and chugged it down anyway. There were moments I thought I would go crazy. But I was desperate. I did it out of necessity. I wanted my health back.

But after two years of eating better, taking supplements, and making meals from scratch, I was still suffering. My digestive and gastrointestinal system were still dysfunctional and my pain was at an all time high. I felt discouraged and was getting depressed. It didn’t make sense. I was eating “healthy”. I tried all the tricks in the book. I was following all the suggested tips for optimal nutrition but I wasn’t improving…in fact, I was just getting worse. What if I was broken beyond repair? I felt frustrated and confused.

Can healthy and nutritious foods actually do more harm than good?

Something wasn’t right. What others considered “healthy” was actually making me sick. I was having regular flare ups of abdominal pain, pressure, bloating, constipation, and fatigue even while on autoimmune medication. Even more confusing was the lack of a pattern, leaving me even more perplexed.

I have since learned that just because the current fad says it’s healthy doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthy for everyone. Not all guts are created equal. My gut doesn’t necessarily play by the same rules. While the average “healthy” individual may benefit from certain nutritious foods, those same foods may aggravate my condition and cause low levels of inflammation.

And that’s exactly what was happening. Last week I was diagnosed with SIBO. Small intestine bacterial overgrowth. I’m pretty sure I both surprised and confused the nurse when I responded with excitement over the positive test result. My husband and I stood in our kitchen, hugging each other. Answers. Relief. Renewed hope. A light at the end of our very dark tunnel.

I had never heard of SIBO – an excessive amount of bad bacteria decides to set up shop in the small intestine, a place otherwise considered to be sterile. As the bacteria eat and ferment undigested carbohydrates, they secrete gas (either methane or hydrogen) which causes pressure, bloating, pain, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and even acid reflux and nausea. Over time, other symptoms develop such as chronic fatigue, malabsorption issues, nutrient deficiencies, leaky gut, joint pain, and autoimmune responses.

The surprising fact is that it can be related to many disease like Chrohn’s, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune disorders, allergies, leaky gut, and even fibromyalgia. Some research suggests up to 84% of IBS patients are actually suffering from bacterial overgrowth. Who knew? I sure didn’t. Though it sounds like a disease natural medicine made up, it’s an actual medical condition that can be tested and treated by your doctor.

How does this relate to food? If your gut is already compromised – be it SIBO, IBS, Crohn’s, slow motility, etc. – healthy food can be your enemy. How? Bad bacteria love to feast on undigested fermentable carbohydrates and create a large amount of gas after a finished meal. This toxic waste causes damage to the intestinal lining and produces symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, etc. If your system is already compromised, eating these “healthy” foods could cause some nasty flare ups:

When it comes to “healthy”, one size doesn’t fit all. Some of the foods I originally gave myself props for eating were actually harming me by feeding the bad bacteria, causing them to multiply and me to feel miserable. So now I will be going on a “Starve the Bacteria and Take Back My Body” food campaign. Welcome FODMAP, GAPS, and Fast Track Diet. I hope to write more later as I learn how to use diet and nutrition for treatment and recovery!

If you have been suffering from unexplained GI symptoms, talk to your doctor about SIBO. It can be tested and treated! My best advice? Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Record your flare ups and symptoms in a food journal. Look for patterns. Customize your idea of “healthy” based on what your body can handle. Talk to a doctor. Don’t take no for an answer.

After months and years of searching, researching, and experimenting, we are finally on the right track. We finally have an understanding of what has been going on. Like a breath of fresh air, we have a new wave of hope. God is answering our prayers and providing what we need every step of the way. I now have a fighting chance at recovery! And maybe, just maybe, I can beat this autoimmune disease once and for all.

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