It all started quite innocently. About 4-5 years ago I started developing mild digestive issues and I wouldn’t think much of it. I would occasionally feel nauseated after eating, I would sometimes feel bloated. I would start feeling tired all the time so I ended up going out less and less. I figured it must be something normal that comes with age and years of partying and drinking. But then the pains started. Stomach pains so excruciating that regular over-the-counter painkillers would do nothing for me. The first time it happened, I ended up in an emergency room with painkillers pumped into my veins. And the search of the culprit began.
I had all kinds of tests: blood tests, gynecological tests, gastroscopy, colonoscopy. In the meantime I lost 10 kilograms of weight and my life had become a struggle of trying different diets for stomach problems, an anxious wait for when the pain comes again and a battle to keep up with daily life while constantly feeling exhausted, nauseated and painful. One doctor even tried to put me on antidepressants, insinuating I might be anemic given my weight loss. It came to the point where I was hardly able to eat anything as everything would cause diarrhea or urge to vomit (sorry for the details).
As I was starting to lose hope, I came across the concept of food intolerance. I had suspected for a while that I might have lactose intolerance and resolved to buying only lactose free products, but that didn’t help much. I finally discovered a medical practice that was performing food intolerance tests and in my desperation decided to go for it, despite the controversy surrounding these types of tests.
The dietitian performed the tests, examined my diet and highlighted to me how monotonous it had been. It never really crossed my mind that eating sandwiches for dinner almost every day and eating porridge or what was supposed to be healthy almond meal based or oat based muffins for breakfast was in fact a harmful habit. My diet was heavily based on wheat, oats, almonds, cheese and eggs, which didn’t leave that much room for fruits and vegetables so they ended up as a mere addition to meals. As the results of my test came back, it became clear – I would have to change my diet completely. I developed an intolerance not only to eggs, milk, most nuts and gluten, but also to rice, corn (so much for store-bought gluten free breads and cookies…), oat, soy beans, pumpkin, sunflower and ginger among other things. This pretty much meant I had to throw out everything I had in my pantry and look for new ideas for what I could actually eat.
It is not 100% clear why people develop food intolerance. The most likely cause of it is a mix of genetic predispositions and monotonous diet, as well as too much chemical additives in the food that we eat nowadays. From my own experience, even though it was hard to give up milk based chocolate, cheese and bread, especially living in Switzerland, after 8 months on my new diet, I don’t think I will ever come back to the way I was eating again.
My diet right now consists of 90% vegetables, fruits, ancient grains (quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, sorghum to name a few), oils and herbs and an occasional fish or meat (leaning towards fish). The only sweets I buy is dark chocolate. If I crave a dessert of any other kind, I just make it myself and use richer sources of sugar (instead of white sugar) like maple syrup or coconut sugar. I buy only whole ingredients and I discovered so many delicious recipes and foods that I had never heard of before and paradoxically, my diet has never been as rich as it is now. I experiment with different kinds of herbs, a variety of oils, all kinds of gluten free flours (ever heard of tapioca, topinambur or teff flours?). It has made me realize that there is so much variety in the world and eating bread and cheese all the time closed my eyes completely to it. My skin and hair are glowing (never had this many compliments about my skin before!), all my stomach issues disappeared, I hardly ever even experience bloating, I already gained back 5 kilos and my energy is back! I finally have the will to do things in the evenings after work and do productive stuff like writing or learning languages over the weekend.
Even though 4 years of suffering and having to give up all my favorite foods had been hard to say the least and I certainly did not enjoy having had tubes getting shoved down my throat and up my butt, this experience had changed my life significantly. I learned to:
- find joy in preparing the food by myself
- have fun discovering new ingredients and playing with new recipes and substitutions
- keep the variety in the diet as a whole while making each meal as simple ingredient-wise as possible to keep things easier and lighter for my digestive system (did you know mixing protein with starch in one meal or having fruits directly after a protein rich meal can cause digestive issues as the protein is getting digested much slower, leaving the rest of the food to rot in your stomach and promote inflammation? yuck!)
- find new ways to improve variety, nutrition and flavor in my meals – why use olive oil for everything when there’s avocado oil, coconut oil, rapeseed oil, walnut oil, linseed oil and many more stretching out endlessly on the supermarket shelves?
- incorporate a gazillion types of herbal teas into my routine for extra microelements and vitamins (I now have an actual tea box tower in my kitchen!)
- enjoy the food that genuinely nourishes and heals my whole body and not only my taste buds
- pay attention to every food label and choose the foods that are truly nutritious and wholesome (I also suddenly realized almost everything you buy in store or order in a restaurant contains sunflower oil or lecithin or some form of soy, rice or corn…)
- embrace change and find blessings in what might have seemed as an adversity
- find strength in the realization that I have gained back full control over my life and with willpower I can give up or take on any habit I choose to, even if it is one I had for the majority of my life
- not trust doctors that try to treat every problem with pills
- listen to my body and trust my intuition more than any kind of doctor
- not believe people that tell you feeling unwell or bloated after meals is normal
I encourage everyone to pay attention to their diet. It is amazing how much impact it can have on your life. I hope I can inspire somebody to bring in more freshness and variety into what they eat. And if you, yourself experience some of the symptoms I mentioned here and find yourself frustrated and hopeless without a solution, perhaps it’s worth checking yourself out with intolerance test or try to eat completely different ingredients than you’re used to for a while and see how your body responds.
All in all, remember that you are in control and the choices you make on a daily basis, including what you put on your plate, will influence the quality of your life whether you are aware of it or not. You can thus make a choice to become aware and shape your life more consciously. It just takes a decision and determination to take your power back.
You are not just your body, just your mind or just your soul. To have truly joyful and high quality life experience, you need to start treating yourself holistically and take care of all parts of your being. That means paying attention not only to what content you consume with your mind and what you do throughout your day but also to what foods and drinks you put in your mouth. As you start paying attention to it, you will realize that these things are intertwined and the cleaner and more varied your food is and the more you move your body in different ways, the easier it becomes to maintain a cleaner and more joyful thoughts and feelings as well.