A year ago I set out on a journey that I had once thought impossible. My husband and everyone else agreed with my verdict – “Yup, great in theory, but not possible.” In all honesty I think this particular undertaking was, in fact, impossible for a former version of myself, but it’s interesting how trials change us. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That may very well be true as it turns out; at least for me.
Last June I was hospitalized for a week for a severe flare of ulcerative colitis. It was a dark time for me not only physically, but also emotionally. All of the doctors came to the same conclusion; it was time for me to either take a stronger, more dangerous medication, or undergo surgery to remove my colon. I wasn’t ready for either of these options, and I felt trapped. I kept telling myself, “There has to be another way out of this! There has to be another option!” I prayed and prayed for a way to avoid what seemed inevitable. It was hard to be hopeful. I had already tried thousands of dollars worth of homeopathic supplements and nutrition plans (at one point I took up to 65 supplements a day!), I had cut out gluten, milk, alcohol, and a number of other random food items I thought aggravated my condition, I had taken several courses of corticosteroids, I resigned from my job to reduce stress and focus on my health, I had looked into hormonal balance – essentially, I had been down just about every rabbit trail you can imagine.
Shortly after being discharged from the hospital, my sister gave me a book that I surprisingly had not seen before called Breaking the Vicious Cycle, by Elaine Gottschall. The book contained a diet plan for treating ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, autism, and a number of other conditions. I was skeptical. I had already cut so many things out of my diet and none of them seemed to make much of a difference. Besides, I had read about other similar diets in the past, but had never tried them because they were too overwhelming. In short, they were impossible. No one could maintain such a restrictive diet for more than a week or so.
Something was different this time around though; I had changed. When I received the book, I couldn’t wait to read it and get started. I was different. I was all-in, gung-ho, completely determined. A new potential option that might avoid stronger meds or surgery had presented itself. An answer to prayer! I didn’t know if it would work, but I knew I was going to give it my best shot. My attitude had undergone a major and critical shift; I now didn’t see dietary restrictions as a deprivation, but a blessing. I have the gift of being able to eat in a way that improves my health. Don’t you agree that’s a gift?!
So today I celebrate one whole year of being completely grain-free, sugar-free, starch-free, and lactose-free! Yes, grain-free means no grains of any kind. No corn, no oats, no rice, no quinoa, no amaranth, nothing. The only types of sweetener I eat are honey and real fruit. No chocolate either (I just lost about half of you on that one alone, didn’t I?!). Starch-free means no potatoes and many kinds of beans are out as well.
In the past year, I have learned to make my own yogurt, crème fraiche, ketchup, BBQ sauce, salad dressing, and a whole list of delicious baked goods made with almond flour and honey. For many years I had been feeling guilty about eating too many processed foods, too much refined sugar, and not doing enough good old home cooking. Needless to say, following this diet has forced me to conquer those areas as well. As an added bonus, my husband and I both attained our goal weights (although neither of us exercise…I know, I know, I’m not proud of it, but hey, we all have areas that still need improvement!)
I would love to tell you today that I am in pristine health with no signs of ulcerative colitis, but unfortunately this is a long process. What I can say is that this has been my best health year since being diagnosed 7 years ago, and that I had a solid 7 months of complete remission with no symptoms. During that remission time I got through a couple of events that would have certainly caused me to flare in the past. I am currently flared, but as flares go, this one has been mild. Don’t get me wrong, even mild flares are extremely taxing, and it has been a struggle, especially since I work so hard for my health, but overall I am thankful because I know how much worse I could be.
This diet focuses on changing the balance of gut flora. I have been pursuing other treatments that have the same goal. It’s two steps forward, one step back, but I’m optimistic that I’ll get there. The book says it may be necessary to stay on the diet for 3 years. At first that was completely daunting. The success I’m celebrating today is not simply 365 days, but proving to myself that I can do this. If I can do it for a year, I can do it for three, and even forever if necessary. The victory is that I’ve redefined for myself what is possible. We are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for. When something snaps inside you, when something finally clicks, when you stare down your struggles with unwavering determination to conquer them, when your attitude undergoes that critical shift, then, THEN, you are no longer a victim of your circumstances, you are not a passive player in your life, you do have will power, and resolve, and power to better yourself. You can do it! So much more than you ever thought you could. So much more than you ever thought possible.