Four diets and a revelation
I was sick again–fatigue, dizziness, wooly brain, stomach ache—a frequent experience over the last twenty-five years. I’d read a zillion articles and books about my symptoms and had long ago concluded that I suffered from Chronic Fatigue. About three years ago, I’d sought help from an alternative doctor famous for dealing with this syndrome. He’d put me on Armour thyroid and I immediately improved, but he was expensive, and I’d begun to notice that he spent most of our twenty minutes chatting about politics. I didn’t need to pay for political conversations, so I stopped going. The illness recurred and recurred.
Last October, sick of being sick again, I searched for alternative practitioners and this time found a female naturopath. She glowed with health and tested me for things I’d never thought of. I gave tubes of blood, filled other tubes with saliva (DNA), and breathed into still others (Hydrogen Breath Test), and the latter showed I had off-the-charts SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth.) SIBO is linked to chronic fatigue, mine being the second worst case she’d ever seen. And so, under the guidance of my bright-eyed naturopath, I began the journey of the four diets.
1. The Anti-Inflammatory Diet. This one took me off everything that is a common cause of allergies and inflammation—sugar (which I was already avoiding), soy and gluten (ditto), and dairy, even (sob!) butter. I was also to go off eggs (I’d been starting every day with them), all starches (even yams), and (gasp) wine. That left protein and vegetables. The latter were to cover two-thirds of my plate. The other third was to be divided between protein and healthy fats (like nuts or avocado). Over the month and a half I began to love, even, crave, vegetables. Roasted Brussel sprouts with olive oil and kosher salt had the crunchy sweetness of French fries. Kale sautéed in stock was earthy, indescribably delicious, and roasted butternut squash tasted like a fine dessert.
How I felt: Good, except for the occasional odd longing for chocolate, which ordinarily I’m not that fond of.
Benefits: Felt better and lost 13 pounds. The inflammation and bacteria in my body had prompted weight gain and had made it almost impossible to lose
2. The Elemental Diet. The regimen required by my severe SIBO was to include two weeks of liquid amino acid formula meant to starve the bacteria in my gut. Bacteria evidently love partially digested carbs, and the formula was designed to be absorbed so quickly that the bacteria had nothing to chow down on. So this was it: three glasses of liquid amino acid which puckered my mouth and tasted like a chemical factory. How was I going to get through the full two weeks?
I’d already decided to stop cooking dinners for my husband (too much temptation). But I’d also decided to have dinner with him, nonetheless. (He was fine. He sautéed a piece of sole and boiled Brussel sprouts–every single night.) We lit the candles, put on music, and talked. I was struck, once again, by how much my pleasure in dining is linked to atmosphere and company. I was drinking sour chemicals, but I was having dinner.
How I Felt: Weak, dizzy, brain dead, but never hungry. I’d lost interest in eating because “eating” now meant a glass of fracking water. I marveled at how much of my hunger in the past had been linked to the pleasures of taste.
Benefits: Mainly undetectable, but lost three pounds.
3. The Introduction Diet. After the elemental diet, the regime called for 3-5 days of meat, fish, chicken, pork etc. I assume this was to further deprive the bacteria of carbohydrates.
How I Felt: Sluggish, tired, numb on both sides of my brain. Zero weight loss.
Benefits: Physically unclear. Made me long for vegetables.
4. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet. The SCD, which I’m to stay on for a year, is like the anti-inflammatory diet except that it allows no grains at all and does allow eggs, some cheese and butter and even wine. But I’m so far off eggs, cheese, and butter (even butter!) that I don’t’ think I’m going to take advantage of those freedoms for the year to come. (Wine is different–I’m sure you understand.) Most of all it means veggies again and plenty of them, and though the elemental diet left my stomach too tender for Brussel sprouts just yet, I can have soft carrots, spinach, and squash. Yum. The only downer–for three months, I’m to take antimicrobial herb-based pills at the rate of 18 a day!
How I Feel: In heaven because I’m not on diet two or three.
Benefits: Unusual feeling of well-being.
The Revelation. I was eating a lot of things I didn’t need and don’t miss and am doing better without. I do have occasional cravings. I want sweets and want them badly, and I wasn’t even eating sugar before the first diet. But warmed berries with the permitted honey do the trick. And for some reason, I’m feeling a joy in life that I feared had gone forever. Have the inflammation and the bacteria declined? Both cause depression and mental fatigue. Does deprivation, like a brush with mortality, sharpen our capacity for pleasure once it ends? I think it does. But it’s lunch time and what I’m thinking most about is butternut squash.