A little over a year ago, I started an elimination diet to try and pinpoint if it was in fact specific foods that led to my Ulcerative Colitis flares. The mainstream treatment for Ulcerative Colitis is obviously medication, similar to 99.99% of any other sickness, take medication until you can find the combination that cures the symptoms yet creates numerous other side-affects that you spend the next few years trying to control with additional medications. This hamster wheel is followed until you have pillbox after pillbox filled with medications that cost thousands of dollars a month. I was taking a very mild pill called Lialda, very common with UC. Monthly prescriptions cost me $1,000 until we met our family deductible. What a joke right? Every gastro I spoke with had no long-term treatment plan other than medication for the remainder of my life. I don’t know about you, but my plan all along has been to live to be well over a 100:) I immediately thought about what a hassle it would be to rely on a monthly prescription of meds to treat my UC. A quick math problem told me that I would have to fill my prescriptions 760 more times before it was all said and done. At that point, the medication for the rest of my life plan was no longer going to work for me. I talked to my gastro’s about nutrition, my thought was that it HAD to be food related. How could it not be. Not only did they strongly disagree, it was almost comical to them that I thought this was a food related sickness. They showed me countless studies and research that talked about how food was unrelated to the flare-ups caused with UC and Crohn’s (UC’s more serious, sister disease). We agreed to disagree and I set out on what I thought would be a few month journey of testing specific foods and their impact on my gut.
The elimination plan that I was following was Paleo friendly. It eliminated sugar, grains, and dairy products. The goal was to find the most macronutrient dense foods that my gut was able to handle. The primary goal for me was finding the connection, if any, between specific foods and my Ulcerative Colitis symptoms. I have used a version of the Paleo Diet for the better part of 6 years. In the past I had added some dense carbs and a few items that didn’t keep me 100% paleo as I spent the previous years competing in CrossFit and needed to adjust my nutrition to fit my needs for the Sport. Overall, the principles behind Paleo is how I have lived for the past 6 years. I have paid very close attention to the quality of foods that I put in my body, not worrying too much about the quantity but just focusing on the quality piece of the puzzle. However, this would be the first time that I had gone months without ANY sugar. After each 4 or 6-week strict challenge, I would always add back in a few non-Paleo items such as Chocolate or some other “treat” that I was craving. Even with how strict I had been for 6 years, the first few months of this new plan were pretty challenging. The removal of dark chocolate proved to be much harder than I anticipated. Everyone will have those one or two foods that they feel they can’t live without. It will be different for everyone but the struggle will be the same.
The first 4-months went by pretty quick as I was so obsessed with the impact on my Colitis. I also started to get into the heart of the construction for the new gym. Without realizing it, my days at work got much longer, busier, and more stressful. I had always experienced an increase in productivity following the paleo challenge but nothing like what I was feeling at the 4-6 month mark of taking sugar out. My mind was amazingly clear and productive for the entire day. Don’t get me wrong, I was tired when I was leaving work but I was able to stay focused the entire day. There is no way I could have managed the schedule at the box, the construction, my family, etc without having my head in the game. I am not smart enough to work at 50% capacity….my 100% capacity is probably closer to everyone else’s 85%:) I also didn’t skip workouts, that was an integral piece of my day that helped to manage my stress.
At about the 9-month mark, I made a comment that I thought it would be pretty cool to go a full year without sugar. I remember how dumb that idea sounded to my brothers who are both cops and enjoy some alcoholic beverages on occasion as well as their shared theory on cheat meals….which is you should have at least one of those every day:) But to me, I had gone 9 months with no sugar, no alcohol, no “paleo treats”, nothing. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything and I wasn’t depriving myself of any experiences. I always hate it when I hear people tell me that they can’t do something because of “x”. “x” is always a silly excuse that they have manifested that justifies why they can’t do something. The harder something is, the more excuses will find their way out of the woodwork. When it comes to Nutrition, there are countless excuses and most of them are pretty weak. So many of us have the power to make the decision to fix something that is directly related to the foods we put into our bodies. The reality is, very few will ever be disciplined enough to fix ourselves. We are too lazy, to dependent on a magic pill that isn’t magical at all, and are too obsessed with the quick fix to actually take the time and address the issue. I am convinced that a large number of problems we are faced with today can be fixed through nutrition and fitness. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are those out there that have sicknesses that are out of their control. However, for every one of those cases, there is another one that can be controlled, and chosen not to be by that individual.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to talk people out of eating sugar and drinking alcohol. I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with either of those in moderation. What I am suggesting is that for those of you who are suffering from some type of sickness, how about we stop kidding ourselves and address the problem head on by starting with our diet. I recently watched a documentary called, “The Sugar Film”. It was an eye-opening movie done by an Australian writer who wanted to show the effects sugar could have on your body in as little as 60 days. The results were staggering. He did this by keeping his calorie count below 2,500/day and getting his sugar through low-fat, “diet” choices, many of which are marketed for children. He gained 20# of fat in 60 days and his blood-work went from ideal to borderline dangerous in only 60 days.
As Jess gets ready to kick off a Fall Paleo Challenge, I would highly recommend that you jump on board for 30 days. If you have never done Paleo before, this is something that will be a game changer for you. More than just the physical results gained from living a cleaner lifestyle, it is the mental aspect of the challenge that I think is more potent. The ability to follow-thru with no sugar for 30 days is something very few Americans can/will ever do. Imagine what you could do with a body that is actually operating at full capacity, instead of a roller-coaster waiting for the next injection of sugar in order to function. Many of us experience some part of the year that turns into the “grind”. This is not the time to fall off the wagon and stop exercising and eating correctly. This IS the time to get on the wagon because you need to be operating at full capacity so you can hit the ground running during these times. Too many of us get busy and stressed and the first thing to go is exercise….and nutrition is next on the list. People think that by taking those pieces out it will create more time to be productive with whatever is causing the stress, the reality is, it causes more stress and you will ultimately be less productive.
I have heard so many people talk about these terrible situations they are going through with their bodies. Whether it is, aches and pains, auto-immune diseases, high-blood pressure, or type II diabetes, etc. What if I told you that Nutrition could be the key to fixing some of those problems? What if I told you that all you had to do was eliminate sugar, dairy, and grains for 30 days and you could potentially see a life-changing difference? Would you be able to do that? Most people would say, “absolutely”…..and then they would start and on day 3, they would say, “This isn’t working for me, I am feeling worse than before”. Of course you are, your body is shutting down because it is addicted to sugar and your not giving it any. The worse you feel, the more important it is that you continue depriving your body of sugar because it means the addiction is that serious. You have to go into the challenge with the right mindset. The mindset that it won’t be easy but it will be worth it. Don’t be surprised with how bad you feel at the beginning, expect it. Take it as a clear message showing you how dependent you have come to certain foods.
My year without sugar ended last week and it was pretty anti-climactic. I had no desire to go binge on ice cream or chocolate. I don’t crave those things anymore. Haven’t in longer than I can remember. Things like grapes and other fruits have turned in to my treats and I am perfectly content with that. I am comfortable with the peer pressures that are everywhere and have no problem doing my own thing and not feeling that I owe anyone an explanation. Nutrition is one of those things that isn’t cool until later in life when you wish you would have taken better care of your body. People spend all the money they make on medications and hospital visits to fix things that could have easily been avoided had they exercised a small amount of discipline when it came to their nutrition.
I always tell people, if not for yourself, do it for your family. Show your children the importance of quality food choices so they can grow up understanding the difference. Look around, childhood obesity is out of control and we need to make a change before it’s too late. Take 30 days and cook dinner on the stove, not in the microwave. So much of what kids are eating these days is frozen and either put in the toaster or in the microwave. Teach your kids how great bacon and eggs can be for breakfast. It’s usually not the child that keeps this from happening, it is us as adults and parents that are unable to make the time to feed our children healthy options. Make an effort for 30 days and I bet you will be amazed by the results for you and your family. For the 40+ that are going to start the Paleo Challenge today, good luck!