I’ve briefly mentioned on my blog before that the last six months have been somewhat of a food and healthy living overhaul for me. In a bid to banish my hideous IBS symptoms that were plaguing my daily life, I decided to give up a large number of foods, start exercising properly on a weekly basis and focus on my wellbeing, rather than piling too much upon myself and causing yet more anxiety.
It was something I knew was on the horizon, because I simply couldn’t carry on the way I was going. My life revolved around my stomach, I’d wake up every night in searing pain with the concern deep down that something was hideously wrong with me. I couldn’t go to lectures, I didn’t do anything social and I was largely a recluse, doing my uni work from the comfort (somewhat) of my own bed. It wasn’t the life I wanted to lead.
Food has always been an issue for me. By April of this year, I had eaten my way up to 11 stone 6, which for my 5’5 frame – was classed as ‘overweight’. I wasn’t happy with my body, but I never had been – so this wasn’t anything new. I’d been on every diet going (Dukan, Weight Watchers, Lighter Life) but I hadn’t stuck to anything for more than a couple of weeks. The weight would start to fall off and then I’d fall off the bandwagon. I had zero willpower. And the reason I’m saying that is because if I can transform my diet (the way I’ll explain in a moment), then anyone can.
My average day consisted of a big bowl of cereal, a banana (which I thought would cancel out the other calories I was eating), various sugary cereal bars, salmon and sweet potato chips for lunch, a large bowl of cheesy pasta and sweetcorn for dinner and a family size bar of Galaxy afterwards. Seriously, I look back now and cringe. No wonder I was feeling crappy and sluggish all the time. But sugar and bad food is addictive. It’s bloody difficult to give up.
In April, I decided enough was enough. I was taking Beta Blockers that the doctor had prescribed to try and curb my anxiety, but they made me feel weird and woozy. I’d been on Amitriptyline for the pain of my IBS, which had increased my appetite and made me gain weight like no tomorrow. So essentially, I felt let down by traditional medicine and I vowed never to take anything horribly artificial (which altered me) ever again.
Summer 2014 (left) & Summer 2015 (right)
I started looking into natural remedies and stumbled across Deliciously Ella. She too had suffered a chronic illness and lost faith in traditional medicine. So, she decided to overhaul her diet and cut out everything processed. It sounds very drastic but I really fell for her story and her mantra of ‘eating to make your body happy’ rather than slim. From the 10th April onwards, I chucked everything out of my cupboard. EVERYTHING. And I started afresh. I told myself I wouldn’t buy any foods with more than ten ingredients on the packaging (classed as refined) and I got to work overhauling my diet once and for all.
Because my motivation was to get better – banishing feeling so bloated and sluggish all the time, reducing the pain in my stomach and improving my general wellbeing, I somehow stuck to the new plan and since then, I haven’t looked back. It’s now October. I’ve been wanting to write this post for awhile but I wanted to get to the 6 month mark in order to ensure it wasn’t some kind of fluke. Although obviously I could choose to keep things private, I understand that lots of my readers are sufferers of IBS or related problems too, so I wanted to explore how this might be able to help you. Similarly, even if you don’t have IBS symptoms – you might just be looking to start feeling better in yourself.
I’ve lost just over two stone in total, taking my weight down to 9 stone 4 (and now in the healthy BMI range) which I never thought was possible. I’ve been maintaining it for around two months, so it took 3-4 months to start seeing (and feeling) a huge difference but I am really proud of myself for sticking to it.
The pain that once kept me up all night is no longer there. I have had bad days (probably once every two weeks or so), where I start to feel a searing pain come on – however it’s not on the same scale as before and a hot water bottle, a lay down and a peppermint tea is usually enough to fix it. The anxiety is still there and to be honest, I think it always will be – but I’m learning to manage it without medication. I had a huge panic attack in a lecture recently and doubted that all my hard work had been worth it, but I struggled through and felt more confident afterwards that I’d managed to come out the other side.
I was told by GP’s that my IBS wasn’t anything to do with food, instead prescribing me medicine after medicine that didn’t work. I don’t blame them in any way – as I appreciate the term IBS is a very generic one, used to describe a series of symptoms rather than something you can simply ‘cure’ but I do wish they’d encouraged me to look at my diet sooner. I would find it very hard to believe that stuff you put into your body cannot affect it. That the things you put into your digestive system wouldn’t be a contributor. I would urge every IBS sufferer to give what I’ve done a go – even if it’s just for a few months, because if helps – it’s definitely worth it.
Anyway (I apologise for all the waffling), the main aim for this post was to provide some tips to those who might want to give the same thing a go. Recently, my mum and my best friend, who’d both complained of feeling sluggish, bloated and ‘not themselves’ asked me for advice and are currently undertaking my ‘plan’ – so I thought it might make an interesting post. My mum has lost over half a stone so far and my best friend has reported feeling much better, more awake and alert and not bloated anymore.
- Don’t look upon it as a diet. As I said, Deliciously Ella referred to it as ‘eating to make your body happy’ – which I think is a far better way to look at it. Think about eating a massive piece of cheesecake or gooey chocolate cake. It tastes and feels SO GOOD at the time but afterwards, you feel sluggish, slightly sick and bloated. The food you put into your body shouldn’t make you feel like that. If it does, cut it out. You’re not on a diet, because this isn’t something you’re going to do as a fad and then fall off track – it’s about training your body to feel good. You don’t have to restrict your portion sizes and you can still eat the things you love – but you’ll just have to learn to make them in a natural, unprocessed way. Honestly, if you saw the number of preservatives and chemicals they add to all our ‘favourites’, you wouldn’t want to eat them.
- Cut out all dairy items. I know it sounds drastic but dairy really isn’t good for your body in my opinion. It’s okay in small doses, but for daily life – I’d try and avoid it. The majority of us are lactose intolerant without realising – as we lose our ability to digest it past the nursing age (around 6), so it sits round and ferments in our colons, causing pain, gas and bloating. Yay! Everyone I’ve spoken to claims not to ‘eat much dairy’ – but you’d be surprised where you’d find it. It’s in the majority of soups, pasta sauces, crisps and biscuits. Check the labels and if it says anything related to milk, cheese or whey powder, avoid it.
- Don’t go hungry. Eating in this new way isn’t about starving yourself. In fact, I probably eat more now than I did back then. But it’s about making sure you’re filling your plate with stuff that’s actually going to fill you up rather than trick your body into wanting more later. One of my favourite meals is sesame seed chicken with tomato passata, roasted veg and quinoa. It’s a lot of food, but it’s the good stuff – so don’t be afraid of it.
- You don’t have to go completely vegan. I personally don’t eat eggs or dairy but I still eat chicken and fish, so although I wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘vegan’ per say, my diet is usually a plant based one. You can tailor different recipes to what your preferences are – you don’t have to follow one ‘strict’ diet plan. I think cutting out dairy and eggs helps, because it restricts a LOT of bad food anyway – but do whatever feels right for you.
- Find a motivation. My motivation was to get rid of my IBS, however everyone has something different pushing them forward. I’d try and find something that isn’t purely aesthetic because usually, as human beings – we don’t want an aesthetic enough to stick at something. If you’re getting married and want to overhaul your diet before your wedding I wouldn’t look at it as ‘I want to look good in my wedding dress’ but ‘I want to feel good in myself on my wedding day’. I know it sounds really pedantic but you’d rather not be bloated and miserable on your wedding day, the new aesthetic is a by-product.
- You don’t have to cut out gluten completely. I did for the first couple of months because I found it helped me, however you can then fall into a trap of buying all the ‘gluten free’ items on the shelves of supermarkets, which are absolutely packed with rubbish. It’s worth stocking up on things like brown rice pasta, wholegrain wraps and quinoa for your carbs.
- Keep a food diary. This helped me stick to my plan for the first couple of months, as well as monitoring my pain and symptoms. Don’t write down the calories or anything like that, but focus on noting everything you’ve put into your body (food and drink wise) – as well as how you felt that day. It assists in staying on track and when you start to see patterns arise (if you’d had something with dairy in and you felt rubbish the next day).
- It doesn’t have to be expensive. This is probably the number one thing I’ve heard when I tell people about my diet. They kind of shrug it off as being too ‘out there’ and expensive. I don’t spend a fortune on my shopping. I can’t – I’m a student. I shop at Aldi for the main essentials and anything I can’t get, I’ll do an order from Ocado every couple of months. You don’t have to get fancy rye bread or almond butter or cacao powder or buckwheat flour if you don’t want to. I have a small stock of them because occasionally, I like to make something fancy (like Sweet Potato Brownies – which are delish!) but it’s not essential.
- Natural sugars. I wouldn’t recommend having huge amount of sweet things every day, as like everything – it’s in moderation, but it’s not feasible to stick to something if you don’t enjoy it somewhat. I make little mug cakes with gluten free flour, rice milk, cacao powder and maple syrup sometimes, but mostly if I want something quick and easy that’s tasty, I’ll have oatcakes with honey and strawberries or cut up apple dipped in honey/maple syrup. Experiment using the ingredients. There are dairy free chocolates available but I find them overpoweringly sweet and they don’t make me feel good, so I avoid them.
- Still eat out, be social. I still eat out often (as I’m sure you can tell from the number of restaurant reviews). I find it exciting because whereas I used to go for the cheesiest, most calorific thing on the menu – I now am encouraged to go for something new and tomato or veg based. Usually if a place has nothing else, I have chicken and potatoes – which isn’t the most adventurous admittedly – but shows you can still have tasty things! Nandos, Wagamamas, Pizza Express, Prezzo and Yo Sushi all have really good options on their menus (I’ve reviewed some of them on the blog).
- A drink or two won’t hurt. I’ve never been a big drinker – I probably would drink once a week as an absolute maximum. My body doesn’t tolerate it very well and even more so recently, I find it affects me even more – so I try and limit my intake. If you want a cocktail, a Cosmopolitan is quite a good one to have – opt for fruity over creamy. The best you can have is a vodka, lime and soda or a prosecco (don’t ask me why, but that’s what the nutritionist said). Just stick to once a week at the most.
- And finally, enjoy it! Experiment. See it as an exciting new adventure where you’ll be able to discover new yummy things. Fresh food, herbs, spices and vegetables are so flavoursome. It does take a bit of extra preparation but if you get organised on a Sunday night (and keep a tuppaware of sweet potato to snack on) or oatcakes, it’s far more beneficial.
- Fruit: apples, bananas, strawberries, blueberries
- Vegetables: sweet potatoes, potatoes, tomatoes (yes I know, technically they’re a fruit), spring onions, cucumber, peppers, spinach, avocado
- Porridge oats (plain Scottish porridge oats)
- Rice Dream Rice Milk (to have on your porridge, it’s naturally sweet so you won’t need sugar
- Maple Syrup or Honey (the only two ‘sugars’ apart from fruit that I eat)
- Oatcakes (you could have a few oatcakes with honey and banana on top if you need a treat – it’s honestly AMAZING)
- Wholegrain Wraps
- Tomato Passata
- Garlic, Oregano, Paprika, Spices, Herbs
- Plain chicken breast
- Plain fish – salmon/sea bass/cod
- Sesame Seeds
Some of my favourite bloggers who have great suitable recipes:
My IBS/Food Overhaul Posts
- Admitted to hospital and undergoing tests
- Recipes and how I manage it day-to-day
- Having a York Allergy Test and changing my diet
- IBS – You’re Not Alone
I hope I don’t sound too in-your-face or ridiculously OTT with the tips. They are pretty strict but they’re the ones I’ve lived by for the past six months and they’ve really helped me, so hopefully they’ll help (or interest) someone else. I did ‘um’ and ‘ah’ about posting this because obviously I’m not a health expert or a nutritionist (in any way) but I have had advice from both during my journey and have actually really enjoyed trying new things in a bid to find new fruit and vegetable that I can integrate into my daily life. I never used to like tomatoes (only on pizza) – but now, I eat them every day and instead of craving chocolate, I crave them (yes really).
My IBS is so much better and as a person, I feel ‘well’ again. I make myself get out of the house at least once every day – whether it’s for a walk, to the gym or just to the shops. I don’t keep myself cooped up in my room (which is easy when you blog part-time and study for the other amount of time) and I don’t find it hard to stick to this. Eating better makes such a difference, I can’t even put it into words (as cliche and hippy as I probably sound). So without sounding like a broken record, whether you’re looking to feel better in yourself (not for appearance reasons, but just to not feel so sluggish) or whether you’re wanting to get rid of IBS symptoms, it’s worth a try. My mental, physical and overall health has improved as a result.
I hope the above hasn’t come across smarmy, as I’d hate that. Yes, I am proud of how far I’d come – because I was absolutely useless at sticking to things, but I appreciate that it’s hard to give everything up straight away. I’ve been told that ‘life isn’t worth living without chocolate and cheese’, with people joking to me they’d rather eat nice stuff and enjoy life than be restrictive like I’ve been. I understand where they’re coming from, but since I started eating this way – I have realised that life isn’t about food. I still LOVE food, don’t get me wrong – ask anyone who knows me, but my life doesn’t revolve around food. Food makes me happy but it’s not the only thing. Being outside makes me happy, writing makes me happy, spending time with my family makes me happy, travelling makes me happy. Before I started eating this way, I couldn’t do those things. So for me, I’ve found that’s a far more rewarding way for me to go about my daily life.
Have you ever tried one of Deliciously Ella’s recipes? Or do you eat dairy free too?
As always, if you have any questions – please leave them below and I’ll get back to you asap.
I blog about IBS, feel free to have a read of my other posts below: