What I’ve Been Writing & How I’ve Been Eating

I’ve been gone for a while, my friends, but I’ve still been writing. I attended a writers’ workshop at the Indiana State Library organized by the Indiana Writers’ Center on March 24th, and I’m attending another one this Saturday on writing horror fiction. I’ve also been writing two articles a week for Indy Metal Vault (although I’m slowing down a little now to make time for my personal blog and to outline my novel). I’ve been having so much fun and found such a sense of belonging at IMV that I had business cards made up (they were designed by our Editor-in-Chief’s wife). I don’t feel like such a fraud when I refer to myself as a “music journalist,” now.

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I’ve been taking in as much live music as I can manage. I’m happy to have people from the website to stand next to, whereas before I was solo and no one really spoke to me. It’s hard being the new girl on the scene, especially when there are few other women there. I’ve also started playing my saxophone again. I’ve been learning the minor scales that are prevalent in the heavy music I like, so I can collaborate eventually. I’d really like to be a part of a heavy psychedelic project, and I am actually in touch with a bassist on this front. We’ll see if anything takes shapes from it, and I’ll of course keep you updated.

The thing that has eaten up most of my time, however, has been my way of eating. I’ve mentioned before that I have a “sensitive system” and that I am on a non-Western or atypical diet. I talk about it so much in my face-to-face interactions that I haven’t really wanted to write about it, but since it took me away from writing for an entire week, and I spend a large chunk of time in my kitchen still, I’d like to share a little. Mostly I’ll link out, because many people have much more complete explanations than I’m willing to post on Hoosier Mystic.

The State of Health That Spurred Me to Change My Diet

For a long time, I was getting gradually sicker. At first, it was just that processed foods like Pop Tarts and Little Debbie’s gave me heartburn. I began to eliminate processed, sugary snacks from my diet in 2011. I was still eating bread and pasta and drinking a lot of sugar in the form of alcohol, though, and those were things I either didn’t realize were having a deleterious effect on my health (why did you betray me, brown rice!) or that I was unwilling to relinquish (I loved beer so much I was home brewing). Gradually, my symptoms became worse. Some of my physical symptoms included:

  • Heartburn and acid reflux
  • Nausea and lack of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Bloating (my belly would be visibly distended)
  • Intestinal cramping (this was pretty severe at times — bedrest severe)
  • Weight gain (almost 30 pounds)
  • Carbohydrate cravings (these were so strong I felt like I couldn’t control myself)

In addition to these “overgrowth” symptoms, I experience the following “die-off” symptoms (I’ll explain below):

  • Chills
  • Brain fog
  • Cold sweats
  • Hives
  • Body aches
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Low-grade fever
  • Insomnia

I later realized that mental and emotional disorders were also related. These symptoms included:

  • Depression, usually seasonal
  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Lethargy and lack of motivation
  • Irritation, especially when hungry (or hangry)

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)

My symptoms escalated to the point I was sure there was something seriously wrong with me. In April 2016, I reached a tipping point: after a three-day bender in Cincinnati with my mom (we went to a flower show and stayed drunk the entire time) I felt like I was dying on the ride home. This wasn’t just a hangover — it felt like I had a hangover and the flu at the same time. It was awful. When I got back on my feet, I began researching food sensitivities and gastrointestinal distress, and decided that I had candida overgrowth. I began experimenting with different anti-candida diets and eventually stumbled upon the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) by Elaine Gottschall. This is the one that kick-started my healing process.

To briefly outline, diets for bacterial or fungal overgrowth are very similar to the paleolithic diet, only based on science instead of theory or philosophy. They are sugar-free except for glucose (honey) and fructose (fruit). These monosaccharides are easier to digest than other sugars, which break down to disaccharides as their simplest molecular structure. The dimeric sugar molecules require enzymes found in the small intestines to be further metabolized. If you have an infection in your intestines, like I did, the cells that produce these enzymes (invertase, maltase, lactase, etc) are damaged. The complex sugars sit in your gut, undigested and unabsorbed, and yeast and bacteria have a ball with them. The bad bugs party hardy, grow out of control, and make you sick. This further damages your intestines, thus instigating a vicious cycle as your health gradually deteriorates in waves.

What does a diet free of all disaccharides look like? I’m glad you asked.

SCD Legal Food Groups Foods to Eliminate
  • Meat (I buy local, humanely raised, and grass fed when available)
  • Wild-caught fish, especially oily fishes: sardines, herring, mackerel, and salmon
  • Ferments, including 24-hour homemade yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, etc
  • Eggs (buy local)
  • Vegetables except starchy ones like potatoes, including sweet, and turnips
  • Nuts, all varieties plus flours
  • Specific beans: white navy, lentils, kidney, black, adzuki, lima, and split peas
  • Other plant-based milks and flours (namely, almond and coconut)
  • Fruit
  • Honey, preferably raw and translucent
  • Grains — ALL GRAINS, even the nutrient dense varieties, like quinoa
  • All dairy, except ripened cheese and 24-hour fermented yogurt or kefir
  • Soy products, including milk, soy sauce, protein isolate, tofu, tempeh, and fo-meat products
  • Sugar, including maple syrup, cane sugar, corn syrup, agave syrup, etc
  • Starchy vegetables like corn, potato, sweet potato, turnip, parsnip, and kohlrabi
  • Certain kinds of beans, especially pinto beans and chickpeas
  • Additives such as starches, gums (e.g. guar and arabic), and dextrins
  • Malt beverages, i.e. BEER

I transitioned slowly into the SCD diet, and by August 2017, I was feeling pretty damn good. My energy levels were higher than ever, I dropped the extra weight that had slowly accumulated over the past seven years, and my moods were leveling out. However, earlier this year my symptoms started to flair again. I was eating a lot of almond flour and coconut flour baked goods, and I read that this can be detrimental. I had also skipped the introductory phase of SCD, because I told myself I wasn’t that sick. I decided that doing an intro diet might be the kick in the ass I needed, so I bought a guide and started the research phase over again. (I love doing research, can you tell?)

Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet

The Gut and Psychology Syndrome, or GAPS, diet is based on SCD, but takes things a bit further by adding foods in stages, eliminating some of the beans (kidney and black), and adding bone broth and ferments as medicinal foods. Broth and ferments should be taken three times daily during the introductory period and regularly thereafter.  Each stage lasts between one and seven days, and in addition to eating certain foods, the way you prepare them also matters. It can seem complicated and overwhelming, which is why I bought a guide.

GAPS allowable foods, in stages GAPS foods that require caution
  • Stage One:
    • Simmered chicken, beef, and fish
    • Meat and bone broth
    • Animal fat, lots of it
    • Whey (unless you have casein sensitivity) or the juice from fermented veggies
    • Easily digested veggies, such as squash, zucchini, and carrots, cooked thoroughly
    • Ginger, lemon, sea salt, and apple cider vinegar (ACV), if tolerated, to restore minerals and electrolytes
  • Stage Two
    • Vegetables can be steamed
    • Ghee
    • Eggs, soft-boiled
  • Stage Three
    • Meat and veggies can be sauteed
    • Nut butters (flours are technically allowed, but I avoid them)
    • Fermented veggies
    • Fibrous Veggies (cabbage, celery, asparagus, etc)
    • Fresh herbs
  • Stage Four
    • Grilled and roasted meat and vegetables
    • Eggs can be fried
    • Dry herbs
    • Plant-based oils (e.g. coconut and olive)
    • Homemade juice (I choose not to juice)
  • Stages Five and Six
    • Fruit — I haven’t made it to stage five yet!
  • Fermented dairy, since some people are sensitive to the protein in it, not just lactose
  • Root vegetables like carrots, beets, and onions
  • Fibrous vegetables like celery and cabbage
  • Fruit, which is completely eliminated for the first four stages
  • Honey, which is allowed in small quantities, but I chose to eliminate it
  • Nuts, which can be hard to digest, and should be soaked
  • Commercial nut flours, which are not soaked
  • Beans, which are high in carbohydrates and can contain anti-nutrients
    • Beans need to be prepared from dry at home, always soaked, and also fermented in the early stages of GAPS
  • Spices — for example fenugreek makes me really sick, and it’s a common ingredient in Indian curry
  • Artificial sweeteners, including stevia (I completely avoid these because they mess with your sugar hormones, insulin and glucagon)
  • Dry wine and spirits (whiskey, gin, and vodka)
    • Mead and ciders may also be okay for some people on full GAPS in moderation, but I can’t handle them yet

When I started this elimination diet, I should have taken a week off of work; the die-off was that severe. Die-off symptoms refer to the condition you suffer when a large amount of infectious cells are killed at once. Yeast release acetaldehyde, a neurotoxin, which gave me anxiety, brain fog, and insomnia. Bacteria release who-knows-what, especially since I didn’t have my butt hole swabbed to find out what kind of critters I was hosting. During the bacterial die-off in the first week of GAPS, I was so tired I could hardly do anything; I didn’t write a lick, and I even left work early a few days. I was also extremely dehydrated and experienced muscle cramps.

The GAPS intro diet is no joke, and if you know anyone doing it, treat them like you would a dying person, because that’s what they feel like. I felt lethargic, hopeless, and depressed in addition to sore and tired for a full seven days. It was absolutely worth it, though. When my health rebounded I had more energy and mental clarity than ever before, my carbohydrate cravings were completely gone (as long as I ate enough fat; see also: ketosis or the ketogenic diet), and my anxiety and depression evaporated. It surprised me to find that my mental health was directly linked to my diet. When I accidentally (or intentionally) eat sugar or starch, I am a either a nervous wreck or listless and unhappy for about three days.

While I’ve been eating this way for over a month, understand the diet well, and am willing to answer any questions you may have, I don’t want to go into deep detail here. This isn’t a health blog, after all. I wanted to give you a brief overview, because changing my way of eating has impacted my life immensely and cooking takes up a lot of my time. I’ve collected my favorite GAPS and SCD resources below.

Online Resources for GAPS and SCD

Text Resources for GAPS, SCD, and Slow Cooking

Please note that all Amazon links out are Amazon Associate program links, which means I get a tiny percentage of the sale if you make a purchase after following one.

I’ve got a couple more articles about food and cooking up my sleeve for a three-part series. Next: 10 Things I Learned While Eating For Gut Health, and subsequently I’ll write about creative flow, Ikigai, and cooking. I’m happy to be back on Hoosier Mystic. Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

Love,

JBrowne

Written by Jessie Browne
Originally published on Hoosier Mystic
Copyright 2017 CC BY-NC-SA

Photo by FOODISM360 on Unsplash

6 thoughts on “What I’ve Been Writing & How I’ve Been Eating

  1. I love reading your reflections on food, health and psychology. I have been experimenting off and on with different dietary changes that have had positive impact on my mental clarity & brain health, a.d.d. symptoms and overall feeling of energy. I think it is awesome when we can really pinpoint what makes us most vital, and eliminate those things which do not serve our best health. Glad to hear of your progress as a music journalist as well! Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, dear! The link between food, the microbiome, and psychology is so fascinating to me. When and if I decide to pursue a PhD, that will likely be what I study. And writing for IMV is such a blast!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi there,
    I also live in Indiana (Indianapolis) and am embarking on the GAPS diet. Where do/ did you purchase animal fat and bones for making soups? Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated!

    Like

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