For (almost all of) the past four weeks, I’ve been on a diet designed to improve my gut health. Inspired by receiving a copy of The Gut Makeover, and thinking it sounded pretty interesting, I thought I would give it a go and see how I got on.
The thesis behind it is that a lot of what we eat – grains, large amounts of dairy, refined sugar, alcohol, caffeine, etc – is very difficult for the gut to digest, and therefore doesn’t encourage gut bacteria to flourish. Increasingly, this gut bacteria is being seen as essential to our overall health and wellbeing, so whatever we can do to help it is worth doing.
Generally, I am not a fan of diets. But this book arrived at a very appropriate time. Although I would generally consider myself to be a healthy eater, and I was certainly making healthy recipes on a reasonably regular basis, I had become very reliant on fresh bread and pasta for my meals throughout the week. I couldn’t get through an afternoon without at least five biscuits. I was also feeling sluggish and tired, my sleep was appalling, and my joints were in quite a lot of pain. The book arrived as I was trying to convince myself to do something about it, but not quite managing to find the motivation, and gave me a little push to try something different.
So, four weeks later, how did I get on?
So, full disclosure here. About two weeks in, I was struck down with a 24 hour vomiting bug, and my stomach could only really handle a couple of slices of toast each day. After those two days, I had a day just eating regularly, as I didn’t want to think about food. So I had some gyoza for lunch and a slice of cake for a friend’s birthday. And I also had a small bar of dark chocolate after a particularly long day. So there were definitely some blips. But overall, I stuck to it for the rest of the time.
The results were pretty good, too. My joint pain in my knees and hips has completely gone, I slept much better (or rather, I’m falling back to sleep much quicker when I wake up), and after a mahooooosive breakout about a week in, my skin seems clearer. I lost a fair bit of weight (1/2 a stone) without trying (the book advises that if you don’t want to lose any weight, you should eat high fat foods like avocados and nuts, and make sure to include snacks between meals, both of which I did). Once I was clear on what I could and couldn’t eat, meals weren’t too hard. They just required planning and foresight.
There was only really one real downside to the plan which was… I hate being the person who says she can’t eat something because I’m on a diet. On the one hand, having this plan meant that I had the ability to easily turn down so so many opportunities for cake (I work in publishing, it’s a daily occurrence). That was pretty amazing, given that my willpower for such things is close to zero most of the time. But on the other hand, it was pretty frustrating when Peter was cooking and he’d suggest 5-10 different meal ideas, none of which I could have (he really didn’t ‘get’ what wasn’t allowed, despite me being pretty clear about it several times).
So, I’m not going to be doing the plan again, and I’m definitely back on bread. There are clearly changes in my diet that I should make, especially give how improved my joint pain was. The things I’m implementing are:
1) Eat less pasta and more veggies. Pasta is an easy weekday meal, and it will continue to be something that we eat frequently. But from now on I’ll be halving the amount of pasta I have and doubling or tripling the amount of veggies. This is a super easy swap, and I’ve really enjoyed eating veggies in some kind of tasty sauce while on the plan. I actually did this over the weekend, and it was a perfect supper – about a handful of pasta with loads of red cabbage and asparagus, in a yummy creamy chicken sauce. Gorgeous.
2) Drink less milk, but eat more plain yoghurt. Better for the gut and another easy swap. I surprisingly didn’t miss my cups of tea during the day, and found having herbal teas quite refreshing. I actually had a cup of tea over the weekend and didn’t particularly enjoy it (!), so think herbal tea will stay in my future.
3) Aim to eat seven fruit and veggies a day. I ate at least 6, but almost always 7, portions of fruit or veg a day on the plan, whereas before I’d struggle to get up to 4. If I aim for 7, I’m way more likely to eat at least 5.
Other than that, I think we’re back to business as usual around here. I ended the plan on the 26th of February. A little bit early because I wanted to enjoy some sourdough bread at the weekend. Apart from the last week, when I started to get crazy cravings for forbidden foods, the rest of it was actually a lot easier than I thought.
But yeah. Definitely worth it, if you have particular issues and don’t mind a fair amount of food planning. But for me, “Sorry, I’m on a diet” has left my vocabulary again. Thank God!