how it started
Part of Yoga + Real Food is the Food component! My story with food has been pretty long and winding, but it's been life-changing, empowering, and fascinating too.
I grew up on the Standard American Diet (SAD, how apropos!) eating Pop Tarts for breakfast or grape jelly on scrambled eggs made with margarine. I'd have McDonald's, a personal pizza, or any other fast food with soda for lunch, and with two business-owner parents who were constantly working, we often had either more pizza, more fast food, or some version of Tuna/Hamburger Helper or spaghetti with Ragu and garlic bread from a shiny aluminum bag.
Simultaneously, from age 4 to 24, I was a serious dancer. I wanted to blow off college and move to New York, pursuing a career that pushed my body to the limit and made me feel powerful, content, and full. I was dancing upwards of 5 hours a day or more at my peak, attending Joffrey Ballet's summer intensive and forcing my mom to ferry me back and forth to Chicago for auditions.
I ended up going to college anyway, tugged away from ballet by the shape of my natural body, all hips and curves rather than lithe limbs and a willowy frame needed for true commitment to the field. I continued to dance in college and continued to eat in the very same way: turkey sub for lunch with chips, add in a pot of coffee with bowls of Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast, waffles for dinner from the cafeteria + whipped cream because I was an adult now!
Around 2010, I traveled to Mexico with my family and returned home with diarrhea for 2 weeks along with my companions. The guacamole on the street? The ice in our glasses? I shrugged it off, took loads of Imodium, and just ate pita bread for about a month. Around a year later I noticed my indestructible digestive system had, perhaps, hit its Achille's heel...Bloating, significant constipation, and general discomfort set in big time. I saw doctors, heard the usual suspects, took senna, fiber, prune juice, eventually Miralax (for several YEARS), and ultimately pushed away any thoughts of something more serious until I began to have blood in my stool. A colonoscopy declared "inflammation in the terminal ileum" which while not named at that time, is a symptom that falls under the umbrella diagnosis of Crohn's Disease.
I wrestled for awhile with the finality of a diagnosis, facing medication FOR LIFE is heavy at 24. At that time, it didn't even occur to me that there were other options or even that the medication road ahead was even more dangerous or scary than what I was facing in the present. I trudged along with a mesalamine, pin balling from doctor to doctor, convinced that something wasn't right about this diagnosis. Meanwhile my energy levels plummeted making a walk around the block exhausting -- a far cry and a depressing difference from a strong, capable dance body.
My brain suffered too. I started graduate school in 2013 and faced a level of discourse that I KNEW I was capable of, but I could not access the words, the cognitive processing to participate. I felt like my intellect had atrophied and after much research, urged my new doctors for a B12 test that indicated my levels were incredibly low due to the ileum being the site for production and processing of this integral vitamin. Mine was scarred and inflamed so I was severely depleted and had to advocate for this simple blood test.
By this point, I was facing numerous doctors' recommendations to up the ante on my medication to a biologic. You've seen the commercials! It works for everything! Unfortunately, it also carries a risk of lymphoma, of 'wearing off' and the body rejecting it as treatment in a few years, and of increasing your susceptibility to pretty much any immune attacker on the planet. It never sat right with me. This is not a demonization of medication -- there are people who desperately need these meds and I do NOT begrudge them. But I wasn't ready to go down this road. Wasn't ready to inject myself or go to the hospital every month for an infusion. It felt too sick, too invasive, and prompted me to instinctually resist and look elsewhere.
I saw a DO who mentioned this "insane diet where you had to make your own cheese" once. She told me to do the biologic too. Instead, I went home and hunted Google for Crohn's + homemade cheese, diet, food, on and on and came to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Formulated by a woman whose daughter was afflicted with colitis in the 1970's, Elaine Gottschall collaborated with a doctor to develop a diet that ultimate controlled and reversed her daughter's condition. I planned accordingly, taping off sections of my pantry, my incredible partner totally onboard, and tried the diet for a month.
It was not easy. I had to commute to graduate school 40 minutes one way, packing homemade chicken broth, steamed carrots, and bananas to sustain me all day. I didn't eat enough, was under a tremendous amount of stress from multiple duties, and felt fine but not better. After the month was over, I dove headfirst into Christmas cookies, soda, bread, and pie...and crashed.
After two trips to the ER and medicated for pain, the third time had me hospitalized after spending 4 agonizing hours on the floor of the waiting room until a fellow patient, so uncomfortable with my persistent wailing, forced them to take me back. Morphine couldn't touch it. I was released, had another colonoscopy and endoscopy, and back to square one: take biologics. I was put on steroids in the meantime and I returned to 'normal' life, but this time, I knew food was real.
What I didn't realize in the moment was that SCD was sustaining me, staving off that horrific flare, and instead of noticing, slowing down, being gentle, I plowed through, blaming the diet for not being a silver bullet. I began to really pay attention to the information my body gave me, crafting a diet built on SCD foundations but tailored to ME. SCD allows dairy, but that never did me any good; alternatively, it nixes white rice which has been key in rehabilitating my digestion.
I have now been using real food to manage my Crohn's disease for 4 years. I am on a mesalamine (the same I've been on since 2011), but I have not gone to the ER or been hospitalized, nor have I needed any further medication since.
This experience has become the greatest lesson of my life, has brought incredible, humbling pain, and has opened up my mind to the overwhelming capacity of our bodies. Food is magical, but it is REAL. It's not an easy, pretty, comfortable picture. There's a lot wrapped up in there: privilege, losses and gains, economics, guessing, emotion + nostalgia, comfort, nourishment, connection, social dynamics, animal welfare, soil health, time, energy, bacteria, regulation...
I have found that if you are willing to listen, your body is much wiser than we give it credit for. It's full of organisms several thousands of years older than we can imagine, a complex system of interconnectedness that is only minutely replicated in our everyday world. It's never easy to notice how our choices affect ourselves and others. Crohn's, or dysbiosis, or whatever data my body is processing is challenging and painful, but I am so grateful.