It’s true — I’ve become one of those gluten-free, dairy-free L.A. women who drinks green smoothies for breakfast and owns two different spiralizers for zoodles.
I wasn’t always this way. In fact, I have a distinct memory of eating powdered milk on a semi-regular basis as a kid — spooned straight from the can. As a young teen one of my favorite snacks was a cheese single on a slice of white bread, microwaved for thirty seconds to make the yellow stuff bubble. So fun to watch!
But now, an energy bar with a tiny bit of whey protein will send me to bed for the rest of the day. Basically, my gut has developed issues. I’m not sure how this happened. The cheese singles probably didn’t help; the binge drinking in college and after might’ve also taken its toll. Or maybe I had food sensitivities all along and just didn’t realize it until recently. Or maybe everyone really has major food sensitivities — It’s just that most people still eat whatever they want and are resigned to feeling somewhat physically crappy all the time. I mean, I don’t really know anyone who seems happy with their digestive system these days. Do you? Literally show me a healthy person.
Early this summer though, I was getting to the point where I was afraid to eat anything because I didn’t know how my stomach would react. An innocuous-seeming salad would suddenly make me double over in pain, or bloat up like a really pregnant woman, or both. Just to be clear, the suffering didn’t actually stop me from eating, or even get me to eat less. I didn’t lose any weight over it, sadly. I was just stressed and in pain a lot.
That’s why I picked up Happy Gut, by Vincent Pedre. Subtitled “The Cleansing Program to Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Eliminate Pain,” the book promised to fix all my digestive issues with a step-by-step program.
Did it work? Sort of.
The gist of the Happy Gut program is this: Eat a clean diet that eliminates sugar (including alcohol), gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, and legumes for 28 days, starting each day with a vegan protein smoothie and taking gut-friendly supplements to let the digestive system rest and heal. Then once the 28 days are up and gut is presumably healed, try adding in the eliminated foods one by one to see if your body can handle them.
I did exactly that. The good news? My gut is now generally happier! I have a much better sense of what foods my body can and cannot handle — so I feel I have a lot more control over my body in terms of being able to eat in a way that I can enjoy my days without pain and bloating.
The bad news? My gut is only happier because I avoid eating a lot of foods other people enjoy eating!
Here’s the list of foods I can’t eat (or actually I can and still do sometimes — There are just severe consequences):
- Dairy (except butter, ghee, and goat cheese) — On top of being lactose intolerant, I’m slightly allergic to dairy.
- Eggs — I can eat foods that contain a bit of egg, but if I eat a straight up egg dish, I get a stomachache about 70% of the time for unknown reasons.
- Gluten — Bread and other baked gluteny goods sometimes give me allergies (swelling, sneezing, runny nose) and sometimes feel like they get uncomfortably “stuck” in my stomach. I’m not sure whether the problem is the actual gluten or something else contained in the baked products, because sometimes gluten-free bready products also cause these issues, though less often.
- Almonds, and I think other nuts too — I used to love almond butter. Now the stuff is like my kryptonite — major stomach pain.
- Alcohol — Pain and bloating to varying, unpredictable degrees. Kombucha actually has a similar effect — I seriously don’t know how much I managed to drink the way I used to when I used to drink a lot.
Basically, Happy Gut for me was a simple elimination diet. So while I’m glad I now know what foods to avoid to keep myself from feeling crappy, I’m disappointed that Happy Gut didn’t actually heal my gut so I could eat a wider variety of foods.
And I have other complaints about the book too:
- The initial elimination diet doesn’t actually eliminate all allergens; it keeps in nuts! It’s a good thing I suspected almonds were a problem already and eliminated them; otherwise I would have been in pain the whole time, because all but one of Vincent’s smoothie recipes contain almonds!
- The supplements, which are supposed to help repair and heal the gut, did not do that. In fact a couple of them — the probiotics and digestive enzymes — actually started giving me stomachaches themselves! I had to stop taking them, though they were expensive! Vincent also recommended L-glutamine, Omega 3s, and a B-complex — which I bought and took dutifully until the bottles I bought ran out. I didn’t replace them because they didn’t seem to be doing anything. The only “supplement” I still take is fermented foods, because I like kimchi.
- The smoothie recipes were not yummy. At all. This is coming from a woman who loves smoothies in general — including the all green kind with chlorella and spirulina and algae….
- The sample meal plans didn’t balance out macros. Some meals had no starch and very few carbs, while others quite a bit. This sent my energy and hunger levels all over the place; I had to come up with my own meal combos.
- Vincent says so many negative things about the foods taken out in the initial elimination diet (e.g. argues that legumes cause inflammation and weight gain) that it feels strange adding them back in during the second phase. The book is written in a way that makes you think Vincent believes that ideally, all of these foods should be eliminated for life —
So there you have it. For the time being, I’m grateful to know what foods I need to avoid — and will continue my gluten-free, dairy-free ways, save the occasional cheat meal in those moments cravings win out over my desire to avoid pain. It’s a good thing I live in L.A. where food issues are generally catered to as a matter of course —
Anyone else tried Happy Gut? Let me know your experience in the comments. And if you have any ideas for how I can get my body to like almonds and eggs and gluten again (I’ve thrown in the towel on dairy and alcohol), I’d love to hear your advice —