My Health Journey: Leaky Gut Diet
I’ve started a pretty restrictive (but very healthy) leaky gut diet, and I want to share the details here in the hopes that it may help some of you. Some of you know that I have been dealing with weird health issues for the last few years. I’ve had auto-immune-like symptoms that I’ll go into in a minute. I’ve seen SO many doctors, naturopaths, acupuncturists, and other health practitioners (western medicine, eastern medicine and everything in between). I was spending lots of time and money, taking lots of tests, trying lots of different diets and supplements, and getting nowhere. Along the way, I’ve become almost certain that my issues stem from a leaky gut (sounds gross but it’s actually really common – I’ll explain more below). I finally found a few of my food triggers, and I stumbled onto a leaky gut diet that I believe will heal me. I want to share it with you in the hopes that it may also help you fix the source of your mysterious health issues.
My Leaky Gut Symptoms
You guys – I am so tired. Not literally, but figuratively tired of being in pain and seeing doctor after doctor, only to hear that my test results are normal (most likely along with a note in my chart saying I’m nuts or a hypochondriac). First let’s start with my ongoing symptoms, and what led me to believe I have leaky gut. The symptoms I have can be tied to A LOT of different health issues, so I’m basing my assumptions on all the tests I have taken in the past few years, along with using my gut intuition (haha sorry – stupid play on words)!
- Weight gain – The number on the scale steadily creeps up despite the many diets and exercise plans I’ve tried. I’m the largest person in my family even though I don’t eat more than they do (or exercise less). My cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure are all normal.
- Inflammation – This is the biggest one and the one I believe actually causes all the other symptoms. This has been happening my whole life – even when I was a kid. My legs and feet swell up, my hands feel heavy and weak, and I gain A TON of water weight, if I eat the wrong foods. Doctors just say there’s nothing wrong and I should wear compression stockings every day. Ummm have you tried those? How about no thank you! They’re ugly, so hard to put on, and they certainly won’t fix the root cause!
- Headaches – Debilitating migraines that have made me take many days off when I should be working. I don’t have time for this nonsense!
- Muscle Pain – I have ongoing muscle pain that increases exponentially if I eat the wrong foods. I only survive by seeing a chiropractor weekly (and massages as often as I can afford them).
- Shortness of Breath – This one SUCKS. Despite working out at the gym or on my stationery bike with no problems, I can’t walk a block or go up one flight of stairs without gasping for breath. Super embarrassing because people see that I’m a curvy girl and assume I’m lazy or out of shape. I also live upstairs in an apartment building, so I have to climb stairs daily.
- Anemia – I become iron and B12 deficient every few months. I take iron and B12 when I start getting anemia symptoms and it goes away. But it always comes back.
- Depression/Anxiety – This is definitely genetic (read about my struggle here), but emerging research shows that there could be a connection to the gut.
There are more, but those are the big ones that I’m actively trying to banish from my life. Surprisingly, GI (stomach) complaints are not a big issue for me. BUT, that’s actually common with leaky gut – it’s not the same thing as IBS, and gastrointestinal symptoms are not always present (but they can be for some people).
What is Leaky Gut?
Okay so, what is leaky gut and why would you want to put yourself on a fairly restrictive leaky gut diet? Well, basically leaky gut (or intestinal permeability) simply means that the lining of your intestines is compromised and not doing a good job of keeping undigested food particles and bacteria out of your blood stream.
When those particles and microbes leak into your blood stream, your immune system does its job and attacks the “invaders.” Inflammation is part of your immune system’s attack mechanism, and it’s quite useful every now and then when you’re actually fighting something off. When your immune system creates inflammation every time you eat, then you’re in trouble. Basically your immune system goes into hyper-drive and starts to attack you, and now you have what is essentially an auto-immune disease.
If you’re having the symptoms I mentioned above, severe or strange food intolerances, stomach issues (bloating, gas, etc after you eat), or several others (see a list here), then you may have leaky gut. Leaky gut can be caused by genetics, a standard American diet (nutrient depleted soil and processed foods mean we get fewer probiotics than people who were born 50-100 years ago), using aspartame or other fake sugars (I was addicted to Diet Coke since I was 10 years old but I finally quit about four months ago!), using too many NSAIDS (I believe this was my problem – I was taking Advil DAILY for years for my headaches), general stress or a screwed up microbiome (meaning you need more good bugs or probiotics, and fewer bad bugs). It’s really easy to see how many Americans can end up with an unbalanced microbiome or leaky intestinal cell walls!
Leaky gut syndrome is still a fairly newly discovered disease and research is still being done. There’s no FDA-approved medication or cure. If you mention it to your doctor, you’ll probably be shut down pretty quickly (and you’ll hear their eyes rolling as they walk out the door). That’s okay. Here’s the thing – the “cure” is basically a healthy diet, along with a few supplements that aren’t known to have many side effects (if any). I don’t think any doctor would have a problem with that. All you can do is try it, and if it doesn’t work, then the worst case scenario is that you’ve drastically improved your nutrient intake!
Food Sensitivity Testing
Okay, so out of all the doctors and naturopaths I’ve seen over the years, the one that helped me the most was a nutritionist. She put me on an elimination diet and from there I was able to figure out which foods caused the most inflammation. For me, it was mainly dairy and alcohol (or fermented drinks like kombucha). I don’t have lactose intolerance – but I do get inflamed when I eat dairy. I was on a very strict diet for eleven months, and at the end of it, I was able to eat foods I couldn’t eat before, BUT I had eaten so many eggs in place of other foods, that I actually developed an intolerance to eggs. This just goes to show how important it is to vary the types of foods that you eat, because your immune system can create antibodies against foods that are constantly getting into your blood stream. Over time, those antibodies can go away, which is why avoiding the foods for so long often means you can have them again at some point. BUT if you never heal your gut, and you keep eating irritating foods, you just keep up the same cycle.
So, a year or so after that restrictive diet, I know a few things I need to avoid, but I had a feeling there might be others that I wasn’t aware of. A friend of mine swears by a home testing kit for food allergies from a company that was on Shark Tank called EverlyWell. I reached out to them and they sent me a sample kit to test out. The kit tests your body’s igG response to 96 common foods. Note that it’s NOT a food allergy test, which measures severe allergies that can be life threatening conditions. Food allergy tests measure IgE antibodies and can’t be taken at home. This test also cannot diagnose celiac disease or a lactose intolerance.
The food sensitivity kit was very easy to use, but I’m not going to lie – the pin prick needed to get a few drops of blood onto the test card freaked me out. It figures that I have no problems doing minor surgery on my face when I have a big zit, but a tiny needle scared me. I’m really bad with needles in general. The needle in this kit is hidden from sight – you basically push it against the side of your pinky finger and press. The needle comes out and is immediately retracted, so you never even see it. I think I’d rather see the needle, but I also think I may be in the minority on that. Anyway, once I got over myself and did it, it really wasn’t a big deal. You get a few needles in case you mess up, and lots of band aids! After getting my sample, I simply popped it in the mail (it comes with postage) and it went to a legitimate lab to be tested. I got my results back in about a week or so (around the holidays).
When I got my results, I was surprised to see that I had no strong reactions to any foods – only mild reactions. Since I’m a super sensitive flower, I know that I probably feel symptoms of these intolerances when others may not even notice. Eggs were on the list (not surprising) but dairy was not on the list. The company does say that if you haven’t consumed a food in a while, your antibodies may not show up. I emailed them to ask more about that, because I did find it a little bit strange. They do say that they cannot diagnose a lactose intolerance (allergy), but I don’t believe I have lactose intolerance because I’ve never had any GI issues after eating dairy (only inflammation). I was also not surprised to see pineapples on the list. Although I don’t eat a lot of pineapple, I have taken enzymes with bromelain (which come from pineapple), and pineapples showed up on another food intolerance test I took a few years ago.
There were some mild intolerances to foods that surprised me, like grapes, black pepper, ginger, dill, cinnamon, white potatoes (nooooo!) and wheat gluten. Although I don’t know for sure if I have issues with these foods, I’m avoiding them during the duration of my leaky gut diet. Even if they are causing minor disturbances, I want them OUT while I clean house.
The Leaky Gut Diet
Not long after I took my food intolerance test, I was browsing the health section of Barnes and Noble and I came across The Gut Healing Protocol by Kale Brock. His leaky gut diet made a lot of sense to me, and I appreciated the fact that he had his own health issues that he was able to clear up with this diet. I wasn’t familiar with this Australian health journalist before, but he’s done the research and most of what he says adds up. So my fiancé, Gregg, and I decided we would commit to at least two months of this diet together. He doesn’t have the same symptoms as me, but he does have GI issues sometimes, and I think he can benefit from it. I know he did it mainly to support me (awwww!) but I think he’ll have major improvements too.
Basically the diet is going to force me to cook with whole foods. I’m guilty of being extremely addicted to GrubHub and other food delivery services, and this is going to put a stop to that (for now anyway!). I am COMPLETELY removing these foods from my diet for at least two months (along with a few other random ones): dairy, soy, wheat/grains, rice, white potatoes, legumes, beans, sugar, most fruit, alcohol, aspartame, and processed foods. I’ve already been aspartame-free for four months, so that’s good. I have been avoiding dairy, but I’ve had plenty of slip-ups here and there. And I’ve already been avoiding soy because it’s a major acne trigger – as is dairy – (thank you Emme Diane for teaching me that!), but I haven’t been as strict as I should. I’ll be eating a lot of salads and soups that I make at home, and omitting a lot of processed frozen foods that I was eating before. I’m also taking supplements such as aloe vera, marshmallow root, slippery elm, and other herbs to heal the intestinal lining.
Can’t I Just Take Some Probiotic Supplements?
Sure – you can try taking probiotics, but if you’re like me, they’ll just cause more problems at first. The issue is that even GOOD bugs can slip through the cracks in your intestine, enter the blood stream, and get attacked by your immune system. If probiotics work for you, great! If not, I’d suggest following a diet like this one until you’re all healed and THEN adding in the good bugs.
I’m a pretty skeptical person by nature (a friend once suggested I get the word skeptic as a tattoo). So I need to hear some reasoning before I do something. Show me some science first please. But I’m also very open to trying new things that MIGHT work as long as they are unlikely to harm me. In this case, a clean diet is certainly not going to cause any harm, so I’m willing to try it. I’ll keep you posted on my health journey. The BEST place to catch the “real Jen” is in my Instagram stories. I share a lot (maybe too much?) and I keep it real there y’all! So follow me there and come say hi – I love hearing from you. Let me know if you’ve heard of the leaky gut diet, and if you’ve ever tried it.