Sunday, October 19, 2014

10-Day Plan Part 2: Psyllium Husk Survivor

I prefer not to view this as a failure.

So I never made it through the entirety of Dr. Robynne Chutkan’s 10-Day Plan for Gutbliss.  The idea was to follow a strict diet that would help “ban bloat, flush toxins, and dump [my] digestive baggage.”  I shut it down after six days.  For those of you keeping score at home, that’s the third straight “___-day plan” that I’ve abandoned since starting this blog.  I recognize that this speaks rather poorly of my track record.

Visual representation of my track record.

However, I do want to clarify that I didn’t give up because I had a moment of weakness, or because the diet was too strict, or because I missed gluten and soy like old friends.  All of those things are true, but they weren’t what made me quit.

I quit the 10-Day Plan because that plan is wack.

My eating habits in general are fairly healthy.  The thing that trips me up is my deep-seated and all-encompassing love for sugar.  Despite my daily intentions to the contrary, sugar always manages to find its way into my mouth.  And never a single bite of sugar, either--more like ten bites (or more).  That’s enough to seriously muck up my BMI, and it certainly bloats my stomach.  So stripping all the SAD GAS (soy, artificial sweeteners, dairy, gluten, alcohol, and sugar) from my diet didn’t leave me starving.  I’m all about leafy greens and free-range chicken, and I expected that cutting sugar would make me feel like a million bucks.  Instead I felt like a nickel that got run over by a train.

I blame the psyllium husk.

Visual representation of my relationship to psyllium husk.

I still have nothing nice to say about psyllium husk.  It tastes like garbage and it made my stomach swell up until even my sweatpants were tight.  It was a really bleak six days that I spent waddling around, clutching my abdomen, and making evil eyes at my leafy greens.  Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.

The scene: It was a gray October afternoon.  I was at my niece’s Disney princess birthday party dressed like Cinderella (before the ball), with my stomach playing the role of the pumpkin.  There was a chill in the air and a gaggle of shrieking children jumping in a bounce house.  I shivered and sipped my water and searched the premises for a nut or a leaf or a whole grain.  Then my sister handed me a Samuel Adams Octoberfest.

And I drank it.

Visual representation of my experience at childrens parties.

It tasted like relief.  After six days of feeling terrible, it was so refreshing to just admit that the plan wasn’t working for me, and simply abandon it.  It was refreshing to eat a handful of popcorn without feeling guilty about it.  And it was particularly refreshing to screw the cap tight on the jar of psyllium husk and lock it away forever.  

I did not feel immediately better; I had a pretty bad stomachache that night.  But eventually my body readjusted to digesting sugar and gluten, and I started to feel more like myself.  After a few days, I could even wear my skinny jeans again.

If I had stuck with the plan, maybe I would have made it to gutbliss, just like Dr. Chutkan promised.  But ultimately the draw of a seasonal beer, whose benefits were proven and immediate, was more compelling than an eventual state of digestive nirvana that I didn’t really believe in anymore.  I did re-learn the importance of listening to my body, and I was reminded that I don’t need to aim quite so high when making healthy changes in my life.  And that’s the purpose of this blog, to learn from my mistakes and to make gentle adjustments toward a goal of overall wellness.

Thankfully, that’s a concept I can commit to for longer than ten days.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

10-Day Plan Part 1: Psyllium Husk Blues

Dr. Chutkan (Fig. 1)

I’ve written briefly about Dr. Robynne Chutkan before, but recently I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for her work.  Dr. Chutkan treats diseases of the gut, and she speaks about the topic with unflinching frankness.  I love her straightforwardness, as well as her ability to explain complex medical science in laywomen’s terms.  (I’m less enthusiastic about her obsession with poop, because I’m kind of puritanical that way.  But she’s a gastroenterologist, so I guess it comes with the territory.)

Dr. Chutkan’s book, Gutbliss, is the first I’ve read that focuses entirely on bloat.  In fact, her whole practice is focused entirely on bloat, and she treats women almost exclusively (her office is called the Digestive Center for Women).  She’s a staunch supporter of the idea of food as medicine, and she’s far more invested in prescribing diet and lifestyle changes than pills.  Gutbliss addresses about a billion things that can go wrong in a person’s gut and cause bloating, and the book ends with a 10-Day Plan to “Ban Bloat, Flush Toxins, and Dump Your Digestive Baggage.”

My digestive baggage is designer.

I’m not just a fan of Dr. Chutkan’s because she’s brilliant and has amazing hair (See Fig. 1).  I’m a fan because bloating is a longtime nemesis of mine, and her book has helped me fight it.  Reading it helped me figure out what trigger foods  to avoid, and what habits to eschew, to keep my stomach from swelling up like a balloon.

Lately, avoiding trigger foods has not been enough.  My gut has been anything but blissful—it’s been achy and sore and if it expands any further somebody is going to throw me a surprise shower.  So I decided that enough was enough, and I was ready to tackle the 10-Day Plan.

The major tenet of the 10-Day Plan is to avoid certain foods altogether (for ten days—hence the clever name).  Once they’re out of your system and your gut has recalibrated, they can be reintroduced on a limited basis.  Dr. Chutkan uses a helpful acronym to help us remember the foods: SAD GAS.  In longhand, that’s soy, artificial sweeteners, dairy, gluten, alcohol, and sugar.  Essentially, all the fun stuff.  But she promises that ten days of eliminating these foods, plus taking some proactive steps as well, will send you on your way to gutbliss.

This little guy just hates bloating.

It’s Day 3 and my gut is still unhappy.  I blame the psyllium husk.

Dr. Chutkan loves the stuff, and she brings it up it in just about every chapter.  She’s a huge promoter of psyllium husk, but she fails to mention the fact that it tastes like dog shit.  It’s heinous.  In its powdered form, psyllium husk is a grainy, gritty addition to a glass of water that never quite mixes into the liquid.  A bubbly brown film sits on the surface, made of sticky balls of psyllium husk that explode powder into your mouth when you slurp them.  But exploding powder balls are nothing compared to what happened when I let the glass sit out too long—the powder formed a thick paste as it congealed with the water, and the end result was a tall glass of sludge.

Pictured: psyllium husk powder.

It is so, so rank, is what I’m saying.

My feelings toward psyllium husk are not warmed by the fact that in such a high dosage, it actually increases bloating before it decreases it.  (The 10-Day Plan calls for two tablespoons a day; the directions on the side of the jar suggest a teaspoon.)  Since I started this plan in the hopes of “Ban[ning] Bloat,” I don’t actually have a ton of free space in my jeans to hold any extra, even on a preliminary basis.

This guy gets it.

The 10-Day Plan has plenty of other rules as well.  I’m supposed to eat lots of raw food.  Limit meat to once per day.  Eat the majority of my food early in the day, and stop eating after sundown.  Eat leafy greens and pineapple and papaya.  Limit caffeine.  Avoid processed food.  And I’m supposed to exercise for 30 minutes every day, which I have not even been pretending to do. 

Dr. Chutkan is clear about her position on exercise.  She’s for it, and I should be doing it.  But the first two days of the Plan, I just felt too puffy and bloated to put on a pair of yoga pants, and today I’ve been really lightheaded and woozy all day.  If this is about listening to my body, I’m listening.  My body is telling me it refuses to go to the gym and I am respecting its position.

I’ve still got another seven days ahead of me.  There’s plenty of time for me to bounce back from my slow start and feel light and jazzy and free.  There’s even time for me to dust off my running shoes.  I’ll keep you posted.