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.

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