How does you Gut Garden Grow?

In May last year, a friend took a photograph of me at a garden party and I was shocked. I didn’t recognise myself. My face was very bloated and I looked like a ‘Michelin Woman’!

What was more worrying was I was putting on weight year on year and even though we ate a good wholesome diet and I was active. I felt bloody awful. My brain felt foggy, my body sluggish and I was starting to feel breathless going up the slightest of slopes.

I had been to my GP twice (every two years over a five year period) and had a wide range of blood tests to check my thyroid levels, haemoglobin, liver & kidney function etc. They all came back normal. I was sure my GP thought I was a hypochondriac. My Mum said “It’s the menopause, Yolande” but I didn’t accept that. I didn’t believe women should have to suffer this much all because their ovaries were starting to wind down. I was also aware I was becoming more and more depressed and contrary.

However, it is strange how events happen and within a week of each other, two guests talked about their symptoms of having a food intolerance. I was curious, searched online, and found a Nutritional Therapist (Paul Foley) had just opened a clinic in Ross-on-Wye. It was my birthday and I had been given a £150 from a relative so I booked an appointment with him the following week. It was the perfect gift!

Once I booked the appointment, Paul sent me a significant amount of paperwork (symptoms, diet sheet, past history etc) to complete and I took this to my first appointment. Paul went through the paperwork with me and analysed my symptoms. Even though he said that I didn’t present with severe symptoms, I might have picked up something whilst we were travelling around the world. It was an ‘aha’ moment and I remembered when Andrew and I travelled through Bolivia (now 6) years ago – we both got very sick and didn’t leave the hotel room with its en-suite bathroom for 2 days! Moreover, as a teenager, I had really bad acne so was prescribed long-term antibiotics.

Paul took a finger prick blood test (to test for 60 food allergies), a mouth swab and a nasal swab, and I was sent a pack whereby I had to collect a faecal sample over a 3 day period. All the tests were sent off to Germany (apparently, its cheaper to have the tests done in Germany than it is in the UK).

Two- three weeks later, I got my results. I WAS sick! My results showed I had 18 food intolerances, an infestation of Candida and a leaky gut (where toxins were seeping into my blood stream from my bowel). I was relieved but also shocked.

These tests confirmed I wasn’t imagining the way I was feeling. I had an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria in my gut and a garden of Candida growing quite happily in my mouth and sinsuses. And, because we ate such a healthy diet of live foods, my symptoms were suppressed.

Paul prescribed a regime I needed to follow over the next 6 weeks, slowly introducing each treatment after a 2 day period (to see how I would react). The regime included excluding all 18 foods and following a strict Candida Control diet. In short, it included starting the day with a glass of cider vinegar (with mother) in warm water and throughout the day until the evening doing a sinsus flush using a neti pot of Himalayan pink salt and oregano oil, drinking drops of oregano oil in water, drinking atablespoon of colloidal silver, eating raw garlic (we grow garlic so was happy to eat fresh rather than buy capsules) with every meal and taking a range of supplements (probiotics, liver cleanse etc).

When I share my story, people ask – what did you eat?! Yes, it was pretty basic but growing our own food proved to be my saviour. The garden became my cookbook. I would have found it so stressful to go into a supermarket to decide what I could or could not eat. Instead, I went up to the garden, looked at what was growing and made up a recipe.

My tests showed an intolerance to gluten, rice and potatoes (see the list at the end) so I learned to be incredible creative and experimenting with non-grain, non-gluten starches and plant herbs (garden and foraged) for flavour.

My daily diet for the 6 weeks included:

Breakfast: vegan buckwheat or teff bininis with tinned salmon (or sardines)

Lunch: a simple vegetable soup with sprouted seeds or salad with mackerel

Dinner: fish with steamed vegetables and a non-grain, non-gluten starch.

Being a vegetarian, I found it hard eating fish every day (and often more than twice a day) I wasn’t allowed beans, nuts or lentils as they have a fungus growing on them, produce sugar or I had an intolerance to them. I was allowed to eat meat and chicken but that was one step too far for me and the very thought of eating red meat made me retch. And, because I’m committed to eating locally and seasonally, I wasn’t going to buy bananas, avocados or blueberries to have smoothies. My compromise was fish.

After the initial 6 weeks, I was able to reintroduce plant-based proteins back into my diet and see how I got on, e.g. sprouted beans or dhal. And, I was able to drink and eat fermented foods – I can still remember my first mouthful of eating sourdough rye bread! Yum yum!

After 4 months of starting the regime, I was back to eating a ‘normal’ diet. The process of excluding and reintroducing different foods revealed that I had an intolerance to lactose (and probably have had since being a child). More remarkably, within 3 months I had lost 2 stone and within 6 months, I had lost 4 stone! My mind felt alert, my body felt flexible and I felt ALIVE!

People are shocked to learn that it is only one year ago, I was in a very different space. After 6 months, I did go back to my GP and talked to her about what I had been through. I showed her my blood, swab and faecal test results. She could clearly see the evidence (e.g. my alertness and weight loss) that the regime had worked.  She thanked me for the feedback.  I am hoping she will ask someone who is presenting with the same symptoms as me: ‘how does your gut garden grow?’

My 18 food Intolerances were: milk (cow), almond, milk (goat), yest (bakers), wheat, corn (maize), orange, brazil nut, egg white, barley, pistachio, hazelnut, rice, Gliadin (gluten), potato, pea, yeast (brewers) and peanuts. Borderline intolerance with kidney beans, egg (yolk), cashew nuts, mustard seeds, haricot eans, rye, oat, raspberry, cabbage (savoy), carrot,, durum wheat)

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