My whole life, doctors have told me to keep eating to keep my weight up.
With CF, it is difficult to absorb nutrients, so I’ve always been small and life has always been a battle to maintain my weight. In some ways, I saw the positive in this. It meant I could eat McDonald’s whenever I wanted. It meant that I could have that extra cookie, or doughnut, or choose the fried clams instead of the baked fish.
Calories were nothing to me, except that I needed a lot of them, at whatever cost, however I could manage it. I ate whatever my appetite allowed me to eat without gagging. Most days this was sour cream and onion chips. I scoffed at foods that were too healthy (you only live once!), at people who cut out entire food groups (how can you live without bread?), and at anything organic (why so expensive!).
But when a co-worker committed to doing the Whole30 Challenge, I listened. She told me how it helped her to figure out what foods trigger you and make you feel like crap. I thought, well… I don’t need that because “I never feel sick from anything I eat!” After all, I like to joke that I have a stomach of steel.
Then, this summer, I started noticing that my lungs were continuously tight, so much so that people kept commenting that it was hard to hear me when I spoke. I woke up with a stuffy nose, and attributed it to allergies. Then, on my wedding day, no less, my lungs got so inflamed and irritated that I coughed up a whole bunch of blood.
Even though I have Orkambi to make a difference in my health, I still felt stuck, inflamed, and like I needed a reset. So I consulted my favorite CF group filled with runners and healthy eaters and asked them if they had any ideas for some good recipes. “I recommend the Whole30” a couple people posted.
But, this sounded a lot like a diet to me. And my whole life I was discouraged from dieting. Then I did some research. The Whole30 wasn’t about losing weight, though some people did, it was about eliminating the foods that cause things like chronic inflammation, slowly reintroducing them, and then seeing how you feel.
So I did it. I read the book inside and out, I prepared the recipes, went through the sugar withdrawals, and suddenly, I felt better. I didn’t eat gluten, dairy, grains, legumes, alcohol, added sugar, or processed foods.
My skin cleared up, my lungs loosened up, I had energy that I never knew I could have. I felt a genuine sense of contentedness and clarity, with less stress, and less grumpiness. Then, I slowly reintroduced each food group that I had cut out.
I figured out that gluten, soy, and legumes make my nose run and my lungs tighten up, and that the “CF belly” I thought was inevitable, was way worse when I ate dairy. I stopped craving cookies and brownies and chocolate, and I made better choices when I went out to eat.
This lasted for a bit. Then, I slowly fell back into my old ways: overindulging in sweets, experiencing Chick Fil A for the first time, and eating the same comfort foods that I turned to. But this time, maybe because I had experienced the immense change a month before, the way these foods made me feel were much more noticeable.
And within days, I crashed. I felt tired, sad and more easily irritated, my skin broke out like crazy, my lungs went back to their tight state, and I remembered why I started on the Whole30 journey from the beginning.
What I learned from the experience is that when I feel my CF symptoms acting up, I don’t always have to assume it’s just because that’s the way CF is. Even though CF is genetic, that doesn’t mean that certain things can’t make the disease behave in more destructive ways.
I can look back in my day, or my week, and think about what I ate, and draw a direct connection to how it makes me feel, because I underwent the ultimate experiment. So if I want to feel healthy, I might choose the meal without bread in it, or skip dessert. Just like doing my treatments and exercising keeps my symptoms at bay, so do the choices I make about food.
But I am human, and I am imperfect. Some days I eat whatever I want, and other days I get fed up with how I feel when I eat whatever I want, so I go back to Whole30 rules.
On January 1, after my honeymoon and the holidays, I am committing to completing another Whole30, and cutting out all those food groups again. If you’d like to do it with me, I would love to share my insights and tips, so let me know and please ask questions! In a world filled with MLM products and fancy shakes that promise to make you feel better, the Whole30 is just a $10 book that will change your life. And I’m not even being paid to say ANY of this!
This program has really forced me to start making changes to my food choices and my food lifestyle, and I hope anyone who needs a fix, a reset, or who wants to figure out how the food they eat is making them sick will try it! Explore the Whole30 site, get the book, and please ask me any questions in the comments or by email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to learn more about my experience.