My relationship with food has always been one of love and hate. For me, nothing is more blissful than biting into a piece of Uncle Tetsu’s cheesecake or chowing down a scoop of mint chocolate ice-cream. When that creamy, sweet and heavenly goodness hit my tongue, everything is bliss and perfect. But the bliss never last that long for me because my belly will act up or my skin will flare up with acne after I digest these sinfully delicious deserts. So, I have come to accept that for every blissful heavenly desert bite, I will go experience hellish discomforts. Love and hate, bliss and pain. That was my relationship with foods. Sick and tired of dealing with acne and digestion problem, I stopped eating deserts and sweets. I was committed to eating healthy. Well, that lasted a while until I experienced stress. I am one of those stress eaters. When I am stress out, I will always crave sweet and desert. My will power could only last for so long, I would give in. It was a vicious cycle for me.
By chance, I was introduced to Ariell Graff by my fitness trainer. My trainer also experienced similar stomach and digestion issues that I had and Ariell was able to help her control these issues. She told me that the program was very strict in dietary and she lost a bunch of weight. Oh yes, her stomach pain and digestion issue were much more under control in just 1 month. I was intrigued. Weight loss and pain elimination, count me in!
It turned out, Ariell is a holistic nutritionist, naturopath and herbalist who specialized in gut bacteria, among many other things. I got to admit, I didn’t think that she could help me with my health issues but I gave it a shot because I was desperate. My body health started to affect my mental health. I became grumpy and stand offish when I experienced pain and digestion issue. To cover up my acne, I spent a big chunk of cosmetic to cover up and I was not confident about my look. Something must be done.
So off I went to an almost 3 hours consultation/introduction meeting with Ariell. We spoke in length of my health issues and dietary habits. The first thing Ariell said to me was: “This is not a diet, I don’t care how much you eat. You can eat 10 chicken thighs for dinner. I don’t care as long as you only eat food from the list.” What? Recite it again? I can eat as much as I want. Well, this was unexpected. Her statement went against all healthy eating researches that I came across. Seeing the “are you crazy look” on my face, Ariell patiently explained to me that her objective was to help me get healthier not weight loss. She believed that I would lose a lot of weight but it would be a by-product of program, not its objective.
We spent three hours to go over all my medical conditions and then she explained the program to me. In nutshell, the program’s objective was to clean my gut of all bacteria. Ariell hypothesized that most of our medical condition could trace back to the gut bacteria. Not all gut bacteria are bad, there are good ones too. The key is to retain the good and kick the bad ones out. In parallel with eating a strict diet to cleanse the gut of the bacteria, Ariell also recommended herbs and supplements to heal and resolve health issues that I experienced. Now, once my gut cleansed and my body rebalanced, the plan would be slowly re-introduce other foods back to the body and observed how the body reacted to each food group. This would isolate and identify the food group that that body couldn’t digest and helped to build a permanent diet for me.
When Ariell handed me the list of approved foods and forbidden foods, I almost cried. Seriously, you would to. Here was the approved list: Green vegetable, meat, apple, berries, egg, fish, legume, and quinoa. Now the forbidden foods: A big NO to dairy of any kind, sugar in any form, coffee, fermented food, even root vegetable was not spared. Say good bye to halo-halo, uncle Tetsu cheesecake and mouth-watering tiramisu. The last straw was kimchi. No more kimchi stew. My life was officially not worth living anymore. To top it off, I must drink 6-8 glass of water per day. Green tea or herbal tea could be substituted for water but not black fee. Darn, how I am going to survive month and quarter end reporting rush without the caffeine kick. Desperate, I tried negotiation and bargaining: can I have just 1 cup of bubble tea per week? How about half cup of coffee? Just a taste…. How about a graduate building up approach? Do I have to follow this to the T on the first day? You got the picture. I tried to talk myself into eating these forbidden foods with all sort of reasons. But Ariell was firm on this. Do it right or don’t do it at all. Darn, she was tough cookie.
The worst was the carb, because my favourite cuisine is Korean and Thai. Typically, I eat 2 Korean meals per week. I am a Korean by food not by birth. But I was out of option because I tried many programs and none worked out so far. Ariell’s logic made sense and so I gave it my best shot.
Week 1 – Getting over the sugar and caffeine withdraw
Breakfast – It was easy. No, I lied. It was hellish. I purged the pantry and fridge removing all temptations. This day was the toughest because my normal Starbuck Venti Americano and a multi grain toast was replaced with scramble egg and green tea. Well, at least it was food.
Lunch – I packed a leafy green salad
Snack – veggie sticks with no dip or nut? Nut sounds more promising. I was about to pay for the bag of nut when my eyes glazed over the list of ingredients: sugar. It was cane sugar but still sugar. Darn it! IT turned out most roasted nuts have some sugar or natural flavours. My stomach chose that moment to make a loud and angry noise to protest my cruel treatment. Desperate, I start to drink lot of water. I must be really desperate because the water started to taste sweet. Could I be hallucinating? It was possible.
Dinner – 5 chicken thighs with stir fry veggie. Yes, I turned into a little piggy. For desert, I drank a cup of green tea and ate carrot sticks with no dip. Life was so cruel. Why I am doing this to myself again? Remind me again? Ah yes, health reason. Darn it.
After the brutal Day 1, I realized that I need to be more prepared as I can no longer make a dash to the store fore “healthy snacks”. I made a quick dash to Costco and got bags of almond, pumpkin seed and sunflower seed. 30 mins later, I got a bag of home-made Cajun mixed nut. I topped it off with 6 boiled eggs for snacks.
On day 2, I chowed down an omelet and a cup of green tea. Armed with nut, 6 boiled eggs and salad for lunch, I was readier than day 1. For my dinner, Karen cooked slow roasted duck for me because she was alarmed by my pitiful face and also, I babysat quite a bit. Even my niece felt bad for me because she saw me chewing on carrot sticks for desert.
The rest of the week went just like that. I was a little more tire than usual and I was desperate for some caffeine. Did I mention I use to drink 3 Americano per day? Coffee was my water, so my caffeine withdrawal was worse than PMS. The surprising thing was I did not experience any acid reflux or stomach pain immediately. For once, I didn’t feel the hot air rising up my throat or the numbing pain in my stomach. Well, well, well, this may worth the withdraw after all.
Week 2 -4– Getting into the rhythm of things
Week 2 was much more manageable because I learn my lesson well and I was prepared. By the end of the week, I found that I wasn’t thinking or craving sweet. I am not into sugar-soaked deserts, but I am totally an Asian desert junkie. Uncle Tetsu cheesecakes, halo-halo, Korean shaved ice, mochi, bubble tea, you name it, I eat it! Typically, I have 1-2 deserts per week, but by week 2 was no longer craving Asian desert. The weirdest thing was coffee, I no longer needed coffee to feel alert and energize. Once the sugar was removed from my body and taste bud, I found that all foods have natural sweetness. The foods I cooked tasted better and sweeter and I only used salted and lemon to season my foods. So, Ariel knew what she was talking about. She told me that once my palette was cleansed I would taste the actual food and not the seasoning of the foods. Seriously, green bean became super sweet and tasted amazing with just salt and pepper. Even meat and fish tasted better once my palate was cleansed.
The bonus benefit, I lost 12 lbs in first month. Seriously, I ate more foods than ever before, yet I was losing weight rapidly. I never lost that much weight, so I texted Ariell almost every day asking her if the weight lost was normal. Every time I got on the scale my weight would be lower and lower and her reply was always the same: “this is expected as your body is finding it normal weight. Once you reach your pre-defined weight according to your body type and genetics the weight loss will stop”. Well, I could live with weight loss if it was normal.
Month 2 – Getting into the zone
I learned to be much more prepared compared to month 1. I set aside 2-3 hours to Sunday to prepare weekly meals. Did I mention, my bloated stomach deflated and no more acid reflux or stomach aches? Life was much better. The cherry on top was: sleep. I was able to sleep 7-8 hours every night without waking-up in the middle of the night. I could actually fall asleep without having to tire my eyes out first. My brain was telling my eye to sleep for the first time in a long time. I felt more energize and refresh than I ever had been. My mind was not so hazy from lack of sleep as I was before.
Month 3 to 6 – Cruising to the finish line
When I made it to month 3, I got a reward. I could add berries and green apple to my approved food list. Yes, a small mercy, I can have fruit again. So, I went a little berry crazy. I put blue berry in pretty much everything. Along with my health improvement, I also learned to bake and cook foods that were good for my digestion and tasty. I learned to bake cookie with almond flour, 100% dark chocolate, and berries to feed my munchie crave. No Uncle Tetsu cheesecake, but almond flour, almond milks, egg and berries could make darn good desert too. I went a bit wild with my desert imagination and this experience taught me a lot about thinking outside of the box too. Where there is will, there will be a way. I continued to lose weight. No matter how much I eat I did not gain any weight. Gradually, my weight loss started to normalize to 1-2 lbs per week. Ariell was right, the weight loss stopped when I reached my ideal weight.
All my health symptoms like acid reflex, acne, digestion and stomach pain were gone.
I forgot to mention, I did a numbers of blood tests at Ariell’s direction at month 1. From the blood tests result, I had a few surprise bad news. But by month 5, my blood test results showed a huge improvement on my overall health and my issues were under control.
Alas, I arrived at month 6 and I was DONE!
Slowly, I started to re-introduce the forbidden foods back to my body and my body was very quick to point out which foods were not good for me. Number one rejected food was white rice. I am an Asian woman and I can’t digest white rice? WHAT? Darn, say so long to Thai mango sticky t rice desert. But, my body was good with the big grains. It was down with wild rice too. I also found out that I had no tolerance for dairy. I didn’t surprise me that much because most Asian has this problem. Lastly, my beloved bean turned out to be my body enemy also. I could have 2 cups of coffee per week at most. More than that, I will experience stomach pain. Finally, I got the answer of what cause me the pain all this year. My enemy, thy name is coffee! Oh, I also dragged Karen into this madness because we do that to each other. Karen saw the improvements on my health and she jumped on the Ariell’s train.
So, I now make double weekly lunch packages because Karen shamelessly begged me.
Well, full disclosure! I did cheat a little. Technically I should only eat green apple and berries. But by late June and early July the peaches that the local farmers sold at the market was too tempting so I ate some. Well, some in my definition.
So, what did I really learn from this 6 months of hell and heave program? I learned of the foods that my body can’t tolerate and will damage my body in the long run as well as giving pain frequently. I also learn that I can be creative with my foods. FYI, desert can be made with almond flour, almond milk and fruit too. And the taste is still heavenly delicious. I now know that avocado ice-cream made with avocado, coconut milk and honey tastes just creamy and yummy as any other sorbet or ice-cream. It takes time and effort, but my body thanks me every day for my effort. As my little niece wisely said once: “you are the boss of your body. Eat healthy!” Who knew that the little monster actually knew what she was talking about. As my body refreshed itself and I got more sleep, my moods and mental health also rebounded. I feel more energize, happier and more confident in my own skin. How about you? Share with me your journey to a happy and healthy body?
DISCLOSURE: This is not a paid article. I wrote this article from my own experience. The program that I described was designed specifically to treat my health issues, so I ask that you speak to your doctor or health professional to find a program that will work for you and your health issues. Everyone body is different; thus, you should speak to a healthcare professional to consult before jumping in.