My Life with Crohn’s Disease- 10 Years Later

Hi, hello!  Oh my, it’s been a long while- my typing fingers are rusty!  I’ve been mainly sharing on Instagram these days but I’m a wordy lady and those text-limited captions don’t let me go very deep or say very much.  So I’m BACK AND IT FEELS AMAZING!  Grab a cup of tea and settle in because as promised, I’m long winded.

FIRST AND FOREMOST: Thank you to my long haul ride or die readers!!!!  I truly love you and feel so deeply honored that you have chosen to stick with me for all of these years!  I will never be able to really express what it has meant in my life, but please know my gratitude for you runs DEEP.  When you reference our Palm Springs house in a DM or share one of my recipes from 5 years ago on your Instagram I pinch myself.  Connecting with you all has been THE GREATEST part of this journey.  From the bottom of my big ol soft heart, I thank you.

I’m approaching the ten year anniversary of my Crohn’s disease diagnosis and I’m feeling all of the things about it.  First, that diagnosis was really the catalyst for starting this site and for all of the changes that came for me in the past decade.  Time traveling back to a decade ago this month…. I was fully immersed in the rat-race and living in LA, working my bones off photographing weddings (35 in 2010, most requiring travel) and feeling every bit of the pressure and exhaustion that comes with that.  We’d just completed a move (to this house, miss you DesignSponge!) and I was prepping for another full-speed year.  And then the stomach pain started.  I was in and out of the doctor’s offices and ER until finally I was admitted for a week long stay, and shortly thereafter diagnosed.

That diagnosis shifted EVERYTHING.  I no longer had the option to put myself last and my business first.  And I knew I needed to spend more time focusing on myself- which is where this site was born, as a space for me to share things I loved in an attempt to make myself spend more time on things I loved and less time on working.  Silly me, I would later turn this things I love blog into a full-blown workaholic business but I’ll save that story for another day. Bottom line- sometimes tigers have a REALLY hard time changing their stripes.

I still remember the overwhelming feeling I had when the doctor told me that I had Crohn’s disease and gave me his bleak predictions for my future (that I’d need to have portions of my intestines removed likely within 5 years, that I would spend the rest of my life on medication).  Thankfully, I decided not to believe him and here I am a decade later with my intestines still intact and medication free.  Now, I will say that I don’t think medications are wrong or a bad idea or that I have any feelings about them other than that they weren’t for me then, and don’t seem to be for me now.  That could change.  Or not.  The thing I’ve learned most over the past decade is that I control FAR less than I believe I control in this life.  It only took me four decades to figure that one out.  HA!

So here are some details about my health journey that I am reflecting back on today….I started my healing process with a macrobiotic diet and lifestyle.  I became wholly convinced that processed foods, meat and dairy were the true cause of my illness and I could just eliminate those, keep my lifestyle/low stress and be all good!  That was a really nice theory and truly did work for a bit, but after a couple of years of my vegan diet I began to develop a whole new host of symptoms- heart palpitations, fatigue, crippling anxiety, with bouts of Crohn’s flares in between.  After appointments with a handful of Eastern medicine practitioners (Ayurvedic, Acupuncture) and a dabbling with Homeopathic doctors, the resounding message they all gave me was that my body needed animal protein.  I reintroduced eggs, then chicken, and eventually found that I was gaining strength and vitality that couldn’t be denied.

Unfortunately, even though I eliminated most of my symptoms, I never fully escaped the occasional Crohn’s flares.  And so I started exploring and experimenting with diet some more.  I tried GAPS, AIP, and Paleo.  I learned loads about ancient cooking techniques and the wisdom of our ancestors and their cultured foods.  I took a deep dive into understanding gut health and the role it plays in our immune system.  I saw a functional medicine doctor.  I experimented with probiotics and a variety of supplements.  And here is where I’m at now:  I think I’m pretty dang healthy.  Healthier than I have been in the past decade.  I’m eating a grain-free and vegetable heavy diet.  I eat a variety of pasture raised, organic meats- mostly from a local farm.  I avoid sugar, gluten and processed foods.  I exercise regularly, I try to minimize stress when possible (ok so 2020 was a complete failure at that. I don’t know how to NOT stress during a global pandemic- if I figure it out in 2021 I’ll let you know!). I still minimize the exposure our family has to chemicals and try to make best choices for makeup and beauty products.

Crohn’s disease is a monkey on my back I’ve tried to fight off, ignore, banish through every trick in the book, meditate away, and that I have finally a decade later, learned to accept for what it is.  In many ways, I’ve made friends with that monkey.  It’s something that will be a part of my life (or won’t).   I can’t control it.  I can certainly manage it the best I can, but I have let go of the idea that I will heal it, transform myself into some human in perfect health who has no issues with her intestines, and be able to tell everyone else the best practices for living a healthy life.  WHAT A RELIEF!  Accepting what IS, well, it’s my life’s work.  For a recovering perfectionist it’s not easy but I remain committed to trying.

To all of those who also have a chronic illness I’m sending you all of my love, it’s not the easiest journey but it sure can be full of lots of unexpected gifts.  And to everyone who made it this far, thanks for reading… now, then and everywhere in between.   Hopefully it won’t take me so long to get back here again.   XX- Sarah

GAPS Diet For Healing

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Hi there friends!  There were a lot of requests for me to write about my experience with the GAPS diet on this post, so even though it’s a bit delayed I’m really happy to finally do so!  First and foremost, as you may know, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in January 2011 (you can read more about that history here if you’d like).  I’ve been on a determined path of healing since that moment.  I’ve managed to avoid hospitalizations and medications while also enjoying improved health for the better part of 5 years since my diagnosis through various lifestyle/dietary changes.  I’ve had some bumps in the road, but when I think back to the day I found out my diagnosis and the doctor who told me I would most likely need to have portions of my intestines removed I feel grateful that all that I’ve tried to do with alternative treatments has kept me out of the hospital and my intestines in tact!  Crohn’s Disease can be debilitating, and my heart is with anyone who is suffering.

As I mentioned before, pregnancy triggered my digestive issues and so I started trying to troubleshoot with dietary adjustments once more.  This brought me back to the GAPS diet which was developed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride and based loosely on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD).   Dr. McBride cured her son of Autism utilizing the GAPS diet and has helped 1000’s of children and adults heal since that time.  Her story is pretty incredible, and if you’d like to learn more I highly recommend her book for an in depth explanation of what she discovered in her quest to heal her son.  Her research led me to Weston A. Price and his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.  All that I’ve learned from their extensive research and knowledge has been LIFE CHANGING!  One more book I can’t recommend enough is Nourishing Traditions, the first chapters give a very clear and simple breakdown of nutrition and the rest of the book is full of such important information alongside delicious recipes!

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HEALTH UPDATE 7/8/2015

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Thank you all so much for the support, the emails, the comments, and the prayers about my health- they mean the world to me.  I never feel alone, even in the moments when I am, because of you and all of the other people who surround me with love in this world!  I’m so grateful.  

I’ve been mentioning tidbits about what’s going on with my health here and there but have been waiting to be closer to answers so I could share with you.  Since I started this blog I’ve been committed to sharing the struggles in my life right alongside all that is good, to remain authentic in telling my story in between the inspiration I share.  So today I’m going to give you all the nitty gritty details.  It’s wild to think about writing this for the interweb but if reading about my path to health can help even one other person find their light at the end of the tunnel or feel less alone in their own struggles I will lay it all out there!!!  Sit down with a cup of tea if you’re interested, this is a long one…

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Health Update

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Ok, so after yesterday’s post where I laid out all of my angst about food, the judgmental and laughable ways we talk about it, and summarized some of the amazing mass of contradictory information floating around the interwebs- I want tell you what I REALLY think about food, what’s changed for me over the past year, what’s working for me now and what I’ve learned.  Yesterday was my way of poking fun of something that is totally overwhelming for so many of us- that leaves us feeling like we’re falling short of an ideal or messing up our health in one way or another.  It was a much needed laugh about something that has consumed so much of my thought and time these past few years.

So now I want to tell you what’s been going on with my health and diet, because sharing my challenges with Crohn’s disease and helping to raise awareness remains one of the things I’m most proud of with this site.  As you may know, I’ve remained in remission from Crohn’s since my diagnosis in February 2011 (which does not mean I’ve been in perfect health- but does mean that I’ve not had a full blown “flare up” requiring hospitalization or medications, which anyone with Crohn’s can attest to as being a gigantic WIN!)

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The Definitive Guide to Healthy Eating

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As you may know, or remember from this, I have Crohn’s disease which I have been managing with diet and lifestyle since my diagnosis in February 2011.  This past year I started dealing with some other health issues (more on this tomorrow).  So for the past year I dived deep down the internet rabbit hole to find answers, I researched the vast variety of diets and health recommendations relentlessly to figure out what is TRULY the best way to eat.  I read and researched and read some more.  Here’s what I’ve learned:  {so much more after the jump!}

Sugar is the devil’s spawn and is more addictive than heroin and you probably don’t even know that it’s COMPLETELY CONTROLLING YOUR LIFE AND RUINING YOUR CHANCES OF EVER BEING HEALTHY OR HAPPY OR BEING LOVED BY ANYONE.  EVER.  If you eat sugar you may end up in a mental institution.

The stress of NOT eating sugar is worse for you than actually eating sugar, and you will forever be a pariah at social gatherings if you are so rigid in your diet that you can’t enjoy an occasional piece of cake.  Your friends will turn on you and replace you with a friend who bakes or at the very least eats sugar 20% of the time.

Your gut is the most important part of your body and a delicate flora that is IMPOSSIBLE to keep in balance but it is your entire life’s work to do so.  If you fail you will die.

Gluten is the devil.  The actual devil.  Unless you test negative for gluten sensitivity in which case it’s perfectly healthy and should be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet and eaten on the reg.

If you test negative for gluten sensitivity IT DOES NOT MEAN THAT GLUTEN IS NOT DESTROYING YOUR GUT AT THIS VERY MOMENT, IT’S MOST LIKELY CAUSING IRREPARABLE DAMAGE THAT WILL EVENTUALLY KILL YOU.

Grains are the true devil and should be avoided at all costs, they will cause your gut to leak, destroy your relationships and they will make you fat and quite probably cause diabetes.  Unless you soak them overnight before cooking in which case they are slightly less toxic.

Grains are the best and only way to receive enough carbohydrates for your body to function properly, one should make whole grains a regular part of one’s diet without fail.  Without them you will become a shadow of yourself and die.

Fruit is a product of Satan, it causes your blood sugar to spike and is basically like eating a bag of refined sugar. It’s also as addictive as crack.  If you eat fruit you are a crackhead.

Fruit is filled with fiber, antioxidants and is a critical part of a healthy, balanced diet.  Without the proper amounts of fruits and vegetables one will face a lifetime of illness, pain and suffering and eventually die alone without even a cat for company.

Vegetables are the perfect food.  Unless they’re not organic + non-GMO, or are nightshades, or are eaten at the same time as a protein or fruit or grains.  Or are heavy in carbohydrates or sugar.  In any of the aforementioned cases they will cause your gut to leak and subsequently ruin your life and kill you dead.

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ASK SARAH: are you still following the macrobiotic diet?

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hello sarah, i was just wondering if you still follow a macrobiotic diet? or are you more on the vegan program? i was curious how long you followed it and how it effected you? it seems so strict, but i have a digestive disorder and i have heard it’s a pretty helpful diet to follow. i’d love to hear your insight. thanks!

answer after the jump!

answer:

this is a question i’ve been asked a few times and i’m really looking forward to answering (i’ll also be posting this in the crohn’s section so that as time passes it doesn’t disappear into the archives!) let me preface my answer by saying that i am not a trained health professional and my advice is just coming from personal experience.  i do recommend seeing a macrobiotic counselor, a holistic health care provider, a naturopath, and/or  our physician before making any changes. 

i love the macrobiotic diet (learn more about it here) as it’s truly such an incredibly healthy way to eat. when i was recovering from this i tried to eat as macro as i could.  i never fully grasped the whole yin/yang thing which is a major part, but found that just the basic principles and using the food pyramid helped me understand what i should be eating and what i should be avoiding.  so this meant i ate a lot of whole grains, vegetables, beans, soups and small amounts of fruit.  i added all kinds of new foods to my life and started a love affair with vegetables.  i avoided dairy, meat, fish, eggs, sugar, flour and almost all processed foods.  i made sure that my seasonings were mild- no excess in either salt or sweet.  i chewed my food until it was liquid (amazingly helpful for your digestion!) and i tried to eat mostly local, seasonal produce.  it was incredibly good for my system at the time and helped me get back to health so quickly.  for this reason i swear by it for anyone looking to heal their body-from anything!

macrobiotics is a lifestyle, not just a diet, which is another part of what i think is brilliant about it.  i believe that stress is a huge contributing factor in modern health and illness.  i have to make sure that i manage my stress levels or i see my health deteriorate.  i’ve learned from experience- if my diet is poor and my stress levels are high i am pretty much guaranteed to start having pain in my stomach.  if i continued down that path i would no doubt end up with a full blown crohn’s flare up.  for me it’s always a great reminder that my life is out of balance and i go immediately back to clean eating and take time to do the things that reduce stress (exercise, transcendental meditation, sunbathing, movie dates with my husband, bike rides, etc).

as time passed and my health improved i started to trust myself a little more and began being a little less restrictive in my diet.  this means that if i’m out with friends and everyone is sharing dessert- i’m the first to pick up my spoon and the last to set it down.  when we vacationed in greece i tried all the local fish dishes and ate my weight in feta cheese. i would have been fine had i come home and immediately transitioned back into my clean eating but instead i continued to have “treats” until i started to feel it and was reminded that i really have to eat a certain way to feel healthy.  

my dietary focus now is eating healthy 95% of the time.  this means that 95% of the time i’m eating lots of (ORGANIC!) veggies and fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans, and some macrobiotic favorites (miso soup & sea vegetables).  i avoid animal products, refined sugar and processed foods. lately i’ve been trying to eat more raw foods as they offer the most nutrition and i’ve been starting each day with a glass of warm lemon water and this juice.  i’ve also found that giving my digestive system breaks (through juice cleanses) has been incredible.  i feel my very best when i’m eating very light (ie: smaller, raw meals) and drinking lots of fresh juices.  i’ve been teaching myself how to cook and have so much fun playing in the kitchen.  i don’t feel at all deprived, instead i feel like there’s a whole world of foods that i’ve become aware of since starting to eat this way.  the 5% of the time is when i’m traveling or socializing and i still try to eat healthy but will also have some of the things i normally avoid.  especially sweets, i love a sugary treat.

i know it sounds crazy but i feel so fortunate to have gotten sick.  i feel better now than i ever have, and i attribute that entirely to my change of diet and lifestyle. if you’re reading this and you’re completely healthy- there is nothing better than preventative medicine! i consider every green juice i drink a little bit of preventative medicine and feel confident that this way of life will keep me healthy for the long haul. autoimmune diseases like crohn’s are on the rise in this country and women are the most likely to get sick (statistics here if you’re interested- the numbers are staggering).  i believe that we can prevent and treat most (if not all) autoimmune disease with dietary/lifestyle changes.    

here are two cookbooks that played a major role in my recovery:  the kind dietthe hip chick’s guide to macrobiotics.  both books offer insight into macrobiotics and recipes that aren’t overwhelming.  the recipes that i post are most often things that are a part of my regular diet, but i also post the occasional treat.  it’s all about balance! wishing you all the best, health and happiness!  xx- sarah