The design of food 🍔

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A few months ago, I blogged about how I have intestinal dysbiosis.

TL;DR: I got a parasite infection & the antibiotics wiped out my entire gut micro-biome. I recovered shortly thereafter. This April, I had another bout of food poisoning. I receive yet another round of antibiotics. This time, there was no recovery. My gut bacteria had been altered one too many times.

Well, I’ve now had dysbiosis for 5 months. It’s led to countless doctor’s visits, lab tests and breakdowns. After months of denial, anger and depression, I’ve finally accepted that my diet will need to change for the long term. No more gluten, lactose or sugar.

That means every single place that is convenient to eat out is no longer an option: cafes, sandwich shops, burger joints, the bread before the meal, the 3-min ravioli at Safeway, the breakfast table near the conference room filled with an assortment of muffins, croissants and danishes.

At first I was devastated. I thought, how could this be? I resigned myself to never eating out to stop thinking about macaroni and cheese and cookie dough ice cream. Slowly, I’ve come to the realization that I didn’t grow up craving these foods. My mother didn’t and doesn’t bake. I hardly ever ate sugar except on vacation. We actually never really ate out. There weren’t actually that many restaurants in our small town.

So I started thinking about why I liked these foods. It wasn’t until college that I start eating sweets. The college cafeteria didn’t have many vegetables, but they had tons and tons of desserts every single day. I switched over into eating these foods, because they were often better than the vegetables they served, which were undercooked, over-steamed and bland. I gained 15 lbs during college. I joined that club.

When I graduated, I found a job in Boston and slowly went back to the diet that I grew up on – rice, vegetables and seafood. As a result, I lost my college weight almost immediately. However, I also ate out more often, as my friends opted for restaurants as the main arena of socialization.

Later, when I moved to San Francisco I started traveling for work, which entailed eating out as much as every single day for a whole week, something I found unnerving. I ate a lot of foods that were deep fried, heavily sweetened and chock-full of salt.

Perhaps, the worst part of this, is that I got used to it. So naturally, when I put myself on a more restricted diet, I started craving these carbs and sugars. I would look for excuses. I would seek out cookies that were gluten-free, instead of cutting out cookies altogether. I would look for cereals and snacks made of brown rice instead of wheat.

But when my symptoms got worse, I realized that I was only fooling myself. I decided to stop eating these processed foods altogether. It was a real turning point for me.

I had to do undo about 6-10 years worth of social influencing, marketing, and lifestyle habits. I had to look at the places we often cling to as forums for conversation – cafes and ice cream shops – differently than I once did and ask myself: why do these places mostly sell sweets and carbs? Because they’re cheap to stock and profitable.

Sugars and grains can last for a very long time and often don’t need refrigeration. Salmon and bell peppers have finite shelf lives and need to be kept cold. So businesses look for cheap options that can be transported and stored easily. 

Dr. William Davis describes in Wheat Belly that we used to only eat seeds of grass in periods when it was hard to find vegetables and meat, because they could be stored during times of famine. We’re not even supposed to be eating them. 

Many food businesses will add extra sugar and salt to their products so that you’ll buy them again and again. They don’t promise a healthy meal. They promise a good time (think about Coca Cola ads). They’re not looking out for me, so I need to look for me. I want to know exactly what I’m eating. 

I wasn’t planning on making a lifestyle change when I became sick, but it’s taught me so much about how we can take care of ourselves. It turns out that the restricted diet I’m on for my dysbiosis might be the one I should be on forever. (I’m on the Whole30 program and paleo diet by default, so I reckon it’s not a bad way to go.)

It’s been 3 months, since I’ve had any processed foods or added sugars. While, I still crave carbs and sugars from time to time, I no longer feel sad about not being about to have them. I feel more okay about sticking to my choices, which are exactly that. I can have all the sugars and grains in the world if I want, but I know that they’ll worsen my dysbiosis.

Even if I recover 100% from dysbiosis, I would still refrain from my former way of eating. This isn’t about getting back to the way I used to be, this is about living better. So it you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make my plate of shrimp, tomatoes and zucchini. 

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A digression

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For the past few months, I’ve been struggling with intestinal dysbiosis. It means that there’s an imbalance in your gut flora. I developed this condition from a number of different things – a parasite infection and it’s anti-parasite medicines, food poisoning abroad and antibiotics. I’m not entirely sure which one really did it.

Some days are ok. Many days are miserable. On these days, everything I eat gives me intense abdominal pain, and I can’t focus on work or design or really anything. It stops me from traveling for work, eating out, being comfortable in a variety of social situations.

Most of my energy now has been focused on which foods and probiotics I should be taking to get better. Every day is an experiment. I learned that grapefruit and avocados makes me feel worse but chia-millet bread and eggs are ok. I no longer eat anything containing wheat, milk, onions, and a plethora of other foods. Eating one wrong thing will undo all the right things that I previously ate that day. I get scared when I have to go somewhere that doesn’t have the foods I need.

Quite honestly, I’m scared all the time.

My parents ask me whether my stomach has improved every time I talk to them on the phone. My answer is always “not really.”

I don’t want to give up. If you know anyone who’s gotten better from dybiosis, tell me their story. I need to get better.