In today’s episode, Crohn’s Warrior and food challenge competitor, Michael Simmons, shares his IBD story. From his first Crohn’s symptoms in 2008 to his ileostomy surgery in 2017, he’s now not only raising awareness for ostomy patients, but also raising the bar for eating without a colon.
From Remicade infusions that put him into anaphylactic shock to medical marijuana, Michael talks about the various treatment options he’s tried and what led to his decision to finally have his ileostomy surgery. He tried various diets over the years, from the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to the Low FODMAP Diet, in combination with medications, but never reached remission.
During his hospital stay after his ileostomy surgery in 2017, Michael had the idea to start doing food challenges. Having had such a restrictive diet over the years, it was a fun way to start enjoying food again and to show others that surgery didn’t mean continued sacrifice with food. He immediately began advocating for ostomy patients and started his Instagram account to show what life after an ostomy was like and to raise the bar for eating without a colon.
Just five months after his surgery, Michael did his first food challenge. Since then, he’s been documenting his #bagvsfood challenges. From giant stacks of pancakes, burritos, and pizza to the Lulu’s “Texas Ranger” Chicken Fried Steak Challenge right before his interview with me, he’s showing that an ostomy doesn’t have to hinder life. Though he doesn’t let anything stop him from trying a food challenge, there are a few obstacles that are difficult to overcome. Speed eating is off the table, since it’s critical to chew food with an ostomy, and he always listens to his body. The goal, he says, is to have fun, not end up in the emergency room.
Surgery has given him control of his life and put food back on the table! In addition to his Instagram, Michael has just started a YouTube Channel to go into greater detail about ostomy life and even document his food challenges.
Continuing my tale of vacation dining and holiday indulgences with food, I want to pick up where I left off in my previous post when I returned home from vacation and entered right into the holiday eating season.
When we returned to Texas, I picked up my modified alternate day fasting routine where I would eat dinner one evening, breakfast the next day, and then fast for 36 hours (and repeat) for the first few days back. After that, I transitioned to doing a traditional alternate day fasting schedule where I simply don’t eat one day and then I eat the next (which still ends up being about a 36 hour fasting window). During the next week and a half, I attended a few holiday parties and ate my share of chocolate and other goodies. I also ramped up my intake of nuts (mostly just praline pecans, because they’re delicious), vegetables, and homemade bread. I kept up my fasting schedule during this time and did well, but as we got closer to Christmas, I switched back to the one meal a day (OMAD) approach and really let go of the reins.
I intended to eat a wider variety of food on Christmas day, but as it turned out, Jeff and I just stayed in bed all day and ate snacks…cookie dough, toffee, hummus and pita chips, and mimosas (what can I say, it’s life with no kids!). Over the next few days, I did eat regular food and enjoyed things like tomato and mozzarella slices, chicken salad (with cranberries and walnuts), cranberry pistachio bread, marinated mushrooms, olives, sweet corn, chicken, steak, and–of course–more toffee and chocolate.
When New Years Eve finally rolled around, we hosted a party and invited a few friends over. We had deviled eggs, meatballs, tenderloin, cheese, salami, crackers, chocolate, probably a few other things I’m forgetting, and homemade cinnamon rolls. I ate, I enjoyed, and then by the time I went to bed on New Year’s Day (around 1:30 a.m.) I noticed a small amount of blood and mucus in my bowel movements again. No pain or cramping, but as I’ve learned over the years, mucus is my first sign of the onset of a Crohn’s flare up and if I didn’t get it under control, it would escalate.
So, at 1:30 a.m., I started my fasting timer and went into a 40-hour fast (which sounds long, but has become quite easy for me now). I also increased my daily CBD intake from about 50 mg/day to 100 mg/day for the next few days. Once again, fasting saved me and gave my digestive system time to rest and recover. I went back to my regular foods (cutting back on the junk and things I know irritate my system (like nuts)) and after two days, the blood and mucus disappeared. After three days, my bowel movements looked normal. And, by the fourth day, I felt 100% back to normal–no pain, no bloating, and a happy digestive system.
Fasting is a powerful tool and one that I’ve found to be immensely beneficial in my Crohn’s management. I’m continuing with the alternate day fasting schedule going forward and keeping my fasting days to three per week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). Since I’m sticking with alternate day fasting, I don’t restrict calories on my eating days (doing so would damage my metabolism) and with a strong gut, I have no shortage of calories on those days! I’m also enjoying my newfound freedom of eating a more expanded diet and being social with food again. I had my fun during vacation and the holidays (though I admit that I did go a little overboard), but now I’m back to being responsible…eating good quality foods, limiting the indulgences, and sticking to alternate day fasting.
My body feels healthy and strong and I have good energy throughout the day. I recently had blood work done for an upcoming annual appointment with my primary care provider and I’m happy to say that all my markers look good. My triglyceride:HDL ratio is 0.74, which indicates reduced risk of heart attack and stroke (1 or below is great, but 3 or higher indicates significant risk). My blood pressure and resting heart rate are great (I keep getting asked by the nurses and techs if I’m a runner…no) and everything else is in the normal range, with the exception of hemoglobin, which has always been slightly low due to chronic illness. Unfortunately, my eGFR (filtration rate of my kidneys) is still in the mid 50s and there is still microscopic blood in my urine…fasting is powerful, but it’s by no means a cure-all miracle.
If you’re interested in giving fasting a try for your own health journey, be sure to talk with your doctor if you have any questions, chronic illnesses, or are taking medications. This is simply my personal story with fasting and how it’s changed my life. With that said, below are a few tips and some recommended resources if you’d like to learn more and understand what this fasting lifestyle is all about!
Tips for getting started:
Start small, you don’t have to start off with 20+ hour fasts right from the beginning. Start by just skipping breakfast and stop snacking. Begin with a 12 hour eating window and if that is comfortable, begin shortening that until you find an eating window that is comfortable for you (example: maybe just a four hour eating window each day or an eight hour window).
Tweak your window. There is no set time on when you need to open/start your eating window, so tweak your eating window until it fits your schedule. Maybe you want breakfast and lunch and that’s it…maybe you like dinner with your family…everyone is different, so find what works for you.
Be patient. Adapting to an intermittent fasting lifestyle can be difficult for some. So be patient and take your time…remember that this is a lifestyle for the rest of your life and not a fad diet that you will quit after two months.
Join a fasting community for support. Online communities like Facebook groups offer a place of support, motivation, and inspiration. Many groups are filled with long-time fasters and moderators who can share their experiences and advice for beginners.
For the few weeks leading up to our Hawaiian vacation this past November, I was cautiously working on adding more foods back into my diet. Common sense was telling me that with my kidneys functioning at lower than what they should be (most likely due to IgA Nephropathy) and hovering in stage 3 of chronic kidney disease, I should eat more than just meat. So, goodbye carnivore/zero carb diet. Slow and steady, I was trying a wider variety of foods to see if I could tolerate them without causing a flare up of my Crohn’s Disease. (Now, remember, it was just a few months prior, during the summer, that I failed in my attempts to add food back into my diet–bringing on a mini flare in early August). So, I’m not exactly sure why, but when we got to Hawaii, I decided to throw caution to the wind and ate ALL the food.
Seriously, I ate everything.
Vegetables; sauces; bread; vegan poke bowls with cucumbers, mushrooms, tomatoes, rice and seeds; chicken wraps with chili-mango coleslaw; and cookies with macadamia nuts and chocolate. I ate it all. The only things I did try to avoid were lettuce (still my number one arch-enemy) and green cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts. I thought I should draw the line somewhere!
So what changed? I’ve gone down this road before.
This time, I had three months of alternate day fasting under my belt. The only explanation I can come up with is that the amount of autophagy (cellular cleaning and repair) that happened during those months strengthened both my gut lining and immune system.
Now, I’ll admit, if you’re unfamiliar with fasting, it does sound extreme. Sixteen hours without eating, 20 hours, 30 hours, 36 hours without eating! It sounds crazy and difficult. Interestingly enough, I stumbled across the benefits of fasting years ago, sometime around 2014, but there weren’t many people talking about it and I jumped in head first. I started with a 24 hours fast right out of the gate, couldn’t do it, and gave up right then and there. But, fasting has gained a lot of traction over the past few years.
More and more people are talking about intermittent fasting, the Warrior Diet, one meal a day (OMAD), and autophagy. So, once again, I was drawn to fasting for it’s immune boosting and anti-inflammatory benefits (not to mention mental clarity; overall simplicity; and its reported beneficial effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin). This time, however, I had more than just one Internet article to inspire me. I listened to podcasts; read books including The Complete Guide to Fasting by Jimmy Moore and Dr. Jason Fung, Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilon, Delay Don’t Deny: Living an Intermittent Fasting Lifestyle by Gin Stephens; devoured countless articles found all over the Internet (from research to personal stories); watched YouTube videos on the Warrior Diet, tips by Thomas DeLauer, and presentations by Dr. Jason Fung; and joined a couple of Facebook fasting communities.
So it was in early 2018 that I buckled down and began practicing intermittent fasting with a 16:8 schedule (16 hours fasting and eight hours eating). I won’t lie. It was hard at first and I would start to panic on the days I pushed my fasts and went 24 hours without eating and started to feel lightheaded or dizzy. The practice was new to me and I was still learning. But I took it slow and remembered the words “practice not perfection.” So if I didn’t feel good, if I got dizzy, or just started to panic, I ate a hard-boiled egg with salt or a can of tuna with mayo and I took electrolyte supplements when needed. My body adapted and my metabolism began to easily switch into fat burning mode, looking inward for nutrients and energy rather than relying on outward sources of immediate fuel, like carbohydrates. I started pushing the length of time I went without eating. Things got easier. Things became enjoyable. My body craved better quality foods when I ate and I enjoyed a calm, peaceful mental state when fasting. I also noticed better mental clarity, better energy, and more time in my day because I wasn’t cooking and food prepping all the time!
While I had been practicing intermittent fasting since 2018, it wasn’t until August 2019 that I finally embraced clean fasting (i.e. only black coffee (no more ghee blended into it), plain tea (not flavored), and water during the fast). It’s also when I pushed my fasting window from doing daily 16-hour fasts and an occasional 24 hour fast during the week to doing three 36-hour fasts each week.
Adopting the longer fasts (and doing a clean fast) allowed me to break out of the mini flare up I was experiencing in early August. So, when we were on vacation, I felt like I had a powerful tool in my back pocket if I started to not feel well or had any Crohn’s symptoms start to appear. Day to day, fasting gave me so much energy and kept me feeling so good that once we got to Hawaii, I couldn’t resist not stealing a few bites from my husband’s dessert. After that first bite of chocolate, I decided right then and there that I would give myself a chance to indulge in food and follow an OMAD approach for the rest of the vacation. I ate for about two hours each night (sometimes three) and fasted for the remaining 22 hours.
For the first week and a half, I felt great. No pain, no cramping, no mucus. But, by day 10, I did start to feel like I was walking a very fine line and pushing the limits of my digestive system. So that night, after a day of wine tasting and eating crackers and cheese, malasadas, a chicken wrap with spicy mango coleslaw, and a martini that tasted like gasoline…I decided to do a 38-hour fast. For the few remaining days, I went back to OMAD and did one more long fast during our flight home.
In all honesty, 10 days of unrestricted eating was a lot for my system. There was a small amount of mucus in my bowel movements when I returned home, but I went back on my alternate day fasting schedule (which was a modified version where I ate dinner, breakfast the next day, and then fasted for 36 hours until dinner the next day) and I stuck to safe foods that I tolerate well. Within two days, the mucus was gone. It took about another week for some mild bloating and my “talking” intestines to disappear and for my system to return to homeostasis. While I pushed things to the limit on this trip, I got to fully indulge while on vacation and I didn’t go into a flare. Thank you, fasting.
In addition to fasting, I stuck to my current supplement regimen on vacation, which includes a multivitamin by Ancient Nutrition; CBD capsules by Lazarus Naturals; Beta-TCP by Biotics Research; and the probiotic, gut-lining repair, and anti-inflammatory products by Intestinal Fortitude.
By the time we got back to Texas, it was early December and the holiday season was in full swing. Feeling empowered by the successful fasting and feasting schedule while on vacation, I thought I would go ahead and make this the first holiday in a long time that I actually enjoyed many of the foods I had previously sworn off. I welcomed back chocolate, toffee, sweet treats, and more vegetables….and, once again, dove head first into another round of indulgences. I’ll pick this post up next week with what happened next and whether I went too far…
Describing her Instagram page as “a young gal’s adventures with Crohn’s Disease & other chronic illnesses,” Renee Taylor continues her IBD advocacy on today’s podcast where she shares her Crohn’s journey and how she’s seeking to find the balance between western and holistic medicine.
In today’s episode, Stella Rose Carr shares how she’s managed to keep a positive outlook and a good sense of humor while battling Crohn’s Disease for most of her life. Officially diagnosed at eight years old, she recalls what it was like to face her first colonoscopy as a child and how IBD impacted her life from elementary school through college.
I recently had the pleasure and honor of being interviewed on the Intermittent Fasting Stories Podcast with Gin Stephens, author of Delay, Don’t Deny: Living an Intermittent Fasting Lifestyle. Fasting has been one of the things that has truly been life changing in my never-ending quest to manage Crohn’s Disease. Practicing it gives my gut time to rest; allows my body to heal and repair itself; has given me a better relationship with food; and–in an unexpected twist–it has also taught me patience, appreciation for quality, and a desire to remove more clutter (emotional and physical) from my life. It’s a mindset and a lifestyle.
In today’s episode, Sylvia Tam shares her journey with Ulcerative Colitis and how it led her to starting Beviva Foods, a gut-friendly snack company centered around IBD patients. She spoke about her decision, after a colonoscopy in 2011 confirmed Ulcerative Colitis, to focus on her mindset, dietary changes, and family traditions in Chinese medicine that has allowed her to avoid medications in the management of her IBD.
In today’s episode, Kiersten Thomson shares her journey with Crohn’s Disease and how she leans on the power of food to help manage her symptoms. Not willing to accept the idea that food didn’t matter, she sought the help of a functional medicine doctor. For the next year, she did well. She cut out inflammatory foods like sugar and gluten and kept to a strict diet. But despite her best efforts, in late 2018, she developed a microtear in her colon. The intense pain sent her to the hospital and she was informed she would need immediate surgery.
Some days, I almost forget that I have Crohn’s Disease. Honestly, I don’t think there’s been a single day since my diagnosis 13 years ago–or even since my first symptoms 17 years ago–that I haven’t thought about Crohn’s or digestive issues. But for the most part, my day-to-day life with Crohn’s is well managed…and although I do think about Crohn’s on a daily basis, there are moments during the day when I really do forget that I am battling a chronic illness, and always will be. Which is why this most recent appointment with my gastroenterologist was a bit of a shock back into reality for me.