Potatoes and Gut Health

I have a confession. For a few years, I was deathly afraid of potatoes.

Okay, that sounds dramatic. But it’s true. And it really wasn’t just potatoes. It was any food I labeled “bad” or “not safe” or “illegal.”

That’s what happens when you become so sick that your body seems to reject anything you try to feed it. You rely on protocols and unavoidable restrictive eating habits in order to feel better, but even after massive healing has taken place, the fear of certain foods remains. In fact, the success of said protocols and restrictions is a huge contributor to the fears. Thoughts are usually “Eating this way is what healed me. I’m doing well now, sure, but what if I go backwards? If I introduce anything new, will the debilitating symptoms come back?”

This is exactly what happened to me. When my body started screaming for help several years ago, I immediately began to look at my food habits. I started by eliminating the top common allergens then ended up following a vegetarian version of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet as well as a low fodmap diet. I also tried eliminating other things, like nightshades and even any food with seeds (!) for a while, as well as several foods that were flagged after a food sensitivity blood test. Then it was the candida and SIBO protocols, which took out pretty much all from the above plus anything with any sugar (bye, fruit). And absolutely nothing raw.

As you can imagine, this left me with very slim options for fueling myself. I was basically left with pureed butternut squash (but not too much of that either, because it can still be starchy in large quantities). It was insane for a while. I wouldn’t touch anything without looking up if it was “legal” to eat. It took a huge toll on my mental health. But the thing is, it did help give my body some rest in order to heal. It would have been easier if I ate meat as I would have had more options, but that is a personal decision that I decided against a long time ago (and despite many telling me it was impossible to heal without eating it, I knew plants had the power I needed).

These diets and protocols played a huge role in my healing, along with supplements and lifestyle changes. So of course, once I significantly healed and started feeling good again on a consistent basis, that last thing I wanted to do was rock the boat by changing anything I was doing. But there are some things I have learned about this.

The first thing is that these restrictive diets and protocols, although they can be necessary for deep healing, are not meant to be followed forever. It’s not just that it’s not sustainable, which is true, but it’s also because your body needs diversity long-term. Diversity in your diet leads to a more diverse gut flora, which is essential to prevent future relapse. The strategy should be to eliminate things long enough for the body to have time to heal and reset, then slowly try to reintroduce a variety of nourishing, whole foods (watching your symptoms as you do so).

Another revelation I had was that no matter how strict you follow a particular protocol, or how many supplements you take or blood tests you get done, you’re never going to fully heal if you don’t also dig deep into your mental health. Lifestyle and mindset are hugely underrated components to true, long-term, whole-body healing. This took me a long time to accept and for me it was probably the most difficult part of the process. Even more difficult than eating squash for every meal.

So back to potatoes. The special protocols worked as advertised.  I followed a very strict diet for a couple years and along with addressing my stress levels, hormones and deficiencies, this helped me get my life back. The problem is that during this process, a lot of foods were deemed permanently “illegal” in my brain.

The truth is there are some foods I may never eat again (ie gluten, dairy, grains) because they are known to be big irritants for anyone with a history of a compromised immune system and severe sensitivities (I was also diagnosed with a wheat allergy). But then there are other foods that are more in what I consider the wellness-gray-area. Meaning if you’re super sick, you should probably avoid them (and follow a strict plan for a while), but once you’re better there’s no reason to continue to exclude them if you personally test them and can tolerate them. Although they can be amazingly helpful, the problem with these special healing diets occurs when we start to treat them as dogma and not as a guide, or starting point, for testing what works for our own bodies.

Potatoes, and really all CARBS, are foods I have had to work to re-label in my mind (or rather, eliminate any label at all). I’m happy to say I’m no longer terrified of carbs and since re-introducing a healthy dose of them (healthy amount for me), I have felt better than ever.

I was feeling very drained and depleted after eating so low carb for so long. This is how I knew it was time to slowly re-introduce small amounts of potatoes and other grain-free carbs and see how I did. I still don’t eat huge amounts and I notice some symptoms if I overdo it (mostly tired feeling or heaviness in this case) but that could happen with over-doing anything. I also do know what large amounts of starchy foods can do to your gut, so I’m only eating reasonable amounts of certain foods I know won’t make me feel sick for that diverse flora. For example, you’ll notice in the meal pictured above that potato (Japenese Sweet, yum!) is a small piece of the meal, not the main player (usually about 1/2 a medium potato max or one small potato).

It’s all about balance and most importantly, testing things out and listening to what works for YOUR body RIGHT now. Because things can and will change.  And the right amount of carbs for me, is not necessarily the right amount of carbs for you. Also, what my body needs right now may not be what my body needs later. Our bodies are incredible, UNIQUE, ever-adjusting machines.

What’s your current relationship with carbs? Are you labeling foods “good” and “bad” ?

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