I received my fifth treatment at the Taymount Clinic and my gut felt good. Lunch had already turned into a culinary adventure (in a good way) and I was eager to continue eating well, for the benefit of my microbes, of course. This meant seeking diversity of colors and flavors, eating some of my vegetables raw, and including some high-quality animal protein.
I often hear culinary herbs spoken of as if they are something altogether different from vegetables--as if we need a sanctioned reason to use them. Tonight, basil was not held to a different standard. While it may be chock-full of plant medicine, it's also just an edible plant. I'm a real rebel.
It was day four of my two-week FMT stint in Hitchin, UK. I was feeling good and I was cabbage-rich. In revisionist hindsight, the advance cabbage purchase wasn't so much an impulse as it was a sound investment. I had just finished reading about the benefits of leafy greens, specifically those of the brassica family (of which cabbage is a member). I also don't see tall green pointed cabbages like this back home. Clearly, I just struck while the iron was hot.
When I first started cooking in hotels, I went small, placing a high emphasis on convenience. This often meant I ate sardines with lunch and with dinner. If I was feeling adventurous, I might eat meat not out of a can. It was not long, though, before I tired of the canned-fish-for-days routine, realizing that empty sardine cans actually smell worse than spent meat wrappers. With daily housekeeping, what difference does it make anyway?
It was my third day of treatment at the Taymount Clinic in Hitchin, UK. I was feeling good and remained true to my mission. The clinic was pretty clear in their directive: minimize stress, get adequate sleep, and eat healthy foods. And what about their nutritional guidelines? Enjoy healthy fats, avoid gluten and grains, and eat my vegetables. They were preaching to the choir.
Back when I was much less well, this same dietary strategy helped me recover. Following the work of Dave Asprey, Paul Jaminet, and others, I began introducing copious amounts of clarified butter and coconut oil into my customized Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Suddenly, I had more energy, and my digestion dramatically improved. Avoiding gluten and grains was a no-brainer, as even microscopic amounts of the former would wreck my gut for a week. As for the eating my vegetables part, my parents used to joke that I was part rabbit--as a child, I would enjoy my salads one vegetable at a time and showed a penchant for whole lettuce leaves. In adulthood, living with ulcerative colitis, raw vegetables were rough on my gut, so I mostly ate them cooked. On this day, however, teeming with a hungry microbiota, the produce section looked less like a source of digestive distress and more like a colorful carnival.
I am now halfway through my ten-day fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) at the Taymount Clinic. Before I left home, I thought this day would be a big milestone. I thought I would know, for certain, that the treatment was going to work or it wasn't. Perhaps I was right.
Obviously, I really like food, and novelty is a big part of the fun. With ulcerative colitis, though, the cost of experimentation was high--usually higher than I was willing to pay. Throw travel, with its many variables, into the mix and novel foods started looking more like time bombs. "No, thanks." became my standard and final answer.
The Wahls Protocol has been on my reading list for a while and I'm finally digging into it. Terry Wahls is an amazing MD who arrested and then partially reversed the progression of her multiple sclerosis using food as medicine. As she points out in her book, there are many similarities between the various autoimmune conditions like MS, autoimmune hypothyroidism, Crohn's, and colitis, and many non-MS patients have seen improvements in their conditions by following her dietary and lifestyle protocols. A central principle of The Wahls Protocol is to eat a variety of colored fruits and (mostly) vegetables. Today, still set on my mission to nourish my microbiota, I intended to do just that.
Within minutes of entering the Taymount Clinic two days ago, I had an inspiring message sitting in my lap. It was an inscription on the inside cover of a book, apparently donated by a former FMT patient.
I'm already all-in with the food as medicine idea, but one part of this message really caught my attention: "Take your mind out of your gut, check out of it and focus on living..."
With those simple words, this former patient exquisitely captured my why; I felt so completely understood. The why to which I refer is my reason for pursuing FMT. My gastroenterologist tells me I'm fine. My C-reactive protein--a common biomarker of inflammation--is low. I have strategies for eating, sleeping, stress reduction, and travel that let me live an outwardly normal life (well, mostly). So why take two weeks from home, work and family to spend thousands of dollars on this treatment? Because I don't just want improved digestive health--I want my mind back.
I am in Hitchin, UK, dedicated to my mission of optimally nourishing my new gut microbes. I have a bad track record eating at restaurants, no matter how diligently and politely I communicate with the chefs and wait staff. That is why I no longer eat at restaurants. My health is too important to squander on social eating (usually of dressed up industrial food). At a time when I'm especially focused on minimizing inflammation and maximizing nutrition, I have no desire to play around with pub food, gluten-free or otherwise.
Hitchin is a quaint town, offering many lovely places to stay, but I really wanted to be within walking distance of the clinic. I could not find affordable accommodations in town that offered a kitchen, so I booked my room and bought a hotplate. I share this information not to brag, but to inspire anyone struggling with the social pressure of eating on the road or the sense of overwhelm that comes from being out of your digestive comfort zone (at least, if you live with IBD). Travel need not mean a constantly rumbling gut. With a little planning and a modest disregard for social norms (i.e. self-advocacy), you too can be a hotel gourmet.
This is what I ate on day one of my FMT treatment. I am here for two weeks and I am on a mission. Let us begin.
Yesterday I chose the doorway to health. I chose this door because I have a larger mission in life than managing a disease, because I deserve it, because I was ready, and because it would have been really weird to walk into Bradshaw Johnson Chartered Accountants and ask for a fecal microbiota transplant.
The truth is, I made this choice a long time ago, and not just because I already paid for my treatment. I chose health the day I vowed to never eat gluten again. I chose health the day I finally opened Elaine Gottschall's Breaking the Vicious Cycle with the intent of reading it cover to cover. I chose health when I later customized my version of The Specific Carbohydrate Diet because my body needed more fat and carbohydrate. I chose health when I told my amazingly supportive wife (then fiancée) that I was going to defeat this disease, no matter how long it took.
Sickness or health? Scalding hot water or ice cold water? Today, in the quaint town of Hitchin, UK, both of these choices are mine.
My first of ten FMT treatments at the Taymount Clinic is this afternoon--less than one hour until launch! I’m excited about this--not necessarily the things going up my butt part, but the getting and staying healthy part. Just the preparation protocol for this treatment revealed how delicate the balance of my health really is. I have no regrets, though. It is all part of my journey to achieve that next level of health--a level where I’m focused on positive things, not fretting over every gurgle in my gut.
FMT stands for fecal microbiota transplant and it's a hot topic in the health world right now. While different clinics have different methods, the idea remains the same: take fecal microorganisms from a healthy person and implant them into a sick person. For those suffering from chronic Clostridium Difficile (C. diff.) infection, FMT is life-saver, in many cases offering almost immediate recovery from a potentially deadly overgrowth.
It turns out that gut health is critically important to a whole bunch of the diseases of civilization and many--if not all--of these diseases involve some dysfunction of the immune system. (I'm looking at you, colitis, Crohn's, celiac, heart disease, thyroid conditions, cancer, MS...) Because most of our immune system resides in our guts, FMT has shown promise for treating many of these conditions and is being actively studied in the US and abroad.
As someone who has lived with ulcerative colitis for many years, I realize the importance of food on my health. Why is The Specific Carbohydrate Diet so effective for those with active inflammatory bowel disease? Because it modifies the microbes that live in the gut. Why do antibiotics often trigger C. diff. infections? Because they dramatically skew the microbial balance in a patient's gut.
I'm Ethan, a guy whose life used to be controlled by ulcerative colitis. As I systematically tested diets, treatments, and all types of health advice to heal my colon, I learned a lot about my own biology and also how to cook without compromise. I'm here to share the best (and sometimes worst) of that journey with you.