I love the concept of cause and effect. For many years, I managed a team of business analysts and product owners. For whatever problem or new feature, we would always try to find the “root” cause. We would create fishbone or Ishikawa charts to illustrate. We’d ask the “5 why’s” to make sure we weren’t looking at a symptom. We’d “drill down” and make sure we used data to drive our decisions. But what do you do when there’s so much system bias that you can’t trust any of the information available?
I think everyone now understands that in mature economies, we have a weight problem. With over 36% of US adults considered obese, and even more in the overweight classification, we see disease skyrocketing. Heart disease, diabetes, IBS, etc., etc. It’s difficult to perform at your best when we struggle with all these symptoms.
So why bring this up? My experience with Gluten.
I’ve never had intolerances to food. I could eat anything. But 10 years ago, while launching my first startup, I started to have digestive issues. I thought this was just stress. After all, this was 2008 when the banking crisis hit and most venture capital investment went to support already funded startups. So what did I do? I tried to get more sleep, workout more, relax. I found that drinking diet Pepsi instead of Diet Coke lessened my symptoms. I cut back to one can a day. But the problem persisted.
A few years later, post startup and now back at a big tech company, the reduced stress didn’t translate to feeling better. In fact, there were times when I’d find myself with very achy joints. The digestive discomfort was still there. Sometimes, I’d wake up with brain fog which I attributed to lack of sleep.
I stopped drinking my daily soda thinking that might help. I didn’t feel a noticeable change; at least one that I could say was completely cause and effect.
One Saturday morning
Thérèse was at the counter with laptop open. Typical, she was investigating food, recipes, ingredients and disease. She showed me the following questions up on her screen. (the website is no longer active, but here is a more extensive list http://www.eatthis.com/gluten-free-questions/)
- Do you have digestion problems
- Do you get skin rashes
- Do you ever have brain fog
- Do you feel tired upon waking after a full nights sleep
I answered yes to all four. Reading on, the questions indicated my body was having difficulty digesting gluten. I had heard of this, but didn’t know much about it. With what I consider a food expert and trusted consultant sitting next to me, I didn’t need to research further and I knew I wanted to feel better. I decided right then that I would go on a gluten free lifestyle. (Notice I didn’t say diet. My intention was to change my eating habits for the long term.)
30 days of gluten free living later
I felt better with one exception. While most of my friends were supportive, there were a few that thought I was stupid, crazy or just weird. “This gluten thing is just a fad” was the typical statement. So there was this nagging thought and for every article that said I was right to go off gluten, there was another one that said it would have no affect. Was I stupid or crazy?
A quick recap
I was having digestive issues that I thought was from stress and lack of sleep. I improved my stress and sleep levels and found no significant impact. I changed my soda habit; no significant change. People thought I was wacky to try removing gluten, but I did and started to feel better, even when some science had contradictory views. And yes, I stopped drinking beer.
After 15 months, I’m feeling much better. My digestive issues are gone. No brain fog, No achy joints. Except when I eat gluten. If I go out and eat a slice of pizza, or have a few beers, these symptoms immediately show up the next day. So I stay off gluten.
Now, after another few years, a strange thing has happened. I can eat gluten. I can go out and have a few beers or a slice or two. And the next day I’m OK. Now I can’t do this every day as I’ve found out. But I can do it occasionally with no issues.
So want have I learned from this experience?
- You may not know the cause before you start.
- You will find conflicting information, even from science and experts; system bias is everywhere.
- Persistence is important. Don’t give up.
- It helps to have support of family and friends.
- Identify the critical measure and stay true to it. For me, it was feeling better without using medicine. The only person that could tell me if I was succeeding was me.
And this brings me to FODMAPs and Nightshades.
My issue turned out to be gluten. For Thérèse it’s soy. For others, dairy. The critical fact is that our bodies are different and our lifestyles are different as well. Too often we try to find the one answer to solve a symptom without realizing the root cause may not be the same from one person to another.
IBS and other digestive and inflammatory diseases have many different causes. Currently there is conflicting science about the affects of removing these ingredients from our diets. My advice is to remember that we are all different and what works for you may not work for me. Be supportive of those who are on their own journey of trying to feel
And if the identification and reintroduction is overly complicated, the new TimeChop release includes simple switches to turn on identification of these ingredients in each of the recipes and on the automated grocery list.
For those of you on your journey, keep at it. You are not alone, but your specific circumstances might make you unique. It takes persistence and belief. Remember, you are the only true measure of success.
PS. Mojo update is on hold this week do to traveling. Look for my progress next week.