The whole craze this year for ‘paleo’ comes as no surprise. To me it just looks like eating well and healthy. Fortunately I love cooking and have neither a sweet tooth nor a taste for processed foods, so I can be mostly in control. And I think I’ve always had a healthy approach to food and cooking, without ever really denying myself the things I most enjoy. But that doesn’t prevent the unwelcome conspiracy of gravity and gut upon our middle years. And there’s nothing quite like the festive pleasures of eating and drinking throughout the Christmas holidays to make you aware of the you-are-what-you-eat maxim. In most of our cases I suspect that involves many of us spending quite a lot of time on a sofa in between meals, feeling, if not looking like, a plum duff.
The stomach is often called the second brain, which is ironic given that its size directly correlates to our lack of sensible decisions. What is certain is that digestion is a complex and fragile bio-system which we abuse most of the time, making it difficult for our bodies to function in the best way. The problems arising from this are many and various. In the last few years, like around 8 million other people in Britain, I have been prescribed medication for acid reflux, an ailment which started as slight discomfort and finally manifested in acute chest pains and a really sinister ailment called ‘silent reflux’, where the acid from your stomach gets into the respiratory system and out of nowhere causes symptoms like asthma.
For anyone suffering with acid reflux, Christmas is a time of horrors. WIne, roasts, wine, pudding, wine, cheese, wine, endless carbohydrates and sugary delights, more wine and brandy to round it all off. I swear that my digestive system used to know when yuletide was approaching; just as the first door on the advent calendar was opened, a vicious bile would have me reaching for the nearest relief. So for anyone suffering from too much acid, short of avoiding mince pies, christmas cake, plum pudding, goose fat, red wine, soft cheeses and liqueurs, what can you do?
After a Christmas season last year, despite dosing myself up daily on proton pump inhibitors Lansoprazole, clearly the medication had stopped working. So I had to find another solution and did what we all do, googled it. Which is how I came across the whole anti-antacid debate. The simple premise is that we are causing more problems by suppressing the acid in our stomachs before eating. This upsets the natural balance of our digestive tract, allowing the wrong bacteria to flourish in our gut, preventing our food from being properly digested. This in turn causes excessive production of gases and bloating which forces open the tiny aperture at the top of our stomach (known as the esophageal sphinctre) allowing the painful acidic sensation to travel up the esophagus, resulting in what we know as heartburn or the more serious symptoms I was suffering. None of which, you’ll agree, is good.
So after thorough reading of the argument, I decided to take my health into my own hands; what is known these days as body-hacking. First of all you take a look at your diet and try to eliminate the things that are difficult to digest, mostly taxing carbs and grains whose starchy compounds are problematic at the best of times. I decided to lighten up on the dairy too for a bit, just to give my system a chance to reboot. The first stage instead of suppressing the acid in your gut, is to actually increase it by taking an HCL compound, of which there are many available. You know how much to take, through a rather pleasing sensation of body self-awareness. You’ll feel the acid supplement burning you when it’s too much, so as your stomach heals, you need to take less and less. One day, my heart sank as I had the feeling of heartburn. But it was actually my gut saying thank you, I am now rebalanced and don’t need any extra acid. At the same time, you take probiotic supplements to support the recalibration of the incredible bacterial biosystem in your gut which has been weakened by lack of acid and bullied by the heavyweight nasties (h-pylori being the worst offender) who are the lords of digestive misrule. After 2 months, I had completely reversed my chronic gastro-esophagal reflux disease or GERD.
Through that period, I focused a lot on how, as well as what I eat. Think about it. Your stomach is actually the size of your clasped hands. We stretch it by over-eating, so I taught myself to eat less and better and was just less hungry as a result. I discovered just how many refined carbs I actually do eat, mostly in the form of bread and pasta. When I cut them out, I lost weight, quite a lot, 7 kilograms more or less. While I don’t really go for the long-term elimination of food groups sometimes just giving your digestion a rest has to be a good thing. I had a lot of help from the spiralizer sisters Helmsley & Helmsley who have written a cookery book, based on this kind of eating. So now I’ve reintroduced carbs but as a treat rather than my basic diet. For first time in years I have a relatively flat stomach and no bloating, gurgling, farting or belching. And most importantly, no reflux. By being aware of the way your body works, by eating a bit less and better things you can hack it back into balance.