26: From Florida Vacation to GAPS Diet

Photo by Max Gotts on Unsplash

On the first week of February, 2018, I had the fortune of being invited to spend a couple weeks in Delray Beach, Florida with some friends. I’m a big fan of the holidays, largely because of all the baking I typically do, but shortly after New Year’s Eve I’m ready for winter to be over…every year. In north Iowa it drags on in such a way that by February I’m desperately longing for any faint hint of greenery.

A late winter trip to Florida is like injecting my brain with excessive amounts of serotonin and dopamine, and topping that off with a little magic fungi. I’m talking…from sensory deprivation to sensory overload in the time it takes for me to get on and off a plane. Delray Beach is enhanced by a truly extraordinary weekly drum circle, its close proximity to the water, and almost every tropical bird that exists within the United States. My personal vision of paradise.

And paradise it was. Although I wanted to go running on the beach, and dance even harder at those drum circles, I was enjoying life. Now months into the new diet, my inflammation was under control. I was successfully doing my new stretch and exercise programs on a regular basis. But there was still a flare cycle, and if I obsessed over it hard enough I could imagine it was related to traces of starch I might still be getting. And something was flaring me on this trip.

It required that I scrutinize everything. My toothpaste had to be starch free, my lip balm; even my travel toothbrush came under suspect because the bristles themselves contained some sort of whitening substance. I did some product switching, discarded the accursed toothbrush, and searched the shelves of Whole Foods for an almond milk free of any potentially starchy fillers. On the sidelines of living it up, I was privately waging a process-of-elimination war to end my remaining mild, but chronic, pain.

About halfway through the trip I had what turned out to be a highly significant realization. As I stood in the kitchen feasting on a basket of enormous, sweet, juicy, ripe blackberries, I suddenly stopped…wide-eyed, stunned…as I realized I was swallowing an awful lot of sizable blackberry seeds. Could it seriously be that something like that would contain detectable starch?!

My mind raced through the recent times I’d eaten strawberries…covered with tiny little unavoidable seeds. Then I remembered that my flares had mysteriously increased around the time of our fully (I believed) starch free Thanksgiving. Could it be that the thousands of barely visible seeds in my homemade cranberry sauce had been too much?

I suddenly felt backed into a corner. I’d been enjoying the success of my diet and marveling at the delicious cakes and cookies I could still make (with some hit or miss), using almond and coconut ‘flour’. Meals without rice or mashed potatoes didn’t seem too terrible. I was doing this thing and it was working! How could it be that one more entire group of foods must be eliminated from my diet…berries?

I was already avoiding a few not-so-definite starches, based off of reports from other AS patients having problems with them. For instance: green apples, citrus fruits (due to their white membranes allegedly being an offender), and nuts…because of general mixed reports about several varieties containing some low level of starch. With dairy, grains, beans, roots, nuts, multiple fruits, and now berries off my list of tolerable foods, I felt this was all getting out of hand.

We were already unable to eat out, due to the fact that invisible starchy fillers are in most seasonings, rubs and injectable solutions used to flavor meats, and that virtually all restaurant side dishes contain starches. Losing berries, trivial as they may seem, was my final straw…largely because, without chocolate, berries had become my most commonly used flavoring ingredient for sweets. My culinary world seemed to be collapsing into a black hole of nothing.

It was right then and there, that fateful day in the brightly colored kitchen of my friend’s beautiful, relaxing Delray Beach dream home, that I realized what I was going to do. I was going to do something truly ‘extreme’. I was going to go on GAPS Diet.

This is the ongoing story of my experience with a crippling autoimmune disease, Ankylosing Spondylitis, that I’m putting in remission with diet and stem cells!