Thursday, July 8, 2010

the beginning

Meet me: I'm Crystal. I'm a Registered Dietitian by trade. I live in Seattle and love city life, food, exercise, music, chick flicks, cooking, travel, wine, and friends (though not necessarily in that order). I also have Ankylosing Spondylitis, better known as AS. For those of you who have never heard of AS, it's an autoimmune inflammatory disease in the same family as Rheumatoid Arthritis, though not as common. I hadn't heard of it either until I was diagnosed in November of 2008 after having a swollen ankle that wouldn't quit for 6 straight weeks. Essentially AS attacks the sacro-iliac region of the spine (think tailbone) and left untreated it can cause the spine to fuse and make you look like a hunchback- scary! It also causes inflammation of the joints, hence the swollen ankle. Since I had never heard of this disease and am a foodie/R.D., I researched dietary management of the disease and found: nada. Zero. I found one lone study conducted like 20 years ago that may suggest cutting out gluten and sugar could help manage my symptoms. Since bread (gluten) and ice cream (sugar) are like two of my most favorite things, I wasn't ready to jump on that bandwagon without some hardcore evidence.

Fast forward a year and a half: my Rheumatologist has me on medicine to suppress my immune system and prevent it from attacking itself and causing inflammation in my body. After being on Enbrel and then Humira, I was battling persistent yeast infections (yuck), nausea, digestive issues (double yuck), and feeling generally crummy. So I sought professional help in the form of a highly recommended gynecologist with a holistic perspective. We ran some tests and figured out that yeast was growing throughout my digestive system. Yeast is perfectly normal in the body (you have it too so don't think I'm gross), and a normally functioning immune system kills it off when it starts to overgrow. However, if your immune system is weakened or suppressed by medicine, yeast will take the opportunity to spread itself throughout the body. This yeast overgrowth in my body was impairing my digestion and causing the general feeling of icky-ness I had been experiencing.

So about a month ago my doctor figured all of this out and put me on a "kill the yeast and heal the gut" plan. She is also confident it will help manage some of my AS symptoms. Apparently the body goes into a mini state of inflammation when digesting carbs. Since my body is already in a state of inflammation, lessening this carb-induced inflammation should make my medicine more effective. I'm still researching this, but I'm intrigued.

So essentially I have been on a low starch/no sugar diet for the past month. I can't eat any wheat, corn, rice, oats, peas, beans, peas, carrots, potatoes, squash, sugar, syrup, jam, honey, or food starch. The only fruits I can eat are apples, pears, and berries. I also can't drink beer or wine, which sadly means no Pyramid Hef with lemon during these hot summer days. Frankly, I feel a bit like I'm on the Atkins diet. I can't even eat quinoa, and the only sweetener I'm allowed to use is stevia and it has a funky aftertaste. I've also realized that as little info as there was out there about using diet to manage AS, there's even less about this crazy diet I'm on. So I thought I would share this experience with you, world. I'm hoping my experiences will help some other clueless AS sufferers, or will at least be mildly interesting to some of my friends and family. :)

And now, a recipe.
Since I love me some sweets, I have been searching for some dessert replacements that don't taste like crappy health food. Three days ago I created this beautiful concoction, and it's quickly become my new favorite thing:

Chocolate Berry Blend
1 cup nonfat milk
1 cup frozen strawberries (unsweetened)
1/2 cup frozen raspberries (unsweetened)
3 scoops Biggest Loser protein powder in Chocolate Deluxe
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 stevia packet

Blend it in the blender and you're good to go! Savor something that tastes like chocolate raspberry mousse. Yum! I'm pretty confident this would be good frozen too, and served like a fudgesicle/very hard ice cream, though I haven't tried it yet. You could even made fudgesicles if you froze small amounts in paper cups and stuck a popsicle stick on plastic knife in them to use as a handle. Enjoy!


  1. Nice work, Crystal!
    I can see how this new way of eating involves many challenges, yet also opportunities to get creative with your foodie self!
    I'm curious to know how you feel (physically and psychologically) after a month on the present diet regimen?

  2. Thanks Jen! At first it was pretty difficult to adjust, because this plan requires so much planning ahead and I'm more of a last minute kind of gal. But now I've found some pre-made items that I can eat and I've created quite a few tasty recipes, so it's much easier one month in. Physically I feel a lot better. I have more energy, and my digestive problems are essentially gone! I also had headaches the first few days and found it hard to feel satiated. I think I've gotten better at combining foods and creating meals, so I don't feel as much like I'm missing out on anything. It's also taught me to appreciate the simple things. For example, yesterday I was hungry at work and had already eaten the food I brought for lunch. After hunting through the cafeteria for something to eat, I found steamed broccoli, shredded cheese, and lemon wedges. I melted some cheese on top of the broccoli and squeezed the lemon over all of it, and it was delicious! That definitely wouldn't have been my first choice had I been allowed to choose anything I wanted, so I think this being forced to be more creative and try new things is good for me.

  3. I love how you are sharing your experiences Crystal. Get the word out!

  4. nice blog - check out for loads of info eating no starch for AS and wonderful support. Good luck!