Thursday 1 March 2012

Should I stop eating bread?

When I was a child, I would listen to my mother and aunt spend hours comparing notes on awful they felt when they ate this or that. My mother did terribly on green beans and just couldn't eat bread without bloating like a balloon whilst my aunt reported migraines with cheese and terrible side effects from onions. 

As a child who had a stomach of steel and could eat an entire sweet shop without suffering any of the dire predictions regarding tummy aches, I couldn't -  for the life of me - understand what they were going on about. I just could not compute the idea that eating certain foods could make you feel unwell.

As a teenager and young adult I would roll my eyes and shake my head with scorn when I heard them go on about what they could and couldn't eat. When I heard about sleepless nights blamed on cheesecake and painful bloating pinned on onion soup, I would shrug my shoulders, and happily take another bite of donut thinking  that old people were, well just a bit pathetic, really. 

And then suddenly one morning I was one of those old people. 

Over the past few years I have noticed that - to my dismay - I really don't do very well on certain foods.

I love lentils and when I eat them I bloat horribly and get trapped wind. It's painful and very uncomfortable.

I adore garlic and nowadays if I eat it in more than homeopathic quantities I get awful headaches, nausea and, when eaten raw, diarrhoea. 

I am a fan of fruit, especially summer fruits: peaches, apricots, figs but when I eat them my belly swells and I feel pregnant.

I am very partial to crusty yet chewy sourdough bread but sadly when I have it I feel just awful: I bloat, feel a bit sick and usually want to lie down and sleep it off.

So does this mean I must cut out bread and pulses, fruit and garlic? No more garlicky, winey lentils with crunchy bacon bits? No more roasted garlic bruschettas? Bye bye summer fruit pavolva? Adieu bread - forever? 

I did for a while think that this would be the only solution. I reasoned that if I just cut out the foods that don't agree with me, I would solve the problem. What I forgot was that deprivation, under any guise, fuels cravings and overeating. As soon as I told myself I would forgo bread I found myself baking ciabattas like they were going out of fashion and eating 3 bagels for lunch. I  found myself eating sweets instead of fruit, just to taste something sweet. After years of having a balanced and 'take it or leave it' approach to food I suddenly found myself in diet mentality all over again: starting 'properly' on Monday, vowing to stay away from this or that food, having lots of last suppers to cleanse my kitchen cupboards of the culprits, rebelling and telling myself this was all a load of crap and NO-ONE (not even myself) was going to tell me what I could and couldn't eat and so on and so forth....

Luckily I know better. I went back to basics and to being my own guru. I became curious, I asked myself questions: how much of these foods did it take to make me feel unwell? Did eating them at particular times make any difference?  Did I need to cut them out entirely or was there a way to keep on eating them without paying with my health? Was I willing to face life without garlic and how did it feel to ban bread from my diet? I experimented and made notes and slowly began to untangle myself from the all or nothing mentality that I got caught up in. 

So, will I be cutting out carbs and all the other foods I love but feel terrible when I eat? Here's what I discovered... 

Lentils are defiantly a no-no. I do love them but not enough to suffer the side effects and not eating them does not drive me into binge mode. I can live without lentils. Arriverderci lentils.

Garlic is a tricky one. It's not just that garlic is delicious to eat, it makes such a difference to the flavour of so many dishes. So after much trial and error I have arrived at the following conclusion. I am not willing to eat raw garlic, however much I love the dishes it comes in. It's just not worth the pain and discomfort. However, I can cook with it in small quantities and have recently found the magic solution: garlic infused oil. Thanks to this wonderful invention, I can get the perfume of garlic in my cooking without actually having to eat any!

Fruit, I have discovered, is fine as long as I eat it on an empty stomach. It seems that when I eat fruit with other food it all ferments in my stomach and that's what causes the distress. So goodbye fruit puddings and hello fruit salad for breakfast!

Bread, is a tricky one. What I've found out by trial and error is that the problem is caused by yeast, especially fresh yeast. So it's not just bread, it's all types of yeasted carbs. And it seems that the more I eat, the worse the symptoms get. I can eat a slice of bread or a croissant but 2 isn't great and more than that for more than one day in a row makes me feel generally yuck. The thing is it's not like the lentils which have a really massive effect or like the garlic with which I feel very ill. No, with the bread and yeasty stuff it's a general bloaty, sluggish, lack of energy feeling which I can - and do - live with. It doesn't keep me at home within reach of the toilet or in bed with a sick bowl. It doesn't disrupt my life. I just don't feel as well when I have a lot. And I'm just not willing to cut bread and baked goods out. So I'm still debating this one, still experimenting with how much I can get away with. Nowadays I make sure I only eat really fantastic bread and truly delicious baked goods. I savour each bite, enjoy it and make it last rather than wolfing it down in a couple of mouthfuls. I am going for quality rather than quantity. 

My experiments have given me useful information with which I can make informed decisions. I now feel I have a choice about what I eat. And choice is so powerful. It means that when I go for the egg salad instead of the egg sandwich I am making a choice. A choice to look after myself. A choice to care for my health. And this feels very different from the self imposed depravation that I started out with. It feels kind and respectful. It feels good.

This is what I love about the work we do at Beyond Chocolate - it's all about empowering women to make choices that feel good, good about what we eat and good about our bodies.

Oh, and it touches so many other parts of our lives too. After all these years I feel I owe my mother a public apology for being so dismissive and intolerant. Sorry Mum!


  1. A very interesting post.

    I love lentil soup, but I can now only eat tomato and lentil soup. I think that it is something to do with the acidity of the tomatoes. Green lentils seem ok too, it is just the red ones which cause me problems. My body also prefers fresh pasta to dried.

    I am still trying to figure out what else is disagreeing with me!

  2. Interesting post is that Audrey or Sophie. Over time my body became more intolerant to a whole list of foods. Currently I tried reintroducing some after 2 1/2 years of avoiding and found I was ok. I think if I eat too much wheat I will find I get bloated though. If I have too much cow's milk in form of cheese, yoghurt or in something else then I get too bunged up in my sinuses plus catarrh. Currently dont avoid anything but im cautious about having too much of the same things everyday. I think when you've had a diet and binge cycle as I have in the past then that might speed up intolerances over time. The foods I used to overeat on generally included wheat and cow's milk. Thanks for sharing your experience. It is about finding out what is best for ourselves.

  3. An increasingly common experience nowadays, it seems. It does always make me wonder, though, why the 'informed' , 'wise' and 'kind' choices people then announce they're now making inevitably involve choosing the egg salad over the egg sandwich, the fruit salad over the fruit pudding. Personally, I'm just waiting to hear of someone with an intolerance to celery, rocket , melon and Weightwatchers ready meals, and who thrives on treacle tart and thick, stand-your-spoon-up-in-it, English custard - not holding my breath, though.

  4. Very interesting blog. I used to be able to eat absolutely anything in huge quantities. But no more. I am the person who can no longer eat lettuce! Just too unbearably windy, and bananas just cause terrible indigestion. I love bread and butter but generally feel sluggish if I eat it so I only eat a slice of really great bread slathered in butter when I really fancy it.

  5. Really interesting post- I am still struggling to find out what foods, specifically, cause me some trouble. I was surprised to notice that apples after a meal are not comfortable for me (apples being a "health food", right? ;-))and that apricots/figs make me swell up. I was on a retreat for a week where delicious veggie food was served, but very heavy on grains and pulses: my digestive system was all over the shop. Being you own guru is the only way to go, it would seem.

  6. This is really interesting and well timed for me personally as i am currently feeling unwell based purely on my consumption... Something is causing this and i am not sure what, but like the blog writter when i decided to cut out bread i simply couldn't stop eating it! Same with Sugar and caffine! I am new to the Beyond Chocolate mentality, but for me it makes a ridiculous amount of sense... So as i work through what does or doesn't work for me i am not going to punish myself or feel bad for experimenting, but try to remind myself that it will all come in time and to take the pressure off.
    Any advice as how to figure out what you can tolerate or not however would be hugely appreciated, if not for speeding up the removal of the discomfort!
    Many thanks!

  7. Excellent post! It's worth noting as well that if we eat a lot of a particular food, our bodies can build up a resistance to it and we can become intolerant as a result. Sometimes even a temporary break from the food is enough to solve the problem.
    I can understand why, if we believe the food-combiners, fruit and other foods don't mix well in the digestive system. What I can't understand is why I can't stand to eat apples, particularly on an empty stomach - they cause me distessingly uncomfortable wind. Luckily, though, I've never liked them much and was only ever making myself eat them "to be good" - it's great now to give myself permission not to eat them, ever, unless I want to.

    1. I've just posted below about my experience discovering my food allergies. Anyhow at the clinic I discovered I was allergic to fresh apples, I too didn't like them much. There is a thing called Oral Allergy Syndrome, which means that those of us who get hayfever due to silver birch allergy (often sneeze early, March/April) are also allergic to apples. It's the link between silver birch and apples that made them learn about it, but often hayfever sufferers have problems with stone fruit, peaches etc. Get a tingly mouth, bloated stomach and pain. It's usually a mild allergy and also cooking the fruit helps. Anyhow sounds like you it might be something you could have...

  8. Thanks all for your interesting and supportive comments. It's fascinating to me how many people can relate to this!

    Starlet Smith, just FYI I have what would generally considered to be a diet shockingly high in fat and sugar. I eat a large bar of chocolate on most days, as well as cheese, cream and full fat yoghurts and the other day I baked Nigella's wonderful clementine cake (made with almond flour rather wheat flour and quite obscene amounts of eggs and sugar) and have scoffed large slices of it for breakfast every day since. And I AM totally intolerant to Weight Watchers ready meals - the very idea makes me want to puke :-)

    As for the Anonymous wanting advice on how to be your own Guru, there isn't much to give really. Experiment with different foods - tune in a lot to see how you feel when you have them...and how you feel when you don't. Good luck!

  9. I also bloat when I eat more than one slice of bread, fruit after meals is a no-no, and I think you are right about it fermenting in the stomach. I have to be careful with delicious, heavy, seedy German breads as more than once they have caused me such awful stomach pain I couldn't even stand. Sometimes they don't, so go figure....
    I agree with being my own guru and finding out what makes me feel good and having that rather than things that make me feel sick.
    It's like choosing not to eat the second slice of cake not because it's "naughty", but because it will make me feel sick. There's a difference and I'm glad you are pointing it out here!

  10. Just something that happened to me that might be useful. I thought I had a problem with bread, and had also noticed the same issue with lentils, and kidney beans, that sort of thing. Anyhow after having an anaphylaxis I was diagnosed at an NHS allergy clinic with an allergy to legumes. No problem with wheat at all. Turns out lots of bread has soya flour in it, which is a cheap ingredient put in to boost the protein content. The cheap and supermarket ones almost all do. Now I read labels carefully, and often buy fresh bread, checking ingredients first, and have no problem with bread at all. Have to do the same with cakes etc.

    I can't eat lentils, chick peas, beans, peas, or anything soya. Plus I have an epi pen. It totally limits your social life as some cuisines are out of the question (chinese and Indian especially) however years of IBS type symptoms and it's now gone. Allergies can grumble like that for years, and you need proper testing, self experiments aren't good enough (I'd got it wildly wrong for year through self experiments and was making myself worse)

  11. Fascinating Heather, many thanks for your story. I'm so glad you found out about the allergy and now know what you can and can't eat...and can enjoy bread! Isn't it interesting how we are all different and all have different reactions to different foods?

  12. Fascinating story, so similar to what I've experienced as I've got older - especially fruit and bread. I stick to limited amount of fruit, on empty stomach, and found that works. When I crave bread I solve it with a Warburton's crumpet (just the one) out of the supply I keep in the freezer and have it toasted and buttered while still works for me!

  13. Really great to read this post. I too now find it harder to eat certain foods and feel much better when I don't. I am trying to use my 'One Minute Mantra' to keep me off them as far as possible! Doesn't always work but really makes a difference. I go through phases of being able to 'pause' and phases when I forget. So great to read about others going through similar experiences and exploring all this.

  14. HI.

    Great post.

    ALL the symptoms you describe fit into the intolerances I have been diagnosed with. It's a group of food chemicals called FODMAPs. They are found in a really strange variety of foods, wheat, onion, pulses, are just a few of them.

    I STRONGLY urge you to look into this with a qualified Dietician who is familiar with FODMAPs (as apposed to a nutritionist who doesn't necessarily have any training). There are breath tests you can do to diagnose many of the intolerances and an elimination diet to help you to figure out which ones effect you.

    I had all your symptoms, once I started this diet they all disappeared.

    I urge all your readers to look up FODMAPs. Sue Sheppard was the doctor who started all the studies about this in an Australian University. It's very well documented. I would start at her site as there is a lot of misinformation out there.

    You don't have to feel sick. Avoid the foods with high levels of FODMAPs and you will never feel better!! I was diagnosed very late, after I'd had a hysterectomy, thinking that was the cause of the pain. I don't want other women to go through that.

    Thank you for discussing this.



Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.