I had a chance to connect with “Knowthyself” through a health and nutrition site, and I’m happy to be sharing their story. Please note that in order to respect his privacy, I’ve been asked to keep his identity and personal photos off the blog.
“Knowthyself”, a Siberian with some international experience, believes in science, but occasionally indulges himself in metaphysical adventures in the full understanding of their status.
Can you tell us a little about your IBD story?
I’ve had symptoms like occasional periods of diarrhoea from about 2002. Living in countries where I had temporary visitor status wasn’t helping me to get proper medical care. From about 2006 doctors in the UK started doing stool tests and noticed occult blood; I also had undiscovered anemia. It took another three years before I was referred to a gastroenterologist and got an appointment at the Endoscopy department. They suspected EMA negative coeliac disease and, I guess, hoped it would be the case. The oesophagus [esophagus for those outside of the UK], stomach, and duodenum were normal macroscopically; duodenal biopsies were normal. The colonoscopy showed telltale macroscopic signs of Crohn’s Colitis throughout the colon – the pathologist concluded that small bowel mucosa was normal, but in the colon 14 biopsies led the researcher to diagnose a “mildly active chronic IBD with features more in favour of Crohn’s disease”. Symptoms at this stage, and maybe a year or two before that and certainly afterwards, included strong and long-lasting headaches, occasional periods of severe diarrhoea with visible blood, complete absence of well-formed stools, tummy pain. Looking back at this time, I think I was super-lucky to have had a resident status with an expiry date because it barred from having access to medical treatment for a chronic condition. I don’t know how things would have developed, if I had had anyone medicalise me.
How long have you been following a plant-based lifestyle and what prompted you to make that decision?
I have been following a plant-based diet for five years now. Prior to that, I used to eat anything and everything – from moose meat dumplings to raw whale meat. I think I’ve tried almost everything. Speaking of what prompted me to transition to a plant-food only diet, I don’t know. There wasn’t, in fact, any transition. I just woke up one morning and had cereal with soy milk rather than whole milk that I would always have; and then at lunch time, I ordered a vegan meal in the restaurant and I never felt any urge to eat any other animal again. I wouldn’t like to go esoteric here, but the only explanation I have for it is that my body forced it on me. I had two strange episodes in the past, a year apart from each other, while having my bowel symptoms, on these two days, that I remember very well because they were so strange, I would go to my usual cafe or restaurant for lunch and could not look at meat – one of these days was Sunday so I would normally have baked beans, a sausage, a tomato, some bacon strips, and an egg – which I used to love, and I couldn’t even look at them. Then in the evening I would somehow “slide” into my usual diet and forget about it. Now, a trained psychiatrist would be able to diagnose something with this information, but I believe – however scientifically unfounded it may be – that my body wanted to find a balance on those occasions and on many others subsequently. I am glad I listened.
Where there any concerns about eating a plant-based diet?
No, no concerns. It wasn’t a conscious choice. It just happened to me. And I couldn’t do differently.
What, if any, has been your biggest challenge with eating this way?
There were no challenges. Eating plant-based is simple, and not just in the UK – I now live in a place in Siberia where up to 2 000 tonnes of snow are removed from the streets every night.
Have you noticed any health benefits since starting a plant-based diet?
No, not in the first two or so years. Watery stools were less frequent, debilitating headaches occurred from time to time. My condition in some respects actually worsened – I developed shortness of breath (sometimes I would take very deep breaths and would still feel like I wasn’t getting enough air) I lost a lot of hair on my head, and had impossible calf leg cramps – all symptoms of B12 deficiency. (I know it now because these symptoms went away completely after daily sublingual 2000 mcg of B12 for 4 months). Also, there is so much non-sense on the internet about diet and IBD. I was lucky to come across the website Nutritionfacts.org and I felt instantly that it was the resource I can trust. This was where I learnt about the right way to supplement with B12 and I started being more adventurous with my diet – fearing a serious flare-up, I used to have a very restricted diet. So right now, there is nothing I don’t eat – my daily diet includes beans or chickpeas, lentils, some grain porridge, frozen berries (from taiga), greens (in winter only parsley imported from Uzbekistan, and all sorts of dried herbs), nuts, seeds, fruit, and loads of spices (in combinations and doses that would make anyone’s stomachs turn in disgust, I’m sure, – but I know what I’m doing).
How did your family or friends react to your decision to eat only plants? Have their attitudes changed over the years?
Their reaction was fairly neutral. Everyone thought and many still do, it is just a period that I would grow out of after I develop serious health problems on this diet. If only they knew that this diet helped me conquer a serious disease and helped prevent who knows what other tragic developments.
What do you eat in a typical day? Other than B12, do you take an other supplements?
I eat everything – everything edible, that is! Supplements – yes, in addition to B12, I also take Vitamin D.
Do you find eating to be difficult when you travel? Do you take extra steps to make sure that there are no problems with food?
Travelling can be an issue. I haven’t travelled for a couple of years now. And when I still had the symptoms I would simply not eat anything for several days and it would keep me away from the toilets. And I guess, I just also had this internal talk with my body and it responded favourably.
Do you have any advice for other people with IBD who might be interested in transitioning to a plant-based diet?
No, not really. Except, perhaps, to study the information on Nutritionfacts.org.
Do you have any general advice for someone living with IBD?
Listen to your body and intellect.
Tell us, what’s your favorite food?
Greens (or purples like purple basil :) grown under the sun and simply chewed – it always puts me in a meditative state on days when I don’t have too much work and I feel at one with the whole world and feel every cell of my body being happy. Crazy, I know.