There’s a story I always like to tell my friends which we always refer to as the ‘honey incident’ and I rarely have the time to explain the story in full because it demands a wide contextual backdrop. I’ve decided to put the whole story in here just so I could refer it to new people in the future, and I’ll be speaking about some very personal and very graphic health details that might be uncomfortable to read. It’s a lot of icky health stuff, so please be warned.
So what happened? How did I become a honey casualty?
Ever since I was 17 I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. It’s a type of inflamatory bowel syndrome that stays with you for life and has significantly impacted many things I can and cannae do since. The initial shock of the disease has seriously crippled me physically and emotionally, and the first time I got it I had to stay in a hospital for over a month. Colitis damages the bowel to such an extent that you only excrete diarrhea with the addition of a lot of blood, and it forces a person to go to the bathroom for up to 10 times a day(on my worst days). I was completely wrecked. The loss of water through the stool made me dehydrate fast, and the huge loss of blood has rendered me anaemic, pale, and has deadened me athletically.
To the medical world, ulcerative colitis is still a very unknown kind of disease. Nobody knows what causes it, with various academics contending it’s an autoimmune disease activated by overly cautious antibodies due to stress(And I was at a huge stress in my life because of some strong emotional issues and my abusive father), or that it is caused by an inadequate diet high on carbs and sugar. I was drinking soda basically every day. Some say the disease is genetic in nature. I might have gotten it because of all three contributing factors, who knows, but at the time I very distinctly remember being bitter because I was certain the stress and emotional abuse from people around me was what landed me in the hospital. The same year(2009), before I got my ulcerative colitis diagnosed, I had to stay in a skin hospital for two weeks cos of a really bad stress-induced dermatitis flare-up, so this was the second time in the same year I had to have a hospital stay. And because of colitis, me and my mother had to cancel a summer holiday trip to Egypt specifically planned to brighten my mood and health, and I couldn’t go to the school field trip to Greece and see Athens, which was a city I’ve been wanting to see ever since I was a kid, and I missed plenty of school days. It was a really bad series of missed-out events that has affected my already bad social development.
In the end I was released from hospital with a bunch of meds and steroids meant to keep my inflamation in check. Through the next 7 years I would have to keep a stool journal and still contend with my high school, my university, and the full-time internship program I’d work at university while on studies. My stools or my health were never perfect, and I still had bloody and/or liquid stools, but it was a lot more manageable than what I had in summer 2009, save for when my illness begun to flare up again at late 2014. I had to stay in the hospital for ulcerative colitis again for two more times. I would sometimes go to work at the office and I’d have to go to the bathroom for 10 times straight in the morning. I was literally spending more time at the can than at work. Eventually even the people at uni had to regulate me to work at home instead of at the office for my own health, but even so my flares were still getting worse. The meds by this point basically didn’t do anything, and my doctor had to threaten me with colectomy(surgical removal of the colon) as the final step in ‘fixing’ my problem.
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet
Then, fortunately at about this time, my older syster found the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, from the Elaine Gottschall book ‘Breaking the Vicious Cycle‘. Basically the SCD’s core premise is that complex carbohydrates, such as starch and refined sugar, can not be fully digested and absorbed by the human body and leaves residual carbs, that invasive bacteria within the human colon feast on instead. As they eat it, this bacteria multiplies, and covers the entire surface of the colon preventing it from absorbing water(thus the diarrhea), and wounds it(thus the appearance of blood). Therefore the best way to treat inflamatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and celliac disesase, is by abstaining from starchy foods like breads and pastries, pasta, potatoes and corn, as well as most dairy products, sweets, alcohol and even caffeine. The only kind of carbs you’re allowed to take are monosaccharids because they do not need to be degraded, and can be readily absorbed by the colon. Thus, if no residual carbs remain in the colon, the bacteria can’t feed itself, and so has no choice but to die out. The diet requires STRICT ADHERENCE and doesn’t allow even a bite of the banned foods for many years and possibly forever. Monosaccharids are mostly found in fruit, vegetables and honey, so most of them are allowed to be eaten freely. The full list of allowed and banned foods are here.
Elaine wrote this book way back in 1994 after her own daughter suffered ulcerative colitis, and it got Elaine to seek a biochemistry degree so she could figure out a way to treat ulcerative colitis by a change in diet instead of the use of meds. It’s a great book that explains the biological and chemical workings of carbs in the body, how to begin the diet with some simple sample meal plans, and offers a list of recipes for those who think the diet leaves no room for options. Sadly the book also comes with a couple of caveats. For one thing it doesn’t make a big focus on how vegeterians, vegans or other kinds of ethical eaters could thrive with SCD, and it just assumes the core audience are all meat-eating, and thus tend to use meat as a replacement for a lot of the banned food items. Also I have an issue with how the book purports the SCD of being capable of “curing autism”, and definitely belongs to that old side of the argument that sees the autism spectrum disorder as a disease that needs to be eradicated, which raises some big flags. Elaine’s an old woman who was born in 1921 and died in 2005, so the misguided values she espouses in the book come from a different time. It definitely does not acommodate alternative lifestyles or people with different needs, but for people to whom this isn’t a dealbraker, the general guideline of the diet works, and after just a month of using the diet I’ve begun to notice improvements. In just three months I got normal stools and blood levels for the first time in seven years, and I could finally say goodbye to my chronic anaemia. I was happy beyond belief, and my sister basically saved my life, which I’m eternally grateful for.
Of course, I had to make a choice between either taking this diet and forfeiting all of the delicious foods I used to love(it’d mean having to give up loafy foods like hamburgers, pizza and pastries, spaghetti, potato chips and all kinds of sweets, candy, chocolate, and sodas), or having my colon surgically removed and possibly further destroying my colon the point I develop colon cancer. It was a no-brainer, but I was still hit very hard that I couldn’t eat bread or sweets anymore, and I longed so badly for any kind of coping strategy.
So why the honey, Nik?
In the first days of the diet you’re beginning simple and spending a week eating pureed vegetables such as carrots and courgettes, and you’re also allowed meat. You’re not allowed to move to the “hard stuff” like fruit and nuts yet. At that point I hadn’t had fruit for several years anyway, because of previous unsuccesful diets that were supposed to ease my colitis(but didn’t). I was so deprived of anything delicious-tasting to make my diet and all previous frustrations bearable, that I started gorging on honey more than usual.
Honey was one of those few foods that were allowed early in the diet, and it’s a simple sugar that can be absorbed quickly in the colon and that’s used in a lot of recipes. I’d take many spoonfuls of honey every day, and on some nights I’d just take a whole jar of honey with me and a spoon and just chuck it in my mouth at night while lying in bed and watching Snapchat posts from Skrillex and DJ Khaled(god save me). Like, I’d just biiiiinge that honey. For a time, it didn’t do anything to me and I was fine. When I was a kid I could scoop whole spoons of table sugar from the jar when my family wasn’t looking, and I always thought that I was predisposed to have a high sugar tolerance.
One day these carefree times were over, when in the morning I just completely swallowed up half a jar of honey, which weighed about a pound. At first I thought I was fine but then I started to feel a crazy heat around my forehead. I had temperature rising to 38°C, my arms felt tense, and I felt so alarmed, at such high alert with an impending sense of doom, knowing that something’s deeply wrong inside my body. I was suffering the first signs of hyperglycemia. I had to work up the courage to tell my older sister that I got a fever and that I might be literally dying. She immedatiely called me an idiot and this and that, and she had to call her boyfriend so we could take a drive to the nearest health centre. While I was there waiting for the doctor, my fever got so high that I very nearly fainted, and had to be brought in with emergency priority. In the end I was lying on a bed and got an infusion in my veins, to try to dillute the amount of pure fructose and glucose in my blood. Fortunately it worked, and a big crisis was averted. I immediately felt much better and my fever was gone.
All this was happening on the day my mother was undergoing a very serious operation in a different hospital, and we were all very scared that the news about my sugar spike would seriously unnerve our mum and cause her to step away from the operation. I was definitely a dumbass for doing this and making my family members so scared. I found a valuable lesson that honey, like all sugars can be very dangerous in large consumpsion, and that there is a very real threat of hyperglycemia and death from indulging too much on honey.
Yes kids, you can O.D. on honey! For several weeks after that I had an acute phobia of honey, and I couldn’t bring myself to have even a single spoon until I could condition myself to it, because it would make me tense and give me a sort of PTSD of my hyperglycemia episode.
I learned nothing
But this one event did not serve to deter old Nik from doing other stupid things, oooh no. I still wasn’t allowed to eat anything and I was feeling miserable. I still thought I COULD have some honey, but just in smaller amounts, and I made a completely rational and not-at-all gratuitous snack where I would eat peanut butter from the jar with a spoon, and stir some honey inside it to make it sweeter. I would eat entire jars of that honeyed-peanut butter in a day because it was just too delicious and filling, and I have no idea how I survived. At one point I added maple syrup to the peanut butter, despite the fact that maple syrup is a “banned” food on the list(but I thought it could get out by virtue of being a disaccharide instead of a polysaccharide), just ‘cos I wanted to make it a patented sugar bomb with a little bit of everything. Eventually I said screw it and just took gulps of maple syrup anyway. Big mistake.
I took swigs while I was at a local kinotheque watching a small screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I was alone in a very tiny venue built way underground, and along with Vertigo’s hazy and conspiratorial audiovisual style, my sense of doom and paranoia was creeping in, and the maple syrup was giving my body awful signals. Immediately, in spite of my ulcerative colitis being symptom-free at that time, I had to rush to the cinema bathroom and had a really bad diarrhea. I was feeling too awful, too tense, alarmed and feverish that I had to leave the film mid-way and run home asap. So I just rushed out and started jogging in an attempt to “work out the sugar” and at home I immediately started a whole workout routine, still feeling that surge of heat, that terrible tension in my head, and a strange tingling sensation in my temples.
I never took excess honey, peanut butter, maple syrup, whatever, ever again because that was the one that did it.
It gave me some weird neuropsychological condition where every single morning I’d wake up and feel a tension in my body, I’d hyperventilate, the tingling sensation in my temples(like my blood vessels to my brain were clogged or something, I don’t know), and I’d be completely sure I had a temperature fever, even though all the thermometers and blood tests told me that by all means I was completely fine. I was imagining these things, and I would have these sensations every single morning for 9 months straight, and they were so uncomfortable and agonising to go through every single morning, having this base instinct that you were going to die even though you were completely fine. Even nowadays, whenever I have some new foods I hadn’t tried before, an echo of those feelings comes back, and it just seems that these experiences have given me a permanent case of hypochondria over every little thing.
In the end, after 9 months, those episodes just sort of faded away and now I’m doing completely fine and I’m very happy. I’ve been on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet since February 2016 and I’m still going. My anaemia subsided a long time ago and I’ve taken workout which has helped me make up for all of my years of neglecting my physical health, and it has improved my body definition a lot. Sadly, ever since I took the SCD diet, I noticed I took a huge drop in my stamina. For some reason, I imagine because of the lack of sugary and starchy foods, everything I try to do leaves me feeling tired much more quicker. I can never dance in a dance club for longer than 5 minutes at a time, and sometimes I have a hard time climbing even a small incline, and it’s little things like these that has me wishing I had more strength and I had more sugar. You can also see this in the fact that my appetite has skyrocketed since I took the diet. In the past I was known as a small, picky eater who never needed a lot for sustainance, but that’s because I was having a carb-heavy diet. Now that my carb options are so small and so limited, I’m craving foods from all avenues and I don’t think it’s something that can stop.
Thankfully, my snack cravings were pacified for good once I was allowed to eat fruit again. Apples, peaches, grapefruits, cherries, grapes, all was fair game once again and I now have fruits and nuts as my traditional snacks every single day. I love fruit so much and some of my favourite parts of every day is when I get to eat fruit. It’s sweet sugary goodness, but it’s just not enough to overcome my low stamina. I’m still happy to say I’m at a relatively stable place when it comes to my health, since I’m eating the food I love, and my colitis hasn’t flared up for over four years now. Although I’d love to be able to return to “normal” foods, I do not feel any pressure or incentive to do so, and I’m perfectly happy to stay like this forever. After seven difficult years of fighting my ulcerative colitis that made me a disabled person, that is a victory worth celebrating.
And now some old drawings
A lot of this stuff is gonna be very old residue from last year, which I just never got to post here. That’s some old Watamote fanart from my sketchbook. Yuri’s meaning business.
This one’s digital. Autumn 2019.
Lupine RPG character I drew for a dear bud.
I don’t know, man. Some scientist dude. Back in that golden age of science when books still had those etched illustrations, all the lightbulbs were outrageously huge, and ethics didn’t exist yet.
That’s me! Live and well after all these years of being a terrible honey junkie. I made this when all of my friends were making picrew avatars of themselves, but I could never find a template I felt completely fit me, so I just drew my “own” picrew avatar instead. No great feeling like finding your own authenticity, huh?
All that and guess what – I still love my honey <3