Life changing food: how to reverse chronic food intolerances & reclaim health
As part of our endeavour to promote the concept of healthy, wealthy and happy lives, we talk to Jo Whitton and Fouad Kassab about how individuals and families can reclaim their health through a nutritious and healthy diet. We’re going to explore how to reverse lifelong food intolerances, get an insight into how Jo healed her son Isaac’s OCD and anxiety, and how Fouad lost more than 25 kilos and reversed many of his chronic ailments.
Let me introduce Jo, she is a blogger and best-selling author from Quirky Cooking. Jo joined forces with Fouad, a writer and wholefood chef from Chic Pea and Baraka restaurants. They recently released a best-selling cookbook called Life Changing Food.
Here’s Jo’s insight into how to reverse chronic food intolerances
In three words, ‘HEAL THE GUT’. We now know that many common health conditions, including food intolerances, allergies, autoimmune diseases, weight issues and skin conditions can be traced to what’s going on in the gut. So, the health of the gut is the key to healing.
Chronic health conditions are usually caused by a leaky gut (when the gut lining has too much permeability), poor health and imbalance of the gut bacteria that form our microbiome. So, the gut lining and microbiome together play a really big part in regulating our immune system and preventing chronic inflammations.
Food intolerances and allergies are the results of a ‘leaky gut’ that lead to improper digestion and absorption of food. Particles of protein escape into your bloodstream and it provokes an immune response against the undigested food particles, and you get all sorts of food and skin reactions. So, healing and sealing the gut lining is the first thing you’ve got to work on.
It’s not a new issue and it’s getting worse due to lifestyle and environmental factors
It’s not a new issue and it’s probably getting worse because of lifestyle and environmental factors that affect gut health and the microbiome – chronic stress, poor sleep, antibiotics, over-medication and drug-induced pregnancies are all key factors. Not to mention, toxins in the environment and pesticides becoming more prevalent in our food and water supply.
Bad gut health can also be hereditary. So in order to break the cycle, you have to improve gut health and reduce toxins in your environment, otherwise, it just keeps building up with each generation.
Some of the things you can do to reverse food intolerances
Diet is the big one. We have to get back to the way our bodies are designed to eat, more whole foods with minimal exposure to pesticides and toxins.
As much as possible, eat organic or pesticide-free food, drink clean water and choose to have food that is really easy to digest. The GAPS diet focuses on nourishing, super easy to digest food that will help heal the gut lining and rebalance the microbiome. Effectively, you’re taking out the starchy fillers, the low-nutrient foods, sugary foods and the carbs. Once that is done, your body is filled with the right kind of food it needs to build cells and heal.
Here is the process we went through with Isaac to resolve his OCD and anxiety issues
We saw changes within weeks of changing his diet. Within 6 months, the doctor said that he could come off his medication. But we waited for him to be absolutely ready, which took about a year. Since then he has been off all medication and hasn’t had to go back on.
It’s all very much diet-related. Even now, if he lets the sugars or inflammation inducing oils get too high he starts to get anxious and has to pull back on this. Lifestyle also matters. Getting him out into nature, getting some sunshine, fresh air and encouraging him to get some physical activity has also helped a lot. It’s quite common these days for kids to be stuck inside, and that’s not good. Exercise, good water and reducing toxins all these lifestyle factors are really important.
Here is what we have done to maintain this healthy diet and lifestyle
Once you go back to whole foods from nature, you don’t ever want to go back to factory food. Sometimes when you’re out and about with friends, you may indulge yourself, but that should just be a rare occurrence.
We’ve found that we do better if we stick to whole foods. We also avoid grains because that can cause histamine reactions, and that was the direction our food intolerances took. We’re also careful with gluten because of all the issues with pesticides sprayed on wheat. We stay a whole lot healthier if we stick to basic meat and veggies, eggs, fish, nuts & seeds, safe carbs and the like. In short, a diet with traditional foods works best for us.
Whole foods and organic foods aren’t always more expensive
People think that if they have to eat healthily, they have to go to the health food shop and they end up paying so much money for little packets of gourmet health foods. If we get back to traditional whole foods, it includes very basic ingredients and it doesn’t have to be super expensive.
Shopping at the local market is really good because you can get a lot of pesticide-free produce there. We also get a lot of pesticide-free produce from community supported agriculture farms, whatever’s in season, we get a box full each week.
A lot of supermarkets have an organic section. I’ve been in Co-ops for the last 16 years buying organic nuts, seeds, coconuts, oils, honey, maple syrup and other everyday ingredients. So, you’re buying in bulk, saving money on the packaging and the advertising and all those miscellaneous things. Also, you’re sharing the cost with a group of other people and that really has saved me heaps of money. Also, if you can, you should try your hand at homegrown produce.
Getting into a Co-op is easy
I do have a link to the blog that talks about bulk buying. If you get on to any community groups in your area and ask about Co-ops, people will definitely know about them. On our Quirky Cooking Chat Group, if you ask about a Co-op in your area, you’re pretty sure to get an answer as we have about 30,000 people on it.
Fouad’s story: How he lost more than 25 kilos and reversed chronic illnesses
I’ve lost over 30 kilos since 2011, when my weight was at its peak. I’ve had a strange life before that. I was born in Lebanon to a mother who underwent a lot of stress during her pregnancy. I also had to have a lot of antibiotics as a child. Our diet included a lot of foreign aid supplies of white sugar, white flour, vegetable oils and the like. All this put together manifested itself in the form of obesity.
When I was 18, I started getting really vicious rashes all over my body and to make matters worse, I got eczema as well. The doctors were constantly giving me antibiotics for it and my weight was going up the whole time.
In 2011, I read about the toxicity of sugar in an article in the New York Times which talked about the hormonal pathway that weight gain takes, which was not really caloric. The writer made a really compelling argument that what we eat affects our weight more than the actual caloric intake.
That inspired me to go on what was typically a low-carb diet, with produce sourced only from farmer’s markets. I stayed away from grains, refined flours and starches and followed a wholefood diet that focussed on meat. Within the year, I lost more than 24 kilos and my chronic skin issues became better, in fact, I’d say 98% better with a few residual issues to sort out. I’m definitely in the best shape I could be at the moment.
I was really fired up about my positive experience and decided to write this cookbook with Jo because I just couldn’t stop talking to people about the importance of maintaining a wholefood diet. I wanted to make people aware of what they should ideally be eating and how that would affect a change in their lives and in society as a whole.
This has influenced the food philosophies in my restaurant and I’m trying to spread the word
The restaurants were a result of my health improvements. I just couldn’t believe what I had to go through in my life to find out that the answer did not lie in the pills or the steroid creams, but in the quality of the food that I was eating.
That made me feel extremely empowered but I was also angry that for about 31 years of my life I was really sick and no one ever advised me to change my diet. All the people I met would judge me for being obese, as though I had a willpower issue when it was more to do with being sick and overweight.
I did actively pursue many diets, but the weight would always come back with a vengeance. It’s been 6 years since I lost the weight and it’s still on its way down. This kind of empowerment made me look at the world in a very different way. I started seeing all sorts of people struggling with chronic illnesses without knowing how to combat it. The sad thing is that they’re actually being told that it’s their fault. It’s not their fault, it’s just that they’ve been born into a society with systems that support an unhealthy lifestyle.
There are systems that perpetuate an unhealthy diet
We’ve got companies growing huge fields of monocrops and spraying them with pesticides, destroying soil in the process and turning the beautiful land into deserts. The water we drink is polluted and chemically fortified with elements like fluoride and chlorine which are half of our gut and skin bacteria, therefore half of the immune system. They continue to do these things to get crops with an increasing yield.
As a result, the organic farmers and small-time farmers who really look after the land and do things the healthy way are being marginalised and considered not sustainable because their prices seem extremely expensive compared to the conventional prices out there. What that creates is a false economy where people expect milk to cost $1 when that’s not the true cost of milk at all. This continues the paradigm that is pushing us further and further into sickness.
Once I realised the true state of affairs, I decided to do my bit to contribute to a positive change in the world. So I started my restaurants which were wholefood restaurants. When people come to my restaurant and have a meal, they feel nourished, they don’t leave feeling heavy and sick. I would talk to them about my philosophy, because for me, it was really important to reach people with my message. But the restaurants didn’t last too long because they were pop-ups.
I eventually partnered up with Jo and she offered me the opportunity to work with her and reach a huge community of Facebook and blog followers. I love talking about eating healthy because I feel it’s worth the effort even if you can change just one person’s life.
So much of what we’re saying is probably just common sense. We’re just taking the information that makes sense, educating people and showing them a way to put it into practice.
Here is where you can find more information
You can read our blogs by clicking this link www.quirkycooking.com.au
Our podcast ‘A Quirky Journey’ can be found here. We have a ‘gut health’ program for people who need to be hand-held during the initial stages and it also teaches them to start cooking for good gut health and for the GAPS diet. It’s got cooking videos, 6 weeks of meal plans and recipe e-books. It also has a support group that’s really active with practitioners to answer your questions at gaps.quirkycooking.com.au
We also host seminars and cooking demos around Australia. You can find all the information about that on our Events Page on the Blog.