About

Hello and welcome to Sugar Free Sweet Pea!


I wanted a place to sound out my growing obsession for health and nutrition, in particular, the health of the digestive system. I have such a vested interest in the latter as, at the tender age of 27 years, I found myself having to completely rebuild my own after suffering many years of gastrointestinal distress.




Let me tell you what a mess I found myself in.

I had visited many doctors over the course of 5 years or so and was always treated for anxiety. I thought this was a very adequate diagnosis at the time as I was obviously very stressed about my symptoms. I thought, as many might do, that the brain drives us. I assumed that my negative thinking provoked my 'flight or fight' response and resulted in my digestive issues. I even wrote an on-going autobiographical comic about it, called Worry Wart. 

So I suffered many years of near daily diarrhoea, often uncontrollable and urgent. 

I started suspecting foods and set about removing them from my diet in order to halt the process. As my symptoms got worse, so did my anxiety and so I tried numerous different anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications in various combinations as well as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT.) All the while I took the anti-diarrhoea drug Imodium very regularly in a vain attempt to control it. My dependency on this over the counter drug become so strong I was taking an entire pack a day, and yet it had less and less effect on my problem.



Now I wish I could tell you that I hit the 'eureka' moment on my own. You would think that living in this way would eventually become unbearable and I would push for further solutions until I had one. But I didn't. I was so embarrassed by what was happening to me that I hid it and hid it and hid it some more. Not only that, but I lied about it. I would tell the Doctor that my main symptom was nausea. I told my CBT therapist that I was most afraid of vomiting in public, when the truth was literally the other end. There is something more manageable and sympathetic about vomiting than uncontrollable bowels.

It wasn't until I met the right person, the right supportive human being who looked me in the eyes and asked me what was going on that I confessed the extent of my poor health. And even then, it took another whole year for me to really start to crack the case! My partner begged me to go to the doctors and finally tell the truth, which led to a gluten free diet, an IBS leaflet and yet more anti-depressants. I remember being extremely reluctant to accept an IBS leaflet as any sort of adequate diagnosis. There simply had to be a further explanation for it, and to this day I don't think the term 'irritable bowel' is helpful. Admittedly, going gluten free made a huge difference at first, and I started to get my head around the fact that I would have a specialist diet for the rest of my life. I also stuck to a 6 month course of Citalopram rigidly (whereas in the past I'd always felt I was failing for being on them, and avoiding taking them regularly.)

But the symptoms eventually returned, and I found myself miserable again. 

Life circumstances played a huge role in my mental health journey and after being given yet more medications to calm me down, this time a very potent combination that truly dulled my senses and made me very slow, a move to Ireland for contract work and subsequent return, I finally, finally sought real help.
I sent an anxious email to a local Nutrition Therapist asking if there was 'such a thing as a stress free diet?' At this point my symptoms were daily, and food was passing through me undigested immediately after eating. I was also anxious and enrolled in a group therapy session for stress. I still believed that it was all mind driven.

The Nutrition Therapist returned my email and arranged a consultation and I can honestly say it has been the most important development of my adult life. She asked more lifestyle questions than I ever thought possible. So much so, that we eventually pin pointed a possible trigger event in my life that had lead to my failing gut health: a 5 week long course of antibiotics for a nasty infection in 2008. I had never, ever given that a second thought. Upon exploring though, 2008 makes so much sense to me. The year everything started to go wrong.

She explained the role of bacteria in the body and effect of antibiotics. We decided to complete a thorough lab stool test, that would test the function of my organs and throw up any possible weaknesses in my system, something she could work with. It was expensive but ultimately so worth it as, a couple of weeks later, I was staring at a sheet of paper that declared with numerical, black and white results exactly what was going on in my insides! This has been my greatest weapon. The results that were most worrying were my 'scant growth' count of probiotics (bingo!) my indicators of chronic colon inflammation, super low sIgA, and a score for gliadin (the gluten intolerance!) There was also evidence of an overworked, tired out pancreas that wasn't releasing all the necessary enzymes needed to break down food.

I felt liberated receiving these results. But also an overwhelming sadness for my stressed out system.

I wished I hadn't ignored it for so long. I truly learnt the lesson 'listen to your body.' You only have one.

You only get one digestive system and if you abuse it, you end up in a mess. It is such an important, amazing, delicate system. I have since fallen head over heels, madly in love with it. Nursing it back to health has been one hell of an enlightening journey!

With my nutritionist, we tried a couple of different things at first. Sometimes, making big changes equal big changes and so we saw great results in the beginning. However, something wasn't quite working and my system eventually let it be known.
Finally, after trial and error, we started a truly disciplined approach treating a disease of the bowel called Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO.) All my symptoms seemed to point to this condition and there is only one test available in the UK to diagnose it. As it was so likely this is what was wrong, I switched to a restricted low FODMAP, no sugar, no grains, no fruit, no dairy diet. The FODMAPs diet removes quite a lot of highly fermentable vegetables, mostly in the form of carbohydrates but many others you might find surprising. I was eating meat, fish and eggs and some allowed veggies. Bone broths are particularly healing for the gut wall as they contain gelatin so I drank a lot of this. I also went on a course of supplements such as L Glutamine to help heal the lining of my gut.

I have since named this the 'starvation phase,' as the goal was to completely remove the bacteria's food source. In starving them, they would eventually die and leave my small intestine, allowing me to absorb my own food properly. This is the hardest thing I have ever done. The idea of my organs being over run with unwanted infestations of bacteria kept me on the straight and narrow, but that doesn't mean I didn't moan like hell about it! At first, giving up sugars and carbohydrates made me crash hard. Your body takes a little while to realise what is happening and switch from burning glucose for fuel to burning fats for fuel. It is a remarkable process! I have done a ton of reading since those days and I found a common term for it is 'low carb flu!' I certainly felt like I was wasting away at some points! I spent exactly 100 days on this strict intake, introducing bananas quite early on to deal with some weight loss I experienced.

Once we were satisfied I had been on the elimination diet for a good amount of time, we introduced anti-microbials and natural anti-bacterials into my diet and supplement regime, the 'anti-bacterial phase!' We also included a little of the bacteria's food source in the hope that it would coax any left over, stubborn little bad guys into coming out from their protective biofilm to eat, before purging them! I also got the chance to reintroduce some vegetables to my eating plan. Mushrooms, garlic and spring onions have truly helped with my meals and in turn, my mental wellbeing! I am still working my way through the high FODMAP vegetables list, introducing each one at a time and monitoring for any reactions for a few days before giving them the all clear!

It wasn't until Day 170, however, that my sugar cravings finally abated. 170 days! That is an awful long time! I thought they would never go away and I was firmly of the mind set that one day I could 'go back to normal.' Now that I have smashed my sugar cravings, I no longer think this way. Quite the opposite infact.
There is nothing much I miss more than I love having a healthy body. 
It has took completely rebuilding my gut to make me realise what a truly shocking diet full of nasties I ate before hand. And I thought I ate a balanced, varied diet!

I am now embarking upon the next phase of the my plan, and that is the 'probiotic phase!' I am now taking a course of probiotic strains in massive numbers in the hopes that they'll find my spring cleaned large intestine as their new home!

I am still getting used to the idea of probably never being able to eat at a restaurant again, or running into a supermarket when I'm hungry and being able to buy my lunch. It does take a lot of preparation and planning, but doesn't everything worth doing? Since when is our general health so low on the list of priorities!? I don't mind my 'weird' lunch boxes full of ground beef and courgettes now. I love my bone broth soups. I love protein and I love fats! I adore eating avocados mashed on homemade burgers. I love concocting new recipes to mimic the tastes and textures of the things I sometimes miss, out of the ingredients I can have! And that's where this website comes in.

I needed a place I could record all this. To explore my new found fascination with this amazing human organ. To maybe help others by collating all the information I have found. To share my recipes and my tantrums and my successes!

So welcome to my website! 

My name is Dani Abram and I am a health nut, a food lover, an artist, an animator, a cook, a learner, a doer and creator. My partner has always called me his 'wheat free sweet pea,' and it is to him that I owe my health, happiness, self love and website name.

Stick around, let's get healthy together!




2 comments:

  1. An amazing and inspirational story! I'm currently studying a degree in Psychology with a mind to train as some sort of therapist once I've completed my degree. I started looking into nutrition as a means to help my partners health problems and potentially mine as well and came across the term 'Leaky Gut'. Now I'm considering a qualification in Nutritional therapy to run alongside my therapy qualification as I do believe that with a healthy body comes a healthy mind. Good Luck Dani, I'm definitely going to keep tabs on what your doing here! :)

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  2. Thank you so much Rianne!
    Nutrition is taking over my life too - I want to study to be a Nutritional Therapist! I've found a course I can sit locally, I just need to be brave. It would be quite a career change!

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