55 Hours of Soup

Recently, I decided to permanently cure my seasonal allergies. No more Zyrtec, just cure. The two approaches I found that people seem to believe in were a diet-based approach (from GAPS) and a carefully managed, low-level hookworm infestation. I'm a sissy so I went with the diet.

Formally, the "diet" portion of the GAPS (gut and psychology syndrome) treatment is almost exactly the SCD (specific carbohydrate diet), which was created just as the indoor plumbing industry was booming in the US (i.e. the 1920s). The rules are very similar to the more modern paleo and primal diets. Here's a short version of the rules:

  • no sugar, though raw honey is encouraged
  • no grains
  • no starchy vegetables (sorry corn, potatoes, most beans)
  • dairy must be either raw or fermented (yogurt, kefir)
Not so bad. However, at the beginning of the GAPS treatment, patients are encouraged/expected to participate in a six-phase Introduction protocol.

The introduction is challenging.

You can find the details of the introduction on the web, but it's not hard to describe. In the first phase, for each meal, you eat homemade soup and a gentle-on-the-gut probiotic food (probably sauerkraut juice). The amount of time required to prepare the food is immense. I can make about 1.5 gallons of chicken soup in four hours. That's time to (1) boil a whole chicken, (2) separate meat from bones, (3) create chicken stock, (4) convert stock to soup. At one giant bowl per meal, this amount only lasts two days. You're also required home-ferment your yogurt/kefir/sauerkraut (to ensure a healthy, thriving bacterial ecosystem).

You only need to clean the inside of the kraut urn.

Subsequent phases slowly add foods. The whole process is designed to identify and work through any show-stopping digestive problems ("seal" the gut), and to prepare the environment for the full diet. Here's how it went for me.

Eye on the Ball

Because I was doing this to fix allergies and allergy suffering is slippery to measure, I decided at the start that I needed a way to quantify my allergy symptoms. To that end, I tracked three variables: sneezes, nose blows, eye itches. I figured that they all should diminish slowly as the protocol took hold. Alternately, if I experienced "die-off" symptoms, I might sneeze a bit more for a few days before it tapered off.

Below, I'll use the format xx/yy/zz to show sneezes/nose blows/eye itches.

Day 0: 21/23/22 (weather.com pollen: very high)

(exclusively: chicken soup, fage whole greek yogurt, green tea)

I didn't plan to start the diet on this day, but I'd been "practicing" different elements of the diet for a while and my current batch of soup was pretty good, so I just went for it. My sauerkraut wasn't quite ready yet, but Fage contains live cultures and I was able to use it as my mealtime probiotic.

I never felt really hunger, but I did feel uncomfortable hunger-wise toward the end of the day. I also had a minor meltdown in the evening when I realized I needed to make another chicken soup to get through tomorrow. After a quick run to the store I stayed up until 12:30 making soup. I also learned that Smart Chicken brand chickens don't produce yucky white foam when you boil them.

I didn't count this as "Day 1" because my sauerkraut wasn't done fermenting yet and fermented dairy isn't technically allowed until a later phase.

Day 1: 2/4/1 (weather.com pollen: very high)

(exclusively: chicken soup, kraut juice, green tea)

When I woke up in the morning, I felt AMAZING! Lots of energy, no allergies, good times. Leading up to day zero, I had lost about 4 pounds just practicing for the diet. When I weighed at the start of day one, I weighed 2 pounds less then I had the morning before. I assume there was some sort of protein/carb ratio or sodium-related water loss afoot.

Unfortunately, with my allergies flipped off like a switch, I decided that there must be too much natural variance and my numerical measure was worthless. My hunger was very controllable. It was a Friday and I went to noon yoga which forced me to bring my soup and my kraut juice to work. I didn't have hunger problems and the day went quite well. I had trouble getting to sleep.

Day 2: ---

I lost another two pounds! That's cool, right? Day 2 started out with a pretty awesome fresh batch of chicken soup. While it was cooking I did my kettlebell workout which consisted of turkish get-ups and about 200 swings. I felt fine, if occasionally dizzy.

In the morning, I was still allergy free. Cured! Unfortunately, I was dreaded the idea of making yet another batch of chicken soup. I felt like some sort of chicken serial killer. The one I made two nights ago, I had held in the sink and imagined what sort of chicken it was, if it had any friends, did it play in the sun when it was small... I was going nuts.

Julie, having lost her eating buddy, was also not enjoying my diet. Mid-morning, I decided that (a) this was not the time for an insane soup fast and (b) I didn't have any problems severe enough to warrant the introduction phase anyway. Then I ate a (disappointing) farmer's market cookie and a whole bunch of chocolate nut clusters.

It was a fine big cookie, but too cake-y.

Two hours later my sinuses were tingling and by the end of the day I was sneezing and blowing my nose again. When I woke up the next morning, my old friend the fall skin rash had returned after being absent for a couple days.

Conclusion

The introduction diet is too hard. You need a full time chef and a serious digestive or behavioral problem to warrant the full treatment. However, the ability of the diet to turn off my ragweed allergies like a switch was amazing. Of course, it's possible that I had some sort of placebo effect going for me. If so, I don't really care. I want more placebo.

My plan now is to unify the full GAPS diet (SCD) with the more modern paleo diet variant. I figure maybe I just need to live life grain-free for a while and I might have some good results.

Awww...


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