How a plant-based diet bettered my gut health

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Before you follow the next health trend, read how a plant-based diet helped put my Crohn’s Disease in remission and created a healthy gut flora.

In 2012, at 23 years old, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. Prior to being diagnosed, my dermatologist had me on long term use of antibiotics treating my severe cystic acne. My skin had never looked better on it and I became addicted to taking the medication, thinking it could keep my skin clear for as long as I kept taking them.

After a year of obsessively swallowing antibiotics without the support of probiotics, I landed myself in the hospital. Taking antibiotics for that long completely killed off all the good bacteria in my gut and destroyed my health. Frequent trips to my gastrointestinal doctor for colonoscopies and checkups became my new best friend. When one medication didn’t work and its side effects had me feeling lightheaded with my hair falling out, the next medication to try out came after.

The doctor had warned me that I could eventually have major surgery to remove my colon if the pain continued and there were no more positive results.

veganism healthHorrified by this news, searching for a solution to this whole mess I got myself into the first place was going to be hard, but worth it in the end. Being married to medication and having the side effects that came with it and a chance of having major surgery felt like the end of my life. Holistic healing always had my interest, so I had decided to go with my gut instinct.

Ever hear of the Auto Immune Protocol (AIP) diet? It eliminates all inflammatory foods and aims to reduce inflammation, pain, and other symptoms caused by auto-immune diseases. After a few weeks on this strict diet and taking in raw fermented goods for natural probiotic and prebiotic consumption, I helped get my gut back to a better place where I actually stopped my inflammation medication. My energy was lifted, my skin was brighter and glowing, and the pain was gone. Excited by these results, I wanted to dig in more since my health was my number one priority.

What the Health had premiered on Netflix with raving reviews, which caught my attention. It focused on people with disease and conditions who went plant-based, which helped them off medication become the healthiest they’ve ever been. I quit cold faux-turkey since, and so have the frequent trips to my GI doctor.

First things first, cut out all processed foods and meats from your diet and incorporate high fibre foods such as micronutrients. It even comes down to the oils you cook with — canola, soybean and vegetable varieties are extremely inflammatory to the gut. Only olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil recommended to use and cook with. Even watch out which olive oil you’re consuming because recent studies showed 80% of olive oil brands on the shelf are cut with cheaper oils such as the inflammatory ones listed above.

Think all nuts are safe? Almonds, cashews and peanuts are also inflammatory to the gut and sunflower seed butter is a great replacement. Little things I consumed mindlessly every day had a huge effect on my health — things I thought were healthy in the first place.

gut healthAnother diet change to focus on is following the Dirty Dozen list. Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) comes out with this list, which is a shopper’s guide to pesticides in produce. The EWG recommends which produce to always consume organic (when in your control) and which ones you can get away with eating conventional. Not to mention the most gut-wrenching one: coffee. It has been shown to create an imbalance of gut bacteria called dysbiosis, by destroying your good bacteria.

And last, the spiritual side of gut issues. As Dr Christine Northrup says in ‘Digestion: Your Third Emotional Center’, bloating, gastric reflux, constipation, IBS, and ulcers, are the second-most common reasons why people seek medical attention in North America. She believes emotions are tied in with digestion and why it is crucial to practice self-love and honour yourself. Learning to meditate and practising yoga helped with my body, mind, and breathing. Not to mention the release of toxins, eliminating waste and improving digestion.

Working with a dietician who specialised in vegan diets, she had helped strengthen my gut lining and create a healthy microbiome to where I have been in remission now for years and off medication. My skin continues to be clear, and my hair is strong, thick and healthier than ever. 

Setting my routine every day with my strict ‘diet’ and huge lifestyle change has become my wellness ritual. By making little changes, which added up to bigger ones, not only did I save my life, I have helped inspired others to step up and gain control with their help.

My imperfections became a roadmap to where my life has carried me and were certified in Vegan Nutrition and Eastern Medicine.

Tijen Najarian
Tijen Najarian
Tijen holds a certification in Vegan Nutrition, and Chinese Medicine from the University of Hong Kong. When Tijen was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at age 23, she set out on a path that would dramatically change the course of her life. After years of pain, struggles with the effects of medication, and countless differing opinions from Western doctors, Tijen put her trust in a holistic practitioner and began educating herself on natural medicine and healing remedies. Upon learning that certain foods are inflammatory to the gut microbiome, she chose to cut all animal-based foods from her diet. Based in New York City, she has been in remission for five years and has been blogging her health journey and struggles inspiring many to go vegan themselves, a decision that would ultimately lead to her brand Tijen the Vegan.