Do you suffer from painful digestion issues such as Crohn’s disease? A while back, Unique Hammond, author of Your Taste Buds Are A**holes thought she was healthy until Crohn’s disease left her struggling to sleep, eat, or even drink water. In this episode, you’ll hear Unique’s journey from a 90 pound patient to successfully overcoming Crohn’s.
You will learn:
- Why gut issues and Crohn’s disease are increasingly common in Western diets
- Unique’s journey with Crohn’s, the diets she tested, and the one that worked
- Basic changes you can make to improve your own gut health
[Just a quick note, we use “adult” language throughout the conversation. Yes, the word shit comes up a lot.]
Crohn’s was an interesting journey because the diagnosis didn’t happen for a while. I just had transient stomach problems that I would blame on a bad meal or just having too much alcohol or whatever it was. I didn’t really own that these transient stomach issues were part of potentially a bigger story.
I just kept ignoring them because they weren’t big enough to take me down. They were just big enough to annoy me and make me feel just not great. I saw a lot of natural doctors if you will, homeopaths and a Chinese medicine doctor who is also a really dear friend of mine. He treated me for a while.
He was like, “You’re not getting better, and you need to give a name to this thing.” I really didn’t want to. I was kind of scared of what it was becoming. But slowly, surely, I couldn’t smell food cooking, I couldn’t smell people’s cologne, I couldn’t smell a car passing by, the gas.
“Slowly, the pleasure in life started to just fade away.”
Everything was revolving around my stomach, which was really annoying. I ultimately took his advice. I saw a gastroenterologist, and that was horrible. We started running tests. Blood came back healthy. I wasn’t in any great need to get a colonoscopy or an endoscopy, so we ran a bunch of other tests, and everything kept coming back negative.
I needed to have them look inside me, and I was really scared of that and against it. Just on principle, I don’t want cameras inside of me. Down my throat and other places. So I fought it.
I kept trying to do it naturally, but ultimately, the idea of giving it a name and trying to find out what it was, was the route I had to take. It was scary. I canceled that appointment probably three times. The GI was like “So, are we actually going to do this?”
Chasing a Diagnosis
Charlie Hoehn: Were you scared of getting really bad news, or something else?
Unique Hammond: I was scared of getting news of something that I couldn’t reverse or heal. I was scared of living on medication my entire life. I was scared of having to have an operation.
I was scared, yeah. I was really scared.
“I didn’t want to live an altered life, I wanted the life I always knew—carefree and living on my own whim.”
I probably put too much into it now looking back, but at the time I was really sick. I was losing weight, I was nauseous all the time, I was in pain 24 hours a day at that point.
All of the diets that I was trying for stomach issues, none of them were really working. I ultimately made the appointment and kept it. It came up with a firm diagnosis of Crohn’s, and weirdly, what happened next was I felt relief.
Even though all of the treatments were scary—it was like immunosuppressants for the rest of your life and taking out the part that’s infected but the infection will show up somewhere else. Kind of like whack a mole, if you will. I was like, “Okay, that route sucks, what else is there?”
That was what started my journey. If I’m ready to hand myself over for dissection in a world unknown, then I can do that. I’m only going to take that if I truly get to the point where I just cannot handle it anymore and nothing ends up working, and then I’m really happy that that’s there for me.
It wasn’t because I wasn’t in a lot of pain, it was because I had it in my mind that this was something I could actually heal. They didn’t give me a diagnosis of cancer, they gave me a diagnosis of Crohn’s, which is inflammation of the intestine or the colon.
For whatever reason, I felt like I could climb that mountain. Weirdly, in my mind, I heard, “You can do this, go find the answer.”
Life with Crohn’s
Charlie Hoehn: Crohn’s is inflammation of the colon, an autoimmune disorder, is that accurate?
Unique Hammond: I was infected at around the ilium. It presents itself slightly differently for everybody, which is why it’s kind of this weird moving target. For Crohn’s, they call it an autoimmune disorder. It’s your body attacking yourself.
Which by the way, I don’t know if it was just because I was raised super natural, but when I heard “Your body’s attacking itself,” I was like, “That’s stupid, why would my body attack itself?”
“It’s attacking something, but I didn’t believe it was attacking me.”
I believed it was attacking malfunction in me. I don’t know if those beliefs are what allowed me to climb my mountain, but those were the beliefs that started me.
I was in insane pain the entire time. I was on this journey for many years, looking for my answer. I didn’t have a set amount of time of when I would stop.
All of those terms, “Your body’s attacking itself, autoimmune disorder, you got to live with this for the rest of your life.” All of those things became nothing for me, they were like, “You can heal this, you can overcome this, how are you going to do it?”
Charlie Hoehn: How many times were you presented with potential solutions and they failed?
Unique Hammond: Many times. I now understand why. I wake up energized at 5:30 in the morning and I crash hard at night. And that’s kind of just who I am.
I’ve been told, “You need to slow down, you need to meditate.” I’ve tried meditating, and I’m not that great at it. So I have gotten to the point where I can sit and just breathe for five minutes, just chill. But life is exciting to me.
“This disease was debilitating—not just on an emotional level but on a mental level.”
I couldn’t overcome the center of my body where everything was pointing. Meditation, slow down—the disease made me do that.
Sleep would have been really nice, but I literally did nothing. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t walk a block without feeling like I ran a marathon. I rocked all of the time. If I was at my daughter’s play, I was sitting in the audience rocking back and forth because the pain was so intense.
Writing Your Tastebuds are A**holes
Charlie Hoehn: What do you want listeners to remember about your book and how you overcame this?
Unique Hammond: We are actually co-contributors to our health. The food we put in our mouth, the choices we make are part of our health or disease story. I hear people all the time, “Organic is for wealthy people,” and I’m like, “No, it’s for healthy people.”
It’s such an important distinction because the bottom line is, if you have the will, you will find a way. If you have excuses, that will also become your way.
I know that there’s not a one size fits all.
“But I guess the takeaway would be that if you get behind your body and push and give it what it needs, it can heal.”
Because I was as far down the disease path as I could get before I came out. I was 90 pounds and I’m five seven. I was wearing jeans my daughters could wear, and they weren’t even teens yet, and they were baggy. I was really sick and I couldn’t drink water without being nauseous.
Now, I’m healthy, I’m working out, I’m living a totally normal life.
I’m not restricted by what I can eat. I eat gluten. I just eat really healthy. That’s my restriction to myself is that I will eat healthy for the rest of my life. I am not eating crap—I refuse to put that in my body because I understand what that has the potential of leading to.
Learning a New Diet
Charlie Hoehn: What do we need to keep out? What were you eating before that you now have eliminated?
Unique Hammond: Anything processed or artificial. The only processed food I eat is the one that I process in my Vitamix. I make my own milks.
Not everybody’s going to have that dedication or time. What’s amazing about where we are today in health awareness is that you can buy that stuff if you can’t make it.
If you can’t afford it fresh, you can buy it frozen. That’s even better than whatever else you’re going to eat. This book is really an affirmation of people on the healthy path that, “Hey, you’re going in a good direction,” but it’s also for the Crohn’s people.
“Even if you start eating healthy, that’s not necessarily going to heal you, which is the hardest part to swallow.”
I followed a lot of the diets out there that are supposed to be good for autoimmune, and none of them helped me, which was really frustrating because I was like, “Wait, this is supposed to be good for inflammation and autoimmune.”
If you’re buckling down to heal something, you’ve got to go back to zero.
You’ve got to go back and rebuild your intestines, and all of those amazing healthy diets out there and juices and raw will just tear you up if you have Crohn’s or even irritable bowel.
Charlie Hoehn: Why didn’t some of those diets that are tailored specifically to conditions like Crohn’s work for you?
Unique Hammond: The paleo diet for example, that was one of the things I went into. There are Crohn’s patients out there that it does work or irritable bowel or colitis or whatever, there is. There is that possibility and I totally accept that and I’m aware of that.
In my case, the more fat and protein you eat, the more bile you make because you have to break down that food. In the case of Crohn’s, you actually don’t want to produce more bile. You kind of want to go in the opposite direction.
You want to eat things so simple that your body gets quick energy, which is everything you’re taught not to eat these days. I was eating toast, white toast. The beginning of this diet is just white. It’s all of the white stuff that people are like “Get away from it, that’s horrible.”
What happens is every three days that you are not producing all that bile, your intestines have this weird opportunity to heal and add a layer back in there.
“I ended up doing the white diet many times because I was so far down the rabbit hole.”
I was so far down that everything hurt. Joints hurt, my back, my neck. I just felt like I was falling apart, and that white diet was the beginning of putting myself back together again.
Charlie Hoehn: Where did you stumble upon that diet?
Unique Hammond: In the many years of my illness, I was shy about sharing them. I got pretty hermit in my ways, but over time, people knew because they would see me and I was really skinny.
“I stopped going out because I couldn’t eat anything.”
People took an interest in my crazy journey to heal naturally. Some of them didn’t get it. They’re like, “Dude, go in, take the meds, cut it out, whatever you have to do to live.”
I’ve done a lot of research, and it doesn’t look like it ends up well for people that do that path.
I want to know that I tried this other path first before I give myself over to that, and I have to know, in my mind and in my heart, that I tried everything I can possibly do to heal it naturally. I’m glad it’s there, it’s almost like a parachute.
One of my friends dropped a book off at my door. It was by this woman called Karen Herd. She, her family, her baby, after they had carpet bombed their house for bugs, they came back, and within the following month, her baby who was crawling on the floor started getting really sick. She, the mama bear, went on a mission to find the answer and found none.
“Ultimately, she had to do it herself, had to help her baby survive. And she came up with this diet.”
I was raised by hippies. We don’t eat white stuff. That’s just not part of the program. She was the one who created this diet that I followed, and I followed it to a T. In her book, she said she has 99% success rate in healing people with autoimmune disorders.
I asked her, “Why did you put 99%?”
“Because nobody believes you if you put a hundred.”
Yeah, you’re right. First of all, I thought you’re full of shit because you’re telling me to do this diet. But if you put 100%, I would have definitely not gotten further. So you’re right.
The Worst Sentence
Charlie Hoehn: How long was it before you started seeing significant results?
Unique Hammond: It took a while, I would say. But, imagine you’re in pain 24 hours a day. You’re nauseous all of the time, and you just feel horrible and the pain doesn’t just hang out in your intestines, it radiates up your back and your neck. So much that you’re like, “Wait, something else must be broken, because why is my back and my neck hurting all the time?”
Imagine that you’re sleeping bent over a pillow because you can’t lay straight, and bending over when you sleep takes a little pressure off. That’s the state I was in. And you start doing this crazy diet, and all of a sudden, you’re not.
When that’s your life, you’re not living.
The way I put it was, I was dying but I was stubborn—I was stubbornly dying. I put a lot of weight on this diet, because it was literally the last stop on my train. This was going to be it. If it was going to happen, this was it.
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I really buckled down and I didn’t fight it, I was like, “This is the last thing I’m going to try.” So everything she told me to do I was just like, “I’m doing this.” What started first is I stopped running to the bathroom all the time, and that was huge.
“Uncontrollable shitting has to be the worst possible human sentence.”
It’s not sexy, and that’s another thing. I was still a woman, and yet I was in this entirely suspended, unsexy state of being all of the time. I didn’t mention that you couldn’t touch me because my skin hurt.
The beauty of the white diet is that because it was all white, you can eat as much as you want and there’s still not a lot to it. The bathroom runs became infrequent, and I was still in a lot of pain. The pain was consistent, but over the period of months, suddenly I would have hours without pain, and that was the first time I experienced that in a long time.
So those hours were like these little moments of, “Holy shit, so if I can sew these hours with other hours, then those hours can turn into a day, and I can have a day without pain at some point and those days if I keep going I can sew those days together and soon I’ll have a week.”
I didn’t have these huge goals of like, “I am going to be better and I am going to live a totally healthy life.” It was, “I am going to string together days without pain.”
Eating to Beat Crohn’s
As the months went on, hours became days and days became weeks and weeks became months. And then some months, I would go back to square one and I’d have to start with the white diet again for a couple of days, then I would build back up to eating beans and lean protein and squash.
That was my diet for six months—a rotation of white rice, simply cooked beans, nothing in it, no spices, no oils, nothing.
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Everything is super lean, and salt was my only extra. And a lot of hot water. I drank a lot of hot water at that time. So that was the first six months of my life, and then I think I got in some veggies like baby food veggies at some point.
“It took a long time to have a full month without pain.”
I would say I think I hit them the year point. The beauty of being a woman is that every month you ovulate and have a cycle, and for me, for whatever reason no matter how strong and how good I felt around that time, I would flare. Every time I’d flare, I’d have to go back to the white diet. That was a lot of fun, as you can imagine. It was like, “Oh shit, I am sick again! This sucks!”
Charlie Hoehn: Did you ever eat out at restaurants with friends, or did you have to prepare all your meals at home?
Unique Hammond: If I went out with friends, I would try to book places where I could just get a bowl of white rice. I would say, “Okay I am going to get just rice, nothing in it please, and some poached fish.” Or steamed chicken breast, no fat.
They would bring it to me, and somewhere along the way they put something in it. They’d put fat and then there’s something and I would have stomach issues all night. So it was really sensitive, bringing me back from the edge that I was on.
“It took a lot of work, and I had to be really strict.”
The fun of hanging out with friends was taken away by the fact that I couldn’t drink alcohol because just the smell made me feel crappy, and then you couldn’t control the food.
The first year of doing this diet, if I did go out, I would eat first and then go out and hang and just talk and see people. But it took a while to feel that social, as well.
A Whole New Life
Charlie Hoehn: Where are you now?
Unique Hammond: I sometimes just sit and think about it, because where I am now isn’t a place that I thought I would get to. Where I am now is food doesn’t bother me, not at all. I can drink alcohol if I want. I choose not to drink very much of it or very often because I understand that my body has a disposition that I have to honor, and I am happy to honor it because I’ve got plans.
“So I eat whatever I want. I choose to eat very healthy and simply.”
But if I do go out with friends and everybody is having a burger, I’ll have a burger and I have no repercussions from it. I know that may not always be the case for everybody who does this diet. They may have to be strict forever, depending on the level or who they are. But for me, I am back 100%. I trail run, I go to Orangetheory, I do yoga. I do all of these things with my body and I no longer have arthritis in my hands. I feel amazing.
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Charlie Hoehn: Do you still find yourself pinching yourself after being in pain for so long? Like, “I can’t believe I feel so good again”?
Unique Hammond: Yeah, I do. And writing this book was a weird thing for me, because one of the things that happened when I was sick is I didn’t sleep.
When I slept I would literally just pass out for 40 minutes in a weird position somewhere in the house. Somebody would find me and tiptoe like, “Oh shit, leave her alone because she’s finally sleeping.” I think I slept maybe an hour or two every night.
“As a human, that just breaks you down.”
Emotionally, physically. My family would find me just crying in weird places because I was so broken down. The last thing that happened was that I actually had to sleep train myself to sleep again because my body was so used to being up all the time. When I was out of pain, I still couldn’t sleep.
I am now getting eight hours of sleep which, for me, that’s the big “being out of pain” amazing.
Being able to work out. I was so sick I couldn’t wear tennis shoes, they were too heavy. I had to wear five toes, which now is a thing, everybody is wearing five toes. But many, many years ago when I was sick, people looked at me like, “Okay first of all, you have an eating disorder, and second of all, why are you wearing those five toes shoes?”
The fact that I can run and sleep and eat and my skin doesn’t have rashes all over it, I am pretty much every day pinching myself.
Sharing with Others
Unique Hammond: But the one thing that happened, which I think is an interesting thing for a lot of people who have to battle an illness, is that I started making deals at night like, “Oh if I can better, please let me get better, if I get better I will give back.”
Those were things I said, in the dark of night when the pain was the worst. I’d go back and forth between crying and watching a show and crying because my scenario was so hopeless feeling.
When I was better for about a year, I’d remembered that I’d said those things and then I was like, “Oh you know what? I have to do something with that.”
At the time, I left my job—a really great job working with really amazing people who hired me when I was sick. I left, and I didn’t know what I was going to do or how I was going to make this thing that I said out loud real: “How can I help others, how can I give back in some way now that I have my health?”
I started with doing a course, being a health coach because that seemed like that’s the quickest way to start helping people.
I signed up for the year long program with IIN and then once I did that, I realized I didn’t know enough. I knew why I got better, but I still didn’t know enough to help other people.
So I was talking to a really good friend of mine, Mark Sisson, and he has written so many books. I just wanted to tell him my journey, and I was like, “Hey I really want to write a book.” He was like, “You should. That’s exactly what you should do is write a book.”
So I took his advice, and I was like, “I don’t know how this is going to come together, but if I write this book, it’s about my journey of healing.”
There are people out there that understand how to help you and to hopefully inspire people to take that path. I even reached out to my gastro and I was like, “Hey I just want you to know I am doing this, and I want you to know that I’m better,” because he jumped through a lot of hoops with me.
Because every point that he offered me relief, I said “No.” I wrote him a thank you note. I was like, “I know I was not your easy patient, because everything you knew to help me I declined. That must have really sucked for you, but I want you to know that this is my mission. It’s to enlighten people that they can eat their way better.”
It’s out there and I know that a lot of people are doing that for various diseases. But it does work for Crohn’s, which is an epidemic for people. It’s out of control.
Who Should Read Your Tastebuds Are A**holes
Charlie Hoehn: Is your book primarily for people with Crohn’s or is it a broader audience?
Unique Hammond: I would say primarily it’s for people who are suffering with stomach issues. I wouldn’t say necessarily Crohn’s, but definitely because I had Crohn’s that’s a natural fit. But I think that anybody who has transient stomach issues would actually benefit from doing this diet and seeing what the outcome is.
To me, the amazing thing with food is that your body is made of it. That is what your body is made of. All of that fat and protein and vitamins and minerals and carbohydrates.
“So food is, to me, the least risky option to get better.”
Medications are now proven, most of them, to kill off just a little bit of that microbiome that you want to help flourish and keep you healthy. So I think I was that person before who was like, “Oh I got a headache. I’m going to pop some Advil.”
I had a cyst in my wrist, my doctor was like, “Take it out” and I’m like, “Yeah, just cut it out.” I didn’t really contemplate that.
All of that stuff is an unnatural substance going into my body, and that there’s just this perception that your body is going to take care of it. What if it doesn’t? What happens then? Like, “Oh no you are going to pee it out.” Well what if you don’t? What if all of that stuff is hanging out in your bile and causing some kind of destruction? I don’t think we really know enough about the manmade chemicals in the world that we just take for granted that it’s okay that we take it.
I was definitely one of those people that didn’t contemplate anything. I was like, “I got a headache. I don’t really know why I have a headache but it hurts so I’m going to take something to make it go away.” So this book is really to provoke thought.
“Maybe we need to pause and ask different questions.”
“Why do I get headaches all the time?” Maybe there’s another answer than, “Okay I get it, you don’t want to be in pain.”
This is our Porsche. You are not going to put shitty fuel in your Porsche. You are going to put the best fuel, and for a good reason. That is going to keep your engine strong and running well. That’s how I view it now. This is something that I really want to take good care of and honor it the best way I can.
Who Needs a New Diet
Charlie Hoehn: Do you have any recommendations for people who are thinking, “Maybe I have transient stomach issues, I don’t know.” Or is it going to be blatantly obvious?
Unique Hammond: It’s not always blatantly obvious. I think a lot of the things that we put in our body are sanctioned. I don’t think we stop and go, “Okay wait, it’s sanctioned by people that this is what you do.” And I’ll go all the way to vaccinations, that you start your life with being injected with chemicals. I am not saying “don’t vaccinate,” by the way, just in case people start coming after me.
But what I am saying is that you start your life off injecting yourself with chemicals, most people end up doing that for the rest of their life to some extent, whether it’s medications or whatever.
There has to be a counter balance. If those are the choices you are making, there needs to be a counterbalance in the food that you are eating to support your body in proper detox.
When I say detox, people go, “Oh my god juice cleanse” or something.
“No, not juice cleanse. Proper detox is elimination.”
and you have to eat a high fiber diet. Not just dietary fiber but soluble fiber diet, because that actually helps your body detox and eliminate. It supports your liver and your gallbladder.
When people think of soluble fiber, they think of pooping, and that’s what detox is. Detox is pooping and it’s peeing and it’s as simple as that. I think there are herbs that can support that, but to me, I don’t really get into all of that. I keep it really simple.
So I would say if you are having transient stomach issues, if you stop and think about it, you go, I don’t have pain, not everybody has pain—but my bathroom time…”
“Here we go, talking about something that you are not supposed to talk about.”
But, “It’s a weird experience, and I don’t want people to go into the bathroom after me because it fucking stinks.” So let me check out my diet, what am I eating and how can I simplify it for a while to see if that helps?
The problem for most people isn’t that they don’t know something is wrong. I think most people know that you are not supposed to be Jackson Pollock in the bathroom—what I mean by that is just splashing the walls.
This diet is a diet that anybody can do. You don’t have to eat a lot of beans, which by the way is the best source of soluble fiber. I cook them, I soak them, I am constantly in a stage of cooking beans. I think they’re amazing. I know that they recently did add some legumes to the paleo diet, which I applaud, because beans have been around forever.
I love that people are more and more eating beans. So beans are an amazing source of soluble fiber, the best. But it is not always easy to eat beans. So I give my kids psyllium husk, a teaspoon of psyllium husk, and mix it into water.
They don’t love it because it’s weird and gelatinous, but because it is a soluble fiber but they do it because they’ve seen what I do, where I’ve been and what I’ve gone through.
Connect with Unique Hammond
Charlie Hoehn: What is one thing from your book that could have a positive impact on their life today, or this week?
Unique Hammond: I would say take psyllium husk most likely, and take it in the morning, an hour away from a meal. The whole magic of psyllium husk is that it binds with fat. If you are having transient stomach issues and even if you’re not, it’s a healthy thing to add in there at least once a day.
“I eat a serving of soluble fiber or beans three times a day.”
That’s my commitment, and not always by the way. I get into situations where I forget when I am in meetings or whatever. I try to do that three times a day.
And it should be an hour away from a meal, because soluble fiber binds with fat and bile is fat. So if there is stuff hanging out in your bile that’s toxic that your liver isn’t able to detox for whatever reason, it will keep rotating until it binds with something. If you get enough soluble fiber it can bind with it, but if you eat it with fat, your beans and your psyllium husk will bind with that fat. A lot of times if you’re eating healthy fat you don’t want it to bind with it. You want your body to get that fat.
So I always say do it in the morning, an hour away from a meal. If that’s the only thing you do this week, you’ll be taking a step in a healthier direction.
Charlie Hoehn: How can people follow you? Where can they get in touch with you?
Sharing my Crohn’s story feels like stepping into a mall naked. But if it helps just 1 person find relief than my extreme discomfort of sharing it will be worth it. Your tastebuds are a**holes will be on amazon end of this month.. It’s been a crazy year putting it together.. • #yourtastebudsareassholes #crohnshomie #crohnscommunity #healingcrohnswithfood
My message to you is that you’re great wherever you are in your health journey, and you have the potential for greatness.
I also have a Facebook page, Unique Hammond Health.