Book Reviews

Repost – Book Review: Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet by Elaine Gottschall

Originally posted on Epinions in 2005

One of my best friends was recently diagnosed with Colitis. When I mentioned this to other friends online, I received several suggestions to make sure she got the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall.

In doing my own research on how to help her, the research online basically said she had to avoid spicy foods, dairy products, and raw vegetables. Breaking the Vicious Cycle takes it much further than that. It advocates something called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet has met with success for several diseases: Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Diverticulitis, Celiac Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, and Chronic Diarrhea. The latest incarnation of Breaking the Vicious Cycle includes information on how this diet relates to autism as well.

Right off the bat, the author acknowledges that no one should start on a new eating program without being under a physician’s supervision. She is relating her experience and that of patients she and others have served. An addenum at the end of the book contains testimonials by various people (or relatives of people) who have been helped by switching to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. This is also interspersed throughout the book, giving a feeling that many people have tried this diet and met with success. It also helps to hear the specific cases as it will make it easier to relate what these people have experienced to the specific situation.

Gottschall provides the scientific evidence to back up her assertions that starches, sugars, and most dairy products are at the heart of the digestive problems so many people are experiencing. I was surprised to learn that bread seems to play such a big role in the development of ulcerative colitis. The detail on just how all of this affects the various patients is provided in detail, although some of it may seem too scientific at times. There is a glossary of terms at the back of the book. Learning about the amount of bacteria that lives in the human body was quite an education as well, and helped me to understand why the digestive system works the way it does – and at times doesn’t work. One of the theories Gottschall talks about is using diet to decrease the number of microbes in the sufferer’s system.

Reading about the connection between diet and autism was interesting as there are still so many theories about this condition out there. I found myself listening to her descriptions and wondering if following this diet would help out my daughter with Attention Deficit Disorder as Gottschall does mention this condition in relation to diet as well.

The basic principle of the diet is that no food should be ingested that contains carbohydrates other than those found in fruits, honey, properly prepared yoghurt, and the vegetables and nuts listed. Reading labels is not enough – Gottschall lists the items that can be listed in the book and suggests the sufferer not deviate from that list of approved foods. Her introduction to the diet includes the how’s and why’s of each food, as well as what vitamin supplementation will probably be necessary. As difficult as it seems, Gottschall asks that people just try the diet strictly for a month and see how it works for you.

There is a recipe section in Breaking the Vicious Cycle. The recipes look good and are easy to follow. Everything from appetizers and soups to cakes and cookies is here. If that’s not enough for you there are websites having to do with the diet which have more recipes as well as providing groups who are supportive. Most of the ingredients listed are quite simple. The ingredients are all items that I would expect to find in a typical supermarket. There were a few things like almond flour or nut flour which might be harder to find in some areas, but the majority of the ingredients should be easy to find just about anywhere.

So the question is what did my friend think of it? Will she be incorporating it into her life? This diet seemed a little daunting and restrictive to her, and I can understand why. Many of the testimonials inside of this book and online were from people who had tried just about everything else to control their condition without being able to return to their normal lives. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet gave them the ability to live a normal life again. We both had the feeling that this isn’t the place to start once you’ve been diagnosed with any of these diseases, but rather a resource to turn to once all else has failed. She wants to try a less drastic eating program for the time being. However, she is open to the idea of trying this diet if her colitis doesn’t get under control.

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