How to Survive with a Sensitive Tummy

Written by Yasmin Nazmy, Owner/Founder: KAJU

My path to health has not been steady and smooth, oh no. They say progress is not linear, and I’ve surely experienced the many ups-and-downs, the spiraling motion of reaching steady states only to fall back down and struggle to get “on track” again. The journey of optimizing one’s health is not a matter of reaching perfection and maintaining it, it’s a constant recalibration, a daily conversation between mind and body: am I giving my body what it needs right now?

I have been immersed in the health food business for nearly 9 years now, though my journey with food sensitivities started long ago. Every year, I thought ‘Hey, I’ve got it all figured out!” but only last year did I realize that the only constant is change, and we need to accept that. I started out as a crying baby, my parents had no idea what was making me hysterical until my mother figured out I couldn’t handle full-cream milk… and they switched me to skimmed milk. A step in the right direction? Not quite. Milk still made me sick until I was in high school, I just didn’t connect the dots until the summer after my graduation. Every day digestion was painful, but I thought it was normal. Fast forward a couple of years, I’m running a vegan restaurant, teaching workshops, writing a cookbook and I get called the “Vegan Queen”. Skip another few years, and I’m eating steak and suddenly I have to correct this image people have built about me. But my journey has never been about an “-ism”, or belonging to a particular group.

Food is a selfish matter, and it must be so in order to satisfy our life mission, our purpose. You must fill your cup first, before filling others’. And because it is so selfish, it must not involve copying others, or blindly taking advice from doctors who have not been through the same issues. Bio-individuality is a concept that is so deeply rooted in traditional medicines but has become almost nonexistent in today’s world. Even before social media, magazines and TV commercials enforced food trends, that are only lightly based on science, and are instead funded by industrial groups targeting to increase sales. A current example of this would be avocadoes. There was a huge push to market the health benefits of avocadoes to increase their global sales, and everyone would now consider them a health food, yet they’re not suitable for every person living in any climate. The same goes for oats, açai, yogurt, kale, and other foods that would be considered “clean and healthy”. Traditional medicine says otherwise.

In many ancient cultures, food is viewed in terms of elements; often fire, water, air and earth. You may have heard of doshas in ayurvedic nutrition, or perhaps you’ve seen my reels about dampness. If this sounds like gibberish to you, don’t worry, you can read about this later and it is just a detail in a larger point I am addressing. The takeaway is that we are all built differently and must respect our body’s initial constitution. This means that what works for me will probably only work for a small fraction of the population. Hence, if you are also sensitive to dairy, or diagnosed with gluten intolerance, you should not copy my style of eating, or anyone!

It takes a lot self-awareness to initially notice that you are not coping well with a certain food. Maybe you discovered it through a medical test, and are surprised with the results – in this case, take it with a grain of salt because tests only provide snapshots, and may not reflect the bigger picture (chronic intolerance). Either way, you find yourself having to reflect on anything you’ve ingested and connect the dots. It’s tiring, sometimes overwhelming and you may want to give up. However, you can look at it differently, and instead view it as an act of self-love. You can see yourself a beautiful machine, let’s say it’s your car, that is suddenly not functioning so well. Wouldn’t you want to fix what you love? Or perhaps you can view yourself from the outside, would you not want to rescue this beautiful being? Avoiding certain foods requires discipline and caution. It may seem like hard work, but when we work with love, it suddenly makes the effort more effortless. And for most, it is no easy ride. It also requires more self-reliance as you find yourself needing to make things at home to avoid problematic ingredients. I understand how cumbersome it is for busy people, which is why I have created my brand KAJU (all dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free) and written cookbooks with easy recipes for the same dietary restrictions (called Happy Belly). Yet I keep meeting people with longer lists of restrictions and I apply the concepts of Chinese Dietary Therapy to help them find balance.

I am proud to share some of the mistakes I’ve made along my path of health optimization. I have dealt with digestive issues since childhood, and witnessed them progress and digress over the years. I have gone back and forth between extremes, tried so many trendy diets, cut out food groups for no good reason (except just reading about how it helped someone else), reintroduced food groups and obsessively gone overboard in their consumption, and bought packaged processed foods for the sake of convenience, only to regret it all later. In fact, my biggest mistake was in re-introducing dairy after cutting it out for so long. One time: all good. A few other meals: still fine. Before I knew it, I was suddenly covered in acne and so embarrassed to show my face to the world. The body can be forgiving, but when we abuse this forgiveness, the side-effects become so much worse. I have also experienced something similar with re-allowing sugar after avoiding it for so long, and to some extent with gluten (wheat) too. My second biggest mistake was to rely so much on cold and sweet foods, although sugar-free, simply because they were considered healthy by the mainstream: fruits, salads, smoothies. Yes, they contain so many nutrients, but the human body in general prefers warm neutral foods. And in my specific case, cold foods made me so bloated, even when I was eating a clean diet. It is because of Chinese medicine that I rectified this, and now I am thankfully in tune with myself.

If I had not experimented so much, I wouldn’t have gotten familiar with my body so well. I have now reached a stage where I know exactly what each tummy pain means, what every skin issue (on myself) signifies, and what my cravings are asking for, on a deeper level. My digestive system has gone from being my enemy to becoming the subject of my deepest love and adoration. I see it as a power source that I must respect and honor with every bite. It has taken a lot to reach this point, and my work is my offering to the world: I have made enough mistakes and I hope to prevent you from making them too. My recipes, my products, and my sessions are dedicated to seeing you become the best versions of yourselves. Nothing brings me more pleasure than seeing others fine-tune their listening capacity in understanding their needs.