In 2012, 32-year-old Julia Balaz set out for an Eat-Pray-Love inspired trip to India. But her spiritual adventure turned into a different sort of life-changing experience after she developed unstoppable diarrhoea and fever just two weeks after arriving to the ashram. She was hospitalised with what doctors thought was an infection. Despite the treatment, she wasn’t getting better. In excruciating pain, weak and exhausted, she left the Indian hospital to catch a flight back to London.
Upon arrival, she went straight to hospital. Her gut was so damaged she had to undergo emergency surgery. Eventually, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. What ensued were years on immunosuppressants that were causing terrible side effects and a never-ending circle of getting better and relapsing. Brief periods of relief were scarcely dispersed between hospital stays and weeks of fatigue so severe she couldn’t get out of bed. She had to quit her job in an architecture firm. After one hospital stay, Julia decided there must be something more she could do than what the doctors were telling her. She discovered the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and in a year’s time, she recovered her health and was able to stop taking the dreaded steroids. Here is her story in her own words.
When did your problems start?
I was having problems for a few years. Put simply, I would have to go to do a number two a bit too frequently. I went to see a doctor, had some examinations including a colonoscopy and they gave me an all-clear. I thought I was fine and decided to go to India. But there everything went awry. I got a fever, my diarrhoea got much worse. I even started bleeding. I was hospitalised in an Indian hospital but they didn’t know what’s wrong with me. After a few days, despite not feeling any better, I boarded a flight to London.
What happened after you arrived to London?
I went straight to A&E. They thought I must have caught some infection in India. I had a lot of infection markers in my blood so they were trying to treat the infection. They put me into quarantine. I remember the first morning they gave me some porridge. I ate one spoon and my insides started cramping. I was in horrible pain. They were giving me painkillers but nothing was working. Eventually, they put me on morphine. I was high on morphine, barely aware of what’s going on around me. They were taking me from one examination to the next. At some point I remember opening my eyes and there were a few doctors studying a CT scan. I saw their faces and how they were shaking their heads and I could tell something was really bad.
What did they see in the scan?
My bowel was leaking. There was a rupture and the content of my large intestine was seeping into my body. That’s why the infection markers were so elevated. That’s why I had the fever. It was a septic shock. They immediately operated on me. I was quite lucky because they didn’t need to remove the bowel. They just cleaned it and the leakage stopped. But they told me that I could have died. I spent another four days in an emergency care unit.
Did they finally figure out why was it happening?
Yes. After the operation, they told me I had ulcerative colitis. That’s an autoimmune condition when your body attacks your large intestine. There is a chronic inflammation in the intestine, which is causing the diarrhoea and the bleeding.
After the operation, they kept me in the hospital for another three weeks. They put me on immunosuppressing drugs, steroids, which gradually stopped the inflammation in the large intestine but I was suffering from terrible side effects – hand tremors, puffy face, water retention, I started losing my hair, which was really difficult for me.
How did your life change after you left the hospital?
The next six months were really difficult. The doctors told me ulcerative colitis was a life sentence. My head was refusing to accept it. I also developed more side effects from the steroids. Because my immune system was down, I would catch any bug, any flue, any cold. I was suffering from joint pains, could barely tighten my shoelaces. I lost most of my muscle mass. I became disabled because I was too weak to work. About six months into the treatment, I had to go to hospital again because I developed kidney stones from the drugs I was taking. I spent again three days on morphine while my body was passing the stones. At that time, I still trusted the doctors. I thought they knew better.
Did the medication solve your primary problem at least? The inflammation in the gut?
Yes but only temporarily. After a year, it flared up again. The steroids stopped working. I was back in hospital and they were giving me some intravenous treatment. It was horrible. At that moment, I decided there must be another way. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in and out of hospital, being a guinea pig testing different types of medication and feeling like a wreck.
Did you start looking for alternative treatments?
Yes, I read a couple of books, searched the Internet but nothing resonated with me. Eventually, I met a woman who told me about the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. She also suffered from ulcerative colitis and this diet helped her. I read about it and instinctively felt this was the right thing for me. I threw away all the bad food I had in my house and started following the protocol immediately.
Can you tell me a bit more about the Specific Carbohydrate Diet? What do you eat and what do you have to avoid?
You have to completely avoid certain types of carbohydrates – for example rice, potatoes, all types of grains and flour, soy, some of the more carby types of fruit and vegetables. I also can’t handle any dairy. I eat a lot of fish and meat, nuts and most types of vegetables but it has to be cooked.
Did you get better on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet?
Yes, but it took some patience. After I left hospital, I was really in a terrible state. I was extremely weak. All I could do was to lay in bed and go to the bathroom. After four months on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, I started feeling better. I started having more energy. I was able to go for short walks. I started working on my psychology. I finally accepted the disease but I decided it wouldn’t dictate my life. I started developing more positive thinking.
How long have you been on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and how has your life changed since?
It’s been two and a half years and my life has slowly returned to normal. I have much more energy – even more energy than before my diagnoses. My hair has grown back – all of it and thicker than before. The diarrhoea is gone. I only go for regular check-ups every now and then but certainly no prolonged hospital stays, no testing of new pills that only give me side effects. That’s a real miracle for me. I feel I have my life back.
Are you still taking the immunosuppressants?
After about a year on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, I started gradually lowering my doses and eventually, I was able to stop taking the steroids completely. It’s been two years and I am still doing well. To be honest I did have one big flare-up recently and had to start taking the drugs again for a while. I had too much stress. I worked myself too hard and stopped listening to my body and it unfortunately affected my health. Now I know it’s not only about the diet but also about other things. Stress is certainly a big factor and I realised I need to have some stress management practices like meditation. And I need to better listen to my body. I am also taking some Chinese herbs to strengthen my gut and the whole body.
When you were first diagnosed, did the doctors tell you anything about the Specific Carbohydrate Diet?
Not at all. They told me to eat everything. Here in the UK, no one promotes the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Some people in the ulcerative colitis community know about it but it’s not promoted by anyone. It’s more known in the US where medical care is more expensive so people look for other approaches. Here in the UK, most people simply rely on doctors. I don’t want to criticise that but in my experience, the doctors frequently don’t know or don’t tell, if they know.
How do you view your disease today?
Having ulcerative colitis changed my life. But I don’t regret it. I learned to listen to my body and to take better care of myself. In a way, the disease showed me a new direction and I am grateful for that. I believe that the way I used to eat in the past contributed to me developing ulcerative colitis. After I came to the UK from Slovakia, I started eating more bread and pasta and I am convinced it triggered my immune system.
Slovakia-born Julia Balaz is a graduated architect, entrepreneur and life coach. She is the owner of the Jumping Julia fitness brand, which runs fitness classes all over London. The jumping workout involves jumping on mini trampolines, which is believed to burn calories three times more efficiently than running.
Ulcerative colitis is an autoimmune condition, which affects the large intestine. As the immune system attacks the intestinal wall, inflammation and ulcers develop, which cause bleeding, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. The severity of the disease varies between patients. The most severe cases experience more than ten bowel movements daily, continuous bleeding, toxicity and abdominal tenderness.
Specific Carbohydrate Diet was developed by American paediatrician Sydney V Haas in the first half of the 20th century. The diet restricts the use of complex carbohydrates (disaccharides and polysaccharides). Monosaccharides are allowed. Doctor Haas successfully used the diet to treat celiac disease sufferers and patients with inflammatory bowel disease. No systematic study has been conducted into the diet’s effectiveness and mainstream medicine questions its benefits.