Gastroparesis, IBS, Leaky Gut, chronic migraines, food allergies, low FODMAP diet, gluten free diet, dairy free diet, elimination diet, no spices, no legumes, no fat, limit yourself to only 5 nuts a day, no sugar, limit fruits, cooked veggies only, no raw foods, nothing spicy, no salads, no caffeine, gastric emptying exam, MRIs, CATSCANS, upper GI exams …are you tired yet? No, this isn’t the world’s longest run on sentence- this was my life. For so long I’ve tried to not let my digestive health issues define me as a person. It’s like that bad nickname you can’t shake off from those awkward middle school years. However, the more I started to embrace it- I’ve let myself control it versus it controlling me.
Anyone who knows me understands that food and myself don’t always agree with each other. Do you know how stressful and frustrating it is to constantly be worrying about what you are going to eat and if that piece of food will wreck havoc on your digestive system causing migraines, cramping, severe bloating, nausea- to the point where you are missing work, school, social events, and holidays all together? I was extremely good about being careful for years, almost too good, to the point where I feared almost every piece of food that I was going to eat or what was being served to me that was out of my control. When I think about how my digestive health affected my life in the past, I realize what an emotional thing it was for me. The never -ending and severe stomach pain was constantly impacting and interfering parts of my life that I didn’t even realize at the time. I simply yet unwillingly just accepted it as part of what it was like to be me. Not until I embarked on journey to feel better and improve my health the natural way, did I realize how much I was really struggling.
As a young child I was a picky eater. Chicken fingers & fries were the ONLY things that I would eat and order at a restaurant, even if it was not on the menu. (I would basically make the chef bread chicken and fry it). For a long time running there was a joke that if I were to get married, chicken fingers and fries would be served as dinner. Living on processed foods, sodas, sugar, gluten was the norm. I thought because I swam for over 4 hours a day competitively it did not necessarily matter what I put into my body because I was constantly burning energy and calories. Keeping the weight on was hard enough so ice cream and junk food, I thought, was the trick. However, as time progressed, I started to feel worse, especially in the later years of college.
Throughout my senior year of college, I hated to eat because of the fear towards how certain foods would make me feel physically. I treated food as the enemy because I didn’t know alternatives to foods I was having problems with and frankly I was embarrassed to tell others what was going on with my digestive health. It was something that no one openly discussed and my education in nutrition was lacking severely. My stomach would be in severe and debilitating pain every time that I would eat the smallest amount of food; I could barely finish a turkey sandwich without feeling extremely full, getting a migraine, or very bloated. Something was wrong, but I didn’t know where to go for help.
You can imagine how it started to take a toll on my relationships with friends, family, and social commitments. I became obsessed with how everything I ate affected my stomach. It was really psychologically unhealthy and I always felt frustrated and angry with myself for not understanding how and what to eat to make me feel normal. I couldn’t understand why this seemed to happen to me, almost over night. I became very self-critical. I felt responsible for my digestive health issues and knew that if I could control what I put into my body then I would be okay. Therefore I avoided all social events like the plague. I knew that if I went, ate the wrong food, I would spend the next week or so recovering from constant pain, bloating, irritability which would all lead to a severe migraine. My body was not breaking down, processing, nor digesting anything. I vividly remember during one summer, for an entire month, I lived on grapefruit and chicken. They were the ONLY two foods that did not cause issues.
After finishing college, my digestive issues seemed to develop more severely and other issues were now prevailing. Doctors explained to me that this was something that I would have to deal with for the rest of my life and there was nothing that could really be done. This was not the answer I wanted to hear. I decided to see a gastroenterologist, a specialist in hopes to figure out ways to help alleviate the pain that I was going through. I was given the routine tests. The first was the upper GI exam, where I had to drink liquid barium, which coats the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine and shows up on the x-ray. Second, was called Radioisotope gastric-emptying scan, but I like to call it the egg & toast test. I had to eat eggs that contained a small amount of radioisotope and then lie under a scanning machine. If the scan shows that more than 10% of the food was still in your stomach 4 hours after eating, then you are diagnosed with gastroparesis. For me, I think the eggs just made it past my throat after 7 hours. It was taking SO long they finally sent me home. Third, I had a colonoscopy to check for cancer. Lastly, I went through many CAT SCANS and blood tests to check for further issues or illnesses. After all of the tests were completed and the results were given, I was diagnosed with gastroparesis, IBS, and distension of the abdomen. I also showed symptoms of leaky gut and small bacterial over growth causing me to develop a high sensitivity to fructans.
In a nutshell, gastroparesis is a chronic incurable condition in which the muscles in the stomach do not function normally preventing your stomach from emptying. It is caused by damage to the vagus nerve, which regulates the digestive system preventing food from moving through the system properly. I tried healing through conventional medicine for about three years- reglan, rifaximin, erythromycin, and too many more to add to the list. I jumped at the opportunity to try any antibiotic not realizing that I could develop a resistance to bacteria from prolonged exposure to the antibiotics- ultimately making my digestive issues worsen. At one point I was carrying two different bags- one for my personal items and the other for just my medication. The medications were only a temporary fix; they would always leave me feeling lethargic, impairing my ability to do activities and to engage in things that I once loved.
Each doctor and dietician had a different path for me. Different prescriptions to try out and new diets to explore. It only caused my paranoia and anxieties towards food to deepen. Being forced to keep a food journal for every singly meal was not only overwhelming but extremely time consuming and mentally unhealthy. I felt that no one was listening to what all aspect of my well-being needed- mind, body, and soul. Each one is connected and you have to have all in balance to achieve your own perfect harmony. I remember waking up one morning and being so fed up with the amount of medication I was prescribed and the strict diets I had to follow that only seemed to be a temporary fix. A change was in store. I remember vividly going to the grocery store with my mom that morning and buying all the foods that were supposedly going to trigger my symptoms. It was such a small moment and almost silly, yet so significant to my overall health change. That day I ate certain foods that I was told to stay away from- vegetables, garlic, spices, and salads and guess what?….Nothing bad happened. I actually felt BETTER. So I decided it was time for something new and began researching holistic, natural healing approaches, which is how I started eating a more plant-based, organic meats, wild caught fish, organic eggs, whole foods diet clean of refined sugars, ingredients I couldn’t pronounce, and anything that was processed.
The old me, was pretty awkward about the way that I ate and was very conscious of the fact that it was different to in comparison to my friends and family. Now, I’m very open about the whole thing. In a matter of months I begun to take up a primarily vegan, whole foods, plant-based diet. I gave up all meat, dairy, re-fined sugar, anything processed that is full of chemicals and additives. It was a pretty drastic change, considering how I was eating before. Eating this way has allowed me to take control of my illness, stopping the constant pain, restoring my energy and giving me my life back again. It really has healed me. This did not happen over night, it took many years of frustrations, medications, elimination diets, medical exams, doctor visits, tears, and everything else that falls in between. After a few months of this lifestyle, I’ve been able to come off all my medication. At the same time, I learned to manage my stress through a regular and committed yoga practice. Not only did it help controlling my migraines and stress levels, but surprisingly all the twists, turns, and movement worked miracles on my digestive system.
Balancing my personal life, social life, family, anxieties around food, and whatever life decides to throw my way- the good or the bad- is still a process. I have not cured the digestive health pain or my migraines over night, as there is no cure, but today, right now, I feel good and better than before. I would never have believed that I could come this far simply through a different way of eating. The integrative approach will always be my first choice of healing. I’ve learned more on this health journey than I could have possibly imagined and I really want to share all of this information with you. Creating this blog is my way of turning something negative into something really positive. If there is someone reading this, that has experienced a similar journey and I have the ability to help them, then I believe it's a success for not only you, but for myself as well. The most important thing to remember is that you have to do what makes you feel best, what foods and lifestyle work best for YOU. Our bodies are all different but if you feel healthy and happy, you’ll be much better company!