Tuesday Threads 1 : Digestion

After writing part I and part II of the digestion posts, I had an overwhelming outreach of questions, thank you's, and comments. I was blown away as to how many of us suffer from digestive health issues as well as how many of us feel isolated, lost, and completely helpless as to finding solutions and simply how to feel your best. Hearing from you all made me happy, because I love being able to talk about this aspect of my life since it is a huge part and it also made me feel a sense of community. I wanted to keep that going and answer as many of the questions as I could. While reading through, many had similar underlining tones and I realized that if one person is asking this question, I am sure someone else is thinking it as well. (or at least I think!) So, it brings me here to Tuesday Threads. I wanted to start a bi-weekly section on my blog and eventually weekly to answer your questions about digestion, anxiety, and really anything else there is! Every other week I will lump the questions together, anywhere from 5-8 at a time, that are similar and talk about them. I don't want to limit the questions to be about digestion, but since that has been much of the focus thus far, it is a starting point, but there is so much more to life and my life that I want to share. I also, don't want it to be primarily question based, some weeks I may dedicated posts to one topic and so forth, but for now, I wanted to start this new section on my blog this way. so here it goes:

how long did it take to heal your stomach? How long did you have to avoid certain foods? (such as coffee, fruits, nightshades, grains, etc).

I like to think that I am constantly healing my stomach and the process is never ending. This isn’t supposed to sound daunting or for you to throw in the towel, but there may be days, weeks, or months that I feel amazing but that doesn’t mean I am going to go crazy and eat all the foods I couldn’t before. However, if I am feeling good and I know that I will be attending an event or meeting a friend, I might order something that has the potential to bother my stomach. This “potential” thing, is something that I enjoy; whether it be dessert, something with a little caffeine, or whatever else.  I do this for many reasons- life is all about balance and being positive towards the foods that you are eating.  I eat very well on a day to day basis, I work out regularly and because of this there is wiggle room for my body. I know my limit on alcohol, coffee, sweets, etc and will stop at that. Too much will cause days or weeks of re-healing my stomach, my mental state, migraines; my body- something I am not interested in, when I know that the cause was self inflicted.  This isn’t a negative mindset for me, or a “I will be better on Monday” thinking process, this is “I am enjoying the company of someone else,” mindfully indulging and being at peace with my decision. 

If you are looking for a timeline, know that everyone will be different. I started experiencing all of these problems in college (almost 10 years ago, yikes!) and there were times where I had to avoid all grains, gluten, dairy (still do), nuts, coffee, anything too acidic, raw veggies, honestly it seemed like I had to avoid everything. When I took rounds of antibiotics I felt as if I could eat everything, I probably took a round of antibiotics every 6 months and each time they worked less and less. For one summer, honestly all I could eat was chicken and grapefruit, they were the only two things that didn’t bother my stomach. It was bad and that was probably my lowest point. After about 3 or so years of that routine, I quit cold turkey on the medication, changed doctors, and experimented with different foods myself. It wasn’t until then I saw a change. In the last three years, I have only had to go take antibiotics once because my SIBO and leaky gut came back pretty bad. I had terrible bloating, migraines, I was having pretty bad reactions to foods that were normally “safe” for me, and overall felt a sense of tiredness, depression, and was completely rundown. My sugar cravings were at an all time high and I was not satisfied after any meal, I was either constantly hungry or couldn't eat at all without feeling sick. Considering all things, that is actually amazing since I went from taking medication every 6 months for 3 years to only 1x in three years. So, there is no timeline, it is essentially up to you. How serious you want to be in the healing stages. If you focus on eating the foods that will make you feel your best and truly heal your stomach you will be on your way to feeling better more days than not. You will have set backs, I still do! I may be great for a month or 3 months, then I will have terrible flares for a week or 2 in any given month. It is usually brought on by stress, hormonal, food related, lack of sleep or some other issue. I would say, notice how you feel after certain foods, if you feel any adverse affects (bloating, headaches, skin rashes, IBS-C/D, brain fog, mood swings etc) then stop eating it. Give your body a few weeks off, test it again and see if there are the same affects. I still do this on a constant basis and for now I’ve found a happy medium on when I can enjoy foods that normally bother my stomach or that I’ve had to completely stay away from the in the past. You will know immediately upon eating certain foods whether it agrees with you or not.

Things to take away: if it bothers you, stay away and test it again in a few weeks. Change up your “diet” everyday, do not over eat the same foods every day, experiment with spices for flavor, find moderation and balance in all foods - what works for YOU, not the person next to you or your friends. Let others inspire you, but not dictate how you should eat. It is beneficial for our bodies to constantly change up the foods that we are eating. I know that every few months my body changes and I go through periods of not being able to eat foods that I could in the past because I may have over done it; which is why I think variety is so key. I will also say, that my body thrives on finding a routine and balance; mentally, physically, and how I eat. More to come on that.

How did you find out?

Tests! After first, 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 and 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, also called 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.  It was a long & scary process and I sympathize with anyone that has gone through it or is currently going through it now. After all of the tests were completed and the results were given, I was diagnosed with gastroparesis, IBS-C, and distension of the abdomen.  Pretty much you feel as if you have a watermelon in your stomach at all times, constantly full, severe pain and really just feeling like crap. I also showed symptoms of leaky gut and small bacterial over growth causing me to develop a high sensitivity to fructans. Which, is why I stay away from sugar (even limit honey, dates, maple syrup; tolerate small amounts) and many fruits. I also have to avoid dairy, because of an allergy, which should be avoided regardless if you have stomach issues such as mine. So, all those fruit free smoothies and low sugar snacks I make are not just a fad or me following a trend, its been a way of life for me for MANY many years. If you think something is off, follow your intuition and see your doctor! Don’t try and self diagnose or follow what others are doing. Hopefully I am here to inspire you through my journey, but you know your body best!

How did this happen?

Short answer, I have no idea. Long answer, I have a few, one which I will eventually tackle on my blog to come. Other reasons, potentially: years of taking antibiotics, poor diet when I was younger and throughout college, and simply not properly taking care of my body. Thinking exercise was enough and looking healthy on the outside was enough to get by- and that is the key word, I was simply getting by. Turning to medication, antibiotics and over-the-counter medications was a no brainer and I never thought twice about what I was putting into my body. If I had a cold or if I was suffering from something more serious, medication was the solution, always. I never thought how it would affect my body and mental state in the long run, it was more of how quickly can I heal with the strongest medication there was/is available. Now, my attitude towards medication is completely different. If I have to ever take antibiotics, I will do my research. I will admit that I have to take medication every single evening for my migraines and if I don’t I will end up in the hospital. Unfortunately, I am the type that is prone to them, and have more than 15 migraines (not headaches, migraines- there is a big difference) a month and without the medication I simply can not live my life day to day. I will also make sure that I am nourishing my body while I am taking medication or antibiotics for any reason. Now, knowing that there is potential that healthy bacteria in my gut, is killed while taking antibiotics, I do everything in my power to feed my body. I’m more of aware of the foods to turn to, the superfoods, probiotics, and the types of foods that I need in order to restore my gut health. You can read more of some of the healing foods I turn to here, on my two part digestion post.  

When I was younger and in college, I never thought twice about the foods I was eating; take out, coffee, alcohol, dairy, I was a self proclaimed pepsi addict, or I just didn't eat. I honestly didn't realize how much food affected everything; from your skin, your mental state, your gut health, sleep, or your hormones. Now, for the most part, I try and think of how certain foods will make me feel and eat foods for clear skin, to balance my hormones, help with my gut health, improve my migraines and so forth. It can be challenging and time consuming, but it is better than feeling worn out, sick, bloated, or irritated ALL the time. Meal prepping is key and is beneficial to always have food on hand during the week. It gives you a peace of mind knowing there is food already prepared that can be literally thrown together within a matter of minutes. This way, you always have the option to eat healthy and for the most part feel your best, energized, and ready for the day. 

What are my triggers?

I have different triggers for each thing that my body goes through; migraines, IBS, leaky gut, gastroparesis, SIBO, anxiety attacks, but in a way they are all related and connected to one another. Most of the time when I am experiencing my flares, it isn’t an isolated situation. I am not sure if I consider myself lucky or just fortunate that I have been able to for the most part nail down my triggers for my migraines. For me, I have to be careful around red wine, even the smell alone can trigger, packaged deli meats, any product containing nitrates, some white fish (shrimp), the weather (high levels of humidity) and the hardest ones to manage; lack of sleep and stress. Whenever my doctor tells me to get more sleep and stress less, I am like….??? Stress and lack of sleep is also a major contributing factor to my IBS which in turn affects my gastroparesis as well as leaky gut and SIBO. The less sleep I get throughout the weeks and the worse I am about managing my stress and taking care of my well being the more migraines I will suffer from, the more bloating I will physically feel, the less I will be able to eat, the more negative reactions to food I will feel, the more my IBS will act up and so forth! I will have a build up of toxins in my body that will cause tremendous bloating, IBS-D and C, and pain in my abdomen. In a future post, I will come back to stress, sleep, and anxiety. You can see how important it is to truly take care of yourself. It isn't selfish in doing so. It is allowing you to live your best life. I won’t go into too much detail about foods that I have to avoid because for example, my body changes constantly. At times I’ve had to remove eggs, salmon, peanut butter, chicken, or apples out of my diet to name a few, then months will pass by and I am able to eat said foods without an issue. As mentioned before I do limit sugar tremendously (agave, high fructose corn syrup, any types of syrups and stick to small quantities of dates, honey and maple syrup in recipes). I also do limit nightshade vegetables, grains, and make a conscious effort to constantly add variety each week to my meals as well as mindfully eat/chew every single meal. It sounds silly, but eating your meal without distractions makes a huge difference especially if you suffer from digestive issues. I think that if you are at the beginning stages of figuring everything out and feel helpless, keeping a food journal is a great idea. At the same time, I am very against them. Personally speaking, I believe they can trigger old habits or start new ones for people, cause you to overthink / become anxious around food, and allow you to become to rigid in your lifestyle. I do believe that jotting down notes after certain meals if you felt “off,” noticed signs of headaches, fatigue, bloating, or brain fog is a great idea! I used to do that, now I do it mentally. I make a mental note of how I felt both mentally and physically and make the decision to myself if I want to either cut the food out of of my diet completely, take a break from it and reintroduce it again in a few weeks, or keep it only have it every so often. As you can see your body probably changes as does mine. I am constantly figuring out what foods work and which ones do not, but have a better grasp and understanding of what foods I need to stay away from and which foods nourish my body, simply by experimentation. Which, I believe is the best way to figure out if any food will work for you or not, rather than listening to someone else. You need to figure out what works for you, and you only.

So this is a start. There are so many more questions that I want to touch upon and have received that I can't wait to dive deeper into. Questions range from my work outs to alleviate digestive pain, anxiety, and migraines, how I went from being a vegan to eating meat, how to deal with these issues while traveling, social pressures, and so many more that I love. I am hoping that these answers, questions, discussions are meaningful, helpful, and become something that I can continue to write about every two weeks for now and eventually once a week.  I would love to hear from you! Comments, questions, whatever; leave here or send in an email if you feel more comfortable!