Watching Stripes go through her very frustrating and difficult process of figuring out her allergies and a new diet reminds me of where I was three years ago. Stripes and I might be really different in the clothes we wear, the mugs we use, and the way we style our hair, but we have a surprising amount in common when it comes to food.
I’m not burdened down by Stripes with a ton of allergies (that I know of–I’m so not brave enough to get tested!), I have my own bag of issues with my digestion. Not a lot of people know about gastroparesis, but oddly enough, one of my coworkers has the exact same condition so it can’t be that uncommon. And just like Stripes forewarned–I’m not an expert. Neither of us are. I’m just sharing my own experiences, which in no way replaces the importance of someone talking to their own doctor.
It started a few years ago when some (digestion-related) issues I had became worse, to the point of me not being able to ignore them. The list is pretty gross, so I won’t give too many details, but it includes blood, constant nauseous, and the desire to vomit. All the time. It was getting to the point where I’d make myself throw up once a week or so, just because I felt so awful and my body would refuse to vomit on its own (I know that sounds a lot like bulimia, which is a serious and real condition, but you should read the whole story. I don’t have an eating disorder). I saw my normal doctor, was referred to a specialist, and bounced around for a few months before settling on the right practitioner.
For anyone dealing with health issues, I give you this advice above all others: work with someone who works with you. Half the medical professionals I sought out told me straight off the bat that I had cancer, and the other half told me I was imagining things. Not fun at all. I finally found an excellent gastroenterologist who worked with me. It was his patience and willingness to listen that actually ended up solving the problem.
Before I got to that point, though, there was a large suspicion that I had Celiac’s Disease (which is basically like being lactose intolerant, except with gluten [which is in wheat, along with almost everything else]). They did the tests and encouraged me to cut gluten out of my diet. I was a vegetarian at the time (and am currently), but I opted back to meat when they cut so many things out of my diet. It was really, really hard (as Stripes can attest to!)
I was on my gluten-free diet, and I was sitting in the doctor’s office. He shared the results; I showed no signs of Celiac’s disease. However, I did show that I was still full of… food… when they did the scope. Which, considering I had done a two-day fast, as well as the cleansing, was unusual. He sat me down and asked me about my diet, which at the time (and still currently does, shame on me) consist of raw vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. He counted up the calories I was getting from my daily diet and told me it was less than 1,000. Which is no good. I am a pretty active person, so 1200 is a really healthy amount for me to consume.
Then, while he was doing some paperwork, my mom and I started talking. She was in town to support me, and we were planning our post-doctor visit day. She mentioned lunch, which we hadn’t had yet. I told her fries sounded amazing. She asked if I wanted a milkshake, and I made a face. The doctor caught the expression, and asked me if I don’t normally like milkshakes. I told him I do, but that I felt way too full to even consider it. He asked me what I had eaten for breakfast (rice-flour toast and egg with some raw veggies to munch on). He paused, and (as my mom remembers it) a lightbulb clicked on above his head.
He introduced the concept of gastroparesis to me, which essentially means your stomach works, but very very slowly, and harder-to-digest food move through you at a glacial pace. You can read Mayo Clinic’s definition here. It would explain a lot of my symptoms, so he scheduled me for a study and my mom and I left to go grab some french fries.
A couple weeks later, I had the study done. It consists of eating radio-active dry bread with a radio-active butter-free dry egg and washing it down with radio-active sugar free apple juice. Talk about the most boring and terrifying meal ever! I sat around the hospital for three hours and they took pictures of my radioactive stomach periodically to watch the food move through my system. In the course of three hours, the food (in a healthy, working digestive system) would be completely out of the stomach and well into the intestines. At the end of the three hours, my stomach was still over halfway full of food, which put my solidly in the running for a gastroparesis diagnosis. Finally, an answer!
What this means is that I’m always full. It’s hard for my body to digest food, and if I eat a normal amount, I’m in a lot of pain. I balance this out by drinking a lot of smoothies (Columbia Gorge VitaSea smoothies are my absolute favorite!) and eating small amounts of food throughout the day. Cooked food, food low in fiber, and highly processed food (pop tarts and skittles, anyone?) are the easiest. Unfortunately, I actually really love whole grain, nut-filled bread and raw vegetables, so I hate sticking to my recommended diet (I love the skittles, though, so eating candy continues to be not a problem!). I’ve gone back to my vegetarian ways, since my body doesn’t handle meat well, and I avoid dairy since my body hates it (imagine milk just sitting in stomach acid for three, four hours–gross, right?), but I do occasionally indulge in a wine and cheese night with Monsieur. Some great foods that Stripes mentioned, like quinoa, is amazing and perfect for my body–it is especially accommodating for my vegetarian requirements.
The trick has been small portions, eating the light in the morning, the heaviest (like a bagel with peanut butter and jelly) in the middle of the day, and pretty much nothing after five. I still struggle with eating enough calories, and I find that I can get all kind of grumpy and sleepy when I’ve gone too many days eating too little (and what better way to balance it out than by gulping down a chocolate milkshake, am I right?), but it’s manageable. Frustrating, mildly hopeless, and very bloaty, but definitely manageable.
An Average Workday Menu:
7:30 Breakfast: Coffee, two bites of Monsieur’s cinnamon roll (We “share” a lot of meals, which usually consist of me telling him he should eat something so I can take a bite. It’s way less wasteful than me ordering/cooking a huge thing of something I’ll take a bite of and be done with)
9:30 Work Snack: Handful of blueberries, half a Columbia Gorge SuperBerry Smoothie
12:00 Lunch: more coffee and a plain, toasted bagel with organic peanut butter and jelly (my barista makes them perfectly, with peanut butter and jelly on both sides, so I can eat it open-faced)
4:00 Work Snack: Handful of carrots, a couple of radishes and broccoli (I’m telling you, I don’t know how to say no to raw veggies! I love them so…)
6:30 Dinner: Small serving of rice with some stir fry veggies (it’s about a quarter of what Monsieur ate, and he doesn’t eat a ton of food) and a couple bites of the chocolate ice cream we “share”.