I am beginning here. It is official – my first digestion blog post. It is a long story, that I may edit later, that spans 20 years starting in college when I was about 19 years of age. I was like any young college student, care free, loving every new and exciting experience, feeling quite free to be who I wanted to be as I learned amazing things. Oh, to be back in school and twenty again!
So I was not ready for or prepared to handle constipation when it hit me during my sophomore year. Having chosen to be a vegetarian in high school, after being inundated with PETA and WWF mailing images of tortured bunnies, I had a limited diet. Being a vegetarian, to me, was eating potatoes, pizza, pasta and tuna from a can. Freshman year of college brought cafeteria food which consisted of granola, potato salad, pasta salad and the occasional pizza and iceberg salad. I remember now repeatedly going to the cold marble multi-stalled bathroom of my dormitory and just sitting there in pain while others came and went, as one normally would when using the facilities. Constipation is in your brain non-stop when you have it. So, I went seeking help.
The university had a health care facility on campus and I went after having suffered for several weeks in agony. The doctor ran a gamut of tests. These tests, needless to say were downright uncomfortable for this awkward young woman, including a rectal exam! The doctor’s conclusion was that I had IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). I, of course asked what would cause the IBS and his advice was to abstain from dairy. What?! No way, I LIVED on cheese. It was a staple in my vegetarian lifestyle. I incorporated cheese into alomost every meal from fabulous bean burritoes to pizza to salad to pasta! ANd what about cream for my coffee?! There was no way I was giving up dairy. And what the heck was IBS, isn’t that what old people get after years of self-imposed bodily abuse? I wasn’t having it.
Side Note: I had a similar reaction as a teen when at twelve years old I experienced a three month period. Yes it was my first period and yes it lasted three months. Whoopee. I remember being mortified as my mom held my hand while the obgyn performed my first pap. He also checked my breasts, if you could call them that, and found lumps. They were something he referred to has fibrous something-or-other and I was to lay off of caffeine (which includes chocolate). What?! No chocolate? No way! I was also immediately put on a strong estrogen contraceptive to stop and help regulate the period. Good times.
So you might see a pattern here. I was NOT going to give up chocolate at 12 years and I was NOT going to give up cheese at 19 years. So, I tried minimizing my intake of cheese and eventually my constipation eased. I went about my merry way partying regularly and learning lots of smart things, of course, not necessarily in that order.
I was a junior when I started getting involved with boys beyond holding hands (yes I might be a late bloomer to some of you reading this). I went on a contraceptive pill, not having been on one since I was a teen. I had met my first love and we lived together in a big house with other freaks of our own kind (vegetarians and tree huggers/world savers/substance abusers). Once, I was sexually active, I immediately discovered that I was getting a raging yeast infection every month. The doctor may have informed me that it was the estrogen in the pill I was taking that caused the recurring infections but, I was not a condom girl and so kept taking it. Those were some miserable years for me sexually. I should have bought stock in Monistat. I ceased the pill after my love and I broke up.
So, for the next few years I don’t recall any other issues and lived quite happily. Once, I met my future husband the yeast started again and this time moodiness and bloating were added to the joyful side effects. My gyno suggested that I use a Nuvaring which gave a constant daily dose of estrogen. This was purported to be better than the pill where estrogen levels peak and dip daily. I did have better luck but, there were times I found myself wanting to kill someone for no reason. I truly felt as though the gods were having a joke at my expense and that maybe it was time for me to become a nun.
During this time I started doing research on digestive issues and yeast. I came across a book called “Eat Right for Your Type” by Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo. In this book a revolutionary idea was presented that different human blood types evolved as different foods were introduced over the eons. He suggested that our original ancestors had the blood type O, foraging on fruits, vegetables and meats. Blood type A evolved as we began cultivating grains and legumes requiring new enzymes within our bodies to break down these very different substances. Then later came blood type B, as we domesticated livestock and consumed milk, again new enzymes evolving to handle the synthesis of the new sugars and proteins.
I sent away for a handy little test ($10) that was listed in the back of the book and discovered that I am type O. With D’Adamo’s theory folks with my blood type should avoid avoid grains, legumes and dairy. Well, I already knew about dairy from the time I was very constipated. I don’t remember if gluten was discussed at this point (as it is so prevalently discussed today) but, I tried staying away from wheat and switched to rice and rice pasta and even switched to rice milk for my lattes. I have to say that I was not very good at sticking to any of these things and I still had bloating, yeast infections and general sense of ickiness and regular fatigue.
I got very good at ignoring the signs and symptoms of ill health and continued eating whatever I wanted for the next 20 years. I also drank a lot of booze, weekends initially, as I socialized. Later I started drinking in the evenings when returning home from work. Like Pavlov’s dog, the moment I opened the front door, I craved a cool glass of Pinot grigio to take the edge off the stressful day and decompress. I suppose you could say that I have been a functioning alcoholic for the better of 20 years. I wasn’t drunk daily by any means but, as I got older, more sedentary and occasionally partied with friends and getting pretty inebriated, I developed a pattern of daily consumption. I eventually drank a bottle a day of my favorite Pinot Grigio.
I moved in with my best friend and as we were both single and older than 30 and both divorced and both homebodies, we naturally nested together. (I can’t help it, I love this run-on sentence…so there)! This involved buying gourmet foodstuffs at the local gourmet food store and the World Market. We got cozy and ate cheeses, pastas and chocolates to our hearts’ content and drank wine and were merry. 🙂
I also gained about thirty pounds. So, then I decided to take matters into my own hands. I would go to the gym and eat frozen dinners, counting calories and going to bed hungry every night. But, I still consumed alcohol and and ate pasta here and there. Losing weight is near to impossible, even if you exercise, when you are consuming alcohol and mainly carbs for calories. My self-esteem was deflated and I was always tired, forcing myself to work out most days when I could have passed out at any moment. I lost that thirty pounds but, alas after falling in-love again and coming into a long term relationship with a mutual love of food, coziness and booze – I got that thirty pounds back.
So, almost like Oprah’s weight yo-yo, I have gone back and forth with from grossly giving in to indulgences to hard core dedication to better health. But, the symptoms have not really ever left.
I have battled fatigue for years and as I have passed 40 years the fatigue has gotten worse. It has progressively gotten worse and at one point when I had started a new job waiting tables not long ago, it took several weeks for me to learn a simple menu. I was constantly foggy headed, every morning waking up exhausted and my focus and short term memory were shot. I was dead on my feet, caffeine only jolting me for an hour or so and sometimes not even then. But, I loved my starbucks mocha lattes! =)
As I have passed the age of forty with an ever slowing metabolism and ever increasing signs and symptoms of ill health, I have had to face my enemy. I have experienced back and kidney pain, gallbladder pain, achy joints and stiff muscles, chronic fatigue, irregular bowel movements, irritability, brain fog, lack of drive, and depression.
I have continued to read blogs, forums, books and wiki (of course). I have tried supplements, cleanses, and special diets. I have done the research and through trial and error have come to realize that sugar, gluten and dairy are the enemies. There are myriad forms of the above three poisons with just as many different names. Having a higher education in biologic and chemical studies I had no problem acclimatizing myself with the complex ingredient label terminology. I can imagine how hard it must be for people that have never heard of a hydrogenated vegetable oil or a disaccharide and have no idea what they look like or how they function within the body.
I also have the drive and countenance to jump right in with vigor into something I am intensely interested in, especially when it comes to choosing between misery and happiness. I’m so over feeling like crap all the time!
I stumbled on the Paleo diet (reminiscent of the blood type book regarding what our ancestors ate). I was so determined to heal myself that I jumoed right in. I made almost every meal I ate. Consuming only meats, nuts, fruits and vegetables. I bought several books and signed up for apps on my phone to follow recipes.
I spent so many hours of my days preparing all my meals. BUt, I lost about 8 pounds and my IBS disappeared. I made it about five months on Paleo until Thanksgiving came and I gave in to my previous indulgences. And, like the snowball on a hill, I continued on that unhealthy path full steam. It has been about seven months since I left Paleo and I have never been more miserable. Everyday I feel pain in my gut, gall bladder, liver, intestines, kidneys, lower back, joints and head. My eyes are bloodshot every am and I sleep terribly. My sinuses are infected and my boyfriend says that it sounds like I am having trouble breathing at night. My lower back hurts all night (mainly from kidney discomfort I am certain). I am bloated, gassy, fatigued, and foggy headed on a regular basis. My physical self esteem is in the toilet and I have no ambition, motivation or energy to accomplish even the most mundane of tasks. If I was inclined to depression I would certainly have killed myself by now.
Though I am a bit of a fatalist at heart I am also very open to self-help and the power of natural healing. I am getting back on that horse and I am going to stick to it this time. Once I am healed and I have learned what my body can and can’t handle I am going to share it with the world and make a habit of choosing what is better for me.
I am hoping that I will gain energy, vitality, eagerness for life and general happiness. I know that it is going to take a while but, in the end I hope that my story will be helpful to others who are searching for answers and that my experiences might help those with similar symptoms find a solution that modern medicine has been unable to solve and in some cases continues to ill-advise.
Sorry this has been so long in the writing but, I am glad I got it out. I know there are things I am forgetting (ha! brain fog) but, I am certain that when I start conversing with others about my and their experiences, I will recall the pertinent things that are also a part of the story.
Thank you for reading and please share your experiences and knowledge with me. My future posts will be shorter. I will also be posting articles on sugar, gluten and dairy. I will share product reviews and recipes that I love as well as others that have inspired me who are sharing their experiences with the world.