Living Well Through Food (& a little more of my journey)

This is a continuing series from this blog post where I wrote of what it means for me to live well.

So, food.  It’s needed for living, right?  Like, we need it to fuel our body’s energy requirements, whether you are a couch potato or an Olympic marathoner.  If only it were that easy….

Food --> Energy -->  Life

Throw in stress, exercise, hormone fluctuations, cravings, sensitivities, emotional eating (aka eating your feelings), and that very simple equation about food is thrown all outta whack.

First, a little more detail of my journey (warning: possible TMI contained going forward).  My “a-ha” moment about the connection to food and how I feel started many years ago, in my early 20s.  I was suffering from some serious IBS, fluctuating from constipation (days on end) to emergency visits to the bathroom.  My then-boyfriend, now-husband and I would try to figure out why I was having such terrible issues (how he stayed with me after what I exposed him to is grounds for sainthood nomination).  We narrowed it down to rich meals with wine.  It seems every time I had butter-laden mashed potatoes and wine at some nice restaurant, I would have an “episode”.  That was our expert conclusion.  More importantly, that was my first real acknowledgement that there was, in deed, a connection .

Fast forward several years to 2010.  I had terrible issues with my esophagus narrowing and food getting caught.  I couldn’t swallow and it would radiate pain across my chest and back until the food passed, sometimes an hour later.  I started noticing that it would happen with certain foods, like chicken, rice and bread.  I sought treatment from a GI doc who suggested we “stretch” my esophagus.  His explanation was “sometimes this happens” and it can be genetic (several family members also suffer).  Awesome. 

Two years later, same issue, different doctor, same treatment. 

Two years later, same issue, different doctor.  But NOT the same treatment.  This doctor, while still stretching my esophagus, biopsied the lining and diagnosed me with eosinophilic esophagitis.  Basically, white blood cells were collecting in my esophagus, causing it to narrow.  But why were white blood cells collecting in this spot?  I saw a very wise nurse practitioner in his office who told me that 30% of the time, this condition is caused by a food allergy.  She suggested getting me tested before starting on a drug, like the GI doc wanted.  I am forever indebted to her for this hunch.

Off I went to the allergist and found out I was so allergic to corn, it caused a blistering hive on my back.  Lightbulb moment!  If something like eating corn could cause my esophagus to slowly narrow over time due to repeated exposure, then what other foods did my body not like, and possibly wreaking havoc on my gut?

I went on to seek help from a naturopathic doctor, who ordered food sensitivity testing.  I removed all the foods that my body didn’t like for about 12 weeks, including the big ones like gluten, dairy, soy, corn, nuts, peanuts along with many other seemingly random foods that showed some sensitivities on my test.  Over the past 3 years, I have healed my leaky gut and other digestive issues through my food choices and some supplementation.   

I was AMAZED at how good I felt after about 3-4 weeks.  My energy was at an all-time high, my gut seemed “normal” for the first time I could ever remember, my brain fog lifted and my mood stabilized (I think my family was most grateful for that).  All from eating a diet devoid of inflammatory foods. 

Was it easy?  Nope.  But that’s what I want to impress most on anyone reading this…..anything worth having (like your health) is usually hard at first.  Did I sometimes avoid social situations during this time period?  Yep.  There were times when I didn’t feel like explaining what I was doing and why.  Did this time last forever?  No.  The better I felt the easier it was to continue on.  I gained confidence and cared less about having to explain it to others.  I fact, I wanted to shout from atop a mountain of kale how good I felt.  Okay, that might be an exaggeration.  After time, I added back in some foods to see how my body reacted.  Now I know how I will feel when I eat certain foods.  But I still sometimes eat some birthday cake …. because balance.  

While I have definitely felt sorry for myself in my journey, even depressed at times wondering if I would ever feel good, I am grateful for everything I have gone through.  I see my body and I as partners, not enemies.  I am in charge of how I feel based on how I feed myself.  It’s very empowering.  You should try it.

Here are a few tips that have helped me along the way:

  • Focus on adding in nutrient-rich foods rather than focus on what you shouldn’t or can’t eat.  Think of it as “crowding out” the junk foods or eating your veggies first, like your mom always wanted.  There’s less room for the French fries or dessert after eating the food that will support you.
  • COMMIT.  Believe you can do it. You can do hard things.  Nothing is forever.
  • Read labels on any food you plan to bring into your home.  Any ingredient you can’t pronounce doesn’t belong in your body (quinoa doesn’t count).  Better yet, take a break from anything processed for a bit.  If it comes in a box, it’s processed. 
  • You don’t really need a food sensitivity test.  You can check your body’s reaction by removing the big 8 foods for 3-4 weeks and see how you feel (need some guidance? Give me a shout.)
  • Listen to your body….I mean, REALLY listen.  If you have a hunch a food doesn’t agree with you, it probably doesn’t.

The world of food can be overwhelming with all of the “eat this, don’t eat that” talk.  Only you know what is best for yourself.  So honor that and listen to it instead of listening to all the noise. 

 

Be well.