For most of my life I have been a selective eater; even a self-proclaimed garbage guts. There might have been one drunken night in which I ate nearly an entire package of bacon… Might have been. I loved food, mainly the bad for you variety. A slowly climbing number on the scale and clothing sizes in the double digits did not deter me. I felt that life was too short. I often said that I would rather be plump and happy, than thin and bitchy. Nachos, milkshakes, chicken wings, sour patch kids, mcflurries; yum. I wouldn’t say that I was addicted to junk food though. I did eat nutritious balanced meals for the majority of my caloric intake and I could push away the bag of sour patch kids before it neared empty. But I loved my treats.
When I hit my mid-twenties, strange things started to happen to my digestive system. First was beef. Every time I ate it I was sent racing to the washroom within an hour. Then onions, then raw veggies, then dairy. I was eventually diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. With the help of a dietician I identified trigger foods and eliminated them from my diet.
I got pregnant with Everly about 8 months after I had been following my new eating plan. I had horrible morning sickness with Everly; the kind where you puke if you move. I lost 8 pounds during my first 10 weeks of being pregnant, and morning sickness didn’t start until 6 weeks! I was not feeling up to eating anything. Once in a while I would get a craving for something, but more often than not it was on my restricted list; Murphy’s Law. A few more weeks of vomiting and a few more pounds lost and I said screw it. I was puking up most of what I was eating anyway was the way I saw it. So garbage guts was back and in full effect. I enjoyed my third trimester of pregnancy. I ate what I wanted and was taking the maximum dose of Diclectin. My tummy hurt once in a while, but the food I was able to eat again was worth the infrequent discomfort.
Within 3 months of Everly’s birth all of my issues steadily returned. Bye-bye Mac Grill penne Alfredo 😦 Good-bye old friends, good-bye; and yes I said good-bye with the dramatic flair of a Southern Belle. Within another 5 months with increasingly worse symptoms, I was in the hospital with nasty gut pain, my appendix had burst. Yay! Such an invigorating experience to have a ruptured appendix while caring for your 8 month old with your husband out of town. Thank God for family! From the time of that surgery my digestive health got steadily worse.
By the time Everly was 14 months old I could barely eat anything. I was on the toilet multiple times each day, sometimes for up to an hour at a time. I would bring toys into the bathroom along with Everly to make sure I could keep an eye on her. I nursed her while on the toilet. Poor thing. And my body would never get the memo that there was no more molten-lava-liquid-blood-poop inside me, spasms would continue for hours afterwards.
The spasms and blood in my stool led me to my doctor and eventually my local Emergency Room for help multiple times. They pumped me full of fluids, painkillers and ran tests. Blood, Ultrasound and stool. The blood test results suggested that there was some sort of infection present in my body and my liver functioning was elevated, suggesting that my body was processing a large amount of toxins. The ultrasound showed sludge in my gall bladder, sludge eventually turns to stones. And the poop, well the poop was clear of parasites and signs of infection. And then I became a episode of house.
My life became incredibly stressful. I never knew when I was going to have an “episode.” When I did have episodes they came on at the snap of your fingers and I would need to get to a toilet in 30 seconds. A few times I had episodes in public. Now there’s an experience to scrapbook about. Never again will I giggle at the sounds of someone taking a dump in a public bathroom, because I have been that person. I was the Llyod Christmas creating inhuman sounds from the fourth stall on the left. A few times I drove home with one of Everly’s diapers in my pants. As you can imagine, I became increasingly anxious. I started to be afraid to go for walks, to drive my car, to grocery shop, to work; basically to live my life. This fear cost me a major career opportunity, a friendship, and overall quality of life. I felt like I was in prison.
During the summer of 2010, I visited the ER every few weeks for spasms and poop that would not stop. I was eventually connected to a GI and in typical medical model fashion, he ordered scopes on both ends and a CT. I was told to do what I could to help with my symptoms and wait for the tests. I became Imodium and hot water bottle dependent. There were anti-spasmodics that I was prescribed, but I could not take them as long as I was breastfeeding. And child of mine would not tolerate any milk alternative product. Everly has eczema, and dairy products cause it to flare up. Her doctor also had said that breast milk helps control eczema. Rock and a hard place. I picked her nutrition and needs over mine (duh).
Around the same time of my referral to the GI, I had started seeing a naturopath. She immediately wanted to do allergy testing and put me on a hypoallergenic diet. She thought that my high white blood cell count and elevated liver function were the result of my body fighting allergies and sensitivities. So I started the meal plan immediately and sent away the blood for allergy screening. From the beginning of August to the end of September I lost 15 pounds. Both my doctor and naturopath were concerned about the rapid weight loss, but I assured them both that it was due to the change in my diet. My exact words were, “no, I really ate that much garbage food!” My activity level decreased if anything, and my digestion was slowing down, so I wasn’t pooping nutrition out faster than I could use it. No, I really ate that much junk.
My naturopath also recommended connecting with a mental health professional due to my increased anxiety. She wondered if my anxiety might be causing some of my digestive issues. A real chicken and the egg conundrum. So I did, immediately. By this point I was so tired of living like a victim, I was ready to “take back my happy.” After two months of bi-weekly visits and an Ativan prescription, my psychiatrist was certain that the root of my anxiety was my digestive health and the fear of an “accident.” I told her that the Ativan didn’t stop episodes, I just felt stoned while I was on the toilet. So I stopped the Ativan, but continued on with the therapy, why not? I definitely had a lot to talk about, that much I had discovered, lol!!
My allergy testing came back and tons of things were in level two and level three. Diet modifications continued. Corn and cane sugar left my diet, along with peas, nuts, bananas and cranberry. Corn and cane sugar really hurt. Really, really hurt. Cutting out sugar was epically difficult. I had given up alcohol a few months prior and that was a cinch compared to my dear old friend sugar. I went through withdrawal and was a horrible person to live and work with I am sure! This kind of scared me, to think that sugar has that much of a stronghold in our bodies! Yikes. After I took out the foods that I tested allergic and sensitive too, the bowel movements from Hell slowed down considerably. The only thing that remained were the abdominal cramps. I continued to take Imodium and use heat along with Tylenol for the pain.
At the end of September 2010, I had a CT scan and both scopes (down the throat and up the butt). The tests came back clear of the big C’s; Cancer, Crohns and Colitis. Excellent, amazing news… But wtf was the issue then? When I visited the naturopath she said that she was not super shocked that they came up clear. By the time I did these tests I had been on my allergy diet, probiotics and digestive enzymes for two months. She said that inflammation would have significantly decreased. She was quite certain that I had Leaky Gut Syndrome and that it was progressing into something more serious until I made extreme lifestyle changes. We talked about full Leaky Gut treatment. I was on board.
I visited the GI to talk about the test results the following day. He pish-poshed Leaky Gut Syndrome and said that likely I had a stomach bug and it would go away soon. Or that my intestines were over active for some reason and peristalsis was put of control; likely functional diarrhea. He also asked what I ate, so I told him and he said, “your diet is too restrictive, try working foods back in when your symptoms go away.” I said yep, that’s what I am waiting for… Well that and for you to display any evidence of having attended medical school. I sat there and stared at him. I was hoping he was going to help me. He told me to take some time off work and stop taking Imodium, do some bowel training and focus on limiting the stress in my life (something my NP also suggested). My job at the time involved home visiting, and lots of driving; so kinda stressful for someone having digestive issues. The GI asked me to schedule a follow up appointment for 3 months. I left that appointment feeling very defeated. I was hoping he would give me a magic cure that would allow me to eat sugar again.
So, I took time off work. If it was in fact functional diarrhea, limiting the amount of stress in my life was supposed to help right? Um nope. But, the bowel training that I was able to do did help. Once I stopped taking the Imodium and didn’t have the worry of having episode at a client’s house, things got a lot better.
And then I got pregnant. And then my mom died.
My pregnancy with Matthew is that scene in the movie where the couple runs through a wildflower field, holding hands, and smiling on a sunny summer day. Slowly I discovered that I could eat pretty much anything I wanted again! I made this discovery the week after my mom passed. I was obviously quite upset and I just wanted some plain old comfort food. My psychiatrist said that my issue was definitely not functional diarrhea, as the death of a parent ranks up there real high on the stress index and I did not see an increase in symptoms- in fact I was constipated for like 8 days. So I ate the bad stuff. Fizzy drinks, beef and onions were still out, but the rest- like SUGAR, was IN! Oh glorious, glorious day. Oh and I wasn’t constipated anymore either (just in case you were wondering, which I know you were). I ate nachos twice a week, I washed them down with Fruitopia and chocolate. I gained a whopping 50 pounds, and I could have cared less. I received some flack about my pregnancy diet and I told the flack givers to flack themselves. I still ate plenty of healthy foods and took all of my vitamins.
I asked my doctor and midwife why my symptoms decreased while pregnant. I was told that there were a few reasons. One was the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy that I was experiencing, apparently retching all day long empties your gall bladder, which keeps your gall bladder happy! Plus, I was taking boatloads of Diclectin which can cause constipation. And on top of that pregnancy changes your digestion, slowing it down so that you can get every last nutrient out of the food you eat- this can also cause constipation. Well what backs up the average pregnant lady only made me into a typical person. Halleluiah, this was one gravy train that I was riding (literally, I ate tons of gravy).
I was advised by the health care professionals in my life to wean off the bad foods about a month before baby was due to arrive. The thought was that it was going to be challenging enough during the post-partum period, I didn’t need to be going through sugar and corn and nacho withdrawal. Fair enough. So I planned to do that. I was due August 7. The weeks clicked by to July 7 pretty quickly, too quickly. And then… July 13, 2011 Matty made his way into the world, it was a happy day 🙂
Ten days after he was born, I found myself stuck nursing him in a porta-powder room at my cousin’s wedding after eating a piece of cheesecake. I sobbed in that outhouse. I sobbed because my ten day old baby was in an outhouse (gross) and eating (double gross) and I sobbed because I knew what this meant. That was a pretty painful episode and after that I was on the path to clean eating again. Suck it up you big baby I thought, it’s not the end of the world.
With the return of symptoms I began to see my GI again. Further testing at the end of this year revealed multiple food intolerance, Leaky Gut Syndrome and abnormalities in the structure of my large intestine (it should be in a straight line, and mine is all twisted and curved meaning a large amount of pressure has to build up to, um, move things and then my intestines start to spasm as a result). I will begin Leaky Gut treatment once Matthew is taking solids consistently so that my caloric needs for breastfeeding are not as high. As it is now I have to eat a ton of food and take supplements to keep my milk supply up. And then the therapy for the abnormality is more bowel training and medication that will hopefully help to straighten it out. I am so, So, SO incredibly happy that this is all it was.
It’s very likely that I will never be able to eat like a typical person, but I am okay with that. I am actually ten times healthier now anyway and that’s a good thing. I do have days where I get really bitter because I want a McFlurry, or steak. But I just ask myself the question- is it worth it? Usually it isn’t. A nice result of cleaner living has been a decrease in my size, crazy low blood pressure (90/58), more energy, clearer skin and less sickness. When I got pregnant with Everly I wore a size 10 bottoms and a Large top. Now I wear a 2 or a 4 for bottoms and am a S top. So I might not have as many food choices, by my clothing choices have expanded, lol! The one downside of this: clothing is more expensive than food!