My Digestive Health Story
My journey to healing my body and figuring out the state of my digestive system has been a long and winding road. I’ve had digestive discomfort and issues for as long as I can remember including bloating, gas, irregular bowel movements, constipation, diarrhea, and just overall sharp pains, dull discomfort, aches, etc! So when I refer to my discomfort and pain below- it could be a number of these symptoms and they always vary and range in persistence and level of discomfort.
My first major incident when I knew there was something serious going on with my body was my freshman year of college. I had been having stomach pains all week, sharp pains in my lower stomach/abdomen. The problem seemed to go away after eating some dry foods and carbonated drinks or if I slept it off. Throughout the week, my pains became increasingly more prevalent, lasted longer, and caused me more pain. Finally, at the end of the week after classes I decided to head over to my school’s wellness center to get checked out. After a bit of time there, the practitioners decided it had to be appendicitis and that I needed to go to the hospital. After several hours of tests and ultrasounds and IVs, appendicitis was ruled out and I was still left with questions. Finally, the doctors told me it might just be a dairy intolerance! I was pissed since I had just spent at least five hours in the ER and cancelled a date because of it, all for the possibility of a dairy intolerance.
Well, it seemed to do the trick since after that I avoided all dairy and my stomach issues seemed to disappear- for a little while!
My second semester of college, I developed an eating disorder. More on that later, since my digestive issues and my eating disorder don’t really go hand in hand. My eating disorder seemed to have stemmed from different areas of my life, but nonetheless, suffering from an eating disorder and depriving my body of nutrients definitely did a number on my digestive system. There was a period of time where I didn’t poop for about 2 weeks. THAT’S not normal. So long story short, restricting the body and then going through treatment and the refeeding process really messes with the systems. It took my bowels a second to get back on track. And by a second I mean probably a year!
Within this time I also found paleo and was really attracted to the lifestyle and food choices. I began to incorporate paleo into my life and instantly started seeing a difference. I felt amazing and about five months after eating strict paleo, I ran my fastest half marathon!
When I went back to school it was more difficult to stick to a strict paleo diet. I did the best I could, but being a college student and with food and groceries the last thing on my mind, it was easy to let it slip. After all, it was the year my roommates and myself all turned twenty-one, so alcohol and late night pizza or insomnia cookies were a frequency in my life. And not to say that it was a bad thing- I don’t regret any of those decisions, I have some of the best memories with my best friends. That’s college! At that time in my life, paleo and my stomach issues were not a priority. During this time, my stomach pain and issues were more dormant and only arose once in a while, although my roommates remember a lot of constipation, but when they did I was down for the count. Life was just moving too fast for me to notice or take the time to heal my body.
When I started working at a juice bar, I really started to tune in and listen to my body. It was also a time when I began practicing yoga and incorporating that into my routine. With the two, I started to realize my body was NOT okay. Drinking juice and whole, raw foods really allowed my system to have a break and flush out any harsh toxins. I seemed to be listening to my body more and nourishing it to its needs, but never started to figure out WHY I was feeling this way or having stomach pains. My stomach pains had just been my normal for so long, and it wasn’t until months later when I decided I wanted to live a better life and knew I could live a life free from the pain.
Sidebar- all throughout college, I saw a Dietitian on a weekly basis. So although I wasn’t making my health a priority, (which you always should!), I was still working with a professional throughout all this and had someone to help me through the process.
When I moved home from Chicago to the Detroit area about a year ago, I was 100% committed to making my health a priority. I didn’t have a job yet, so I figured- now’s the time. I had heard a lot about the Whole30 from family members and paleo bloggers I follow on social media. I had heard amazing things about it, as far as being a great way to figure out some root causes with digestion. No- it’s not 100% accurate, but it seemed like a good starting point and something I was passionate about doing, not only for the health benefits and transitioning into a healthier lifestyle, but healing my body as well. I absolutely LOVED doing the Whole30- I saw so many improvements in my health, I could honestly do an entire post about it and I didn’t have any stomach issues. Now, as much as I love the Whole30, it is not sustainable. It’s not meant to be kept up forever- it’s supposed to support you and ease you into making lifestyle changes or use it as an elimination diet or if you’re suffering from a chronic illness.
When I finished the Whole30, I went through reintroducing foods into my diet slowly. When I reintroduced gluten, I was NOT okay. It felt good knowing I was on to something. Just to be sure, I took a home food sensitivity test through EverlyWell. It confirmed everything I had thought to be true and then some, but the test is only designed to tell you if you have a sensitivity not an allergy. I still stuck to a paleo diet, but seemed to be still having all my stomach issues. The only time I felt my best was on Whole30, but I didn’t want to make that my life.
I tried all different kinds of supplements and remedies for my stomach. Some worked and some didn’t- I plan on doing a whole post about ones I love and foods/supplements that are great for digestion. But it ranges anywhere from collagen to probiotics to bone broth.
Now, I was never in the mindset of “I don’t need a doctor to figure this stuff out, I can do it by myself,” but I did want to try a few things out that the doctor probably would have recommended anyways before going in. That way, when I finally decided to go find a doctor who could help, I was prepared with a journal of my daily meals, supplements, bowel movements, etc. so he could help me to the full extent.
When I found my doctor, he diagnosed me with celiac disease and terrible reflux (even though I don’t feel it at all or ever get heartburn) and a fungal infection in the esophagus. We’ve done a wide range of tests and I’m still working with him to understand our dynamic system.
It might not sound like a lot, but some of my pains have put me down for the count and there have been times where I wouldn’t be able to make it to class or work. A lot of times it’s a constant state of discomfort and I’m thinking about how food and events will affect my digestion. It’s forced me into a specific routine, not all bad, but sometimes when spontaneous events arise, I know I’m compromising my digestion or putting it out of its routine.
I love the spontaneity in life, so the more I work towards figuring my system out, the closer I come to not worrying about how I’m going to feel when I go out. It might seem silly- oh it’s just a stomach ache, but it can ruin your whole day/evening if you’re feeling constipated or you’re stomach is making you look 6 months pregnant! I almost wasn’t served drinks at a bar before because I was letting my stomach distend and the bartender thought I was pregnant! I wasn’t offended, because I was letting it stick out, as it was the only way I’d feel comfortable and I wanted to have a good time with my friends!
All in all, if this is the worst that it gets, I’ll take it. I’m still so healthy and this body has allowed me to run marathons, travel, and just be present in day to day life. I’m still determined to find healing and will keep providing updates!