Monday, January 2, 2017

Congratulations, it's a burger!

Anyone who has known me longer than 5 minutes knows that I have been a gassy individual since birth.  I've never been particularly shy about my ability to burp louder than most men or clear a room.  Sure, I keep these things under wraps with various people, such as new boyfriends, friends who aren't as disgusting as I am, my boss (most days)...  But being a walking fart bubble is just who I am.  Sorry not sorry.  I've always teased people like my mom and middle sister that if they didn't start letting out their gas, they were going to explode one day.

In the last year, what started in 1981 as just a normal part of my day, turned into a complete nuisance when it started affecting my ability to enjoy my food.  Nothing gets in the way of my food.  And it wasn't so much the flatulence and belching that bothered me.  I was actually still quite amused by that.  It was the other symptoms that made me realize that something was wrong with me.

It started with my body's hatred for sodium almost 2 years ago.  If I ate a few salty meals in too short of a time span, my feet swelled up like my sister's when she was 8 months pregnant with twins.  Then came the acid reflux that only occurred at night.  If I even so much as looked at a piece of food or glass of alcohol within 3 hours before bed, I woke up a few hours later drenched in sweat, knives in my stomach, burning chest, and for several days after the incident, I would have the feeling of a lump in my throat (we Speech Pathologists call this "globus").  This was an easy fix...don't eat before bed.  But then the queasiness kicked in.  Anytime I ate, I felt slightly nauseous.  I was eating Alka Seltzer acid/gas chews like candy, going through a bottle every week or two.  I took Nexium but I wasn't consistent with it and it's one of those medications that you have to take every single day for it to be effective.  I was entirely too cheap for that so I mainly took it if I knew I was going to be going out for a beer or unhealthy meal.

The worst symptom, the one that bothered me the most, was the bloating.  After a meal of any size, I looked as though I was 6 months pregnant or had been holding in a fart for a decade.  At one point, I took a "before" picture after a meal at my sister's house.  My stomach was sticking out, literally hanging over my pants.  The next morning, a mere 10 hours later, I took an "after" picture of a perfectly flat, semi-toned stomach (this was over the summer when I actually had stomach muscles, before a Caribbean vacation and holiday indulgence made them disappear.)  I talked to my college roommate about this because she had had similar symptoms and found out she was allergic/intolerant of a bunch of stuff.  That would explain a lot so I decided to look into this as a possible cause.

I showed my doctor these pictures side by side and her diagnosis was simple and what I had already suspected: I was allergic or intolerant of one or more things.  I could either get allergy testing and/or get a GI consult.  The allergy testing would've settled the allergy/intolerance question right away, but my insurance sucks and I didn't want to pay for both.  So I opted for the GI consult since the globus (feeling of a lump) was still present and I had this paranoid feeling that I had throat cancer or something.  Wrong choice.  She told me what I already knew (globus...duh, I can feel it) and recommended an endoscopy before she would diagnose me with any stomach or esophageal ailments. But like I said, terrible insurance with high deductibles.  Seeing as how I'm in the process of saving money for a major life event, dropping a couple grand on an exploratory procedure wasn't an option.  I asked her to do the food allergy testing but she said I'd need to go to the allergist for that.  Should've gone there first...  Her "in the meantime" solution was to troubleshoot and figure it out on my own: take 2 Nexium every single day (approximately $40/month versus $2000 surgery, drink a glass of prune juice with Benefiber 3 times per day, and cut out gluten/dairy/wheat/grain/sugar, so basically almost everything in life that makes me happy.  Once the bloating and reflux improved, I could add things back in to test for reactions.  At this point, I had gained 10 lbs since August.  I knew there was no way I had consumed an extra 35,000 calories in 4 months, so I knew it had to be the bloating and I was willing to try just about anything to feel right again.  Not because I felt like I needed to lose weight, but because I felt like I wasn't healthy.

Well, from the get-go, the Benefiber/prune juice cocktail wasn't going to happen 3 times per day.  I had to work, I drive over 2 hours a day, I workout... I wasn't about to lose control of my intestines on the treadmill or in my car.  And there are only certain levels of smells I can get away with blaming on the dirty linen cart - or the residents - at work.  So I tried it twice a day for 2 days...and nothing.  Except a belly that looked 6 months pregnant and a fart bubble the size of a melon that refused to pop.  After googling this strange reaction to a concoction that should've cleared my body of everything I'd eaten in the last year, I discovered that some people can't tolerate a lot of fiber at once.  It recommended that instead of a fiber supplement, I simply increase my fiber in my food choices by 1/2 cup.  Done.

Thanks to Pinterest, I learned that this "elimination" diet that the GI doctor suggested was basically Paleo, which made it a lot easier to plan my meals.  I could have meat, vegetables (except potatoes, but sweet potatoes are allowed, THANK GOD!), fruit, eggs, nuts (but not peanuts because they're legumes), almond milk, coconut milk...yep, that's about it.  No bread, milk, cheese, cereal, pasta, BEER!, WINE!, cookies, etc.  Sounds awful, right?  And the first couple days were.  Breakfast options are limited to protein shakes or eggs and bacon.  I'm not a huge egg fan nor do I have time in the morning to make bacon.  So the first health shake of the week tasted like death.  I've perfected it since then but the first day was bad.  I. Was. Starving.  Even though I ate all day long (ask my coworkers - "Man, you always have food in your mouth!"), my body was craving my oatmeal bar and the leftover Halloween candy in a giant bowl above my desk.  But I quickly got into the Paleo groove and I learned to crave fruit and pistachios and sweet potatoes and roasted broccoli.  It took a few days but I got the hang of it.

I had my first cheat meal on day 4.  I decided to test out the wheat/gluten allergy by having a couple beers on a really bad date.  And to emphasize how bad, you should know that my cheat meal also consisted of a Whataburger cheeseburger that I picked up on my way home from said date because...He. Didn't. Order. Food.  Who doesn't order food at a restaurant on a date?  Not my future husband, that's for sure.  Lame sauce.  Pass!  So anyway, the beer and cheeseburger.  No reaction at all.  No significant bloating or acid reflux that night.  The cheese was minimal, not enough to really test for a dairy allergy, but it was freaking delicious.  Even though I passed the beer/wheat/gluten test, I wasn't ready to add those things back in completely.  I wanted to do this elimination diet through December 16, my 35th birthday, before I took a break for the holidays.  A good 3 weeks felt like enough time to figure things out.  So I forged on.

My next semi-cheat meal was on day 6.  I made a spaghetti squash marinara bake and added some mozzarella.  Within 20 minutes of eating, I was bloated and crazy gassy.  So was it the cheese or marinara?  My gut (literally...ha!) says it was the cheese.  I had a dairy intolerance as a kid that I outgrew so maybe it came back?  But like the beer, I wasn't ready to say for certain after one trial that I did or didn't have an intolerance/allergy. By the 10th day, I had already lost 8 lbs and 4 inches off my stomach.  8 lbs in a week and a half is insane but I know I did it in a completely healthy way and simply cut out foods that were holding onto my insides, not to mention the excess water that my cankles were holding hostage thanks to sodium.  These 10 days also included 5 workouts, so that helped the process.  Like I said before, my goal wasn't weight loss, but monitoring my weight helps me to be more aware of food intolerances.  Watching my weight was what made me aware that I had a problem with salt.  I can gain 5 lbs in a weekend from sodium alone. After a cheat WEEKEND where I had 3 major cheat meals and beer, I gained 6 of the 8 lbs back.  I lost all 6 within a few days but still, it shows how much my 35 year old body doesn't like the good stuff anymore.  In those first 3 weeks that I followed that diet, I really only 100% figured out that lettuce isn't my friend.  I highly suspect that dairy and wheat are also a problem, but those symptoms have been inconsistent.

So in summary, Paleo is definitely the way to go if you a) want to lose weight quickly in a healthy way, b) want to get rid of bloating, or c) have food intolerances that you can't quite figure out.  I still plan on getting food allergy testing done and resuming this diet now that the holidays are over.  After a few weeks of Christmas cookies, potlucks, and dinners out, I feel like crap and look like I'm with child again.  I also still plan to get that endoscopy done since the globus never completely went away, even with the diet changes and Nexium.  Both things will have to wait a few more months, but it's a relief to know that I found a fairly simple way to control my symptoms for the time being.

Here is a site that gives a food list if you're interested.  Or just search it on Pinterest and you'll find a ton of ideas.  Here's to a healthy, happy, less gassy 2017.

Paleo Diet

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