After starting this blog, many people have come to me and shared their stories about living with food intolerance. It has opened my eyes to the number of people who share a similar experience to mine, whether it is living with Celiacs Disease, Crohns, or Colitis. I hope you can share your story here too and gain some insight from all of our stories. Please share your experience too.
Finding the Right Diagnosis
My experience with problems with the gut began when I was a sophomore in college. I had travelled to Mexico with my sister and backpacked around the southern part of the country for about six weeks, taking in a whole new culture. When I returned back to campus, I remember going in to the doctor and complaining about how things never really went back to normal with my digestive system. I remember the doctor telling me that it might be something like “giardia”, and as soon as I went on the medication, it improved.
Being 18, with little prior experience of getting sick, as soon as I felt better I stopped taking the antibiotics and continued on with my active lifestyle. As the stress of school began to hit around finals, I remember that the symptoms of diarrhea returned. I was embarrassed though and didn’t want to talk about it, I was tough- and it wasn’t that bad after all. Pretty soon I noticed that certain foods like dairy made it worse. But, my college dorm room diet didn’t help the situation, and by spring I was back to the student health clinic.
The doctor at the health clinic gave me my first scare. She told me that these symptoms could be anything ranging from Crohns Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, IBS, or even the C-word…cancer! I remember calling my mom and urging her not to drive up to school and have a word with this doctor. She wasn’t too pleased that this doctor had no information for me, but had managed to scare me pretty badly. That year I made it through most of my finals but went right home for the summer and spent a few days in the hospital. I was loosing my appetite (although greasy foods sounded great), loosing weight, and loosing the pink, gooey liquid I had to chug for my first colonoscopy. The results were clear though, definite inflammation in the lower colon.
I won’t bore you with all the rest of the details, but from then on I bounced back and forth between different diagnoses and doctors. This had a lot to do with my lifestyle at the time too. I was a college student. I didn’t have time for this, I wanted to travel the world and not worry about things like stool samples and sigmoidoscopies.
I did travel the world. Sometimes I felt great, like when I lived off of rice and beans in Costa Rica. Other times I felt worse, especially when I consumed a lot of dairy. Living in Chile I ate a lot of meat, and I felt great. I learned to avoid the foods that didn’t settle well, and I was not a very good patient. I didn’t feel like the medicine I took really helped me after all. It turns out it probably didn’t because I didn’t have Crohns Disease after all.
After taking the Sulfasalazine tablets for years, I finally settled in Portland and found a great doctor. He finally diagnosed me with an acute case of Ulcerative Proctitis, which is a form of Colitis. He told me it wasn’t that bad, it only affected the lower portion of the large colon. This was good news. He had a medication that worked for me. I got my flare ups under control with these meds and I had the right diagnosis.
Yet I still had some unanswered questions. I continued to hear the same thing: “No, it doesn’t matter what you eat. Really, you can eat whatever you want and this disease will always just be there, something you have to deal with the rest of your life.” I began to do some research. If these doctors were not quite right for so long, perhaps they didn’t have ALL the information about inflammation and diet.
I started accupunture and working closely with a naturopathic doctor. He had me record a food diet log, and after only a few visits, he confirmed my suspicions. I did have an intolerance for dairy. But I also had an intolerance for gluten. Okay, it was easy for me to give up dairy, but bread? Cookies? Pizza? Pasta? There were my staples! I grew up learning to milk a cow, make butter and braid my own breads. I learned everything I knew about cooking and baking straight from my grandmother who worked at a bakery in Switzerland. How could I give that up?
Living with a Health Nut
It turns out that all it took was a small paradigm shift to realize that I was not going to live a life feeling like I was missing out on the good pleasures of food. My husband (boyfriend at the time) approached food entirely different than I did. He never used recipes. He scoffed at my little recipe cards that I toted to the grocery store. He helped me to learn that I can build a meal based solely on what I have in the refrigerator, or even the garden. We started our first garden together and we began eating foods from the farmers market. We started to collect our “go-to” meals that became staples for us: lentils and rice, beans and rice, salads, tofu stir-fry, and lots of fresh fruits and nuts. I also met Jean, the cook at the school where I taught. She introduced me to a few new ways to approach snacking.
The journey still continues with my discovery of foods as I aim to now eat more locally. I feel happy that my health issues have forced me to reconsider my dietary choices. That’s really what it is all about: the daily choices we make. I don’t feel pity for myself anymore, but lucky that I have so many choices.