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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My Health Story, Part 1 (Or- Why Don't I Just Eat Normal Food?)

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I've gotten some comments lately about my diet and my health, some worded more politely than others but all wanting to know the answer to the same basic question- I keep restricting my diet further and further and don't seem to be getting any healthier so why do I bother? Why don't I instead eat a more normal, typical diet, minus any salvaged food, but without any food restrictions either?
I had mixed feelings about writing this post in the first place, because my diet and health decisions are my own to make and I don't need to justify them to anyone, especially not to people who name call or cast aspersions on my sanity... But since I'm sure there are other people who might be thinking the same, even if they're too polite to say anything, I decided to write this post, not because I owe it to anyone, because I don't, but because I want to. 

So firstly, I have to start off by saying that as much as I do share on this blog, I certainly don't share everything about my life, or even most things. I started this blog to be able to share money saving tips to parents, not to chronicle my life. To make my blog more 'real' and less textbook like, I throw in random snippets about my life, but they're just that- snippets- and nothing more. Piecing together those random tidbits and assuming that you know my whole life story and how I lead my life is just incorrect, as there's lot more that I don't share which changes the picture a lot.
Deciding from this incorrect and incomplete view of my life, either that I'm 'insane' or 'messing up my kids' is just as stupid and fallacious as, say, seeing a kid eating a potato chip and deciding that his parents neglect him nutritionally to the point of abuse. You just can't make judgmental assumptions about someone's life without knowing the whole picture, and quite frankly, you're never gonna get that from me, because though I'm a blogger, I and my family still deserve a measure of privacy and don't need every single detail of our lives broadcasted on the internet. 

So, since the question that inspired this post was based on the tidbits I've shared about my/our health, but still a very incomplete picture, here is some more information to help complete the picture a little bit more. My health story.


My whole entire life, I've been plagued by stomach issues. Terrible stomach aches, bloating, bathroom issues, the lot of it. I was diagnosed with IBS. But I'm not the only one.
My father has terrible stomach issues, always had for his whole life. He too has IBS. As does his father. And his father. And his mother.
I am the fifth generation in a row in my family with bad stomach issues. Myself, my father, my grandfather, my great grandfather, and my great great grandmother. On my mother's side, my mother has stomach issues, as does her mother, my grandmother. A few of my siblings also have stomach issues. My stomach issues didn't just appear out of the blue. Its in my genes. And probably connected to my genetic ancestry- people with ancestry like mine are much more likely to be afflicted with all sorts of chronic stomach and other digestive disorders, from ulcerative colitis to Crohns to celiac to IBS. Unfortunately.

But on to more specifics. I asked my mother what the earliest memory she had of me complaining of stomach issues. She said she remembered on a family trip to the zoo when I was 8 years old or so, I complained that I couldn't eat my sandwich, because every time I'd eat my sandwich, my stomach would hurt me a lot.
Hmmm. Sandwich=stomach ache.

But that couldn't have been the first incident.
Because when I was a very little kid, probably 4 or 5 years old, I was already diagnosed as lactose intolerant. I drank only lactaid milk, and had to take lactaid pills before I'd eat anything like ice cream.
Hmmm. Lactose intolerance.

For as long as I could remember, my stomach always hurt me. And when I say always, I mean always. Not always as in “very frequently”, but seriously, always. Yes, there were gradations. My stomach sometimes felt terrible, and sometimes felt mild discomfort, but there never was a time when my stomach just “was”. Crazy. Let me show you this little graphic I made to help show the difference between then and now.

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Assuming I had a scale of 0 to 5, with 0 being “nothingness”, 1 being discomfort, and 5 being excruciating stomach pain, to the extent that I want to curl up and die... this was what my stomach used to be like. Notice no zero. My baseline, the best I could hope for, was a 1, and even that wasn't often. The “OMG I feel like I'm going to die! Kill me now!” feeling happened all too often, and when it wasn't that, it was an “ow, ow, ow, I can still function but this really is hurting me”. I was lucky to just have “discomfort”.

What do you think happens when you're in constant pain for so long? Do you think you pay attention to it all the time? In order to be able to function, most people with chronic pain attempt to push the pain to the back of their mind, because otherwise it would be debilitating. The show must go on, as they say. Life can't wait for the stomach aches to be gone if they are a constant...

Because I always had stomach issues, I wasn't able to tell what foods were causing me issues specifically. I was just ignoring my body's messages and getting very out of tune with my body. It was the only way to function!

And because I liked dairy, despite the fact that many adults develop lactose intolerance, but you never actually outgrow it, I convinced myself that I wasn't lactose intolerant anymore and I could have milk. It didn't cause me issues. I outgrew my lactose intolerance.
And oh, by the way I had stomach issues. But ha! Milk related? Bah! Impossible! I liked milk, cheese, butter, ice cream. My stomach issues were from something else!

So I just lived my life as best as I could, always with stomach discomfort, often overeating because when my stomach hurt, the only thing that made it feel better, at least temporarily, was shoving more food into my mouth. And yes, that's not healthy. And that's probably how I got to be an overeater, someone who occasionally indulges in comfort overeating. Pain brought me there. Because it was the only solution I had to my stomach pain.
And because I was eating foods that caused me issues so much, I often had terrible stomach aches that made me totally non functional. I became adept at handling stomach aches, knowing what techniques would bring temporary relief as I waited for the flare to pass...

And oh, all this time, I was eating a pretty standard diet. Lots of gluten, lots of dairy, meat/chicken a few times a week. Packaged foods. Processed foods. Foods with refined sugar, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, food colorings, etc... The “Standard American Diet”. Nothing foraged. Nothing dumpster dived. “Normal food”. And it didn't toughen up my stomach.

I was living in constant pain. My stomach was not a happy camper.

Ok, to be continued tomorrow...

Do you have any stomach issues, or did you in the past? Would you say your baseline is 0 or something else? What foods are you sensitive to?

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