Living on processed foods, sodas, sugar, and gluten-containing products was the norm when I was younger. I thought that because I swam over four hours a day competitively, it did not necessarily matter what I put into my body; I was burning so much energy and so many calories anyway. Keeping the weight on was hard enough. I thought junk food would do the trick.
However, as time progressed, I started to feel worse, especially in the later years of college. I had intense abdominal pain, brain fog, severe constipation, and low energy. Eating the smallest amount of food would cause stomach distension – which left me feeling extremely bloated and uncomfortable, and I could barely finish a turkey sandwich without feeling extremely full, getting a migraine, or feeling incredibly bloated. My body was not breaking down, processing, or digesting anything. I vividly remember during one summer, for an entire month, I lived on grapefruit and chicken. They were the only two foods I could eat that did not cause issues.
“There’s nothing we can do.”
Doctors explained that this was something that I would have to deal with for the rest of my life, and that there was nothing anyone could do. This was not the answer I wanted to hear. I was referred to a gastroenterologist and given the routine tests: An upper GI exam, a radioisotope gastric-emptying scan and a colonoscopy. I was diagnosed with IBS, gastroparesis, and abdominal distention, and had symptoms of both leaky gut and small bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). I was prescribed an endless number of medications in hopes of alleviating my symptoms. But they were only a temporary fix — once my body adapted to the medication, they would no longer have the appropriate effect.
I took matters into my own hands and changed my diet.
I found it too restrictive (not to mention mentally exhausting) to keep a food journal of everything that I was eating. I worked with a dietitian who suggested that I try a low-FODMAP diet. Other suggestions I received included gluten-free, dairy-free, and elimination diets, giving up spices, legumes, sugar and fat, limiting myself to only 5 nuts a day, limiting fruits, eating only cooked vegetables, and cutting out raw foods, spicy foods, salads, and caffeine. I remember going to the grocery store with my mom one morning and buying all the foods that were supposedly going to trigger my symptoms. It was such a small moment and almost silly, yet so significant to my overall health change. That day I ate certain foods that I was told to stay away from- vegetables, garlic, spices, and salads and guess what?….Nothing bad happened. I actually felt better!
At this point, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I completely stopped taking all of my medications (under the supervision of my primary care doctor) and decided to eat the foods that I had been told to stay away from. On my own, I learned how my body reacted toward certain foods, and what foods I needed to eat to support a healthy gut and a normally functioning system. Instead of fearing food, I learned to develop a positive and less stressful attitude towards food.
Eating more, hurting less.
I switched over to a more plant-based diet that focuses on clean and natural ingredients. Now, by eating a wider range of foods, experimenting with different herbs and spices, and focusing on eating foods that contain fiber and anti-inflammatory properties, I am able to eat much more than I could before — without suffering the pain! Most importantly, I have learned to manage my stress, which had triggered IBS flare-ups and migraines in the past, through a dedicated yoga practice. In addition to these two lifestyle changes, I have recently discovered a love of cooking. In all of these ways, I am pushing my healing journey in the right direction!
Balancing my personal life, social life, family, anxieties around food, and whatever life decides to throw my way- the good or the bad- is still a process. I have not cured the digestive health pain or my migraines over night, as there is no cure, but today, right now, I feel good and better than before. I would never have believed that I could come this far simply through a different way of eating.
Here are some of my favorite recipes:
Note: PLEASE consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.