Before I get started, I’d like you to know there are a few points of very personal information in this post. If you are not interested in my digestive system, then you may want to hit the little “x” in the top right corner. But ever since Oprah, Dr. Oz, and other personalities have gotten real about health, and poop, and everything else icky that goes on in our bodies, I feel the need to be real as well. Also, if you would like the skip all the history and details, go straight to the bottom for my conclusion.
Time for a Wake-up Call). While not happy, that’s life. I know my triggers when it comes to overeating and not wanting to move beyond my office chair.
But this time last summer, my stress levels were out of control. I was away from home a lot because of work and all the kids’ activities, and I wore myself down. It made me sick. Very sick. Sick enough for several trips to an ER and an infectious disease specialist. I was treated for Lyme disease with a ghastly antibiotic, and I am convinced it did me more harm than good. After 3 1/2 weeks on the couch and in bed, I finally started to feel better. While Lyme disease was never confirmed and there was never an official diagnosis, I suspect I had the recently named Heartland Virus.
Why is this important? For one, I gained 8 pounds over the course of that sickness. Lucky me. The constant fevers wreaked havoc on my metabolism, and I started feeling a bit depressed and wanted to do something about it.
Unfortunately, I did not think that doing what has always worked for me in the past was good enough this time – eating less processed and fast foods, and working 20-30 minutes of exercise into my daily schedule. I started watching infomercials and reading about the latest gimmicks, and let a company convince me that I was not to blame, it was my aging body. Going against everything I believe, I bought some dumb supplement that supposedly convinces your body not to process carbs into stored fat.
I took these pills, full of cinnamon bark and other herbs, before every meal. After a month, I found that they did not deliver any results and my belly started to ache. I quit taking the supplement, and my gut continued to ache, nearly every day. Some days, the pain was not so bad, and on others, it was excruciating. I wasn't sure what was to blame. Was it the supplement? Was it from being sick and taking the antibiotic and eating ibuprofen and acetaminophen like it was candy? Was it stress? Was all of this causing me to get an ulcer?
During this entire time, and even now, I never once decided to take myself to a doctor. That was probably mistake number one. But the whole scenario reminded me of a conversation I had with John Moody, a local/whole food advocate who once shared a stage with me to debate GMOs. He told me that he had developed a very painful duodenal ulcer, and it healed once he removed processed foods. Great. Remind yourself that I work for corn and wheat farmers, which is in most everything that is processed. I was starting to let the “all processed food is bad” Kool-Aid work its way into my head.
In month 5 of my belly dilemma, I traveled to South Africa with my leadership class. I got to experience some wonderful food, and I had absolutely no belly aches the entire trip. So I began asking myself, “What did I not eat in South Africa that I regularly eat at home?” I had wonderful vegetables and meats, but even processed GMO corn in the form of “pap” was on my plate every day. While there was not as much bread, I ate pizza and pancakes, and still no pain. What was missing was milk. I was not eating my regular breakfast cereal with cold milk as I do most every day of my life. Was milk the culprit?
Soon after my return to the US, the belly pains returned, and I decided that maybe milk was not helping my situation, and I could possibly be eating too much gluten (everyone is jumping on that bandwagon these days, so why not check it out). So I took a few no dairy or wheat days. I was shocked at how flat my stomach was within those days. No gas, no bloating. I even lost a few pounds. The pain was less intense, but my bowels were not moving. I was getting plenty of fiber from fruits, veggies and oatmeal, and drinking a half gallon of water or more each day. I had to resort to over the counter medication, and it did not help much. Once I started eating bread and fiber cereal again – with soy or almond milk – it was smooth sailing. New realization: wheat is still my friend.
My focus was back on milk. Maybe I had become lactose intolerant. Or maybe it was whey intolerance, or casein protein intolerance. I read about so many food intolerances over the course of a couple of weeks my head was spinning. And if you have ever read the symptoms of gluten intolerance, anyone and everyone have experienced one of those symptoms probably over the course of a week. No wonder everyone wants to cut it out of their diet (before those with Celiac disease jump all over me, I do realize that is a real problem).
I tried Lactaid milk, and found it absolutely disgusting and very expensive. It spoils very quickly as well, making it even more expensive. I called the local dairy group to see if any research had been done or if they had any resources about dairy intolerances. I did not like replacing my regular milk with soy or almond milk because of all the added sugar.
My belly pain once again started to diminish. One morning I felt pretty good, so I thought I would experiment and have a glass of milk. I was in so much pain that day – all day. Yup, it’s milk. Or was it the four chocolate covered donuts I ate throughout the day? Hmm?
I then resorted to keeping a food journal. That was about 3 weeks ago. I found that it was actually my healthier meals that were giving me the most trouble. After doing this for two weeks, I was able to narrow it down to one thing: cinnamon. And going back to when my troubles started… I was taking those super concentrated cinnamon supplement pills. Even when I stopped taking them, I still ate a lot of cinnamon because it is supposed to be good for you – cinnamon every morning in my oatmeal and on at least 2 sweet potatoes a week. I can't believe I had missed something so obvious.
I finally decided to bring a small amount of milk and dairy back into my diet. My belly is not as flat for obvious reasons, but my bowels are the happiest they've been in a long time. I've decide the good outweighs the bad.
I have not eaten any cinnamon in the past week, and have not had one bit of belly pain. Now I’m going to dig out those supplement pills from the back of the pantry and ask for a refund. What I’m not going to do is tell everyone to get rid of cinnamon in their diet. Everyone is unique. I am surprised, however, at how quickly I was to blame so many other things and rushed to eliminate entire food groups out of my diet because of something I read. We are told regularly that quick and drastic diet changes are not good for our pets, so they are probably not so good for us either.
Based on my experience, here is my advice:
- If you are experiencing any type of digestive issue, a trip to the doctor should be at the top of your list. I have yet to do that, but it has taken me 8 months to figure out and address my problem.
- Keep a food journal, writing down everything you eat and when your pain/annoyance is the greatest. But keep it simple. If you are eating a lot of processed foods with many ingredients, it will be very difficult to narrow down the culprit.
- Ditch the gimmicks. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I let a fancy sales pitch play to my emotions – I was feeling bad about myself and wanted to be convinced it was nothing I was doing on my own. Just write “fool” across my forehead!
- Get rid of the stress in your life! You are the best to figure out how to do that, but stress doesn't do anyone a bit of good. Letting stress take over my life paved the way to a number of problems.