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Somewhere along the line, my digestive system moved from a little unhappy, off and on, to pretty messed up much of the time.
It happened gradually. The unwell feeling became more persistent.
It’s like that terrible frog metaphor: if the water is already boiling when he jumps in, he’d get out immediately, of course. A slower incremental increase in heat isn’t as noticeable and potentially more damaging for that reason.
I could feel it in my gut that something was wrong. I mean that literally, not metaphorically. I occasionally would worry there might be something seriously wrong.
As in some other parts of my life, I followed the rules but with no rewards to show for it. I ate a decent amount of fruits and veggies, organic whenever possible, meat rarely, and no fast food at all.
Hummus on rice cakes was one of my favorite quick snacks. Next to that was a messy reuben-like concoction, with hummus, spelt toast, thousand island dressing, and sauerkraut—I’m good but not too good. I have a weakness for chips and chocolate.
They say a glass of red wine daily is good for my health, and I have appreciated that implicit permission. Basically, I ate more healthfully than most people I knew, with regular-ish exercise and yoga, but something was awry nevertheless.
I’ve always had a sensitive stomach. I thought it was just sensitive to stress, which I am, but that’s apparently not all.
Years ago, I gave up dairy, wheat, and sugar, at the advice of a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, in an effort to heal myself for fertility reasons. I was tested for Celiac back then too, leaving no stone unturned in a quest to answer why I had several miscarriages after a healthy pregnancy.
The Celiac test was negative. I have my own theories about those miscarriages, but that’s another story that ends happily with a second child.
I was never officially diagnosed with any digestive disorder that I attribute more to the veil of privacy around gut issues than actual symptoms. IBS probably fits, though I’m just more prone to slow digestion than the other extreme if you know what I mean.
I did feel better following the Spleen Qi diet by eliminating wheat, dairy, and sugar. I’d return to it when my system felt out of whack, along with probiotics and kombucha. When even those things weren’t helping, and I was tired of feeling crappy (pun intended), I needed to try something else.
I saw a doctor of Osteopathic medicine who gave me a test kit for sensitivities to various foods, additives, antibiotics, molds, and preservatives. Insurance didn’t cover it, but I happily paid out of pocket.
Clear dos and don’ts (that might actually work specifically for me) were worth the investment. The lab in my small town wouldn’t do the blood draw, but the next closest one had no problem navigating the same day shipping. Six tubes of my blood, which I didn’t watch them fill because I’m squeamish about such things, carried my hope for clarity about what ailed me.
A week or so later, I had results in hand—a list of severe, moderate, or mild sensitivities, indicative of how my white blood cells responded when exposed to various foods and substances, compared to a nonreactive baseline.
To clarify, sensitivities are different from true food allergies, which trigger a more immediate IgE (Immunoglobulin E) response. Intolerances are another matter altogether, having to do with insufficient digestive enzymes for certain foods.
For a couple of months now, I’ve been changing my eating habits dramatically, paying excruciating attention to everything I’m putting into my mouth or even on my body—I’m feeling better than I have in years.
When something interrupts the happy digestive zen, I can usually find a culprit or two to explain what happened.
I’ve learned that sensitivities can trigger chronic inflammation, which comes as no surprise. This body carried me through the flames of a high conflict divorce that began seven years ago.
It’s been talking to me all along about where I needed to heal, and I’ve tried to pay attention. I often consulted a little blue book by Louise Hay, Heal Your Body. Her simple chart outlining the probable cause for various physical ailments and the new thought pattern was often uncanny in its accuracy.
The mind-body connection is so real, and the body is an amazing communicator—in a language both viscerally concrete and metaphorical. Spoiler alert: the necessary changes are always about love.
For instance, I had a small ganglion cyst on my wrist that grew through my divorce. Cysts can represent false growth. The would-be of my whole marriage.
My body has a sense of humor. That explains why the Bible-thumping method for removing cysts struck me so funny. Cysts might also indicate running the old painful movie and nursing hurts. Message received.
Note to self: stop that. It took two surgeries, about a year apart, to remove those suckers and learn my lesson. I have a cool zigzag scar to show for it, like Harry Potter’s, only on my wrist instead of my forehead. The left side of the body, by the way, represents feminine energy and receptivity. The new thought pattern for healing all that: the movies of my mind are beautiful because I choose to make them so. I love me.
Meanwhile, the inflammation in my system must have quietly settled into my right hip. Barely into my 50s, I was shocked, but not, to find that I was a candidate in every way for a hip replacement. Louise’s book suggests that arthritis is connected to criticism, resentment, and feeling unloved. Hip problems? Fear and difficulty moving forward. The right side of the body? Masculine energy.
I take that to symbolize how patriarchy and I have hated one another with an electric intensity that could power a journey to the moon and back. I should be grateful I only lost a hip or gained one made of titanium, depending on how you slice that MRI. I’m fully healed now from the surgery, at least.
The jagged purple scar, about 3 ½ inches long and ¼ inch wide is like a cosmic zipper to a new worldview where I can vibrate to a different frequency: I now choose to love and approve of myself. I move forward in life with ease and with joy at every age. I balance my masculine energy easily and effortlessly.
This inflammation whack-a-mole game has apparently moved into my gut. More likely, it was there all along, the other problems spinoffs. Either way, it makes perfect sense currently. My leaky gut is working on healthy boundaries like the rest of me.
At midlife, it’s time to take in what nourishes me and release the rest. It’s like the digestive equivalent of that meme about inhaling the good sh*t and exhaling the bad. I trust the science behind the changes I’m making, even though I don’t understand it, because it’s helping immensely.
Some are items I never would have guessed or figured out intuitively in a million years. I tolerate gluten but react to gliadin, which means eliminating wheat. I’m also fine with casein, but sensitive to whey, which means eliminating dairy products. I’m becoming an accidental vegan.
It turns out I’m moderately sensitive to a lot of things I was consuming regularly. The volume and size of my white blood cells apparently spike in response to some “healthy” foods that aren’t for me (almonds, apple, kale, pomegranate, spaghetti squash, cardamom, and chamomile). Eliminating them took out half my shelf of favorite teas, along with my favorite substitutes for dairy and wheat. Some were things I could really take or leave, so eliminating them wasn’t a big deal ( mustard seed, cayenne pepper, jalapenos). Ancho chili powder is my new best spicy friend.
While some of my discoveries are quirky and specific to my system, there may be some useful takeaways for others, however happy or irritable your bowels are right now.
First a disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. Well, I am, but not the medical kind. I’m speaking here as a person who anxiously googles medical questions. Chronic activation of the immune system and inflammation may be related not only to GI issues but also to fatigue, migraines, joint pain, attention problems, asthma, and weight issues.
One thing I’m learning that might be universal is how our digestive systems thrive on variety. The goal is not to latch onto safe foods and eat them daily. In fact, I suspect some of my current sensitivities stem from past overconsumption. During my fertility journey, I regularly ingested a bunch of supplements, some of which showed up on my naughty list.
Diversity and balance are good for us, within and without. I’m reminded of a new word I learned touring the Omega Center for Sustainable Living, where they treat the wastewater on their own campus organically: biodiversity—living things thrive on it.
Some words of advice from an old friend came back to mind from long ago highlighting a similar message. I was on the verge of kicking out a stray I’d taken in. I was keeping the kitten, but the stray man inhabiting my townhouse was becoming a problem. I was feeling guilty about it, but she brilliantly discouraged my enabling by saying, “If you do what’s best for you, it will be what’s best for him.”
I’ve never forgotten that nor dreamed it might apply more widely.
What’s truly good for me might be better for the planet too. The converse as well. For example, red palm fruit was on my bad list. No problem, I thought; I don’t even know what that is. Oh, that’s the source of palm oil. It is typically heavily processed and used in foods like crackers, cookies, baked goods, fried foods, and chips. Forests and habitats in Africa are destroyed to keep up with demand. That’s a no-brainer habit changer. Some treats seem a lot less tasty when you know they’re hurting you and the planet.
One more quick planetary implication of my eating habits. One of my sensitivities was to a common household mold that grows more easily on plastic than glass. I am the proud owner of a new water filter, and I’ve transitioned my pantry from plasticware to glass containers. Even my cats now have a ceramic fountain for their drinking water, replacing the plastic one.
I was happy to see grapes listed among the green light acceptable, nonreactive foods (thinking my nightly red wine might be safe). I’m nonreactive to some forms of sugar, mildly to others, and moderately to an artificial sweetener xylitol. Stevia is safe, though, so I put that in my coffee, which is fortunately on my good list.
I’m moderately reactive to candida albicanis, though, possibly indicating candida overgrowth. Avoiding all sugar and alcohol is best for that and potentially some other things that encourage the growth of yeast. Dang, that one might be worth further testing.
After a stretch of feeling great, I traced one bad gut day to the yeast or sulfites in a single glass of wine or some store-bought sauerkraut. I’ve since decided it’s all three, but I was excited at first to learn they make drops that remove sulfites from wine. Commercial sauerkraut is even higher in sulfites, apparently, so I’m avoiding that too for now.
Emerging from the pandemic, I was afraid I might have become allergic to people. Upon further reflection, I’ve concluded it was the alcohol that accompanied some recent social gatherings, which left me feeling a little unwell afterward.
Human connection nourishes me. Alcohol does not.
The topic of social sensitivity brings up another point worth passing along from Dr. Judy Orloff’s, The Empath’s Survival Guide. I felt a bit validated, and not at all surprised, to learn from her that food sensitivities are common among those with highly sensitive temperaments.
My gut is no different than the rest of my sensitive self.
The lesson, once again, seems to be accepting, nurturing, and working with the way I am, rather than fighting against it.
The icing on the cake? Or maybe the cashews in my dairy-free cauliflower crust pizza?
Healing myself just might bring healing to my relationships and the planet along the way.