Most days, my legs feel as though they’re blown up much bigger than their actual size. A lot of days, my gut feels angry and agitated. In turn, I feel angry and agitated. More often than not, the touch of clothing on my skin is grating — I’d rather be at home, pant-less.
A couple of nights ago, I had trouble sleeping because my body was so hot and inflamed. My gut was very pronounced and hard to the touch. Most days when I wake up, everything feels heavy and sluggish and fuzzy. My head hurts and it’s hard to put on my wedding ring.
Over the past couple of weeks, my immune system has been up in arms against a siege of spring pollens and grasses, both of which have had me sneezing and itching since I was but a young babe. It’s the longest these allergies have persisted since I was, oh, in my early twenties, when I was visiting an allergy clinic twice per week for injections, and popping allergy medication a couple of times a day.
Over the past several months, I’ve re-introduced several foods that my body hasn’t interacted with in a while. Life’s short and I love ice cream, candy, Doritos, and peanut butter. It was high time we meet again. Alas, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to say that my allergies and the symptoms mentioned are more pronounced when these foods sail around in my system.
The weird, protruding-stomach thing started when I was only a few weeks old. Of course, I can’t describe that experience, but my dad used to tell me about the non-stop crying, crying, crying. I do remember bouts of weird (and embarrassing) stomach issues happening around the third grade. I was sick a lot. Lots of medications. And once I hit my teenage stride, I was fully aware of how uncomfortable my body felt. Likewise, I was fully aware of how uncomfortable I felt in my body.
It wasn’t until I lived overseas, where all of the medications/“treatments” were hard to come by, that I faced the fact that my body was actually not very functional without them. At this point, the discomfort was systemic, and, rather than only feeling them, I could see symptoms in the form of a very distended stomach, and red-hot, smoldering inflammation in my fingers, amongst other complaints.
I didn’t get many answers from doctors, neither overseas or back in the states. But, I did start getting curious about my symptoms and tracking them. I had been to a nutritionist, who had encouraged me to count calories, and when this proved fruitless, and a waste of my brain power, I decided to try something different and track what I was eating instead. Instead of looking at the nutrition-facts label, I went straight for the ingredients that are often located underneath all those numbers. I started writing them down. Eventually I started noticing that when I didn’t eat certain ingredients, some of the symptoms I was experiencing didn’t show up — at least not to the degree that they had been. Seeing that most of these symptoms were not at all fun to live with, I started leaving out the foods that made an obvious difference for me and my enjoyment of life.
I feel it’s important to note here that I was living in South Korea at the time of this tracking experiment — communication about possible causes of my symptoms was spotty at best, but the general gist synced up with what my doctor told me once I got home. This is important because I had no doctor or medical authority putting ideas in my head that certain foods might be contributing to my issues. I made these connections on my own, by taking pen to paper and staying curious.
There were slight differences in the doctors’ prescriptions. While living in Asia, one asked me to take a rest, take a walk, and take in more water before coming back for prescriptive treatment. I was dealing with an ongoing sinus infection that wasn’t going away, so this was a huge pain in the ass considering I’d already waited two weeks before seeking treatment. I went another week — walking, walking, drinking, resting — before going back to receive one pill, a packet containing a handful of vitamins, and a treatment involving an infra-red device that I kept up my nose for several minutes. The other doctor I visited in South Korea gave me herbs, acupuncture, and lessons in physiology around what he was noticing in my body, which, among other things, was that my yin and yang were out of balance. The doctor I visited back home — the one who had prescribed me the medications I had run out of while living in South Korea — told me the blood work I had done in S. Korea matched up with the blood work he did; but, he also told me that I just needed to get on some Prilosec and an anti-anxiety medication. The Prilosec was a new addition to an old protocol — I’d already tried anti-anxiety medications — that hadn’t served me or my symptoms, but, I believe, had merely masked them.
I can’t say I’m a gullible person — I question everything and love digging for the truth. I didn’t remove gluten or soy or dairy from my diet at the suggestion of a newly-released best seller, or the latest trend in health. I removed those foods because they were triggering symptoms that prevented me from living life in an enjoyable way. No one had to convince me to remove it, and I didn’t grieve it much because the “evidence” presented itself over and over again in the pages of my journal. Once I made the connection that Grape Nuts made my stomach hard, knotty, and painful, and consumption of soy milk led to inflamed, red, and swollen hands, I started asking questions and reading lots of books to find answers. I suppose I wanted to know why, but, more importantly, I wanted to know what was happening in my body and how I could make it better. So I guess you could say I was more focused on finding solutions. And my own insights and journaling habit offered me the first and most important step: Don’t eat the things that make your body freak out. I needed no scientific proof to remove them; the proof was in the pudding — quite literally considering I break out in hives when I eat a lot of dairy products, which, yes, is very unfortunate to me. When I eat certain foods, my body swells and simmers with inflammation. I can feel it almost instantly upon eating. And while, yes, I’ve had a few tests done confirming said foods, I already knew many of the culprits, because my body had sent it’s own smoke signals.
I recently read this article from the New Yorker and there are a few parts of the article that left me…shaking my head a little. It’s articles such as these that help me understand why my (then) doctor — and most doctors, really — was so quick to throw a pill at my complaint that eating gluten made my mind race with anxiety. Maybe it’s getting better out there, but, for the most part, these are the solutions with which people are presented: medicate it. Now, I fully recognize and appreciate the benefits of modern medicine; but, this body, my body, responded far more powerfully to changing up the food I put on my plate than it did to the various pills it was presented. There’s no question that when I eat certain foods, my body (and brain) is dysfunctional and inflamed for several days after. When I don’t eat those foods, the inflammation dies out.
I’m no expert — in fact, I don’t really care for that word much. But, I am a digger, an investigator, a connector, and, a word I more recently came across and loved, a synthesist. But if I have to call myself an expert in anything, it would be in interpreting the experiences I have within my own body. I don’t think a world-renowned expert could ever provide me with enough evidence to change my mind that food doesn’t impact my immune system and inflammation levels. I don’t need a test to tell me when my body is inflamed and when it isn’t — although these kinds of tests can certainly be useful. I’m highly aware of when it is and when it isn’t, and sometimes I actually wish that weren’t the case so that I could happily eat and enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, dunked in a glass of whole milk, without noticing, la la la la laaaaa, the effects it has on my body.
Until then, I’ll be here, digging around, asking questions, writing, eating, not eating.