How I Eased My Chronic Illness Through Lifestyle Changes

I don’t know about you, but food seems to rule my life, though not in the way you might think. You see, I’ve been battling stomach issues for the past ten or eleven years. At seventeen, I began experiencing crippling stomach pains, especially after eating certain foods. As you might’ve guessed, I went to see my doctor. I was never given an exact diagnosis, however. I was just put on a few medications for acid reflex and, for a while, they helped. Sadly, the relief was short lived.

Fast forward to my early twenties and the pain returned with a vengeance. It was enough for my primary care physician to send me to a specialist. This specialist then put me through a long list of tests such as CT scans, multiple gastric emptying studies, and the list goes on. The results? I was diagnosed with gastroparesis (the stomach empties itself of food more slowly than it should) and I had my gallbladder removed (that saga could be another blog post on its own). From that point forward, I made some adjustments to my diet and found some relief. This relief, though dotted with minor issues, lasted until the pain returned in 2017.

By this time, I had a better PCP and she sent me to an even better specialist. Both women listened to my concerns and were committed to finding a solution quickly rather than putting a band-aid over my symptoms. Long story short, I was showing signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Instead of being put on yet another medication, I was given a list of stricter dietary requirements to keep my issues under control and it has helped so much. I may have to go on medication later, but lifestyle changes have been the key to healing. I don’t always stick to things perfectly, but I’m “good” 90% of the time.

If you’ve been having similar issues and have yet to be given a clear diagnosis, I have a brief list of some changes that might help. I also want to encourage you to stay on top of your doctors until they work with you to find some answers. You deserve them.

1) Low-FODMAP Diet

While some people follow the Low-FODMAP religiously, it can also be a great tool to identify foods that might trigger digestive issues. I’d suggest adhering to the diet for at least a month then slowly reintroducing foods back into your diet to identify the troublemakers. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend looking into Kate Scarlata’s website. She’s a registered dietician digestive health expert.

2) Go Gluten Free

Despite this being the current dietary fad, eliminating gluten from your diet can work wonders for your digestive system, especially if you’re experiencing pain, inflammation, or have been diagnosed with Coeliac disease. It can be difficult to cut gluten from your diet since it’s in so many things (wheat, barley, rye, oats, etc.), but it’s doable. I personally feel so much better when I don’t eat it. You can also still eat some incredibly delicious meals after going gluten-free, too. If you need some inspiration, check out Fed & Fit.

3) Avoid Dairy

I know, I know. This one’s sucky, especially if you’re a cheese lover like me. Even so, you’ll find that sidestepping dairy is a smart move because it can cause irritation. If you can’t live without some sort of milk-related product, almond milk and coconut milk are a good choice. I especially love blending full-fat coconut milk in with my coffee when I have the time. As for cheese, well, I’ve yet to find an alternative that doesn’t taste horrible. Sometimes I just risk it and eat some, but not often. The choice is up to you.

4) Cut Down on Greasy Foods

Most people love a burger or pizza or fried chicken. I know I do. However, these things can wreak havoc on your insides. Even though greasy food can be delicious, it’s better to leave it off your menu or save those foods for a special occasion. Sometimes I slip up and eat these too often and I always live to regret it, so trust me on this one.

5) Keep A Food Diary

I’m not the best at this, but it certainly helps when I stay on top of it. When you notice symptoms getting worse after meals, write down what you had to eat. If you keep on top of this you can identify what’s giving you trouble. Not everyone reacts to the same foods similarly, so knowing what you can and can’t have will help in the long run. You might even be surprised by what causes you trouble. For example, I’ve learned that eggs and bananas really aren’t my friends, even if they are everyone else’s.

If you’d like more food inspiration and resources, here’s a quick list of some of my favorites:

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