Tag Archives: Constipation

Jess’ Theory: Digestion is King

2 Sep
Digestion is King. Photo credit Morgue Filer User naama

Digestion is King. Photo credit Morgue Filer User naama

So I have a theory. A theory about the connection between the food I eat, my digestion and subsequent fatigue and migraine headaches.

It is only a theory, not backed up by any precise science or medical research.

It is a theory based on the solid evidence that my body has presented to me time and time again. My body the great scientific experiment 🙂

My theory goes something like this:

(I warn you it is not a particularly pretty theory..)

  1. I eat a food that is technically ‘Jess Friendly’ (a technical term meaning gluten and dairy free)
  2. Sometimes immediately, though often up to day or two later, I have a severely bloated and distended abdomen, I suffer with spasms of cramping pains and most significantly to this little theory of mine, my digestion grinds to a halt. No pooping. My body has firmly dropped anchor at constipation-city.
  3. I can’t stop yawning. I have a never ending need to rest and when I do I fall asleep. My energy is drained, reaching new lows.
  4. My head is filled with haziness for a day. And then a dull ache builds up on the left side of my forehead. It creeps up gradually, often so slowly I don’t always recognise what’s happening. But the pain always starts on the left side. It spreads down behind my left eye and inches across my face and down my nose. I feel nauseous, dizzy and generally spaced out. Bright lights and loud noises are horrible. On the worst occasions I end up in bed horizontal and not moving with a cold compress over my eyes.
  5. I take co-codomol, the pain reducing drug, which, if I’m lucky hits the spot and gives respite for a few hours. The side effect of this glorious drug…constipation. A classic catch-22. Either, a) I try and relieve the pain by taking the drug and thus exacerbate the constipation, which caused the headache in the first place or b) I just suffer in agony, waiting for the pain to pass.
  6. Once the acute pain is passed, usually after a long sleep, I’m left with a head that feels physically battered and bruised. I feel fragile and very sore, as if someone has been pummeling my head with their fists. This gradually subsides over a day or two.
  7. Slowly after 3-4 days the cogs of my digestive system slowly begin to grind into life once more and things begin to return to normal.
  8. Oh and to top it all off, around stage 2, a giant spot (or three) forms on my chin, huge, red and very painful. The toxins literally popping out to say hello any way they can.

This was the story of last week for me.

I ate a, supposedly, gluten free and dairy free pizza whilst at a friend’s house. I suspect the base was gluten free (it was too hard and tasteless to have been wheat filled) but the toppings (despite pertaining to be Jess friendly) most likely were not, or at least had been contaminated in some way. I reacted immediately with bloating and stomach pains and then as the week progressed, the full theory played out.

This is not the first time this pattern has happened for me. A few months ago, Mr B and I ate dinner at a (new to us) local pub. I was ecstatic that this place served gluten free dairy free fish and chips! And the main course was, and has been on numerous occasions since, fine. When I’ve only had the fish and chips I’ve been fine. No reaction. But that first time in my over eager state I ordered the gluten free crumble for dessert. So overjoyed that there was a gluten free dessert, that I forgot the key ingredient to a good crumble topping is of course butter. Dairy. It wasn’t until several spoonfuls down that I made the connection. Oops. And the next day I paid the price with the above theory cycling into action.

There was another time involving sausages at a friend’s BBQ. And another involving crème brûlée (yes I know it’s dairy laden, I was so brain fogged at the time I stupidly thought it was just made from eggs) and another after eating pâté. These are just the incidents that I have recognised and remembered as preceding a severe headache.

The fact it is not usually an immediate reaction is my excuse for why I have not joined the dots before. It was a real light bulb moment when the penny finally dropped last week. ‘I’m so tired, I have a huge spot, I haven’t been to the toilet properly all week, my head is so sore, yesterday I had a migraine’ I complained to my Mum and Sister over Skype. My Mum (always the wise one 🙂 ) asked, ‘what have you eaten?’ And then after a few moments of back peddling through my memory in search of a ‘bad’ meal, I realized. The pizza on Sunday. I bet that will have been it.

I’m not a doctor. And medically what I’m saying may make no sense. But I think from the research and reading I have done on the topic, our digestion is at the heart of our health and when it fails to function optimally, negative consequences show up across our bodies. It may not be headaches and migraines for everyone. But for me I clearly have a vulnerability in that area and too many times now my body has followed this pattern. So for me and my body my theory makes sense. Digestion is clearly the king for me and when he decides to have a day off, it has as huge knock on effect, with the rest of the kingdom going down with him.

Through having ME/CFS I have had it drummed into me to ‘listen to my body’. One of the causes of the severity of my illness was me ignoring all the warning signs that my body gave me. Now ‘listen to my body’ is my mantra. It helps keep ME/CFS at bay. It is not full-proof but it helps most of the time. And now it has helped me identify another symptom inducing pattern at work.

I’m not sure what the solution is to my theory, other than to be uber cautious (even more than I already am) of everything I put in my mouth and perhaps to never eat out again (which is just too restrictive and dull to be a viable option), but now I can clearly see the problem, I’ve got a better chance at finding a solution.

What about you? Do you suffer from headaches and migraines when you eat something wrong?

Do you listen to your body? What does it tell you?

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Mashed, puréed, blended or blitzed, give me baby food and my body is happy

11 Sep
Baby food all the way! Photo credit: monosodium via Morgue File

Baby food all the way! Photo credit: Morgue File

I thought it was about time I returned to the theme of my diet and food intolerances. I’m sure you’ve all missed hearing about the idiosyncrasies of my digestive system and bowels and been waiting with bated breath on the edge of your seats in anticipation….No? Oh that’s just in my head then.

This week I had my 2 month review appointment with my nutritionist. It gave me pause to stop and reflect on how things have been going since I cut out the long list of foods that the food intolerance tests showed I have issues with – it seems there are not many things in life, food or otherwise, that my little ME/CFS addled body does not have an issue with..grrrrrr.

And you know what? I have seen improvement. Whoooooo! Now I don’t mean that my abdomen is super flat and smooth (I wish…tho think that would involve a lot of gym visits as well as no trigger foods) and that my bowels are operating regularly without assistance. No, sadly miracles don’t happen. But I am getting far less bloated and far less frequently. And with the aid of the organic natural soluble fibre supplement acacia senegal I am seeing bowel activity most days! Those of you reading this who share my IBS and digestion woes (and I know there are a lot of you) will fully appreciate just how wonderful this is. I would even go as far as to say that I’m having toilet action nearly everyday!

I haven’t cheated and had any, not even a tiny bit, of my trigger foods AT ALL since I came back from France a month ago. And the only trigger food I had during my holiday was a couple of sips of wine (grapes and yeast are no nos for me) and a little garlic butter on a steak. So overall I am pretty darn pleased with how things are going diet wise. As well as my digestion improvements I think I have seen improvements in my ME/CFS symptoms as well – fewer bad headaches and slightly more manageable fatigue levels. The improvement in fatigue is negligible but I’ll take that! Any progress is better than no progress after all.

Water water water, how much do you drink? Photo credit Morgue File

Water water water, how much do you drink? Photo credit Morgue File

I have still had the odd times where my digestion has just seemingly gone on strike and I have bloated up to resemble a final trimester pregnant lady and had no toilet action.  But a pattern is beginning to emerge as to the cause.

My last day in France I had a steak that came with garlic butter melted all over it. The presence of dairy on my plate was not a good start but slowly I have realized that the hunk of red meat is not so good for me either. It wasn’t the best steak in the world and had been pretty near cremated (I’d asked for bien cuit – well done – knowing the French tendency to under cook meat but this chef was clearly used to cooking for tourists as bien cuit was tres tres tres bien cuit). It was very very chewy and took far too much of my limited energy just to chew and swallow. It made me realize that if it was that hard work on my jaw and teeth, imagine how hard it was on my poorly digestive system. I was very bloated for several days after, each time I ate, the food baby would grow. And worst of all, no pooping for 4 days. Urrrrggghhhhh indeed. I was incredibly fatigued that week with a real spike in my ME/CFS symptoms which was to be expected what with the effort of the travel home  but the red meat will not have helped and may well have been a significant contributing factor to my problems. Since then I’ve only eaten red meat twice and both times it was  home made very slow cooked tender lamb (a mild korma and a tagine) where the lamb literally melted in my mouth. And you wanna know the good news? Eating the lamb in this way seems to have been okay! No major bloating and no blockages in the poop department – yipppeeee!

Relaying all this to my nutritionist she asked me what blood group I was. Huh? I was a bit confused. Whilst I rummaged in my purse to find my NHS blood donor card which I new stated my blood type, my nutritionist explained that those of us with type A blood groups have far less stomach acid than the other blood groups. Less stomach acid means less fuel to break down food which leads to bloating, constipation and all the other lovely digestive problems that are such a part of my life. Ah Ha! I eventually located my donor card and guess what? Yep I am blood group A Negative. So I naturally have low stomach acid. Great. Makes sense. Low stomach acid is particularly problematic with heavy proteins as they take more to break down, hence my problem with the super charred steak. I was advised to take several digestive enzymes each time I ate steak and to save it for special occasions. Fine by me.

Now add to my already low levels of stomach acid the fact that I drink buckets of water each day and you get even lower acid levels meaning it is even harder for my body to break down food. Good okay. So I should drink less (I drink close to 3 litres of filtered water / herbal tea per day) . Yes well that’s easy to say. But I am constantly thirsty. And if I don’t drink when thirsty I get a horrendous headache. So yes I have the choice between low stomach acid and digestive problems or persistent thirst and headaches. Wow what a choice. The reason I am so thirsty is thanks to my lovely friend ME/CFS. Thanks to my nervous system being totally screwed and permanently stuck in stress mode my brain is constantly being signalled that I’m thirsty. Hence the gallons of water I get through each day.

So where does this all leave me then? Well avoid heavy cuts of meat like steak for a start. Stick with my soluble fibre focus to keep me regular.

Smoothies are good for my tummy! Photo source Morgue File

Smoothies are good for my tummy! Photo source Morgue File

Purée, mashed, poached, blended into smoothie or blitzed into juice, soup, slow cooked, soaked, de-seeded and de-skinned (yes I am the crazy lady peeling the cucumber and scooping out the tomato seeds). As Mr B says, give me a jar of baby food and I’ll be just fine…But hey, call me crazy, I don’t really care, cos it seems to be working. Fewer skins and seeds seem to be helping my digestive system to function that bit more smoothly. As a reminder of this yesterday I had 5 dates as a snack with my morning smoothie. My tummy was near enough instantly bloated, hard to touch and wasn’t happy for the rest of the day. Dates have quite tough skins….

I’m pondering a few more dietary things:

Raw v cooked fruit and veg – a raw salad leaves me feeling worse than steamed veg; eating an apple sends my tummy outwards in seconds whereas stewed apple does not.

Sugar. Sugar, sugar, sugar. If I eat ‘too much’ (by which I mean very little) refined sugar my fatigue increases. I noticed this with the granola bars and flapjacks I made this weekend for my friends coming over. The flapjacks were an overdose in golden syrup so yes naturally high in sugar and naturally bad for me. But the granola bars used light muscovado sugar. I keep reading about people who ‘quit sugar’ and felt so much better. But they cut all forms of sugar out of their diets, including fruit and high GI veggies. I think I need to detox a little from sugar. But I’m very wary about triggering detox symptoms as I do not need to trigger an ME/CFS flare, that’s the last thing I need to do. Cutting refined sugar out of my life isn’t hard as I don’t eat much of it anyway but for now I think I’ll keep the fruit in my life.

So for now I’ll keep pondering.

How are you doing with your diet? Do you notice an improvement in your health when you eat a certain way? What works for you? Whilst diet is inherently personal and what works for me may not work for you and vice versa but it’s always good to share. Information is power after all.

Must go, time for me to purée some bananas 🙂

If  you missed (what were you thinking?!) my previous posts about my diet and food intolerances, you can read them here, here and here.

ME, my Digestion and I, The Tale of the Unhappy Threesome Continues

16 Jun
The ever present and growing food baby #bloated. Photo credit: Morguefiles user: grietgriet.

The ever present and growing food baby #bloated. Photo credit: Morguefiles user: grietgriet.

ME, my bloated belly and I are back to tell the second installment of my IBS tale. From the many comments I had on my previous post it seems IBS is a beast that bothers a lot of us. It’s really nice to know my bloated belly and I are not alone 🙂 so thank you for all your comments (if I’ve not yet replied, I will I promise. It’s just with ME/CFS I have to pace myself and this includes computer time so thank you for your comment and I will reply very soon).

Last post I gave a potted history of my experiences of IBS. Today I’m going to bring that history a bit closer to present day.

I can trace my current IBS ‘flare up’ back to last December. My ME/CFS specialist recommended I up my daily dose of Co-Enzyme Q10 from 200mg to 400mg. This I dutifully did, in the hope, as ever, of finding the magic cure for the crushing ME/CFS fatigue. But before my energy levels had chance to pick up even a little, my blasted bloated belly sprang into life. Pregnant food baby tummy was back. And back with vengeance. I quickly reduced my Q10 back to the lower dose and my GP gave me some meds to ease the reaction. But  it didn’t seem to make a jot of difference. My poorly gut was in a flare up and did not seem to be willing to quieten down. Depsite my many pleas. And in a nutshell, my gut has been playing up ever since.

Before last December I seemed to have my IBS symptoms under control (ish) through daily linseed and a gluten, dairy and low refined sugar diet. Things weren’t perfect but they were significantly better than they have been for the last 6 + months. Ever since that fateful day last December when I popped the extra Q10 into my mouth, my belly has bloated way WAY more than ‘my usual’ and I have not been as ‘regular’ in my waste disposal habits either! It seems to be a cumulative response. Generally it’s fine first thing and after breakfast. But by evening most days though my belly is bloated, stretched, tight, hard and sore. On really bad days, after lunch and early afternoon it is bad. Sometimes it eases down as the afternoon goes by and flares up again later on, other times it’s ever present.

I’ve never thought of myself as a fad dieter and I’m certainly not in the ‘magic way to lose weight’ sense. But I’m beginning to think I may be a fad dieter thanks to IBS… Over the years I’ve tried so many different diets and ‘eating plan’ combinations  to try and ease my IBS:

  • Wheat free
  • Gluten free
  • Yeast free
  • Dairy free
  • Lactose free
  • No refined sugar, low fructose
  • No sugar of any kind (fructose, sucrose, lactose etc etc)
  • Low GI
  • High fibre
  • Low fibre
  • Protein rich
  • Meat free
  • Low carb
  • FODMAP elimination
  • High soluable fibre
  • Low fat
  • etc etc

The list goes on and on and on…

With my IBS symptoms having gotten so bad in the last six months or so, I’ve renewed my attack on my digestion and poured my energy (what little I have) into trying to find a solution. I even got so desperate that I went for colonic hydrotherapy! That fun experience deserves its own post so that I can share all the lovely gory details so I’ll leave that one aside for now…

As you can probably guess from the list above diet has always been my preferred action plan for tackling my IBS. I’ve always shied away from prescription laxatives and antispasmodic drugs preferring a more natural approach: peppermint oil, linseed, prunes, psyllium husk (makes things veeeeeery smelly!), peppermint tea, fennel tea etc etc etc and managing symptoms by avoiding trigger foods (gluten and dairy in particular for me). I’ve tried too many things to remember them all!

Recently I embarked on the FODMAP elimination diet. I’m not going to use my precious energy explaining exactly what FODMAPs are, there are loads of great resources on this out there such as here and here. Suffice it to say FODMAPs are certain types of carbohydrates that are harder to digest. There’s quite a long and eclectic list of foods you need to cut out across a range of food groups, including: garlic, onion, apples, pears, broccoli, honey, fructose (a big FODMAP bad guy), legumes & pulses, lactose, wheat…the list is long. Again you can find good resources with FODMAP safe and unsafe food lists here and here.

The FODMAP elimination diet follows standard elimination principles. You cut out everything that contains FODMAPs for two weeks and then one category at a time you reintroduce them and in theory you will pinpoint which category of foods are your IBS triggers. I was so optimistic and hopeful that finally I’d got to the bottom of my IBS nightmare. For the first 5 days or so of the elimination things seemed to be going swimmingly. I wasn’t bloating and I was going to the toilet regularly – yippeeeeee. I felt euphoric! But then everything came to a crashing stop. Literally. My digestion and bowels decided to stop working. I was incredibly bloated, the food baby (I’d say it was twins) was back, and my body no longer wanted to, erm, relieve itself, erm, do a number two, erm, poo…. I continued with the FODMAP elimination for the rest of the 2 weeks but then gave up. The FODMAP literature all stated that by the end of the two week elimination period if FODMAPs were at the root of your problem then you would have seen noticeable improvement in your IBS symptoms. Erm no. Everything I read said that the FODMAP approach helped about 75% of IBS sufferers. Bloody typical my stubborn body decided it wanted to be in the minority…

So that was the end of avoiding FODMAPs.

One thing I did learn from FODMAPs was that lactose free dairy is not good for me. On the FODMAP elimination diet you’re not allowed cows milk dairy products but it recommends you use lactose free (ie. cows milk that has been treated with the enzyme lactase to reduce the lactose content) milk products instead. I dutifully bought lacto free milk and cheese. On eating these, I suffered cramps and pain worse than I’ve had for years and I put this down to having lactose free dairy for the 2 weeks of the FODMAP elimination. For the last few years the only dairy I’ve had is goats yoghurt and goats cheese. This is lower in lactose and I seemed to tolerate it okay. I used soya, nut or coconut milk. And I seemed okay on that. But lactose free cows milk certainly did my insides no good. So clearly I have a problem with cows milk dairy products that goes beyond lactose. So the FODMAP diet was not all in vain. I did learn something valuable from it. Always look for the silver lining in every cloud and all that….

Aside from no gluten and no dairy, I’m beginning to think it literally doesn’t matter what I eat. Little miss food baby is ever present. It seems by mid afternoon or early evening, food baby is back each and every day. It’s pretty dispiriting and disheartening. Pretty much downright frustrating and very very annoying.

Please don’t be put off trying the FODMAP diet by my account of it. It may not have worked for me, but you may be lucky and find yourself in the 75% portion of people it does help. If you are considering trying the FODMAP elimination diet I’d highly recommend Patsy Catsos’ book IBS Free at Last! It’s really comprehensive and clearly sets out how to follow the elimination diet and how to manage the reintroduction challenge phase.

Next post….the IBS strategy of high soluable fibre and low fat. This is the ‘fad’ I’m currently pursuing ever hopeful that there is an answer out there to my IBS nightmare.

For now, from me and my food baby, good night!

Have you tried the FODMAP elimination diet? How did you find it? What magic tricks (I’m beginning to think it requires magic) do you use to keep your IBS in check? 

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