Living with my stomach isn’t always easy. Sometimes I can manage my daily life while dealing with IBS, other days I can barely handle eating plain rice and getting off the couch. I don’t always know what caused my stomach to act out. That’s why I’m calling this living with IBS.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is sort of a catchall term for when doctors don’t know what’s wrong with your stomach. Often times it can be connected to a food sensitivity, and for me, also caused by stress. The beginning of stomach confusion for me started in 2011, and learning the term IBS in 2014.
Sometimes I’m afraid to eat because I don’t know what made me sick, or if I’ll get sick again. This inevitably makes me feel worse, because I’m not my best when I eat too few calories. It’s this viscous cycle of about a week trying to get myself back together after a bought of IBS-d. I also am forced to cook more because what I already have stored up and saved doesn’t seem safe anymore.
This is a part of my life, living with IBS, is something that I’m not a huge fan of. One of my friends recently told me, unrelated to let go of things “when it’s causing you more grief than it is happiness.” I really wish I could follow her advice with my stomach, because it definitely causes me more grief. I’ve gone through so many mourning processes of losing different ingredients and lifestyles because of my stomach.
Why I started this blog is to try and help people understand and work through their own experiences with food sensitivities and allergies. Also so others can commiserate with my story, to not feel as though they are alone. I’m also trying to create/modify recipes to make them food sensitivity friendly.
If you want to read the brief, but complete, version of my story, please continue reading. Click on the links in this article for the full length stories and discussion!
Pre-Corn Intolerance: When I started high school, everything seemed fairly simple with my diet. I could eat pretty much anything and have minimal consequences. My lunch diet most days consisted of pizza and cookies, and maybe twizzlers. It definitely wasn’t healthy. But my stomach didn’t seem to mind.
Sophomore year (10th grade) was really stressful. So stressful that I couldn’t handle it anymore. I think stress caused the beginnings of my IBS, and the start to my corn intolerance. I was trying to not fail chemistry, my grandma had just passed away, and I was working too much on top of a huge pile of homework. Just one of those items would have been too much stress, and having it all at the same time destroyed my body. I wasn’t eating right (see above), along with not sleeping enough because I put too much on my plate. This all caused me to start throwing up days before the funeral, the night before Halloween, and I never started feeling better. It was constant nausea.
We decided to take this problem to a doctor, in the hopes they could figure out what was going on. The doctor couldn’t really figure it out. This added to more stress because now I was missing classes for sick days as well as these appointments. The doctor thought it could be from the abnormal “sludge” in my gall bladder (meaning the bile was thicker than it should have been and possibly wasn’t working properly/was causing issues). The medicine they gave me to break it up didn’t help, so I had my gallbladder removed about 10 months after the start of all of this. So it was 10 months of stomach aches and bloating and never being able to figure out what was wrong.
The ultrasound woman had suggested an ALCAT blood test, which is more on the holistic side of medicine, so I didn’t want to try it immediately. It was only after my gall bladder removal, when I still wasn’t feeling great, that we decided to try the ALCAT food sensitivity testing. This officially diagnosed my a corn intolerance, along with some other food sensitivities. Having to figure out how to avoid corn products was more difficult than I had hoped. Because corn is in everything. Everything. (Here’s a list of all the names corn can go by in food).
Eventually, I figured out how to avoid corn, and for about a year, I felt fine. Finally back to my stomach acting the way it should. But then school and life caught up to me, and during another stressful period of my life, my stomach started acting up. I started having diarrhea on about a weekly basis (which is not ideal or normal). Figuring out why is still (6 years later) something I’m dealing with. At that time, my senior year of high school, I started leaving classes for more doctor appointments. This time with a different doctor. We checked for parasites and bad bacteria, but everything was normal. It wasn’t normal for this to be continuing. Eventually, he just suggested that I have IBS and to take Pepto Bismol every morning (which didn’t help).
And with that, it was time to start college.
College with IBS
Starting college is stressful enough without adding in dietary problems. At this point I gave up trying to figure out what was causing the diarrhea and just dealt with it. That doesn’t mean I was forgetting about corn. Our on campus dining was not stellar, and had a hard time accommodating me. All I initially had access to was a microwave, which eventually broke (because someone tried to microwave metal). So I was stuck eating what dining could provide me, typically including chicken and vegetables. But it was in a corny container, so I was sick anyway. Eventually freshman year, I moved into apartment style housing on campus, having 3 roommates and a full kitchen. I could cook again! My life was so much easier not having to depend on others to cook for me, and worry about contamination.
Cure of Corn Sensitivity?
During this time, I made some friends; one of whose mom told me about a special treatment: NAET. It’s an acupressure therapy to try and relieve people of sensitivities and allergies. This woman told me her experience of being deathly allergic to dogs, and now she owned dogs of her own. How could I argue with that review of the treatment?
So I tried it. We worked on clearing me of corn, citric acid, and other derivatives of corn. I tried eating small amounts at home, and no reaction! That was amazing, because before if I had even had trace amounts, I would feel it. It changed my life. I wasn’t afraid of cross contamination anymore, and I even started eating things with trace amounts of corn with no issues for the next few years.
I graduated with 2 degrees: A bachelors in food science, as well as a bachelors in nutrition. I studied these because I wanted to know why corn was in everything, and why it caused such reactions in my digestive system. And I learned. Corn is in everything because it’s cheap and it has so many uses. So no matter how hard I wish it, corn will never be completely out of the food processing system for most products.
The good news is I didn’t have to worry about corn for those few years. I could go out to eat and have minimal consequences. This doesn’t mean the IBS-d went away, I still continued to ignore it.
Rather than going straight to work in the US after graduating, I decided to travel, and do a Working Holiday in New Zealand. I could travel and pay for my way while doing odd jobs in New Zealand. I thought it would be easier to avoid corn in such a small country. Turns out they label it differently – corn syrup is labeled “glucose syrup.” I was buying muesli bars with glucose syrup in them, and feeling extremely lethargic all the time. Once I realized my mistake, I quit the bars and started feeling slightly better. This is how I knew the NAET treatment was wearing off, although I ignored that suspicion for a while. Still, the weekly diarrhea never stopped, and I knew where every toilet was anytime I went out.
Eventually, I was working at a shop, alone for hours at a time. It was extremely stressful trying to find a good time to run to the toilet, trying to not have any customers in the shop; worrying about theft and customers left unattended. This was the final straw in and what finally caused me to write in a food journal.
Elimination and Beyond
Setting up a food journal was the beginning to a huge elimination diet that I’m still sort of working through. I made a food journal, writing down (by hand) what I ate, the time I ate it, and any reactions. I started with this for a few weeks before going fully into the elimination diet. During the beginning, when I was still eating everything, I couldn’t make any easy conclusions as to what I was eating wrong for my stomach.
So I started the elimination diet. I removed any item I thought could be an issue and ate only a bare few ingredients. I went back to cutting out all corn products as well. This was okay to start because I made a meal plan for a week in advance and had a plan for snacks. Then I wasn’t trying to figure it out while hungry. I had a plan. The first few days of elimination were still rough, because my body went through major withdrawal of caffeine, dairy, and wheat. I felt like I was hungover and had vertigo. It was unpleasant. But then my body recovered from that at least.
The diarrhea got worse doing this elimination, which meant I hadn’t removed some of the trigger items. Eventually I continued to eliminate items, until it started getting better. Sort of stupidly of me, I started trialing new foods while my stomach was not fully under control yet. I should have worked to remove all triggers before adding items back in.
Introduction and Elimination of Foods
The first item I tried to add back in was milk. That was a huge failure. I thought milk would be fine. I was sadly mistaken. It pretty much went straight through me, my acne came back in full force within hours, almost like a rash on my face, and I was so cold that not even a scalding shower could warm me up.
After that milk failure, I slowed down on the reintroduction of food items. I decided to continue to eliminate items, rather than add new ones in, until the diarrhea stopped. It turns out it was my toothpaste causing a lot of issues. I realized this after one day where I hadn’t eaten anything all morning and still got sick. It had always been corn because there are corny ingredients in toothpaste!. Things were better (not perfect) when I switched to making my own tooth powder. (Here’s a tooth powder recipe I recommend if you’re in my same situation, although just baking soda will work in a pinch as well).
USA and Acupuncture
I had planned for this elimination diet to start right before Thanksgiving and Christmas (which wasn’t the smartest). What this really means is that I was back in the United States, rather than New Zealand, for a period of time.
While I was in Colorado, I saw an acupuncturist. She does muscle testing and really helped speed up the process of food elimination. The idea behind muscle testing is your body will tell you if there’s a problem based on muscle strength – holding a food item, and if the arm loses muscle strength when pressure is applied means there’s a sensitivity. If no movement occurs, there’s not a sensitivity. There is some question over if muscle testing actually works or not, and it works for me.
With muscle testing, I was able to much more quickly identify food items that my body was sensitive to or not. It doesn’t explain why, but at least confirmed some of my suspicions that it’s not one item causing my stomach upset, but many items. During my weeks when I had acupuncture, my stomach for the first time in years started acting regularly.
The Present and Future: Living with IBS
Currently, I’m back in New Zealand. So the acupuncture has stopped. I’m still having days where I have no idea what I did wrong to cause my stomach to be in agony. These days are fewer than they used to be, which is important. I’m working on finding safe foods for me by trialing them slowly, rather than being able to utilize muscle testing to quickly find an answer.
Lately, I have been struggling with buying items at the store only to figure out they are packed in a compostable way (i.e. the bags are made from corn so I can’t eat them). So that has been limiting me on what I can eat along with so many other factors.
I’m thinking at some point I’ll try to limit what I eat further – to only eat specific food items once a week. Eating different ingredients every day of the week, having minimal cross-over of the same ingredients. I know people who this works for, and in doing this, I can introduce more items and not have buildup reactions. The problem for me is I don’t have a big enough freezer. For me, it would mean making bulk, storing it, and only eating the items once a week. But my freezer is already full and I don’t have room for leftovers. But that might help me introduce more items back into my diet.
I’ll keep updating this as I have more discoveries!