Content Warning: This entry contains medical talk of vomiting and talk of food.
In my last update, I spoke about how frustrating it was to do constant trial and error when it came to my health.
After two months, I have an unexpectedly hopeful update.
I saw a gastroenterologist, who asked me to do some experiments with my diet.
And those experiments are working.
I went from throwing up for a week and losing 3kg each time to throwing up infrequently. I still don't have full control over my nausea, but it only lasts for three hours, not an entire week.
With the doctor's help, I've made some new discoveries.
I'm writing down these discoveries so that if there is anyone else out there with similarly confusing symptoms they might gain some insight.
- I have a hiatial hernia, or 食道ヘルニア in Japanese. This means my lower esophagus doesn't close all the way, and this, plus triggers, can cause my stomach acid to wash back up into my esophagus, triggering vomiting episodes.
- I would only get sick between the months of March and September, around the time heatwaves would occur. It seems to react to heat, and exercise in the heat like biking, hiking, etc.
- I've discovered some food triggers. I had expected them to be the usual "bad for your stomach" foods like spicy or raw foods, but actually, it's been soy milk and gluten.
These new discoveries have opened up so many possibilities to live a life not afraid of food. Before, my doctor had diagnosed me with "mysterious food poisoning" and told me—to avoid bad foods try to reduce stress. I remember asking him how he expected me to reduce stress when I couldn't eat or drink for a week, and he shrugged and repeated his advice.
It wasn't actionable advice. I started getting paranoid about what foods would "poison" me, and tried out different diets without particular guidance from my doctor to try to fix myself. That, or, I wouldn't eat. This, I reasoned, was the easiest way to fix food poisoning, was to take out food altogether.
My new doctor, however, gave me a FODMAP list, which I've been trying out and discovering trigger foods.
What's a FODMAP?
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. They're carbohydrates the digestive tract has trouble breaking down. High FODMAP foods are ones that are tougher on the body; Low FODMAP foods are easier.
FODMAP is typically used for folks with IBS. I haven't gotten a clear diagnosis beyond a hiatial hernia, so I won't speculate—but I do know that this list has helped me identify triggers I didn't realize were things that were upsetting my digestion.
FODMAP is not like most diets. It's not recommended long-term, and there's not particular "categories" of food you cut—they are individual foods. Within fruits, grapes are high FODMAP but kiwis are low FODMAP. Even with gluten, which is generally considered high FODMAP, soy sauce is low FODMAP and sourdough bread is medium FODMAP because it doesn't contain as much gluten as most breads.
The idea is to restrict your diet and then start adding in foods, and see what causes nausea/gas/bloating. If I have a moderate to severe reaction to a newly added food, it's probably a trigger food.
Then and now
I've been blending both some rituals for IBS and some for acid reflux with my doctor's help and my health has improved leaps and bounds from where I was in May and June.
Before, when I'd get nauseous, I'd only eat bread and drink water; then I'd lie down. Now, I take a anti-nausea medication prescribed by my doctor. Then I eat yogurt and kiwi and make sure I have an elevated head if I'm lying down.
Here's the behaviors I've changed:
- reducing gluten intake and switching to almond milk
- using an app on my phone to check the FODMAP of food
- eating yogurt/taking probiotics first thing in the morning
- exercise at home or our local indoor rec center
- hydrate!! more than I think I need to!
- stretching and meditating in the morning to relax
- taking a nightly walk before bed
Here's the results:
- episodes reduced from one week a month to one/two days a month
- less paranoid about food, more confident
- stabilized weight
- emotionally happier
- generally less stressed when an episode occurs, because I know what I need to do to take care of myself
I haven't reduced the number to episodes to zero, but I'm not expecting to. I'd like to have zero episodes, but I don't want to overengineer myself to do that.
In general, I've been feeling more positive than I have in several years.
I want to share a joke my partner and I shared about being sick; we're actually joking about it now.
Me: *looking through the FODMAP list* Milk, soy milk, oat milk...all of these are high FODMAP. What am I supposed to put in my tea?
Partner: Well...there's always vodka.
Partner: What? It is low FODMAP!!
Dear reader, I did not take up drinking. I use almond milk.