When Food Was Making Me Sick

About 15 years ago, things were bad.

I’d come home after work nearly every day holding my stomach, collapse on the bed, and writhe in pain.

When my stomach wasn’t bothering me, I might be having a migraine, the storm taking its merry time to pass through my head. One night I woke up in agony. The soft pressure of the pillow beneath my head felt like excruciating torture.

And then I developed erratic heartbeats that sent my already elevated anxiety levels soaring.

To make it all worse, I was married for the first time and that relationship was falling apart – my frequent illness putting even more of a strain on an already fragile situation.

I visited doctor after doctor trying to find a reason behind my gastrointestinal issues, and talked to other doctors about the migraines and tachycardia.

No one could find a cause for my issues, so these doctors treated my symptoms as stress-induced, or psychosomatic. One of the doctors I consulted about my gut prescribed an antidepressant and I was given the catchall diagnosis of IBS.

I tried the antidepressants. They didn’t help my gut issues, just made me feel foggy-headed while my stomach pain continued, so I stopped taking them after a few weeks.

After 2 or 3 years of this, I finally started making the connection between food and how my gut was feeling. One summer I was home visiting my family, having a very relaxing time, and my gut issues started again. I was absolutely not stressed out this time. I looked at what I ate and started to wonder.

Corn seemed to me to be the culprit at that stage, so I stopped eating it. And my symptoms stopped! When a friend invited me over for dinner a few months later and corn was on the menu, I gave it a try. And was sick for 3 days afterwards.

I only realized this through hindsight, but this extreme gastrointestinal distress had started after I started working at a new job.

It wasn’t the job – which I loved – causing my problems, but a lifestyle change. I was now eating food from a handful of local restaurants I’d never eaten at before, and was eating foods I wouldn’t normally prepare for myself at home.

The erratic hearbeats? I discovered that my favorite Asian takeout place used MSG in their food. “Just a little,” as the sweet Vietnamese owner explained to me. The palpitations disappeared as long as I avoided MSG.

As for the migraines, they seemed to be linked to environmental issues. After having frequent, debilitating migraines and less intense headaches for years, both cleared up after making some major changes to my environment.

I find it interesting and telling that I developed many sensitivities at one time, as if my body was just overloaded and couldn’t take anymore.

At the time, I had already suspected that I had a problem with wheat as well, and so generally avoided it. Several years later, I decided to permanently cut it out of my diet too.

Shortly after going fully gluten-free, I went to one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants in Charlotte, NC, where I lived at the time, and ordered my favorite meal there, but asked the server to leave out the ingredients that contained gluten.

Whereas previously when I’d ordered this meal, I started to feel stuffed after eating about 1/4 of it, now I could make my almost to the bottom of the plate.

I suddenly realized that a lifetime of quickly getting “stuffed” at mealtime, was actually my gut reacting to gluten, and that normal fullness felt rather different!

A decade and a half after going through this period of extreme gastrointestinal upset, my gut is overall much better.

Since that painful period of time, I have gotten better at recognizing the food-gut connection. Lately my body has let me know that it doesn’t like it when I eat dairy or yeast.

I wouldn’t say I have the food thing totally figured out. I feel a bit perplexed when I read equally compelling arguments for a paleo diet vs a plant based diet. I figure the commonality between the two is fresh, green vegetables, so I try to eat as much of those as I can.

And when I do? I have a happy belly indeed.

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