Day 67: Observations part 2 – Besides food, what else can cause bloating?

Yesterday I spoke a lot about bloating and the food that I think is causing my biggest problems.

Today,  I didn’t eat ANY bananas! I know! Amazing! I did experience some bloating and also some cramps after a lunch of vegetables and avo, which I suspect will require further investigation. But I also had a realisation about other factors that could be causing my bloating:

1. Eating too much. I’ve never been one for moderate portions, which is probably what helped get me into this predicament in the first place! Whether I’m eating a bowl of chips or a bowl of broccoli, I eat a lot of it. I’ve always said that I’m missing the ‘fullness indicator’ and that I could just keep eating and eating and eating without stopping until I burst like a cartoon character. Anyone else have this talent problem?

Basically me at every meal, minus the roll

Basically me at every meal, minus the bread

The average adult stomach is roughly the size of a clenched fist and can stretch to fit about a litre’s worth of food in it. I like to take that as a personal challenge and try to pack in around 3kg at every meal. And then I’m surprised when my belly blows up to the size of the Times Square ball.

2. Eating too fast. I’ve never had any reason to eat my food like a prison inmate about to have it snatched away. My parents always cooked plenty of food and there was always enough for seconds and thirds… for us and the neighbours. My dad also eats super fast, and in fact, when I go out to eat with other people, I have to consciously slow myself down so as not to embarrass myself. Thank goodness K and I seem to keep the same pace!

3. Not exercising. In Jan and Feb, the first two official months on the job (prior I was freelancing for the same company), I was able to leave work at about 4.45 each day, and be home by 5.30. I’d exercise until 6, shower and then make supper, with plenty of time to spare. When we hit a crisis at work about three weeks ago, I found myself easily staying at the office until 6 or even 7, getting home after dark and then still having to cook supper. I simply haven’t had the time to work out, and I know it’s so bad for me. Could this be contributing to the bloat?

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4. What I’m drinking. For the first 19 days on this diet, I drank only water. For the first 30, I drank no coffee or booze. Now, I still drink my 2l of water a day – but I also have a glass of wine most days, and one to two cups of coffee. There’s no doubt that drinks can have just as big an impact on your gut as food, and it’s careless to think they don’t.

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5. Stress. When our work crisis hit, our stress levels shot right up. Some days, my colleagues were running to the bathroom with diarrhoea – and they don’t have IBD! I felt a gnawing nausea for days on end, and I was constantly in a state of high-strung anxiety. I’ve no doubt that this not only aggravated my gut, but also contributed to my bloating.

So what’s the next step?

Now that I’ve got a more holistic picture, so to speak, of the root causes of my bloating, I can start to fix the problem (if I can commit to it). It’s almost like working retroactively, going back and fixing what I’ve broken. Now that the bananas are gone, I know I should take a break from booze and coffee too, and keep working backwards like that until I am able to identify the food causes of the bloating – and then of course I need to address the non-food causes too.

I’ve just had dinner and I tried not to overeat. I had yogurt for ‘dessert’, with honey, because I’ve already cut out bananas today and I felt I deserved it!

Ugh, damn bloating. I feel like a stuck record. Imagine how AMAZING life would be without bloat!

Oh, to be a cat and be so unconcerned about bloating!

Oh, to be a cat and be so unconcerned about bloating!

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Day 52: Back on top and looking for your stress-busting tips

Guys, it was a false alarm! Despite having ongoing GI issues as a result of my UC, I never actually get stomach bugs, so I have no idea what they feel like. All I thought was – OMG it’s a flare. And that is exactly what it felt like. After all, I’ve always known I’m for-sure in a flare when I’m getting up in the night.

Anyway, it seemed to be clear yesterday, and today it definitely is. I was a little bloated all day, but I had zero diarrhoea. In fact, I’m a little backed up, but right now, rather that. Oh my gosh, I can’t tell you how relieved I am.

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Today I was feeling brave enough to add onion. I’d probably have waited longer if I didn’t have a whole cooked batch waiting for me in the fridge, and that ever-present nagging voice telling me not to waste food. The onion tasted good but because I was already a little off-kilter, I’m not sure whether I reacted to it. I don’t feel worse, and I’ll test again tomorrow and Thurs and see how it goes.

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So how do I cut down on the stress?

Meanwhile, I’m trying to find ways to stress less. I know how important it is, and my mom’s stern talking-to yesterday has sunk in. I MUST find ways to deal with my stress, but how? What do you all do? I can’t keep putting my body through all this:

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To reduce stress, this is what people on the internet apparently do. Do any of these work for you?

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I did yoga for years, and I enjoyed it, but I never switched off. I’d use the cool-down time to make to-do lists in my head or think about work or social plans or my weight or…

I haven’t exercised in a few weeks either because I’ve had a persistent cough/cold that’s made me quite chesty, and as much as I wanted to push through, I know that it’s counter-productive to exercise when ill. But I definitely think exercise is one of the best ways for me to de-stress.

What works for you guys? How do you keep the stress and anxiety at bay? I could really use some tips because clearly I’m not managing it on my own. SCD is as much a mental challenge as it is a dietary one, and while I’m finding it easy to avoid sugar, grain and pre-packaged foods, I’m not finding it so easy so avoid stress, anxiety, frustration and anger.

Please share your tips – I could really use them.

Day 51: Swallowing my own advice is a bitter pill

Today was a bleak day.

I was exhausted, due to the fact that I spent most of the night in the bathroom. Every time I drifted off, I was rudely awoken by a very angry colon. I don’t know how many times my diarrhoea woke me last night, but I do know I must’ve been pretty dehydrated today because no matter how much water I drank, I hardly needed to pee (a sure sign for me).

Just a few weeks ago I wrote about not anticipating flares, and just a few weeks before that, I wrote about staying calm when you think you’re flaring, and not to stress because stress makes it worse. But not only did I have an extremely stressful day at work today, but I also constantly fretted about the fact that I may be in the throes of a new flare. Well done Debby. Way to take your own advice.

Strangely, after my last BM at home this morning before work, my stomach hasn’t worked since. It hasn’t felt happy, but it also hasn’t gurgled and kicked the way it did all through the night last night. Plus, K has had the same thing. So……. maybe this is actually just a stomach bug? Maybe it’s a reaction to something we ate? Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that raw meat? I mean, it only occurred to me today, but isn’t it actually too soon on this diet to be eating my meat completely raw?

Needless to say, I haven’t added onion yet. I haven’t really changed much about my diet today, due to the fact that the diarrhoea hasn’t returned. However, I don’t necessarily believe that it isn’t a flare. It could just be a coincidence that K has a runny tummy too. I’m giving it a few more days, and if it happens again, I’ll get in touch with my physician and get my ESR levels tested. That’ll tell me if I have inflammation, which will be an immediate sign.

In the mean time, I’m not introducing anything new, and I’m also avoiding acidic foods like tomato and coffee (is coffee acidic? Well you know what I mean). I’m also trying not to be tearful but it’s really hard. I spoke to my mom this evening and she told my quite sternly – and correctly – that there’s no point in worrying and that I have to stay positive. I know she’s absolutely right and I’m going to keep trying to do that.

Looks like food won this round

Looks like food won this round

Day 41: The worst thing you can do for UC

I’m sorry I skipped this post last night. We got home late from a gig at a bar in Hout Bay, and I was feeling yukky and tired.

The whole week I’ve been having cramps and discomfort in my stomach/colon, which means that for most of the day yesterday, I was stressing about whether I’m about to have another flare. know how bad it is to stress about this. You know it too. Why do we do it??

Selfie of me at the bar last night

Selfie of me at the bar last night

I kept trying to talk myself down but by the time we got to the bar last night, and my tight, gassy, noisy belly was making me long for my bed, I was convinced. This really is completely counterproductive and one of the worst things you can do for UC. Talk yourself OUT of flares, not into them!

Exactly how it feels

Exactly how it feels

Luckily, we came home, I spent some QT in the loo, had a long hot shower, and felt loads better. It’s not in the least surprising that after the week I’d had, my belly would be unhappy. Add to that the fact that I ate a whole avo and a bunch of bananas (quite literally) before we went out, washed down with a glass or two of wine, and it is freakin clear as day why there was a riot in my belly.

PRIDE!!!

Us at Pride 2013, showing our support for our US friends before Prop8 was overturned

Us at Pride 2013, showing our support for our US friends before Prop8 was overturned

Today I feel good. In fact, I feel GREAT because it’s Pride and we’re going to march in a few hours. I really think it’s so important that we celebrate our freedom in South Africa. And it’s not just freedom to be gay. In SA, we’re have complete freedom of choice (obviously as far as your human rights don’t infringe on anyone else’s) – which means that whatever your race, religion, favourite colour or food allergy, you’re free to live the way you want. That’s not to say that there isn’t discrimination. There is. Which is of course another huge reason to hit the streets today and make a noise!

Pride 2012

Pride 2012

I’m starting the day with eggs and coffee – my favourite, though it feels like I’m someone’s grandpa! –  and I’ve bought a ton of veg to cook tomorrow for the week.

How’s your weekend going?

Day 38: Green beans and work blues

It’s been a stressful few days at work, which I know is not good for my gut. It’s always the first place I feel stress, anxiety or unease: Those horrible knots, the nausea, the jolts of adrenaline. I try to be very aware of it and to manage it as far as possible.

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I keep reminding myself that I was offered this job when I was very happy (and successful) working for myself as a freelancer. I took it because the remuneration was attractive and because it was offered to me just as I was recovering from my last flare. I was on cortisone and I felt like I could conquer the world! No, but seriously, I thought that maybe the stability of a ‘9-5’ would be good for my health, as opposed to the uncertainty of freelance work.

So I keep telling myself that I can always go back to it. At any time, I can pack it in and return to my little home office, and to the foreign students I taught English to as well. It helps to keep me calm and to consider this a ‘favour’ I’m doing for the company, rather than the other way around (even if it’s not true!).

Does your job stress you out? How do you cope with it? It’s so important for people like us, with IBD, to find productive ways of handling it.

Oh but OH! There was one bright spot in the black hole of my work day today: One of the offices newbies asked me if this was my ‘first job out of varsity’. Considering that I graduated 10 years ago, my entire week (and possibly 30th year) was made.

But back to the food

Doesn’t it always come back to the food? 😉 The green beans are going surprisingly well. I am never quite sure after supper whether I’m bloated or just full, because I tend to eat my biggest meal of the day at night (BAD, yes, I know). I just hate feeling too full while I’m at work, or in the middle of the day. It makes me feel sluggish and unproductive.

Anyway, I had some beans at work today, and suffered zero ill effects. I’m pretty shocked that I’m handling them so well, but I’m so happy about it. It’s yet another food I can add to my diet.

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And the wine?

No wine. Despite how lovely it would’ve been to knock back a glass or two after work last night and today as well, I have resisted and I must say, I can feel a difference. I don’t have any cramps or bloating. Wine is going to have to be consumed in serious moderation, and that’s okay. I can handle it.

M&M?

No, not that kind of M&M! EMINEM! He’s coming to perform in Cape Town tomorrow and K got us last minute tickets! I’m beyond excited, and the best part is that we live right opposite the Cape Town stadium, so we can just stroll over when we’re ready, and stroll back home. The crazy part is that the tickets were sold for just R99, which is about $9. Originally, they ranged from about R500 to over R1000 ($50 to $100-ish), which is really expensive for us.

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I’m sure the vibe is going to be INSANE and I’m sooooooo excited! So if I don’t post tomorrow, you’ll know it’s because we got home super late and with our heads full of expletives 😉

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Emotional stress and the gut-brain connection

I think that most people who are diagnosed with a digestive disease spend some time trying to figure out what caused it. Doctors don’t know what triggers these illnesses, and in the absence of definitive answers, many of us go searching for our own. I think this is not only because humans are inquisitive by nature. I think it’s because we want to know that if we had any part to play in our illnesses – and in most cases, we did, at least to a greater or lesser degree – we want to be sure that we won’t keep perpetuating these actions.

For me, I know that poor diet was most likely a contributing factor. But having carefully traced the course of my ulcerative colitis, and having worked closely with a skilled nutritionalist, I came to realise – with shock but not surprise – that the onset of my disease, as well as my dermatological issues (psoriasis/eczema) coincided with a very unhappy period in my life when I was under intense and ongoing emotional distress as the result of a bad relationship.

But why does stress have this kind of effect on the digestive system? I did some digging because I’m a bit of a curious cat myself. There are thousands – maybe millions – of pages online chronicling on the brain-gut connection and stacking up the scientific evidence supporting the theory that our gut is our ‘second brain’. It is a system that is actually able to perform its functions independently of the brain, but which is also vulnerable to its own emotional, hormonal and physiological upsets. Here, I want to focus particularly on the emotional element.

Explaining the link between brain and gut

In a fascinating piece published by Harvard Medical School called The gut-brain connection, the author explains:

“The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.

“The brain has a direct effect on the stomach. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected — so intimately that they should be viewed as one system.

“This is especially true in cases where a person experiences gastrointestinal upset with no obvious physical cause. For such functional GI disorders, it is difficult to try to heal a distressed gut without considering the role of stress and emotion.”

For myself, and I’m sure many of you, this last paragraph in particular resonates. Doctors tried to find a root cause of my ulcerative colitis, but came up with nothing solid. I hadn’t been ill. I hadn’t been on any treatment that may have caused it. I hadn’t contracted a parasite (despite my father’s insistence that I must’ve caught something in India in 2009!).

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Which is why I kept searching for a cause. And, when I put the pieces together, only one thing made sense: The skin problems started 3 months into that relationship. The bleeding started a year in. It was the most emotionally fraught time of my entire life. To put it plainly, it was an emotionally, verbally and psychologically abusive relationship out of which, a friend told me recently, she was surprised I’d come out of alive.

In his article entitled How stress wreaks havoc on your gut – and what to do about itpublished on mercola.com, Dr Mercola says,

“Hippocrates once said that “all diseases begin in the gut,” and it’s also widely known that stress is a trigger that causes multiple chronic disease processes to occur. These two health dogmas are actually intricately intertwined, as stress is detrimental to your gut health, and together stress and a damaged gut can contribute to multiple inflammatory diseases and conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, chronic skin conditions, kidney problems, urinary conditions, allergic and atopic conditions, degenerative conditions, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and inflammatory bowel disease.

“To put it simply, chronic stress (and other negative emotions like anger, anxiety and sadness) can trigger symptoms and full-blown disease in your gut.”

So what can you to mitigate the effects of stress?

We all experience stress every day, and not all stress is bad. Think about it: If you didn’t feel stress, you wouldn’t feel compelled to get out of bed in the morning and get to work on time. You wouldn’t study for exams and for me personally, I’d never hit a deadline! Stress is integral to daily life, and for many of us, it spurs us into action and ensures that we get stuff done. The problem is when it’s the kind of stress that keeps you up at night; that causes your hair to fall out and propels you into the loving embrace of fried food.

We all know that kind of stress. It’s the kind that makes your tummy twist into knots, gives you cramps, leads to diarrhoea (even people without any known GI issues experience this) and keeps you in a heightened state of anxiety and nervousness. It’s when you feel like you’re always on edge, and you can’t switch off the nagging worries in your mind. Maybe you binge on food, alcohol or drugs. Maybe you cry. Maybe you fall apart. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist – or even a gastroenterologist – to know that this kind of stress is Super Bad For You.

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Okay so, everyday stress = okay. Major, ongoing stress = not okay.

The good news is that you DO have the ability to manage the stresses in your life. Like school and work and traffic. Even abusive relationships at home or at work, or financial worries. And while there are many types of major stresses we can’t easily overcome, there are plenty that we can.

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If we’re to heal, and at the very least ensure that our bodies are no longer subjected to the onslaught of negative stress, we need to find ways to manage the stresses in our lives. So mitigate the ones you can. Wherever possible, limit your stress or manage it better. Because when you’re faced with a sick child or a financial collapse, it’s going to be hard to control your stress response. But when you’re sitting in traffic and a driver cuts you off, or you’re standing in a queue and someone cuts in… let it go. Trust me, I know this is hard! I get worked up SOOO easily. But I know I owe it to myself, and my health, to try, and I am making the effort.

As I like to say: stay calm, stay positive, reduce stress. If you can do that every day – or at least try to – you’ll already be well on your way to giving your gut a much, much needed break from the crushing effects of stress. Oh, and kick that abusive relationship to the curb. Whether it’s a boss, a partner or a family member, there is no negotiation. Trust me, you’ll never look back.

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