If I told you I led a life completely void of alcohol, caffeine, dairy, refined sugar, sea salt, spicy, fried or fatty food, you may think I was a complete health food fanatic or one of those women who strive to achieve a Victoria Beckham style body by eating a diet consisting only of lettuce leaves and sesame seeds, washed down with a humble glass of diluted cider vinegar.
If I then told you that given the choice between a slice of gooey chocolate cheesecake or an over ripe banana, a couple of medjool dates and a heaped teaspoon of raw cacao powder, all gloriously whizzed up in a Nutri Bullet, I would choose the latter every time, you may begin to think I was on a weight loss mission or practising some form of self-denial. The truth is, it is none of the above and is instead a simple desire to heal myself… You see, something happened to me at the end of May this year, completely out of the blue. I felt symptoms I’d never felt before – a tight, sharp, stabbing pain across the top of my stomach. Far more intense than simple indigestion, and so uncomfortable I could not move. Crippled with pain, I tried to stand up to alleviate the sharp, burning stitch I was feeling, only to then end up crawling around the lounge floor in agony. My two sons suggested I have a lie down and a glass of water, but it wasn’t until my concerned husband suggested I call NHS Direct, I realised something was not at all right.
An hour later, after a conversation with a doctor who seemed highly knowledgeable about all digestive complaints and disorders, I was diagnosed with Gastritis! I had to look it up!! So that’s what this horrible stomach pain was. Semi relieved to know that I wasn’t dying or about to succumb to something hideous like the Noro virus, I went to bed on two extra strength Gaviscon, my stomach pain beginning to ease if I lay on my left side. In the morning I took the advice of the NHS Direct doctor and went and saw my local GP to get a face to face confirmation of my diagnosis. She palpated my stomach, reassured me there were no strange lumps or bumps to worry about, further diagnosed gastritis (given my symptoms which were sharp pain in upper left side of stomach, below ribcage and slight acid reflux in my throat) and advised me to eat a ‘bland diet’ and cut out alcohol, caffeine and spice and try to change my current lifestyle a little. She also prescribed me with a drug called Omeprazole, a proton pump inhibitor which is used to treat symptoms of reflux and gastritis, both of which are caused by excess stomach acid. Over time this acid then starts to burn away the protective mucous lining of the stomach, causing pain and discomfort. I’ve since read that there are many reasons for the body to produce too much acid, stress being one of them and, in my case, I believe my gastritis came about after many months of feeling very stressed. A combination of work stress, family stress and having two very lively young Labradors led to a build-up of tension and this tension then led to feelings of being completely overwhelmed, anxious and totally frazzled! As a Type ‘A’ personality I just wanted everything to be perfect. I desperately wanted to finish writing my novel and to resurrect my career as a writer (I was a successful journalist in London before I had my kids), but at the same time I struggled to juggle this with a super busy family life, with two young sons, two young dogs, a large house and an acre-sized garden which I really struggle to keep weed free and leaf free (depending on the season!), plus a husband who travels a lot on business and is often away. How well do others cope with life’s stresses I wonder? I’m well aware that everyone’s stress thresholds are different.
So, based on what I believed to be triggers for my gastritis, I set about healing myself and reversing the damage the stress induced acid had done to my digestive system. I decided to completely avoid alcohol, caffeinated tea, any form of coffee, all spices, refined sugar, refined sea salt and some dairy products (I instead ate either low fat or zero fat dairy products). All of which actually ‘hurt’ my stomach and I began to find even the zero fat dairy gave me IBS-like symptoms (upset stomach and gripe-y stomach pain). And, most importantly I actively looked into ways of seriously reducing my stress levels.
I’m now five months down the line and I can’t say it’s been easy as sometimes it’s been downright horrible – learning through ‘trial & error’ just what my stomach can take and what it really can’t take (at the moment). It’s a pain that I can’t drink a alcohol as I often feel a lovely big glass of red wine might just help me chill out a bit more, especially on a Friday and Saturday night! And many a time I’ve stood in the supermarket aisles, close to tears because I just couldn’t figure out what on earth to eat to make me feel better… But, I believe I’m now half way there thanks to the antacid meds, (I’ve now switched to Lanzoprazole as it’s more effective), joining a weekly Mindfulness class (to address the stress!), a ‘clean eating’ diet regime that’s ‘almost-but-not-quite’ Vegan in approach (lots of healing plant-based foods), lean meat, fish and nuts and a few pulses…oh and I’ve discovered the delights (and health benefits) of raw cacao, which I add to my daily fruit and veg smoothies. Deliciously Ella recipes have been my life savers!! It’s true to say that there’s an element of this ‘journey’ that’s actually felt like fun – like discovering all the wonderful, rainbow coloured superfoods out there, such as sweet potatoes baked in their jackets, avocados in ‘raw cacao’ chocolate mousses, frozen blueberries in smoothies, medjool dates used in baking instead of refined sugar, pure homemade cashew nut butter on toast, frozen banana ice cream, hot chocolates made from almond milk, cacao powder and date syrup and Maca powder (ultra-healthy and tastes like caramel) in banana milkshakes! All of this is not only delicious but has also been ok for my stomach, as long as I don’t over-dose on the fruit and veg smoothies. I’ve now limited myself to just one a day now, as I was finding any more than that would upset my stomach! And I do have to be careful with the dates as one too many can cause or exacerbate the acid reflux. But I’m getting there and the incidences of gastritis pain aren’t so regular now, (depending on what I eat as well as my stress levels) and the same goes for the acid reflux. But I have not yet returned to the diet I had before my digestive disorder – I’ve heard gastritis can last a long time!
I’ve decided to write a regular blog, partly because it feels quite therapeutic but also because I’m keen to help others with the same symptoms, as I feel there’s so little advice out there for gastritis sufferers, other than to change your diet and lifestyle…which, in my experience is absolutely true but sometimes that in itself can be somewhat baffling (not to mention stressful!), as it can be difficult to know where to start?!