Food allergies are now alarmingly common. There are a lot of theories about why this might be the case, but this isn’t a blog about that. What I know to be true is that peanut butter is no longer served or allowed at school (or on field trips), food products have allergy warnings on their labels, and most restaurants ask that you let them know if anyone in your party has a food sensitivity. Even my bag of Shakeology, due to FDA regulations, has to say that it was “manufactured in a plant that also proccesses milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and soy ingredients,” even though it contains NONE of the listed ingredients. It’s serious business. And, I get it.
Although I am food allergy free, I am not immune to the side effects of certain foods. And, unfortunately for me, WHICH foods are the culprits and WHEN they will choose to surface is unpredictable. I have my oldest son, Drew, to blame for this (or at least that’s the story I’m going with!).
Just over sixteen years ago a beautiful baby boy entered this world. I’ll spare you the gory labor details, but after a 27 hour labor and 3 hours of pushing, Andrew was finally delivered via c-section weighing in at… gulp… 10 lbs, 1 oz! Our “linebacker,” as the nurses called him, looked more like a 3 month old than a newborn and skipped right over the newborn diapers we had stocked up on. He was healthy and happy… just big!
Despite the longer recovery time as a result of this unexpected surgery and extended laboring, the first few months as a new mom were relatively smooth. Pretty normal stuff. Then, about 5 months postpartum, I started experiencing severe abdominal pain shortly after eating dinner every night. The pain, which felt like a knife under my rib cage, necessitated me laying down, curled in a ball, with eyes closed waiting for it to subside. Nausea, fatigue and stomach cramping were all wrapped into one. I was stricken for at least an hour and usually longer. I started trying to identify foods that triggered it and was able to find a few consistent culprits but, painfully, would discover new ones at inopportune times. Sometimes I couldn’t identify any trigger. I don’t know how long I tolerated this condition, but knew that I had to do something to make it stop.
After finally seeking the help of a gastroenterologist, I finally had a diagnosis… a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia is a condition in which part of the stomach sticks upward into the chest, through an opening in the diaphragm. With the ingestion of food, the opening allows the stomach to “leak,” and thereby allows acids to get to places they shouldn’t. Although the cause of this kind of hernia agreed upon, it’s been hypothesized that, “Increased pressure in the abdomen such as from pregnancy” could create it. I think a 10 lb + baby qualifies as “increased pressure!” So, I’m putting this problem squarely on Drew’s “linebacker” shoulders (who also gets the blame for my stretch marks and weak abdominal muscles if you recall from another post).
Having a diagnosis was good news. The bad news? Nothing could be done about it. Other than dietary awareness and 150mg of Zantac upon flare up, there is no other treatment for this condition. Surgery is painful and mostly ineffective and is only done in extreme cases, and thankfully, that wasn’t me. I guess becoming aware of food choices was a good overall practice for me anyway, since this 5′ 4″ frame gained 50 pounds during pregnancy and wasn’t even close to pre-pregnancy weight yet. I learned a new awareness of foods, but also an awareness that sometimes, it was beyond anything I could control. For two months I struggled with intermittent flare-ups and learned to keep that bottle of Zantac by my side at all times.
My battle with this hernia came to a rather abrupt end when, in it’s place, another bulge started… baby #2! Ironically, as the baby grew, the pain ceased and didn’t rear its head during the entire pregnancy. Even with a “normal” delivery of a 9 lb, 12 oz baby (with a smaller head!), the hernia created no further issues in the subsequent months and even years. In fact, in the past 14 years, I can recall only one intense flare up about 5 years ago.
So why am I writing about this? I know my medical history isn’t all that interesting! Well, it’s been on the forefront of my mind because I am, currently, battling this hernia once again. As someone who’s “industry” is now largely about food and nutrition, I find it kind of ironic. My food choices are limited, knowing that if I eat the wrong thing, I will be out of commission for several hours. I am drawn to carbs, since they are bland and pretty predictably safe, all the while knowing I need to balance it with the proteins, vegetables and fruits my body needs, but sometimes doesn’t like. It’s been a roller coaster few week filled with many moments of holding my breath, hoping my body doesn’t reject the food I’ve put in it. I’ve come to dread meal times, especially dinner, when the pain is most likely to be triggered. Rather than eating for pleasure, I eat for necessity.
I have a new appreciation for those who struggle regularly with food allergies or autoimmune disorders like Celiac disease. It must be difficult to eat in a restaurant and not know if something has been “contaminated,” aware of the consequences if it was. It must be hard to go to a party and be concerned about what foods will be served and whether or not you will “pay for it” later. It must be hard to feel restricted and limited ALL the time, not just when there’s an occasional flare up. So, for all of you who fight food on daily basis, I feel you.
I pray that you have more days that food is your friend, not your enemy.