Editor’s Note: This website is not designed to, and should not be construed to, provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment. Always consult a health professional about before trying out new home therapies or changing your diet.
I had reached the end of my rope, crying over the toilet for the last time after another full night of bile-filled, throat-burning vomiting.
Having endured many nights just like this one over the course of a month and not knowing why I was sick was the most frustrating part. I would return to my room and lie in bed saying to myself over and over, “I don’t want to live like this anymore.” My body was weak and tired. I felt hopeless. I finally had enough and decided to seek medical advice—and I’m glad I did.
There is no frustration like not knowing what ails you and when I found out my pain was caused by a stomach ulcer, relief washed over me with joy.
Before my diagnosis, I played the guessing game of what could be making me sick by eliminating items from my diet and trying new ones. For example, alcohol. I would have two glasses of wine and be sick to my stomach for hours afterward, something that had never happened before. I decided to cut alcohol out of my diet for a while thinking, “I guess my body is rejecting this.” I would try to drink ginger tea to settle my stomach and find the pain even worse. Coffee was completely out of the question as well as lemon, which I loved to have with my tea each morning.
Eventually I would wake up in the morning with a sense of angst in my upper abdomen, my body stressed and tense. It felt as if I couldn’t un-tense my stomach, even in my sleep. I lost 11 pounds in a couple months, an abnormal amount of weight for me to lose.
What was the deal?
I shouldn’t have waited as long as I did but I finally decided to contact a doctor friend of mine to reach out for help. I don’t know why I didn’t do it before. Perhaps there is a bit of denial that comes along with a possible food allergy or food related illness because we don’t want to have to face the facts that we may have to cut out a beloved food item from our list of indulgences. Thankfully, my doctor knew right away what it was and gave me a list of foods I should avoid in order to heal the lining of my stomach.
And this list wasn’t easy but a lot easier than waking up in wrenching pain.
I cut out the following items and within a few days, I began to feel significantly better for those reasons:
- Coffee: It’s acidic and hard on the digestive system in general.
- Alcohol: It’s a major stressor to ulcers and a key player in causing them for heavy drinkers.
- Chocolate: Bitter and acidic, can be rough on the gut
- Dairy: Though it coats the lining at first, it sends in digestive acids that can cause more damage than good.
- Tomatoes and acidic fruits: They are both highly acidic and can irritate the gut lining.
- Ginger: This one surprised me! But Ginger has compounds that increase digestive juices which can irritate an ulcer. It’s better if eaten for prevention or not on an empty stomach.
- Hot Peppers and Black Pepper: Though capsaicin has not been proven to hurt the stomach, hot peppers can cause discomfort and pain for those sensitive to the heat.
This list pretty much nails all my favorite foods and drinks and though I knew I could abstain, it was a real bummer! It was happening right at a time when I was celebrating the end of a hard, long work season with my coworkers, unable to toast a glass of champagne, unable to enjoy the earned buffet table of treats set out at our work party. I tried my best not to let my ulcer make me bitter (no pun intended) but ended up failing in the end with a slight chip on my shoulder, feeling as though I had been ripped off of my reward.
It wasn’t until I began to listen to the comments of coworkers and friends about how much less stressed and chilled out I seemed that I really began to take notice of the positive effects my diet had created—there were many benefits!
For one, I was not in crazy pain anymore, getting a full night of sleep without waking up in pain. I began to try new practices each day to relieve my stress as well. These additions were like a salve to a wound, cooling and calming. The fire that had been roaring in my belly was beginning to burn out and I began to feel a new sense of energy with a deeper sense of clear mindedness. I used to think I needed coffee to wake me up in the morning but then realized that the digestive discomfort that it gave me ended up taking energy from me and dehydrating me. Teecchino (herbal coffee), yerba mate, and green teas are much easier on my stomach, and healthier too. I enjoy my cup of coffee once in a while, but after I learned to go without it for a period of time, I realized I didn’t need to be raking my gut over the coals every morning like I had been.
Ulcer or not, coffee can be hard on our systems, a fact which I had accepted because I thought I “needed” it for energy.
I decided to try some new things instead of mull over what I couldn’t have and it made all the difference.
I would get up every morning and do yoga for a half an hour, then end my session with a half and hour of meditation. Not only did I enjoy all the health benefits of doing yoga, such as reduced inflammation, greater flexibility, and a good dose of oxygen to my lungs, but I felt as though I was taking control of my day.
I was dictating how it was going to begin with balance and calm, allowing myself to wake up to the world on my terms and not with a stressed stomach.
Some things were easier to let go of than others. Dairy wasn’t as difficult. I love coconut milk and almond milk so that was an easy substitute and even got me making new types of ice cream and sorbets! I had a lot of fun experimenting with the food and having my own version of everything when I’d dine with other people. Alcohol and coffee were a little more difficult because they were vices. I had to get over the mentality that I got my energy in the morning from coffee. I also had to get over the habit of using alcohol as a way to wind down with my coworkers. At first that was difficult, but there’s nothing like someone else’s pained hangover face the next day to make you glad you didn’t join in!
When I put my mind to remembering the negative effects of the things I had to abstain from, it helped me build my resistance.
Painting was another practice that I found very stress relieving and meditative in its own way. Whether it is forming clay into a piece of pottery, throwing paint at a canvas, lightly painting a portrait, or refurbishing a piece of furniture, the expression of artistry releases pent up aggression for me and gets my mind off other things that may be stressing me out.
Taking a stroll after work or early in the mornings out in nature grounded me and helped me to appreciate the beauty that is around me. I love to walk along the river near where I live and to listen to the birds in the morning, the sound of water bubbling along musically, to breathe in the fresh air and be grateful for my surroundings.
I made it a point to be mindful of what was making me less stressed and what was the cause. I took notes. Simple measures can help as well, I didn’t always have time to do yoga or meditate. Drinking lots of water, playing with my neighbor’s dog, writing in my journal when I was angry or anxious about something, talking to a good friend, or just simply remembering to take big, lung filled breaths helped me tremendously.
The simplest of pauses and deep breaths can do a lot of good.
Making decisions like these to try to lower my stress and improve my peace of mind were life changing and saving. I began to see how so much of what I was ingesting, both with food and with my mind, was the cause of my anxiety and unhappiness. Instead of using alcohol to unwind after work, I realized that it was dehydrating me, stressing my poor liver, and killing important cell growth in my body. My massive consumption of coffee a day was making me anxious, speeding up my stressed out breathing, causing me stomach discomfort, and eliminating much needed hydration. I was like a dog chasing my tail, using one substance after another to temporarily remedy the effects of my anxiety.
In the end, these were the major contributors to the pain and not the solution.
Slowly but surely, it was as though my body began to wake up again. I had a lot less anxiety, my stomach began to heal, and I made better decisions with what I was eating and drinking. The ulcer was the sign I needed to change some things in my life and the reward far outweighed the pain. Sure I had to go without some things I love to eat and drink and have had to greatly reduce their intake, but there were plenty of healthy substitutions available to help me get through. There are no substitutions for well-being and physical relief.
And at the end of the day, it was really about loving my body and realizing that abstaining was just as important as indulging. I learned to be mindful of my body, to listen to it when it was sending out stress signals, and to attune myself back into a healthy state. I learned what needed to be gutted from my life to move forward with energy and life—and though it wasn’t easy, it was totally worth it.
Author: Sarah Gilbert
Image: Flickr/Alexandra E Rust
Editor: Renée Picard