My illness and how it changed the way I eat

Some people have been in touch with me to find out more about what happened to me in 2014 that made me change my diet so radically, I thought I’d post about it – sorry there are no recipes in this one but if this post helps anyone I’ll be glad I shared.

Towards the end of January 2014 I gained weight, around a stone and a bit, almost overnight. I was shocked stepping on the scales and even changed the batteries to be sure!  I put it down to overeating over Christmas and vowed to work it off.

Over the next 2 weeks I started to notice changes in my body, the way I was feeling wasn’t right and my skin was oily and spotty. The top part of my stomach, around the diaphragm was bloated and my clothes didn’t fit right, I had terrible heartburn after every single meal and I was really tired all the time.

I became more and more aware of my eating habits and I became more sensitive to how I felt after eating. I would get up in the morning and have tea and toast then feel completely full. Come lunchtime, I didn’t want to eat anything, would go home and cook and then go to bed early. I thought it was just a phase and took some vitamins and started going to spin classes 3-4 times per week.

After a month of taking the vitamins and going to the gym nothing had changed. I hadn’t seen any improvements, on or off the scales, and discussed it with my hubby. We agreed it was weird and that I should go see the doctor.

At my doctors you have to book an emergency appointment on the day otherwise you have to wait for 3 months to see somebody and I’ve never seen the same doctor twice. I told the doctor all the symptoms I’d noticed and he recommended a blood test first, to rule out any thyroid issues.

The results came back and there wasn’t anything hugely wrong, although they did see a vitamin D deficiency and recommended I start taking vitamins for that, which I did.

I booked a follow up appointment at the doctors, this one really focussed on my heartburn which was becoming a real issue for me. The doc recommended I start keeping a detailed food diary to see if there were any trends or patterns we could see. He prescribed Omeprazole for 2 weeks to see if there was any change – take it for a few days, note any changes in my symptoms then stop taking them and see if the symptoms returned or changed again as a result.

The heartburn went away with the tablets but as soon as I stopped taking them it came straight back – not wanting to take prescription drugs for the rest of my life I ventured back to the doctors to report the results and see what else I could try.

This was the third doctor I saw and by this point I’d had enough. I felt I needed an ultrasound or an endoscopy to see what’s going on, I was really worried that something was seriously wrong with me. I was barely eating – sticking to liquid foods like smoothies and soups to limit the bloating and was exercising loads. When I mentioned this, the doc was really sympathetic and recommended I only ask for her for any further appointments, its unusual that they allow this but she said its necessary in this case to keep continuity of progress. She said she couldn’t justify a referral for ultrasound or endoscopy without some more tests first. She put me on Macrogol – basically a very strong laxative – in case there was a ‘blockage’.

Cue the worst 2 weeks of my life, for obvious reasons I will not go into. Didn’t fix any of my problems. I tried it with the Omeprazole and without it. She also recommended I restrict FODMAP foods – so excluding from my diet foods such as garlic, onions, lots of acidic fruits, processed meats and just about anything else in the world that is tastier than cardboard.

The diet was so unenjoyable but this was the turning point in my situation. I could see subtle differences in some areas, my skin started to clear up and I started to feel more alert and awake. It clicked that what I was putting in to my body could be having an affect on what I was getting out, light bulb moment 😉

It got to around June, 6 months of this problem affecting my life. I was really struggling to be my usual, upbeat and happy self at work and with my friends and family. I returned to my doctor with my latest food diary and feedback on what tests/routines I’d been trying out. She finally agreed to send me for an ultrasound and more shockingly, it was arranged for just a weeks time – I expected to be waiting for months!

I had the ultrasound in Ealing, the woman who did it wasn’t great, she told me there was nothing wrong with me, its all in my head and that all girls these days are just worried about getting fat and will do anything to try and explain it away! I couldn’t believe her but, whatever. She checked everything over, confirmed there were no serious abnormalities that could point towards cancer but did mention that I had gallstones.

Gallstones affect around 10-15% of the UK population and is more common for women. Many people will have them but never require treatment, it’s only if or when they start to irritate that something needs to be done.

I waited a week to have a follow up with my doctor. Finally she gave me the referral I needed to the ‘Gastro Team’ (*play superhero music here). By this time, i was really fed up of waiting and how this was so consuming and affecting all of my life. So I called up my private healthcare provider and because I had a referral, they were happy to send me off to a shiny, fancy consultant near Kingston.

I had an initial meeting with him to go through all of what I’d done so far, he did some quick checks and reviewed my gallstones. He explained in detail how gallstones can affect people and his expectation that it’d be likely they’d need to be removed but that he wanted to do one final test first, an endoscopy because not all of my symptoms matched up to the gallstones being the issue – he wanted to be sure before doing anything as drastic as surgery.

The results from the endoscopy showed that I have a Hiatus Hernia – this is where part of your stomach squeezes up through your chest through a gap in your diaphragm. Looking back now at the treatment for this, I can clearly see why clean eating has been so spectacularly successful in helping my symptoms and why whenever I stop clean eating for more than a day it all starts to come flooding back.

A follow up with the consultant outlined things I can do to help myself but also a recommendation that we go ahead with removing the gall bladder and this was set for August. I was so relieved to finally have a clear diagnosis and a plan of action!!

My gall bladder was removed and my road to recovery began. Tests after the surgery came back showed that my gallbladder had Acute Cholecystitis – this is where your gallbladder just swells and swells and has to be treated in hospital so its a good job I had it out in any case!!

The next month I stuck to a really light and fresh diet, trying to avoid foods with a high fat content and anything too acidic. Slowly life returned to normal, I still had some of my symptoms but it was clear things were better than they had been for 9 months! November and December rushed by in a blur of birthdays, celebrations and Christmas and come January, my best friend and I were talking about how we were going to get rid of our Festive Bellies (as we do every year)!

I’d heard in passing, bits and pieces about clean eating and it was becoming more and more the ‘diet to be doing’, I passed it over as another fad but Nicola had done more reading than I and recommended we look at it more closely. We found a website called The Kitchen Shed – a UK site providing meal plans to kick start or test if clean eating works. We agreed to give it a month to see if the claims were true.

Clean eating is a lifestyle not a diet – it’s very easy to incorporate into your normal way of eating wih a few tweaks and modifications, for example, I now eat 5 small meals a day rather than the standard three. Clean eating centres around three main areas:

  1. Eating whole foods – those which are unprocessed, unrefined and keeping them as close to their natural state as possible
  2. Avoiding or reducing the amount consumption of of products which contain scientific ingredients – anything you can’t easily pronounce should be avoided
  3. If the word (or a derivative of) ‘sugar’ is win thin the first three ingredients listed in a food item, pick something else

Switching to clean eating wasn’t entirely easy or foolproof – it took time to really get to understand what clean eating is all about but once the benefits started to roll in, after about 2 weeks, it was easy to see that this is something that works.
Treatment for a hiatus hernia states that you should eat small, frequent meals and avoid lying down soon after eating or drinking. Without realising it, I applied both of these when I started clean eating, as you’ll see from this and all future meal plans.

Some of the key benefits I’ve noted from starting clean eating:

  • Energy, lots of energy!
  • Shiny hair
  • Strong nails
  • Clear, dewy skin
  • Very gradual weight loss
  • Did I mention lots of energy? Being able to motor on from 6am to 11pm every day – working, running a family, exercising and now starting this blog as well as getting a new puppy!
  • Heightened awareness of what my body needs
  • Feeling good about myself, knowing that I’ve accomplished something amazing, I’m better for it and I’ve educated myself
  • An awareness of how bad foods make my body react
  • A passion to share my story

As I said at the start of this surprisingly long post, if my story can help anyone or spur you into trying clean eating then this entire food blog is a success. Get in touch if you want more information, if you want to chat more about your own experiences or if you just want to ask questions, I’d genuinely really love to help.

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