Easter & Endoscopy

2 Apr

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter! Tyler and I celebrated his birthday and the holiday with food, food, and more food. After gorging myself all weekend (adhering to the lactose free diet, of course), I kicked off April with an endoscopy. It was long over due. I started experiencing bloating and abdominal pain every time I eat after my first year of college, nearly 6 years ago. Finally, a GI ordered an endoscopy, but he didn’t expect to find anything. The doctor said there was a 6-8% chance that it would reveal something. But, I figured it was worth it; there’s no prep for the procedure, it’s minimally invasive, and could explain my problem.

So, yesterday morning I showed up at the Raleigh Endoscopy Center. I didn’t expect to be nervous about the actual procedure, after all  I’d be under anesthesia.  But, Sunday night I started worrying that they would stick the scope down my throat before the anesthesia took affect. I woke up in the middle of the night dreaming that the doctors were scoping me while I was awake, but because of the medication I couldn’t say anything. I made the anesthesiologist promise me that he’d make sure I was asleep before they started the procedure. Irrational, I know.

I’ve been worried for months now that if I did get an endoscopy, and it didn’t reveal anything, where would that leave me? What would I do next? Would I ever get a diagnosis? As I’m sure Tyler can attest to, I’m really good at playing the “what if” game. Well, the endoscopy revealed five lesions from my esophagus to my small intestine and duodenum. They’re pre-ulcerous, so they took biopsies and I should receive those results by the end of the week. I’ve also been instructed to take Prilosec daily to help heal the lesions.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that these lesions are causing my bloating and pain. But, it’s good that we found them before they became ulcers. It seems like the more tests they perform, the more they find wrong with me that’s NOT the cause of my problem. In total: I carry the Celiac’s gene, I have lesions, I’m lactose intolerant, and I have small intestinal bacteria overgrowth.

I hope (my fingers and toes are crossed) that the biopsies lead us to my problem. If not, the doctor said we’ll probably look to my gall bladder. I’m starting to think that my gall bladder might be dysfunctional. A friend forwarded me this Washington Post article, and after reading about her story, I’ve done some research on the topic. I don’t suffer from what they call “gall bladder attacks,” but it’s possible I have a dysfunctional gall bladder.  I might be grasping at straws and I’m sure doctors hate patients who self-diagnose about as much as lawyers hate clients who pretend to know the law. So, I’ll refrain – or attempt to refrain – from self-diagnosing. (To be honest, I’ve been self-diagnosing for years now.) But, I’m desperate for a diagnosis and effective treatment. Plus, the fact that there might be something wrong with my gall bladder keeps me optimistic – I keep worrying that I’m running out of potential problems as they continue to rule out possible causes. So, feel free to share any possible diagnoses!

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Some of my Favorite Lactose and/or Gluten Free Foods

26 Mar

I’ve been on the gluten free, lactose free, and gluten and lactose free diets in the past year. And to be honest, I found the gluten free diet the easiest to comply with for two reasons. First, I find it much easier to know whether or not I’m consuming gluten when eating at home or out. Second, there are, in my opinion, adequate gluten free substitutes.

When you’re avoiding gluten, you have to avoid wheat, barley, rye, and oats. Generally speaking that means no bread, no pasta, no fried foods, limited processed foods, and only granola that is specifically labeled gluten free because oats are processed with other wheat products which likely results in cross-contamination. That’s a lot of nos and can’t haves. But, I found it pretty easy to determine when reading ingredient labels or menus what was off-limits and what was OK. When eating out on the gluten free diet, I made use of the amazing “Find Me Gluten Free” app which located restaurants nearby with dedicated gluten-free menus. I also recommend the Gluten Free Blog (there are different blogs for different NC cities) for restaurant reviews. I was shocked to learn how many chain restaurants like Bonefish Grill, Rockfish Seagood Grill, Maggianos, Firebirds, Jason’s Deli (which carrie’s Udi’s gluten free bread), and Brixx had gluten free menus. Others like Moes, Chipotle, and Chikck-fil-A have allergen menus with the necessary information. Restaurants with gluten free menus generally had staff that was knowledgeable about the gluten free diet and were more than willing to assist as needed. Also, the gluten free menus tend to note what on the restaurant’s normal menu makes an entree not gluten free so that you can ask for the regular item without the gluten.

I live in Durham, so I’m fortunate to live in a food-conscious area with access to lots of great restaurants and grocery stores. This gets me to my second point: gluten free substitutes are plentiful. While grocery shopping on the gluten free menu I found that Trader Joe’s does an excellent job of labeling their price tags so you know what items are gluten free (though they do miss some gluten free items; they also have a lactose free “dairy” section). Whole Foods carries a wide array of Udis products including bread, bagels, muffins, cinnamon buns, and pizza crust AND their prices on these items were not higher than Krogers (which also carries several of Udi’s bakery items). They were the best tasting gluten-free wheat substitutes I found! I also ate these when I was on the gluten free/lactose free diet because most of Udi’s products are both gluten and dairy free. Krogers also has an amazing lactose and/or gluten free section (and is much more convenient to my house than Whole Foods). They carry several Udi’s products, soy yogurt, vegan cream cheese, lactose free cheeses, and delicious almond milk cookie dough ice cream (yep, it’s dairy AND gluten free).  I’m also a huge fan of Amy’s frozen food for either the dairy or gluten or dairy and gluten free diet. They have burritos that come in dairy free, gluten free, and gluten and dairy free. I’ve tried them all and have found them all to be pretty tasty. I also like Amy’s gluten free pizza (made with Rice crust), their gluten free and lactose free pizza, and their dairy free pizza (Trader Joes makes a version of the dairy free pizza, but I like Amy’s better). Purdue also makes gluten free chicken tenders which aren’t bad!     2013-03-25 19.35.44

When eating out, Jason’s Deli, carries gluten free bread for their sandwiches; Milton’s Pizza and Pasta (in Raleigh and Wake Forest) offers gluten free pasta; and Tomota Jake’s has gluten free pizza. I am now intentionally eating gluten while avoiding dairy, but I recently learned that Med Deli on Franklin Street offers a gluten free pita.

Going lactose free is a little harder. Many packages now come with a “gluten free” label which makes life super easy (I must admit, I often paid more for products that were clearly labeled so I didn’t have to read long ingredient lists and fear I missed something). Unfortunately, very few products are labeled “dairy” or “lactose free.” I have yet to find a “lactose free menu.”  And, menu items don’t specifically note what ingredients are dairy or lactose. When you’re avoiding lactose you can’t ingest milk (unless it’s lactose free milk), whey, butter, cream, cheese, or yogurt. The hard part is that most restaurants don’t tell you whether or not they cook their meals in butter or use milk instead or water.

My favorite entree from Chick-fil-A is the grilled chicken wrap (before their recent menu change and my diet change, I loved the Caesar Wrap). Chick-fila does have an allergen menu, and it says that their wraps contain dairy. Well, that’s not surprising because they contain cheese. So, I think if you remove the cheese, the wrap should be lactose free. But, I can’t be sure. That’s because whey, which contains lactose, is in a lot of packaged and bread products like English muffins. So, it’s possible that the tortilla contains whey. I’ve done some research and I haven’t found any tortilla or tortilla recipe that calls for milk, so I’ve been eating the wraps without cheese. I’ve encountered other problems. Recently, I ordered a bean burger with fries and I specifically requested no butter on the bun. I also asked about their honey mustard sauce to see if it was made with mayo or milk. The waitress, in talking to the chef about the honey mustard, informed me that the bean burger contained milk. I was shocked, I had no idea – it’d never even crossed my mind that bean burger would contain milk. I mean, I knew to request no butter, to check the sauce, and to avoid most of the pasta salad side dishes, but no veggie burgers?

There are also fewer milk substitutes available while eating out. I do buy soy yogurt (I find soy yogurt to be much better than almond yogurt which I think is kind of lumpy) for home, and I have found cheese and cream cheese substitutes at Whole Foods and Krogers.2013-03-25 19.38.16 Fortunately, my beloved coffee creamer is lactose (and gluten) free. So lately my breakfast has been a cinnamon and raisin bagel with vegan cream cheese. Luckily, bagels don’t contain whey or milk, so they’ve been a great source of gluten which I’ve been ordered to eat in preparation for my endoscopy on April 1st. As a side note, it’s harder than one might think to actively eat gluten while avoiding lactose just because so many of the bakery items that contain gluten also contain lactose while the dairy free alternatives are also gluten free.

 

 

 

 

I’ve also purchased cheese alternatives, which are pretty good. I like to add them to my Chipotle or sometimes I even add it to Amy’s cheese-free pizza.2013-03-25 19.38.47 But things like vegan cheese and cream cheese aren’t readily available while eating out. That means I normally resort to mustard or hummus (lactose and gluten free) as a sauce or spread. Lactose free also means no ranch dressing or milk chocolate – my two greatest weaknesses (followed only by french fries which thankfully are permitted on gluten and lactose free diets).

Finding milk chocolate alternatives hasn’t been easy. Enjoy Life makes delicious chocolate chip cookies which are gluten free and dairy free. Unfortunately, chocolate chip cookies don’t always satisfy my chocolate cravings. I’ve never been a white or dark chocolate fan, but the lactose free diet has forced my hand. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve resorted to dark chocolate covered bananas, cherries, and almonds. So Delicious makes my favorite ice cream alternative (it’s available at Whole Foods and Krogers). I’ve always loved frozen, chocolate covered bananas. You know, the kind you can get at the fair (it’s a must have for me when I go). And, I’ve seen them in the dessert aisle at the grocery store before, but I’ve always considered it a fair food and stuck to my low fat, Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich. Since that’s no longer an option, I decided to give the bananas a try. 2013-03-25 19.36.46 They’re available in dark and milk chocolate and it broke my heart to buy the dark chocolate ones. I ate one while writing this post and I have to say it didn’t disappoint.

Tyler’s birthday is on Good Friday this year, so we’re going to celebrate by partaking in some Easter activities. Peeps, sugar cookies, and egg dying are a must. I spent some time in the cookie aisle at the grocery store this afternoon reading labels. I was surprised to find that some brands used milk in their sugar cookies while others did not. Pillsbury was having a two-for-one sale so I bought Tyler some break and bake cookies – chocolate chip and peanut butter (the chocolate chip contained lactose, no surprise, but so did the peanut butter cookies). I picked up some peeps and Easter themed sugar cookies for us to enjoy together.

While I’ve generally found a gluten free diet easier to adhere to, there’s no fix for gluten intolerance (besides eliminating gluten). Fortunately, there are lactose enzymes that can be taken with each meal to help my body digest lactose (this is not the case for those with a dairy or lactose allergy). I have been strictly avoiding lactose because I’m still experiencing distension each and every time I eat and I’m trying to eliminate all possible causes. Once (if) I identify the source of my bloating and my lactose intolerance lingers, then I might experiment with the lactose enzymes.

Medication of the week.

18 Mar

It’s been a while since I took the time to blog. But, I thought it was about time that I update y’all on my continued efforts to cure what I’ve recently learned is medically called “abdominal distension.” I always just called it my bloating/pregnant looking problem. But, I have to say abdominal distension sounds more serious and worthy of medical attention, so it’s my new catch phrase.

Since I last blogged, I switched doctors. I was previously being seen by the GI Clinic at UNC Hospitals. My doctor was the Chief of the division, a professor at the medical school, and a doctor at a nationally recognized hospital. He believed that I was truly suffering, was able to assist me in between visits via email, and was very receptive to my suggestions.  But, after unsuccessfully treating me for just over six months, he said there was nothing else he could do for me. He recommended alternative medicine. So, I seriously considered the option. The doctor he recommended had worked for UNC for 20 years and had practiced alternative medicine for years. And, after all, if the Chief of UNC’s GI clinic couldn’t help me, what traditional doctor could? After learning that insurance doesn’t cover alternative treatments, I decided I wasn’t ready to give up on the more traditional route. There was a lot the doctors hadn’t done over the years. I’d never been tested for a lactose or fructose intolerance. I’ve never undergone an endoscopy or colonoscopy (thankfully). There had to be medicines out there worth trying, right? Well, I was going to find out. So I googled gastroenterologist practices in the area and found WakeGastro. I figured it was worth an initial consultation. So, in November I made my way to their north Raleigh office. I was quickly informed that normally this practice referred patients to my former doctor at UNC, not the other way around. Needless to say, I left the initial consult less than hopeful about ever getting a diagnosis.

But, WakeGastro did offer some hope – the doctor had an attack plan. First, try some IBS medication and pancreas enzymes. If those don’t work, breath tests for lactose and fructose. So, I tried the medications. The IBS medication wasn’t helping and made me nauseous feeling during finals, so I didn’t stick with them for very long. The pancreatic enzymes didn’t seem to do any good either. So, after weeks of studying and exams, I decided to take the take-home breath tests. Before taking either test, I had to adhere to a chicken and rice only diet for twenty-four hours. Because I had two tests that I had to take on separate days, that meant two days of nothing but chicken and rice flavored with nothing by salt and pepper. After two days of nothing but water, chicken, and rice, I was sick to my stomach, weak, and dizzy. After finishing both tests, I treated myself to a Bojangles chicken biscuit combo with a sweet tea.

As some of you know, I tested positive for lactose intolerance. Super intolerant. I believe the nurse said a normal score on the test is somewhere between 20-30 and I scored a 120. I was livid when I found out I was lactose intolerant. I LOVE cheese. Cheese makes everything taste better. But, I love ranch dressing more than I love cheese. Ranch is a great dipping sauce for my other love, french fries.  And, I probably love milk chocolate more than I love ranch and cheese combined. Lactose intolerance meant that I couldn’t have chocolate, ranch, or cheese. My diet would be forever changed. But, if cutting out lactose fixed my problem, it would be worth it! Plus, lactose pills are always an option, once I’m been able to determine my level of intolerance.

So, I went lactose free on the first day of this semester (Jan 9) and I’ve been lactose free ever since. Two weeks in, I was still having stomach problems. They weren’t as severe or as prolonged as they had been, but they were still present. So, I started wondering what else I could be doing. I felt great, lived stomach problem free for two weeks in August 2012, and every time I’m about to give up, I remember those two weeks and my resolve is renewed. In August, I went gluten free, so I initially thought I was gluten intolerant. But, I’ve since learned that many gluten free foods are also lactose free, so I thought maybe *just maybe* I was lactose intolerant and gluten intolerant. So here I go on another diet: lactose free and gluten free. I stayed on that diet for about a month, and didn’t notice any marked improvement.

Soo….back to the doctors I go in February. There, he confirms the old IBS diagnosis and gives me some new medicine to try. By the way, if I haven’t said it before, let me say it now: IBS is the most worthless diagnosis ever. It’s a catch-all for anything and everything doctor’s can’t specifically diagnose. And, I  don’t care what I’m diagnosed with, so it’s not the diagnosis that bothers me, it’s that they don’t know how to treat IBS. Probably because so many different symptoms and diseases are lumped into one; it’s impossible to define specific treatments for the disease. Anyways, since that last visit I’ve tried both medications. The potential side effects of one are the symptoms I’m currently trying to cure. So when you’re on the drug, you don’t know if it’s simply not working so you’re continuing to experience the same problems or if it’s working, but you’re experiencing the side effects. Either way, I wasn’t feeling any better and instead of suffering from IBS-C, I felt the pain of IBS-D patients for several weeks.

Needless to say, I gave up on the first medication he recommended and moved on to the one that’s supposed to prevent stomach spasms. I’ve been on that for a couple of days, and I haven’t been able to notice a difference :/. Every time I try a new diet or medication I cross my fingers (and toes, since mine are so long they’re like fingers), hope, and pray that it’s the answer. But, every time, it fails. I continue to bloat. every. time. I. eat.

As I was ready to give up again, I remembered the two weeks of bliss in August. An endoscopy is the next step and I’ve been back on gluten since my February doctors visit so that they can check for Celiacs (I did test positive for the Celiacs gene, but going gluten free didn’t seem to work).

There’s no prep for an endoscopy and they put you to sleep, so the actual procedure doesn’t scare me. But, I’m terrified that it won’t reveal what’s wrong with me. If it doesn’t, then what? What if I never find out what’s wrong with me? What if I always bloat every time I eat?

I got my sugar fix.

21 Sep

My sugar craving reached an all time high this week. Usually, I refuse to keep any dessert in the house because I can’t show self restraint when it comes to chocolate. So, I take advantage of all the free food at the law school during the lunch hour. Free pizza, cookies, and chocolate bars are plentiful at noon. See, all the student organizations and events try to bribe students by offering free food. It works. The bar-prep companies set up in the lobby to sell their prep courses and materials and offer cupcakes, chocolate, and other candy to get us to sign up. I’ve perfected my technique at stopping by their table, glancing over the literature, and grabbing a handful of “fun size” Hershey bars and Kit-Kats. I have yet to buy anything, though I will, eventually. If anyone can tell me why the bit-sized candy bars are called “fun sized,” I’d love to hear it. Personally, I think the king size is “fun.”

My self-control was at an all time low after a week worth of lunch time temptations. So, I searched online for an SCD bakery that ships baked goods. I hit gold. I found several bakeries that offer goods for people on a gluten free and/or Specific Carb Diet: SCD Bakery, Gut Food, Annette’s Gluten Free Bakery, and Digestive Wellness. Many of the bakeries offer featured items each week, and I was in the market for sugar cookies. Digestive Wellness had some promising options: Honey Chews Cookies, Butter Cookies, Fruit Bars, and Apricot-Cherry Honey Spread. I threw everything in my shopping cart that might satisfy my sugar craving. While I was at it, I bought some nuts, granola, salsa and marinara sauce. They shipped my order quickly and it arrived in just a couple days. As soon as I received the package I ripped it open to try a little bit of everything. That’s always a problem of mine, if I buy too many tasty things at the grocery store I want to eat it all as soon as I get it home. I have tried one of each cookie (OK maybe I ate two of the honey chews). I also ate a fruit bar and a pinch of the jam. Everything was super tasty and I was ready to place a second order just minutes after receiving my first.

So, I got my sugar fix, finally. It only took a week. I’m starting to get a hang of the diet, but I’m still bloating after every meal. I’ve finished two rounds of antibiotics and I’ve been on this diet for just over two weeks. On the plus side, I no longer experience the extreme bloating, I used to on occasion. Now, I regularly suffer from moderate bloating. This is an improvement; I think. I might even think that this was “normal” if it weren’t for the two weeks I felt amazing while on the gluten-free diet. So, my search for my tummy fix continues.

In Need of a Sugar-Free Sugar Cookie Recipe

17 Sep

I’m a couple weeks into the Specific Carb Diet, and I’m cravings lots of “illegal” foods. I’d really like some chicken nuggets, french fries, frozen yogurt, milk chocolate, a grilled chicken pita with ranch dressing,  pizza, and french vanilla coffee mate. Oh, I’d also really like a peanut butter and banana sandwich with my JIF natural creamy peanut butter – the kind I don’t have to refrigerate and stir. They say eating more whole wheat, less sugar, and no white potatoes is supposed to make you stay fuller and more satisfied for longer. Unfortunately, this has NOT been my experience.
But, my biggest craving is sugar. I have yet to satisfy this craving. In two weeks I’ve made three batches of “sugar” cookies, one batch of peanut butter cookies, and two loaves of banana bread. The banana bread turned out great both times, but didn’t really satisfy my sugar/dessert craving. The peanut butter cookies turned out like peanut butter biscuits. The sugar cookies turned out more like dough-y pancakes the first two times I made them (following two different recipes, both with almond flour). My third attempt at sugar cookies was not a charm. The third time around, I used a sugar substitute (Sweet-N-Low instead of honey) and whole wheat flour instead of almond flour. The result: sugar biscuits.

It’s funny, days go by and I don’t notice the inconveniences of the diet. Then, suddenly I’m frustrated by everything I can’t eat and I become fixated on the negative. As I was fixated on the fact that I couldn’t eat the tasty sguar cookies Target had displayed as you first walk in the door,  the ones decorated for Halloween, I realized my sugar craving could be worse. I gave up regular sodas, sweet tea, and sugar in my coffee earlier this year. I can only imagine how bad my sugar craving would be right about now had I started this diet earlier this year. For years, my diabetic boyfriend begged me to give up regular sodas for diet and other zero calorie drinks so that we could share and he wouldn’t inadvertently be served my regular coke – the waitresses always assumed I  ordered the diet coke. I refused. Why not drink the regular stuff if I don’t need to cut the calories? But, eventually I decided he was probably right – I didn’t need to be consuming more calories in soda than in food a day. So, I slowly made the transition to diet coke. Correction – Coke Zero and Pepsi Max. But, for months after giving up real soda, I  continued to put real sugar in my sweet tea.  I could handle diet coke and artificial sweetener in my coffee, but sweet tea just wasn’t the same without sugar (I guess that’s because I was born and raised in the South).  But, eventually I transitioned to unsweet tea, sweetened with Sweet-N-Low. I’ve never been so glad I gave up real sugar until now! Since I can no longer drink more than 16 ounces of diet coke a day, can’t drink Propel or flavor my water, tea is my new staple beverage.

Thankfully, tea goes well with my new regular dinner. Turkey sandwich on whole wheat toasted bread with cheddar cheese and mustard. In addition to my sugar cravings, I love salt. Fortunately, salt isn’t illegal. But, potatoes are. So, potato chips are a no-no. Because no sandwich is complete without chips, I searched the chip aisle for a potato free chip. I found Tostitos Simply Natural Corn Tortilla Chips. They definitely satisfy my salt and crunchy cravings. The sweet tea is a great substitute for diet coke and my turkey sandwich does the trick. But, I’m left wanting something sweet at the end of the meal, so if anyone has a great recipe for a sweet dessert that is made with whole wheat flour and doesn’t call for sugar, please share!

It’s a Party!

10 Sep

I started the Specific Carb Diet (SCD) on a Saturday and I was completely frustrated with it by Monday. Monday wasn’t a good day. It started with a cup of coffee sweetened with almond milk and sweet-n-low. This was a huge disappointment as I’m accustomed to a little coffee with my Fat-Free French Vanilla Coffee-Mate. The almond milk might as well have been water. The watery coffee was followed by bland plain cheerios (the only cereal with less than 5g/sugar per serving). The food just got worse as the day went on. For my mid-morning snack, I had plain greek yogurt (the only SCD approved yogurt) with berries.

I can’t stand wasting calories on bad-tasting food. Bad food coupled with a Monday back at school was more than I was ready for so when I ran into a couple friends in the cafeteria I did some serious venting. It was then that my friends suggested I try baking some bread and cookies at home. They also suggested adding sweet-n-low to the yogurt which has been a game changer (I also upped the berry to yogurt ratio). Adding a couple sweet-n-low packets to my morning fruit and yogurt was doable. But baking is something I know nothing about. My cooking experience is pretty limited – break and bake cookies, pasta bake, frozen chicken, tuna helper. Plus, if I can only eat 100% whole wheat bread and I’m not allowed sugar what am I going to bake? Well, they suggested almond flour, whole wheat flour, and honey as a sugar substitute (I’d never heard of almond flour, and never thought about using honey as a sugar substitute). They suggested a baking party to get me started.

To get ready for the party I stopped by Target to pick up the basics: honey, almond flour, whole wheat flour, eggs (first time I’ve ever bought a carton of eggs), baking soda, cooking oil, vanilla extract, cinnamon, mixing bowels, mixing spoons, bread pan. I inherited a hand mixer from my grandmother (which I’m pretty sure is as old as I am)  so I was ready to go. On the menu: banana bread, peanut butter cookies.

Amazing whole wheat honey banana bread.

Whole Wheat Honey Banana Bread

The recipe required no substitutions. It already called for honey and whole wheat flour which made cooking easier (I’m pretty good at following directions, but winging it in the kitchen makes me nervous). Plus, as much as I don’t like bad food I dislike spending time cooking bad food even more. The banana bread turned out great!

The sugar free peanut butter cookies weren’t as successful. But, that’s probably because I had to make several substitutions. I used honey instead of sugar or a traditional substitute, I bypassed the applesauce (not permitted on the SCD, I think), and skipped out on the baking powder (not permitted on the SCD). They turned out a bit more like peanut butter biscuits. Though, they were still pretty tasty.

Sugar-Free Peanut Butter Cookies

Hello world!

5 Sep Tools of the Trade

Hi! I have to start off by saying I’m new to this. Not only am I new to blogging in particular, to date I’ve never posted a Facebook status or created a Twitter account. So, please bear with me as I learn the ropes.

I’ve always toyed with the idea of blogging – or posting a Facebook status – but as soon as the idea crosses my mind I immediately think “what do I have worth sharing” or “who would want to read what I write.” But, things have changed, I think. I now have something worth sharing (at least I think so and I hope you will too).

I decided to blog so that I could share my medical and diet experiences. I hope my “try and see” approach might help someone else out there. I’m sure I’ll also blog, on occasion, about my boyfriend and law school. And, I can guarantee you I won’t be able to resist posting about my lab/shar-pei mix, Sadie.

This blog is about 5 years in the making. After finishing up my first year of college at UNC, I started having stomach problems. I would bloat after eating, sometimes. I didn’t bloat every time I ate and I didn’t bloat the same amount after every meal. This seemed like a pretty generic problem, so I attempted self-diagnosis. My mom suggested cutting out dairy since I had colic as a baby and required special formula. I did. Nothing. I tried eating smaller meals and more frequently. It didn’t seem to make a difference. Funny enough, I’d bloat after a small snack or a large meal.

Sometimes I experienced minimal bloating. Other times I’d bloat (and still do) so badly I swear I look four months pregnant. When it first started, I bloated irregularly. But, over the years it has become more regular. Today, I bloat after every meal and snack. Over the years I’ve adapted. Thankfully, empire waist shirts and dresses are in style as they hide the bloating and are more comfortable than tight fitting clothes (not only is the bloating not attractive, it’s very painful). The bloating lasts anywhere from 1-8 hours after a meal, which is usually correlates to how much I ate.

Once the bloating became semi-regular, I started getting frustrated and worried. So, I made an appointment with campus health. At first they diagnosed me with IBS and treated me accordingly. I saw no change in my symptoms so I followed up. If not IBS, they were at a loss so they referred me to a local internal medicine practice. The doctors there prescribed probiotics and ordered a battery of tests including celiacs, chrons, blood tests, parasite tests. They tested my thyroid, ordered x-rays of my stomach, and even had me drink barium to see it travel through my intestines to check for blockages or irregular movements. Everything came back normal. I was a bit disappointed and relieved at the same time. I was happy to be clear of the more serious diseases, but I wanted to know what was wrong. By the time I made the appointment with campus health and received the referral, the bloating had been going on for two years. The normal test results made me think I was over-reacting. Maybe the bloating was normal? Maybe it wasn’t that bad? The doctors didn’t seem too concerned even after I showed them the pictures of my pregnant-looking stomach (which would look normal again after the bloating went away in 1-8 hours). Everyone was dumbfounded that I only suffered bloating. I never advertised my problems or openly changed my eating habits. However, I did mention the problem to my boyfriend and close friends. They said they never noticed the bloating. At 5’10” and 120lbs, the bloating can appear normal. Add a cute empire waist dress and there’s nothing to see. Over the years I’ve become a pro at dressing to hide my stomach. Empire waist shirts and dresses are key. Pair them with skinny jeans and nobody’s the wiser. For the days I’m more daring and wear a tighter fitting shirt, I usually throw on a jacket, cardigan, or scarf. After all, a girl must be well accessorized!

I’ve tried probiotics, enzymes and supplements from GNC. Heck, I’ve even tried peppermint oil. Nothing worked. I switched doctors within the clinic, and no new news. The second doctor at the practice did suggest I take a breath test to determine the level of hydrogen gases in my small intestine. By this time I was a first-year in law school. He ordered the tests over winter break, but I wasn’t able to keep the appointment because of school related commitments. I became so busy with school and job hunting that I let it go – figured this was “my normal” and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I kick myself daily for not having done it then.

I didn’t follow-up on the issue for about two more years. Then, in February of this year I’d had enough. The bloating was regular. Not a meal or snack went by without painful bloating. I bloated more and more so that it was increasingly painful and visually obvious (my boyfriend was amazed when I showed him my tummy after a dinner out). I was out of options so I decided to try another doctor. The long hours at the law school were/are getting increasingly hard to pull because I’m so uncomfortable in regular clothes. I normally do most of my studying, writing, and Law Review (you’ll hear more about that later, I’m sure) at home where I can lounge in yoga pants (I’m a bit of a JCrew fashionista). So, back to campus health for a referral I went. This time, I was referred to UNC Hospitals GI Clinic. The doctor at campus health raved about their world renound status. At my initial visit the doctor diagnosed me with “functional bloating.” What is functional bloating you ask? I have no idea. I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now. But, he ordered probiotics, continued medication for IBS, and a “FODMAP” diet (For more information and recipies see http://fodmapsdiet.com/). I did as ordered but saw no results. He then suggested a round of antibiotics. His preferred antibiotic was going to run me $250 because I had not yet reached my insruance’s deductable for prescriptions and it wasn’t available at the campus pharmacy (thanks, Blue Cross Blue Shield). Without any guarantee or reason to suspect that this antibiotic was going to treat my problem, I wasn’t willing to pay $250 for a 10 day supply of antibiotics while on student loans. So, he resorted to prescribing a different version of the drug which the campus pharmacy carried. The 10 day supply of this drug cost $10. I took the antibiotics – hoping, praying, crossing my fingers – it would fix me. Nothing. Frustrated, hopeless, and busy with law school I gave up.

I’m now DETERMINED to find a treatment/cure for my chronic bloating. My boyfriend graduated law school in May (congratulations Tyler) and took the bar exam in July. His “bar trip” was a vacation to Hawaii with his family plus me. We spent a week snorkeling, hiking, and eating all while enjoying the sun. It was fantastic! But, my stomach problems have a way of getting in the way of bikini-wearing season. So, the entire trip I was conscientious about what I ate before I put on the two-piece for fear of the pregnant belly which was difficult given the breakfast buffet and amazingly delicious and fresh seafood dinners. After sucking in for a week, I decided I was going to try going gluten-free. Why not? It had been suggested by several people over the years but the doctors never seemed to think it was the answer. But, I was desperate and I had nothing to lose. So, I read everything I could online about going gluten free and adopted the diet (big thanks to http://glutenfreedurham.blogspot.com/). Within two days of being gluten free, my stomach was back to normal. It was the most surreal feeling in the world. I couldn’t believe it…I ate, but didn’t bloat. I felt like I was in high school again. I remembered what it was like to feel full. I was ecstatic. But, before trying the gluten-free diet, I had scheduled the breath test at UNC Hospitals and I figured I’d keep the appointment this time even though I was feeling so much better (I was scared it wouldn’t last, that it was too good to be true given my luck).

So, I walked into UNC Hospitals early on a Monday morning. I was hungry (can’t eat past midnight the night before) and I was scared to open my mouth because of my stinky breath (can’t brush your teeth in the morning). I sat in a small room with one other young girl for two hours. First, I drank lemon lime sugar water and then proceeded to blow into bags every 20 minutes. The test is designed to measure the level of hydrogen gas in your breath. If you test positive, there are bacteria in your small intestine that eats food you don’t process and then releases gas which causes you to bloat. I was eager to leave, but confident I’d test negative since every other test I’d ever taken came back negative. Plus, I’d fixed my problem. I was gluten-intolerant (despite the fact that I was tested for that initially, and tested negative for any intolerance).

I had a follow-up visit with the doctor on the Wednesday following the breath test. I was still feeling great on my gluten-free diet when he told me i tested POSITIVE for bacteria in my small intestine. Well, that’s interesting. I told him about my new-found gluten free diet. He seemed to think that the bacteria must like to eat the gluten so I should continue on the gluten free diet for now and down the road we may reconsider that antibiotic (yeah, that $250 one).

Seemed reasonable enough to me. So, I continued the gluten-free diet for two weeks. Then, I hit a wall. The bloating returned in full force for no apparent reason. So, I googled Small Intestine Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO) to learn more about that since the gluten-free diet was no longer the answer. As I was just starting to orient myself, the doctor forwarded me a diet he just learned about called the Specific Carb Diet (for more information see http://www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info/home/). One quick glance at the diet left me in tears, literally. No potatoes (I have a french-fry addiction), no chocolate (I have a chocolate addiction equal to my french fry addiction), no sugar (which is in EVERYTHING), no refined grains (no frozen dinners?). I wasn’t quite sure what there was left to eat (my diet while in law school consists of a frozen breakfast and/or dinner and a peanut butter and banana sandwich for lunch, throw in some fruit, lots of caffeine, and Chick-fil-A). So, I dismissed the possibility of following the diet and requested the antibiotics. At this point I was willing to fork over the money for some relief. Eight days into the antibiotics I felt no better and was informed through hearsay that you have to follow the diet while on the meds to see any results and it can take up to a year to feel better. Ugh.

So, here I am. Round two of antibiotics and about a week into the Specific Carb Diet (SCD). Since I can’t have sugar, refined grains, dairy (except Lactaid/Almond Milk, regular greek yogurt, and aged cheeses) I had to start cooking at home – a concept 100% foreign to me. My friends suggested I blog about the diet, diagnoses, and treatments to share my experience but mostly to document my trials in the kitchen while I learn how to cook according to the SCD.