It's 2 am, and I am hungry again. They say: "Don't eat at night". For me it's a necessity. If I don't eat, I won't sleep, as my stomach pain is going to be unbearable. My stomach is begging for food, so I give in and go to the kitchen, pour a glass of milk with my eyes almost closed in the dark as I am way too sleepy to even turn on the light. Within a few minutes I am starting to feel a relief, I go back to bed and fall asleep, until the next call...
That was my life a few years ago.
It is not easy to be in pain or experience some sort of discomfort every day, to constantly think about what to eat and to be almost completely hopeless to ever feel good. Chronic illness, no matter what it is, is a heavy burden to carry, and it does require a lot of knowledge, compassion and patience. I used to ask myself a question "why" a lot, but today I understand there is no specific reason for my physical or mental struggles. It is simply something that each one of us must deal with being a human or any living being really. Suffering, no matter what form it takes, is inevitable part of life and the only thing we can do is to take responsibility and take care of ourselves as an act of self-love.
I have been dealing with GI (gastrointestinal tract) problems pretty much as long as I can remember myself. I don't know if there was a time in my life, I didn't have any symptoms of stomach issues. I had to deal with duodenal ulcer and experience terrible pain when hungry (you would not want to meet me when I am hungry), intestinal pain whenever I was anxious or ate something "wrong", which, let's be honest, happened almost every day (I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome), terrible bloating and reflux (GERD and hiatal hernia). Why so many issues, you would ask? Like I said, I personally stopped asking this question, and try to constantly learn and look for ways how I can help improve my life for the better.
GI problems often relate to mental health, and one of the main reasons why I struggle with it is because I have always been bad at managing stress. My anxiety used to be so bad, that it literally ate me from inside. But I took it as a somewhat normal part of life. Not that I didn't try to be calmer, but I just didn't have the right tools to help myself. Constant discomfort in my stomach taught me a lot about the connection between my mental state and how I physically feel, so I do my best to focus on all aspects of GI health: nutrition, stress management, medication.
Before I share my experience with what helps me to deal with chronic illness, I would like to make a disclaimer that in this post I am sharing my personal story with the stomach problems. During my journey I visited many different GI doctors that pretty much gave me the same advice - the one I have been implementing for many years now. I believe in science and know that the treatment that I was prescribed has helped me tremendously. So, if you experience any symptoms with your stomach, please speak with your doctor and follow their recommendations along with your research. This blog is not a medical recommendation.
Nutrition and GI health
I honestly believe that food is the answer #1 when it comes down to GI problems. You can be prescribed all medications in the world, but unless you change your diet, at least temporarily, nothing will help. It is important to remember though that food isn't always a medicine, so it can not heal our illness but it provides the best conditions for our body to heal, it tremendously changes the way how our body works, as constant inflammation, caused by some types of food, can cause damage to our bodies in the long term.
The most important aspect of GI health (at least those associated with high levels of stomach acid), in my opinion, is avoiding long periods of not eating. Even if there is no way for me to eat "healthy food" I always try to eat something. That is why it's important to always take a snack if you go somewhere if you have similar issues to mine. It also helps avoid sugar crush, which is crucial for mental health.
It's important for me not to overeat, however it is not always possible, especially if I skip meals during the day. I try to snack throughout the day, so I am not too hungry in the evening.
I eat when I want, even if it's a nighttime. I know that it is not recommended to eat at night with GERD, but I can't sleep when I am hungry, and most of the times if I am very hungry my stomach hurts, so it's not worth it for me. However, I am very picky about what I eat at night. Most likely it's a banana.
I avoid fried and fatty foods. This is a big no for me, and it has been for a long time. I am not perfect and each time I make a mistake I pay for it with pain. I have learnt that in order to feel good I should constantly choose the "right" food for me. Like I said before it is an act of love and compassion towards myself. I try to treat my body with care and respect.
Stress and GI health
I am a huge fan of mindfulness and "slow living" philosophy. I am only a beginner at this, so I am most definitely far from perfect, however I try to practice mindfulness every day whether it is in the form of meditation or being present doing whatever it is I am doing. Finding relaxation techniques that work for me helps me be calmer, which is good for my GI. When stressed I try to avoid hunger even more, because our stomach may produce more acid when we are anxious.
So my favorite anti-stress remedies are: meditation, having a nighttime routine for a good night sleep, keeping things around me minimal. I also take anti-anxiety medication if I am finding it hard to calm down.
It's important to listen to your body when it comes down to exercise, as it can be stressful as well. I prefer short yoga sessions or strength workouts. The key for me is not to be exhausted by the end of my workouts as I just don't feel good if I push too hard, neither does my stomach. I also really enjoy stretching. Weight lifting and abs workouts are not recommended to those who have hiatal hernia.
Also, one of the most important things that I would like to mention here is the inner work that I do daily in relation to my perceptions and reactions. It is incredibly important not to hold grudges as every time we hold on to some kind of negative emotion the muscles in our stomach tense which leads to the pressure build-up, therefore whatever symptoms you have, negativity can make them even worse. Letting go and relaxing all our muscles is important for GI health as stomach and intestines are a one big muscle.
Medical treatment for stomach issues
There are many articles on what can be used for treatment of different GI issues, each time it is going to depend on individuals and all medications should be prescribed by a doctor. However here I would like to point out 3 important things that were important for me to remember or I wish I had realized earlier:
In order for medications to work, they need to be taken consistently for the period of time, established by your doctor.
Don't rely on only medications neglecting your diet (see above).
Do not take medications for longer than it was prescribed.
In fact here I am talking about one medication that in my opinion can make my anxiety worse if taken for a long period of time.
Do not self-diagnose and don't prescribe yourself medications as they have side effects and can sometimes do more damage than good.
Where I am at now
Now I feel much better and more confident because I know for the most part what makes me feel better and what doesn’t work. I was capable to cure my stomach ulcer and overall, my stomach rarely hurts. I still have bloating, but with health issues, like I said in the beginning, it takes patience to let your body use its natural ability to heal itself. At the end of the day what matters to me is that I see an improvement.
Let me know in the comment section below if you found this blogpost helpful, and what stomach issues you are dealing with.