With Gastroparesis, adapting to change is the only way to role.
A little over a year ago my dietitian, in consultation with my primary physician, opted to put me on a liquid/soft food diet. My gastroparesis (GP) had become so disruptive to my life and general health.
Anytime I consumed solid foods, particularly fatty foods or hard foods like fresh fruit/vegetables, I suffered for it. It aggravated a heart arrhythmia caused by diabetic neuropathy affecting my vagus nerve, which also causes the gastroparesis.
I had consistent weight loss attributed to the GP, which limited the way my body absorbed nutrients. Losing 30+ pounds in little over 6 months. With my partially paralysed stomach the food would sit uncomfortably in my stomach for hours. Forming a large mass of food that would empty all at once and often without my bowel being able to fully recover the nutrients. Food was simply not being utilized by my body, hence the rapid weight loss.
The general sense of feeling crappy along with the bouts of arrhythmia and the weight loss forced my doctors/dietitian to put me on this liquid diet. But for how long? No answer was (or could be) given, it varies depending on the person. So being one of stubborn diligence I decided to make it a semi-permanent choice. I would stay on a liquid/semi-soft diet as long as I could. What an idiot!
The diet I was on was basically either liquids or fiber-less solids, like corn puffs snacks, Honey Smacks cereal, protein shakes, ice cream, yogurt, fruit juices, pudding, etc… And with supplements I was able to get the necessary nutrients needed to sustain energy and even gain weight.
Though any food/beverage will often bother me, something I will struggle with my entire life, I hadn’t felt better in years. Without any hard to digest foods running through my system, the GP was much less noticeable. I was on medication for the arrhythmia. Everything was great. Until…
About three/four months ago I started feeling unwell. And again I started to lose weight. My bowels became irregular, with alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation. I started having unpredictable intestinal discomfort, I literally ended up sh*ting my days away. And my BMs developed a stringy consistency which did nothing to help my growing anxiety that something was, once again, broken inside me.
This time I wasn’t going to wait until it was TOO late. So I went back to my dietitian. I already had a sense that I was seeing signs of bacteria overgrowth in my bowels (SIBO). The stringy crap was actually excessive bacteria that I was passing. All of the sugary liquids I was consuming was creating a food chain bringing bacteria from one part of my digestive tract up into other parts. This overgrowth of bacteria was consuming the nutrients in my food before my body could get them out–acting like parasites. It was totally messing with my digestive MOJO.
Once I saw my dietitian and told her what was happening she asked, “How is your body handling solid food?” “Solid food?”, I asked. “I haven’t had solid food since the last time you saw me, over a year ago.” She looked at me and without any emotion said, “That liquid diet we put you on was only supposed to be temporary.” NOW she tells me!
Apparently the lower digestive tract needs, I mean NEEDS, fiber. You know the ruffage in food that the body can’t wholly digest and acts like a roto-rooter through the intestines. This fiber mixed with other food helps keep the bacterial balance in the digestive tract, as well. Too many simple sugars without any fiber and solids is total catastrophe for the bowel and intestines.
So basically, to fix my ailing stomach problems I almost created a beast in the rest of my digestive system. And after a little research, I’m most definitely not the only person with gastroparesis having this very same problem.
It is all about finding a balance between what we can tolerate out of one condition to prevent having another, potentially even worse, condition develop in addition.
So now I’m back on solid foods. Cheeseburgers, pizza, and raw carrots will always remain off the menu:(–the consequences are dire, as I feel awful for literally 5-6 hours. But now I’m eating whole grain cereals and snacks. I’m able to eat vegetables as long as they’re cooked first. Even certain soups work well, I must avoid spicy/salty and meats. Even low-fat cheese is OK.
I’ve reduced the simple sugars in my diet and started eating more complex carbs and some fiber, along with protein that isn’t only drank. The results are amazing. Even though my discomfort from food is still there, often for a couple of hours after eating, my overall digestive health has returned. I have normal and predictable bowel movements! I keep up my weight and get a little extra fuel in the tank–a liquid diet requires constantly refilling the tank when you do activities because its out of the system so fast.
And as long as I stick with low carb foods, ala string cheese and cooked vegetables in the evenings, I have been able to control my diabetes very well. My stomach performs better in the AM, so I eat MORE in the AM then as the day wears on. Any food/carbs left in my stomach undigested for hours is a ticking time bomb for my blood sugars (not a good plan before going to bed).
And water! Yeah, lots of water. Your body needs it for everything it does, every bio-chemical, digestive process requires it. It is the body lubricant, toxin filter, bowel flusher, everything/anything needs it. So drink it, plentifully.
That being said, if your urine starts to flow clear from excessive water consumption stop drinking. Everytime you take a piss it leeches nutrients out of your body. Again, we need a balance to how much vs how little. But I assure you, it takes LOTS of water before you urinate clear.
Also, exercise at any time, particularly after eating, really helps the digestion. The vagus nerve which has the neuropathy and creates the GP is part of the sympathetic nervous system. That system controls what happens to our bodies when at rest, or during normal periods of activity. But when we exercise we engage the autonomic nervous system. And THAT system circumvents the damaged vagus nerve. When I’m active my stomach (and my heart rate) function normally.
Therefore, when I feel the absolute worst from eating the wrong stuff, I can ease my symptoms more quickly if I exercise. Yeah, I know. Easier said than done. But, at least I have options.
So my recommendation to all persons struggling with digestive issues, whether its GP or SIBO or whatever, is get as much info as possible from experts before settling on a “permanent” solution. There is no quick fix, everything has a benefit and a consequence. Getting help is essential for maintaining the best health and well-being we can get.
And, as I already found out, a liquid diet is also potentially devastating on teeth health. Lots of sugary drinks getting into nooks and crannies in teeth. And without any food to “scrub” it off it invites bacteria to invade. While the bacteria eats away the sugar it also eats away the enamel and the teeth. So I now drink lots of water after eating/drinking anything (to flush my teeth) and I brush more often.
As always, take my reflections on personal health as just that, reflections. In no way do I offer actionable health advice, more like guidelines to use when talking to real experts. These are my personal observations about my personal health. So don’t read this and think, OMG if I do this all will be well in the world.
Remember, when it comes to your body and your health, “You break it, you buy it.”
Chad Schulz, June 2014