Breaking bread

I was diagnosed with IBS back in 2001. This was only after I’d been backwards and forwards to the GP with the recognised symptoms of it for probably over five years previously. In fact it was a locum who diagnosed me, as she actually listened to what was happening. She prescribed me colofac, that I had to take 20 minutes before I ate, (it’s an antispasmodic drug), and to also do an exclusion diet so that we could work out if it was a particular food that created the problems for me.

I didn’t have much dairy, I don’t like, drink or take milk, preferring soy milk on any cereals I have, my tea and coffee I drink black, so dropping cheese and the odd bit of yoghurt was easy enough. The symptoms didn’t change, so I slowly introduced the odd bit of cheese back in again, and cut out wheat. Now this was harder, a lot harder back then, gluten-free replacement products were either only available on prescription, or hideously expensive. Not to mind, I just went without. My symptoms improved dramatically. My skin felt and was clearer, it didn’t feel as itchy, or as tight. I was full of energy, I didn’t have to sleep 8-10 hours a night to get through, with a long siesta on the weekend. I could fit all my clothes again as I wasn’t bloating after eating. Reporting back with what I’d found, she asked me about the other symptoms, you know, the bathroom ones. I could also happily report a marked improvement in that area too.

It was decided that although it was far from scientific, as I’d seen such a marked improvement, I was to avoid wheat where possible. This I did quite happily, as feeling like a new woman I wanted to keep it that way. Sometimes when you are out and about, it was incredibly difficult to avoid wheat though. Ever done a long car journey and stopped for a meal at a service station or motorway services? I simply did my best and put up with the consequences. I repeatedly got told I was a fussy, faddy eater. Only doing it as it was an easy way of losing weight. Actually, I put weight on, as my guts weren’t inflamed, I was absorbing more nutrients from my food.

Even now, in 2012, when I ask for gluten-free foods, I get funny looks. People wonder what is rattling around in the bottom of my handbag, a small pot of nuts and sometimes a muesli bar, so if I am out, get hungry and can’t find anything, at least I know I can nibble and hang on until I get home again.

But because I could tolerate a little bit of wheat in my system, the odd biscuit when out for tea with friends, or a small slice of cake. I’d cheat, then sort my guts out afterwards. I take a probiotic daily, sometimes I’d need to take a laxative and also have a week or two of no wheat so equilibrium was restored. I was fine doing this, up until about 2 months ago where out of the blue I had a big flare-up of the IBS symptoms, nothing unusual, that happens every so often. I often would choose that signal as an opportunity to follow a month-long detox, eating nothing but fruit and vegetables, rice with beans and tofu for protein. I always feel much ‘cleaner’ and healthier when I eat like that, but being married to a carnivore and with a one year old, it simply isn’t practical to be vegetarian, verging on vegan for much longer than that. I am not a short order cook, and while Peanut will eat happily from my plate, (evolutionary thing, he knows its safe if I’m eating it), Hubs won’t.

But here I am, four days in to eating wheat again, feeling like hell. But for what? Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen that I had to return to my GP this week. The flare-up has not abated with me taking the colofac, or completely eliminating wheat from my diet. I’ve been referred to a gastroenterologist, I’ve got a gastroscopy and a colonoscopy booked for 13 August. My GP has told me, in no uncertain terms, I need to try to eat bread or wheat with every single meal between now and then. Lunch on Wednesday was lovely, I brought home some Tiger Bread and Hubs and I had sandwiches together. I really enjoyed and savoured every mouthful. Within an hour I’d blown up like a balloon. The next morning, after eating a steamed pudding for dessert after supper, my skin on my face was tight, flushed and I showed signs of dermatitis. Now, the skin on my hands is drier than normal, itchy as well, the skin on my body is very dry and on my legs, a bit flaky too. And the pain. I ache in every joint, my stomach feels bloated, tender and overfull, like when you’ve eaten too much in one sitting. Except I feel like that all the time now.

I also feel like I’m moving through soup. Everything is an effort, I feel so sluggish, and dirty inside too (for the want of a better word). I’m not allowed to take any laxatives or anything other than my normal probiotic, I have to stop taking any iron supplements a week before the scopes, so it doesn’t skew the results. Unfortunately, the next two weeks at work, I am unbelievably busy. I am writing the Annual Report, not contributing to it, writing it. I’m collating and writing papers for our Audit & Risk Committee meeting, followed by the Board the following week as I’m covering for the CEO’s EA from Friday next, as she’s off on a long deserved and well-earned holiday. I went to bed at 11pm last night, we both woke up to Peanut this morning at 6:15, I then went back to bed and slept till 10am. I still feel tired and cranky.

For those of you who think that I am a fussy or faddy eater. Walk in my shoes for the next week or so and listen and feel my body crying out for me to stop doing what I’m doing. I’m having an immune reaction to an everyday product, and it’s sore. I’m drinking what feels like gallons of fluid, my body telling me that I’m thirsty all the time, I think it’s trying to flush out my system.

While I am not looking forward to taking the Picoprep on Sunday 12 August (not like I’m counting down or anything), I know that once I’ve had the white toast and jam for breakfast, that will be the last bit of wheat I consciously take into my body. I simply cannot justify feeling like this again, because when I’m out and about it may be ‘easier’ than trying to find something suitable for me to eat. Relatively speaking, it is easier in the short-term, but far, far harder in the long-term. I’d rather go hungry.

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