I Got Colitis, So I Completely Transformed My Lifestyle
I’ve never had a strong stomach. Since I was a child, I’ve often experienced painful stomach attacks out of the blue. My stomach would feel like someone was stabbing a knife into it. I never considered that I was allergic to foods of any kind, nor did I put two and two together that perhaps some foods might be triggering my stomach problems.
A top-notch gastrointestinal doctor diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome in my early twenties. He mumbled a bunch of instructions for me, but I didn’t take it seriously and went on my merry way. The only thing I took from that visit was that my stomach gets irritated sometimes, but I could still eat and enjoy whatever I wanted. I would just have to put up with my “unpredictable stomach issues” as they came up.
Things changed dramatically when I reached my thirties. The attacks were becoming more frequent, and they lasted longer. In the past, attacks would last a few hours and then I would go back to normal. Then, suddenly, attacks were now lasting a day or even days, and incapacitate me to the point that I wasn’t able to go to work and could barely take care of my family.
At first, I thought I might be having stomach viruses since the symptoms mimicked viruses I’d had in the past. My husband, who is an internist, debunked that theory because no one else in the house was catching these “viruses.” That’s a typical warning sign that it is probably a virus and not something else.
I had to be hospitalized more than twice because I regurgitated every last morsel of food in my body. I was severely dehydrated to the point I couldn’t function. I also started to notice that some foods upset my stomach more than others.
Two years ago, during another “virus” stint, my husband took me to the ER. They did a CAT Scan and found I had colitis. This is a serious bacterial infection in the intestine due to overgrowth of bad bacteria.
This happened on erev Sukkot. The recovery was horrific and I lost a ton of weight during that time. I tried very hard to get into a groove of healthy eating, but it didn’t last long with all the stressors in my life. I was back to eating whatever I wanted and dealing with the “unpredictable stomach issues” very quickly.
I noticed that I would become sick when I ate oily, heavy foods such as pizza, cheese, red meat, meatballs, etc. I also noticed that after eating pita, bread, or dairy, I didn’t feel well. I felt tired all the time, even if I exercised and went to bed on time.
The final straw came when I had a horrible attack right before Yom Kippur this year. I toughed out the fast even though I was dehydrated and weak, but I had another horrible attack when I ate right after the fast. I couldn’t keep food down for several days and had shooting pain in the left lower side of my abdomen.
My husband treated me with antibiotics for colitis. I went to see a GI doctor, and he told me that dairy, gluten, oily/fatty foods, stress, and a number of other things could trigger IBS.
Stress isn’t something I can get rid of. I am at a busy stage of life with three kids, a home to maintain, grad school, my marriage (the most important work of all!), and a job. My diet is one thing I CAN control though. I didn’t feel like going through blood tests, endoscopies, and other complicated tests to find out what I might or might not be allergic to. I decided to make big changes to my diet overnight.
I cut gluten, dairy, red meat, and heavy oily foods out of my diet. I did it during Sukkot and have maintained it since then. I do eat low-fat yogurt and whipped cottage cheese and process those well, but I no longer drink milk or eat ice cream since they are filled with fat.
I make my own challah with oat flour. I eat chicken cutlets that I make on the George Foreman grill. I only marinate it with a little bit of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. I used to marinate it in an oily, fatty, salt-rich marinade, but those days are over.
I eat fruits and snack on low-salt mixed nuts. I bring my own food to work, and it’s always grilled chicken or baked salmon in a spring mix salad with a drop of Italian dressing to give it flavor. No more high fat, heavy salad dressings that I love like Russian, Thousand Island, and Caesar.
I stick to drinking water since sugary and caffeinated drinks can irritate the intestines and trigger an attack. I eat gluten-free protein bars and have become an avid fan of sushi (but NOT with raw fish). I love rice and corn cakes with avocado and a drop of salt, or slices of smoked turkey. Gone are some of my favorites like pizza, cake, burgers, fries, and barbecue. The diet has to be consistent and well planned out.
This time though, I am in it for the long run. No cheating or turning back. I remember my days spent in bed when I was listless and miserable from yet another bout of colitis or intestinal attack. That is enough to deter me for “cheating just one more time.”
I am also working on slowly incorporating therapeutic exercise into my routine. I plan to try some yoga on top of aerobic exercise. Yoga has a meditation component to it, which is great for stress relief and total mind-body relaxation and detoxification.
They really mean it when they say you are what you eat. I am, thank G-d, not feeling exhausted and as if something heavy is sitting in my midsection all day. I have not been having bouts of indigestion, and I am more clear-headed.
I feel better about myself too. It’s amazing how taking control of what you put in your body enhances your self-esteem and gives you a sense that you CAN succeed in achieving things you set out to achieve in life.
I once heard a quote that stays with me to this day: “If you don’t have a healthy body, where are you going to live?” I learned that that’s up to each and every one of us, and I take this responsibility to heart.
Tamar Shtrambrand lives in Monsey, NY with her husband and three children. She wears a variety of hats (and wigs :-)), including
homeschool mom, freelance writer, adjunct professor at Rockland Community College, and clinical psychology doctoral intern at CAPS at Bikur Cholim.