A whole lot of weird stuff was going on, but the main symptom was constant, sometimes very severe, abdominal cramping. For some reason, possibly because I was at the tail end of menopause, my doctor assumed it was a gynecological problem. Even after a lot of blood tests and imaging (MRI machines are COOL, by the way!), my GYN could not figure out what was wrong - she said I definitely did NOT have cancer, thank goodness, but the pain continued... finally she strongly suggested that I get a hysterectomy, just in case. :(
I was desperate enough to just go in and get 'er done, but luckily, my wonderful, brilliant hubby put the brakes on things... he was not convinced that a hysterectomy would actually stop the pain, especially since nobody had any idea what was causing it. He did some research and discovered that some women develop IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) during menopause: Apparently estrogen and progesterone are involved with helping things move along properly in our intestines, among many other things (they're busy little hormones!), so after menopause, the female digestive system can kind of go kablooey (how's that for medical terminology?).
He also discovered that the diagnosis was pretty straight-forward: An Elimination Diet. So I put the hysterectomy on hold and tried the diet - four days after giving up all kinds of yummy things, THE PAIN STOPPED!!!!!!!!
An Elimination Diet... it sounds so simple in theory... Anything that might irritate the digestive system is eliminated from the diet for four weeks. This includes known irritants like alcohol, caffeine, carbonated beverages, chocolate, and high "FODMAP" foods. "FODMAP" is an acronym that stands for: "Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols" - basically starches that are found in certain foods. After a month of avoiding such items, one food type at a time is added back in. My job is to carefully monitor my symptoms, to see how my belly reacts.
However, many of my favorite foods are forbidden on an elimination diet, at least for the trial month, and maybe even forever: No more dark chocolate! No more whole wheat spaghetti or bread! No more dairy products (except for small amounts of hard cheese)! No more wine or beer! No more coffee! No more soda! No more onions or garlic (though garlic oil is okay)! No more apples! No more cabbage or broccoli or cauliflower! No more butter! No more beans or soy products (except for firm tofu)! Since I'm a vegetarian, the last elimination hurt the most...
Once I got over feeling sorry for myself, I began to treat my restrictive diet as a sort of private "Iron Chef" competition. I got through caffeine withdrawal, and decided I was better off without it - anything that can cause that much suffering if dropped is not worth consuming! I even began to get to the point where I wasn't missing chocolate (as much). I started searching the 'net for recipes, and my hubby helpfully tracked down recipes as well - he bought me four pounds of brown rice flour to get me started, and I started figuring out how to make things that I would enjoy eating... and I began to realize that this diet wasn't really as restrictive as I thought it would be.
I couldn't have Morningstar burger crumbles anymore (they're made of soy isolate) , so I learned how to make Tofu Crumbles that I could use in spaghetti sauce or Shepherd's pie. I learned how to make popovers and potato biscuits using a blend of brown rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, and xanthan gum. I began to get excited about cooking again! :) I later discovered that xanthan gum stirs up my digestive system, too, but I also learned that ground flax seeds make a good substitution for the gum... I couldn't have whole wheat spaghetti any more, but I COULD have quinoa-corn spaghetti - almost as good as the "real thing!"
This has been going on since October - the "reintroduction phase" is going very slowly, because when a trial food causes issues, I need to wait for things to calm down again before trying something else. So far I've discovered that I can't drink beer, but I CAN drink wine. I can't eat wheat, but oats, rice, and quinoa are all fine. I can't drink milk or soy milk, but almond milk is okay. I can't eat green peppers, but I can gobble roasted red peppers with abandon (within reason!). I can't eat beans, unfortunately, and that IS a big issue since I don't eat meat. My hubby keeps teasing me that I have to eat chicken now, but it won't come to that! :) After the bean failure, I made an appointment with the doctor, so further food tests are on hiatus at the moment - in a week or so, if the doctor okays it, I'll give tempeh and seitan a try (VERY good vegetarian protein sources!).
At any rate, I also learned that I'm not alone: Apparently about 15% of my fellow Americans are dealing with IBS. There are many, many web sites with lots of helpful information and LOTS of yummy recipes! If it turns out that the doctors can't cure me, and I'm stuck with the IBS, I can still be happy! Plus I'm having a lot of fun coming up with creative new ways to eat! :)
Here are some of the recipes I've tried (and loved!). You don't have to have digestive problems to enjoy them!
- Coconut Almond Torte with Sabra Liqueur - A big hit at Christmas dinner! (off-site)
- Coconut Lover's Oatmeal Cookies (off-site)
- Coconut Macaroons
- Crusty Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Onions Baked with Olive Oil and Garlic - I substitute red peppers for the onions and use garlic oil instead of garlic. (off -site)
- Easy Gluten-Free Pie Crust - Cut down the sugar and omit the vanilla for a savory pie (like Tofu Tortiere!) .(off-site)
- Gluten-Free Cornmeal Crusted Pizza - Minus the chili for me... (off-site)
- Gluten-Free Eggplant Parmesan
- Gluten-Free Popovers (off-site)
- Healthy 5-Ingredient Flourless Banana Bread (off-site)
- How to make a Gluten-Free Flour Mix - My favorite combination is: One and a half cups of brown rice flour, one and a half cups of oat flour (take some oatmeal and whiz it through the blender to make oat flour), one cup of white rice flour, and half a cup of potato starch. (off-site)
- Oatmeal muffins (off-site)
- Overnight Oatmeal
- Pepper Polenta
- Potato biscuits (off-site)
- Tofu Crumbles
- Tofu-Nut-Veggie Loaf
- Tofu Tourtière
- Vegetarian Shepherd's pie