On Digestion, or Lack Thereof - 21 Oct 2016

Reader Discretion Advised: The following post contains discussions of bodily functions.

I've spent the better part of this year trying to figure out where I went wrong with a strict plant-based (vegan) diet. I've made several attempts at making a paleo-style diet work, only to fail miserably because even though I feel good physically, and I love all the veggies, I. Just. Can't. Eat. That. Much. Meat. (There's more to it than that, but that's the high-level view.) I've also made several attempts at making a vegetarian and even strict vegetarian diet work, only to fail miserably because my digestive system goes haywire, and I keep feeling like I can't breathe. (I can, though. I've been examined on several occasions and my O2 saturation is normal.)

I thought I had made a breakthrough on both of those: soy seems to trigger the shortness of breath, and wheat and/or barley appear to trigger the digestive issues. The wheat issue has happened before, to the point where I got myself tested for Celiac disease, which came back negative. (That's the short version. The long version is that I despise polyethylene glycol, and that's really all you need to know.) After doing some more research on it recently, it's fairly clear that the test might not have been conclusive. The patient has to be eating gluten in order to be tested, and I had been gluten free for a while before the tests were done. I don't remember exactly how long it was, though. So, that gave me a glimmer of hope that maybe I had, actually, finally, stumbled upon the solution: remove gluten, remove soy, good to go.

Sadly, no.

There's something else going on.

I started a Whole30 on September 5th, and the wheels came off on September 14th, not long after I tried quail for the first and last time. My meat aversion turned up to 11. Since then, I had been eating a semi-vegetarian (flexitarian) diet. Last week, I started having painful intestinal issues, but I cut out gluten on Thursday and felt much, much better by Friday. Not fully healed, not even close, but able to go about my life. I had a nasty relapse after eating half a slice of (possibly?) gluten-free bread from a restaurant over the weekend, but all-in-all, I was OK.

I decided to try out a strict plant-based diet again.

That started this Wednesday (October 19th).

After two days on a gluten-, soy-, meat-, fish-, egg-, and dairy-free diet, free of my other known, well-confirmed irritants, I was back in intestinal hell on Friday morning. I've spent almost the entire day in the bathroom, in bed, or on the couch.

I'm still there.

I can't imagine moving.

That. Is. Not. Me. (OK, OK, I'll stop channeling Melissa Hartwig.)

So, now what?

I thrived on a paleo diet, specifically a diet based on the Primal Blueprint or the Whole30: my digestion was good, and my energy was high. I set PRs this August while on a paleo diet. However, my meat aversion keeps coming back, and after a while I get to the point where I can't even consider eating meat for a month. Eggs are an option in the paleo realm, but if I eat eggs more than a few times a week, I get allergy-like symptoms. Furthermore, I tend to binge on non-paleo foods when trying to maintain a paleo diet. When that happens on a Whole30, your Whole30 is over.

So, in short, I'm not sure that falling back on a paleo diet will work long-term, either.

While reading up on gluten-related illnesses, I came across a few articles that suggested it's possible that a gluten-related issue is actually a FODMAP issue (Fermentable Oligo, Di-, Mono-saccharides, And Polyols). In English, these are sugars and sugar alcohols that are hard for the small intestine to break down and absorb. Those that aren't absorbed by the small intestine make their way to the large intestine, and the bacteria that live there start to ferment them, producing gas that leads to, well, gas, in addition to bloating, pain, diarrhea, and constipation.

'K, that sounds familiar.

Beans are a major source of oligosaccharides, and I had swapped out the cheese and eggs that I had been eating with beans. It wasn't like beans were absent from my diet, though; they had been a significant protein source. Now that I think more about it, it's possible that they were the problem all along, and it wasn't gluten at all.

Regardless, I'm trying this now. I'll lean heavily toward a paleo diet, excluding or severely limiting FODMAPs for several weeks, with enough non-paleo, low-FODMAP foods, like gluten-free oatmeal and rice, that I don't feel the need to binge. I'll miss garlic, onion, beans, and broccoli, for sure, but if this works, so be it. Oh, and I need to resolve all of this in the next 48 hours, because starting Sunday night, I get to spend 3 days in a relatively small room with several co-workers and two dozen customers from my job.

(How bad could it be? Well, last night my gas was so strong that my spouse thought I had opened a jar of kimchi. I hadn't.)

On that note...