Sunday, January 15, 2012

How I Fell in Love with Food

In my early 20s, my bladder got really angry. I mean REALLY angry. I went to several doctors complaining of the symptoms of a bad urinary tract infection (pain, discomfort, feeling like I had to pee all the time), but no one found any sign of an infection. The first few doctors told me nothing was wrong, it was “all in my head,” or (my favorite) “women’s bodies are just made funny.” My symptoms got worse and worse. Finally, a couple of doctors—female doctors—took my complaints seriously, and I was diagnosed with a condition alternately called “overactive bladder,” “painful bladder disorder,” and “interstitial cystitis.” The doctors explained that these terms were catch-alls for a disorder (or perhaps collection of disorders) in which the bladder is sensitive and inflamed for no apparent reason. It can cause scarring, but often there are no outward signs. It affects mostly women, and at the time, there was very little research on it. That was ten years ago.

If you google “interstitial cystitis,” you'll find a bunch of horrifying stories: women whose pain is so disabling that they can’t hold down a job or maintain a relationship, women whose bladders were removed, stories of pain and depression and hopelessness. When I first read about IC, I thought my life was over. But in many ways, it was just beginning.

My story is not one of these horrifying ones. I have had my share of struggles, but today I'm virtually pain-free. I haven’t had an “angry bladder” moment for more than a few hours in many years. Some of my good fortune is probably luck, but it’s also because of my willingness to change my diet. Radically and permanently.

Early on in my adventure, I read that a low-acid diet can help some women with IC. Luckily I was one of them. It took several years to figure out which foods bothered me (and I’m still learning), and it took a great deal of willpower to give up foods I loved. I didn't exactly go peacefully—there was a lot of crying, kicking, and screaming at first. But now I like my diet.

In fact, I feel kind of grateful that IC found me. It made me fall in love with food. When I could eat anything I wanted, I did very little cooking. I ate processed and packaged foods. I didn’t think about what I was eating. I didn’t care about nutrition or trying new foods. But oh how far I’ve come.

I started this blog in the hope that others can learn from my experience and experiments. If you have been diagnosed with IC or suffer from heartburn, my diet might be able to help you directly. I also hope anyone with a restricted diet can find comfort and inspiration here. You’re not alone, and a special diet (even one forced on you in adulthood) is most certainly not the end of the world. Think of it as a new adventure in food.

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