My experience with indigestion and 6 tips for healing your gut
During the summer before my senior year of college, my body completely changed. Before that point, I had eaten whatever food I wanted and did not have a care in the world. While I did eat a lot of healthy foods, I also ate a good amount of junk. I never saw anything wrong with it because I was always naturally skinny and I was a pretty active person.
However, during that one summer, I started to feel awful all the time. I had stomach aches, terrible bloating, and just felt so uncomfortable. I also had terrible acid reflux that literally came out of nowhere.
It made no sense to me. After every single meal, I felt so awful that it made me not even want to eat. Like any logical person would do, I went to the doctor to get checked out. To my surprise, she told me that I just had indigestion and that there wasn't much she could do. She did a few tests anyway, saying that there was a very rare chance I could have some sort of infection.
I left the doctor feeling helpless. I knew this wasn't normal and I couldn't believe there was nothing "wrong" with me.
Sure enough, a few days went by and the doctor called me saying that I tested positive for having H. Pylori bacteria in my stomach. Um, what? H. Pylori is a type of bacteria that is very common and usually goes unnoticed. It can live in your digestive tract for years without a problem, but it can later cause ulcers or even stomach cancer.
The doctor told me that I've probably had it for years, or I could have been born with it (thanks, mom!). While this wasn't exactly the diagnosis I was hoping for, I did feel relieved that it could be cured. The doctor told me that it was impossible to tell if my infection was active or not, but that I needed to treat it regardless so that I don't later develop ulcers.
The doctor prescribed me some antibiotics and other acid reducers, and I left for the pharmacy to go pick it up.
When I picked up my prescription, the pharmacist handed me a box. It didn't even fit in the white paper bags they usually give you. He told me to take 1 packet of pills each day, half in the morning and half at night. It was also recommended that I take a dose of pepto bismol with each dose.
I was a bit overwhelmed, but I got the box and some pepto and headed home. When I got home and opened the box, I was stunned.
Each of these packs had 8 pills in them. 8 pills to take every day for 2 weeks.
WHAT THE F*CK?!
Up until that point, I had hardly ever taken medicine. I could count on one hand the number of times I had taken an antibiotic and now I'd be taking an entire pharmacy's worth in one week. Maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.
Regardless, I listened to the doctor and took my ridiculous meds each day. I even took the disgusting Pepto Bismol to go with it.
It was a long 2 weeks, and by the end, I honestly didn't feel much better. While my indigestion was not as severe, I still didn't feel right. The bacteria was gone, but all those antibiotics did a number on my system.
I still had to avoid all the foods I enjoyed most. No chinese food, nothing spicy, no soda, no beer, nothing with a lot of flavor. It sucked. And it made it really hard to enjoy anything. I couldn't go to restaurants with my friends and it got to the point where I would avoid eating at times because it felt better than feeling uncomfortable.
During this time, celiac and gluten intolerances were all the rage. Maybe gluten was my problem? I started cutting out and spent all this money on gluten-free snacks from Whole Foods. After a few weeks, I noticed no difference.
For weeks this continued on, and then I finally went to a specialist. To cut to the chase, this doctor didn't give me the exact cure I was hoping for, but he did make me realize that there were certain foods I was eating that were causing it.
He gave me a list of things to cut out and a few behaviors to change and sent me on my way. I'm not going to lie, I left that doctor's office feeling as discouraged as ever. But over time, I began to accept what he told me and I realized that this was going to take some time of guessing and checking to figure out what made me feel bad and what didn't.
Over time, I was able to figure out a lot of the foods that made me feel sick and I started cutting them out. I soon started to feel better, and indigestion didn't control my life anymore. While I wish I could say that I completely healed, I do still often struggle with indigestion.
Once I healed my gut, I realized that I could slowly start to reintroduce foods that I had previously cut out. I learned that I could eat some of those foods, as long as they were in moderation. I could enjoy my favorite Chinese food as long as it was once in a while and not multiple times a week.
While it has been a rollercoaster of a journey, I have learned a hell of a lot about my body, food, and how to best nourish it. If you're struggling with bloating or indigestion, trust me, you aren't alone! It is the biggest pain, but you will get better, but you have to be patient.
Here are some things that I recommend for healing your gut and fixing indigestion:
1. Make a meal and symptom diary
If you're like me, you'll resent doing this, but I promise it is so helpful! Try to write down what you eat or at least remember when you eat for each meal. Then, pay attention to your symptoms! Oftentimes you won't feel sick immediately after a meal, it might be a few hours or even a day later that you start to feel it. Make note of your symptoms and try to determine which meal caused it.
This will make it a lot easier to figure out which foods cause you discomfort and which ones are okay.
2. Look at ingredients
This goes along with number 1, but pay attention to the ingredients in the meals you eat. I quickly realized that large amounts of garlic and onion make me feel awful. Because of that, I started avoiding them whenever possible. If a menu item lists garlic as an ingredient, I typically don't order it. I also check the labels on all snacks to look out for them too.
3. Stay hydrated and exercise
When you feel sick, working out sounds terrible, but trust me, it works! Staying active boosts your metabolism so that foods don't stay in your system for too long. Even a daily walk or light yoga can make a huge difference. Along with that, staying hydrated by drinking lots of water is key.
4. Go see a doctor or specialist
From my experience, doctors weren't as helpful as I would have liked, but it was still so important to go get checked out to make sure nothing serious was wrong. It is a good thing I did go because I was able to cure the bacteria I had in my system. If you don't get the answer you're looking for from one doctor, try another or go to a specialist. You might have to be persistent, but it's worth it.
5. Try probiotics
After taking all those antibiotics, my doctor highly recommended that I take probiotics. Taking them did really help with the acid reflux and overall made me feel better. However, be cautious when taking them because they are not all created equal. Some probiotics have made me feel awful, whereas others have made me feel great. I now only stick to the brands that I know agree with my system.
If you're looking to try a probiotic, check out this report from Reviews.com. They've looked at all the popular brands to find the best probiotic for different health goals such as general digestive health, immune health, antibiotic recovery, and IBS relief. How awesome is that?
They list their top picks for each category and provide info on what you should be looking for when choosing a quality probiotic. To reach their findings, they consulted probiotic experts, looked at clinical trial results, and tried these out themselves. *(Not sponsored, just love the report)
Find the best probiotic for you!
6. Don't get discouraged!
Dealing with indigestion sucks, but you have to stay positive! Afterall, stress and anxiety can cause it or make it worse! Listen to your body, listen to your doctor, and you will feel better!