Over the past several months since my family and I had been displaced by the Thomas fires I found myself having continual stomach and digestive issues. I began to get frustrated not knowing the root cause, especially because I am so mindful of the foods I eat. At times I began to get angry that I was suffering after taking such care to select wholesome foods and putting in the time it takes to prepare them from scratch, only to have an upset stomach shortly after.
An Illeocecal Valve Says What?
My knowledge of healing foods and remedies only exacerbated my frustration as I tried teas, digestive spices, (cumin coriander, clove) ginger, mint, probiotics, kimchi, kraut coconut yogurt to no avail. I eventually felt like not eating at all due to the impending digestive irritation that awaited me. I knew if I went to the doctor I would most likely be prescribed some medication that would only treat the symptoms and not the underlying cause. It wasn’t until I saught the help of my intuitive healers that I began to understand what was the root of my problem.
We all know stress can wreck havoc on the body on so many levels and unfortunately I am no stranger to it having complex post traumatic stress (PTSD) from childhood abuse for most of my life. I have managed to function in the world with a good dose of self love, journaling, support groups, art therapy, essential oils, yoga, breathing, shamanic energy work, healthy diet etc. But the traumatic events of the Thomas fire triggered me deep in my core, with no safe home to retreat to and little to no time to use my self help tools proved to be too much for me.
Having a young child often leaves dedicated parents with little time to care for themselves and with trying to keep our heads above water financially with work and daily domestic responsibilities plus the added stress of moving our stuff around in and out of storage, packing and unpacking from temporary living situations etc., I hit a wall with my heath and my body began screaming for me to take care of it.
I found out I was anemic which was contributing from my lethargy. 18 years as a vegetarian 5 as a vegan, loosing a lot of blood during childbirth and breast feeding for years had left me depleted. One of my elders recommended I eat some buffalo to rebuild my strength and after so many years of not consuming red meat, chicken or poultry the thought of it was not something I wanted to hear let alone do. I bought some Floradix and began to take that. I did end up buying some buffalo jerky (which is a testament to how bad I felt and how desperate I had become) and ate small medicinal doses of it a few times a week. It was strange but I tried my best to think of it as an energy exchange and I would give thanks to the buffalo spirit every time I had some (I was secretly glad when I ran out).
It turns out that I had been having issues with my illeocecal valve in my intestine. I had no idea this valve existed a few months prior and now it has been my primary focus as I try and get my body back to a proper functioning. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it is a sphincter that separates the small intestine from the large intestine so that waste materials don’t back up into the small intestine (where your food is processed and nutrients are absorbed). What happens when waste backs up into the small intestine is that toxins get absorbed instead causing a whole host of strange symptoms.
This “disorder” can cause allergy symptoms, sneezing, runny nose, sinus infections, lethargy, ringing in the ears, bad breath, pain in lower abdomen, indigestion, diarrhea or constipation (or both yay) dark circles under the eyes. These are caused by your body going into detox mode because of the toxins from the large intestine are regurgitating into and getting absorbed by the small intestine. Who knew right?
I was relieved to find out what had been causing my suffering but also concerned about how to deal with it. Stress was also a huge factor in developing this problem so I had to not stress about stressing (easier said than done.) My mind started racing about what to do or wondering if and when my valve was stuck open. This lead to slightly obsessive massaging of my abdomen to make sure it was closed (it would make a little gurgle sound and I would feel like I had little bubble of air in my colon when I had successfully closed it. I watched some YouTube videos on how to find and close the valve which helped a little, but it felt like it was in a different place every day.
I did some research and found that “scratchy” food such as chips and roughage (like salads) could irritate the valve along with carbonated beverages, nuts and seeds, sticky grains, stimulating spicy food, chocolate and alcohol (I mean you might was well take the fun out of life right???) when I thought about it, I realized we (my family and I) had made an almost weekly summer ritual of going to the beach which involved some gluten reduced pale ale or sparkling mineral water, organic chips, raw collard wraps with seed pate, salads or spring rolls. This had definitely not been helping. So over the past month I have been eating more cooked foods, even braising my greens instead of eating salad and raw crunchy vegetables, which I love and miss! but plan to return to once I’m better.
I also developed some bad eating habits since having my son and that is to eat my food quickly which means not chewing properly or not sitting down. As much as this was a survival tactic while being a single mom (my son used to poop right in the middle of dinner almost like clockwork) so I got in the habit of inhaling my food because I never knew when I would need to leave the table to change a diaper, clean a spill or have to go chasing after him once he got out of his highchair after becoming bored. If I didn’t inhale my food I probably wouldn’t have eaten at all. (in hindsight I knew this was a horrible habit and not something I want to pass on to my son).
The whole process made me even more mindful of how I eat. As a chef I often cook all day and sometimes eat food to taste it even if I am not hungry which according to my research is not helpful with illeocecal issues. Its better to eat at certain times and not snack in-between so the valve isn’t constantly opening and closing to empty little bits of food every few hours.
All of this intestinal and emotional distress has caused me to focus on retraining my brain and my eating habits and has actually been a blessing in mindfulness despite the challenges. I have begun to eat slower and chew my food longer, putting down my fork and really savoring every bite and the labor that went into it. It has pushed me to new levels of patience and tested my self discipline. I used to nibble through out the day as I cooked and now I do not allow myself to have even the tip of a carrot I’m chopping during meal prep, even if I’m cooking away all afternoon.
So far I am beginning to feel better by eating softer food, not snacking, having smoothies, soups and even a little salmon with vegetables. I mean what are you supposed to eat if you can’t eat nuts, seeds, salads, most beans or grains as a vegetarian??? thank God I can still eat some beans and squash! I’ve read bone broth can be helpful to repair the stomach because of the collagen but I have yet to bring an animal carcass into my kitchen. Just the thought of it makes me cringe.
I have always tried to have a non judgmental attitude towards people who choose different lifestyles and in the end we are all unique and have to do what works for us as individuals even at different life stages. Pregnancy, menopause, breastfeeding, active lifestyle, body building, recovering from illness whatever it is. No matter what we choose, its always important to have compassion for the Earth and the farmers by choosing organic foods and honoring ourselves with what deeply nourishes us.