Recently, my back has been getting tired as my belly has been growing. This is what I’ve been doing to relieve the tension.
The most important trick: take breaks!
Jacob, my chiropractor husband, had told me a long time ago that since I sit at a desk at work, I need to take frequent breaks. I’ve often gone back and forth on this one, taking breaks for a few days or even a week and then going back to being too lazy to walk up and down the hallway. I used to set a reminder every hour that said, “Take a break!” When that reminder popped up, I’d think, “You’re not going to tell me to take a break!” and keep working.
But I was recently reminded of the importance of taking breaks. It really makes a difference if I get up for a few minutes and walk around or do some simple stretches. My back is better able to stay seated afterwards and doesn’t get as tired.
Therefore, I’ve re-established the use of the Pomodoro method (I’m currently using the Focus Booster app because it has a nice small clock that can stay on top of whatever other app I’m using, so I can always see how much time I have left of my work period). The Pomodoro method alternatres work periods (typically 25 minutes) with break periods (typically 5 minutes and every ~2 hours a longer break) and emphasizes focusing on one task at a time and avoiding distractions.
Funny enough, I also use this method for other activities such as cooking. Jacob and I have two long cooking sessions a week (on Sunday and Wednesday evenings) which usually last 1.5-2 hours, and we cook all our food for the next few days (including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any snacks). If I remain standing in the kitchen for 2 hours, this kills my back. Therefore, I set a Pomodoro timer, and after 25 minutes, I take a break. I usually sit or lie down, and after 5 minutes I’m ready to continue cooking.
These frequent breaks have nicely come together with my Doing Nothing practice. I try not to check my phone during the 5-minute breaks and instead allow my thoughts to wander and do their thing. Only now do I realize that a brief message or notification can distract me when I’m in working mode. Even if I read it during the break between two work sessions, I sometimes keep thinking about the message when I start working again and can’t focus as well as I did beforehand. More generally, responding to messages or checking social media during a brief break can easily extend a 5-minute break to 10 or 15 minutes, which is then not simply a brief, refreshing break.
Exercise and walking
Since the beginning of my pregnancy, I’ve been following a training program for pregnancy called Moms Gone Strong which includes strength and cardio exercise. This program is amazing and has helped me challenge myself appropriately and continue to strengthen my back. I usually train 3-4 times a week.
I also do prenatal yoga from Yoga with Adrienne 1-2 times per week. It helps me relax and get some pressure off my back, and it generally gives me that wonderful zen feeling that yoga brings.
I really like walking, so I try to get in a 30-minute walk every day. If I have the time, I go for 1-1.5 hours, taking a short break every 30 minutes or so. I love going for walks in nature whenever possible.
A couple of months ago, my lower back muscles started cramping up quite a bit. Jacob explained that this happens because now, due to the growing belly, my front core muscles can’t really work anymore, so my lower back muscles end up carrying the weight of the whole belly and also help me stay upright. Because of the structure of my lower back and spine, the muscles end up cramping up, which is painful.
Jacob suggested that I roll my back and glutes on a lacrosse ball. Yikes. I hadn’t done this before, so it hurt like a *$@%*&#*$&*# the first few days when I was rolling on the ball, but immediately afterwards the cramping up was released and I was more pain-free for the rest of the day. Now I use the lacrosse ball almost every day, and while it’s not exactly pleasant (i.e., it still hurts), it’s much more bearable than at first. It definitely helps to release those cramped up back muscles!
These are the tricks I’ve discovered so far to alleviate backache and that work best for me. Let me know if you have other awesome tips I should know about!
Over the past couple of months, several people contacted me to ask about my gastritis journey after reading my blog posts on the topic. I’ve repeatedly been surprised by how many people struggle with this chronic condition for years and years. Apparently, it wasn’t just my problem but many people’s problem as well.
(For those who don’t know what gastritis is, it’s an inflammation of the stomach wall. It’s often a precursor or a gentler version of a stomach ulcer. People who have gastritis have intense stomach pain when they’re hungry or if they’ve eaten something spicy, hot, or irritating in some other way. I’ve written extensively about my experience with gastritis here.)
My gastritis had been doing very well (probably about 70-80% better) over the past two years. I could get by with 3-4 meals a day (compared to the 6-7 meals in the past) and only had pain if I got really, really hungry. I often didn’t feel like I had gastritis anymore and felt like a healthy person again.
Pregnancy changed everything
Suddenly, everything changed when I got pregnant. The first two-three weeks before I knew I was pregnant were truly bizarre. I’d wake up in the morning, starving. One weekend, we were visiting a friend in Brussels, and on both Saturday and Sunday I woke up around 7 am. Still tired and extremely hungry, I made my way to the kitchen while my husband and our host were still sleeping. I barely managed to make scrambled eggs without passing out–my blood sugar levels were so low that I was super light-headed. Once I ate my breakfast, I could finally relax and drink my tea, waiting for the others to wake up. By the time we were all ready to go and went for brunch (around 11-12 h), I was happy to eat again.
Once I found out I was pregnant, this ravenous hunger made more sense. At least it seemed like there was a reason for this craziness. But then the nausea hit around week 5, and nothing made sense anymore. I’d eat a meal and be hungry two hours later. Or I’d eat a snack but be starving only an hour later.
Ravenous hunger + gastritis = not great…
Ravenous hunger is typical for pregnancy, but it becomes tricky when coupled with gastritis. It wasn’t that I was simply hungry, but I was also in pain. Apparently, even though I’d been recovering well from my gastritis, these intense hunger pangs were enough to bring it back. I was back to eating 6-7 (small) meals a day, which is recommended when you’re nauseous during pregnancy. But that meant I was back to being stressed about when exactly I’d get hungry again next, whether I’d have enough food, whether I’d be in pain and terribly light-headed, etc.
It was tough. I felt that everything I’d worked towards and achieved health-wise over the past few years had been a waste and now I was back in the throes of dealing with gastritis. I was frustrated by the crazy way my body was acting, and I felt I had no control over it (hello, pregnancy land!).
What used to work didn’t work anymore
Worst of all, the strategies that had helped me in the past didn’t work anymore. I had done very well eating paleo-style meals, emphasizing protein, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables (I’ve described this in more detail here). But now, in this crazy new pregnancy land, I couldn’t do this anymore.
As an example, one day during week 5 of my pregnancy, I went to have lunch. I opened my lunchbox of chicken thighs and broccoli, a typical lunch for me, as many colleagues can testify. I felt some resistance to the smell, texture, and taste of the food. I wasn’t sure why, but I really wasn’t enjoying it. I managed to finish my lunch, but it wasn’t nice.
The next day, the moment I looked at my chicken and broccoli, I didn’t want to eat them. I stared at them and tried to understand why I suddenly didn’t want to eat this delicious lunch that I had loved before. After a few minutes, I made myself start eating and barely finished my lunch. It was tough.
On the third day, I couldn’t do it. I felt so nauseated that I couldn’t even look at my chicken and broccoli. It turns out, as I found out later, that poultry and broccoli are some of the most common foods that make pregnant women nauseous. Who would have thought!
That day, I got rebellious. I was ravenous, so I went to the canteen and looked for things that I wanted to eat. It was a bit tough because not much seemed appetizing, but I still wanted to eat! Then, my eyes zeroed in on… pumpkin soup! There was this amazingly smelling pumpkin soup! I got two bowls of that soup. Suddenly, the idea of melted cheese in that soup seemed wonderful. I got several slices of gouda cheese and put them in the soup. My gooey, cheesy pumpkin soup seemed like the best thing in the world.
The problem was that pumpkin soup with cheese didn’t keep me full. Two hours later, I was hungry again, looking for the next thing. Nuts and bananas were okay, so I ate that, but bananas do spike my blood sugar, so after an hour or two I was hungry again. Then I ate a protein bar or something like that. Not great, but it got me through the day.
Pregnancy cravings and aversions
Protein really helps with gastritis because it helps me feel and stay full, which means I don’t get stomach pain. But my pregnancy cravings were for sugary or cheesy things, and I didn’t even want to look at meat. Chicken and fish were the worst, but I didn’t want to eat beef either. I tried to get some protein anyway by eating some form of animal protein and covering it with cheese. I also emphasized eggs (scrambled were okay, boiled tasted blah) and had some pea protein shakes as snacks. In terms of vegetables, I had to completely forgo broccoli and beets and instead ate cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, and carrots.
It was difficult to make choices that worked well for my gastritis, so I was constantly dealing with ravenous hunger, cravings, aversions, and stomach pain. I also woke up every night around 3-4 am, extremely hungry and in pain. I had nuts (cashews, peeled almonds, or macadamias) next to my bed and ate a handful before even getting out of bed. In the mornings, before I got out of bed, my husband brought me a glass of bone broth with some lemon, which soothed my painful stomach and gave me some energy to get up, while the lemon tasted refreshing. This continued for two months. It was tough.
Then it just stopped
And then, just as suddenly as it had started, it all stopped. Week 13 was my last week of nausea, week 14 was a bit of a transition, and by week 15 it was gone. Such a relief! I felt like a normal person again with reasonable hunger and fullness cues. The gastritis pain also decreased. I was not ravenous and in pain between meals and at night anymore.
By now (at 24 weeks), I’m back to eating my regular way. I eat 3-4 meals a day, emphasizing protein, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables. I really enjoy fatty things like cheese and avocado, so I eat more of those than before I was pregnant. I’ve also become a fan of fruit (I didn’t care much about fruit in the past), so I eat peaches, cherries, or berries in the evening. Interestingly, I used to crave desserts before I was pregnant, while I don’t have such an interest in them now. I have an ice cream or some dark chocolate once in a while, but that’s kind of it.
I have to say that my gastritis is doing even better now than before I was pregnant. I think it’s because I don’t restrict my food intake now, but rather I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. I often feel fine with only 3 meals a day, which I didn’t expect would be possible when pregnant.
Interestingly, pregnant women are often told that the cravings and the ravenous hunger really pick up in the second and third trimester. For me, it was the opposite: I had crazy cravings and hunger during the first trimester, and they died down from the second trimester onward (still waiting to see how the third trimester goes, of course). My weight gain also followed a similar path: I gained some weight in the first trimester, then remained stable in the fourth month (when you’re supposed to actually start gaining weight), and then started gaining gradually from the fifth month onward.
How much of this is due to gastritis?
My story only goes to show how differently pregnant bodies can respond to the massive change of pregnancy. A friend of mine had exactly the opposite where she was so sick during the first trimester that she lost weight. Then, once the second trimester rolled in and the nausea lifted, she got super hungry and gained weight quickly, resulting in a healthy weight for her and her baby.
I had the experience of ravenous hunger during the beginning of pregnancy and a gradual tapering off of hunger as well as of stomach pain as the pregnancy continued. Did my gastritis cause this, or was the increased gastritis pain a result of my changing metabolism and hormones? There’s no way to know, but I’m more likely to think it’s the latter.
That first trimester was a strange and difficult time for me, and I think that the gastritis pain was one of the consequences of all the changes going on. Unfortunately, adding irritated gastritis to the already challenging mix of early pregnancy symptoms made things more difficult but not unbearable. The little one and I made it through, and we’re doing fine now. I’m so glad that that chapter is over, and I hope it doesn’t return later in pregnancy. Bye bye, first trimester! See you in the next pregnancy! (Nooooooo…… Can’t I just skip the first trimester? :S)
Have you had a tough first trimester? Or a difficult stomach/gut condition? Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
I don’t know if you know this about me, but I love routines. I looooove them. I love thinking about my routine, I love doing the things on my routine, and I love reading about other people’s routines (for instance, in articles like these). In fact, I have a folder on my computer (conveniently placed in the ‘Organization’ folder) called ‘Routine.’ This is a snapshop of some of the files in it:
What can I say? The routine is ever-changing.
Routine when pregnant… What?!
But then I got pregnant. Suddenly, I was more tired than usual, and I was nauseous during most parts of the day. Getting up at 6:30 simply didn’t work because I couldn’t keep my eyes open at work, and, what’s more, I felt more nauseous when I’d slept less. This was very frustrating because I’m usually a morning person (as I mentioned here), so I tried to make my usual routine work for me. This didn’t last very long–maybe 2 weeks max–because it made me exhausted and grumpy.
So I gradually made some changes. I started getting up around 7-7:30, and that felt much better. I was really nauseous in the morning, so I often lay down on the couch after breakfast–something I’d never do in the past because the morning was the time to go, go, go. However, even 5 minutes of lying down made me less nauseous and a little more refreshed, which felt immensely better.
I also often got nauseous at work, and it helped me to go for a brief (10-15 minute) walk. There was something about the fresh air and the movement that cleared my head. In fact, I was very rarely nauseous while walking.
However, sometimes I was just too tired to move around, so the office couch was my salvation. I’d lie down for 10-15 minutes and feel so much better afterwards! My office mates didn’t know I was pregnant back then, so they must have thought I was the laziest PhD student ever! The good thing was that this little horizontal break gave me energy, so I could keep working afterwards.
When the fog lifted
Fortunately, the nausea lifted around the end of the first trimester. Suddenly, I had my energy back! It felt amazing. Interestingly, I still need more sleep than before. While before pregnancy I felt great with 7-8 hours of sleep per night, now I consistently need 8-9 hours. If the alarm wakes me up with less than 8 hours of sleep, I am super disoriented, and I stay tired for the rest of the day.
Before getting pregnant, I used to wake up early, do my difficult and focused work early in the morning, do some admin or easier work in the afternoon, and exercise in the late afternoon. This worked well because I had lots of mental clarity in the mornings and more physical energy in the afternoon.
Funny enough, I don’t feel like much of a morning person these days. Some days I go to work early in the morning, expecting to have a few productive ‘golden hours.’ Instead, I feel groggy for the entire morning and only feel my energy pick up around ~11. I’m still surprised by this change and can’t quite understand it. Apparently, pregnancy leads to major changes in the body. Who knew!
The new routine!
Armed with these new experiences, I set out to make a new routine for myself (yay!). I get up a little later now (at 7:00 or 7:30) and eat breakfast (I’m super hungry when I wake up). Then, I exercise or do yoga and shower afterwards. I find that having some physical activity in the morning gets me going and improves my focus. While in the past I’d get tired in the afternoons if I worked out in the mornings, this is not the case anymore. Perhaps it helps that my workouts and not as intense as before, so they wake me up rather than tire me out. In this way, by the time I feel energized and awake in the late morning, I can start working.
I am also able to focus quite well in the afternoon. After lunch, I make myself a delicious green tea and do my thing. (I avoid the after-lunch dip by eating a meal of vegetables, protein, and healthy fats; carbs make me sleepy, so I reserve them for dinner.) I enjoy the long stretch of time that I have available for my work between lunch and dinner. Sometime around 16:00 or 17:00, I go for a walk, which has a nice refreshing effect.
When I finish work, I go home, have dinner, and chill. Since the days are long here in the Netherlands and there’s sunlight until late in the day (around 22:00), I often may not notice that I’m tired. To avoid this, I set a bedtime alarm (of course I do! Are you even surprised?) for 21:00. At that time, I start winding down and read in bed for a bit with the curtains drawn to place myself in a dark environment. Amazingly, I’m usually asleep by 22:30 and get enough rest to wake up the next day at 7:00. You might think that with so much sleep I’d wake up before the alarm the next day, but nope! I’m usually surprised to hear the alarm go off. What, is it really time to wake up already?
For now this routine works, but who knows how long it will last for? I’m not even going to add it to my ‘Routine’ folder because I suspect it will be adapted very soon when the next change comes along. I’m becoming so flexible with my planning, what is happening to me?!
How does your routine change with time?Do you have a routine, or do you prefer to ‘go with the flow’?Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
We asked ourselves so many questions:“Are we ready to have kids? When is the right time to have a baby?” And perhaps the most difficult of all: “How do we know when we’re ready?”
“Kids are wonderful, but they also completely change your life.” At least that’s what I’ve heard–I have no experience myself, but that’s what people say. If having kids really is such a big life change, how do we decide when the right time is?
As you may have noticed, I like planning. Ironically, having kids is one of the most difficult things to plan in life. Does this mean we shouldn’t plan for it? I don’t think so. We can still create a draft plan and then adapt from there as life happens. One of the most important benefits of creating a plan is that it forces you to clarify to yourself what you want and why.
For Jacob (my husband) and me, talking about kids early on was very helpful. In the beginning of our relationship, we both mentioned that we’d like to have children one day, which was good to know.
A year later, we revisited the topic and decided we didn’t want to wait too long. It was 2017 at the time, so we said we’d probably start trying in 2019. That seemed a long while away, so we were relaxed.
Needless to say, I created three different timetables to visualize how starting at different times may develop over time. If we started trying in January 2019, assuming no complications or issues arose, we could be pregnant by July 2019. That meant the baby would be born by March 2020, and after that I’d take maternity leave (probably around 6 months). Afterwards, I’d resume my PhD by September 2020 and complete it (hopefully!) by the end of 2021. I created a table with the different time periods and also put them on a blank calendar with a yearly overview.
Then I did the same for two other starting dates. If we started trying six months later, everything would get shifted by half a year. In this case, especially if things didn’t happen too quickly, I was coming quite close to the end of my PhD, and being unemployed and pregnant seemed scary to me. And if we started trying once I was close to the end of my PhD, things would get shifted by about a year and a half. While that seemed less stressful (also because it was further away in time), it felt like too long from the present moment.
Is it really time?!
Towards the summer of 2018, we started thinking about it seriously. “Are we really going to start trying for a baby in 6 months?! That’s so soon!” Having a baby had always seemed like a huge deal to me, so it felt like the Earth should stop turning or something. But life was continuing around us at its usual speed: I was in the third year of my PhD, Jacob had started his own chiropractic practice, and we had scheduled our wedding for June 2019. Was it really the right time to have a baby?
At first, I told Jacob, “I think we should wait. I don’t think this is a good time for us to have a child.” He appeared a bit disappointed but conceded that we should start trying only when I was ready.
But then I remembered something a college professor of mine said to me one day: “It’s never the perfect time to have a baby. Don’t wait for the perfect time because it will never come.”
Remembering this stopped me in my tracks. What was I waiting for? We had a roof over our heads (a wonderful apartment, in fact), we were bringing in a decent income, we loved each other, and both of us were emotionally ready to have children. What more did I need?
Would it be better if we waited until after I finished my PhD? Maybe, but then I’d be looking for other jobs, so that would be stressful too. (Also, you can never know how long it will take to complete a PhD, so that’s a risky thing to bet on.) Would it be better if we waited until Jacob had been working at his practice for longer? Maybe, but we weren’t sure if that mattered so much.
Would it be a problem if I were pregnant at our wedding? (Spoiler alert: that was indeed the case.) I thought about this one long and hard. One of the main arguments against being pregnant at your wedding is that you can’t drink alcohol, but that didn’t bother me because I don’t drink alcohol anyway. My biggest issue was whether my wedding dress would look good. I can write much more about how I resolved this, but in the end I think it worked out well. And, finally, I was concerned that people would think we got married only because I was pregnant and not because we truly loved each other. Well, I had to let that go and accept that people would think whatever they want anyway.
Let’s go ahead…
In the end, we decided that the beginning of 2019 was as good a time as any to start trying for a baby. It wasn’t ideal, but it didn’t seem like we were going to find a more perfect moment. So we started, and here I am now, writing this blog post, and our tiny son is kicking excitedly in my belly. Yes, I’m writing about you, little one.
What do you think, how would you know (or how did you know) when you are ready to have kids? Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
How I managed to do my work while also resting and recovering.
I don’t get ill often, which is also why when I do get ill, I feel like I don’t know what to do. A couple of weeks ago, I caught a cold, and it wasn’t pretty. While I was sneezing and coughing and my body didn’t want to get out of bed, my mind was still going.
“We need to do that analysis,” my mind would say. Or, “I really wanted to finish writing that paper!” Or, my favorite, “But we have that meeting, how could I possibly miss it?!”
But, perhaps most importantly, I felt it was unfair to expose other people to my germs. That feeling of responsibility kept me away from work and at home. I think that was a good thing because my husband, who came into extensive contact with my germs, got ill with the same symptoms 3 days later.
(Of course, in his case it was much worse because he had the mancold. At the worst point of the coughing and fatigue, he announced that he was on his death bed. After a “fever” of 37.8 degrees Celsius, he was convinced he had pneumonia. I shook my head and made him ginger tea. One of the best things about marriage is that you can be ill together.)
Fortunately for me, I can easily do my work from my laptop at home, so I just stayed put for 5 days. I slept as much as I could (didn’t use an alarm to wake up and took a nap during the day), drank tea, ate good food, and stayed warm.
I went for short walks at first and, as I felt a bit better, the walks got slightly longer. I didn’t strength train for a whole week, which was very difficult to accept but highly necessary.
To be honest, my work went surprisingly well during that time. Staying at home forced me to focus on the important tasks and disregard distractions. One evening, I was so tired that I went to bed at 9 pm and woke up at 4 am, fresh and energized. I seized the opportunity and worked on my paper for several hours straight. I managed to edit the manuscript until I was satisfied with it, and I sent it to my supervisor. Then, with a feeling of great achievement, I went back to sleep.
I also had a lot of quiet time for reading papers, which informed my ideas for a new project. I needed to think about how to design my next experiment, which is a huge step and a very important one. I wanted to come up with a sound experimental design because otherwise my whole experiment would be flawed. By the end of my home stay, I had a cool idea for my new experiment, which I am now refining and will hopefully implement soon.
In the end, I was surprised by how productive this period of illness was for me. The physical sickness constrained me to staying at home, which in turn made me focus on the big, difficult tasks I would have tried to postpone had I been in the office by going to meetings, talks, other people’s projects, etc.
It was also very helpful that I actually gave myself time to recover. When I needed to sleep, I slept. When I was exhausted and needed to do something chill like reading a paper, I did that. I really gave myself the time to rest and didn’t push myself to go to the office when I was feeling ill.
After all, this cold didn’t turn out to be too bad work-wise. But I’m glad it’s over, and I hope I won’t be constrained to working from home again soon. Being in the office and seeing people (and talking to them) is so much more fun!
What do you do when you’re ill? How do you cope? Do you go to work, do you work from home, or do you drop everything and lie in bed? Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
An easy way to feel less stiff and more energetic during your workday.
I’ve been trying something new recently. When I’m at work, I set a timer for 45 minutes and begin working. Once the time is up, I get up and move for 5 minutes. I walk down the hallway, climb some stairs, do some bodyweight moves, and stretch. I’m sure I look silly, but it definitely lifts my energy levels.
Usually, when I sit for a long period of time, my back gets stiff, and I get restless or, alternatively, sleepy. I came up with the idea to do some movement in order to help my back not get stiff, but I didn’t expect it would also influence my energy levels so much. Now when I begin my next 45-minute work period, I am energized and more motivated to sit down and work.
So what do I actually do?
I often go up and down the stairs. I descend all the way to the basement, climb up the stairs all the way to the third floor (that’s 4 floors worth of stairs!), and then go back down to my office. Therefore, if you see me at the staircase at work, don’t be surprised: chances are pretty high you can find me there.
If I’m too lazy to climb stairs, I just walk down the hallway. That’s very easy, but the hallway is not that long, so I often end up doing a couple of rounds. It ends up feeling a bit repetitive, unfortunately.
Sometimes I do bodyweight exercises that are easy to perform with no equipment. I usually do two of the following: squats, push ups, lunges, lat “push downs”, good mornings, or a couple of other exercises. I’ve even been doing hand stands against the wall, which is a serious feat at work! The other day I also realized I could do crow pose, so I held that for a bit. Also fun to do at work 🙂 I also do some stretches – nothing fancy, just whatever I feel like.
I imagine I look weird doing exercises in my office, so I go to a small hallway that isn’t used much. I’ll probably give someone a fright one day when they walk by!
Moving a little bit every hour has several benefits:
It interrupts the stiff sitting posture many of us maintain for hours on end, alleviating any back, neck, or shoulder problems we may be having or developing.
It gets the blood flowing frequently, thus improving circulation.
It raises energy levels simply because movement gets us to be active.
It ensures that we take breaks once every 45 minutes or so, and regular breaks can help us stay concentrated and able to do focused work throughout the day.
Perhaps moving every hour seems like too much or a bit “out there.” But in fact, it’s unnatural to sit for 8 hours a day. Movement is natural to us, and we may feel better if we incorporate little bits of light movement throughout our day.
Let me know if you try moving every hour or just a couple of times during your work day! Do you notice a difference? Comment below or on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
So, what should you do if you have gastritis? Here is what worked for me:
Eat foods that do not cause a sugar peak and dip.
I’ve found that the insulin response is critical in the amount of pain I experience with gastritis: if I’m having a sugar dip, then I also get a lot of pain in my stomach and my gastritis gets irritated. For this reason, I make sure I eat plenty of protein, enough fat, lots of vegetables, and not many carbohydrates. I only have sweet stuff as a treat once in a while because that helps my blood sugar levels stay stable. For more details about what foods to eat, read this blog post.
Avoid foods that irritate the stomach.
This plays a big part in letting the stomach heal. Each person will experience different foods as irritating, but for me some of the big ones are: alcohol, coffee, spicy foods, fried foods, and some raw vegetables such as lettuce. For a full list of foods to avoid, read this blog post.
Avoid taking acid-suppressing medications in the long term.
While medications that suppress stomach acid production can help someone with acute gastritis, they are not a solution if the condition is chronic because a) they don’t treat the condition and help the stomach heal and b) they have side effects that can be dangerous in the long term. To read about my experience with acid-suppressing medications, read this blog post.
Help the stomach lining heal by taking some supplements
Turmeric has fantastic anti-inflammatory properties and it really helps reduce the inflammation of the gut lining in the case of gastritis. Also, L-glutamine helps tissues rebuild themselves, so it helps the stomach lining heal. For more specific tips about how to take these supplements, read this blog post.
Try to reduce and manage stress
Stress contributes in major ways to numerous digestive problems including gastritis. Therefore, as difficult as it might be, it is worth it to try to reduce and manage stress in your life. For more ideas about how to do this, read this blog post.
And that’s it! Good luck and let me know how these tips work for you… I’d be curious to hear! Are there any other approaches that have worked for you?
Here are links to some of the main resources that have informed my search for answers throughout my journey with gastritis:
Robb Wolf: Lots of information about the way of eating I describe (a paleo-inspired diet) and about lifestyle in general.
Dr Brooke Kalanick: Building on that, lots of information about our hormonal system and the important role hormones play in our health.
Girls Gone Strong: Lots of information about healthy movement, our relationship to food, and self-confidence and appreciation.
Stress is a major contributor to many health issues, and, unsurprisingly, it also plays a big role in causing gastritis. I have noticed many, many times that my stomach gets irritated when I’m stressed. Once I started paying attention to this, I could notice it very clearly: about an hour after a stressful situation occurred, my gastritis symptoms had already gotten worse. Talk about a mind-body connection! Also, when I’m tired and sleep-deprived my stomach hurts more. Alternatively, when I’m on vacation and I’m relaxed and rested, I don’t feel my gastritis much. If only I could live my life on vacation…
It’s easy to say that generally we should try not to be too stressed. This is more easily said than done, however. What this translates into practically is that we can try to minimize stressful influences on our lives. For instance, we can make sure to get enough sleep rather than live our lives in a state of sleep deprivation which acts as a huge stressor on the body. We can also choose a work environment which allows us to pick our goals ourselves, so we reduce the pressure of external expectations, or we pick a job which allows us to pick our own schedule, so we can create a daily rhythm that works for us.
Also, it’s helpful to learn to “manage” our stress, whatever that means. For some people that means exercising, going out for walks, reading on the couch, meditating, or socializing. In general, anything that makes us feel like we’ve taken time for ourselves and have taken care of ourselves is a good idea. According to research, physical activity, time for introspection, and activities that deepen our relationships with others are the most helpful ways to reduce stress. I have found meditation to be particularly helpful because it allows me to see things in perspective and thus not worry unnecessarily.
When a stressful situation happens, a stress response ensues in our body immediately, and it’s good to have a way to diminish that. One simple but effective technique is to breathe in for 4 counts and breathe out for 6-8 counts. Taking several breaths like this ensures that we activate the parasympathetic system (which is engaged during rest) instead of the sympathetic system (which is engaged when we are stressed). Give it a try! It’s surprising that something so simple really works.
Finally, I’ve found it really helpful to take magnesium in the evening because it allows me to sleep very well. I take it after dinner, or about 2 hours before going to bed. Some people like drinking soothing herbal infusions such as ones containing valerian or other soothing herbs. While I like this idea in principle, I try to avoid drinking tea before bed because if I do, I have to get up to pee all night 🙂
To sum up, stress contributes to gastritis a great deal. It’s much easier to heal your gastritis if you don’t have much stress, so I’d recommend you try to minimize stress as much as possible. And if you can’t minimize it much, then try one or more of the many techniques to “manage” stress.
There were plenty of things I tried that seemed like a good idea but didn’t work for me. I heard lots of honest reports from people for whom these things were very helpful. I will list these options here because, since they worked for other people, they might work for you.
One of the common causes of gastritis appears to be an infection with H. pylori, a bacterium. There are plenty of substances that have antibacterial properties and could help you get rid of this little guy. Antibiotics work as well, of course, but some people prefer other approaches.
Manuka honey is known for its powerful antibacterial properties, so I tried taking that on an empty stomach several times a day. I also tried taking beeswax every morning on an empty stomach. In fact, I’ve tried many different types of honey and bees products. Since I don’t have an infection with H. pylori, however, that didn’t help my gastritis. It’s never a bad idea to take some high-quality honey, though, so you can certainly try it and see if it helps your gastritis.
Cayenne pepper is also known to help with gastritis sometimes, and I tried it, even though I was very reluctant. Anything spicy leads to lots of pain for me, and in this case I had to drink a glass of water with a teaspoon of cayenne pepper in it on an empty stomach three times a day. I was in so much pain that it wasn’t even funny. Still, I kept it up for 5 days because people had sworn to me that this had treated their gastritis. In the end, it didn’t treat mine, and it took me about a week to get back to “normal” pain levels after trying this. Since cayenne pepper has powerful antibacterial properties, I believe it can be very helpful to someone with a bacterial infection, but for me it didn’t help. Feel free to try it, at your own risk… 😉
Some people swear that cayenne pepper healed their gastritis or even ulcers,
I also received the advice to take a gut cleansing powder. This means to drink a glass of water with this cleansing powder every morning on an empty stomach, and this powder goes into the bowels and cleanses whatever might be left in there that is not so good and could be upsetting the digestive tract. This treatment goes on for 8 weeks usually, and people say it’s good to do it once a year. It’s probably a good thing to do, but it didn’t help my gastritis. I’ve heard people say it helped them heal theirs, so perhaps you could try it and see what it does for you.
Naturally, I tried various herbal infusions to soothe the stomach. There are so many of these that I’m not even going to attempt to list them. I’ve found that they mostly have a short-term effect, so if my gastritis is particularly irritated on a given day, I could use them. For long-term healing, however, I haven’t found them to be effective. Still, if you want a tasty herbal infusion to soothe your stomach, I’d suggest something with ginger or licorice since these are my favorites. If your taste preferences are different, there are plenty of other herbs that could do the job.
I also took prebiotics and probiotics to help with my overall gut health. While I can’t say these specifically healed my gastritis, they definitely improved my digestion. I certainly recommend that you augment your digestion by taking a prebiotic and/or a probiotic depending on what’s right for you. If you don’t want to take these, you could also include fermented foods into your diet such as sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, etc. which naturally improve your gut flora.
I have also taken digestive enzymes and, similarly to what I said in the previous paragraph, these didn’t heal my gastritis, but they did improve my digestion. Often people with digestive tract problems are deficient in digestive enzymes, so it’s a good idea to boost one’s digestion with digestive enzymes. Perhaps you can try and see if this is a good idea for you.
While all of these products sounded like a good idea for something to treat gastritis, they didn’t specifically do that for me. I do recommend taking a good probiotic and perhaps a prebiotic if your gut flora is damaged. Digestive enzymes can also really help boost your digestion. These products may not heal your gastritis, but they will improve your digestion which is usually suboptimal in someone with gastritis, especially if you’ve been taking acid-suppressing medications like I had. Manuka honey and beeswax have helped other people and they have powerful antibacterial properties, so they may be worth a try, particularly if you suspect you have a bacterial infection. Cayenne pepper may also rid you of an infection, but it may also terribly irritate your stomach in the process. Gut cleansing powders and soothing herbal infusions may also contribute to overall gut health, but based on my experience, I wouldn’t say they’d heal your gastritis.
Feel free to give these a try! Let me know if they do or do not work for you. Are there any remedies you’ve tried that did or did not work for you?
As discussed in the previous blog post, the thing that helped me the most with my gastritis was:
Keep blood sugar levels stable: eat enough protein and healthy fats and not too many carbohydrates.
Besides that, there are several gastritis-specific things I’ve discovered that work for me.
2. Eat vegetables that don’t irritate your stomach
There are plenty of vegetables that I don’t eat in large amounts because they irritate my stomach. For instance, lettuce, raw spinach, raw kale, raw tomatoes, and raw peppers. Instead, I eat vegetables that I can handle well, such as cucumbers, zucchini, mushrooms, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
3. Eat cooked vegetables instead of raw
Raw food is more difficult for the stomach to process, and for someone with gastritis raw food can be problematic. For this reason, unfortunately, salads usually aren’t a good idea unless they contain lots of protein and lots of cooked veggies in addition to some raw greens. I mostly steam my vegetables, which means that they are cooked and my stomach can process them without getting irritated, but because the vegetables weren’t boiled in water, they still retain the majority of their vitamins and minerals.
Steamed vegetables have become my (almost) best friend!
Ah, I love fruit and I wish I could eat more of it, but I just don’t do well with it. There are two main issues with fruit: either they spike my blood sugar and give me a sugar dip or they irritate my stomach. On the one hand, if a fruit is nice and starchy such as a banana or a mango, my stomach can handle it well, but then I get a sugar dip, intense hunger, and strong gastritis pain again. On the other hand, if a fruit is more fibrous such as an apple or a pear, it irritates my stomach and it gives me pain. Citrous fruits such as oranges or grapefruit are an absolute no-no because they irritate my stomach a lot and immediately give me pain. So it may not come as a surprise that I don’t eat many fruits. From time to time I have peaches, apricots, cherries, or mango since those are my favorites, but I eat them rarely. If I do eat them, I treat that as a dessert or I try to have some source of protein with them, so they don’t spike my blood sugar too much. But I consider them more of an indulgence than a staple food in my diet. In case you’re concerned that I am not getting enough nutrients by avoiding fruits, don’t worry: I eat plenty of vegetables with every meal, and those are very high in nutrients.
5. Avoid eating too many nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a versatile snack, and I used to eat them in between meals, but they irritate my stomach. In fact, I used to eat almonds with an apple, but my stomach really didn’t like that. Nuts and seeds are difficult for the stomach to process, and they easily irritate one’s gastritis. For that reason, I’ve brought them to a minimum for now. Sometimes I have brazil nuts or almonds with an avocado or cucumber, but it’s not a staple snack.
6. Avoid eating grain
Grains are a topic of huge discussion now, and I am not claiming that gluten is everyone’s enemy, but I have noticed that I do better without grains. White bread and pasta are low in nutrients but relatively high in calories, so I don’t see why I should eat them. Whole grains and whole-grain pasta are richer in nutrients, but because of their “whole-graininess” they are more difficult to process for the stomach and they give me pain. Also, fresh vegetables still have way more nutrients than whole grains, so I am not worried that I am missing out on anything by avoiding grains. I feel a lot better having excluded them from my diet.
7. Avoid eating junk food
Duh. This should be an obvious one. There are so many things in junk food that irritate even a healthy person’s stomach that for someone with gastritis it should be a clear choice to avoid that. Enough said.
8. Avoid spicy food
Spicy (as in “hot”) foods really irritate the stomach, and they make my gastritis hurt so bad it’s difficult to explain… It’s a pretty clear choice to avoid those.
Fried food also irritates the stomach, so anyone with gastritis should avoid it. Especially deep fried food is really irritating in this case, which is unfortunate because it is so delicious. For me, it doesn’t cause as much pain as spicy food, but it’s still pretty unpleasant.
10. Avoid highly acidic food
This refers to mainly salads with lots of vinegar or lemon juice. As tasty as those may be (to some people; luckily for me, I never liked vinegar very much), they make my stomach hurt very much. I can tolerate a liiiiiitle bit of lemon juice but not more.
11. Avoid drinking alcohol
Ah, yes… This is a tough one. In the past, I could feel my gastritis hurt after even a single glass of wine. Still, I couldn’t imagine not drinking in certain social situations, so I kept on doing it. A little over a year ago, I stopped drinking altogether. I feel so much better and my stomach is doing so well, it’s actually uncomparable. I know it may be a difficult change to make, but it’s worth it. Even if you don’t quit alcohol altogether, it is a good idea to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume if you’re trying to heal your gastritis.
12. Avoid drinking coffee or very strong teas
Coffee also irritates the stomach, so it may be tough on someone with gastritis. Strong teas such as black teas can also be irritating. I don’t drink coffee, so that wasn’t a particular problem for me, but I have a little bit of an issue with strong black teas. For that reason, I drink mostly green tea and usually after a meal.
13. Drink soothing teas (herbal infusions)
Some specific herbal infusions can be really soothing to the stomach. My personal favorites are herbal infusions with licorice or ginger. They taste amazing and they soothe my gastritis if it was irritated. I really enjoy those types of drinks.
14. Take turmeric (curcuma) as a supplement
Turmeric (a.k.a. curcuma) is highly anti-inflammatory and is helpful in many respects, but I’ve found it to be particularly helpful with gastritis. It really has done wonders for me! I used to take 3 tablets a day when I started the treatment, and now I take 1 tablet a day mostly for good measure because of its amazing healing and anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric is available as a spice in any supermarket, but I recommend getting it as a high-quality supplement because then it’s much more potent as an anti-inflammatory aid.
I highly recommend turmeric as an anti-inflammatory aid to heal gastritis.
L-glutamine is an amino acid that helps in the repair of tissues. Bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts take it to aid the recovery of their muscles after training, but for someone with gastritis it’s useful regardless of whether they train or not. The best way I’ve found so far to take L-glutamine is to put it in my water bottle and sip it throughout the day. I put one heaped teaspoon of L-glutamine in 500 – 750 ml of water and shake the water bottle well. When I started the treatment, I was having about 5 teaspoons of L-glutamine per day, while now I have about 2, mostly for maintenance (and because I like the taste 🙂 ). It is very helpful for healing gastritis, and as an added bonus it makes water taste great!
There you have it! All of my suggestions about what worked for me in healing my gastritis. I hope you try some of them! In the next blog post I will cover other things I’ve tried for gastritis that didn’t work for me but might work for you.