My caffeine-free experiment

I’ve been caffeine-free for 28 days today. Crazy, I know.

How it started

Many people who know me are aware of the fact that I don’t drink coffee. I looove coffee, don’t get me wrong, but it makes me jittery and anxious. I realized this years ago, stopped drinking coffee, and immediately felt more at ease.

Now, I’ve been a fan of green tea for a long time. I was having one tea in the morning and one tea in the afternoon, and I loved the energy they gave me. It made me excited about the activity at hand, but also I easily became nervous if a mildly stressful event occurred. I noticed that green tea made me more excited, but it also made me more anxious.

For a long time, the trade off was worth it. I was working on my PhD thesis, analyzing data or writing papers, both tasks which require perseverance and concentration. My green tea helped me in that regard. (Note on black tea: I looooooove black tea, but since its effect is stronger, it quickly became too much for me, so I had to limit it.)

Things weren’t so great anymore

For years, I’d had about one headache per week, but I could easily get rid of it if I took a painkiller. (I really needed that painkiller because the headache was so strong that I couldn’t function anymore, and it wouldn’t go away even after a full night’s sleep.) I just thought, “Well, I guess I’m prone to headaches,” and left it at that.

Over time, my headaches became more frequent and more intense. During the last couple of months, I was having two or three headaches per week, and sometimes a painkiller (or even two) was not enough to ease the pain. I was becoming concerned. I’d heard that headaches may get worse with age, but I had hoped that wouldn’t be the case for me.

Also, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, I usually felt a light headache set in after I drank my tea. Sometimes it dissipated an hour or two later, but sometimes it lingered and intensified. I tried to ignore this fact as long as possible… until the side effects of the painkillers got too unpleasant (stomach pain and bloating) and the painkillers weren’t easing the headache anymore (which was super scary).

I’m not sure how this works exactly because caffeine is a pain reducer, so I’m not sure why I was getting headaches from drinking tea. One possibility is that the tea made me more tense, so I tensed my shoulders and neck, and that gave me tension headaches.

Beginning the caffeine-free experiment

The time had come. I really wanted to be pain-free, so it was worth it for me to try getting rid of my oh-so-favorite tea.

On one Saturday morning, on August 27, I simply did not drink tea. I drank water with electrolytes, and that was it. I missed my tea terribly. Same thing in the afternoon.

I have to say, I was a bit tired (my body was missing the effects of the caffeine), and I started getting a light headache before lunch. Then, I had lunch and took a little nap (10-15 minutes), and the headache was gone. I also developed a light headache towards bedtime, but sleeping alleviated it. (This was definitely not the case in the past! I’ve woken up multiple times because a headache was so bad I couldn’t sleep.) Clearly, I was experiencing withdrawal effects.

This continued for the next 5 days or so. I was more tired than usual, and I developed light headaches, but nothing like what I was used to. I didn’t need to take a single painkiller.

I was withdrawing from green tea, can you believe it! My teas were rather strong, to be honest, so perhaps it’s not that surprising. I made the transition period easier by sleeping enough (also taking a power nap in the afternoon) and drinking water with electrolytes. And just letting the time pass by.

The consequences

After those first five days, I felt I was quite adapted to being caffeine-free. My energy returned to its previous levels, and I felt perfectly fine without tea, something I considered impossible before.

Perhaps best of all, my headaches were gone. Gone!!! It’s been 28 days now, and I haven’t taken a single pain killer because I haven’t had to. I haven’t had a single headache! It’s truly unbelievable.

Also, an unexpected side effect is that I’m less anxious and more content. I realized that this low-level anxiety was making me more uneasy and critical. Once this critical voice subsided, I became more content. It’s a strange feeling, being content, I’m still getting used to it. In a way, it’s boring because it’s lower-energy. But at its core, it makes it easier to be at ease and just be.

What do I drink now?

To be honest, I am a bit annoyed that I can’t drink coffee or tea. I really, really like the taste of coffee and tea, so why can’t I drink them without getting headaches or becoming anxious, when most of the human population doesn’t seem to have any problems? It’s not fair!

And yet, it’s true that it’s not fair, but it’s useless to get stuck at that (as Dr Brooke says). Instead, I can focus on what works for me and enjoy my life.

I’ve discovered a new elixir of life: my cacao drink. I put a teaspoon of raw cacao powder in a cup of warm water, and I add several drops of a stevia-based sweetener. It’s absolutely delicious! (Let’s hope this one doesn’t end up having unpleasant side effects…)

How about caffeine-free coffee and tea? I’ve tried them both, but unfortunately both seem to give me light headaches, and the coffee makes me weirdly light-headed. I may try again in the future, but for now I won’t be drinking those.

Also, I’ve heard wonderful things about adaptogen mushroom elixirs (such as these), and I’d love to try them as well sometime. For now, I’m sticking to my cacao drink.

Finally, I drink lots of electrolyte water! Most of the time, I mix it myself by adding sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and magnesium malate in my water bottle. But once a day (usually in the afternoon), I drink an LMNT because they are so delicious and they make me feel amazing! (Watermelon is my favorite.)

Note: The links are purely for information purposes. I don’t make any money if you purchase anything via the links because they are not affiliate links 🙂

Image: Me showing off my favorite coffee/tea/cacao mug with a sheep!

Have you ever gone caffeine-free? If so, what was your experience?

The craziness of trying to “get back in shape” after a baby

This is a sticky issue. I’ve been avoiding it for a while, but after several people asked me, “How did you get back in shape so fast after having a baby?” I thought I’d share my thoughts.

First of all, I think it’s insane how much pressure is placed on women to “get back in shape” after having a baby. New mothers feel like a part of their self-worth depends on how quickly they “bounce back” and get their “pre-baby body back.” (Which is a ridiculous idea if you think about it: you had a baby, so your body is forever post-baby! You’re never getting your pre-baby body back, and that’s the whole point!)

Continue reading “The craziness of trying to “get back in shape” after a baby”

My first time doing a Whole30 self-experiment

I love programs such as 30-day challenges. If the program resonates with me, I’ll do it 100%, with lots of excitement! But I also only embark upon challenges that I truly want to complete. If I commit to something, I am going to do it, so I have to be certain the thing resonates with me before I start it.

I’ve been hearing about the Whole30 for a few months now. It’s a reset or self-experiment where for 30 days you exclude certain foods that can be commonly problematic. Then, after the 30 days are up, you introduce them one at a time and observe how they impact you. The point is to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.

Apparently, the Whole30 is a big deal and quite popular, but I didn’t know about it until recently. When I saw the announcement that the Whole30AtHome was starting on April 13, 2020, and I decided to join! I was so excited!

I told Jacob, my husband, “We’re doing the Whole30!” “What is it?” he asked. After I gave him a brief description, he said, “Oh, it’s not so different from what we usually do. Sure, let’s do it.” Not exactly the enthusiasm I was hoping for, but he was on board, so I was happy.

What am I doing on this Whole30?

The Whole30 isn’t particularly different from how we usually eat at our home, but it is a bit more strict. Basically, on the Whole30, you eat meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds. You don’t eat grains, dairy, soy, legumes, beans, added sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed foods, or alcohol. Generally, I don’t eat most of these things anyway, with the exception of sugar and artificial sweeteners, so this wasn’t such a big change for me.

Delicious side salads we made to go with our chicken for lunch.

But the Whole30 also places an emphasis on avoiding craving-inducing foods for the 30 days. This is the big deal for me… I looooooove sweet things, so I enjoy chocolate and dried fruit on a daily basis and a proper dessert once or twice a week.

This used to work fine for me until it became problematic a couple of months ago. Since I’m not sleeping properly because my baby wakes up multiple times a night, I am often tired during the day, so I end up craving sugar. The whole time I’d be thinking about when I can eat something sweet, and when I did, I just wanted more. This was quite exhausting, so I decided to cut out sugar for 30 days and see how it goes.

Another thing I’m cutting out is caffeine. Because I felt so tired, I was relying on green tea (and dark chocolate) to keep me going. You’re probably laughing right now: “Green tea? How about some coffee?” Well, coffee makes me go craaaaazy, so no coffee for me. While I absolutely adore green tea, it’s been making me feel anxious, rushed, and overall unable to relax. And then when I tried taking a nap, I couldn’t fall asleep because there was still caffeine in my system. Thus, for 30 days, I’m removing caffeine.

The combination of sugar and caffeine, albeit in small amounts, was resulting in my having energy peaks and dips. During the day, I felt like I was flying from activity to activity, which was exciting but also felt anxious. In between the peaks of energy, I had dips where I suddenly felt very tired and also cranky.

What results am I hoping for?

I have two main objectives with this Whole30: improving energy and mood. I’d like to have stable energy rather than peaks and dips. I’ll have to accept that I won’t have the excited peaks, but that also means I won’t feel super tired afterwards.

Related to these changes in energy are mood changes. During a peak, I feel excited but also a bit anxious and impatient, and then during a dip, I feel tired and cranky. I hope that by having stable energy, I’ll also have more stable moods, so I can relax and enjoy my days rather than hurrying around, feeling like I’m never doing enough.

When self-care becomes non-negotiable

Perhaps surprisingly, self-care is not super easy for me. Most of the time, I manage to follow the priorities I set for myself, so my life feels like it’s in accordance with what I want. This may be relatively easy for me because I’m an Upholder according to Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework, which means that I meet my own expectations as easily as I meet other people’s expectations. But that doesn’t apply with equal strength to everything.

One major point of difficulty is self-care. Self-care is a popular topic right now, being discussed by life coaches, health professionals, and writers. You might think that, as an Upholder, I wouldn’t struggle with this, but that’s not the case. I admit that I find it easier to do things for myself (such as find time to exercise or set aside me-time) than some other people, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely easy.

Lie down!

A week ago, I had a funky experience. I was doing my thing around the house, getting ready for work, when I got a sudden, sharp pain in my belly. Not a great thing when you’re pregnant. A few seconds later it went away, so I continued going about my business, but then it came back again. I thought it might be something, so I lay down and called my obstetrician. She told me to lie down for 20-30 minutes or until it goes away. She said it’s not super worrisome, but I should try to prevent it from happening.

After speaking to her, the first thing that crossed my mind was, “Lie down for 30 minutes?! But I have a plan for today, I have work to do!” My mind was in go-go-go mode, and I didn’t want to lie down, but apparently my body needed me to pause. When self-care became non-negotiable, I obliged, but it would have never happened otherwise.

Take breaks (again…)

Along the same line, I’ve known for a long time that I should take frequent breaks from sitting for the health of my back. Did I do this regularly in the past? Not really. I’d set a timer for 25 minutes and mean to get up and walk around when it went off, but it was so much easier to keep working–it’s just unpleasant to be interrupted. So I’d end up ignoring the timer and only getting up when I got stiff.

As I described in a post last week, pregnancy has forced me to change this behavior. Since my back is getting much more tired now, I really do get up when that timer goes off (okay, most of the time I do…) and walk around. But I’m only doing this because of the real possibility that I may get a trapped nerve in my back if I continue sitting all day without breaks. Again, the circumstances have made it unavoidable that I have to take care of my back.

Get more sleep (finally)

Big surprise: I’ve been needing more sleep since I got pregnant. I sleep 8.5-9 hours a night, and if I sleep any less, I wake up tired and groggy. This is crazy! 7.5-8 hours of sleep used to be fine, but that just doesn’t cut it anymore.

At first, I tried to make it through the day with my usual amount of sleep and maybe catch a little snooze for 15 minutes after lunch. Nope, that didn’t work; I was just irritable and tired.

So now I’m making sure I get more sleep. I start my bedtime routine at 21:00, get in bed at 22:00 (or 22:30 at the latest), put on my sleep mask and earplugs, and sleep until 7:00! I feel like a boring person for going to bed so early, but it makes such a big difference to wake up rested. I decided to enjoy good sleep for now while I still have the opportunity.

Is self-care selfish?

I keep wondering why it is so difficult to take care of ourselves even when we know we should. We all know we should make time for our own needs and health, but it feels harder to do that than to work, clean the house, or help a friend, for example.

I think it’s because we feel that we are the only ones benefiting from our self-care, and we’ve been taught not to be selfish. Technically, we’re not the only ones benefiting because we’re much better able to do our work or take care of others when we’ve taken care of ourselves, but this is often difficult to see because the benefits for other people are not immediately obvious.

Pregnancy has been a good reminder for me that taking care of myself means simultaneously taking care of someone else. Having this reason has made it easier for me to rest more, although I still feel guilty and like I should be doing more.

I recently came across a post from Molly Galbraith where she says that every woman has the right to take care of herself not because that makes her a better caretaker but just because she is worth it. This struck me. It applies to any human being: we shouldn’t need a reason to take care of ourselves; we should just do so because we inherently deserve it.

How to ensure we take care of ourselves

I think many of us are not quite there yet, although it would be great if we were. For all of us who struggle with self-care, it may be best to:

  • Find a good reason (a strong ‘why’) which leads us to engage in self-care (as pregnancy is for me right now);
  • Find an effective accountability system: join a group that will keep you accountable, find a buddy for a certain activity, or get a coach (in my case, it works when my husband says, “You’ve been standing for a long time, you need to sit down (or lie down) for five minutes” or “You’re tired, you need to go to bed”);
  • Find a system that works for you (such as my timer that tells me to get up and walk around).

While it would be great if we could take care of ourselves simply because we’re worth it, I believe that anyway we can get ourselves to engage in self-care is achieving the goal.

How do you take care of yourself? What do you struggle with? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Min An on Pexels

How my gastritis acted up when I got pregnant

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 FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Get up and move every hour

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:

  1. 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.
  2. It gets the blood flowing frequently, thus improving circulation.
  3. It raises energy levels simply because movement gets us to be active.
  4. 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.

Gastritis Post 8: Main Message

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.

Source of featured image: Real Estate Dynamics

Gastritis Post 7: The unique influence of stress

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.

This is so good! 😀 Enough said.

Image source: QuickMeme

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.

Source of featured image: Hello Giggles

Gastritis Post 6: What didn’t work for me but might work for you

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… 😉

red_cayenne_peppers

Some people swear that cayenne pepper healed their gastritis or even ulcers,

but it was not a good idea for me.

Image Source: My Pull Zone

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?

Gastritis Post 5: What worked for me Part 2

As discussed in the previous blog post, the thing that helped me the most with my gastritis was:

  1. 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!

Image Source: Betty Crocker

 

4. Avoid eating too much fruit

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.

Spicy food is a definite no-no.

Image source: Healthy Eating – SFGate

9. Avoid fried food

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.

Image source: Organic Facts

15. Take L-glutamine as a supplement

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.

Source of featured image: Dr. Weil