While the NHS does its thing (takes forever to sort its referral system out), I’ve had to manage the symptoms of silent reflux by doing what journalists do best, reading and more reading. This research led me to embark on a gluten and dairy-free journey to see if it makes any difference.
I don’t have Coeliac Disease and I’m not lactose intolerant; however, growing studies suggest that our bodies aren’t as equipped for gluten and dairy as we may think they may be. It has been a double whammy – especially as I now have to avoid anything with citrus, tomatoes, strong spices or chocolate, which are a no-go zone for reflux sufferers. Bye-bye pizza, spaghetti bolognaise and all of my large giant bags of chocolate buttons. I can take or leave the citrus.
At the beginning I went through what is often described as the ‘die-off’ period. It sounds dramatic, but I felt like I was was in a pit of doom and I couldn’t imagine ever feeling better again. What happens is that you feel worse before you feel better, so it can be a scary time. (You can read more about this so-called die-off experience in an article on the Body Ecology website.)
Managing reflux symptoms
I gained comfort from the likes of Deliciously Ella and a range of other people I follow on Instagram who’ve recovered from various illnesses (IBS, Crohn’s Disease, ME, to name a few) simply by changing their diets.
Three months later and, although I am not totally symptom free, the good news is I’ve turned things around. I no longer have a lump in my throat or spend up to half an hour clearing my throat at regular intervals throughout the day; instead I may just have a bit of a cough in the morning after I’ve been lying flat for a while in bed (my favourite place). Now I have lots more energy, my skin has cleared up and my eyes are no longer puffy, I’m sleeping better (albeit still on three pillows so I’m elevated) and my levels of concentration have improved massively.
Putting on weight has been a challenge, but I don’t look scarily thin for my 5 foot 4 frame and my BMI is just within the healthy range at 18.5 (low is considered under 18.5). I still don’t know why this all happened (I’m praying they don’t want to shove a camera down my throat to find out), but I think I have a good idea why it did.
The ‘I’m a knackered mum diet’
- I used to eat a crazy amount of sugar. I took the maternity leave policy of eating cake all day long to extremes. I ate chocolate on a daily basis (damn you Tesco for your £1 deals). I had a bit of cereal with my sugar and enjoyed nothing more than toasted white bagels for a mid-afternoon or before bed snack.
- I went off fruit and veggies, only having the bare minimum per week, at a push.
- I stopped taking multivitamins. When you are pregnant you take them religiously every day as you want the best for your unborn children. When they were born and I’d finished breastfeeding I thought I didn’t need them anymore.
- I let stress get the better of me. I thought meditation was something that hippies did on beach holidays. It isn’t, and it does really help.
- I thought because I was slim I should eat lots of full-fat crème fraiche and full-fat yoghurts. They didn’t make me put on weight, so I thought they were a sensible choice, but fatty foods are harder to digest and can make reflux worse.
- I drank a lot of hot chocolate. Dairy isn’t supposed to be great when it comes to mucus build-up (which is why if you have a cough and you have lots of milk or cheese you may cough more). So if you have asthma or reflux it makes sense you reduce the amounts or substitute it completely (please note this isn’t medically proven and it’s a bit of a grey area. Read this article from the Global Healing Centre to find out more). After a few months I plan to re-introduce dairy into my diet during the day, but stick with the coconut milk for breakfast.
So what’s changed? Quite a lot. Check out my next blog for lots of meal ideas and suggestions about how to incorporate reflux-friendly and gluten or dairy-free foods into your diet.
Medical disclaimer (i.e. please don’t sue me): I am not in any way medically trained in digestive issues, this is all from my own experience.