I spent a decade trying to figure out the cause of my unpredictable lower gastrointestinal tract. Put simply, unpredictable diarrhea is annoying and uncomfortable, and it impacted me for a long time. My never-ending COVID-19 lockdown has provided me a chance to reevaluate how different foods make me feel. Three weeks ago, I discovered what now allows me to fully enjoy my long-lost friends, and by that, I mean delicious foods that contain dairy.
Because I was born with Neurofibromatosis (NF), I contributed my stomach issues to yet another manifestation of NF: I’ve had many medical issues and basically never a typical one. I brought up my frequent diarrhea with several different specialists on numerous occasions. They offered no suggestions or thoughts. And besides, I have other medical issues that often have a higher priority. At some point, someone suggested trying to eliminate foods that caused issues.
Thus, I was on a constant mission to eliminate triggers. Ham and bacon were the first culprits. After eating those foods, I found myself running to the restroom at unexpected times. I eliminated pig from my diet—a food I greatly enjoy from time to time—and things got better. Or, I thought they did.
Certain salsas, chicken fingers, and hushpuppies also seemed to cause issues, and I eliminated these from my diet.
For Christmas 2021, my grandfather sent me a Honey Baked Ham. The ham looked so delicious. My mouth watered just thinking about it and remembering how good they taste. Issues with diarrhea had been almost zero for a while, so I tried a single slice. No issue. For the next meal, I tried a more regular portion; again, no issue. And, wow, it was delicious. The ham lasted a solid week.
A few weeks after that, I tried one of the salsas I had stopped eating. And I was able to eat it without issue. I had hypothesized that two of its ingredients were on my no-no list: cilantro and jalapenos. (The hushpuppies I had stopped eating also had jalapenos.)
I thought my food-related issues had resolved themselves, but then I tried pizza again. Soon, I found myself with diarrhea.
Fast forward to three weeks ago.
My dad has long been allergic to dairy products. Dairy gives him severe abdominal pain and bloating, except when he takes over-the-counter fast-acting lactose intolerance pills. He suggested trying his dairy pills, but I had always brushed them off. “I’m not allergic to dairy. I don’t have abdominal pain. My issues are related to NF and side effects from all my surgeries and medicines.”
I decided to try the pills. What could it hurt? I placed a curbside order for my favorite pizza—a hand-tossed pepperoni from Dominos. (Well, that’s the only kind of pizza I will eat!) Before eating the first bite, I took two of his pills. Alas, no issue with diarrhea.
Several days later, I tried some dairy pills and a few Cheeto Puffs. No issue. I then tried some cream cheese and Pickapeppa Sauce. Again, no issue. Both foods I had stopped eating.
It took me so long to figure out my gastrointestinal problems because of my delayed symptoms compared to what I understand is a more typical experience. For example, I could have Ranch dressing with my chicken and be fine after the meal. Diarrhea came 12-72 hours later, so I wrongly attributed the symptoms to foods I had eaten more recently or to general and ongoing medical issues. (It’s just another case where my body doesn’t follow the rules or act like any other body!) Another complicating factor is that because of my dad, I have always only used lactose-free milk when cooking, so some of the would-be dairy in my diet had already been eliminated.
As a result of my stomach struggles, I have been studying food ingredients more, and so many things have dairy! Hushpuppies have dairy. Breaded chicken often has dairy, too. Even cooked food with dairy can cause issues for people who are lactose intolerant.
I’m now rediscovering and reembracing some of the foods I had abandoned. I had even stopped eating the delicious Texas brisket by mistakenly thinking it—and not the dairy I had enjoyed in a recent meal—was part of my problem.
Going forward, I’ll always keep dairy pills handy and use them before eating anything that has dairy as an ingredient. I wish I had found this solution sooner. It would have prevented many days of anxiety, embarrassment, and frustration. I would have been able to enjoy so many more foods.
While I am not a medical doctor, and this article is an overview of my experience alone, if you’re uncomfortable with food or anything else, don’t be afraid to try new things.
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