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Girl Smarts ‘I cut out dairy and gluten and got rid of my terrible heartburn’

I had crazy heartburn, and had no idea why. It wasn’t something I wanted to talk about with my friends at lunch.

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play ‘I cut out dairy and gluten and got rid of my terrible heartburn’ (LAURA FORD PHOTOGRAPHY)

When I was 16 years old, I started experiencing acid reflux several times a week. I'd feel food coming up from my stomach to my throat, a sour taste in my mouth, and a burning sensation in my chest.

I had crazy heartburn, and had no idea why. It wasn’t something I wanted to talk about with my friends at lunch.

I dealt with the the symptoms until they got bad enough when I was 19 that I started taking Prilosec, an over-the-counter drug that prevents your stomach from producing excess acid.

It was a huge relief at first, but eventually I realized the OTC stuff just wasn't going to cut it. A few months later, I started taking a stronger prescription medication every day.

'I thought this was my new normal...until I went to a friend's wedding a few years later.'

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Me and my mama on a mountaintop. With the wind whipping our hair. Not wanting to be anywhere else Happy Mother#emo#4oCZ##s Day to my mama, Nancy! She#emo#4oCZ##s shown me by her example how to be a successful businesswoman and a loving wife. She#emo#4oCZ##s demonstrated that it#emo#4oCZ##s possible to grow and overcome fears, no matter what your age. She#emo#4oCZ##s taught me to advocate for myself and to speak out for others. She#emo#4oCZ##s modeled the importance of faith and prayer and grace. She#emo#4oCZ##s always been a woman who carries herself with confidence and commands respect. I#emo#4oCZ##m grateful for all the lessons and her love #happymothersday

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I forgot to pack my medication for the trip. Knowing that even just a bite of food could make me taste bile, I scrambled to find someone else with heartburn medication, hoping they'd packed extras. I didn’t have a car, so I had to run-literally-to a friend's hotel to get the medicine before the wedding started.

That moment made me realize that I didn’t want to rely on those pills to live my life anymore. I wanted to fix the cause of my acid reflux, rather than just mask the symptoms.

'I'd about how dairy sensitivities could cause GI issues like mine.'

But it was hard for me consider giving up dairy, because it was such a big part of my diet. I loved to snack on yogurt, eat cereal and milk for breakfast, and make pots of pasta. I loved cheese, and I kept a family-sized parmesan shaker in my fridge at all times. (Yes, just for me.) I didn't want to believe my favorite foods could be messing with my digestion.

Finally, I decided to sign up for a seven-day detox led by a health coaching company. I eliminated corn, soy, refined sugar, caffeine, gluten, and dairy. Generally elimination diets require at least a month to see results, but I definitely felt better after that first week. So when the detox was over, I decided to try to ditch dairy for good and limit my intake of gluten, too, since those two foods commonly trigger GI issues.

With the help of a nutritionist, I committed to changing my diet, while weaning myself off of my heartburn meds.

'I haven't taken my meds in years-and I'm basically symptom-free.'

 

I had a few flare-ups in the months after I stopped taking my heartburn medication in March 2013, but by the fall of that year, I was completely free all symptoms. No more burning in my chest and throat, no more upset stomach, no more sour taste in my mouth. And for the most part, I have been symptom-free ever since.

I've also made a few other changes that I think have really helped my GI problems. I started seeing an integrative medicine doctor, who added probiotics and digestive enzymes to my regimen as well (so I can better digest the foods I eat). I saw another functional medicine doctor who prescribed hydrochloric acid pills, citing low stomach acid as a possible cause of heartburn and reflux.

Aside from the supplements, I drink a glass of water before meals and chew my food slowly to help with digestion. I keep liquified aloe vera leaf on hand, which helps soothe my stomach if I’ve eaten something that upsets it.

'I don't miss my parmesan cheese habit (mostly).'

 

Though I'd always been a huge cheese-lover, I’ve never felt deprived on my new diet. Here’s what an average day of eating looks like for me:

  • For breakfast, I make a smoothie with berries, protein powder, collagen powder, and non-dairy milk like almond milk.

  • For lunch, I try to eat a serving of fermented foods, which are full of probiotics and great for helping with digestion. Sauerkraut is a go-to for me, and I usually put some in my salad along with leafy greens, chickpeas, and any veggies that I have on hand.

  • I cook dinner for myself and my husband almost every night. Some of my favorites are roasted vegetables, egg frittatas, and turkey chili. A few years ago, I trained in culinary nutrition, and it helped me feel a lot more excited about cooking. I’ve learned to love experimenting with gluten-free and dairy-free recipes, coming up with my own, and sharing them on my blog.

I’m 34, and it’s been five years since I stopped eating gluten and dairy. Now, I don’t even have heartburn pills in my house anymore. I never thought I would be able to have a meal without taking one first, let alone be able to forget about them completely. I’ve never felt better, and I wouldn’t be able to feel how I do now without an open mind, patience, and a commitment to change. Even if it meant throwing out the parmesan shaker.

Rachel Druckenmiller works in corporate wellbeing and lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She writes about her experience with GI problems and shares gluten-free and dairy-free recipes on her blog, Rachel’s Nourishing Kitchen.

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