Xanthan Gum

The best eggs are slightly cracked.

The best eggs are slightly cracked.

 

T’is the season for candy-colored eggs, baby farm animals, and ultimately, rebirth. And while you may or may not celebrate certain holidays this time of year, chances are you’ve at least seen, if not partaken of, some of the confectionary treats. This year I was forced to hold back, for obvious reasons. My all-time favorite Easter candy, Whoppers Malted Milk Eggs, are not gluten-free. Sugar is also bad for inflamed intestines. (I keep telling myself I’m better off – it’s almost bathing suit season, after all.) And lately–although it’s not found in the Malted Eggs–another ingredient has proven itself a trigger for my UC: Xanthan Gum.

Chris Kresser’s article “Harmful or Harmless: Xanthan Gum” discusses the pros and cons of this food additive. It’s found in chewing gum, which has always aggravated my stomach, and is also found in many gluten-free products. I began noticing increased aggravated symptoms after consuming certain gluten-free snacks and began reading the ingredients list to narrow down what the hell was sending me running to the restroom. After a couple of weeks of the food/ingredient elimination process, I discovered I cannot tolerate xanthan gum.

I did a little light research and discovered that though some xanthan gum contains gluten, it can also be made from non-gluten food items. Since my foods were certified as gluten-free, I ruled out trace gluten as the source of my problem. So what was it about xanthan gum that my guts hated? Turns out that regardless of what it’s derived from, it’s a LAXATIVE! Furthermore, in Kresser’s article, he references a “study, conducted to evaluate the effects of xanthan gum on digestion in rats, [which] found that a diet containing 4% xanthan gum increased the amount of water in the intestines by 400%, and also increased the number of sugars remaining in the intestine.” That’s really, really bad news for anyone dealing with IBD or IBS. More water in the intestines causes diarrhea. And for those of us with an overdose of negative bacteria, increased sugar means a fantastic breeding ground for the nasty little buggers. (Another reason why the Specific Carbohydrate Diet is solely low-to-no sugar foods.)

Some people with IBD are going to be more sensitive to xanthan gum than others. But if you’re finding that something as innocuous as a cookie or cracker is causing bloating, gas and possibly a trip or two to the porcelain throne, check the ingredients. Perhaps xanthan gum is your culprit too.

The Autoimmune Paleo Diet?

An alternative to the SC Diet?

An alternative to the SC Diet?

 

My sister just sent me a link to this book on Amazon so I haven’t had the chance to check it out, but I thought I’d pass it along to anyone who might be interested. No telling if this is too similar to the SC Diet to be of use to me, or if it deviates enough to permit me some normalcy, but at this stage–so long as it doesn’t suck the life out of my life–I’m willing to try anything. (Thanks sis!)

Road Trips…

UC + Road Trips = Bad Scene

 

Nothing earth-shattering this week (not that there ever is) but just wanted to share the above pic, courtesy of Leonard Talbot via The Glitch Mob’s Facebook page. If a picture is worth a thousand words than that’s all I need to say about taking a 9-hour drive while still in some incalculable remission phase with ulcerative colitis. I will add, however, that it’s not quite what you think – while yes, there’s always the restroom-whereabouts anxiety, just sitting for hours on end, involuntarily clenching your abs while the vehicle brakes, accelerates, swerves, et cetera, as well as the inevitable stress of idiot drivers out to kill you, will do a cumulative number on your tummy. Furthermore, when you bookend helping your mother-in-law move out of her duplex with a 9-hour drive the day before AND the day after the move day, it really sucks. Top that off with meager food options (i.e., going without lunch two days in a row and snacking on gluten-free Kind bars for energy) and you have a thing called involuntary weight loss. Passenger (and well-intentioned mover) be warned.

Can’t run thanks to Colitis? At least you’ll look younger!

Not running = forever young

Not running = forever young

Take heart those of us who can no longer run thanks to Colitis (or a Colitis flare). I read in the March 2014 edition of Marie Claire that running makes your face sag! All that high-impact bouncing and jouncing stretches muscles and ligaments, apparently giving us the face of a Basset Hound. The blog Walk Jog Run confirms it. The condition is called “Runner’s Face.” It’s recommended we use an elliptical, or try other low-impact exercises instead. But let’s not kid ourselves – if vanity is our goal, we’ll ace our marathon-ready competitors. We can’t eat much of anything, weight loss is par for the course. While our intestines might look like a war zone, we’ll (outwardly) look Utopian.

Love In The Time of Colitis

thisiscolitis

This is Colitis.

It’s not glamorous. A Friday “off” together involved one 4-hour Remicade treatment at my new doctor’s Infusion Unit. I was chair-bound, pinioned by my I.V., and my husband made use of the time by getting some work done. Still, we had fun. He ate the gluten-loaded cookies they left for us, we chatted, and when he had to make a call I got to read the magazine I’d saved for this very occasion. Afterward we went out to lunch and ran some errands. It’s nobody’s dream romance, but it’s reality. It’s making the best of the situation, it’s carving out quality time wherever we can find it, it’s being there together and there for each other. Do I envy my friends’ Facebook posts showcasing their exotic and adventure-filled dates with boyfriends/girlfriends and husbands/wives? Sure. I sigh wistfully, imagining that one day I won’t have to post photos like the above to let those closest to me understand what I’ve been up to. My love life isn’t all ski trips, Broadway shows, glitzy new restaurants and beach vacations. Maybe at one point it was, but things change, and now “dates” are squeezed in around doctor’s appointments, infusions and the out-of-nowhere day where my UC wants to keep me couch (or toilet) bound. Social life? Um…well, it’s hard to plan for the following weekend when you have no idea what you’ll feel like by Friday. Will you even have the energy to want to eat out, never mind to go dancing? Will you have energy enough to even want to see your friends if they opt to come over? It’s tough for the partner with Colitis, and I’ve begun to understand that in many respects, it’s tougher for the partner without it–a.k.a. The Saint. When you exchange vows you hope for the best, and while you know that shit happens, on your wedding day you assume the difficult times are only for other people, or at least older people. On your honeymoon you think paradise will last forever. You can hardly conceive of a marriage that isn’t white picket fences, champagne bubbles, lazy Sunday mornings, cruise ship balconies, puppies and roses. And then the universe smacks you upside the head and tells you to wake up. It piles on vet bills and taxes, student loans, car accidents and injuries, blizzards and hurricanes, long hours and layoffs, stress, stress and more stress–and even sometimes Ulcerative Colitis. So here’s a shout-out to my wonderful husband for caring enough to want to be there with me, for making an otherwise boring treatment fun, and for having my back when the going got (and stayed) tough. You are one in a million, babe.

Another milestone

birthday

Not that I could eat this.

George Saunders once wrote, “There comes that phase in life when, tired of losing, you decide to stop losing, then continue losing. Then you decide to really stop losing, and continue losing. The losing goes on and on so long you begin to watch with curiosity, wondering how low you can go.” This may be a huge presumption, but a lot of people dealing with IBD (and other diseases) feel that way. You go there, leave it briefly, and return. I’m there now, booted back into the spin cycle because the odometer turned over. Another year older, another new problem, and no relief in sight. Another reason to wallow and wonder what’s the point of all this? My get-me-to-remission-already journey has been disgusting, edifying, discouraging, inspiring. Now it’s, like Saunders wrote, kinda fascinating. How far off the tracks can you derail? If life is what happens while you’re making plans, what happens when you’re just trying to make it back to your life? What’s the meaning of all this, anyway?  We were put here to develop Ulcerative Colitis and…?

How Great Underwear Might Just Change Your Life

thong

Think that’s a stretch? Try the Lacie Thong by Victoria’s Secret. The most comfortable thong in existence: http://www.victoriassecret.com/panties/the-new-lacie

My title is a little sensational, perhaps a little grandiose, but I’m trying to make a point–small things make a difference. What might seem stupid and insignificant to someone else could have a significant impact on you, or vice versa. A ripple effect, if you will. Several months ago, on the Great Bowel Movement’s “Flush My Secret” page, I came across a post by someone who said since being diagnosed, they “despise wearing thongs.” I used to feel the same way about a lot of different types of apparel, so their sentiment resonated with me. I empathized. But a few months in, as the blank page of my future life began to resemble one of those paper snowflake cut-outs, I realized I had to stop resenting, stop imposing limitations, and most importantly, stop eliminating all of the joys–if you can call thongs a “joy”–in my life. (And nothing against the person who posted that. Everyone is entitled to feel what they feel, when they’re feeling it. Rock on sans thong!)

That being said, there a ton of things I miss that I can’t get back. At least not right now. I miss gourmet flatbreads. I can’t find a restaurant that offers gluten-free flatbreads. (If you can offer gluten-free pasta why can’t you bake a gluten-free flatbread?!) I miss my elderflower martini like crazy. I miss having unlimited options on a restaurant menu. I miss the bread basket. I miss being able to meet up with people at places like Starbucks because there’s next to nothing I can eat or drink there, unless it’s water. I miss normal birthday cakes. I miss barely knowing what the inside of my doctors’ offices looked like, save for once a year. I miss having a near-empty medicine cabinet. I miss my hair, which is thinning thanks to the meds. I miss a clear complexion for that matter. I miss my energy level, which while not as low as it used to be, drains down a lot faster these days. I miss my money–copays, prescriptions and gluten-free eating are expensive. I miss doing crunches (and I never thought I’d say that)! I miss the days when I didn’t have to crap at work, and I miss when it didn’t smell (or be loud) and embarrass me! I miss not ever having to think about my guts or my poops unless I got a GI bug. I miss having “problems” that were actually just inconveniences and not actually serious. I miss the life that I didn’t appreciate when I had it. I miss being normal.

I was missing normalcy a lot worse when Victoria’s Secret’s semi-annual sale rolled around after the holidays. See, I’m the type that can only take being backed into a corner for so long. And, life with UC is a roller coaster, and personally, I hate roller coasters. So I did what any glum gal does, I went shopping. With that “Flush My Secret” post in the back of my mind, I deliberately bought frilly, exciting, frivolous underwear. It goes against all common bowel disorder logic. I spent money on something nice that could be ruined? You bet. (And duh, I waited for a sale.) Call it one of those “superficial interventions,” call it reclaiming one of the dozens upon dozens of mundane aspects of my life that I thought I’d relinquished forever. Or, call it taking back a little control. Whatever you call it, this small act empowered me, and had a cascade effect. I began doing that P90X workout despite some increased discomfort. After a few sessions my abs strengthened and whaddaya know? The cramps stopped. I began enjoying wine without the guilt, since wine doesn’t exacerbate my symptoms. Guilt (and anxiety and worry) do. I even started experimenting more with food. The other day a coworker handed me an Italian candy from his trip. I unwrapped and took a small bite. My other coworker, sitting next to me, gasped and said, “But how do you know that’s gluten-free?” I looked right at her with slyly narrowed eyes. “I don’t,” I replied, “But I’ll know shortly.” I felt like a daredevil. (In ten minutes I was a bloated daredevil–the candy didn’t agree. Surprise, surprise.)

I began exploring alternative treatments and started acupuncture, something that surprised my husband. He lauded my courage initially, saying he’d probably never do it, but now he goes, too. I signed up for a writer’s workshop. Normally I’m too drained after a long day of work to give much in the way of oral feedback, but I’m there at least, out in society again, focusing on something I love. And, I’m even planning a vacation. A real one that involves airplanes and tropical beaches. I’m not in remission, but I’m not waiting around anymore. Life is passing me by, and me sitting on the sidelines, anxious and stressed, fretting about my next meal, my next bowel movement, my next however many years, is doing more harm than good. Without happy distractions, it’s too easy to get caught up in the what-ifs and the poor-mes. Like a lot of people, I’m a worrier by nature. And like a lot of UC sufferers, I need to get out of my own head if this stupid flare is ever going to calm down. So my point? Find a positive distraction, let it empower you, let that snowball. And, do it in some sexy underwear. You’re worth it.