I didn't know I had food intolerances until I was in my 30s.
I'd had trouble with my digestion since birth. As a baby I had a lot of gas and would often get diarrhea. My mother thought it was because I was a preemie. Those stomach problems eased by the time I was 6 months old, and I was relatively healthy as a kid. But then what appeared to be seasonal allergies kicked in. In fact, by the time I hit puberty, my symptoms were so bad that my eyes would often seal shut with crust, and I had terrible sinus pain and headaches.
Chronic constipation -- when you can’t poop -- is a common digestive problem. You might have considered over-the-counter laxatives to “get things moving,” but you can do plenty to manage chronic constipation without taking medicine. One of the simplest ways is to drink plenty of fluids every day, eat dietary fiber, and exercise.
The worst part was the fatigue. I went to doctors, but no one seemed to know why I was so tired. I started to believe it was all in my head. So I worked really hard -- I was president of the student council, was on the yearbook committee, even worked 20 hours a week -- but then I would come home and crash. I did the same thing in college: worked hard, ignored the symptoms, but was exhausted all the time.
Throughout my 20s, I developed chronic chest and stomach pain, plus acid reflux. I hit bottom about six years ago, when I was 30. I developed such a sharp pain in my chest I thought I was having a heart attack. My left arm was numb and I was short of breath. I went to an urgent care center, which you should always do if you have chest pain, and the doctor told me I was just having heartburn.
When I went to a gastrointestinal specialist the next day, he told me the same thing. I was relieved it wasn't a heart problem. But the medication didn't really help.
Food Intolerances and GERD
After my family and I moved to New Hampshire in 2004, a new gastroenterologist figured out what was really wrong: I had multiple food intolerances -- to gluten, dairy, rice, most grains, monosodium glutamate, and cane sugar -- and these had caused me to develop gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which was the source of the crushing chest pains I'd had. The GERD also triggered my sinus problems.