When the food you love makes you sick.

This is a very long, personal post. I debated whether to share this level of personal information, but decided to in hopes that I can help someone else who might be having issues like this. Keep in mind, this is MY particular set of circumstances which happened to create a “perfect storm” of events in my digestive track.

high fiber foods

When the food you love makes you sick.

I have had to change my entire way of eating over the last six months. Don’t worry, I am not eating meat, but I am eating dairy on a regular basis.

Just to get this out of the way, this is MY story based on MY body. I am in no way suggesting that anyone change their diet based on what I’m writing. I am not a nutritionist, nor am I a doctor. I am just someone who loves eating a high fiber, plant-based diet.

Unfortunately, this made me very sick. I look back and can see the events that shaped this. I have always eaten high fiber and been able to digest it well. I never had “bathroom issues.” In fact, I had an amazing digestion!

I moved to Boston and lost 90 lbs. in around 9 months. I walked everywhere, ate tons of healthy food. For those who read Melomeals, you know that I based my entire diet around legumes and veggies. I never missed an opportunity to insert beans into my food. I made green smoothies out of ½ cup of white beans and water instead of packaged plant-based milks. I put beans into baked good, along with veggies. I probably ate between 1-3 cups of cooked legume every single day, in addition to huge amounts of raw veggies. It was not uncommon for me to have 4 cups of cabbage, 2 cups of kale (raw) and ½ or even 1 cup of cooked beans as a salad. I made dressing out of flax meal and chia seeds and have been doing this for years, way before it became trendy. I used my leftover bean liquid in place of oil for the dressing and in baking.

My cholesterol and other medical numbers were great! I felt on top of the world and loved what I ate. I cradle greens and talk to them like they are babies. Ethnic curries and stews based on beans and vegetables were a favorite of mine. I would even reduce the fat by adding a tablespoon of flax meal to the stews to thicken them up. I used raw collards in place of bread to wrap up my favorite sandwich fillings (often bean based burgers, hummus).

Then I got a nasty ear infection in December of 2012. I waited too long to go to the doctor (which is another topic I am going to address in another post.) I was convinced that it would go away on its own, especially since I was eating such a “healthy diet.” It didn’t, and I ended up having to take antibiotics. I was prescribed Erythromycin.  Fast forward 10 days or so and I was not getting better, I was getting worse. I ended up going to the ENT hospital in Boston and they were concerned I might have a MRSA. Both my inner and outer ear was infected and it was very painful. I was then put on Clindamycin because it was not responding to the first antibiotic. I broke out the big guns and ate lots of pro-biotic foods and took a very strong pro-biotic to help guard my gut. I kept this up after I was done with the antibiotics as well.  The Clindamycin finally worked and got rid of the ear infection, but unfortunately, it also made me extremely sick.  I was literally having watery diarrhea 30 times a day for over a month. Again, I waited too long to go to the doctor because I was convinced that my probiotic use would cure me, I attempted to get as much fiber as possible into my system (which wasn’t that much at this point because I was eating a lot of rice and potatoes.) I was struggling to get to work every day because the diarrhea was CONSTANT. I could barely leave the house. I couldn’t plan anything because I couldn’t be away from the bathroom for very long. I finally went to the doctor, and he did a stool sample and diagnosed me with C-Diff.

C-diff is a serious infection that actually kills around 14 thousand people a year in the USA.  Clindamycin use causes C-diff and it sure did a number on me. The treatment for C-diff is MORE antibiotics. I couldn’t believe it. I took three rounds of two different antibiotics and finally was “cured.´ During this time, I was working in Boston and walking between 3-6 miles a day to get to/from work. (I don’t have a car and live 1.5 miles from the commuter rail and it was another 1.5 mile walk when I got into Boston.)  I started experiencing pain in my right side. Serious pain. It would wake me up at night and spasm really bad. It was the type of pain you can’t ignore, and one that sent me to the ER several times within a 3 week period. The ER people thought it was gallstones, but when they did the ultrasound, they didn’t see any. This happened 3 times and on the third time, they admitted me because I was in such intense pain.

I’m not going to lie; I was starting to think I was crazy and was making this pain up in my head. They finally did a test called a HIDA scan, which showed that my gallbladder was not functioning. They removed my gallbladder 2 days later. It was becoming necrotic. (I never had gallstones.)  The doctor told me that losing a large amount of weight really fast (I lost 90 lbs. in around 9 months) was the cause of this. I hadn’t intended on losing weight that fast, it just happened because I was walking up to 12 miles a day and working on my feet.

After the surgery, my digestion really took a turn for the worse. I could not eat any fruit at all (I still can’t really eat much fruit) without getting REALLY sick to my stomach with severe heartburn. I was still trying to rebuild with probiotics and homemade sauerkraut and kefir and other probiotic foods and supplements.  Diarrhea continued to plague me daily.  Slowly, it was getting a little better, but it was still happening 10-20 times a day.  Fast forward 6 months, and I was pretty much resigned to the fact that this was my new normal.

I had my first foot surgery a year ago which did not fix my foot. I was not only in a lot of pain from my foot never getting better; I was also experiencing the gastro issues. Through all of this, I was GAINING WEIGHT. I felt ravenous all the time. Every time I ate, I had to run to the bath room.  In late January of 2014, I was feeling awful. My stomach was super bloated and I was always in the bathroom. I decided to begin Weight Watchers, both to lose weight, but also to feel like I had *some* control over my body.

Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the end. When I do weight watchers, I eat very little fat, tons of veggies and beans. My salads were EPIC!  I’m sure many of you who are familiar with Dr. Fuhrman and other vegan/health gurus are familiar with the epic salads! I love(d) eating this way. I started to lose weight in the beginning, but after around 10 days, I started getting sicker and sicker. The diarrhea was back with a vengeance, along with major bloating and stomach aches.  I was so demoralized. I never ate anything outside of the house out of fear of having to use the restroom. I couldn’t go anywhere. I wasn’t able to work because of my foot not getting better, but in reality, I don’t think I could have worked due to the diarrhea.

Around this time, we went to Costa Rica. I was terrified of the plane ride. I didn’t eat anything the night before or anything in the morning out of fear of having an episode. In Costa Rica, I always had to be near by a bathroom. Between that and my foot, it’s amazing we had a great time, but looking back, I see how much of our life has been affected, and I say OUR life, because my poor boyfriend has had to deal with this and be my caretaker throughout.  I ended up in the ER (again) for stomach pain, constant diarrhea and severe bloating. They did a CT scan and the doctor came back and told me I was incredibly CONSTIPATED!

WHAT? How can that be? I am having constant diarrhea. It was explained that you can be very constipated and all that can get through is water and no waste.  I was just at a loss.  I went to a Gastro doc who did a stool sample to see if the Cdiff was back (it wasn’t) and was told to “eat more fiber.” I was told that by several doctors. They did not believe me when I told them how I ate. It was so frustrating. I finally sought out a nutritionist in hopes I could get some concrete ideas of what to eat, because I KNEW in my gut that it was not possible to “eat more fiber.” I was consuming an average of 70 grams of fiber a day.

Fortunately, the nutritionist was AMAZING. She really “got” me and listened to me. She also believed me when I told her how I ate. (Hell, I showed her my blog.).. and she gave me the shock of my life. She told me to stop eating RAW VEGETABLES and fruit. To especially stop drinking green smoothies with psyllium. To stop eating beans and legumes. To stop eating cruciferous veggies.  I was dumfounded.

I was also desperate, so I did what was suggested. I started food logs, tracking the diarrhea and the foods I was eating, and within 4 days, I was at least 50% better.

That was around 6 months ago. I am pretty much better as long as I seriously limit my fiber intake. I have very slowly been adding in more raw veggies. I can eat cooked cruciferous veggies as long as I’m also eating white rice with them or white bread or white pasta. I am also slowly adding in legumes. Again, if I eat them with white foods, I can digest them much better. Potatoes were literally my best friend for a while, but even those I had to be careful with because the skin has fiber and I just can’t bring myself to peel a potato. (All the nutrients are in the skin, or so they say.)

Looking back, both my boyfriend and I remember that I would feel a lot better when I would eat pizza or white bread, but I didn’t make the connection , or should I say, BELIEVE the connection until I got so sick I felt like I was dying.

This has not been easy for me. I CRAVE raw veggies and beans. It is also very difficult getting the nutrients I need when I have to limit so many beans and veggies from my diet.

I had another foot surgery around 6 weeks ago, which further stressed my body. In the past 18 months, I have had 3 surgeries and constant diarrhea. My body has been dehydrated and starved of nutrients. My hair has been falling out and my skin looks like shit. I am feeling MUCH better on the digestive front. I am pretty much normal unless I throw caution to the wind and chow down on a huge head of cabbage. And yes, I do sometimes stuff cabbage and kale and collards in my mouth. I can’t really have collard greens in the house, because I want to eat them raw so bad.

I am hoping that with time, I will be able to go back to eating more veggies and beans. Since I have had to change my diet, I feel like I am lacking nutrients. My protein sources are mainly tofu, dairy and a small amount of legumes and nuts.  Oh, and peanut butter. Natural peanut butter with rice cakes. I would be lost without it.

Since I’ve been eating this way, I’m slowly losing weight (which is amazing since my activity has been very limited recovering from the foot surgery.) I’m trying to eat as heathy as possible. I still can’t eat fruit unless it’s blended in a smoothie. Even a raw banana makes me sick. (But frozen and blended it’s OK). This morning, I cooked the hell out of some broccoli and white beans and added mushrooms and veggie broth, along with garlic and fresh thyme. I pureed it and topped it with some parmesan cheese.  For lunch, I have to make sure not to eat much fiber at all.  All in all, I am getting around 20-30 grams of fiber a day, which to me *is* low fiber.

Going through this has led to the revelation that I am a bit messed up in the head when it comes to food and medical care. I believed if I just ate healthy enough, I could cure medical problems. I let myself get sicker and sicker while trying to treat conditions with food. I definitely know that healthy food is very important, but so is moderation and medical care. I hope that I have not contributed to anyone getting sick based on my old recipes.  I have realized that I am someone who goes to the extreme with things in my life and that I need to start living in the grey area.  That being said, I don’t think this would have happened if the perfect storm of medical problems didn’t happen like they did. I think that most people can benefit from incorporating more raw veggies and beans into their lives.

What I have learned from this experience is not to get too hung up on what you *think* is the right thing. Life changes. Health changes. What worked in the past won’t necessarily work in the future and holding onto rigid ideas of what you have to eat in order to be healthy can actually *hurt* you.

You will probably notice that I might be using more “white” foods in my recipes. This is why. It is my reality. I still make my own bread, but instead of adding psyllium husk and using whole wheat flour, I am using great quality King Arthur special patent flour. I am eating basmati rice instead of brown rice at least half of the time and if I eat the whole grains, I make sure to eat them with tofu or dairy instead of beans. I’m trying to find the balance that will work for me and keep me out of the bath room. I am relying on vitamins right now because I know that I am not getting the nutrients my body craves. I wasn’t getting them while eating the veggies and beans either, so at least now, I know my body is actually absorbing nutrients.

If you have made it this far and have any questions, feel free to ask me anything.

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27 thoughts on “When the food you love makes you sick.

  1. Spooky. I had a similar experience but with a few differences. I had a viral infection that seemed to trigger the same kind of IBS issues you described. I had chronic stomach pains and spent most of the day on the toilet but this was as a vegetarian. Over time it got better but took about 6 months. I have since gone vegan and haven’t had a problem since.
    I currently have an inner ear infection and am now worried it is going to lead to me becoming almost allergic to vegetables!
    I really hope you get your system back into ballance soon. I am sure this can’t be a permanent thing.

    1. It wasn’t the ear infection that made me so sick, it was the antibiotic Clindamycin. If you have been prescribed that medication and find yourself having diarrhea, please call a doctor and tell them! I think what worked really well for me was to keep a very detailed food/bathroom journal. I wrote down everything I ate and every single time I went to the bathroom.. I am pretty much back to normal as long as I eat a fairly low fiber diet now. Good luck to you! I hope that your system remains strong as you right the ear infection!

  2. Hi Melody, I’m so sorry you’ve been through all this! My mother went through hell with C-diff a few years ago, following antibiotics given after oral surgery. The main thing I wanted to say is to hang in there! Mom’s recovery took a couple years, but she’s pretty much back to normal now. If you haven’t yet looked into fecal transplants (I know, they sound crazy, but bear with me!), I would definitely recommend some research in that area. When Mom was going through her battle they weren’t an option, but since then so many doctors have had such dramatic success with them, that the regulators and insurers are much more accommodating than they were.

    Best of luck to you!

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad that your mother is better.. it gives me hope that I will get back to normal. The boyfriend and I looked into actually doing a home fecal transplant ..since I am no longer infected with c-diff, I don’t qualify for a hospital transplant. It is gross, but it seems to really cure people and if I ever came down with c-diff again, I would push very hard for that treatment instead of the endless rounds of antibiotics. I am actually feeling like I am getting much stronger, because I had to be on a strong antibiotic for 10 days following my last foot surgery to prevent bone infection and while it made me a little sick, I seemed to recover as soon as the course of antibiotics was finished.

  3. So glad you are finally getting better. It’s been a long journey and one day you will be able to eat what you want again. Only this time in moderation.

    1. Thank you! Yes, the lovely moderation! I had some raw cabbage last night and it was lovely. Small bits here and there for now. Fortunately, I can tolerate most cooked veggies now as long as their cooked well.

  4. You’ve certainly been through hell and back. Hoping that you continue to heal and find what is optimal for your body.

    (Of course, in my experience, as soon as you find out what works, your body decides to change something up. But hopefully that doesn’t happen to you!)

    1. Thank you.. and that does suck that once you find what’s working that you have to figure things out again. If that happens to me, at least I am not mentally stuck on having to do things a certain way. It’s amazing how the body changes.

  5. Glad you’re improving! It sounds like you are benefiting from a low residue diet. I know it sounds bizarre to people that you have to eat more processed food, but I’ve known others that had to eat this way. I’m just happy for everyone to listen to their bodies as they change. What worked yesterday may not work next week. Keep up the great work, and compliments to the boyfriend for stepping up to help care for you!

    1. Yeah.. he is a great guy. I am very lucky. I never would have believed that adding processed foods/white flour/rice would be what cured me. It really scares me that so many people out there believe that they have to eat a certain way in order to be healthy… and suffer needlessly. I am so grateful I found the dietician I found. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t found her, because the doctors were NOT helping at all. “Eat more fiber.” The only thing I can take away from that is that they did not believe me at all when I told them what I ate.

  6. Oh my friend, you have really been through a lot. I am so sorry. You are so brave to share this–thank you so much. Hope you continue to improve. I am so glad you have such a great guy to help you through this ordeal!

  7. Thank-you for your post. While I didn’t have c-diff (and know it’s simply awful) I did have to throw all my ideas of what to eat out the window when I had cancer and a cancer recurrence. Due to chemo I would alternate between diarrhea and constipation like every day. I ate whatever I couldd just to get through (you are right, lots of potatoes, no skin). Now I’m through the worst of it and back on eating a more regular die. Hugs! Feel better!

    1. Wow.. that must have been really tough. The digestive issues are hard enough, but to be fighting cancer twice on top of them .. my heart goes out to you. Good luck with your recovery!

  8. Melody, Did you happen to take any Quinolone antibiotics during the course of your treatment – Avelox, Levaquin, or Cipro? I’m asking because these drugs are known to cause trouble for many people. I had problems eating certain foods for several years after taking Avelox.

    1. I took Cipro between the augmentin and the clindamycin. I also received IV’s of antibiotics with each surgery , not sure which kind.. I was so stressed out about taking them I didn’t even want to know .. all I cared about was that they weren’t clindamycin. The 10 day course after the latest surgery was cephealixn, which set me back a little bit, but I am bouncing back now. Good to know about the avelox. I am someone who NEVER takes antibiotics.. going decades without them, so this whole experience was quite shocking.

  9. Thanks for sharing your story Melody. What an ordeal! Hang in there and be kind & forgiving toward yourself. I see a nutritionist and every suggestion she has made has been based on what I have told her. I’m now gluten free (but can’t handle Bob’s Red Mill baking mix) and eat fermented foods 2-3 times per day. Still love your recipes and creativity. I’m rooting for you!

  10. I am so sorry you went through all of this! Terrifying. I am glad you are on the mend and wish you continued healing and energy! You are a strong woman! A few years back I had to stop drinking my beloved smoothies, and can no longer eat any cruciferous veggies, or beans, because damage from Celiac makes me unable to digest them and I was experiencing issues much like you were having. I would love to stop eating meat, but I’m out of protein sources otherwise, so I buy the most humanely raised eggs/meat I can find. I’m like-minded – food heals, but I know it can also hurt, depending on our individual bodies – and that changes over the course of our lifetimes. We’re all different, with different requirements. Thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Hi Allison,
      It sounds like you have been through hell… I’m glad you have found what works for you. It is hard when you love something so much and have to give it up.. but health trumps all! I am so grateful that I have control over what was making me so sick, even if it is the last thing I thought was healthy!

  11. Melody so sorry to hear about your health problems. I am learning from you and from Susan over at Fat Free Vegan blog that we can only control so much in our life and although eating healthy is a wonderful way to live your life for so many reasons, it can’t made us bulletproof to bad things happening.
    Read Susan’s story at http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2014/10/my-unexpected-diagnosis.html

    If it helps I did learn from you and Susan that we have to live our lives and enjoy everything about life and not focus too much on being a perfectly healthy eater.

    1. Thank you. Reading Susan’s story a couple weeks ago really touched me, and prompted me to write this post actually prompted me to write this. I am feeling such a sense of relief now that I have let go of my strict ideas about food. Both mentally and physically! .. and really, I still eat a great, healthy diet! T

  12. Wow, what an ordeal! I just had my diet turned upside down too, after finally getting a diagnosis of SIBO – small intestine bacterial overgrowth. All the things that were the basis of my low fat vegan diet, beans, grains, cruciferous veg – all those make the bacteria explode (almost literally, it feels like). I’m thin, so desperate for calories, I am eating cheese, nuts, even hamburger – just to make sure I don’t lose any more weight. I am hoping to gradually add some fiber, watching for a change in my stomach. This was set off four months ago by what seems to have been a virus or food poisoning, with a few months that were like the beginning of your experience.

    It is difficult to know that the super healthy diet we were eating wasn’t perfect for everything. I just hope I can get back to it.

    1. Wow, what an ordeal! I’m so sorry you are going through this. I’m glad that you’re finding a way to get some relief, even if it means changing what you want to be eating. I can say with certainty that I am very slowly getting better! I’ve been incorporating some beans into my diet again, which is so awesome! I think it takes a long time for our bodies to recover after something like this. Good luck to you!

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