August is Gastroparesis awareness month. I have only been diagnosed with Gastroparesis for about a year, but have experienced symptoms for the past couple of years. Gastroparesis is a stomach motility disorder that prevents proper stomach emptying. Essentially the stomach muscles no longer work to correctly digest food.
Symptoms of Gastroparesis can include:
loss of appetite
feeling full after a few bites
changes in blood sugar levels
It took me nearly three years to get diagnosed with Gastroparesis. I went from doctor to doctor and specialist to specialist trying to understand why I struggled to eat. My freshman year of college is when my symptoms started to get out of control to the point where I couldn't eat anything and when I tried I couldn't keep it down. I lost over 15 pounds in 2 weeks and could only tolerate ensure nutritional drinks. Still the doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. Test after test showed nothing conclusive so they started giving me meds to help me eat. None of the medications were helpful and I spent the next several months going to different doctors and trying every test and medication they thought might help provide answers. I finally ended up at Mayo clinic to see a Gastroenterologist who looked over my records and immediately suspected a motility disorder. I was scheduled for a two day long gastric emptying study.
The gastric emptying study confirmed that I had Gastroparesis which was such a relief because I finally knew what I had been struggling with for the past few years. I was educated on Gastroparesis and the diet that would be crucial in helping improve my quality of life. I was shocked to learn that the diet I would need to follow was completely opposite of a traditional healthy diet. With Gastroparesis I could no longer have fat or fiber which essentially cut out things like raw fruits/vegetables, whole grains and nuts. It was a big adjustment for me to learn what I could and could not eat especially because I already followed a gluten and dairy free diet for POTS. I took a special class on the Gastroparesis diet with a dietician at Mayo which helped me understand the new guidelines for my diet and what I could eat.
Receiving the diagnosis of Gastroparesis was daunting. I am still in the process of learning what I can and can't have. I have definitely found my safe foods that I know I can eat with minimal or no symptoms. I fall back on these safe foods often, but still try to have a balanced diet. That is actually the hardest part for me, eating different things throughout the day and changing it up. Food either won't sound good to me or it will cause some symptoms, so it is easier to just eat the foods I know I like and that like me back. My diet probably seems boring, but it works for me. My advice for people who are navigating the dietary challenges that come with Gastroparesis is to just take it one meal at a time. Read labels and do your research because once you get a good idea of what has too much fat or fiber in it you will feel a lot more confident navigating your diet. Find your safe foods so that you always have something to fall back on, but also don't limit your diet to where the safe foods are all that you eat. Find different types of soft food and liquids that you like to get your calories in. Smoothies, yogurt and soup are all good ways to get calories in and are easy to digest. Most importantly don't give up! It will be frustrating at times to navigate your diet and manage symptoms, but just remember that you are much stronger than you give yourself credit for.