I’ve struggled with my sensitive stomach my whole life, as have many of my family members. We say, “She’s got the nervous stomach like (fill in family member’s name here.)” Two of my cousin’s children have Crohn’s disease, a truly awful disease I would not wish on anyone.

Last summer, after a particularly stressful year at work, I had had enough. My stomach hurt all the time and I was pooping five times a day at a minimum. It wasn’t normal and it wasn’t healthy. My stomach looked like I was six months pregnant. So I did what every American with good healthcare insurance does — I made an appointment with a specialist.

After waiting for several weeks to make his schedule, I told him what was wrong and he was noncommittal and said he would have to do an endoscopy and a colonoscopy to see what was going on. Of course. Expensive tests. Tests that would require me, a single woman, to take the day off work and find someone to go with me because I would be unable to drive.

This was cool. At least I would have an answer once he did the tests. So I drank the craptastic stuff you have to drink for a colonoscopy and my system got cleaned out from top to bottom. I had the test. Then I had to wait another couple of weeks to go in for the results. More hurting stomach and multiple trips to the bathroom at work.

The doctor diagnosed me with irritable bowel syndrome (shocker), gave me a prescription for a pill to get rid of the stomach ache and told me to avoid foods that hurt my stomach. This was not super helpful because at that point, everything hurt my stomach. But at least I knew I did not have Crohn’s, Celiac or any other horrible disease.

The pills would stop the stomach rage for a few hours and then it would start again. My co-worker pointed out that I was basically where I started. She was right. She and other women in my office had started going to an integrative health practice. I made an appointment because I figured, what could I lose?

Less than three months later, all my IBS symptoms were gone. I am not making this up. My stomach stopped hurting and I stopped running to the bathroom. How did I do it? I listened to the advice of the integrative health people — took tons of dietary supplements my body was short on, started taking probiotics and went mostly gluten free. I say mostly because I still have it on occasion when I am prepared to pay the price later. Best of all, I don’t need the prescription stomach pills.

For the first time in my life, I can eat an orange any time I want, without doubling over in pain. And my six-month pregnant belly has shrunk to about three-month pregnant. Hey, that’s pretty good for a mom of three that had one C-section!

Going gluten free was surprisingly easy. And I did it because I’ve read so much about the crap that is put in wheat that did not used to be. I eat bread, but its gluten free and I honestly eat a lot less of it. I eat almost no pasta and if I do, it’s gluten free. I rarely eat baked goods but if I want them, I make them and they’re not gluten free but they are homemade. I eat a lot of lean meat, veggies, olive oil, butter and yummy stuff. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.

Because you have to be more creative when you are gluten free, you really don’t eat a lot of processed food. I do a lot of things from scratch. And the great habit I’ve picked up from that is leftovers never last long in my house. When you’ve made something from scratch and spent all that time chopping, cooking and cleaning up, you are not going to waste that food.

Also, I go out to eat a whole lot less. I spend less money because I know there might not be the choices I now prefer making. I honestly don’t want my stomach to hurt and have realized how harmful so many things are to my body that it’s just not worth it to me. I invite friends over more and go out less. Even alcohol has mostly lost its appeal. It’s just not worth it to feel bad. Maybe I’m growing up after all!

My point in all of this is that I am my own best advocate. I’ve always thought doctors were the experts and they are, but only in their field. I am the expert on what’s best for me. Our bodies are wonderful complex engines and each one needs a different combination of things to make it function properly.

Truly, I had about resigned myself to having an aching tummy for the rest of my life. I made simple changes that really were more about lifestyle and choices and less about the medical world and they made a miraculous change for me. I have more energy. I’ve lost weight and I feel 100% better.

I hope wherever you are in your health journey that you can recognize yourself for the expert you are on your own body and make the choices that will help you in positive ways. Happy health!

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