Alissa smiling from a mountain top.

8 Lessons My Chronic Stomach Issues Taught Me About Life

digestive health inspiration wellness May 27, 2019

Life throws curveballs, right? Maybe you thought you’d be married to this person forever and now you’re getting a divorce. Maybe you lost your once-secure job and are struggling to make ends meet.

When we endure life’s challenges and successfully make it out the other side, we’re gifted with perspective, strength, empathy, and wisdom.

Gifts we couldn’t have received to their full extent if life had been smooth and easy all along.

Like I wrote in my post about gratitude, “I’m not grateful when something terrible happens, but I’m later grateful for what it teaches me.”

For me, some of my greatest life lessons thus far have come from my battle with chronic stomach issues.

I was the girl who could eat whatever she wanted without really gaining weight or having any negative repercussions. Until, I hit my early twenties. That’s when I started experiencing painful, unexplainable stomach issues.

Suddenly, I couldn’t eat whatever I wanted. I couldn’t really eat anything without getting sick. I went to doctor after doctor for years without getting any answers. If you want to read the full story, check it out here.

It was one of the darkest times in my life but it taught me so many valuable lessons and gave me a new perspective on life.

1. Health is Our Most Valuable Resource

I’m guilty of taking my good health for granted. I’d go out on a limb and say most of us are guilty of that. Unless something happens to us or to someone we love, we typically don’t think twice about our health.

But man, when your health is in trouble, you realize quickly just how freaking important it is. If you’ve ever had a scary doctor’s office visit, waited on test results, or had a mysterious illness no doctors had answers to; you know this feeling.

At the peak of my stomach issues, I had an incredibly limited list of foods I could eat that didn’t cause my stomach to erupt in painful flames. We’re talking, like 20 foods. And I couldn’t find a doctor who could help me. I wished more than anything to simply be able to eat again without pain.

Thankfully, I now do eat normally without pain. But, I’m so careful and protective of my health as a result. I never want to go back to that dark place again, so that means I’m diligent in taking care of myself – mind, body, and spirit.

Like I said, I’m often guilty of taking my good health for granted but I try to keep myself in check. I remind myself that I once couldn’t eat without pain. I try to give extra love and appreciation to my body for being able to simply digest foods.

2. Don’t Stress Over the Small Stuff

This was a lesson that slapped me right in the face. I actually think I went through this whole ordeal to learn this exact lesson.

In working with my holistic doctor, I learned one of the main reasons my stomach problems began was because I was chronically anxious and stressed out.

Because I always had a low level of stress, my body was often in “fight or flight” mode. This meant my cortisol levels were high, which slowed down my digestion. The result was ulcers, leaky gut, and SIBO.

The biggest unlock to fix my stomach issues was learning to manage my stress. Yes, diet and supplements, too. But managing my stress and anxiety was key.

I now meditate every morning, work out at least 4-5x per week, and make sure I take breaks during the workday. If I feel stress creeping up I say to myself “stress = sick” and I try to let it go.

Getting all wound up over something small just doesn’t matter. It’s not worth my health. Like they say, if it’s not going to matter in five years, I’m not going to spend another five minutes worrying about it.

3. Express Gratitude Every Day

Being able to notice what’s good in your life, even when everything else feels like it’s crumbling is a skill, my friends. A learned skill.

As I embarked on my healing journey, I started reading a lot of self-help books. The message I kept reading over and over was “have a gratitude practice”. So, in the midst of my suffering, I started writing three things I was grateful for every morning.

Some days, I was just grateful I was able to digest a banana without pain. When I let myself be grateful for what was good, instead of dwelling on the four other foods I couldn’t digest that day, it kind of shifted my focus. It retrained me to find what was going right in my day.

Learning how to stay in a more positive state of mind became such a useful skill in getting me through this difficult time. Of course, I was guilty of wallowing and being negative sometimes. But, I tried to minimize the time spent sitting in those emotions because I learned that feeling crappy in my head translated to making my stomach feel worse.

4. Pay Attention to What You Put Into Your Body

I used to be infamous with my friends for eating literally whatever I wanted. Eating a whole container of Dean’s chip dip in one night? No problem. I kept a jar of chocolate frosting in my fridge in college to snack on.

I didn’t care much about what I ate; I didn’t think it affected me. In retrospect, I realize it did before the stomach issues even began. I was always catching colds or the flu. I struggled with acne. I couldn’t get my hair to grow past my shoulders.

Now, I’m wiser. What you put into your body becomes part of you. I just want to put this out there: You shouldn’t feel tired all the time and crash at 2pm every day. You shouldn’t be catching every cold and virus that goes around. You shouldn’t be getting stomach aches and heartburn after meals.

If you are, something isn’t working right and feeling that way isn’t something you should just accept. Start a food journal; take a hard look at your diet. It’s worth it! I had to learn this the hard way but I’m so grateful I did. What you put into your body not only affects your weight and your health, but also your mood.

With this knowledge, I limit my sugar intake because it makes me anxious. I avoid gluten and dairy because they make my stomach hurt and my skin breakout. I’ve learned which foods work best for my body, and which don’t. As a result, I really do feel good most of the time. I rarely catch the virus floating around the office; I don’t feel tired in the middle of the day; my hair grows quickly again.

What you put into your body really, really matters.

5. Be Patient with Those Who Are Struggling

When a person in your life is going through something difficult, they may not always be pleasant to be around.

I met Matt right around the time my stomach issues got really bad and thank goodness he was willing to be patient with me. I mean, early on in dating, he downloaded this app called “Find Me Gluten Free” which mapped out restaurants with gluten free options. Swoon.

But, truly, I wasn’t always easy to be around. I remember being out on a boat together with friends and everyone else was drinking, having fun. I was so jealous and upset that I couldn’t partake, I cried right there on the boat. I was unhappy and not always easy to be around.

This reminds me to be patient and compassionate with those around me who are struggling. It’s hard to put on a brave, happy face every day.

6. Movement is a Privilege

Along with diet, I never really cared much about exercise. I mean, in high school I was active. I played volleyball. But once I hit college, exercising was a rarity. I preferred comfort.

After I got sick, though, I learned one of the most effective tools in managing my stress was, indeed, working out. All of those articles about exercising being important, are right. Dang! I wish there was an easier way but nothing that’s worth it is easy, right?

I notice a huge difference in my anxiety levels when I’m regularly exercising versus when I’m not.

What got me hooked on exercise was finding the right motivator. Keeping my anxiety and stress in check motivates me more than weight loss or “being toned” ever did.

Movement is a privilege! If your body is able to walk, run, jump, do yoga, ride a bike, lift weights – don’t let it just stay stagnant. You’re able to do all that but instead, you’re sitting at a desk for 8 hours, then coming home to sit some more? Come on! I know it isn’t fun, but use those abilities of yours. Your body and mind will thank you.

7. Don’t Take Things Personally

Whew. This was a big one for me. When I was in the midst of healing myself, I was often on these weird diets because the foods I could eat were so limited.

There were a lot of office birthday parties I attended where I had to watch people eat cake, cheese-based dips, cookies… basically all the good stuff. I tried not to draw attention to myself but people always noticed my empty plate and would ask, “Why aren’t you eating anything?” “Wait, you can’t eat what?” “What’s wrong with you?” “You can’t even have a little tiny bit?

I felt the judgment, man. Even if it wasn’t intentional. And maybe people were genuinely just curious. For a while, it annoyed the heck out of me. I wish I could eat that stuff but I can’t so stop asking me!

After fielding enough of these questions, I learned a tactic and it’s called “don’t take things personally”. You don’t know what you don’t know. If people had never experienced these stomach issues, how could they know what I was going through? They couldn’t. I couldn’t control what they did or didn’t say, all I had control over was not taking it personally.

8. Everything Happens for a Reason

This lesson gives me freedom. I spent plenty of nights crying, cursing my bad luck, and feeling so dang sorry for myself. I thought I’d never see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Well, I did. And when I look back at this experience, I really am thankful it all happened because it woke me up.

I’m certain if my stomach hadn’t gotten bad, I would’ve continued eating an unhealthy diet. I wouldn’t have gotten into exercising, at least not consistently. I likely would’ve continued to live in a state of stress and anxiety.

Last summer, we had a palm reader at the office. She read my palm and was like, “you’ll experience health issues, but this line on your palm is a second life line. You’re very lucky to have that. Your second chance at life will be even better than your first.”

I mean, I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I feel like I’m in my second chance at life right now. There’s a clear line in my life: before stomach issues and after stomach issues. I’m a happier, healthier, better person after my stomach issues. It gave me the opportunity to become more me.

I now look at everything that happens to me in this same light. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe I don’t understand why something is happening right now, but I trust it’s happening for a reason. And when I look back, I know it’ll all make sense.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from your own challenging times?

With love,