One of my most favorite things about wintertime is grapefruit! I was prepping my breakfast this morning and I felt a surge of gratitude that I could eat something that I loved so much. I know…. it probably sounds weird. But way back when…. about 20 years ago, grapefruit suddenly landed on my ‘no no’ food list. That list became a very significant part of my life for about 12 years.
I think I was 33 when I started having peeing problems (sorry if that’s TMI!… just being real here). I simply felt like I had to pee all. the. time…… but especially at night. There were nights I probably got up 8-9 times to go to the bathroom. Doctors ruled out infection and said I simply had an overactive bladder. How does this even happen? I mean, how does one simply ‘acquire’ an overactive bladder? I wasn’t that old…. and had never had any children (both risk factors). We tried a few medications to limit the frequent trips. Pharmaceutical fail. The side effects of dry eyes, dry mouth, blurred vision, and dizziness and drowsiness were not a good trade off for the minor decrease in the number of trips to the bathroom at night. Just when I was approaching my wit’s end, I went to another doctor who finally gave me a definitive diagnosis: Interstitial Cystitis.
If you’ve never heard of IC, here is a short clip from the TV talk show, Drs as a way of explanation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mzAQgQaauM
IC is a beast. I was relatively fortunate…. and only had the urge to pee with ungodly frequency. Many other women have IC much worse, and the urge is accompanied by pain. The medications used are modestly effective at best, and have an impressive list of side effects. Daily self catheterization, surgical procedures, and even cystectomy (bladder removal) are also treatment plan options. My doctor was ahead of her time 2 decades ago. She recommended that I start a very restrictive diet as a means of helping control the urge to pee. I literally began the diet with a menu that consisted of 4 foods…… slowly adding one food at a time back into my life. Looking back, I realize that as awful as this diagnosis may sound, it was thru this that I was given the gift of culinary discernment and the ability to read even minute clues within my body based on how my bladder reacted to what I had eaten earlier in the day.
Here’s a sampling of my crazy ‘no no’ list: most citrus (except blood oranges, which are lower in acid and seemed to be okay for me), pineapple fresh or canned (but it’s ok to eat pineapple if I am actually in the country of origin), onions, peanut butter that had hydrogenated oils (natural was ok), food with dyes, fried foods, spicy food, tomatoes (unless they were yellow… also lower in acid), coffee, many over the counter medications…. the list went on….. but the biggie: processed foods. Those were like a lightning bolt to my bladder.
I learned that getting dehydrated definitely made things worse (and so I became a dedicated water drinker…. another blessing in disguise). I also learned that stress made an awful companion to a temperamental bladder, and have learned ways to mitigate stress. It was many years later that I actually learned I had inadvertently joined the ranks of 1 in 5 adults….. I had an autoimmune disorder.
I talk about this from time to time with people. Our bodies are like buckets and toxins drip slowly into that bucket on a daily basis from the moment we wake up til the time our head hits the pillow at night. And then, if you are an air freshener girl or guy (like I was), you’re lucky enough to be adding those toxins to your body even while you sleep. (Throw those plug-ins away and get yourself a diffuser and some toxin free oils… I promise you, your home and office space will smell awesome, AND you’ll be deriving therapeutic benefits instead of being slowly poisoned to death). Once that toxin bucket is filled and begins overflowing, well that’s when the trouble really starts…. and you get diagnosed with something fun like IC, or a host of other autoimmune disorders. Which autoimmune disorder you get usually depends on which part of your body is the weakest. In my case, it was my bladder.
My diagnosis of IC set my future in motion in ways I’m ever grateful for. IC became my dietary enforcer. I mean, who wants to eat something that will make them pee every 30 minutes ad infinitum? I also came to realize that being surrounded by chemicals (even basic skin care products) didn’t help the situation at all, so we began switching to nontoxic alternatives. My toxin bucket was clearly full and overflowing given the evidence my bladder had coughed up. It was a slow process…. this detoxing our lives….. and I’m not going to lie….it’s still an ongoing process. We are picky about where we eat (is the food freshly prepared, and preferably organic?), and we are picky about what we are willing to expose ourselves to. Do I fail? Oh yes. I’m not anywhere near perfect. I still have a hard time resisting Reeses Peanut Butter Cups (the peanut butter in them are of the devil as far as my bladder is concerned). But falling off the wagon will nearly always guarantee me the need to pee often and with urgency…so it’s usually not worth it.
I’m not saying it will work for everyone with an autoimmune disorder, but think about this…… If one in five of us are so sensitive to toxins that our bodies begin revolting in whatever unique manner it chooses to…….. why in the world wouldn’t you want to minimize the exposure to those toxins simply so that your life would be less complicated, less painful, and even less embarrassing? (I’ve had some truly embarrassing moments. Trust me.)
Fast forward to 3 years ago. The cleaner my personal environment got, and the more balanced my body became with essential nutrients, the calmer my bladder became. Just like a pesky sibling, I know exactly how to rile my bladder up and can do it in a New York minute, but why would I? Most of the time, when I do suffer with IC these days, it’s because I did something stupid. I got dehydrated. I got careless with food. I allowed myself to become stressed out.
Today, my bladder is a fairly normal organ. Yes, I still have IC and I probably always will. But I have healed considerably. I still have a ‘no no’ list of foods that will set my bladder off, but take a look at it now: processed foods (anything with a chemical component) and coffee. My bladder….. sensitive little creature that it is, can usually even tell the difference between what is organic and what is not. And really…. you gotta respect that in an organ :).
Grapefruit…. it’s what’s for breakfast! I am grateful indeed.
Hugs and love~ Liz