*CAVEAT: Please note that this blog should in no way substitute for professional medical information or advice. This is my personal experience only and is not intended to be representative of everyone in the gastroparesis community. In addition, the information noted here is far from complete. This is a brief summary of dietary instructions. For a more comprehensive gastroparesis diet plan, I highly recommend the UVA Digestive Health Center website at https://uvahealth.com/services/digestive-health/images-and-docs/dm-gastroparesis.pdf.
A little over a year ago, my health and diet routines were altered overnight. One day I was able to eat anything I wished, and the next, I could eat nothing at all. As a matter of fact, I could not keep liquids down for the couple of weeks following my unexpected hospital stay. Today, my diet is almost the complete opposite of what it was prior to my diagnosis. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of living with gastroparesis is the toll it takes on one’s nutrition. It is an everyday battle to balance nutritional needs against the constant nausea, pain, and other complications that accompany GP.
Prior to my diagnosis, I was a pretty healthy human being. I had begun a strict diet and exercise routine about three years before my gastroparesis reared its ugly head, and I would say that the day before falling ill, I was as healthy as I had ever been in my life. I was eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lots of whole grains, and limited, healthy fats. I was also managing to exercise aerobically about thirty to forty-five minutes per day. I was able to maintain a healthy weight, and I felt strong and energetic. Now, gastroparesis has stripped me of much of this. I do my best to remain healthy, but it is a daily test to simply meet caloric needs – and one that I fail almost every day.
You see, with GP, one’s stomach does not empty at the proper rate. Gastroparesis literally means “paralyzed stomach.” To combat this problem, one is told to eat small, frequent meals that are low in fat and fiber. We must avoid fibrous fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains. Ideally, one would begin with liquids and gradually progress up the dietary “steps” to soft foods and, eventually, to semi-“normal” foods. Though this happens for some, the reality is that it is nearly impossible for many. After a little over a year, I frequently find myself stuck on the first step of the dietary ladder and have been unable to progress beyond the second level, soft foods, in the recommended diet plan. Many I know forever remain on the first step and never make it to the second rung of the ladder at all. Largely, we live on protein shakes, soups, and purees, if we can tolerate that much. In addition, many of go through spells (or “flares”) where we can barely tolerate any food or liquid. Some of us end up with feeding tubes to help us meet our basic caloric needs.
Exercise is another issue. I have managed to continue exercising, but with a much-altered routine. I can now “run” for only fifteen to twenty minutes per day. (I put “run” in quotation marks because compared to my pace prior to diagnosis, what I do now is more akin to crawling.) There are days where I cannot manage even this, though. My strength and energy are practically nonexistent most days. And I am blessed; many cannot exercise in any way due to the extreme nausea and pain involved. In the GP community, we worry not only about our stomachs, but about our heart health as well.
My nutrition and health routines have indeed changed drastically over the past year, and not for the better. Most days I cannot meet basic caloric requirements – and forget about the nutritional value of those foods! That is rarely something I have the luxury of considering. The few bites of food I do manage to take in often cause severe pain. I do my best to enhance my routine with protein shakes and vitamin/mineral supplements, but it is not enough, and I find myself getting weaker and more malnourished by the week. I wonder how long it will be before I, too, require tube feedings to simply survive. Not a pleasant prospect, but one that many afflicted with gastroparesis already endure.
I will continue to battle this devastating disease, and I will take all available and appropriate measures to maintain the healthiest lifestyle possible, given this diagnosis. It is likely safe to say, though, that my diet, my fitness routine, and my life will never again be what they were. This is disheartening, to say the least, but it is something all of us in my community must face. We bear it bravely.