Holiday Eating

Delicious food and drink are a lovely part of my holidays. It’s always been this way, but has become even more delightful now that my kids are grown and moved away. Kids are the main treat, really. Without them, we’re just adults stuffing ourselves silly and perhaps drinking too much eggnog. Even during Covid. I only had three people in my house but I purchased enough baked goods, high fat foods, and alcohol that we still have not finished off. Not a problem with the booze. It doesn’t spoil.

But I do have a problem with food, maybe more than one. First, I’m overweight, so I should not be eating cookies. Second, I have digestive issues I try to control with things like Omeprazole, Lactaid and IBGard. I also have a personal gastroenterologist who has been keeping track of my digestive tract for a very long time. Maybe twenty years.

Probably ten years in, I started having bathroom issues and I blamed that drug. My gastro guy said “Do you want to die of cancer or try to control your toilet trouble?” (The test for my persistent heartburn had revealed pre-cancer cells). So I kept taking the double dose until finally, after many clear tests, he suggested I try taking one pill a day, not two. I had to taper off the double dose gradually, but I did it without heartburn. It did nothing to help with the distress in my lower digestive system.

My personal physician advised Lactaid, then IBgard. I’ve tried pre and probiotics as well. I’ve tried every diet known to man, I’ve read and studied and I’m doing okay on most days. Holidays, not so good. Lactaid worked for a long time, but not so much these days. IBgard had me ecstatic for about a month. An expensive mix of pre-pro biotic plus a secret scarce ingredient found in a specific location that is very difficult to get to, had mixed results. Also I tried to find a dietician, but during Covid, that’s not easy. Meanwhile, sometimes, if I indulged in a treat like a slice of buttered toast, my body revolted in increasingly distressing ways. Even if the “butter” is non-dairy. I use almond milk-cream-peanut butter, etc.

That’s the back story. Moving forward to this Christmas and the feast I provided for my dad, my husband and myself. I was feeling pretty good about this expensive new pill. I ate whatever I wanted. I of course wanted it all. Twice. My dad and I talked a bit about this problem of mine…he has the same thing. My husband, who ate everything we did, does not have our digestive issues. Lucky him. Meanwhile Dad says “Have you looked down the diaper aisle lately? There’s as many diapers for old people as there are for babies.” I gave him some Lactaid because he has a dish of frozen yogurt every night.

My dad is only 18 years older than I am. I see my future and it’s not pretty. Unless I can successfully revise my eating habits. I’m currently reading an IBS cookbook that deals with FODMAP foods. I’ve read it before. Understanding FODMAP will drive you crazy, but wearing diapers? I can’t deal with the idea of that. If I can heal myself by what I eat, I’m doing it. I’m making an appointment with my gastro guy, who I had an appointment with during Covid. He cracks me up. When I reminded him that Omeprazole could be the source of my problem, he said “all medications cause diarrhea.” It’s ironic. Even medications to help cure diarrhea list “diarrhea” as a side effect.

What younger people (and people with better gut health, some of which is inherited) don’t know is that those side effects may not apply to you…until they do.

Our First Florida Christmas

We got to Florida on Thursday. I believe Al put the naked tree up that very day. We already had it down here for a family party one December. Our Seattle family flew in and Dad was here and I wanted a tree because Julia was still a baby and Owen was still little too. Kids love Christmas. So do I. Of course there were presents!

Since we’re planning to sell our Michigan home, and never ever ever be there for Christmas again, I brought down some of my favorite Christmas things. Dad came over Friday and we decorated the tree. That’s our bubble, now. Three. I invited Dad for Christmas dinner and then we all looked at each other. When exactly WAS Christmas? Why, just one week away. We’re going to keep our decor Christmasy until whenever in January I can finally part with it.

After Dad left, Al said, “The tree looks nice, but there are no presents!” We don’t usually do much in the way of gifts for Christmas, so this shocked me. Today we will shop for presents (wearing masks of course) and order the ham. Florida is wide open. I’m hoping with all my heart most of the small St Pete businesses and stores survived. We’ll find out today. And maybe see some neighbors and catch up on the gossip. From a safe distance.

I am Covid weary and Christmas cheery. See you next year!

Christmas Differences

Seems like this close to a year, I should be updating Retirement Diaries. On the other hand, isn’t everyone doing the same thing? Staying home? Lots of people dying every day. It’s depressing. We’ve lost several in our Michigan community. Out of 100 or so people, five died within a few weeks. I’ve had to make an effort to stay upbeat, not let fear or depression swamp me. It’s hard. I think it is for most of us.

Al and I have always thought differently about Christmas. It was so difficult in the early years of our marriage. My mother made our Christmas mornings magical so I enjoyed everything about it and Al didn’t share my enthusiasm. He didn’t like the commercial aspects of the holidays. But he never woke up to a living room filled with toys not just under the tree but set up like little scenes. For me, there was the little table and chairs, with a doll in one of the chairs and the Easy Bake oven on the table. Everything sparkled. One year there was a guitar for one of my brothers and a drum kit for the other one.

I didn’t know that having a special Christmas with lots of toys was commercial. I didn’t think about that. But now I see what Al means and it doesn’t matter to me that we don’t give each other loads of gifts. But it mattered to me when my boys were little. Al and I had very different childhoods and it took a few years to understand each other and all the various family traditions. We got to know each other better just by talking it out over the course of ten or twenty years. LOL I’m not even kidding. But we’re fine now and I don’t expect him to have loads of presents for me under the tree.

Many years we’ll think of one big item that we both want and we’ll buy that. Some years he surprises me with a special piece of jewelry. This year, trying to declutter the house before putting it up for sale in the spring, my mind has been hammering home to me that I have way too much stuff. It wasn’t always that way, but somehow I have about twenty boxes of Christmas decorations. I’ve sorted them into donate/trash/keep piles. Then I had to do two piles, one for Christmas in Florida this year and one for Christmas in Florida when we buy our new home. Because our condo is cute, but it’s little.

We are leaving in a week and I’m excited despite Covid. I still love Christmas. So far we have donated two large loads of Christmas things, including a tree and ornaments. I used to shop at thrift shops and Salvation Army so I’m always happy to donate things I can’t use anymore, thinking “someone will like this tree.” I tell myself a little story about how there’s a person or a couple or a family who don’t have money for a tree and they happen to spot my donated tree for $5 or whatever the price. And they’re thrilled to take it home and hang ornaments on it, wondering what kind of person gives away such nice things.

Very early in our marriage I would say to Al “I can’t believe you don’t like Christmas! Who doesn’t like Christmas?” and he’d say “I like Christmas, but I don’t like the commercial aspects of it.” And I would roll my eyes, thinking he was Scrooge. But now that our life overflows with so much stuff, I see his point.

Healthy Aging

My husband is a model of healthy aging. He stays active, is physically fit, eats and drinks mostly healthy foods in moderation. He has a calm, even demeanor…most of the time. Since he’s been retired, he has kept candy and other things not healthy for me around the house. I believe he should be able to do this, and I should be able to handle it.

As for me, I admire him and try to emulate him, but chronic digestion problems, since I first discovered I had GERD in my early 40s (I’m 65 now) have just gotten worse. I read and research everything about my condition and keep up with my doctors. I have a gastroenterologist, same guy for 20 years, who put me on a double dose of PPIs (protein pump inhibitors) when he discovered I had Barrett’s Esophagus, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer.

The immediate problem was my stomach was producing too much acid, which sat in my esophagus all night. Acid doesn’t just sit, though, it eats away. And that’s how the cancer starts. Lucky for me, after a few years on these PPIs, the Barretts had healed. I was lucky. But while they have benefits, PPIs do take their toll on the body. For example, they kill the bad bacteria in your gut but while doing so wipe out the good bacteria that enables nutrients from food to be absorbed into the body.

I told my doc that (he already knew) and he said, “So your choice. Die of cancer or hope you can get along without PPIs.” He did say, a few years later, that I could try reducing my dose from 20 mg to 10 mg. I got horrible reflux the day after I tried that. My primary care physician is working with me on this and the other unhealthy side effects of PPIs, specifically IBSD and pre-diabetes. I’m tapering but slower.

I have tried natural remedies and many diets (vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean, Starch Solution, South Beach) with little lasting success. Gradually my IBSD symptoms got worse. I can no longer tolerate wheat, sugar or dairy. Some vegetables that are highly acidic and most fruits are also off the table. No alcohol, coffee or tea. No caffeine at all. I stick to this diet most of the time. You think I’d have lost weight, but no. I have read and researched and this inability to lose weight is a sign of negative gut health.

I’m 65 and I do not want to be diabetic. Nor do I want to continue to grapple with the horrors of IBSD. People who have not gone through this will say “Take a probiotic.” Yes, I tried that. My body doesn’t tolerate them well. My doc gave me a referral to a dietician and also some pills that are fiber and peppermint oil. That’s where I’m at. I’m writing this in hopes that if you have anything going on like this, you’ll recognize that heartburn is the start of a long painful road.

I wish I would have known more about the medicine I was prescribed. I wish I had known what foods I was consuming were contributing to heartburn, and that it would lead to acid reflux, then on to IBSD. But I didn’t know and so I’m coping. I just keep researching and trying things to make my gut healthy again. Meanwhile my husband eats and drinks whatever he wants, in moderation. He’s always been moderate in all areas of life and I have been…the opposite. But I’m learning. It’s never too late.

And after 35 years, I’m still in awe of his ability to not eat an entire box of chocolates in two days. One thing I have discovered is that if I cut all sugar, I won’t crave it or any carbs that turn immediately to sugar in the body. It takes me three days of “no sugar” white knuckling and I’m back to better health. I can do anything for three days. Some things I’ve learned along the way really have helped. And who knows, maybe peppermint oil pills are the cure I’ve been looking for for so long.

Wheel of Addiction

As a hardcore reader, I have read so many addiction memoirs. Next to fiction, memoir is my favorite genre. Doesn’t matter if the memoirist is addicted or not, but so many of them are, and these are the stories of how they got better, got the monkey off their backs. I love happy endings.

While reading this addiction memoir by Erica Barnett, I realized that more than a happy ending, I want to know the HOW of hardcore users just up and quitting. It’s fascinating to me. Barnett makes it clear that it’s not so easy, and easier to quit than to quit relapsing. She’s been in a slew of rehab facilities, and usually, the day she got out, she stopped at the liquor store on her way home.

Something clicked while I read of her relapse after relapse. That’s what happens to me with sugar. I know that if I go three days with no sugar my cravings will disappear. I also know that if I have one donut or one scoop of ice cream, or even one bite of a candy bar, my need for sugar comes roaring back with a vengeance. And it takes me a week or two of eating all the sugar I can buy before I shame myself into going through three days of constant craving to get free from sugar. Again.

My A1c continues to be in the “pre-diabetes” zone, and that’s because my body no longer tolerates wheat or dairy. So I keep my body semi-okay because wheat is nothing but sugar and, before I knew that, I had wheat with every meal. Cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, pasta for dinner. It was easier for me to give these staples up because I got really sick when I ate them. I don’t get sick when I eat sugar, at least I don’t feel sick.

Inside, sugar is not doing my body any good, and I had that hamster wheel of staying clean, falling off the wagon, and going through rehab again. Just like an alcoholic, but a sugar addict. Sugar doesn’t make you slur your words, black out, ruin relationships, or leave you without a job, like alcohol does, but when I read Barnett’s story, I identified with that constant round of wanting, craving, and finally giving in.

It seems stupid, really stupid, for me to be on this wheel. I’m 65. If I don’t want to spend my old age sick and miserable, I need to take better care of myself. And I wish people wrote memoirs about their sugar addiction like they do their alcohol addiction. I already have “I Quit Sugar” but as far as I know, that’s the only book out there on beating sugar addiction.

Also, it’s much harder now with Al home. He loves sweets, but he is not even close to diabetic. He gets mad when I eat his cookies, because he can keep them in the pantry for a month and I eat them in a day or two. Same with ice cream. He likes donuts, too. I feel ashamed of myself and his attitude is not helping matters. Although…he told me to ask my doctor about seeing a dietician. Really, that’s what I should do.