If you have a digestive disorder, it can be challenging to eat right. Digestive disorders often require dietary restrictions. And when your diet is restricted, it can be harder to ensure that you’re giving your body all of the nutrients it needs.
We asked Michelle Bartley for her advice and insights. Michelle was diagnosed with a disorder called gastroparesis (GP) in 2010. Gastroparesis is rare and affects less than 4 percent of the population in the United States, according to the Medscape Journal of Medicine.
Michelle’s condition, which is also called delayed gastric emptying, slows or stops food from moving normally from the stomach to the small intestine.
Prior to changing her diet, the condition caused Michelle to feel full after eating only a few bites of food. She also experienced acid reflux, or regurgitation. That is, her stomach contents would flow back up into her esophagus soon after eating, rather than digesting normally.
One of the biggest challenges Michelle faces is finding healthy ways to modify her diet in order to eat nutritious foods within the constraints of GP.
She has to be mindful of eating high-fiber foods and other foods that are difficult to digest. Her doctor introduced her to Ensure Muscle Health shakes. This nutritional supplement contains protein, vitamins, and minerals in a formula that is easier to digest than certain solid foods.
Another challenge that Michelle identifies for people with digestive disorders is working in a health-conscious work environment that strongly promotes healthy eating.
“For those of us who can’t tolerate eating certain healthy foods, it is challenging finding the right foods to eat,” she says. Therefore, for work meetings that offer lunch, Michelle puts in a special order.
While dining out can also be a challenge, Michelle has adapted certain practices to make it easier. She spends time reviewing the restaurant’s menu before heading out. She also may order something small that’s easy to digest, and drink a protein shake at home before her meal to help stay full.
There are many different digestive disorders that require their own dietary guidelines and treatment. It’s important to find a doctor who understands your specific condition. You may want to consult a gastroenterologist, a physician who specializes in the treatment of digestive disorders.
Or, you might consider seeing a motility specialist, a gastroenterologist who specializes in how food moves through the stomach. “A good doctor should know and be willing to work with you to identify nutritional foods and supplements,” says Michelle.
Michelle also recommends that you read up on your particular digestive condition. “There will almost always be someone else who has written about a condition similar to yours,” says Michelle.
“Do your research on blogs, group websites, medical sites, or books specific to your condition. See what healthy foods other people with your condition are eating.”
Michelle suggests talking with your doctor to identify healthy foods that you can eat and to understand their nutritional value. “Introduce one new food at a time, and don’t mix the different new foods in one sitting until your body is acclimated.”
Michelle has her own readjustment process: “Now that I have my symptoms under control, I have decided to try to reintroduce eating raw fruits (any type of melon, bananas, pineapple, and mangos), which are considered safe for people with mild GP to try.”
It’s easy to feel alone when you have any kind of health disorder. Michelle found support groups to be a welcome source of help and coping strategies.
“It was such a relief to discover other people who are experiencing health issues similar to mine,” she said. “I recommend that people with digestive disorders talk with others who have a similar disorder and find out how they are coping. People are usually willing to share their researched information.”
Don’t discount the important role that family and friends can play in understanding your dietary needs. “Explain your disorder to family and friends as you see fit,” says Michelle.
“To keep me included in dining out plans, my friends usually ask me if I have a preferred restaurant — or if a new restaurant is chosen, someone will send me the menu ahead of time so I can check to see if I can find foods I can eat.”
Since her diagnosis, Michelle has learned to become more aware of the foods she eats. “I am working toward ensuring that all of my main meals — solids or liquids — provide adequate nutrients to help prevent additional harm to my body and possibly alleviate my disorder.”
Her take-home lesson is to be cautious about what you eat. Becoming a healthy eater doesn’t happen overnight. “Take small steps until you get to where you want to be,” she recommends. “Most importantly, listen to your body.”