Are You Sensitive to Your Food?

By Cammi Woodall

Most patterns in life are good, right? Knowing the UPS carrier will bring your package around 4:00, the toaster takes exactly 1 minute 14 seconds to achieve perfect toastiness, or you can go 27 more miles once your car dings “I’m empty!” The food you eat can trigger patterns as well. Some good, some bad.

Chocolate can give you a sugar rush and satisfy that creamy, sweet-tooth craving. But for some people, indulging in this delectable treat will guarantee pain, nausea, fatigue, and intestinal problems. Oh, sweet chocolate! How can you deceive us so?

Six years ago, I noticed I had a pattern in my life but it wasn’t a good one. Every month I had to take sick days due to headaches and an upset stomach. It was not uncommon for me to have headaches. No big deal – take a Motrin and go on about my day. But a migraine episode was different. Migraine pain is unique and personal to each person. When I get a migraine headache, I basically fall apart. The top of my head clenches so hard I feel like it is cramping. I can’t open my eyes all the way because the light hurts so badly, plus the muscles in my eyelids hurt. Sounds are magnified. Simple typing on a keyboard sounds like a machine gun, and people talking in normal voices feel like they are shouting through a bullhorn at me. My bones and joints hurt. Any move I make sets off a reaction in my stomach and… it is bad. I won’t go into details about that. Just nausea and sickness. So much sickness. And during all these symptoms, the top of my head is still cramping, my face feels like it is going to implode, and I am dizzy. After the initial pain, my headaches for days and the top of my head feels bruised for a week.

My medical tests were okay – gall bladder and thyroid checked out fine, blood pressure good. Medical professionals had the same basic diagnosis – exercise and lose weight. Who hasn’t heard this before? My sister and my mother urged me to start a diary, keeping track of what I ate, where I ate, stress levels, and how I felt afterward. That is when my pattern emerged.

So what was common about my sick times? Certain foods appeared each time – processed meats like bacon and sausage, highly processed food, and ranch dressing. (I will also admit I had a slight addiction to Doritos. I would keep a bag open on my kitchen cabinet and go by several times a day, grabbing or two to munch on.)

I realized I have a food intolerance or food sensitivity. I am sensitive to two things –

1.      Nitrates/nitrites – a chemical in processed meats that are used to keep meat fresh and gives it that nice pink color. If sensitive, they trigger migraine pain by expanding the blood vessels in your brain.

2.      Monosodium glutamate or MSG – this is the chemical that makes food taste good. Almost all boxed foods on the grocery store shelf have some form of MSG. The chemical makes you crave more of what you just ate. If you suspect MSG sensitivity, check the ingredients lists for monosodium glutamate, the word hydrolyzed, the word autolyzed, yeast extract, or carrageenan. There are others, so do some research into the ways MSG can be hidden in your food.

Both sensitivities come with controversy. With nitrates, many companies are following a new food trend of ‘uncured’ or ‘no nitrates added.’ Some companies have completely stopped using synthetic sodium nitrate and used powders derived from celery root or cherries. Doubters say that these vegetable compounds have the same amounts of nitrates as the manufactured chemicals. They probably do. But I know how my body reacts when I eat a turkey sandwich made from the different ingredients. I do not get headaches if I eat the turkey or chicken or roast beef cured with vegetable powders. I do if eat luncheon meat cured with synthetic nitrates.

MSG is even more hot topic! Glutamates occur naturally in food, so naysayers to MSG sensitivity say any pain is nonexistent. Again, I can only go by what my body has experienced. I can eat a portion of food with MSG and I get migraines. So I study labels. I now avoid Doritos (weeping in the distance), most canned soups, flavored rice, seasoning blends, and most salad dressings. I look at labels whenever I go shopping.

There are no definitive studies that show scientific proof linking MSG and migraine pain. That does not stop my pain.

I would like to say now that I am not a doctor and there is a difference between a food allergy and food intolerance. The two share many of the same symptoms of headaches, such as nausea, lightheadedness, and head pain. But food allergies can be deadly. They are your immune system’s response to a foreign material your body considers harmful. Symptoms occur immediately upon eating the food and include hives and face/tongue swelling. You can go into anaphylactic shock. So please consult a doctor for any possible food allergy.

By contrast, food intolerance occurs anywhere from one hour to 48 hours after you eat your suspected food. It may not even occur every time you eat that particular item, or only if you eat a large amount. Food intolerance may be painful, but it is not life-threatening. 

Like I said earlier, each circumstance is personal to each person. I hope I helped you to know that certain foods can drastically affect how you feel. If you think you might be sensitive to a food, try eliminating it for several days and see how you feel.

And if you find a tasty replacement for MSG-laden Doritos, please let me know!

Prompt: I knew I shouldn’t have eaten the whole thing!

Mental Fatigue

EmotionsToday is my blog post day. The problem is I just remembered this lovely fact. My first thought was to try and dig up an old article to finish off our month of medical conditions.

Then two words drew me into focus: mental fatigue. According to wikipedia, mental fatigue is a temporary inability to maintain optimal cognitive performance. The onset of mental fatigue during any cognitive activity is gradual, and depends upon an individual’s cognitive ability, and also upon other factors, such as sleep deprivation and overall health.

In the last month, I’ve dealt with two different medical issues requiring meds and doctor’s visits. There has been financial stress, a fender bender, a loved one whose health is failing, and bad weather. It has all added up to this moment with my temporary inability to keep up.

What can I do? Or maybe more importantly to you, what can your character in your novel do? We are told to subject our hero or heroine to battle after battle until they reach the lowest low. In Christian fiction, we then have them reach out to God, His Word, or maybe a fellow Christian. In regular fiction, the hero may draw from an inner strength he didn’t know he had.

Our heroine will give her last bit of strength to save the day, then will have the thrill of victory as she is finally able to rest and ride off into the sunset with her hero. But what about me?

I’ve already been to the doctor to deal with the health issues causing fatigue and should have more strength when all the meds are taken. We are taking measures to balance out the financial stress, and fix the car. The weather will adjust as we move into summer. I continue to pray for my loved one, allowing myself to grieve at the same time. I’ve asked friends to include me in their prayers and am taking more time with just me and God, listening to uplifting music and talking things out.

Mental fatigue. A medical condition that can push your character out of isolation to a place where they call for help and receive restoration.

Please take time to comment or follow or blog or like our facebook page before this month’s contest ends. We will be drawing for the winner of the Amazon gift card and 1 chapter critique by Christina Rich this evening. So there is only a few hours left!

Today’s writing prompt:Take your character and consider what would be the most emotionally draining thing you can do to them. Then do it.

An Invisible Disability

I sat on my couch, staring at my hands, on a summer day, five years ago. Six blood blisters dotted my fingertips like they had been carefully placed there by an artist brush. The blister on my left thumb was at least a quarter inch in diameter but since I’m right handed it was not a big issue except the pain. The five on the right hand made it hard for me to type or hold a spoon or a pen.

As I held my hands to an ice bag, I watched my son crawl by. What was odd about that you ask? My son was nineteen years old and had so many blisters on his feet that crawling was easier than walking. Well, that’s not totally true since he’s six foot four inches tall and trying not to let his feet touch the ground.

As my son crawled by, I was transported back to my youth, and a seventeen year old girl crawling through her parent’s house.

“Get up Jennifer,” my mother said, “Walk. Don’t crawl.”

“It hurts too much.” I whined, but slowly pulled myself to my feet.

Carefully I placed one foot in front of the other, twisting each in an attempt to find the spot with the least blisters to take the pressure off of each step. I made it into the kitchen, got something to drink and sat at the table. My feet would throb as the pressure was taken off and the blood flow and heightened nerves combatted to bring normalcy to my body. Several days in Florida on a senior trip brought me to this place.

Epidermolysis Bullosa is a group of skin conditions whose hallmark is blistering in response to minor injury, heat, or friction from rubbing, scratching or adhesive tape. Four main types of Epidermolysis Bullosa exist, with numerous subtypes. Most are inherited.r7_basementmembrane

Most types of Epidermolysis Bullosa initially affect infants and young children, although some people with mild forms of the condition don’t develop signs and symptoms until adolescence or early adulthood. Mild forms of Epidermolysis Bullosa may improve with age, but severe forms may cause serious complications and can be fatal.

There’s currently no cure for Epidermolysis Bullosa. For now, treatment focuses on addressing the symptoms, including pain prevention, wound prevention, infection and severe itching that occurs with continuous wound healing.

Epidermolysis Bullosa Simplex (EBS) is the name they have placed on our problem. This genetic skin disease, which affects 25 to 50 thousand Americans, is caused by a faulty encoded gene that affects the protein that holds the layers of skin together causing a “blistering” breakdown of the skin.

My son and I are the fortunate ones; our strain of EBS, also known as Weber-Cockayne disease is one of the mildest forms and our blisters are mainly formed on the hands and feet. Other strains can cause blistering all over the body and internally, scarring and death. I call Weber-Cockayne disease an invisible disability because basically it is not seen by others.

An invisible disability. The word “disable” according to Webster’s dictionary means, to make powerless or incapacitate. That would imply something conspicuous because don’t you notice someone that is incapacitated? EBS, like back problems, fibromyalgia and lupus, is invisible. It affects the way people live, but is not apparent to the naked eye.

I am an adult now and know added pain, the pain of watching my son go through the same process I did many years ago. My father talked of roller skating all evening as a teenager and being carried home because he could not walk. EBS did not stop him.

I enjoyed a fairly normal life even participating on the high school track team and church softball team in a limited capacity for EBS could not stop me. Today I am proud of my son as he has married, works in management, and leads a fairly active life. EBS has not stopped him either.

An invisible disability. What I am finding out is many of us have these; my friend with lupus, the one with fibromyalgia, and my husband with arthritis in his back. Each one is a tribute to perseverance, not letting the disease win. EBS will not win in my family either. We will live life in abundance, to the full, until it overflows.

What about the characters in your book? Are they real people, with real aches and pains? Or are they cardboard cutouts that are perfectly healthy with perfect bodies? A great way to draw the reader in and bring empathy into any story is through an invisible disability. Let your reader connect with your character as they struggle with him or her.

Today’s writing prompt: Janice perched on the bench in the park, rubbing her knees as the joints throbbed from the half-mile walk. She blinked back angry tears. Why did twenty-year-old body react to exercise like a sixty-year-old? The doctor told her… Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) — The Worst Disease You’ve Never Heard Of.™

Living With Crohn’s Disease by Linda Yezak

me in gruene too

Linda Yezak

Crohn’s Disease is a hyper-immune system disease like Lupus, Psoriasis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s also one of the inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). It can affect the digestive system anywhere from the mouth to “the south” and can cause some seemingly unrelated complications, like arthritis and kidney stones.

For most people with Crohn’s Disease, their best bets are a sense of humor, a good diet, and a survival kit which includes damp personal wipes and a change of undies. Clear access to public restrooms is also a plus–and privacy in those restrooms is a God-send–because for most people with Crohn’s, the primary problem is a surprise attack of diarrhea.  One of the other embarrassments, although not quite as bad, is having a stomach that growls loud enough to echo off the walls in spite of having just been filled. After a while, you give up trying to explain to the umpteenth person who says, “My, you must be hungry!” that you just ate, and your system is totally incapable of digesting without making a horrendous racket similar to amplified whale calls. There isn’t much that can be done about some of the symptoms of Crohn’s, so we may as well laugh about them.

Unless you have severe Crohn’s Disease, like I have. Don’t get me wrong. A good sense of humor is vital for this too, but when the surgeons don’t want to work on you because another surgery could mean being fed through your veins for the rest of your life, and when you confess to your gastro-enterologist, “I’m scared,” and he says, “I am too,” then it gets a bit harder to find something to laugh about. When you discover that one of the things being discussed behind your back is an intestinal transplant–a procedure with a low success rate and only an eighteen-month survival rate–you find nothing to laugh about.

Crohn’s is no laughing matter for those of us who have severe cases of it. And as bad as I have it, I’ve heard that there’s worse out there. People who have to go through bone marrow transplants to get themselves a new immune system. People who are being fed through the veins, who are more likely to die of infection than starvation. People who take the intestinal transplant route. People who were misdiagnosed for so long, their survival rate is next to nil.

As for me, I’ve had nine operations, most of them major, and am currently trying to get through a flare-up without surgery. The flare didn’t present itself as it usually does–fever, diarrhea, nausea, pain. My first symptom early last year was fatigue, but I didn’t consider it to be Crohn’s at the time. It was only in August when the smell of something cooking made me nauseous that I realized what was up. August through November we were treating the flare with steroids and antibiotics with mixed results. By December, my doctor put me in the hospital, where I got another CT scan. Everyone who looked at this scan came to me with long, sad faces. I had a series of abscesses along the small bowel, and I can’t afford to lose any more of it. One of the abscesses rested along a muscle in my back that rendered me unable to walk. My surgeon was afraid to work on me, so he sent me to a larger hospital, where I was treated with even more antibiotics and confronted by another surgeon who’s scared to work on me. A third surgeon, also afraid to work on me, patted my shoulder and said, “I’m so sorry.”

When a sense of humor doesn’t help, faith does. I never felt like it was “my time,” and though I didn’t always believe God was going to heal me, I believed that whatever He had in mind was okay. I’d be okay.

My most recent CT scan shows the abscesses gone. And although I have an enterocutaneous fistula (a “tunnel” from the intestine to the skin surface), my doctor is actually optimistic that I’m going to get well. And I have to have faith that he’s right, because I can’t rely on my feelings. I certainly don’t feel better right now, and the fistula and arthritic ankles and severe fatigue don’t give me any indication of getting better. But God is in control. He assembled this wonderful team of doctors for me, and they’ve done a terrific job so far, so I can, through faith, ignore what my current reality is and believe that I’m going to be okay.

Heaven help us all when my sense of humor returns.

Give the Lady a Ride

Linda W. Yezak holds a BA in English, a graduate certificate in Paralegal Studies, and a bucket list as long as her arm. Among the things on the list is owning a stable full of horses, and since that’s not likely to happen, she includes horses in each of her novels, from her contemporary western romance Give the Lady a Ride and her current work, The Cat Lady’s Secret, to her works-in-progress. Until the day she can retire with her husband to their land in Central Texas and ride to her heart’s content, she’ll continue with her writing and freelance editing careers.

I would like to thank Linda Yezak for her willingness to share her story on our blog. You can find out more information about Linda, her books, and her wonderful sense of humor at her website

Today’s Prompt: Fear seized Darlene’s heart when she heard her husband’s diagnosis. Crohn’s Disease. What would this mean for their family?

My Russian Eyes

This month we’re discussing medical conditions and one that I take notice of is glaucoma. Why? My grandfather on my father’s side and my mother both had/have a form of the disease. For that reason, my eye check-ups are regularly scheduled as I have several factors that increase my risk: poor vision, over 40, of Russian descent, and a family history.

You are at an increased risk of glaucoma if you:

Are of African-American, Irish, Russian, Japanese, Hispanic, Inuit, or Scandinavian descent.
Are over age 40.
Have a family history of glaucoma.
Have poor vision.
Have diabetes.
Take certain steroid medications, such as prednisone.

So with four factors against me, I take precautions. What is glaucoma, exactly?
Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to your eye’s optic nerve and gets worse over time. It’s often associated with a buildup of pressure inside the eye. Glaucoma tends to be inherited and may not show up until later in life.
The increased pressure, called intraocular pressure, can damage the optic nerve, which transmits images to the brain. If damage to the optic nerve from high eye pressure continues, glaucoma will cause permanent loss of vision. Without treatment, glaucoma can cause total permanent blindness within a few years.

I learned that glaucoma has no early symptoms or pain, so eye exams are vital for detection. What does an exam consist of? To diagnose glaucoma, an eye doctor will test your vision and examine your eyes through dilated pupils. The eye exam typically focuses on the optic nerve which has a particular appearance in glaucoma. In fact, photographs of the optic nerve can also be helpful to follow over time as the optic nerve appearance changes as glaucoma progresses. The doctor will also perform a procedure called tonometry to check for eye pressure and a visual field test, if necessary, to determine if there is loss of side vision. Glaucoma tests are painless and take very little time.


Human eyesight with glaucoma

Glaucoma cannot be prevented, but if it is diagnosed and treated early, the disease can be controlled.

The Mayo Clinic suggests four ways to lessen the damaging effects of glaucoma:
(1) Get regular eye care. Regular comprehensive eye exams can help detect glaucoma in its early stages before irreversible damage occurs. As a general rule, have comprehensive eye exams every three to five years after age 40 and every year after age 60. You may need more frequent screening if you have glaucoma risk factors. Ask your doctor to recommend the right screening schedule for you.

(2) Treat elevated eye pressure. Glaucoma eye drops can significantly reduce the risk that elevated eye pressure will progress to glaucoma. To be effective, these drops must be taken regularly even if you have no symptoms.

(3) Eat a healthy diet. While eating a healthy diet won’t prevent glaucoma, it can improve your physical and mental health. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight and control your blood pressure.

(4) Wear eye protection. Serious eye injuries can lead to glaucoma. Wear eye protection when you use power tools or play high-speed racket sports on enclosed courts. Also wear hats and sunglasses if you spend time outside.

I’ve learned to pay attention to my vision. Shouldn’t you?

This week’s writing prompt: Write a short story scene in which the main character has learned that he or she has glaucoma.