So here’s a lovely GERD symptom: food makes it hard for me to breathe

Wikipedia | Gastroesophageal reflux disease

This is the Wikipedia image for GERD. I’m not really sure what I’m looking at.

My history of disordered eating most likely isn’t entirely to blame for my gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD), but I’m also sure it didn’t help matters that I once habitually binged on and purged large quantities of food. Faulty esophagi run in my family — I’ve suffered from heartburn at least as early as seven years old — but I took my jalopy of an esophagus and tried to drive it up a mountain during a massive landslide.

And similarly, it’s not fun to have gastrointestinal problems when you already have a pretty strained relationship with eating.

One of the most delightful symptoms of GERD is shortness of breath following meals. Eating large meals makes me feel like I’m suffocating for a couple of hours. Eating medium-sized meals makes me feel like I’m suffocating for a couple of hours.

I have to eat small, spaced-out meals if I want to have any sort of comfort. And it kind of pisses me off. It pisses me off because I am so way past done limiting the amount of food that I eat. It pisses me off that the amount of food that makes me feel satisfied is equal to the amount of food that makes me feel like someone is holding a pillow over my face.

It doesn’t take a genius to think of all the various ways this fucks with the post-ED psyche. Is this my fault? These symptoms are relatively recent — did I deliver the death blow to my esophagus?

My body is physically forcing me to eat in a way that reminds me of the days when I dieted, when I deprived myself. This isn’t an uncommon situation for people with gastric problems. My fiance has to eat like a bird because of his Crohn’s. This way of eating is convenient for neither of us, doesn’t line up with our schedules or appetites.

But these are the cards we’re dealt, and we cope.

I, for one, have found something of a workaround.

It might sound crazy, but one of the ways I counter my stupid stomach is by drinking my nutrients. The “crazy” part comes in because I drink coldbrew coffee every day. You might be saying, “Coffee? Reflux?”, but for me, coldbrew coffee has been a godsend because it cuts down on the acid, and I drink nice dark roasts that don’t bother my stomach.

I put a generous portion of heavy cream in my coffee, and the fat keeps me satiated without making it hard for me to breathe. I didn’t come up with this idea myself — my friend Lisa, who has stomach problems due to WLS, mentioned once that coffee drinks are a great way to get energy when you’re having problems digesting solid food. Similarly, some of my low-carb friends rave about things like bulletproof coffee, basically a very fatty, energy-rich coffee concoction using grass-fed butter.

So that’s the stopgap for now, at least until I figure out how to fix my food tube.

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Acid reflux and coldbrew coffee

French press, heavy cream, Wawa pumpkin spice coffee

This is why I’m a morning person. And if you don’t know what Wawa is… I’m sorry 😦

So as any regular reader of this blog knows, I got some health problems. Nothing disastrous, just annoying. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is my chief annoyance, followed by clinical depression, OCD, and generalized anxiety (mood disorders are frequently symptoms of PCOS).

But there’s only one condition I take medicine for, and that’s GERD: gastroesophageal reflux disease.

I was first diagnosed with GERD in college, though I’ve had heartburn almost as far back as I can remember. I remember complaining about heartburn to some mom involved with my Girl Scout troop back when I was a seven-year-old Brownie.

“You can’t possibly have heartburn,” she said, MOCKING MY PAIN. “You’re too young.”

Bullshit, I thought, as my seven-year-old esophagus burned to the tune of that Girl Scout mom’s fiddling.

Anyway, a dozen years later, my doctor told me I had reflux and handed me a pamphlet with a list of foods to avoid (note: ALL THE DELICIOUS ONES) and other general tips, like to lose weight (I guess skinny people don’t get reflux, and little brother has been lying about his heartburn this whole time [note: my little brother is quite thin and has just recovered from Barrett’s Esophagus, which means his GERD was so bad it turned his esophagus into scar tissue]) and not wear tight pants (over my dead jeggings!). He also suggested I take omeprazole (Prilosec).

I’m not into taking pills, wearing loose pants, or not eating delicious foods, so I ignored all that advice for years. It’s just heartburn, I thought. My menstrual cramps are worse, and you can’t pill-food-pants those away, either.

Besides, I thought, I’d rather die than live without coffee.

A few years later, my wanton esophageal abuse/neglect had caught up to me. My thrice daily post-meal heartburn had turned into a persistent nausea, a feeling like I was on the verge of vomiting all day long, the sensation that there was food lodged in my throat for hours at a time. With hearburn on top. My appetite dwindled. I had problems focusing. I had to do something.

I started taking omeprazole.

After two weeks, my GERD was still nasty. I knew I had to take drastic measures. So I declared a moratorium on cumin, chili, and ALL THE TASTY SPICES, and quit coffee.

That last one hurt.

I have very strict dietary restrictions due to PCOS. I’ve elected to manage my hormone imbalance using nutrition. I haven’t had bread, pasta, or potatoes in over a year. No pizza, no beer, no burritos. I’ve been eating huge quantities of food, but I’ve also given up all my favorite foods because my ovaries are little shits.

And so far, it hasn’t been a big deal. I eat pork rinds in place of chips. I make taco shells out of cheddar cheese fried in butter (okay, probably not the best for my GERD, but STEP OFF). I wrap things in bacon instead of bread. I make pancakes out of almond flour (and it’s fucking delicious). Life isn’t bad.

But giving up coffee was infinitely harder than all those things, caffeine addiction aside.

Apparently, I have a connection to coffee that runs deeper than my love of any other victual. Even after a few weeks of no caffeine intake, I found myself pining for that bitter flavor (with sweetener and cream, because yum). Autumn rolled in, and everyone started talking about pumpkin coffee, and I felt like my true love had just left me for literally everyone in the world who had a functioning esophagus.

It became intolerable. And then I found coldbrew.

Cold brewing coffee reduces a lot of the acid content of coffee. If you drink decaf, it’s even better for your esophagus. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it was my last shot (ahaha, shot! get it? like espresso shot? I AM SUCH A CARD). It was my last shot at happiness.

So I bought a French press at my local Marshall’s for $20, and picked up a bag of pumpkin coffee.

Making coldbrew coffee is literally the easiest thing you can do. I really mean, literally. Not figuratively. All you do is put some coffee in your French press, add water, add sweetener if that’s your bag, stir, and put the lid on (but don’t press down on the antenna jawn). Stick it in your fridge overnight.

Wake up the next day, press the little antenna jawn down, pour, drink. Bam. Delicious.

What sucks about coldbrew coffee is that it’s starting to get cold outside, so I sit in my apartment shivering while I drink it. What rocks about coldbrew coffee is that it doesn’t jack my esophagus up, even if I haven’t taken my omeprazole yet (I, too, like to live dangerously).

So I’ve been reunited with my long-lost love. It actually makes me so happy that I go to bed excited to wake up the next morning and drink my damn coffee. On the days I don’t see my fiance, my coffee is actually the best part of my day. On the days I do see my fiance, it’s a very close second.

So there’s a little life hack worth trying if you have acid reflux. You can thank me later.