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Learning about the facts, fiction and fables of food — the hard way

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By ERIC PILGRIM, Editor

I’m no medical expert; not a health practitioner; don’t even know enough Latin to fake it.

What I do know,
however, is what pain feels like, especially the pain that comes from heartburn and acid reflux.

Heartburn crept up on me slowly. I didn’t realize it for the longest time, and when I did, it was just an occasional discomfort. No big deal.

That discomfort started to get out of hand around 10 years ago, about the same time I went through some intense stress, so I chalked it up to that. Stress.

I complained of the pain and a doctor introduced me to proton-pump inhibitors. As I understood it from the materials displayed in his office, my stomach was generating too much acid. Stress. It made sense, so I agreed to take one.

After a while, it quit working and the pain came back. The doctor suggested another one.

Logic suggests that if you get the same result with the same approach, try a different approach. So much for logic.

Soon, the second one also quit working.

This time the pain felt like a red-hot poker was being shoved through my chest, piercing my back between the shoulder blades. I went to another doctor. He suggested another proton-pump inhibitor.

For years, the third one worked — so well, in fact, I could go for a few days without it before the pain would return, though it always did.

All that changed nearly five years ago.

My wife had gotten pregnant, I was retiring from the Army — the only life I had known for 22 years — and sequestration was making it hard to find a good job. Stress.

Suddenly that little pill didn’t work so well. It held back the tide of acid reflux a little, but more and more the pain was taking over. Some days were very rough.

I continued to hold on while trying to figure out why I was having these problems. When I was younger, I could eat what I wanted, when I wanted, as much as I wanted.

I began to question what the culprit was: milk products, tomatoes, spicy foods, coffee. “Lord, please don’t let it be coffee.”

I noticed other problems, too: a sudden loss of strength in my legs; weight gain that was causing my stomach to swell and harden; diarrhea; unexplained chills; shortness of breath when I walked up stairs or bent over to tie my shoes; sharp, stabbing pains in my joints; dizziness.

Nothing made the pain go away, but I was more fixated on my fat gut.

On March 1, our family began a resolution to eat healthier: no added sugar and no processed foods for one month. I was beginning to feel a little better, but to my surprise, I still gained weight. On April 1, I decided a drastic change needed to happen. I wanted to lose the weight.

My wife told me her sister had recently lost weight on a low carb diet. The concept sounded simple enough: eat a diet high in healthy fats, moderate in protein and low in carbohydrates. I basically focused on healthy fats — avocado, butter and olive oil; proteins like red meat, fish and full fat dairy; and low carb fruits and vegetables, such as leafy greens, berries and cucumbers. The goal was to avoid all forms of sugar, including honey.

That same day, I also quit using proton-pump inhibitors.

Two weeks in, I’ve already lost eight pounds. Remarkable for me because I couldn’t lose the weight before. However, something even more remarkable has happened.

Now, the strength has come back in my legs, my bowels are working right, I don’t get winded when I bend over to tie my shoes, my stomach has softened, and the pain in my joints has subsided. Most importantly, my acid reflux is almost gone.

Noted natural health specialist Chris Kresser says that’s because heartburn isn’t caused by too much acid but too little, exacerbated by bacterial overgrowth in the stomach and intestines.

“A high carbohydrate diet promotes bacterial overgrowth,” Kresser writes. “This creates a vicious cycle where bacterial overgrowth and low stomach acid reinforce each other in a continuous decline of digestive function.”

I don’t know much about all
that, but I do know pain, and I know that my low carb diet is helping to relieve it.