Belly Bloat

There’s something newly wrong with my stomach lately. It’s an issue I used to be unfortunately all too familiar with before my celiac disease and numerous food allergies and intolerances were properly identified: bloating. Celiac disease was diagnosed via biopsies obtained during an endoscopy. The terrible bloating and diarrhea I kept getting after eating improved after removing gluten from my diet. After about four months of improved digestion and stomach comfort, the discomfort and lightning fast “digestion” returned (I put that word in quotes because it was so rapid and inadequate that I hardly consider my body digesting food at that time). Yet again, when I used to eat most non-gluten-containing foods, my entire abdomen would swell with air. Eventually, the triggering foods were discovered through both allergy testing and an elimination diet and reintroduction protocol and again my gastrointestinal function became healthier. That said, I have an overactive and finicky system.

Since Christmas time or so however, my “normal” has been reset. Now, yet again, like those many years ago, every single time I put some food in my mouth and swallow, within a matter of seconds to a minute, my abdomen swells startlingly rapidly and becomes so bloated and distended you could bounce quarters off it. While this doesn’t necessarily sound awful, it’s actually dreadfully uncomfortable and scary. It’s not hyperbole to compare it to the belly of a nine-month pregnant mom, only I’m not pregnant. Like women carrying their soon-to-be-born child though, it becomes essentially impossible to tie my shoes, walk normally, sit, and even breathe fully. However, unlike these other lucky women, I’m not aware that there are just a few more days of this immense discomfort before I’ll be blessed with a precious life of a beautiful baby. My body is not doing an amazing feat of nature, the miracle of life. Instead, my belly appears day after day after every morsel is swallowed. It is not filled with life’s greatest gift that will soon be living and breathing in the world next to me, and it is not a sign of health and vitality. Rather, my massively bloated tummy is filled with air and inflammation. It ogles me with its sneering waggle, as if further mocking me for not being well enough to carry my own child inside. There is no healthful purpose to this cumbersome, painful belly. It only signals an error or issue in consumption and digestion. It tells me something is significantly off-kilter about my metabolism and my gut. My GI tract is not happy; I feel broken.

This ballooning bloat is so pervasive and so debilitating that it doesn’t allow me to feel up to moving around the home or running errands after eating. It prevents me wanting to have company over or socialize. I just want to hold my stretched, sharply painful belly and pull it towards me, as if my hands are effective at saving my skin and underlying tissues from ripping from the unaccommodatable stretch. I feel disgustingly fat and pushed to the brink of tears by the physical discomfort. I get so hot and just want space and privacy. I don’t want to talk nor be seen. I can’t move and I struggle to catch my breath. It is among the most debilitating reactions I’ve ever experienced, Sometimes, when it’s so bad, I can literally feel cell’s being pulled apart, the physically, socially, and emotionally.

Sometimes, the onset and magnitude of the bloating so sudden and “impressive,” the physiological adaptability and responsiveness capabilities of my cells are exceeded by the extreme swelling. It’s like the contrast between pumping up a bicycle tire the old-fashioned way with a floor pump versus a rapid-fill CO2 cartridge. In the former method, the inner tube inflates at a perceptible, but tolerable, rate. As air (food) enters, the turgor or pressure in the tire proportionately increases. With the CO2 gas cartridge, the gas is so highly pressurized in the small volume of the tiny cartridge. However, this small bolus of gas (or food in my case) incites a sudden, complete expansion of the tire. Even the first bite of swallowed food that travels down my esophagus to my stomach blows up my tummy to its maximum protrusion within seconds, as if the simple act of initiating eating releases the pressurized capsule in my stomach and blasts open a huge inflatable chamber. Just looking at my body, it’s a near paradox to imagine my physique accommodating the huge swollen belly that ensues. That’s the thing though. It can’t really be considered a paradox because clearly it’s not intended to handle the size it expands to, which is why I’m so intolerably uncomfortable and can viscerally feel ripping.

At bedtime, the tummy bloat is so intrusive on my internal organs and outer layers of abdominal muscles and skin that I have to take my pants and shirt off, unable to tolerate the tightness of my normal-sized clothes trying to contain my barrel belly. I cradle the bottom of my distended stomach and pray it doesn’t explode in my sleep. By morning, the bloat has disappeared and I’m comfortably lithe and limber again. My body can move, breathe, and perform optimally. I feel like me, only I’m starving. Within a matter of ten or fifteen minutes upon waking, my stomach starts rumbling with hunger pangs. I find myself trying to distract my mind in an attempt to hold on to the non-bloated comfortable body feel for as long as possible. Only, of course, it becomes time to eat breakfast, the growling empty stomach eventually unignorable. There is just a fleeting magical minute or so where the hunger starts to quiet down as food enters my mouth before I get saddled with horrendous gaseous bloat. The only thing that actually reduces the pain is filling the stomach with more food. It must be the weight and bulk of the consumed food crowds out the excessive air. Eating eases the pain for a temporary relief, but soon, when the meal is finished, the frighteningly quick expansion continues and the pain becomes all-encompassing. My walking becomes hindered, my clothing to restrictive, and my digestion starts faltering. Also I’ll spend much of the next hours in and out of the bathroom and facing unbelievable (literally hard to believe) levels of hunger all too soon again. Something isn’t adding up between how much I’m eating and expending versus how much my body is signaling that it wants food. This is yet another piece of the digestion and metabolism that seems awry in the past few months.

I see a gastroenterologist in ten days, so I hope we can start figuring out what’s going on. I’m not sure if I’ve developed new intolerances, have some sort of celiac sprue manifestation, or a parasite or some other issue. All I know is that my body is not right, I don’t feel well, and this way of life and constant discomfort is unsustainable. It’s compromising my comfort, sleep, self-esteem, happiness, relationships, and health. I feel like it’s slowly killing me from multiple angles. I’m so self-conscious of the sickeningly fat look I get after eating too. Although my days of battling an eating disorder are years behind me, the pregnant feeling post-eating that follows me all day once I’ve consumed a single morsel of food doesn’t make maintaining body satisfaction easy. I need this to change soon. I can’t hold on much longer.

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