Dear Dr. Archer,
I have had hearburn for the past two years straight. Everybody thinks I'm exaggerating, but it has LITERALLY been two years that I've
I also vomit daily. Not because I force myself! Trust me, I would love to keep my food down. I was diagnosed with GERD, acid reflux disease, peptic ulcer disease, and the list goes on.
I finally found a good gastroenterologist who thinks I might have eosinophilic gastrointestinal disease. I do have eosinophilic cells in my esophagus, stomach and intestines.
I have taken several allergy tests confirming that I'm allergic to all legumes (soy, peanuts, etc), anything that comes off of a tree (all fruits except melons and nuts) wheat, rye, oats, barley, and, believe it or not, CHICKEN, which I think is because of the soy allergy and a chicken’s diet.
Needless to say, it is difficult to find foods that I can eat without getting sick, if not impossible. So far, I can eat most vegetables, meat, poultry (except chicken), seafood, watermelon and honeydew, rice, potatoes and corn. Aside from that, I can't eat garlic, onions, tomatoes, any type of spice, or anything else that would provoke my acid reflux or GERD.
My diet is so limited that I often refuse to eat. I'm so tired of eating plain rice, or unmarinated steaks -- who gets sick of steak?? If the hunger pains become too much to bear, I will force myself to eat, but that's no easy task.
I have panic attacks EVERY time I step foot into a grocery store; I'm bombarded with all the foods that I WISH I could eat, but can't. Also, the sheer fact of finding enough food to put in the grocery cart is scary. Most of the foods I can eat are natural, raw, organic foods, which are more expensive.
Since I throw up daily, I am unable to work. I find myself completely dependent on my boyfriend and parents, even though I'm 21, the time in most people's lives when they start to gain their independence, I'm losing mine.
I get anxious whenever I have to eat something because I'm afraid it will contain something I'm allergic to, or make me sick even if I'm not allergic to it. In fact, I just threw up mashed potatoes about 20 minutes ago, and I've got three allergy tests confirming I'm not allergic to potatoes!
Overall, I hate eating and wish I never had to do it again, but I don't want to die. I'm also showing the early warning signs of scurvy, since I can't eat anything besides spinach that contains vitamin C. My teeth are turning brown, getting loose, and my lips are constantly swollen, dry, cracked and bleeding. I'm also constantly fatigued.
What I'm asking you is, how can I cope with the fact that I'll never be able to eat the foods that everyone else enjoys? I'm extremely nervous about Thanksgiving -- I've thought about just staying home and not doing anything. I can't go to restaurants or bars; I can't drink, and bars are where most of my friends spend their time. I'm 21, remember.
I NEED to find ways to get over my anxiety of eating bland foods, my anxiety that the foods will make me sick, and my anxiety about going out with my friends.
I was seeing a therapist who specializes in helping people with chronic illnesses, but my mom will no longer pay for it. I feel so hopeless sometimes that I don't know what else to do. PLEASE HELP ME so I can go back to living my life!
First, please accept my apology for getting to your letter after Thanksgiving. Somehow this got lost in shuffle of the large volume of mail I receive. Usually my reply is up within two weeks, so not sure what happened here, again I’m sorry. Your concern is very important to me, so let’s analyze.
There is a real psychological element regarding your anxiety to food, Brynn. Understand you are definitely not alone with this. Reaction to allergies of food varies from individual to individual, from suspicious, to nervousness, to anxiousness, to fear, to full blown paranoia. Often, malnutrition can pose a greater danger than the allergy or sickness itself.
In the medical field, Brynn, all levels of anxiety regarding food allergies are considered understandable and even beneficial. This helps keep one on their toes as to what they eat and this can be a life saver, as some food allergies are fatal. But eventually the question becomes, how much fear is too much? If it affects your quality of life, as this clearly does, then it's a concern.
In this case, your allergies and the resulting anxiety has turned into an eating disorder. This is a tricky situation; food intolerance should not take over your life, but the truth is, Brynn, it can and it does. In some cases, restricted diets and eating disorders go hand in hand.
I believe your anxiety has turned into a full fledged eating disorder, you have a food phobia with all the phobic symptoms. You throw up when no allergy is present, obsess about food and have panic attacks. My advice is an eating disorder treatment facility. Most of them will accept insurance.
BUT, Brynn, you need treatment. Ask your mom to reconsider paying. Tell her this is a life threatening situation. Show her this answer if need be, I’m worried about you. If you don’t eat you won’t live.
In your case the panic is related to your food anxiety. Stop stressing over food and the anxiety will lessen, so I don’t think the panic attacks need to be the primary focus of treatment, though your treating doctor may decide on medication or therapy for that as well.
Food anxiety can definitely be linked to anxiety disorders and panic attacks and vice versa. Anxiety can cause the body to become highly sensitized to what we eat. As this settles down, often the body becomes rebalanced, and the digestive and nervous systems return to near normal, and the allergies and intolerances settle down as well.
Living with food anxiety can dominate your daily life in a negative way. Not understanding it will keep you spinning in circles; so will constantly thinking and worrying about it.
Getting the help you need will turn your life around, Brynn, and can return you to living the way you wish. Please get help now. I truly wish you success.