Aches, Pains and Indigestion: Are You Listening to What Your Body is Telling You?

Many years ago I had a cat with a bowel blockage. Specifically, she had an intussusception, which is what happens when the bowel tries to push something down the line that isn’t moving, causing the bowel to telescope over itself.  My poor kitty ended up getting surgery to remove that part of her bowel, but the reason I took her to the vet was that she had stopped eating.  She had thrown up for a couple of days and then stopped eating completely because she knew there was something wrong.

Many of us with pets can tell when something is wrong with them even if it’s not something we can see.  Even before our pet begins to lose weight or show other physical symptoms, we can see their behavior change as a result of whatever is troubling them. That sounds like another No-Brainer because it is: our pets know there is something wrong because they listen to their bodies.

However, when was the last time we listened to what our bodies are telling us?  We get a backache so we take Advil; we get heartburn so we take some Tums; we get diarrhea so we take some Pepto.  Whenever our bodies tell us something, we let it go to ‘voicemail’ and take something to counteract whatever message our body sent us. There is a reason we got that message from our bodies!

Many years ago, I saw a South Park episode where Eric Cartman is a fan of Chipotle Mexican Grill, but it gives him terrible diarrhea each time he eats it.  His friends Kyle and Stan are shocked that he still  keeps eating it.  As far as Cartman’s concerned, his problem isn’t that the food gives him diarrhea; it’s that it ruins his underpants! [South Park Chipotlaway ] Sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it? Obviously, if the food makes you sick, STOP EATING IT!

But how many of us do that anyway? Something gives us heartburn or diarrhea and we keep right on eating it. The only concession we make is that we have the Pepto or Tums handy so when that spicy Pad Thai comes back on you, you can counteract it! Problem Solved, a la Cartman! We tend not to think that there’s a problem with what we eat because we’ve gotten used to the remedies that let us eat those ‘problem foods’ without any kind of discomfort.

It’s not just the messages regarding ‘problem foods’ that we ignore either. We ignore the sore joints, the bad backs and the shortness of breath as well.  When our knees, ankles or hips start bothering us, we chalk it up to getting old and start taking supplements, pain pills or buy braces to support those bad joints.  It’s the same for the bad backs and the arthritis that starts popping up places: we’re just getting old but thankfully, there are pills and braces that can help with that.  It’s the same thing when we start huffing and puffing on the stairs or anytime we have to walk any distance: it’s the price of getting old!

The problem is that those messages from our bodies are less about how old we are and more about how active or overweight we are.  Most of us are conditioned to believe that weight gain, bad joints and shortness of breath are as much a part of getting older as gray hair and wrinkles. We forget that pain is the body’s way of saying “something is wrong here.” If we’ve sprained our back, we learn to give our back time to recover.  That means we don’t go lifting weights with a sprained back, nor do we volunteer to help a friend move some furniture.  It’s common sense! But when we find ourselves huffing and puffing going up the stairs, instead of thinking “hmmm… I might want to do a little more exercise and watch what I eat,” we think “where’s the stupid elevator?” It’s the same thing when our back starts to ache: instead of thinking “I might want to take some weight off my back,” we think “does my insurance cover a back brace?” or “maybe my doctor can give me something for this back pain.”

Many times on My 600 lb Life, a patient who is barely mobile or actually bed-bound comes to Dr. Nowzaradan complaining that they can barely get around or can no longer stand up for any length of time.  His reply is generally along the lines of “rather than lose weight, you just kept eating the way you always have?” It seems simple enough: when it hurts to walk because of your weight, the answer isn’t to sit in bed and have others bring you food.  The answer is to lose weight.  Sitting in bed is the same as Cartman’s continuing to eat the Chipotle that makes him sick! The answer isn’t getting a scooter or getting someone else to bring you your fast food; it’s that you need to stop eating the fast food!

We are so conditioned to look for answers that let us keep doing the bad behavior that we no longer see what we are doing as bad behavior.  Recently, I was at a friend’s house where we had those fun Game of Thrones Oreos (she’s a big fan). Before her party, I honestly could not recall the last time I’d had an Oreo, so I had some. Everything else at our party were foods I eat on a regular basis: roast beef, salad, fruit, coffee and flavored water.  That night I woke up with terrible heartburn. It was so bad, I tried sleeping sitting up and I went through my medicine cabinet looking for Tums, but I didn’t have any.  I went back to bed, telling myself to buy some the next day.  However, as I was getting back in bed with that terrible burning in my throat, I realized that the answer wasn’t getting Tums: it was not eating anymore Oreos! Apparently, Oreos are now on the list of foods that don’t agree with me, such as orange juice and most fast foods.  Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with taking the Advil, Tums or Pepto when you get the heartburn, diarrhea or pain, but when we keep taking them over and over without changing our behavior, that’s where there is a problem!

We are so used to deleting the messages we get from our bodies that we don’t even realize it anymore, then we wonder why we end up at the doctor for arthritic knees, herniated discs and gastric ulcers and reflux.  It’s because when our body tells us we weigh too much, don’t move enough and eat the wrong foods, we just pop a pill and delete the message.  Trust me: listening to your body is cheaper than buying the endless boxes of Zantac!

 

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