I started fainting when I was 13. It was during winter break from school waaaaay back in 2002. Plop, plop, plop, I could NOT stay conscious that week. When that happens your pediatrician outsources you to a pediatric cardiologist (if they don’t, they should). So, for Christmas that year, Santa brought me a shiny new doctor whose resume read like a novel of cardio-accolades. Also, a bike, which I have yet to learn how to ride…
Despite said novelistic resume, Dr. Cardio didn’t have much to go on in treating my “rare fainting condition” (that’s actually what he called it you guys, I did not learn the words “Dysautonomia” or “Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome” for seven more years). The information was just not available. It’s still pretty murky, and most everything is experimental, as I’ve said before.
What on Earth were we to do with me? At that time, the medications I was prescribed just made everything worse. Pharmaceutical intervention would just have to wait (again, seven years, when I would eventually find a specialist).
Enter The Heart Attack Diet.
A hallmark of POTS is low-blood pressure. When your blood pressure dips, your heart pounds faster (tachycardia) to try to help bring it up. Except with POTS patients (POTSies, POTSy people, etc.), our blood pressure doesn’t necessarily respond to our hearts’ desperate attempts to perk us up, so we just walk around (Ok, sit around… No, you’re right, lie around) with really low blood pressure and really high heart rates. It feels like you’re running all. the. time.
My brilliant (*sarcasm*) doctor’s advice for me was to simply eat all of the foods that he would tell my high blood pressure-ed, angioplasty-ed grandfather NOT to eat.
Red meat? You better, girl, that’s how we’ll treat your anemia…
(Which, side note, it didn’t, at least not enough, so I still had to take a lovely injectable medication that feels like a bee stung your tush, 3 times a week for 8 weeks. And drink liquid iron supplements at the same time, which is the MOST DISGUSTING THING, DON’T EVER DO IT, unless, of course you have to. But it also didn’t really work…)
Put salt on EVERYTHING. Salt your potato chips. Those suckers are never salty enough.
Drink Gatorade, Powerade, any type of electrolyte sports drink. By the gallons. Good thing Costco’s got value packs.
My friends in high school used to tease me because I would bring huge lunches full of my cardiologist-mandated high sodium junk food and eat all day long. The joke was they never saw me without food in my hand. Pretzels, chips of various brands and flavors, Little Debbie snack cakes (cause those babies are high in sodium…and sugar…and fat… yum…), etc. I even had a doctor’s note.
Please allow Nicole to eat salty snacks and drink Gatorade during class. Also, please allow her frequent restroom breaks. She has a health condition.
(I have a copy of it somewhere. I tried to find it so I could post it, but alas, the basement has eaten it for breakfast…)
Every day after school, my mom would stop at the McDonald’s down the street so I could get a Super Size fries. I would finish them before we even pulled in the driveway (3 blocks, people!). It was the only way I could focus to do my homework. I cursed Morgan Spurlock when his documentary Super Size Me came out and they stopped making Super Size. (If you’re reading this Morgan Spurlock, I’m still kinda cranky, but whatever, I’ll get over it. Love your other work, btw)
So did it help? All this Heart Attack food?
Well it kept me going through high school. But then, as my health got progressively worse and worse, it was pretty clear that something was negatively contributing to it.
I have to be honest, because honesty is the best policy, even on the Internet (said no one, ever…haha, no but really…). I did an elimination diet to find out what was making me so sick digestively. This was before the big allergen-craze started, so I just took out everything that I was eating until I got down to the most basic food…plain white pasta. I ate plain white pasta for breakfast, lunch, and dinner because it was “bland” and so wouldn’t make sick. Except (insert face-palm here), you guessed it, wheat and gluten make me sick! All those pretzels, all those Little Debbies, all that Powerade (cause it used to have wheat in it, kiddos! Though checking now, it appears they’ve changed the ingredients in some flavors), were slowly and surely starving me to death with every bite or sip. I had lost 20lb I couldn’t stand to lose.
Clearly, wheat and gluten (barley, spelt, all those other hidden wheat by-products) had to go. Apparently so did broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower (Yeah, you don’t want to know. Also, please warn me if I’m at your backyard BBQ and you’ve hidden cauliflower in the mac and cheese or broccoli in the brownies so your children will eat more vegetables…I blame you for this, Jessica Seinfeld! Google her book Deceptively Delicious) Out went the dairy (though I still eat ice cream every great once and a while), and soy. Bye bye to seafood and shellfish. I can eat ground corn, but not corn kernels-weird. No more nuts.
I started paying more attention to how food made me feel, and realized most of what was supposed to be “helping” me was really just contributing to the problem. Sure I still need sodium, but junk food doesn’t have to be the only option. V8 juice and pickles make me feel just as good as a bag of Fritos ever did.
People always ask me, “So what do you eat?” I still eat red meat like it’s my job (cause it kinda is, if by job, you mean keeping myself well fed and happy). I eat chicken. I eat fruits and vegetables that haven’t been fraternizing with broccoli. A lot of rice, preferably brown. And potatoes. Sweet, sweet potatoes. My true friends.
You would be surprised at how many French fries are not gluten-free. I’m pretty sure the only fast food ones available are from Chick-fil-A. Even in the frozen section of the grocery store, CHECK THE INGREDIENTS.
Anyway, if I am in a POTSy funk, nothing brings me back to life better than French fries. I know they aren’t technically healthy, but for me they are magic food. So I will eat well 90% of the time, but that 10% is reserved for my white potato buddies.
The most important thing I learned from the Heart Attack Diet is the power of food. Really. If you go through your day not thinking at all about what you put in your mouth, I would not be surprised if you are tired and cranky and no fun to be around. Even if you don’t gain weight from it (I never did, because, side effect of that super fast heart rate, my body is/was always burning, well, everything. Don’t hate me, it also means I am hungry all the time and have low blood sugar-hypoglycemia- which is neither fun nor glamorous), your food choices matter. If I want to be clear headed enough to write this blog, you can bet I’m going to eat a salad, a chicken sandwich, and some grapes for lunch instead of a burger and fries. When I feed my body well to begin with, I don’t need quite as much sodium to get me though the day. While it helps my blood pressure, sure, sodium isn’t the only thing I need from food.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it just so happens to be lunchtime as I’m posting this. And after writing all about food, I am famished… Till Friday, Chronic readers!