What ‘Gas Pains From Hell’ Taught Me About Health and My Body

by Steven Wright

stomach-pain-of-death

It feels like 100 knives stabbing me in the stomach.

Over and over.

Hour after hour.

I call it “The Stomach Pain of Death” (and I HATE it). In case you’re wondering, in the past I typically crawled up on the couch or bed and just wished it would end. Sometimes I would cry.

Yes, I’ve even thought death might be better at times.

Sound dramatic? Well, I don’t wish this upon anyone, but if you’ve experienced it you understand.

I remember experiencing it as a kid. And then over and over throughout my adult life. It started getting really bad in 2009, and it was one of the biggest motivators for me to change my health.

But last week I had to sit in a room with over 70 people and not move… while I got stabbed for hours.

It was a new level of hell.

Why didn’t I curl up and cry, take pills, drink alcohol or seek some other distraction to run from the pain?

Because I was on Day 6 of a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat.

And I was committed to completing it. That meant not getting kicked out, which also meant following the rules: no talking, no writing, eat what they serve you, do what they tell you and when they say to.

And on this afternoon I had to sit for just over an hour, completely still and silent.

I had to feel it all.

It was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever gone through.

But it changed my life.

It Was Supposed to Be Different… I’m Healthy

I’m healthy.

I’m resilient.

I can do anything.

That’s just a small fraction of what’s typically floating through my head during a day. And these thoughts make me miserable.

“What do you mean Steve?”

I mean it turns out those thoughts set up expectations about how life is going to occur. And when it doesn’t it causes massive suffering.

That afternoon, the gift I got – stabbing pain into my gut 1,000 times – was this truth:

My health is always changing.

It’s impermanent.

And if I expect my body and brain to perform 100% each day, I’m going to continue to live in misery.

Food Affects Me

“Well, duh!” you might be thinking. I’ve spent a significant portion of my life trying to build a bulletproof body. Regaining my health was great… but I’ve always wanted more.

I wanted to see if I could be like those people who “80-20” it or eat full vegetarian and still perform.

“Why,” you ask? Well, I’ve wanted to be antifragile. I wanted to know that I could throw almost anything at my body and it could handle it.

Basically, I’ve been trying to be different than I am.

And each day that I choose this… I spend in misery.

The 10 day retreat forced me to eat extremely high carbohydrate, some processed gluten-free foods, and I was without a doubt exposed to gluten.

I ate nearly nothing in my regular diet…

And my body hated it.

My Health is Always Changing

I’ve said for years now that every bite of food is either adding to health or subtracting from it.

But now I understand that truth at a deeper level.

After the food, the lack of sleep and exercise, my health was suffering. My skin broke out, I lost a bunch of weight, got constipated, and of course had gas all day every day.

The last day, I had a complete blowout in the bathroom and thought I might actually pass out. It was intense!

Yet through all the pain… I’m grateful for it all. It really drove home the message: my health is and always will be changing.

If I get attached to it; if I expect it to be a certain way, no doubt I’m going to have a letdown and start suffering. I’ve been living like this for over 5 years.

And I’d like to stop.

Relaxing Into Health (By Stopping)

I know a few things…

I’m not going to let go of my attachment and expectations just because of one retreat. What I am going to do, though, is continue working at it.

I also know that I’m not going to stop valuing great health.

So what to make of this seemingly paradoxical issue?

The way I’m looking at it is very simple.

There is night and there is day.

There is a spring, summer, fall, and winter.

In other words, everything is always changing. If I were to latch on to summer and complain and wish it back as fall comes into my life, I’d be making myself miserable for months at a time.

If I get sick – if I get “The Stomach Pain of Death” – you won’t see me running around screaming about how grateful I am, but going forward you will see me take it with a new level of grace.

And while something like that might normally leave me in a funk for a week, I’m going to shoot for a day.

As you can see, all of this doesn’t mean I won’t be eating my custom diet, doing testing, taking supplements, exercising and sleeping. Yes, I will continue working towards more resilient levels of health.

And on the days when it’s not there, rather than spending it frustrated and annoyed I think I’m going to just try living and smiling more.

I’ve never been so aware of how much expectations and attachments to things that change create pain in my life. The best part is I’m also empowered by the fact that I have the choice to stop it.

Are there any attachments or expectations that you’d like to stop? I’d love to hear in the comments.

-Steve

P.S. – If you’re wondering… at the end of the 10 days I drove straight to the supermarket and bought a pound of the best meat I could find (it was sliced organic turkey breast), a coffee and a journal. It was the best pound of meat and coffee ever! And I had no digestion issues at all 😉

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About the author

Steven Wright Steve Wright is a health engineer and author. In 2009, he reached a breaking point when IBS took over his life and the doctors didn't know how to help. Since then, he has transformed his health and started SCDLifestyle.com to help others naturally heal stomach problems. You can check out his story here and find him on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet Works

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenny September 15, 2014 at 11:58 am

This article comes at a great time for me. I have struggled for 4+ years getting my legs to heal after an accident resulting in 6 surgeries over time. I keep building my body up and then have an unexpected setback. There has been nothing “normal” about my healing from the doctors ‘ perspective. I am a runner and triathlete and this journey has taken me into major pits mentally. I want so much to train for the sport I love and just when I think I can – whack – another setback. This article reminds me that I need to pick myself up quicker rather than get super down. I must respect what my body tells me it wants even if very difficult. The hardest part is managing my thoughts during these times. Do you have any additional thoughts or suggestions for me? It seems
Ike you get what I am going through. Thank you.

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Steve Wright September 15, 2014 at 10:40 pm

Hey Jenny! Wow how amazing and courageous are you to keep fighting through all that pain and suffering! For managing your thoughts, if I was you I’d read “A Man’s Search For Meaning” by Victor Frankl. It’s helped me so much I read it several times a year. Then go and get a Biohealth 205 test. Typically in cases like yours it’s the hormones that are holding you back from fixing the rest of the body. If you aren’t working with a functional medicine practitioner yet try that.

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Anita September 15, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Two years ago I was diagnosed with SIBO, was treated with antibiotics and followed the SCD diet religiously. Last year I started adding carbohydrates to my diet and my SIBO returned with a bang : ‘gas pains from hell every day’. After two endocopies, other gastro tests and more antibiotics, I found your website. I stopped taking my PPI and other meds for GERD. I also fine tuned the SCD by eating fruits and veggies low in fructose and not eating any type of sweetener. I feel as though a miracle as occurred – NO MORE GAS PAINS FOM HELL! I am pain free!!! Thank you and some advice to you -stop torturing your body.

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Steve Wright September 15, 2014 at 10:44 pm

I’m so glad we’ve been able to help you Anita. And thanks for sharing. I’m glad your pain free and I agree I’m going to be nicer to my body.

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Andrea September 15, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Wow, love this. I’ve had the same thing since childhood. I call it ‘gut rot’. It’s typically socially-generated but has relationships to food and digestion. Doesn’t sound like mine is as bad as yours, but I totally get it.

Yay for acceptance and change!

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Steve Wright September 15, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Thanks for sharing Andrea! Other people do have a big affect on us so I totally get it what you’re talking about.

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Alice September 15, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Steve,

Having had your experience, I empathized with your feelings of pain and powerlessness. I just turned 70, after 10 years of being diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I appears that having a digestive disorder affects my entire lifestyle as well as my gut. I had a very intense and demanding job which pretty much kept my life very regimented and kind of worked for staying on my gluten free diet. However, now that I’ve retired, my interests have greatly expanded to include not only my health and diet, but spiritual, artistic and enviromental activities as well. As you are more than aware, traveling to workshops, conferences or even the great outdoors have been complicated and many times not worth the effort without control over my diet. Sadly to say, there is nothing that can make one feel so weird as being on a special diet. So, my solution has been to lean into my weirdness and broaden my experiences by traveling with my RV and taking my food with me. I can precook casseroles and have 21 GF meals in freezer baggies, and along with my organic rice and veggies, I have nourishing, quick no-brainer meals every evening. I just returned from a three week trip to New Mexico, well fed and without any fuss or problems. I’ve been doing this for over 10 years now and my small used travel trailer has more than paid for itself with worry free traveling. Also, it can be easier when traveling with your dog or kids for that matter.

Happy trails,

Alice

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Steve Wright September 15, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Alice you are amazing! What an inspiration for me to grow into. Thank you so much for sharing. I totally agree, the more we OWN our Weridness the more amazing and fun life is. And I’ve seen the more people like, respect and want to be around me. Keep on living I love it!

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Miia September 15, 2014 at 4:09 pm

I Loved this post. Just loved it. Thanks for writing.

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Steven Wright October 4, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Your Welcome!

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Lynne L September 15, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Wow Steve! There is no way I would ever eat what someone else told me to. One mouthful of gluten & I would be on the floor in agony. I have recently gone low carb as well & I’ve been feeling great…until I went this past weekend running around, skipping meals & I think I accidentally ate some seeds. ACK! Instant diverticulitis attack. I am sitting here, abdomen & stomach looking like I’m 8 months pregnant (not possible lol), on antibiotics (which I hate) & stabbing needles indeed. My own fault.
I have accepted that I can’t eat what others eat or skip meals. Do I like it…no I hate it, however, I have accepted that I never will be able to eat what others do. On the other hand, when I see the junk that others eat, it makes me want to continue what I’m doing. I don’t expect myself to be perfect. I need more sleep, exercise, more weight loss etc. However, I’m not going to beat myself up if I mess up.
Why, why did you torture yourself like that??? Was it worth the pain? Not to me, my friend. Or maybe I’m just that much of a control freak that I wouldn’t allow others to take that much control over me to that extent, ESPECIALLY with my food! Thanks for all you guys do. It is so appreciated.
Please don’t do the retreat thing again or I will worry about you!! Me not talking…hahahahahahaha!!! Not happening LOL. Stay well!

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Steven Wright October 4, 2014 at 6:50 pm

I will totally be doing it again. Everyone has a different tolerance for gluten in my opinion. And in my case a little bit isn’t always devastating. There are other foods that might be worse for me than gluten.

I choose to submit to eating what I was given because my intuition told me that the process of the retreat would be worth any issues that came up with the food. My inner knowing was right I would totally go through it all again it was so powerful.

Hopefully in the future they will run whole retreats that are at least gluten free.

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Tori September 16, 2014 at 6:40 am

Sometimes we become so engrossed in what we want that we dont appreciate what we have now. Its nice that u speak on how you dont want to waste time on how you wish your health could handle all foods without pain. Perfect health is possible in a perfect world. You and me along with everyone else are imperfect. Period. Dont ever fault yourself for desiring great health. But give urself credit for acknowledging that it isnt logical or possible. Its a wonderful feeling to know that we have control over our thoughts and as result, over how we feel day in and day out.

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Steven Wright October 4, 2014 at 6:51 pm

Thanks Tori! I appreciate it.

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Bonnie Rush September 17, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Hi Steve. I felt sort of sad when I read your post. I’m new to being committed to being gluten free although I’ve known for 15 years that It was a problem for me. My symptoms have been gastric since I was a kid and then mental illness. Now that I have become committed (of a different sort!) to a gluten free lifestyle I only want to surround myself with people that think that is normal! For me it is life or death-death considering the dangers of a manic bi-polar episode! At my work they don’t know of my diagnosis but they often comment negatively about what I’m eating. I am never tempted to try to eat what they eat just to fit in. For me- if the rules of an endeavor require that you eat poison its not the place to go. I think there are some cool gluten free cruises etc. out there. Fragile is not a word I would attribute to you, but wise. I wish you the very best health. I am still waiting for my gut to heal and desperately trying to educate my moody (unstable?) children about the perils of gluten. To many it just sounds cliche. I just learned that it takes the medical community 17 years to catch up to applying new research. I look forward to the day the doctors ask “what are you eating?” as their first question!

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Steven Wright October 4, 2014 at 6:54 pm

haha. Me too. I’ve heard many doctors say the regular medicine system is typically always 20 years behind what we know and what we are able to achieve so 17 years might be optimistic.

I knowingly put myself in the situation and accepted the consequences ahead of time. I didn’t know it would be so painful but I knew that I was entering into a world where I wasn’t in control. And to be honest the couple days of intense pain was so worth it. I learned so much about myself and life I wouldn’t do it any different.

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Rose G September 17, 2014 at 9:55 pm

Steve thank you so much for your candor. Your blog and story actually caused me some anxiety. I call it a “gut attack”. It has me doubled over in a fetal position in such severe pain that I’m sweating profusely.then nausea hits me and I am paralyzed with the pain but yet I crawl to the bathroom because I know what next symptom is going to hit me. So after the blast I crawl back and get my two trusty little supps that stops the whole process in 15 minutes. They are gas X Strip on my tongue and 2″ Diarrhea Stop” by Renew Life. It Has Kaolin Clay and activated charcoal which binds the toxins fast. I take it with me wherever I go. But now after reading your blog I canceled my yoga retreat. I had signed up for it and was excited to go but then the stark reality hit me after reading all that you posted.I don’t think I’m quite ready for it yet because I can only eat 10 foods in safety. I’m going to plan for it next year because next week I’ve made an appointment to go to Seattle to go to the IBS center there. I am encouraged because the doctor and founder of these three centers has actually had IBS and has researched and cured himself. There are so many positive testimonials. So I once again have hope. And I will be at that yoga retreat next year!

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Paula October 1, 2014 at 8:01 am

He is not painting the Vipassana Center in it’s true light. Green Salads, steamed vegetables are available for the meals. The carbohydrates are there, but for whatever reason, he CHOSE to eat them. I attend these courses and always eat well. In other countrys other than the U.S. I can not speak for the menu – but here in the States – you can eat good vegetables and do just fine.

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Steven Wright October 4, 2014 at 7:00 pm

I’m speaking about my retreat Paula which was accurate and it did always have a fresh salad bar that I was very thankful for. It did NOT always have steamed vegetables at the main meals, maybe 50% of the time and many times if they would run out. I also attended a retreat that was not at a Vipassana owned retreat center. Next time I do one I’ll be going to one of those as my guess is they’ll have a better selection and bit more professional food setup. I still don’t think I could eat only vegetables for 10 days and be fine but that just speaks to how everyones digestion is different.

Regardless, I’m not damning Vipassana, I wish everyone would do it. I will be back. Glad you are such a supporter.

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Steven Wright October 4, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Hey Rose – just check in with the courses food prep. You might still be able to go. This post wasn’t supposed to scare anyone but be a good reality check. If you can’t find a practitioner to trust please go here these ladies are amazing! http://scdlifestyle.com/practitioners/

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Paula October 1, 2014 at 7:55 am

So, when you attend a Vipassana course, you have the choice to not eat all those carbohydrates. Why anyone would choose them who knows better is beyond comprehension. Those coming in to the center for the 10 days are usually knowledge deficient in the area of what the body requires on a daily basis. Always, always are the salads served. I eat green and mostly only green steamed veggies and raw salads each time I attend a 10 day course. And why you are not posting the “reality of the way things really are at Vipassana Centers” is not fair. You tortured your self for nothing. Paula

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Steven Wright October 4, 2014 at 7:04 pm

Thanks for the comment Paula. You didn’t attend the course I was at so you don’t know the options I had. I get that you a big supporter which is great.

I’m very grateful for my experience and wouldn’t have done it any other way. I in know way “tortured” myself. Once again your thoughts not mine. The pain was an amazing tool of teaching for me.

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Sonia November 4, 2014 at 10:56 pm

I totally get it Steven. I appreciate your openess and your honesty.
thankyou for helping me to see that i too have expectations that are holding me back. I have long realised the damaging effects that my expectations of others can have BUT i failed to see the destruction i was causing to my health. again thank you for giving me the perspective i needed at this time.

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