As both an experienced GPer and a Certified Health Counselor, I know that dietary modifications are vital to a good gastroparesis management plan. But I also know that there are many misconceptions when it comes to the “rules” of eating for GP.
For example, here’s an anonymous message that I received yesterday:
Butternut squash, parsnips and turnup [sic] are all hard to digest and should not be eaten. One ounce of meat is all you can eat in a meal, sweets of all kinds are not allowed as well as candy.
Though no other information was provided, I imagine the comments are in reference to my Winter Vegetable Soup recipe, the ginger treats I recently told you about, and possibly my Eating for Gastroparesis eBook, which features recipes like Butternut Squash Risotto and Oven Fried Chicken.
Here’s the thing: these aren’t unusual statements, but they’re not universal truths either. Certainly they may be true for the person who wrote this message, but not for all GPers. That’s because gastroparesis isn’t one condition with one presentation. While the diagnosis is the same, gastric emptying times can range from nearly normal to extremely delayed. Likewise, the type and severity of symptoms, as well as the underlying cause, varies drastically from person to person. While I’m all for general guidelines like the ones I describe in the eBook, to me it just doesn’t make sense to tout such specific rules for such an individualized condition.
In addition, arbitrarily limiting or eliminating foods that don’t provoke symptoms can lead to an overly restrictive diet, which isn’t good for your body or mind. In my health counseling programs, I’ve encountered many GPers who strictly follow all of the “rules” they’ve heard (mostly from well-meaning but unqualified sources), leaving them with only a handful of foods to choose from. Not surprisingly, they’re usually malnourished — regardless of weight — which only enhances their physical and mental struggles.
When I ask them why they chose to remove a particular food, the answer is more often because they thought they should than because it exacerbated symptoms. In fact, the participants in my programs almost always reintroduce a number of foods that they’d previously eliminated…and feel no worse because of it. (They also typically discover some foods or eating patterns that they thought were “safe” but were actually provoking symptoms.)
The bottom line is this: if butternut squash, parsnips, turnips or any other food exacerbates your symptoms, don’t eat it. If you find that you feel better when you eliminate sugar,* then by all means avoid it. If you feel fine after eating one ounce of meat, but sick after eating two ounces…you guessed it, only eat one ounce. Otherwise, continue to enjoy GP-friendly versions of these foods in the amount and combination that minimizes your symptoms while maximizing your nutrition and enjoyment.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind as you build your optimal GP-friendly diet:
- Following a low-fat, low-fiber diet is a way to manage and alleviate the symptoms of gastroparesis; it’s not a treatment for the condition itself.
- Unlike gluten in cases of Celiac disease, fat and fiber do not damage the GI tract of people with gastroparesis. They simply increase gastric emptying time of a particular food or meal.
- Eating a food or a meal that is not “gastroparesis-friendly” may exacerbate symptoms in the short term because the food will digest more slowly, but it will not make the condition worse overall.**
- For most people, there is a point at which further restricting your diet will not further alleviate your symptoms.
- Adhering to a GP-friendly diet will not cure gastroparesis. Your stomach may certainly begin to function properly again over time, but probably not because you removed fat and/or fiber from your diet.
All of that said, with proper attention to personal tolerances and careful consideration of overall nutrition, dietary modifications can be a very effective tool for managing symptoms while still living well with gastroparesis.
*If you notice a vast difference in bloating and bowel habits after eliminating sugar, consider an evaluation for small bowel bacterial overgrowth.
**The exception being in cases of bezoar formation. A bezoar is a hardened mass of undigested food that can block the outlet of the stomach causing a severe flare up in nausea and vomiting. It’s estimated that only about 20% of GPers get bezoars, though once you have had one you are at greater risk of having another. To be on the safe side, people with gastroparesis should avoid the foods most associated with bezoar formation, including apple peels, berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, coconuts, corn, green beans, figs,oranges, persimmons, potato peels, sauerkraut, and tomato skins. Also use caution with nuts, seeds and beans/legumes. Fiber supplements such as Metamucil, Peridem, Benefiber,Fibercon and Citrucel should also be avoided.
UPDATE! An FAQ Friday video about the Purpose and Limitations of a GP-friendly has been posted on my YouTube channel.