Illustration: Clayton Junior

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Making Friends with Your Stomach

Jessica Migala asks, is your stomach trying to tell you something?

For the past few years I have dreaded dinner parties. One minute everything would be fine; ten guac-topped chips later, I'd feel six months pregnant. Or my heartburn would be so intense, I'd actually have to leave ("I'm tired, busy day tomorrow!"). My doctor told me it was just another attack of gastritis (an inflammation of the stomach lining), which I was diagnosed with eight years ago. "You might just have one of those stomachs," she said as she sent me home with a prescription for Prilosec.

My uncle died at 61 from esophageal cancer. After that, every pain, every episode of bloating had me on edge. I asked my doc whether I needed an ultrasound of my gallbladder, a breath test to check for bacteria that might mean ulcers or cancer, just one more endoscopy. When she kindly—but firmly—told me I probably didn't need them, it was time for a reality check. I'd been seeking high-tech interventions, but truthfully, I'd neglected some low-tech solutions. I knew that anything fried, cheesy, creamy or rich would set off my stomach, yet I ate that stuff anyway because I didn't want to feel deprived. If my friends were having bacon-wrapped dates and a few glasses of Pinot, why should I be punished with salad and water? Then when my digestive system paid the price, I was like a petulant child who whines, "Life's not fair!" I had a grown-up choice to make: potato skins or peace.

I decided to go back to the basics. I focused not only on what I ate (no more onions, fries, Sour Patch Kids), but also on how I ate, putting down my fork as soon as I felt full. I realized that though I'd been obsessed with my symptoms, I hadn't actually paid much attention to my body. Now I listened. And (surprise!) my stomach thanked me—by behaving itself. As in any healthy relationship, I learned the value of compromise. The things I'd given up on began to matter so much less than what I was gaining: a better quality of life. Now my stomach and I enjoy each other's company. We even look forward to dinner parties.