By Mike Henle

Nutritionist and Registered Dietician Julie Usdavin

For the past year or so, I have been suffering from a debilitating illness that has essentially driven me to near despair. The ordeal has been never-ending, and it has affected me both physically and emotionally.

I couldn’t eat anything without suffering from stomach issues that played no favorites. Whether it was a basic salad, a steak or even water, I usually ended up feeling horrible after each meal, no matter what the content.

Like so many others who suffer from the problem, endless doctor’s appointments never made any difference. A few days after the appointment, I was back to wondering what was next.

As a former epileptic for more than 40 years, I was used to searching for answers, whether it was for seizures or in the latest case, stomach woes. I’m stubborn and thanks to an undying persistence, I didn’t give up and had epilepsy erased from my life through a right-side temporal lobectomy brain surgery at Scripps Green Hospital north of San Diego on Dec. 6, 1994.

I had four seizures the day before the surgery, and haven’t had another since.

I learned a lot in my lifelong battle with epilepsy. I learned that I never give up, and it didn’t matter what the challenge.

Granted, epilepsy and stomach issues are different, but the end result is all that matters at the end of the day. I was embarrassed by not being able to have a nice meal without some sort of backlash.

Thanks to a member of our family who just so happens to have a cousin who is a nutritionist, we received a call came to talk to a Southern Nevada nutritionist. We set up a Sunday afternoon appointment at our home with someone who literally changed my life.

Nutritionist Julie Usdavin, Registered Dietician, spent three hours with us. She dissected every meal and pointed out the downside of virtually everything I had been eating during a brutal period that saw me lose 25 pounds in three months.

Frankly, I was very unaware of the dangers of what we eat. Ice cream sometimes has as much as 15 grams of sugar, which appears to be one of our biggest enemies in this constant gut-wrenching effort to survive.

In fact, it seemed like almost everything was filled with sugar.

Julie explained that I had an inflamed stomach, so she changed my diet dramatically. She also told me, “This will take six months for you to heal.”

During the same conversation, Julie advised me that if I was to win the war with Acid Reflux it came with some ground rules such as the elimination of alcohol for the six-month period. Then, too, anything with excessive sugar had to be removed from the diet.

On both counts, the requirements came while we were entering the Christmas season when homemade desserts, cookies and the rest were in every household. Also during the season, alcohol was everywhere.

I was so desperate that I visited a local pot dispensary in the southwest portion of Las Vegas to see if digestion issues could be rectified through marijuana.

Ironically, the clerk said that she also suffered from digestion issues. She also recommended a particular marijuana cigarette adding that the formula worked for her.

All the $16 “joint” did for me was increase my heart rate and my blood pressure

Then, to make matters worse, while I was right in the middle of my recovery from acid reflux, I fell getting out of a Jacuzzi tub in our bathroom in October. The end result was four fractured ribs and a bad bash in the back of my head requiring four staples after a quick trip to St. Rose Dominican Hospital in the southwest Las Vegas valley.

Three of the fractured ribs were new, while the fourth was a re-break that originally took place when I rolled my quad about 20 miles from the house in 2002.

I could deal with the head wound, but the fractured ribs were the worst possible pain I had ever experienced. A special challenge was trying to get in and out of bed. The pain was excruciating and took a couple of weeks to conquer.

Meanwhile, I started to gain confidence in the victory over acid reflux and gastritis, thanks primarily to Julie and her kind and caring advice that was only a phone call away. While doctors didn’t seem to have much respect for a talented nutritionist, we learned to appreciate the profession and thanked Julie every time we had the opportunity.

In particular, I agonized about the idea of not being to have an occasional glass of wine. After all, as one of our sons once said, “If wine was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for the rest of us.”

I mean, what the hell. We’re probably going to die first, thanks to processed foods anyway, so I drank a glass of wine every once in a while.

I finally got past the sweets of the holidays and narrowed my alcohol to a minimum of a sip to an occasional glass. It wasn’t a total victory, but a true accomplishment, just the same.

As Julie had advised the first day she came into our home, acid reflux and gastritis slowly invades the interior stomach wall and once it has taken over, there is no rush to leave the body. However, I started to experience slow but steady victories while also learning that the agonizing ordeal was not cancer, or other related illnesses that affect key organs.

I lost almost 30 pounds in a matter of a few months and losing that much weight in a short period of time tends to sound an alarm.

One key victory came when I explained to Julie that anything and everything that I touched seemed to sit in my stomach for many hours. I knew that a good meal was eventually going to become a battle with acid reflux and in fact, one of the most confusing battles included becoming hungry but also being afraid to eat because of the backlash.

“You need food digestive enzymes,” Julie advised about a product that provides digestive aid and absorption available at most health food stores.

So, if it was good enough for Julie, it was certainly good enough for me, as I immediately purchased my first bottle of capsules from our local health food store.

Taken with each meal, I suddenly discovered a gradual recovery; and it almost seemed as though I could feel the bulk of the food disappearing a few minutes after downing the capsule. To accommodate the need for digestive enzymes, I learned to have them with me when we went out for dinner.

I still struggled with occasional constipation and minor stomach aches, but I could feel the positive changes in my system. In fact, I was tickled to death to see any recovery and found myself stopping what I was doing just to enjoy the new health.

The process was intense and included ridding my system of sugar, high fiber foods and replacing them with healthy fats such as coconut oil, avocados and nut butter. In addition, I was advised to eat smaller meals throughout the day.

The reason for dismissing high fiber food was because the stomach was so irritated that it couldn’t handle fiber. For the first time in my life, I found myself looking at the contents of every can or bottle.

Just reviewing the contents of cereal depressed me because the sugar was so high.

I always thought cereal was good for me, but that wasn’t the case.

Fiber, an entity that is considered important in all-around health, was removed for the time being as we attempted to replace it with protein.

Foods with more protein included fish, chicken, turkey and lean beef.

I also ditched coffee along with carbonated drinks since the carbonation also plays hell with the stomach.

I was certain this wasn’t going to be easy. At first, I agonized about the change even though I knew it was worth the end result.

I was game to get continue this journey.

In about a month, I noticed that some of my favorite beverages didn’t taste the same. One tiny sip of wine didn’t taste the same either.

However, when it came to replacing my love for ice cream, I tripped across Halo Top, a wonderful replacement for traditional ice cream, a low-calorie ice cream-maker which was nowhere to be found prior to 2012.

To borrow a line from the promotion of the product, Halo Top has given the ice-cream industry a brain freeze with high protein and no dairy products. It has literally taken over the ice cream business for many reasons including the fact that it doesn’t generate issues with my stomach.

In fact, the product soared over the rest of the market by recording 2015 and 2016 sales that soared 2,500 percent. One year later, major chains started stocking their stores with Halo Top and there is no end in sight.

In Las Vegas, Halo Top is about four bucks for a pint, but it’s worth every penny. I started to “chase” my traditional meal with a couple of scoops of Halo Top, which comes in various flavors. The end result was a soothing feeling as the Halo Top seemed to settle my stomach.

I took another commitment in that I got myself back in the gym at least three times a week. The difference in my mental and physical makeup has been remarkable and I now know the advantages of the practice.

Yet another bit of advice was to stay away from processed foods. Eat lots of vegetables, and watch the calories and the sugar, which seem to find a way to remain hidden.

Just remember that the producers of food spend hours upon hours attempting to expedite their crops and get them into the mouths of everyone with an appetite. Proof of that are the endless cereals which preach positive health, but deliver high levels of sugar.

Better yet, I have been educated enough to understand the good from the bad, as it relates to foods or liquids. In addition, a good nutritionist is worth his or her weight in gold.

When it comes to acid reflux, there is no timeframe for success.

However, baby steps are crucial and you only succeed when you take one step at a time.

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