Say What?!

So in the comment section of my last post, Katie asked about the references I’ve made to restricting my sugar and caffeine intake. I’ve explained it in the comments section on other peoples’ blogs before, but never really explained it here. So, before you think I’m dying of heart disease or something awful, let me tell you a little story…

As most of you know, my teen years were spent in China. Around 16 I realized that I was having some pretty serious chest pain at night time. I could remember having had it on the random occasion before, but not like I was having it at this point. We are talking pain-so-bad-I-would-writhe-in-bed.

Me and Abby at the Great Wall in Beijing

Now, here’s the deal. I didn’t tell anyone for two reasons. 1. I’m not much of a complainer. And 2. (this is so embarrassing) I had heard of this phrase “growing pains” and I thought that’s what I was experiencing (remember: didn’t live in the States to compare this with my buddies or anything). And since my “growing pains” were in my chest I thought…*blush*…I thought it was a certain part of my anatomy *cough* growing. So awkward…

Touching a wishing well in Wuhan

So then I graduated high school and moved to the States where I was introduced to Dr Pepper and Granitas (basically sugar and coffee). The chest pain was no longer just at night time and it got worse. I still didn’t know what it was and mostly just brushed it off.

Some of my closest girlfriends freshman year of college – we had a panty party swap for Christmas! I’m in the center with the braids and green tank top.

Freshman year of college began and I got sick with something or other so I went to the doctor. For the first time in years. He prescribed me with meds for whatever was wrong with me at the time and then did the typical-doctor-with-the-stethoscope-listening-to-your-heart thing. However, as he listened to my heart he kept mumbling. The only thing I could make out was, “Well that’s odd.”

“Eh? Say what?”

“Rach, I think you may have mitral valve prolapse.”

“Huh? My-val-lapse-what?”

“It’s a heart condition in which your…” He went on to explain it. You can read about it here if you’re interested. Summed up: basically one of the valves in my heart doesn’t work properly. It’s not life threatening and lots of people have it and never even know it. There are more serious cases, however… like me.

So then the doc asks, “Have you noticed any chest pain? Dizziness? Heart palpitations?”

“Um… yes.”

He asked me the extent of my symptoms and after telling him he informed me of this, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you really need to eliminate caffeine and reduce sugar from your diet.”

“Say wha??” I’m a college student. A freshman at that. I stay up till 4am laughing with my newly found girlfriends while pumping myself full of caffeine and sugar. It keeps me awake. Surely he is mistaken. Is it even possible to go through college with caffeine and sugar??

Two of my three roomies from freshman year

So I left the doctor’s office and went back to my dorm. I picked up the phone and called my parents (who were in China).

“I went to the doctor today and he said I have my-pro-val-lapse or something…”

“You mean, ‘mitral valve prolapse’?” my mom asked,Β pronouncingΒ the name correctly

“Huh?? How did you know that? I’ve never even heard of it before today!”

“Oh, well, it runs in our family…”

“Say what?!” Oh the things I had yet to learn…

So turns out my grandfather and my auntie both have MVP as well and also have to live by diet restrictions. Sheesh, the things people don’t tell you. Really it was mostly because it’s not that serious of a condition if the diet is followed. I learned this the hard way. Despite the doctor’s orders, I did my own thing. I would be really good for two weeks but then have a test that I just HAD to stay up to study for. So I’d pump in the caffeine and pay heavily for it later.

This shot was taken sometime between 2-4am. One of many late and very very silly nights with my suitemates. This is what study breaks tended to look like for us, haha!

Then it was summer time. I was working at Camp Wyldewood and they ask each counselor to fast from something for the summer. I chose caffeine and sugar. I didn’t touch the stuff for three months and when August rolled around, I tried my first sip of Dr Pepper. It was awful. I drank it anyway, haha! And I definitely had chest pain that night. I did go back and forth a bit that following semester, but not near as much. The next summer when I worked at Wyldewood again I decided to give up sugar and caffeine again and this time it stuck.

Digging in to the no-sugar-added ice cream with some of my fellow counselors (I’m the one on the bottom right if you can’t tell)

So since the summer of 2006 I’ve taken such good care of my heart. And my heart has thanked me for it. πŸ™‚

As for a word about artificial sweeteners. I know many are very against them, but for me they are the only way I get to enjoy sweets. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not pumping my body full of fake sugars all the time. I believe in moderation. But if I’m craving something sweet, I’m going to let myself have it… just the Splenda-version of it. πŸ™‚

So I hope that clears up some of the questions about my elusive heart condition. Know that I’m fine and very healthy simply because I do take such good care of my heart. πŸ™‚

EDIT: Holly asked what specific sugars I can/can’t have. It’s a great question so I decided to add my answer here:Β The sugars in fruit are a-okay. However, granulated sugar and honey are out. There is added sugar in pretty much every processed food from condiments to bread to soy milk. So it’s really just a matter of reducing my intake. Okies, now I’m ending this for real! πŸ™‚


67 responses to “Say What?!

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, girl! I am SO glad you are able to keep this under control through your diet. And you know, I’ve actually heard not having caffeine is better off (I know I personally kicked it for a month and felt so much more energized?). And you go on with your Splenda…..I would TOTALLY be the same exact way! So random question, but is it just sugars like sugar in candy, ice cream, etc. that you don’t have? Or even sugars in fruit/peanut butter (like Jif)?

    P.S. Thanks for your comment on my blog! I completely agree…I’m so thankful we have the right to choose to be a SAHM, too! It’s been my dream since I can remember. πŸ™‚

    • Great question! The sugars in fruit are a-okay. However, granulated sugar, honey and molasses are out. There is added sugar in pretty much every processed food from condiments to bread to soy milk. So it’s really just a matter of reducing my intake.

  2. Loved hearing your post. No one knows your body like you do, I’m having problems with my tummy and as of now I can’t figure out what it is. It’s not dairy, not sorbitol, not sugars, so I mean it’s all a game of whether it’ll be a good day or a bad one 😦

  3. I love hearing more about your life, and I’m very glad to hear that you are not in any heart danger as long as you stick to the diet.

    I totally picked you out of every picture even before I read the caption! Haha. πŸ™‚ I think it’s really neat that you lived in China. Do you speak a dialect of Chinese?

    • When I first moved back to the States I had about a 3rd grader’s level of speech in Mandarin Chinese. In some topics I could speak very fluently, but in others (business, sports, stuff I never talked about), I would stumble through it quite a bit more. I haven’t kept up my Chinese very well at all so I’m not sure how bad it is since I haven’t used it that much over the past several years. Oh! And I also spoke Wuhanhua (the local language of my city) while I was there. πŸ™‚

  4. Wow that would be so scary not knowing what was going on. And kudos to you for living a lifestyle that will keep that ticker happy..haha

  5. Wow, I don’t think I could live without caffeine!! lol

  6. Wow, I don’t think I could live without caffeine!! lol

  7. Rach thanks for sharing, that is quiet a story. I’m sure the growth spurt thing is embarrassing but I think that’s really cute and hilarious. (laughing with NOT at you promise!)

    I emailed you about my heart issues but I responded via email to your blog comment so you may not have gotten it, let me know.

  8. My daughter has MVP. She has learned to live her life around it!

  9. Thanks for this story! I’d love to make some low-sugar desserts/recipes if you have them or wanna share them. PS: I love your camp pictures. I absolutely love being a counselor, and seeing others’ camp pics always make me happy.

  10. Wow, chickie! That’s pretty intense for a young person to handle. You’ve done so well in dealing with it and as always, you are an inspiration in your attitude and dedication to your best life. πŸ™‚

  11. When you first think about giving up sugar you go, no way I can’t but when you hear stories like this you realise that for your health you have to do what your body needs.
    Well done for making that change and being so positive with it. I bet it makes you realise just how much bad stuff is in what we eat and drink – I shudder to think! πŸ™‚

  12. Love this post! Great information for people to go to the Dr. when your body does something different than your normal.

    We should always listen to our body. I went to the Dr. with a problem and kept getting sent away with “nothing is wrong.” I believed the Dr. and figured I would get better. When things continued to get worse, I returned to the Dr. several times demanding a solution. I was diagnosed with a tubble pregnancy that had gone undetected for several months and I almost died. I was immediatly rushed into emergency surgery and lived to tell the tale. I am glad I listed to my body!

    I am so happy you found what works for you and how to happily live.

  13. gosh, you go girl! I have some minor issues with caffeine too (IBS… gross), which I have purposefully left out of my blog for fear of scaring everyone away from the yucky nature of it. πŸ˜‰

    keep on, keepin’ on… you’re doing great!

  14. Thank you for sharing this! I was always wondering about your heart as well but never felt comfortable asking. So glad that you can control it with your diet! It was great to learn a little more about you. xoxo!

  15. I have never heard of pri-valve, or whatever its called, heart condition before.
    Very intesting! Its great that you can control it and take care of yourself without any serous treatments or anything. πŸ™‚

  16. wow! i never would’ve guessed! you’re doing a great job dealing with this, girl! your heart is beautiful πŸ™‚ literally and figuratively!


  17. Thanks for sharing your story!

  18. Good thing youre taking the right steps to help alleviate the stress on your heart!

  19. WOW your story is AMAZING girl!! I think it’s great that you are looking after your heart the way you are πŸ™‚

    I totally hear you on the sugar substitutes too! Once I mentioned on my blog that I usually use Splenda in my baked goods instead of sugar, because my momma is diabetic and that way she can enjoy what I make too, and someone accused me of cutting it out because I wanted to cut calories!!

    Anyway, you are SO inspirational in the way you are handling it! Not complaining, just rolling with it and enjoying life! KEEP UP the amazingness you gorgeous girl!! πŸ˜€

  20. We just learned about this condition in anatomy. Not saying that it’s cool you have it or anything of that matter, but it’s cool to actually know what you’re talking about along with learning more about it through your experiences. Good to hear you’re doing so much to take care of your heart. πŸ™‚

  21. I have MVP too! I found out about it my freshman year in college when I got sick. Thank you for sharing your story. I hate to hear things like this about people, but if feels good not to be alone with these things.

    By the way, you won my Bob’s Red Mill Giveaway…email me your address and phone number for them!
    sarena at creativecannonball dot com

  22. Thanks for sharing your story! Good job with giving up all the sugar and caffeine, I know it must be especially hard when sugar is added to so many things. Glad to here that your heart condition is now under control, and that you have such a great attitude about it. πŸ™‚

  23. I’ve thought about trying to go sugar free… or at least cut down on processed sugar. Sometimes I don’t even realize how much added sugar I take in!

  24. That must be so hard… I’ve got coeliac disease so I know how many products an ingredient can sneak into when you’re just not expecting it!
    I’m really nosy so I want to ask lots of questions about decaffeinated coffee and tea and sweeteners like date syrup etc but don’t worry, I’ll restrain my curiosity!
    Thank you for your comment on my blog and I’m glad it led me to yours πŸ™‚

  25. this is very interesting! I’m working on my master’s in nutrition and actually haven’t heard about MVP so bad that it needed dietary restrictions. There is much to learn, clearly! I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself and your heart πŸ™‚

  26. Wow! Thanks for sharing your story and also I love looking through old photographs. You seem to have looked lovely your entire life! Good to hear you’re healthy and fit to go πŸ™‚ x

  27. Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

    I actually have serious tummy issues sometimes (bad cramping) that I cant for the life of me figure out why. Ive tried everything. I thought mabye it was lactose intolerance, but I can eat ice cream sometimes and be totally fine and other times be doubled over in pain. So crazy!

  28. Wow – I had no idea! Thanks for sharing. While I prefer the real sugars over artificial – I think in cases like this and for diabetics that it shouldn’t be made out to be the devil. In the end, sugar is sugar…and I like it πŸ™‚

  29. Thanks for sharing your story! Serious props for giving up sugar and caffeine. Now I feel like I know you so much more. And btw, so cool that you lived in China!!

  30. I was curious about this after reading your blog this week. Glad you’re not seriously ill because that would be no fun. I can’t imagine being told freshman year of college to give up caffeine and sugar – those were main food groups! Thanks for sharing the story!

  31. wow that’s crazy! I’m so glad you are taking good care of your heart and body now!

  32. i’ve never heard of that heart condition.. oh well, seems like all is well with you now! be healthy =D

  33. Thanks for sharing this! My parents would totally not mention something like that running in our family, either. I’m glad that you know what it is and can take the steps to manage it πŸ™‚

  34. I’m so glad you got that all figured out! It’s a wonderful thing to finally find out what wrong with you after a long time of being uncomfortable! πŸ™‚

  35. Wow, I’ve never heard of MVP mitral valve prolapse … I’m sorry thats something that you have to deal with but its important to think to ourselves our conditions can always be worse and God only gives us tough things so that we can lean on him as a crutch and become closer with him. I hope Christopher takes good care of you. Does he do things to accommodate what he makes for you for your condition? Also, Sophia’s man and mine are polar opposites besides the fact that they love b-ball. Paul is very goal oriented and does everything by the book. Pete kind of marches to his own drum and does things at his own pace. They both do love bball a lot though but in reality I don’t think they are very similiar at all. My sister and I are very different to, she’s the strong one, able to hold it all together during times of hardship. I’m emotional CONSTANTLY LOL….It’s so cute that your sisters all have different tastes in guys! like you said, I’m sure there is more depth to all the guys you each have dated than just this those qualities but I’ve been called a “Jersey Chaser” by pete since we started dating. I have a thing for athletes. That nice bod is what does the trick LOL Hope your days are going awesome Rach.

  36. ohhhhh thanks for sharing! I’ve been meaning to ask you about the condition Rach! praise God that you’re doing great–and who knows what He has prevented through this? Perhaps complete carelessness with food and your body? Not to minimize your condition at all, but your good attitude and gratitude is awesome!

  37. Thanks for sharing this Rach! And I’m so happy you’ve taken such good care of yourself all these years, too! It must’ve been hard at first, but I take it you got used to it?

    PS- All these pictures made me smile! πŸ˜€

  38. I did a report on mitral valve prolapse in my freshman year of high school, but I never knew of anyone who had it. I’m glad you figured out what was wrong and were able to figure out what is best for YOU to combat it.

  39. Thanks for sharing your story! I know it must be hard to cut down on that stuff… I had an ulcer and have to stay away from too much of a good thing myself or I get pretty bad stomach pains.

  40. So interesting! I know that caffeine affects the heart but I didn’t know that sugar does as well. Thanks for sharing your story!

  41. My cousin has MVP as well. Thanks for sharing.
    Your doing a great job taking care of yourself!

  42. I don’t have a heart problem but definitely have problems with caffeine and some sugars… it’s frustrating when you just want to dig in to something delicious at a cafe or whatever, but I’m sure you know by now you just get used to it! Good on you for taking good care of that ticker!

  43. Wow, I had no idea such a condition existed–I’m so glad that you can help it through your diet! πŸ™‚

  44. Thats such an understated issue that so many people suffer from-so glad you brought up the awareness and i’m glad that you have figured out what works best for you in order to keep yourself comfortable and healthy!

  45. Thank you for sharing! I’ve actually come in contact with a few people who have similar responses to sugar and have to significantly restrict their intake. I always try to tell them the more compliant they are with nutrition the better they will feel.

  46. It’s a shame it was forced upon you by genetics, but in the end you’re probably better off with a strong reason to eliminate caffeine and sugar! I think most people would be better off without it but don’t really have the motivation.
    Also, I don’t know if you’ve tried it, but I am a huge fan of stevia as a sweetener – no sugar, all-natural, and tastes better than Splenda in my opinion!

  47. Thanks for sharing your story! Everyone has different dietary issues, and I’m glad you found what is best for you πŸ˜‰
    Glad to hear it isn’t life threatening though!

    As for artificial sweeteners, like you said all in moderation!

  48. Oh gosh, you poor thing! Even if you though the pain was a normal part of growing up, it must have been horrible and scary to go through. Thank heavens you now know how to control it! I get jittery on caffeine but have never had to be as strict about it as you do… wow. You’re a trooper!

  49. That would be a shock for any freshman! You are one strong, self-controlled women to reduce so many types of sugar. Such a great role model for others, too!

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  51. When you said that yesterday I didnt want to pry but I’m glad someone else did so I could hear your story… So happy you found out about it before something serious happened and that you keep up a healthy diet so your heart stays strong ❀

  52. Kath (My Funny Little Life)

    Thank you for sharing! I also have mitral valve prolapse, but the harmless kind many people have and don’t notice. Still, I’ve also quit coffee and sugar mostly becuse they gave me health problems, mostly joint pain and inflammation. The same goes for all white flour and dairy. It’s feasable to live a good life without these things, though.

  53. I have MVP too! I was diagnosed in my senior year of college. Mine is very very mild so it only aggravates me when I’m under a lot of stress, don’t get enough sleep, or have too much coffee. Those three things are what led to my diagnosis. (Oh, and high salt content in foods… the blood pressure…aggravates the heart) Since about the second or third grade, I’ve had chest pains off and on (sometimes worse than others). A nurse neighbor checked me out and told me to cut out any extra salt, and that worked perfect for YEARS…until senior year of college when I was under stress to make sure I got everything done for graduation, wasn’t sleeping as much as I should, and was drinking about 6-7 cups of black coffee a day.

    Now, I don’t stress about school, I get a good night’s sleep, and I have one cup of coffee a day (and I usually add milk to it πŸ™‚ ) and I’m good! (Unless I eat something super salty…then the night chest pains come in! )

    I don’t know what I would have done if my Dr. told me to cut out sugars because I can’t stand artificial sweeteners! For some reason, they make my stomach upset and make me INCREDIBLY thirsty haha!

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  55. Oh my gosh, Rach. I would DIE if I couldn’t have sugar! I also have a restrictive diet because of familial conditions (I also had a non-informing mom) that I started in college though it’s really been the last 3 years that I’ve gotten more strict with it. That being said, my diet consists of like 80% carbs – at least! I would literally starve to death! LOL Oh, and have you tried Agave Nectar? Since it’s from a plant and fruit sugars are ok, I’d think it would also be ok. It’s a sweetener as well and looks kinda like honey, but not as thick. It’s by far my favorite one!

  56. Wow, that is absolutely insane, I’ve never heard of that before! At least you can have the artificial stuff right? πŸ™‚

  57. Thank you for sharing this!! It’s so wonderful that you are are positive and upbeat about the whole situation πŸ™‚ I would throw a fit if I couldn’t have caffeine or sugar- though I know I’d eventually get used to it. I’m an addict…

  58. Thanks for sharing! I think we all need to reduce our caffeine and sugar intake, myself included. I attended kindergarten in Germany – it’s cool you grew up in China. Can’t believe Mom didn’t tell you about your condition.

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