Your Stomach Bug Probably Wasn’t Caused by the Last Thing You Ate

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Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/Getty Images

Which food can you no longer enjoy because you once threw it up? For me, it’s the pad Thai from Noodles & Company. Sorry, I know, that’s not where you get good pad Thai, but in the small central Illinois town where I attended college, Noodles & Company was a culinary highlight. Over the ten years since that memorably gory illness, I have told anyone who so much as mentions Noodles never to order the pad Thai, certain that to do so would be to incur the same fate. But now, a story in the New York Times tells me it probably wasn’t even the pad Thai that made me sick after all. According to gastroenterologist and Duke professor Dr. Deborah Fisher, “People tend to blame the last thing they ate, but it’s probably the thing before the last thing they ate.” (But what did I eat before I ate pad Thai sometime in the fall of 2006? Scientists may never know.)

Digestion patterns and timelines vary person to person, so if you want to know what you ate that made you sick, you have to get familiar with your intestines. Gastroenterologists like Fisher recommend an extremely gross experiment in which you eat corn and “[watch] for when the indigestible kernels appear in your stool.” If you see the corn kernels 36 hours later, for example, you’ll know what to blame the next time you suffer through what the CDC euphemistically calls an “acute gastrointestinal event”: whatever you ate 36 hours before. Something to try over the long weekend, perhaps.

It’s also important to remember that it isn’t always food that’s directly responsible for these, uh, “events.” Medications used to treat mental illness, allergies, and even acid reflux could be to blame, as could intense stress. Dr. Scott Gabbard, a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told the Times: “We’re starting to see more cyclic vomiting syndrome called cannabis hyperemesis because THC content of marijuana now is so high.” Cannabis hyperemesis! Put that way, seemingly endless barfing doesn’t sound quite so bad. “Cyclic vomiting syndrome” is another story.

Your Stomach Bug Wasn’t Caused by the Last Thing You Ate