life after gus: a foodie adventure
So, if you’ve been following this blog at all since April, you know that my life post Gus surgery has been full of ups and downs. But never more than when it came to diet. It’s been a bit rough, honestly.
I’ve learned, the hard way, that doctors do not prepare you for what’s ahead. They tell you you can do whatever you want. Theoretically, that’s true. Suddenly, you do feel a whole lot better. Foods that I’d banned for years because I (mistakenly) thought I had an allergy were fine. For me, the surgery itself was less painful than the years of gastro roulette I endured–thinking it was just me getting older, food allergies, stomach flu/viruses, and food poisoning. In probably all those cases, I was just getting attacked by my own body. The problem is–your new body, post-op, is a fickle creature. One week, things will be fine. The next week, you’re in agony over that same something–with no real (easily identifiable) reason evident. If you ask your doctor, they’ll say it’s just a temporary adjustment. You’re fine. You’ll be able to eat whatever you want in a few weeks. Your friends, who have gone through this, won’t warn you about it either. It isn’t polite to talk about these things. If you have a breakdown, weeks in, they will finally tell you it’ll be okay. In my case, some of my friends seemed to be doing well. Others seemed to have completely given up. It’s not an easy road. I’m learning every single day.
I started blogging to cope with my life. Eventually, it became about helping other people while coping with my life. I try–so very hard–to be honest here and to keep my vulnerability wide open. While going through all of this–while I have hated admitting to feeling like utter shit–I’ve stayed honest and open. I’ve shared my rough days. I think it’s boring, but–apparently–some of you don’t. Some of you like when I write about this stuff. My goal here is to really help people get through it. When I had my surgery, I felt so incredibly alone. I got through it by Googling pretty much every awful symptom I had. The forums and blogs helped me so much–whether it was just knowing how to handle some awful new thing or learning to forgive myself for throwing myself under a bus. Or just witnessing other people venting about no one talking about this stuff.
So, I’m going to chime in here from time to time. Every so often, I’m going to share some tips for people living sans Gus. I’ll share what I do every single day to feel good (it’s actually working). I’ll share recipes that are delicious and healthy–and Gus friendly–that are great for anyone. I’m going to stop feeling guilty about writing about this stuff. This is a huge focus of my life right now–so why not write about it? I write about everything. No shame.
So, the diet thing has been my biggest challenge post-op. To give you an idea of where I’ve been…
When I was in the hospital, I was on an all gluten-free diet. Which was actually really challenging for them to do and still give me enough calories. I was on a 1000 calorie a day limit for the first week. The food was pretty terrible–super sweet and flavorless…mostly broth, crackers, yogurt, and oatmeal with tea and juice. They actually asked me if I needed more food since I had so few options. I would barely eat half of it. So, for the first week, I was pretty much getting 500 calories a day.
I didn’t mind it. I wasn’t hungry. Surgery took my appetite. When I got home, I was in a lot of pain–both physical and emotional. I was frustrated because sleeping was an ordeal. I had to deal with a new job and could barely stay awake. I stayed on my bland diet for about a month. My doctor had green lighted normal, light food by that point–no calorie restriction–but I struggled to eat 1000 calories a day. I mostly ate applesauce and pudding. If I was feeling adventurous, I’d add some oatmeal and crackers. Maybe some broth. That was it. Despite that, I gained five pounds.
I still didn’t mind it, and I did well. When I saw my surgeon for the first time post-op, he was impressed by how good I was doing. He was also surprised I wasn’t eating normally. I was being careful. I was terrified of getting sick again.
Now, keep in mind, my surgery was a traumatic event. I didn’t plan any of this. I had no idea what to expect or what I was in for. None. I barely even remembered what gall bladders did. I didn’t see any of this coming.
But it had been coming–for years. My body was in rough shape. After my surgery, I was shot full of powerful antibiotics–so I had NO gut flora whatsoever. My liver was severely congested. My spleen, pancreas, and intestines were hurting. I was a mess–so much so that months later, my hair started falling out en masse. Like a cancer patient. This was “normal”–but nothing anyone told me about.
When I started trying to be normal, the more heinous symptoms began. Some of them were worse than pre-op attacks. I learned pretty quickly that my body was an instant gauge for good and “bad” food choices. I was terrified of caffeine and alcohol–suffered greatly if I had even one sip. Fat was my mortal enemy. Fiber became my best friend.
I learned to eat strategically. At the same time, though, I was having a bear of a time digesting things. I would eat, but I wasn’t getting any nutrients–so I’d crave all kinds of things.
My big enemy this entire time has been bile. I manage bile like it’s an overbearing grandma sitting on my back. If I don’t, I’ll wake up with a mouthful burning everything. I’m finally at a point where that hasn’t happened in a while.
I go to a naturopath regularly–which helps immensely. Chinese herbs have been life-changing–even after just a week of taking them. I’m still rebuilding my digestive system. I’ll tell you more about how I do that in a future post. Today, I want to focus on the food.
Every day, I take a lot of fiber supplements–not the best thing ever–but effective in managing bile. I also take a Caltrate with Vitamin D. That’s really helpful when things go awry and can save the day. I take 2 capsules of Thorne BioGest with every single meal. It tastes like cow sweat, but it does the job and saves me from nausea, gas, and etc. It’s my friend.
Small portions are my friend. If I overeat, it’s not pretty.
Right now, I’m on a mostly gluten-free, dairy-free diet that’s high fiber and protein. I still eat cheese, but only in small quantities. I only eat highly flavorful ones that are a bit harder (think parmesan). I also am allowed cottage cheese in small amounts and non-fat yogurt. I have a lot of problems with milk right now. I seem to tolerate ice cream, but I’m trying hard to avoid it. Sorbets are just as satisfying. I think some of my dairy problems are related to disbalanced magnesium and calcium levels– but that’s another story. There also seems to be some correlation between the amount of fat in the dairy. Full fat items (except yogurt) don’t bother me much. But low-fat items make me want to die, in most cases.
Dairy is really, really rough for me. I was pretty much raised with dairy in my life every single day. I’ve never really liked milk, though, so that’s fine. It’s hard for me to say no to cheesy pizza, and I can’t have my favorite Noosa anymore. My body just doesn’t tolerate it well. I can still have yogurt, but it has to be non-fat–so I go for Greek varieties. Almond milk is my favorite sub. My favorite brand is called Califia. They even have an unsweetened iced coffee that’s delish. I don’t get my weird clogged head thing as much anymore, and now, it’s only when I’m actually sick.
Caffeine and I have called a truce. But it’s kind of a hit or miss thing. In the beginning, I could not drink it. Period. Starbucks and I still aren’t friends. If I have it, it has to be a cappuccino. Which I prefer anyway. Everything tastes too sweet to me now. My favorite coffee lately is the cold brew from Boxcar Coffee Roasters, made with cream–not milk. Full fat makes a big difference–which doesn’t make much sense, but it is what it is. I am very sensitive to acidity in coffee, which is why Starbucks and I are boxing. Lately, I’ve been trying cold brew coffee from Whole Foods with my almond milk. So much better! My favorite brand so far has been Stumptown. I don’t get those rotten headaches or acid reflux attacks anymore. I had those for years and years–so I think I’ve always been sensitive to it.
High fiber foods are my best friends. I eat the rainbow and have really opened up my horizons. I belong to an organic co-op, so I get super good, mostly local, yummies every week. I eat rice, potatoes, oatmeal, or quinoa with every single meal. I panic if I don’t get good grains in. It makes a huge difference in my quality of life. I try to avoid things that are canned or processed. I have to limit my citrus, tomatoes, and hot spice. I love pickled anything and anything with wasabi is amazing. I’m also eating a lot more Asian food–especially veggie sushi.
I have had to really bump up my protein intake. I’ve chosen to go the grassfed way. I eat mostly local meats that are handled responsibly. I buy only pastured eggs. I buy hard-boiled eggs because they’re easier to quickly add to things. I’m still trying to add fish to my diet, but I’m dealing with psychological barriers. Halibut is probably the only fish I’m comfy with. Having a deadly allergy to shellfish doesn’t make it easy. I like to eat non-meat proteins, too. Veggie burgers are a fave for lunch. I am also becoming a protein powder person–brown rice, in my case.
I’m trying hard to be gluten free and reduce added sugars. I’ve switched from “normal” bread to rice wraps, Ezekiel sprouted tortillas and gf bread, and lettuce wraps. I do love a good bread, but it’s been doable. Sugar is hard. But I love fruit. I eat a lot of pears, peaches, bananas, and berries. Blackberries are my favorite lately. If I need something sweet, I try to go for honey or agave sweetened varieties. Stevia is also an okay option, but I don’t like its aftertaste. I’m really trying to cut out soda–but soda is a twin devil of sugar AND caffeine for me. I really like La Croix’s flavored waters. Tea is amazing. My favorite is peppermint. I also have a great orange tea that doesn’t need any sweetening to be delicious. And of course–water! I can’t have things that are super cold. Warming things up a little or drinking at room temp is best for me. I still eat sweets, but I am trying to limit it to high quality chocolate (Chocolove is my current favorite brand) and super-high quality allergy-friendly brands. My favorites at the moment are the cakes & cookies from Zest as well as the amazing treats from GoodBody Baked Goods. Seriously good stuff that makes this sugar freak happy. Almond flour and coconut oil are your friends. I’ve switched to a lot of things that are sweetened with fruit or juice instead of added sugars. My favorite sauces and jams come from the Colorado Cherry Company. Their stores are still closed in Loveland and Lyons, but they are taking online orders. It’s taking a little bit longer for them to deliver, but the products are still stunning and beautiful.
Speaking of which–I recently learned that coconut oil and high quality butter don’t require bile to be digested. This fact has been LIFE CHANGING for me. Fat is really what gives me the most problems. So, simply switching that one little thing makes a big difference.
Coconut oil is delicious and works with damn near anything. It’s also anti-inflammatory and helps rid your body of the crappy candida. I’m also getting on the hemp bandwagon. I’m loving hemp oil and hemp hearts on everything.
When I first got out of the hospital, I was really afraid of eating food. As things became challenging, I mourned my old diet. But, overall, I’m much healthier and happier. The more I get a handle on this, the easier it is. I’m now kind of excited to see what all is out there. I’m lucky to live so close to a mecca for healthy foods (Boulder, in case you didn’t know), so I have access to a lot of new things. It’s fun.
In case you’re curious, here’s what a typical day’s worth of meals looks like for me now:
Breakfast (after all my supplements and fiber):
- Warm peppermint tea or almond milk coffee
- Steel-cut oatmeal with coconut oil, hemp oil, brown rice protein powder, a dollop of juice-sweetened jam (pumpkin butter, apple butter, marmalade, strawberry rhubarb, etc), and hemp hearts
- Banana or another piece of fruit…sometimes 2
- High quality soup with lots of veggies
- wrap made from high quality deli meat, hard shaved cheese (like parmesan), arugula/broccoli slaw mix, horseradish mustard, and a rice paper wrap (sometimes an Ezekiel sprouted wrap)
- 4 oz of protein (steak, chicken, etc) with various herbal yummies
- quinoa or rice
- tons of veggies, usually roasted simply in coconut oil or butter with some lemon, salt, and pepper
Snack or Dessert
- fruit or veggies
- wasabi peas
- rice cakes
- GoodBody or Zest treats
Sometimes, I’ll make myself a gin-ny drink.
Here’s a great recipe that my roomie and I collaborated on. He cooked it. I mostly came up with the idea–though he improved a bit. It was gorgeous and delicious. It was also incredibly filling and only about 500 calories. Even if you pigged out and piled on stuff, it would be a healthy meal.
No editing required, and poor lighting doesn’t stand a chance when food is this pretty.
Note: spaghetti squash has a different texture than pasta. You’ll know it’s a veggie. Love it for what it is. It’s delicious and a great canvass.
Kitchen Sink Carbonara
- Take one fairly large spaghetti squash. Cut it in half. Drizzle it with the oil of your choice and add some salt/pepper to the mix. Roast in an oven, cut side down until it’s tender. Allow to cool. Scoop contents into a big bowl. Set aside.
- Start cooking your bacon. We used 1 package of Tender Belly maple bacon. Get the best quality you can. We like to bake it until super crisp, but not burnt.
- When your spaghetti squash is done, drizzle a bunch of asparagus with your oil of choice and a nice salt/pepper. Add some lemon and roast till tender.
- Start poaching your eggs. Tip: use vinegar in your water and swirl things around. Don’t let it boil.
- Saute some garlic and shallots in your oil of choice. Add salt, pepper, and oregano. Add your spaghetti squash. Cook till well coated and a little brown. You could use the bacon fat. We didn’t.
- Assemble your yummies. Spaghetti squash, veg, parmesan cheese (just a little), bacon, and top with two poached eggs. Add salt and pepper, if you’d like.
- You could do this with any veggie. Would be delish with kale or mushrooms or pretty much anything. Add any herb you’d like with abandon.
Pat yourself on the back for being so good to yourself.