A Hospital Stay, A New Diet
Three weeks ago I woke up with a distended belly, and for three days let my body try to figure it out only to find myself in front of a doctor hunched over in pain, nearly in tears. I was told to eat fiber, and fiber only – that should clear it up. The pain lessened over a few days, but came back isolated and specific to my lower left abdomen. This was now ten days into some rather uncomfortable gut-specific pains, so went to another doctor who sent me straight to the hospital for a CT scan and orders to go to the ER if the findings came back with diverticulitis. After a CT scan, they concluded the pain was specific to diverticulitis and I had a possible abscess to boot. I was shuffled to the ER, then transferred to the hospital for a heavy dose of antibiotics and a diet of starvation. Three days and two nights later, I was discharged and went home for a ten day diet of soft foods – white bread, mac and cheese, overly boiled peas…basically, anything you can squish with your finger was okay to eat. I spent that time reading up on diverticulitis and met a nutritionist, finding that there is one big thing that had to change: my diet.
So, what is diverticulitis? It revolves around a pretty popular subject right now, which is your gut health (see here and here). Specifically, it is about the pouches that can form in the side of the colon (typically 50+ YO are at risk for this but docs are saying they are seeing more cases with the 30 and 40 YOs), and if the – ahem, “stuff” – in your colon doesn’t pass through and stays in the pouch, it becomes infected. So, these soft pouches are diverticuli, and an infection of the diverticuli becomes diverticulitis, and if you have this, you have diverticulitis disease. The main solve for this is to eat a high fiber diet after the infection has cleared, and stay on a high fiber diet for life. I will be honest, I thought for one hot minute that going high fiber would involve adding wheat bran to a muffin recipe, or eating two Fiber One bars during the day, but that is so inaccurate. Eating a high fiber diet is a huge change if you don’t already eat much fiber, which apparently I didn’t (fun fact: the majority of Americans get less than 15 grams of fiber per day, when women should get 20 grams and men 30 grams per day). There will be three main changes in my diet to correct the fiber imbalance: no red meat or pork product (for general colon health); make sure over half of what’s on my plate for each meal is fruits, vegetables and legumes (for high fiber); and eat whole grains – no more Jimmy John’s white bread. This all means I’ve basically gone vegetarian and am following Michael Pollan’s infamous advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
What’s curious is that just before all of this, I was so anxious to read Mark Bittman’s new book VB6 (Vegan Before 6pm) and Michael Pollan’s Cooked. With regard to VB6, the idea of cutting out meat and dairy to follow a vegan diet for two of three main meals of the day was appealing to my sense of eating a little lighter, better and more sustainably. With regard to Cooked, I was excited to read not only a bit of Pollan’s political angle on food consumption, but how’s it prepared by him in his kitchen. I’m reading VB6 now, and am finding it enormously helpful to understand not only how messed up the Standard American Diet is, but how to get back to making better food choices, which happen to all be high in fiber.
This past week has been interesting. I replaced white flour with wheat flour, all pasta is now whole wheat, I ate my first veggie burger (Frank grilled it with extra love, and it was delicious), made a salad as the main entree for dinner, had sweet potato fries and not french fries, found recipes that revolve around legumes, and ate every meal that was plant based. Knowing now how much veg I will eat in one day has not only changed how I think about food and what I’m going to cook for dinner, but what I’ll plant in the veg garden this summer. Recipes will change quite a bit here, of course, for the better.