Sponsored by and developed in part with support from Ferring Pharmaceuticals.
Anyone who knows me (Shannon), or if you have followed this blog for a while, knows that I am a walking billboard for gut health issues. If you are around me for a few hours, or at least a few that include drinks and/or a meal, the topic comes up. I seem to talk about it more than I’d like. For this “Wellness Wednesday,” especially as we embark upon the holiday season, I would like to share some background for you newbies, but also let you in on some ways that I get through the holidays with some tips and tricks that work to settle my gut, either at home or in social situations.
A Bit of My Gut History
Since the age of 17, I have had gut issues. Since I am a diagnosed and self-proclaimed worrier, I was always told, “oh, it’s your nerves, you just need to calm down.” Well, that’s easy to say and you can blame it on that until you’re barrelled over with stomach attacks, sweating, and thinking “am I going to die?”. I have been hospitalized many times for these attacks through the years. I’ve even had an emergency cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) for what I was told were gallstones causing the problem. Soon after? Yep, you guessed it. The problems persisted.
After going to various specialists and following all kinds of diets, I was told I had ulcers and needed to avoid spicy foods and caffeine. So picture this: I am at a conference in Indianapolis, eating a healthy salad with delicious greens, and all of a sudden, BAM. I’m bent over in agonizing pain saying to myself, “oh no, another attack!”. I was rushed to the emergency room. This time, the doctor diagnosed me with diverticulitis and advised me to follow up with a gastroenterologist when I returned home.
My return home was interesting because I was still very sick. I was vomiting, couldn’t keep anything down, and I was sweating. I was hospitalized and treated for C. difficile infection, or C. diff. C. diff is caused by bacteria that take hold deep inside the gut microbiome—a collection of microscopic life forms, both good and bad, that are in the stomach and intestines and are crucial to maintaining health.
After a few days, my symptoms had cleared. People experiencing C. diff lose their appetite, or fear that food will trigger their symptoms. I can tell you that these feelings still happen, even today. Years later, after my diagnosis in the hospital for C. diff, I continue to fear many foods. I had to work with a nutritionist, and still do, to rebuild strength and better gut health.
Interesting (and random) catalysts for my gut attacks:
- A month later, I had an attack while having a protein shake with peanut butter.
- I had an attack a few months later while eating an apple.
- I most definitely have attacks when I have too many margaritas.
- Don’t get me started if I have cucumber with the peeling on it! Yowza!
Although being careful with what I eat and drink makes life challenging, so does my tree nut allergy, so I just work it the same way.
And no matter what, social situations and the holidays can be a struggle.
How Do I Handle Dining/Social Situations/Holidays?
First, C. diff sufferers, as well as anyone who is struggling with any gut issues, have to drastically change their diet to help manage their symptoms, making the upcoming holiday season-a time filled with many food-focused gatherings-a stressful and difficult situation. I will share some of my ways to get through the season and other social gatherings but it’s always a good idea to ask your doctor about what foods you can eat and when it’s ok to go out or gather during and after C. diff infection.
Safe Foods When You Are Out
Look, when you are in a social situation, you should definitely not eat the way you would at home, let’s just get that straight. Social situations and holidays are not safe zones. Let me repeat, they ARE NOT SAFE ZONES. For some reason, when we are around people, chatting it up, we just grab more, eat, and drink more, so you need to be mindful about what you grab. There is a reason that most of my emergency room visits for stomach attacks have been out-of-town ER visits.
Stick to crackers. Crackers and bread may seem boring, but it is something you can have in your hand to nibble on, and it is usually very gentle on your stomach. You will want to grab veggies from the veggie tray and dip it into whatever dip they have, but trust me, raw veggies, alcohol, and whatever else is mixing in your gut just isn’t going to be a great situation.
I don’t say no to alcohol, but I do limit it. I do lighter drinks, like prosecco, and even red wine, but limit the amount. I also have some of my faves, but I just have smaller amounts.
Dining At Home
Dining at home is so fun! We tend to get experimental, especially now that we have our own garden. Since I have control over my growing practice, everything is organic, which is much safer for my gut health. I also can peel all of the outsides off my vegetables, which helps my digestion process. Some of the fun things we make:
- Grilled eggplant steaks
- Eggplant Parm- controlling the number of tomatoes- using grape tomatoes instead of sauce
- Grilled plantains
You can get creative, and control the seasonings, the flavoring, leaving off the salt, adding herbs…whatever you want! Do you know why? Because you are at home, and no one is stopping you! Plus, once you master a recipe, you can then test it out at the next social gathering you have!
While I do red sauce (because I love Italian), I limit it. I also don’t eat anything past 7 pm. I learned from my gastroenterologist that I shouldn’t lie down after eating and to wait at least 3 hours to lie down after eating. I don’t want the acid to start heading back up the tract, causing burn, or any issues.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t eat seeds or peanuts. Even though I have a tree nut allergy, I can eat peanuts, but for some reason, peanuts and seeds also hurt and give me attacks. So, if something is made with a lot of seeds, I just steer clear.
Caffeine is known to be a gut trigger issue, so if you want it in your life, just have it in the morning, Don’t bring it into your evening routine to cause a gut ruckus. I drink a ton of water; about 120 oz./day! I know this helps flush my system really well.
Helpful Tips and Tricks
Tip 1– If you know you are going to a social gathering, bring something to share that you know you can eat. It is always safe to have something that you know you can rely on. You don’t have to make anyone feel awkward by giving them the whole spiel about what is going on with your gut issues. You can just say, “oh, that looks great. I will make my way over there in a few.” Just eat off of your food all night and mingle.
A Yummy Recipe- Hummoli Dip
- 1 cup of cooked organic chickpeas
- 1 organic lemon, juiced
- A small handful of organic cilantro (I use mine from my garden, but just be sure you are using organic)
- 2 tbsp of organic extra virgin olive oil
- ½ of an organic avocado
- Mix all ingredients in a food processor or blender. If you like yours chunky, you can do it by hand. I serve mine with pita triangles and serve on a platter with the dip in the middle with the triangles surrounding the hummoli dip. It is so yummy!
I take this to every single party that I am invited to. First, I love it. Second, everyone else loves it, then they want the recipe, then you become the talk of the party. What is not to love! My nutritionist told me about it, and it is always really great on my gut. Who doesn’t love hummus + guacamole?!
Tip 2– If you can eat smaller meals, do that. Those larger feasts, especially during the holidays, can take a toll on your gut. If your family does this, then just eat a little while you’re prepping, then eat a little while you’re sitting together, then eat a little later. It is much better for your tummy.
Tip 3 – Staying active and adopting healthy behaviors like going on daily walks and eating healthy foods may help with gut issues. I’m not saying losing weight takes away gut issues, but over the past year and a half, with the help of walking a ton and watching what I eat, I have lost about 75 pounds. My weight loss, and of course, stalking my entire gut health issues of what I eat and drink, has helped my gut issues. I can tell a difference in the way that my gut responds to the foods and the digestion process.
At the end of the day, no one is going to advocate for you the way you will. It took me years to finally get some help, and many states, emergency rooms, hospitalizations, diagnoses, medications, tests, but I had to advocate for myself. I had to speak up and tell providers that even though their typical symptoms for the textbook diagnosis were what they were accustomed to, it didn’t mean that is what I was having, and it didn’t mean that I had what they thought.
I recommend record-keeping, journaling your symptoms, keeping a food diary, documenting how those gut triggers relate to the foods and activities you are experiencing so that you can get help, and hopefully have a lifestyle that is manageable through gut health issues, through the holiday season, but also, all year long! Of course, if you think you are experiencing C. diff, any pain, or gut health issues at all, see a doctor immediately.
Lastly, and because we talk about mental health a lot on this blog, the effects of recurrent C. diff and any food issue, sometimes go beyond physical pain. It can trigger depression and other mental health concerns, too. If you are feeling this way, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional for guidance and support. If you would like any help in this arena, please feel free to message us. Ferring Microbiome offers many resources as well.
*Medical Disclaimer- Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Website. Please also review terms & conditions.