Talking with stoma nurses can put the fear of God in to you. The scare stories of people who have ended up in hospital after daring to eat a carrot, or, heaven forbid, a hotdog, lettuce, an apple, strawberries… anything ‘healthy’ or with colour that’s not beige basically!
Naturally, I was rather hesitant at the prospect of going back to a more varied diet. For weeks after the ileostomy I stuck to my safe foods. Anything easy to digest, bland, beige, and soft. I ate a lot of chicken. And a lot of crisps. I’m probably lucky in the sense that I’m not a particularly exciting eater anyway so I do prefer things quite bland. But a lot of my pre-op diet consisted of fruit (apples, grapes, strawberries), salad (plain – lettuce, red onion, peppers) and some veg (by ‘some’ I mean heaps of peas!) so missing out on these additives to beige food was quite sad. It’s strange, but I’m sure that during these weeks I noticed more adverts for Subway, more hotdog stands, more people eating crunchy apples, more ads for strawberry punnets in supermarkets . If looks could kill… I would have been a very dangerous woman!
I’ve noticed a distinct difference between the attitude and advice given by different specialists and nurses. After the op, my surgeon said it should be fine to resume a fairly normal diet pretty quickly, whereas the stoma nurse told me that under no circumstances should I do that. Stick to bland, no seeds/skins/‘be careful’ foods. The nurses I saw in the weeks following were equally as cautious, and suggested a tiny amount of one different thing at a time when I feel ready after 6-8 weeks post-op, if not longer. At the follow-up with my surgeon I spoke to the nurse there, who said the way I was feeling (I’d had a few problems!) was normal, especially as I have other health issues going on, and to forget about the ‘3 month’ recovery period; it’s unrealistic as many need longer than that, as she said I would. She also agreed I was right in my caution with trying new foods because it’s better to be safe than sorry, and to simply take things in my own time and not feel rushed.
That leads me here. At 9 weeks post-op I decide that enough is enough. Bite the bullet and try a little something. I’ve never been more terrified of a red pepper in all my life!
I took a small amount of a red pepper, cut in to small pieces and put it on my plate next to soft chicken and general beige blandness. I made sure to drink during the meal and plenty afterwards, to take small bites, to chew very well, and overall just to take my time. All good – no problems, output as usual, no new pains or discomfort.
The next evening I do the same again but with a bit of lettuce. The next day a bit of red onion. The day after a couple of peas, quite well cooked (resisting the temptation to dump half a saucepan full on my plate, I ended up with 10 of the little things just to be on the safe side!) I even put back the 11th pea, not wanting odd numbers. That tells you a bit about me…!
Again, nothing caused any problems or undesired effects. Then I did the unthinkable. I put a small bowl of lettuce, red onion and pepper together, all chopped in to small bits, as a mini side salad. I convinced myself that should there be any problems that at least it would be worth it because it would taste delicious! No problems… all was good! Not being able to resist some grapes, I tried some of those too; a much smaller serving, and attempting to spit out some of the skin; not something you can do delicately so I didn’t do this in public, but neither did I have the patience for grape peeling. I’ve also had skin-on chips, because when I ate out (just chips, boring ol’ me!) the person serving obviously thought my enquiry wasn’t important and told me there was no skin on the chips. Thankfully, no problems with those either other than a slight change to output.
I’ve learned a couple of things. Firstly, the one issue I did have with a certain food was early on post-op and that was with pork. Despite it being quite tender, which I thought was okay, it didn’t seem to agree! I then opted for just soft chicken or turkey thereafter. Don’t forget to be mindful of meat when looking at trying new foods. Sometimes output changes or you get cramps or pain and you can’t put your finger on what caused it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a partial blockage or due to something you’ve eaten, so these things can happen regardless. In addition, just because something caused a problem one time doesn’t mean it will the next time, and visa versa!
The key is probably just keeping your brain engaged and being mindful when eating so that you take it slow, have plenty of water and chew well enough. Also – Note to self: Don’t start trying new foods when you’ve had a few drinks or are very hungry – there’s a tendency to forget to chew a thousands times per bite as you’re too eager to wolf it down!
The next step for me will be attempting meat other than the chicken or turkey that’s soft enough to be used for baby food. Hell, maybe I’ll go for a full-on Subway (or not…just yet!), 2 slices of cucumber, or 3 peanuts. The world’s my very scary oyster! It’s daunting but it’s also important to eat well, fuel your body and look after yourself. Everyone is different, so there’s no saying what will or won’t suit you and your stoma. If you’re missing out on nutrients and energy with a limited diet out of fear or worry, then maybe it’s time to take some small (tiny) steps towards trying something else here and there. In in doubt over anything, reach out online, speak to your GP or contact your stoma nurse.
On a final note – As scary as this process has been for me, and still is as I’m still only just starting on reintroducing foods, I’m also trying to see the positive here… Despite the downsides and challenges that come with it, Frank has allowed me to eat without the same bloating and pain I’ve had for years, which is very new for me to get my head around after so long!