Having spent much of 2015 in pain from gallstones, which were hereditary in my case I’m told, it is with huge relief and many thanks to our NHS that I can commence 2016 pain-free and healthy. I do always have huge expectations of my body, sometimes unrealistic ones if I’m honest, but I have even surprised myself with the speed at which my body has recovered from that op. I do firmly believe that my resolve throughout last year to be physically fit and to eat very carefully has contributed to my swift recovery. After all I’m no longer a spring chicken, according to my brutally forthright GP.
Last July whilst feeling decidedly second hand, this jaded old midlifer bought herself a used cross trainer and a brand new yoga mat. After which there was no looking back. I developed a daily routine for myself, based on the type of exercise I’ve done for most of my life, and found that combining this with the cross trainer quickly built up my stamina as well as my muscle strength. Being physically fit did not stop the pain of course. It did, however, provide me with the mental strength to learn to manage the pain sensibly, so that instead of calling an ambulance every time I was crippled with a painful attack, I took the correct pain killers at the right time at home and rode it out.
The other key factor in managing this illness that had suddenly descended on me seemingly out of nowhere, was to monitor very carefully everything I consumed. A little bit of research online quickly revealed that I needed to avoid a great long list of foodstuffs. Initially I have to say that this was daunting, as I already have to avoid lots of foods as I have a permanent gluten intolerance. Now I had to also avoid food with fat in it; red meat was a problem and specifically dairy products, as it seemed that anything with butter or milk in it was a trigger for the pain.
So I decided once again, as with my coeliac disease years before, to go back to basics and eliminate all possible sources of trigger ingredients. The outcome of this was that I ate all the fresh fruit and vegetables and salad and raw things I really enjoy anyway, and ate more fish rather than meat. I substituted dairy with plant based products. My diet was easy to organise and maintain whilst at home, however, eating out did present some challenges. The biggest issue is never being sure of what ingredients have been used to prepare food, and it never ceases to amaze me that many chefs, cooks and restaurant staff don’t give two hoots if the food they serve up with pride might prompt a drastic 999 call and the swift arrival of a flashing blue light.
Over Christmas, two weeks after my short stay in hospital, I tentatively tested out my revised digestive system and initially the results were not great. The merest hint of butter prompted horrible nausea. So did milk and cream. By New Year though I was tucking into a warm gluten free chocolate brownie with creamy brandy sauce round it. It was yummy. I really enjoyed it. My stomach tolerated it pretty well initially, however the next day my tummy was bloated and didn’t feel quite right. I consider that this was a friendly elbow in the ribs from my midlife body to my brain, telling me to go easy on the fats and sugars. Believe me, I have learned over the years to listen to what my body is telling me.
So I have resolved to continue with my healthy eating as a life plan, not because I have to, but because I want to. I love fresh healthy food and the energy and sense of wellbeing it gives me. I really enjoy and prefer coconut milk to dairy. I drink it by the glassful with no ill effects. I love my camomile and honey tea and it doesn’t require milk. Nor does it contain caffeine. Or sugar or artificial sweetener. I’ve never missed cake or biscuits since being diagnosed as coeliac and thankfully I don’t really have a sweet tooth. Last spring I really, really missed cheese. Cheese used to be my go-to for a quick fix. I missed butter too. On my toast. Now I don’t mind at all.
It would be very easy to be smug. I promise you I’m not. I’m just incredibly grateful to be fit and healthy and I’m determined to keep it that way. I’m also thankful that I do actually have the choice of what to buy and eat. Eating healthily is a positive choice and doesn’t need to be expensive, in fact, it’s less expensive than eating unhealthily in my view. But that’s another blog post entirely.
“Fresh is best – give processed food a rest” will be my mantra for 2016 and beyond.