The pains started after Christmas. They would wake me in the middle of the night. The kind of agonising abdominal pains you get with gastro, only I didn’t have food poisoning or any kind of stomach bug. After visits to the doctor, pathology and a gastro specialist the results were in. I have gallstones. More specifically, what I had been experiencing were severe gallstone attacks.
Thankfully, by the time my appointment with the specialist came around (thanks to good old waiting lists) I was no longer experiencing attacks and the report from pathology indicated the stones are fairly small. So, after some additional tests, I was finally assured that I don’t need surgery at this stage.
But I do need to rethink my diet.
The directive I got was a tad confusing. Avoid fatty meals, alcohol, preservatives, packaged foods, cakes and pastries, heavy foods. Um, I’m sorry but what is there left to eat?
There’s something I should probably explain about myself right about now, and that’s that I’m no Masterchef. Nor am a healthy eater. I’m the kind of person whose freezer has more oven bake stuff in it than “real” food like meat or vegetables. Whose fridge crisper has apples in it that have been there so long I don’t actually remember buying them. I keep cans of soup in the cupboard and just love those packets of pasta and sauce. I used to jokingly ask if beetroot or carrot dip counted as a serve of vegetables. That’s not to say I can’t cook – I make a mean lasagne from scratch and I love doing stew in my slow cooker – I just choose not to. I’m lazy. And here I was being told that I should avoid pretty much every staple in my diet.
Alcohol was easy. I was never a big drinker anyway and I’m allergic to wine, but after I was diagnosed with chronic migraines and put on preventive medication I had to stop drinking altogether because I found it interacted with the alcohol and not in a good way.
The rest of it took a little bit more effort. With some encouragement, advice and suggestions from mum, two of my colleagues, and the lovely Food Mentalist (check out her blog here) I started to work out what sort of foods would meet the right criteria. Namely fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low fat foods, etc. But most importantly, they needed to be prepared from scratch by me – no cheating. Because at the end of the day, my diet had to change if I was serious about avoiding surgery.
It’s actually been a lot of fun. I’ve been cooking stir fries during the week, and because I’ve always been a pre-packaged kind of gal, the sauces have always come with the packets, but now I’m learning how to make the sauces myself. I actually have bottles of soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, hoisin sauce, etc, in my cupboard now. I’ve bought recipe books and googled to work out how to combine them and haven’t found a combination I didn’t like yet. I’ve even started adding noodles in. How exciting!
On the weekends, I’ve had the slow cooker out. The other week I made my own vegetable soup, which I have done before but I used different vegetables this time. The week before last it was chicken pesto pasta with sundried tomato pesto. That was very yum!
I’ve decided to try at least one new recipe each fortnight. A whole recipe, not just a variation on a theme like the stir fries. And with my new recipe books I don’t think I’ll run out of ideas anytime soon. It’s all about trying to prove to myself that with this new low-fat, avoiding XYZ diet, I’m not limited to just stir fries and meat and veg. It’s also about starting to prepare myself for having a life again, so that I can go out to restaurants or food courts and be able to pick something that I’m comfortable I can eat without having a reaction to.
I do still get the occasional reaction. Sometimes it’s hard to know if it’s actually gallstone-related or something else like my asthma (I cough a lot with the cold weather), or just genuine aches and pains. Apparently, gallstone attacks can often be misdiagnosed, so surely it would follow that once gallstones are identified people can be quick to identify pains as gallstone attacks when perhaps they are not?
And my new dieting regime has not been without its mishaps either. Just last week, this numpty burnt her finger in hot oil. Oh yes, thought it would be a bloody brilliant idea to swirl the hot oil round the wok with some paper towel, didn’t I? Forget the fact paper towel absorbs oil – minor detail!
But, at the end of the day, what started as pains in the middle of the night at Christmastime turned into a diagnosis of gallstones and the possibility of surgery. But whether I have to have surgery or not, the alternative to those excruciating pains is altering my diet. Plain and simple. Eat healthy. Eat fresh. Know what I’m putting into my body, as best as possible. I can do that – why wouldn’t I? I remember the pain. Why wouldn’t I do that?
Quite simply, if it weren’t for my gallstones, I don’t think I would have changed my diet. Not now, probably not any time soon. No matter what happens, they were a blessing in disguise because they have changed that part of my life for the better.