I can be an obstinate bitch. It has served me well over the years, as I also know how to temper that trait in certain situations and am most willing to relax my views if loved ones or friends are concerned. However, take me, add pain and a healthy dollop of morphine, stir in a little fright at major abdominal surgery, add a dozen doctors who all have their heads up their asses, and you’re just going to get the obstinate bitch. For the full story, check out yesterday’s post. For those of you that aren’t interested in hearing the full rant of how I stayed Paleo in the hospital, there’s a checklist at the bottom of the post, most of which you can also apply when you are eating out at a restaurant.
First off, let me say I was in a military hospital. The military must follow strict USDA guidelines when it comes to food, so according to them I was offered nothing but top-notch quality nutrition during my stay.
Ha ha ha ha hah ah ahaha hah ahahahahaha ha. ah. *wheeze*
Now that THAT’S out of the way, let’s move on to business.
I think hospital food has a worse reputation than airplane fare for a reason: it’s fucking horrible. And when I say horrible, I mean, I wouldn’t let my next-door neighbor’s pets consume this shit. For the first three days, they tried to keep me on a clear liquid diet. This consisted of: chicken broth (from a package. There was no actual chicken in it, but there was, however, MSG and soy) and red Jell-O, complete with both 30 grams of sugar per 1/4 cup and Red Dye No. 40. There was “lemonade,” which also had soy in it and surprisingly no lemon, and two pints of apple juice flown all the way from CHINA, so I’m sure there was lead in there. Needless to say, I was not starved enough to consider any of this “food” so I opted for water.
First off, if you’re in the hospital, chances are you’re weak. Hopefully you have an I/V pumping you full of liquids. Keep in mind that if this is the case, you don’t actually need to eat for a while. The I/V liquids will keep you alive long enough for your friends or family to bring you things. If you don’t have anyone to bring you food, then there are clever ways to trick the hospital staff into helping you stay Paleo.
The first thing I did was tell them I was ALLERGIC to the following items: wheat, corn, soy, dairy. If I had told them I don’t eat soy due to personal choice, or that dairy gives me zits, they wouldn’t have taken me seriously. However, when I claim a food ALLERGY, they have to take me seriously. I suggest you do this. Those of you that don’t like to lie, get over it. I lie every time I go to a restaurant. The fear of being sued is the only way I can make sure I don’t get sick. It’s sad, but true. You also have to be prepared to fast. This also holds true in a restaurant. I can’t tell you the number of times that I have asked for a gluten-free item and when it cannot be provided, I have stood up and left, or have sat there glaring at the manager with an empty plate in front of me. It takes balls and determination, but they will usually try to accommodate you if you look hungry enough.
The second thing I did was ask for lemon juice and packets of salt. They were able to provide both. Was it the high quality iodized sea salt or organic lemon juice I have at home? No, it wasn’t. But you know what, when you’re in a foreign environment, you hunt and gather what you can and make the best of it. Equipped with my lemon juice and salt, I made my sugar-free sports drink. When the doctors asked what I was doing, they were actually fairly impressed. This drink held me over until the real food arrived. If I had eaten their miserable offerings, I actually would have been worse off as it would have led to blood-sugar crashes.
By the end of the second day in the hospital, I had already decided that there was no way in hell these quacks were operating on me so I said “screw your liquid diet, I’m eating.” Luckily, my husband had a text message with instructions on what to bring. The first wave of food included:
I already had my stevia in my purse. I also asked him to bring my copy of Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD. I didn’t actually read it while I was there, but I had it predominantly displayed on my table like the obnoxious little brat I am.
I couldn’t eat a lot of the scrambled eggs because my stomach had shrunk so much, but I ate some and they made me feel better, stronger, almost immediately. The next morning, the hospital decided I could eat solid foods (since I was already eating them, ha ha ha) so they offered me the following: toast, muffin, bagel and cream cheese, eggs, fruit and coffee. Wait! Eggs, fruit and coffee? Bring it on.
The coffee was hospital coffee. It was terrible, but it was enough to get rid of my caffeine headache. I immediately texted my husband with an order for more. The fruit was a banana and an apple. Normally, I would not have eaten either but I wasn’t in a normal situation. I needed some calories. I opened up the styrofoam container of eggs and smelled them. They smelled…funny. Off. Not natural. I took the smallest bite and had my suspicions confirmed. They were, indeed, powdered eggs. Now, if I hadn’t eaten in weeks and didn’t know where my next source of protein was coming from, I would have eaten them. In fact, just three years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. My refined palate now balked at the prospect sitting in front of me, however, and I wondered what decade the chickens who had originally birthed these “eggs” had lived in. I couldn’t eat them. Thankfully, I had some eggs from home left over from the night before, so I ate those. Otherwise, I would have eaten the banana and apple and called it good.
Lunch was the saddest chicken breast you’ve ever seen, served with decimated carrots and rice. Everything had this weird seasoning on it. I smelled it closely and the childhood memories of Shake ‘N’ Bake came rushing back. This smell, along with the package of saltine crackers on the side, was enough to make alarm bells go off. Oh, and the state of the chicken breast. I mean, COME ON. Did they leave it by the side of the road to dry out before serving it? I wish I’d taken a picture but I was too sick. This was supposed to be a gluten-free meal, but obviously someone didn’t get the memo. Or, more correctly, they had no fucking idea what gluten was. There was a sad little salad that I just picked up by the handful and shoved into my mouth. The low-fat packaged dressing contained soy, something else I had told them I was allergic to. I didn’t touch the rest of the meal and the nurse looked worried when she collected the tray.
For those of you that don’t know, I do something called intermittent fasting quite often. Eating breakfast doesn’t usually fit into my schedule and I’m just not hungry so most days, I skip it. I eat when I get hungry or whenever it’s convenient later in the day. I can only do this because my blood sugar and insulin levels are regulated; I don’t recommend it for anyone just starting out on their Paleo journey. So skipping a meal here and there doesn’t have a detrimental effect on me. The hospital staff didn’t know this and they were freaking out that I was going to waste away. It was at this point that the hospital dietician (and I use that word loosely) came to visit me. She told me that the only reason she knew what “gluten-free” was was that her best friend had Celiac disease. Otherwise, she confessed, she would have no idea.
The most important part of staying Paleo or Primal in a foreign environment is asking questions. Lots and lots of stupid questions, including things you shouldn’t have to ask. But, thanks to the clever marketing of packaged foods in this country and the misinformation provided by the USDA, you have to. First off, I confirmed that the eggs were indeed powdered. There were no other options available to me for breakfast other than grits (WTF are those anyway) or oatmeal, so I resigned myself to coffee for the remainder of my stay. (I actually asked for the fruit but stockpiled it like a squirrel and later took it home for the kids. Eating nothing but fruit would have made me hungrier than nothing at all. It’s funny how that works, but that’s how it is for me.)
Second, we discussed lunch for the following day. My options were hamburgers and fries or beef stroganoff. The dietician confirmed there was flour in the stroganoff, which contained wheat noodles anyway, but that the hamburger patties were 100% beef. Okay, 100% CAFO beef, but it was protein. I couldn’t afford to be that picky at this point; holding out for pasture-raised organic beef, lamb or goat was just not in the cards. The fries had wheat in them too, and were also fried in soy oil. Yum! I asked for four hamburger patties wrapped in lettuce leaves, with mustard. (They had mayonnaise but it was soy based.) My drink choices consisted of the following: soda, fruit punch, fruit juice, Crystal Lite and water. I asked for water, but they brought me the Crystal Lite instead. I’m glad I didn’t touch it, as I later confirmed in the grocery store that the number one ingredient is maltodextrin, a substance that makes my body freak out.
I asked for 10 of those little gold packages of butter, planning on just eating them whole, but was told they only had margarine. When I inquired as to why they would willingly feed their patients hydrogenated trans fats, I was told that they were healthier than saturated fats. I didn’t have to energy to argue this. At this point, I was way more concerned with MY health and couldn’t care less about the rest of the patients. I knew I had a couple avocados on stand-by, and they would do nicely for the fat I needed. Had I been thinking clearly, I would have asked my husband to bring a jar of coconut oil, which I would have eaten by the spoonful as the doctors looked on in horror.
Dinner was actually great. I asked them to do a special meal for me. My choices were pork or chicken. Knowing what the chicken looked like, I opted for the pork – a meat I rarely, if ever, even buy unless it’s 100% organic, cruelty-free. I asked for no seasonings. The sauce that came with the pork had wheat, corn AND soy in it (how do they even manage that) so sauce was out. I actually had a choice of vegetables – carrots, corn (ha!) and asparagus. Asparagus?! Wait, that’s a legitimate vegetable! What the hell was going on? I asked for a triple serving of asparagus, with no seasonings, along with the pork. And that was dinner.
For breakfast the next morning, I ate two avocados and a banana. They filled me up quite nicely and I didn’t even want lunch. I asked for the same dinner again: pork and asparagus. For some reason, they never quite updated their computers so every mealtime, I was brought the clear, liquid diet tray. I have to admit, I wanted to eat the Jell-O. I didn’t. But I wanted to. I was so freakin’ bored and was mostly through the final season of Battlestar Galactica. There was nothing left to do but eat.
At some point during my stay, I also ate some leftover Chicken and Artichokes with Garlic Sauce (from Mark Sisson’s latest cookbook, Primal Blueprint Quick & Easy Meals, p. 111) that my husband brought from home. He heated it up for me in the staff lounge’s microwave and the hospital staff all wanted the recipe. That’s how good this stuff is.
At some point (probably upon admittance to the hospital) this almost became a game for me. I refused to back down on any of my principles, and would have rather starved than give in. It was extremely difficult to stay Paleo, and I would not have been able to do it without my husband’s help. It was quite eye-opening to me to see just how bad nutrition could be in a place of “healing,” but I felt it was my civic duty to shake things up a bit. I’m sure the staff was more than happy to see me leave but I couldn’t care less. How they could call themselves doctors, nurses, healers is beyond me. All they are doing is treating symptoms caused by BigAgri and BigPharma in the first place. Not getting to the root of problems or practicing preventative medicine. Just treating symptoms.
So here is a checklist if you ever find yourself in the hospital. Some of these will also work at a restaurant.
- If you don’t have one, feign a food allergy or two. If you do, stress it.
- Bring food from home to round out your meal. Suggestions are avocados, nuts, fruit and coconut oil, or if you’re lucky, leftovers or even fresh meals prepared by your loved ones. You could even have olive oil and vinegar brought in.
- Add lemon/lime juice and a pinch of salt to your water. I add stevia, too, cause I like it sweet.
- Ask to speak to the dietician (or manager in a restaurant). Tell them you want to work with them. Ask for detailed ingredients in any item that isn’t a whole food. Ask questions. Over and over and over.
- Stick to your guns. Be prepared to skip a meal or two on principle.
- Lower your standards a bit. You’re not going to get organic meat. Deal with it.
- Take your supplements! Don’t forget probiotics, Vitamin D and fish oil.
- Stick with whole foods: whatever meat you can get your hands on and vegetables. Ask what stuff is fried in.
- If you’re lucky enough to get butter, put it on everything. Otherwise, use coconut oil if you can get some. If not, look at this as a weight loss opportunity. O_o
- Don’t use their condiments. If you do, make sure you read the labels first. Almost everything has wheat, soy or corn in it.
- They have a microwave and a fridge somewhere. Ask to use it.
- Remember that your health is at stake and it will take you much longer to heal if you give in and eat that bagel/donut/hamburger/whatever.
- Don’t use precious energy trying to teach everyone the dangers of whole grains and the joys of saturated fats. They are like brainwashed zombies. You are not going to get through to any of them. After all, you’re the one who is sick. They’re secretly thinking that you’re sick because you eat saturated fat and not enough wheat.