My Auxiliary Digestive System

I have a machine that chews and poops for me!

Shortly after my Crohn’s diagnosis, I bought a masticating juicer:

A masticating juicer, sometimes referred to as a slow or cold press juicer is simply a style of juicer that crushes juice out of ingredients at a slow speed. In typical masticating models, juice is extracted from foods through a strong augur/screw, which pushes ingredients at high pressure against a fine screen/sieve. This not only forces juice out of ingredients, but it is a very efficient method to ensure that all juice produced is kept separate to the remaining pulp. Link

After chewing my food, it poops out the insoluble fiber, something my own digestive tract is not capable of doing properly right now. The pulp comes out one chute; everything else (juice) comes out the other, falls into a pitcher, and gets poured down my own meat-based digestive system, where nutrients are absorbed and turned into more me without aggravating the lesions (trigger warning!) in my colon.

Better pooping through technology

After it has chewed, juiced, and pooped my food, I take the juicer apart and clean it. If I could do that to my own digestive tract, Crohn’s would be a lot easier to deal with. 

If only I could do this with my own large and small intestines.

At the bottom of the juicing chamber is a tiny port through which the fiber gets pushed as it’s separated from the liquid. Occasionally this gets clogged and the machine “backs up.” To get things moving again I merely open the pulp chute and poke at the clog with a special cleaning tool. So much easier to fix these things outside the body.

A meat-based system would require dangerous, specialized, and expensive surgery to remove an obstruction like this. My juicer requires only a plastic pick.

Hopefully my juicer will remain the only external digestive system I need. Because I really don’t want a colostomy bag.

Everything becomes compost eventually.

My Disciplinarian

“I admire your discipline,” said a friend, referring to my extremely strict, narrow Crohn’s diet. But there’s nothing to admire, because it’s not SELF discipline. It’s being subject to a brutal, sadistic “disciplinarian” that punishes the hell out of me if I make one false move. If you had this taskmaster you’d be “disciplined” too.

(Not a $150 Drawing, but looks like one.)


Little Miss Food

Sometimes I miss food.

By food I mean Indian food, Thai food, Mexican food, salsa fresca, salads, pizza, pasta, and my homemade bread and soups: tomato, lentil-kale, vegetarian chili. Tortilla chips, potatoes with skins on, sesame seeds, nuts, herbs, and Numb Oil Tofu from Golden Harbour.

I miss eating with others. This genuinely lovely article by Brandon Showalter felt like a knife in my heart:

“Why have I been doing this, you ask? And how do I do it in light of such deep and profound differences among us? It’s actually not that complicated. As my past and present housemates can attest, I’m an unabashed foodie, I have a knack for hospitality, and extending it is an expression of normal life. I may as well give away what I love. And who doesn’t love to eat?”

I love to eat, I just can’t.

A month and a half ago I drastically restricted my diet. Fiber was out; fish was in. That was harder than it sounds, because as a vegetarian (and occasional vegan) since age 17, I prided myself on nutritious, whole-foods, hippie-style cooking. I would eat seafood a few times a year, but only away from home; I did not store or prepare it in my own kitchen. Same with eggs: an occasional restaurant treat, not on my shopping list or in my fridge. With my Crohn’s diagnosis I surrendered my dietary ideals, overcame my squeamishness, rose above my principles, and started making seared Ahi tuna steaks and scrambled eggs. I now consume about 3 times more lactose-free milk than I used to, and zero beans and lentils. The exquisite batch of vegetarian chili I made in November languishes in my freezer. I should give it away already but that would be yet another admission of defeat.

Friends pity me now, which I enjoy. But the fact is, many years before I developed Crohn’s, I would sometimes I lose my appetite for weeks at a time. Occasionally I have eschewed eating due to utter boredom and frustration. Even without any dietary restrictions (except my refusal to eat birds and mammals, which would have put me at a disadvantage at Brandon’s house anyway) food has, over the years, lost its brilliance. I have longed to recapture the thrill of my early 20’s, when the world was full of new flavors and cuisines, and every California burrito was a revelation. Age has dulled my tastebuds, but more than that, experience: I have tasted damn near everything already, many times. A memory of food usually exceeds the real thing, so eating is often tinged with disappointment: that tom kha phak is good, but not as good as that place in San Francisco in the 90’s…

A capacity for enjoying food is a blessing and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

On the brighter side, Crohn’s forced me to discover juicing. After several weeks without a salad I despaired of ever eating anything fresh again. Then I learned that a quality juicer would remove the insoluble fiber from just about any produce item. Some other Crohn’s patients wrote about doing well with fresh juices, so I ordered an entry-level masticating juicer off Amazon (since upgraded), bought a fridge’s worth of fruits and vegetables, and set off on my first culinary adventure in decades. Not only was I getting quality nutrients that didn’t make me crap my pants, I was also discovering new flavors and reawakening an interest in food — or more accurately, drink.

I can’t go out to eat these days, so I try to lure friends to my house for juice. We can’t break bread, but we can sip pineapple-ginger.

Woman does not live by juice alone (unless she’s on a “juice fast” but I’ve lost enough weight already thank you) so I continue to ingest white rice and peeled potatoes and fish and cheddar cheese (not at the same time! that would be gross) which isn’t really that bad. A person can get used to anything, and after a month-and-a-half this is just how I eat now. It’s pretty boring, but then so was almost everything, before.

I am missing much….

But really, I’m not missing much. 



Nina’s Low-Residue Crohn’s-Friendly Cream of Potato Soup

It only looks like split pea. Chlorophyl from the fresh herbs adds green color to the potato base. When you’re stuck on a low-residue diet, you deal with it.

This recipe has it all: Prebiotics (onions)! Probiotics (miso)! Phytonutrients (parsley, dill, carrots, celery)! Low fiber (because the veggies are juiced not cooked)! Potatoes (peeled)! Flavor (some, we’ll take what we can get at this point)! Plus, it’s vegan.

Low-residue diets, of which my low-fiber diet is but one, help some (but not all) IBD patients manage symptoms. If a Crohn’s patient really wants vegetables, we are advised to fully cook and then puree them. But I now have a JUICER which can take the insoluble fiber out without cooking.

Instead sautéeing the traditional mirepoix, this recipe starts with only onions (which supply a tolerably small amount of fiber, including the prebiotic inulin) and a bit of garlic; the celery and carrots get juiced, along with parsley and dill, and added last.

6 to 8 medium russet potatoes
2 medium onions
1 tsp crushed garlic (optional)
1 T olive oil
4 celery stalks
2 to 4 carrots
fresh parsley (half a bunch? depends on size of bunch)
dill (ditto)
3 or more vegetable bouillon cubes, or 4 teaspoons homemade veggie bouillon mix*
1 to 2 T fresh miso
1/4 cup hot water

  1. Peel potatoes. Cut into large chunks and place in a bowl with cold water to cover.
  2. Wash and prep parsley, dill, celery and carrots for juicer.
  3. Peel and chop onions. Place olive oil in large saucepan or stockpot and add onions and garlic. Sautee on medium-low heat until onions are translucent or staring to turn golden. Add potatoes with their water and turn heat to high. Add bouillon and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered.
  4. While soup is simmering, juice the remaining vegetables.
  5. When potatoes are very tender, remove soup from heat and immediately puree throughly with immersion blender.
  6. Put miso in a small bowl and add hot water; mix to make a thin paste, then stir into pureed soup.
  7. Stir in some or all of the vegetable juice. Add salt or additional bouillon to taste, and serve.

*Homemade Veggie Bouillon mix:
1 part finely ground/pulverized nutritional yeast*
1 part fine table salt
1 part veggie seasoning such as Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, Mrs Dash, or equivalent
Mix ingredients and store in a jar.

*Pulverized Nutritional Yeast:
Place nutritional yeast flakes in a clean coffee grinder and pulverize. Store in a jar.