Pamper Yourself From The Outside In – Fresh Tastes by Bev

By Bev Laumann, Author of A Taste of The Good Life: A Cookbook for IC & OAB


Grinding stress just seems to be an inevitable part of everyday life these days, and those of us with IC sure have more than our fair share of it don’t we? Besides juggling conflicting work and family obligations, we have the added hassles of insurance company runarounds, medical treatment uncertainties, and complex diet and medication schedules– not to mention the wear and tear that chronic pain puts on the body and mind.

Various scientific studies published over the last thirty years have demonstrated the detrimental effects of constant low-level stress on both animals and humans. The immune system is particularly vulnerable to chronic stress. Those of us with IC are afflicted with a bladder condition that involves mast cells (part of the immune system) and some of us also have allergies or other immune-related disorders. Taking time out to refresh our mind and replenish our strained bodily resources makes common sense. Some of us find biofeedback, progressive relaxation, self-hypnosis, meditation and the like, effective in moderating bladder pain. What is more, some IC-associated disorders also have been found to respond favorably to these relaxation-based techniques.


Finding the time and money to visit a spa, take a mini-vacation, or have a weekly massage though, is difficult for many of us. And of course, just the thought of getting in the car and driving anywhere in the midst of an excruciating (and stressful) IC flare-up, can be overwhelming. A wonderful alternative that any of us can do is to set aside a few hours or minutes for a relaxing, luxurious spa treatment right at home. And of course you don’t have to do it alone. Relaxation routines can also be combined with gentle massage to enhance a romantic and sensual relationship with your spouse or significant other.

So here we are in the depths of winter… depressing, bleak, cold. When better to carve out a few hours to pamper oneself with warm baths and candles, beauty treatments, and soothing music? Now I bet you’re asking yourself, “How do foods fit in with this?”

Spa Cuisine

A central feature of the personal pampering you get at a spa is their famous cuisine. Quite a few notches above run-of-the-mill health food, meals at the finer health and fitness spas offer a wide range of low-fat, low-sugar, preservative-free fresh and natural foods. At The Palms in Palm Springs, California for instance, the snacks and meals are prepared by world-class chefs. Sounds like an IC patient’s dream, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, traditional spa cuisine is heavily loaded with tomatoes, fruits, and other acid food that won’t make our bladders happy. But some of their healthy recipes can be adapted fairly easily to our needs.

If relaxation time at your “home spa” will be an afternoon or a whole day, prepare some satisfying but healthy snacks. If it’s a cold rainy day, perhaps a warm mug of homemade soup may be just the thing. (Make a big pot of soup for a dinner and freeze a couple of individual portions that can later be microwave-heated). Like crunchy snacks? Munch on celery sticks filled with low-fat cream cheese (or cottage cheese) and chopped fresh basil. Carrot sticks, radishes, pear slices, or bell pepper strips make healthful snacks. Original or Low-Sodium Triscuits, Fat-Free Ry-Krisp Crackers or Pringles’ Original Potato Crisps are a few of the preservative-free snacks out there which are also high in fiber.

Depending on your mood and the weather, drinks can range from warm mint tea to a tall cool glass of Sobe’s Lizard Blizzard (a white beverage, it tastes just like a pina colada without the alcohol! Quite a few IC patients can drink this one. It’s well worth a try.) Whatever your taste, find something quick to prepare (or prepare ahead) that’s emotionally satisfying as well as healthy.

Here is a spa cuisine-based recipe that’s quick to make, easy to vary, and filled with healthy vegetables. Add some strips of broiled chicken or a bit of grated low-fat mozzarella if you like. Now you’re set to enjoy your favorite relaxation routine at the “home spa”– be it reading magazines in a warm bath, gentle yoga stretching, treating yourself to a facial, or whatever!

Summer Vegetable Wraps

– Serves 3

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil (or some no-stick spray for a lower-fat version)
  • 2 green bell peppers, sliced in thin strips
  • 2 small zucchini squash, sliced lengthwise in 1/4-inch thick strips
  • 1/4 tsp. onion salt
  • dash of black pepper, optional
  • strips of cooked chicken, optional
  • 6 small flour tortillas, warmed
  • grated mozzarella, optional
  1. Heat olive oil in a large covered skillet over medium heat. Add bell pepper strips and zucchini. Turn, coating with oil. Add onion salt. Add chicken strips and black pepper if desired. Cover and continue to cook until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir frequently to avoid scorching. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with grated cheese if desired, then spoon into warm tortillas and roll up.

Food for the skin and hair

At spas, the food doesn’t all wind up in your stomach. Some spas’ most famous recipes are for facials, rinses, oils, masks, and other pampering potions directed at invigorating and refreshing the body from the outside in. Some of these are very effective yet simple and quick to make at home, using common herbs and foods you probably have in your kitchen. And best of all, these don’t contain any artificial ingredients that sensitive skin may react to.

For a great mood lifter, try a beauty treatment as part of your relaxation routine. Besides just treating the body, some beauty treatments rejuvenate the senses with their interesting textures and soothing or invigorating aromas. If you are interested in some natural lotions and beauty potions made from food-based and herbal ingredients, delve into Catherine Bardey’s book, “Secrets of the Spas” (Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 1999).

For more ideas for relaxation (and some products to try), here are a few online resources:

  • Essential oils and herbs for relaxing baths can be purchased through Bassett Aromatherapy or Aromafloria.
  • A great resource for candles (scented and not scented) is Illuminations’ web site.
  • Another interesting site where you can find everything from romantic scents to some calming music for your home spa is Sensia.
  • For a truly customized beauty product selection visit Reflect. You can put together the ingredients of everything from body wash to lipstick.
  • Although they don’t specifically offer hypo-allergenic choices, I noticed that many products are free of animal substances, preservatives, and dyes.

Here is one of my favorite make-it-yourself treats for “home spa day”.

Refreshing Citrus-Ginger Bath

Ginger has long been used by herbalists to treat everything from stomach ailments to infections and is said to invigorate and promote circulation.[2,3] Oatmeal softens the water and makes the skin feel silky. Citrus peels are cleansing and have a refreshing, energizing scent that helps vanquish fatigue.

  • 1 4-inch piece of ginger root, peeled and cut into pea-sized pieces
  • peel of 4 lemons, coarsely grated
  • peel of 1 orange, coarsely grated
  • 3 Tbsp. dry rolled oats
  1. Place ingredients in a square of muslin, cheesecloth, or gauze and tie up. Toss into bathtub while drawing a tubful of warm water. (An old pair of pantihose can be cut up and used effectively in place of the muslin. Another technique is to cut off the feet of the pantihose, place the herbs in the foot, then use a strong rubber band to secure the hose to the faucet so the warm water gently runs over and through the herbs as the tub fills.) I like this as an afternoon bath, to invigorate and re-energize me for the evening. To enhance the effect while you relax in the tub, light a citrus scented candle. (Illuminations has a fragrant one called “lemon meringue pie”– it smells so good you could almost eat it!)

Notes: If you have vulvodynia or a urethra which is easily irritated by substances in bath water, the ginger and citrus oils may be too strong– in that case just use the gentle, non-irritating oatmeal for a silky smooth skin.

Rosemary-Vinegar Hair Rinse

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see a similar recipe to this in “Secrets of the Spas”…four generations of women on my mom’s side of the family can attest that this recipe definitely works wonders to restore shine to over-conditioned limp hair. Back in the days before there were so many hair products on the market, women used vinegar concoctions to rinse their hair and detangle it after shampooing. The vinegar and herbs would remove all the alkaline soap or mineral residues (making it easy to comb and leaving the hair soft and shiny). Rosemary improves circulation when it’s applied to the scalp and is reputed to stimulate hair growth (just the thing for those of us with Elmiron-thinned hair!) When my daughters were little, I used vinegar rinse after shampoos to make their fine hair manageable without weighing it down with greasy conditioners. Just make sure you don’t get any in the eyes!

  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 cups distilled water
  • 1 jar with tight fitting lid
  • a squirt-top bottle
  • a plastic cup
  1. Heat the vinegar until its just luke warm in a saucepan or in the microwave. Place the rosemary in a jar and pour the warm vinegar over it. Seal with a lid that seals tight. Set it in a cool dark place for five days. When done, strain out the rosemary and throw it away. Add 2 cups of distilled water and shake to mix. When ready to use, pour into a squirt-top plastic bottle. After shampooing, squirt the vinegar over the hair and work into the hair and scalp. Rinse with water, comb out, style and dry. (Be careful with chemically treated hair- this rinse may alter the color a bit.)

Fresh Spearmint Facial Steam

This is another favorite of mine. A refreshing facial steam will open the pores and flush impurities from the skin. Spearmint has long been used in folk medicine for reducing flatulence and colon spasms when taken internally [3], but has been used externally too. The oil in the spearmint has stimulating properties and inhaling the aroma is reputed help alleviate headaches and fight fatigue. Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is easy to grow in a garden or a pot in a sunny window and I love to treat myself to a 10-minute facial steam after a particularly stressful day.

  • 1 6-inch long sprig of fresh spearmint
  • 6 cups of boiling water
  1. Place the mint in a large bowl, then pour the boiling water over the mint. Let the water cool a minute or so to avoid scalding. Place face over the steam rising from the bowl and cover head with a towel. Let work for about 10 minutes.


  1. Elspeth Guthrie, M.D.; “A Consensus on Psychological Treatment Approaches for Functional Bowel Disorders”; Participate, Vol 5, #4; International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders; 1996.
  2. A. Y. Leung; Enclyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics; John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1980.
  3. PDR (Physicians Desk Reference) for Herbal Medicines; First Edition; pp. 977 and 1101-1102; Medical Economics Co., Montvale, New Jersey; 1999.