Whether you’re male or female, when you add the demands of a chronic illness– pills, diets, frequent bathroom breaks, and doctor appointments– to the hectic pace of modern life, it’s easy to see how IC patients can have “stress overload”. And stress, as many of us soon find out, makes our bladder symptoms worse.
Yet for those who have always had a fast paced lifestyle, IC can even be a blessing in disguise. Suddenly we have a real need to prioritize our activities and relationships and be more attentive to our own emotional and physical well being. The IC can force us to slow down, delegate duties to others, change destructive habits and relationships, eat better, sleep more, and do all those things we knew we should do (or would like to do) but never made time for.
According to a 1994 study involving several hundred of IC patients, only about sixteen percent of us can work full time with ease, the rest of us finding work to be either difficult or impossible.  For those of us who do manage to continue working in spite of the IC, anxiety associated with mealtimes can be yet another source of stress. First there’s the breakfast anxiety: we may feel better when we eat breakfast, but what to eat if we’re in a hurry? Forget boxed cereals and those packaged breakfast foods that everyone else can grab in a hurry. They’re saturated with bladder irritating preservatives. Grab some doughnuts on the way to work? No way– who knows what’s in those things.
Then there’s the lunch dilemma: do we get up earlier in the morning (and sacrifice precious sleep) to fix ourselves a “safe” lunch to take with us, or do we try to catch more sleep but eat for lunch whatever everyone else at work does: fast food or something off the lunch truck. Hmmm. Which is better, fatigue or pain?
While by and large, those with jobs tend to have milder cases or more controlled symptoms than those who don’t, workers with IC still often need to carefully watch their diet in order to be able to continue working. This month’s and next month’s columns will be devoted to ideas and suggestions for workday breakfasts and lunches– the two meals most intimately connected to the workday schedule.
The good news is, planning ahead and always having some “emergency” food on hand relieves at least some of our daily anxiety by keeping us on a diet our bladders can handle.
Speedy Workday Breakfasts
Yes you can be good to your bladder, get to work on time, and still have a nourishing breakfast! I especially like these breakfasts that I can fix in 3 minutes or less:
First is cold cereal. I try to always have on hand some granola-type cereal that I can eat cold with milk and a sliced pear, cut up dates (no preservatives), or blueberries. This is also my “emergency backup” for days when I plan to have something else for breakfast but run late and have to quickly change my breakfast plans. A good supply of cereal keeps for a couple weeks in an airtight container, longer if it’s refrigerated.
The biggest problem with the boxed cereals you get at the store is the preservatives. The two most commonly used preservatives are BHA and BHT. They both areknown to provoke allergic reactions in some people. And many people with IC say the bother their bladders. (Because mast cells play a role in both IC and allergies, it’s a good idea for IC patients to approach with caution substances which have an allergenic potential.) Many cereals also have nuts which bother our bladders. Another problem is the vitamins some companies fortify their cereal with. Added vitamin C, an acidic vitamin, provokes bladder flares for many.
There are however, a variety of lesser known manufacturers that make preservative-free boxed cereals. One of the larger ones is “Barbaras”. Natural food stores and specialty markets carry such products (Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or Wild Oats have stores in many big and medium-sized cities). There are preservative-free versions of corn flakes, rice krispies and granola-type cereals available. Although some are sweetened with acidic fruit juice and many have bits of fruits or nuts, there’s usually such a wide selection that I can always find something my bladder tolerates. For my personal taste however, commercially prepared cereals are too sweet. So usually I make my own (a week’s worth at a time) on Saturday mornings, letting it bake while I do other chores.
I also like to keep a supply of chopped, preservative-free dates in the refrigerator (it too keeps several weeks). These sweet tidbits are good on cold or hot cereal if I run out of fresh fruit that I can eat. Betty, an IC patient in Georgia, writes that she likes to keep a supply of canned sliced pears on hand for topping cold cereal or eating with other foods (just be sure they have no artificial sweeteners). They’re even quicker to use than fresh pears because they’re already peeled and sliced.
In the winter, hot instant oatmeal can be quickly made in the microwave (just add milk to Quick Oats and pop in the microwave for a minute or two). It’s good topped with maple syrup, bladder safe fruits, or a bit of brown sugar and/or cinnamon. For the hot oatmeal, forget buying the little individual packets. Save money and buy Quaker Quick Oats in the cardboard cans. Try grits, polenta, or Cream of Wheat with the same toppings for a change of pace. These quick fruit-and-grain breakfasts not only provide a bladder-safe nourishing start to the day, but their high fiber content may help with the constipation brought on by irritable bowel syndrome or by prescription painkillers and antispasmodics.
Another quick protein-rich breakfast is an egg sandwich. This takes only about 4 to 5 minutes to prepare. While two pieces of preservative-free bread are toasting, wipe the inside of an individual-size Pyrex custard dish with vegetable oil or margarine, break an egg into it and beat a few seconds with a fork. Pop it in the microwave for about 30 seconds, stir it a bit again, and cook another 30 seconds or so (time varies with each microwave). Turn the egg onto the buttered toast for a sandwich you can eat while you are getting ready for work. Depending on your bladder’s sensitivity, you can add a bit of dried chopped chives, dried dill weed, or salt and pepper to the egg before cooking.
To be bladder safe, be sure you use only fresh eggs, not those refrigerated egg products that come in cartons. Della N. wrote me with another tip: if you’ve been using those refrigerated egg products in place of fresh eggs to lower your cholesterol, you can make your own bladder- friendly version: mix together until frothy 3 egg whites, 2 teaspoons of powdered milk, and 1 teaspoon of water. She says this makes excellent scrambled eggs. It also makes a good reduced- cholesterol egg sandwich.
Most store-bought breads have a long list of artificial ingredients that provoke sensitive bladders. You just have to experiment and see what works for you. Unfortunately, just when you find a bread that works for your bladder, they go and change the recipe or discontinue the product altogether, so you can’t get too complacent. It pays to check labels now and then, even on products you’ve used for a long time.
It may be worth a try, but if it doesn’t work for you, you may be able to get fresh deli-baked bread made without preservatives. Some grocery stores’ deli departments make them (call and find out), otherwise you can often find them at small storefront bakeries or natural foods stores. Some stores will even slice the bread for you, too.
Bagels are another good item to have on hand for quick breakfasts. (They’re a healthier alternative than doughnuts!) Spread a bladder-safe toasted bagel with cream cheese or cottage cheese– another way to make a workday breakfast in 3 minutes or less. Whole wheat bagels will help fight drug-induced constipation.
You may also be able to balance the constipating qualities of eggs and dairy products with pears or pear juice. Knudsen’s Organic Pear Juice is available at many natural foods markets and is made using only pears– no grape juice, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) or citric acid. Another brand is “Looza”, a pear juice that Susan wrote me about. Imported from Belgium. It’s carried in some supermarkets as well as specialty stores such as Whole Foods (for locations, see their website). It contains only pear juice, water and sugar– no added acids. She says it is very well tolerated by her bladder. You might also try baby food pear juices such as Gerber’s. They tend to be less acidic than those made for adults.
In the summer, honeydew melons or bananas may be tolerable for some people (you’ll have to experiment and see if that applies to you). Cut up chunks the night before (some for dessert, some for the next day’s breakfast). Watermelons are a bit more acid, but tolerated by some people. Cantaloupes though, are best avoided.
Think Outside the Cereal Box
Chicken soup for breakfast?? “Why not?”, I asked my mom when I was about five years old. She couldn’t think of any good reason why one shouldn’t eat soup early in the morning, so from then on I had chicken noodle soup for breakfast some days. Forty years later I still enjoy a steaming mug of chicken noodle soup while getting dressed. Since IC set in though, I’ve limited myself to homemade chicken noodle soup (most canned brands have monosodium glutamate in one form or another).
The bottom line on workday breakfasts is using plenty of imagination. And on weekends when there’s less stress, don’t be afraid to experiment with new products or visit new stores.
“Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function”, K. Spiegel, R. Leproult, E. Van Caulter; The Lancet, Vol. 354; October 23, 1999.
“Epidemiology of interstitial cystitis”, J. Koziol, Urologic Clinics of North America, Vol. 21; February 1994.
The recipe below is great both as a munchie snack to take to work (no greasy fingers!) or eaten cold with milk and sliced pears for a quick breakfast. You can adjust the amount of maple sugar to suit your own sweet tooth.
No-Nuts Granola Cereal
– Servings: approx. 3
- 2 cups rolled or quick-cook oats
- 1/2 tsp. almond extract OR 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 tsp. canola oil
- 5 to 6 Tbsp. real maple syrup
- 1/2 cup dried chopped dates (optional)
- In a small dish, mix together thoroughly the extract, oil, and syrup. Measure the oats into a bowl. Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and stir, moistening all the cereal. Do this rather quickly so the mixture doesn’t get gluey.
- Add dates if using them. Spread out thinly and evenly on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake in a 300 degree F. oven for approximately 30 minutes, stirring and turning occasionally while it heats. It should turn a light golden brown but don’t let it burn. Remove, let cool and evaporate remaining moisture. Add dried dates if you’re using them. Seal in a plastic bag or airtight container.
Note: Many people with IC can tolerate cashews and almonds. You can add 1/4 cup of chopped almonds or cashews with the oats if you like.
This article originally published May 2000, revised and updated by the author Nov 2003.