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Eating with a stoma

Do you have dietary requirements? It’s a question we get asked all the time as wedding photographers. Our lovely couples want to keep us well fed and full of energy on their wedding day so naturally, they ask what food we can and can’t eat. For Amy, it’s a simple answer, everything! For me, not so much. Although what I can and cannot eat is much easier than I first feared, it is slightly more complicated than being able to eat anything.

To explain, let me go back to the beginning of the story, in September 2019 I had a planned operation to have an ileostomy (a stoma, he’s called Pinkie Pete!) to prevent me from developing colon cancer in the next few years. I had a high risk of doing so because I have a genetically-inherited condition called attenuated Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (aFAP). It’s a mouthful. If you want to know more about that then you can read the ups and downs of it all in my blogs: journey to having a stoma and my stoma surgery story (warning, it got intense!).

What actually is a stoma?

An official definition is: “an opening on the abdomen that is connected to your digestive system to allow bodily waste to be diverted out of your body”. So basically, it is the end of my small intestine which pokes out of and has been sewn onto my tummy, and where my poop now comes out of. I have a stoma bag lying over my stoma, which collects the poop. See:

So what can you eat with a stoma?

This will be different for everybody. If I’ve learnt anything from the whole process it is that everybody is different and one person with a stoma may have a totally different experience to others. I can only give my own experience, which will hopefully help any of my lovely couples who have come here to check what I can and can’t eat before they feed me on their wedding day. I’m a photographer, not a doctor, so don’t rely on my words over theirs! There are also great articles for those of you who might have a stoma or are going to have to have on in the future to get more general advice such as Coloplast’s guide or Salts Healthcare’s guide.

Generally, with most meals I eat around the food I cannot process due to lack of having a large intestine, but for those of you just wanting to see a quick list of things that I’ll avoid on your wedding day, here you go.

When I’m avoiding certain foods it’s because there is a risk of a blockage. The stoma is a narrower exit than the usual route out of the body, and because I don’t have a large intestine, certain foods won’t be broken down in quite the same way as someone with one. This can lead to an increased chance of a blockage, the poop can’t come out, which is a pretty unpleasant and potentially dangerous reality. I have already experienced some and actually ended up back in the hospital within a couple of weeks of my surgery with one. That was pretty scary although it eventually did pass on its own.

Can people with a stoma eat vegetables?

Yes, but not all of them. Generally, when I’m eating vegetables I cook them for longer so they are nice and soft. I also avoid leafy or stringy vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, runner beans, etc. as my small intestine can’t break them down well enough. Same for those which have tough skins, like aubergine.

Can you eat fruit with a stoma?

Again, it depends a little on the fruit! I generally tend to eat a lot of frozen berries (particularly in smoothies or porridge), bananas, apples, as well as some tinned fruit like tinned peaches or mango as they are soft enough. The main fruits I will avoid are those which have tough or stringy fibres such as oranges/satsumas or dried fruits like raisins.

Can people with a stoma eat nuts?

Yes and no! I generally don’t tend to eat many nuts as they are also a risky food in terms of blockages. But I can and sometimes do eat a small number of nuts. Desiccated coconut is one thing I try to avoid completely as that was ended up putting me back in hospital shortly after surgery number three! I think I’d probably be fine with it now my intestine is much less swollen but I avoid it for my and Amy’s sanity more than anything!

Can you eat gluten with a stoma?

Yes!

Delicious glutinous doughnuts from Hidden Bakery, Eastwood

This one won’t be relevant to a lot of people who have a stoma, but for me, it was huuuge news and one of the benefits of going through all that surgery. I used to be gluten intolerant (it came on in my twenties), but since I no longer have a large intestine, it appears I can once again eat gluten. We never got to the bottom of why I developed gluten intolerance, but it certainly wasn’t Coeliac Disease as that affects the small intestine. Phew! Discovering I could eat gluten again was an awesome day. I may have eaten a lot of baked goods when I discovered that! What can I say, I needed to put on some weight after surgery anyway so it was a win-win.

Foods I avoid (a quick list for those who don’t want all the details!):

Generally, with most meals I eat around the food I cannot process due to lack of having a large intestine, but for those of you just wanting to see a quick list of things that I’ll avoid on your wedding day, here you go:

  • Desiccated coconut
  • Aubergine skin
  • Raw vegetables and salad
  • Stir fry vegetables (unless very well cooked!)
  • Beansprouts
  • Pineapple
  • Leafy vegetables
  • String vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Popcorn
  • Dried fruit such as raisins and currants (although fine in small quantities such as a few bits in a cake or biscuits)
  • Sweetcorn & peas
  • Fruits such as oranges, satsumas which have fibres that are hard to break down

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