Eating without a gallbladder

gallbladderI had my gallbladder removed in July 2013. My digestive reality has changed a lot since then. I thought I’d share a bit about how I’m living without a bile reservoir!

Let me start by saying that I’m extremely lucky to be one of the “normal” cases. My digestion isn’t the same as what a person with a gallbladder would experience, but I don’t have any of the most uncomfortable or inconvenient lingering effects. I know someone who does, and I have nothing but heartfelt sympathy for those who have to deal with near-constant diarrhea and discomfort. Y’all are rockstars. I feel like that’s not something the doctors really emphasized could be an effect of the surgery, but in my case, they were worried that my gallbladder might become septic (and apparently, were right to worry–my gallbladder was scarred and swollen.) I think they didn’t want to dwell on the possible strongly negative side effects because my gallbladder had to be removed.

I have to watch fatty food… sometimes: I do have to watch my fat intake, but I feel like it’s not the most important measure of whether a food is “okay”. A lot of folks seem to have a magic number of fat grams they can tolerate, but I’m not one. It seems to be more reliant on a combination of factors, including the below. But fat does matter, and I notice negative effects more often when I eat a lot of stuff that’s fried or containing liquid fat.

I have to watch the spiciness… sometimes: Again, this seems random and nonsensical. Some foods that are spicy (read: hot) send me straight to the bathroom, while other spicy food is A-OK. I have problems with my boyfriend’s favourite order of “extra-extra-extra spicy peanut butter noodles”, but man do I love it!

I have to eat regularly and consistently: If I skip lunch and then eat a big dinner, I will pretty much certainly end up with diarrhea. It’s much safer for me to eat consistently-sized, regular meals.

I have to snack: My doctor wants me to eat (healthy) snacks throughout the day, but ughhhh it’s so bothersome. I try to keep oyster crackers and oatmeal at my desk in case I forget to pack lunch or breakfast. Sometimes, I try to bring vegetables/fruits, but I freely admit I’m just too lazy to get to the grocery store often enough to have this every day.

I have to know where the bathroom is, regardless: It’s just a fact of life for me now. If I eat something, there’s a chance I’m going to need a bathroom, usually within the hour.

If I get sick, I have to recover carefully: I had a stomach bug a couple of weeks ago, and I learned that recovery from that just ain’t what it used to be for me. I’m still not eating what is for me a normal diet. I tried to push my stomach with a too-big meal and it didn’t end well, so I’m still treading lightly.

“Gallbladder-friendly” recipes/diets are a crapshoot: I surfed Pinterest after my surgery, searching for “okay” foods. The list was usually consistent: BRAT, skinless/bland chicken, clear pop, Jell-o, mashed potatoes, bland soup. That was all on the pamphlet my doctor gave me! I wanted more exciting ideas than that. Tons of people had these awful “gallbladder cleanse” juice recipes that seem like BS and would’ve been incredibly painful for me to eat (I’m lookin’ at you, citrus, olive oil and garlic!)  In the end, I just figured it out on my own. Three days after surgery, I had sushi and I cried because it was so delicious. I had pizza that week, too. Lean proteins work best, but it’s all going to be what you know. For me, I avoided foods that had bothered me before surgery, on the reasoning that they would still be difficult to digest. I also avoided anything I thought might be heavy or fatty. I had a few missteps–a salad gave me diarrhea for goodness’ sakes–but overall, I did okay.

4 responses to “Eating without a gallbladder”

  1. Oh man I forgot about this!
    I hope it’s a very mild “loose-stool” diarrhea and not gut-twisting “projectile” diarrhea. ( TMI? )
    What do you do when you need to travel somewhere? Do you have a list of “really completely absolutely safe” foods?

    I once got food poisoning while on a business trip and the only things that mitigated the experience were
    a) I had already reached my destination ( i.e. there were no periods of confinement with no toilet)
    b) I was traveling to meet with an internal group, not a customer, so it was not mandatory I show up to work ( i.e. I could hole up in the hotel )
    c) I had extra panties with me. ( I’ll just let that go without further comment. )
    The whole time all I could think was “thank God this didn’t happen on an international flight”. I resolved to be very careful about what I ate before travel!

    1. Almost never gut-twisting. Mostly, it’s loose stool, but I do have some poops that are pretty liquidy (TMI is my life.)
      When I travel, I definitely keep totally safe food in mind. My travel usually involves ordering food at restaurants, so I just have to refer to my other “rules” and use my best judgement. I avoid fried foods (except french fries… those are safe in absolutely any quantity!) and spicy foods, but I also try to order small. I can tolerate just about anything in a small amounts, so it’s smart to just aim to eat less and snack in the car on stuff like nuts, crackers and p-p-power bars. But everyone I travel with, I make my bowel needs known! If worse comes to worse, I once pooped on the side of a highway in a traffic jam as a kid, so I know I can do it again. Haha

      Oh my goshhhhhhh food poisoning is the worst, but getting it away from your own bed (and toilet) is awful. I was so sick with food poisoning once in college, my dorm room shared a wall with the bathroom and I still felt like that was too far of a walk. XD

      1. ” french fries… those are safe in absolutely any quantity”
        You kill me….

      2. I’ve probably tested the upper limits of this theory. I… eat a lot of fries… XD

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