Wednesday, September 13, 2017

How Interstitial Cystitis Affected My Allergies

I know it is easy to focus on all the stuff that is bad when you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, but there are often some positive changes that can happen as we make this journey. This time of year I am reminded that because of the hydroxyzine (Atarax) I take on a daily basis for interstitial cystitis (IC), I no longer have problems with the terrible allergies I suffered with my whole life. 

For example, I never could be around most animals. I love them, but being around cats in particular was a nightmare. My eyes would swell shut and I would cough and sneeze as though I had the worst cold or flu. I had a hard time visiting my family members who had cats and I know that strained relationships at that time. We had two "hypoallergenic" dogs as a part of our family for years (a poodle and a Bichon Frise), but never any cats.
Shortly after starting hydroxyzine, however, my daughter brought a kitten home from college. (That's a story for another day!) and we ended up with our first cat. I didn't think about it until much later, but she really didn't bother me. And then a couple of years later after we lost one of our dogs, we adopted our second kitten, Diego.

I also suffered from fall goldenrod allergies (hay fever) to the point of ending up in the urgent care and even ER year after year. I got more cortisone shots than I care to remember and the doctors had me on twice the recommended dose of allergy medications for years. Like with animals, I was miserable. My eyes and ears were also affected. I can remember a time in high school when my ears itched so badly I cried myself to sleep at night. I scratched my corneas twice because I was rubbing my eyes so much. And this misery doesn't come close to the embarrassment of starting school each year feeling like everyone around me was avoiding me like I had the plague.

How are allergies and interstitial cystitis related?

After I started hydroxyzine, however, I went through my first hay fever season and barely noticed because I was so focused on getting my painful bladder under control. But by the second fall, I realized I had no itchy ears, no swollen eyes, and I hadn't run to Costco for a case of tissue. It took me a bit to figure out the connection, but indeed, the antihistamine that was keeping the mast cells in my bladder under control was also extremely effective at controlling my other allergies. Considering all I had been through with my allergies, this was a fairly good trade off in my mind!

I know people reading this are at different stages of acceptance with this disease, and I want you to know I understand this is not an article to discount what you are feeling. But as you work through adjusting to your illness, hopefully the rest of you find a couple of lessons in this as well. Look for the silver linings. (I almost used the title of making lemonade out of lemons but you all would have called me out on that one.) There may be things that are actually enriching your life as you navigate this crazy business. Maybe you have more empathy for others than you used to. Maybe you are more motivated to get healthier in other ways. Maybe you have found different ways to attend to your family that are more intimate and deliberate than just going through the motions. Or maybe you can have cats in your home.

Let me know if you have some silver linings from being an IC patient. I would love to hear your positive stories.

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Author, Speaker, Patient Advocate

For step by step guidance for creating your own personal interstitial cystitis meal plan, see: Confident Choices®: Customizing the Interstitial Cystitis Diet.

For some basic, family-style, IC bladder-friendly recipes, see: Confident Choices®: A Cookbook for Interstitial Cystitis and Overactive Bladder

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Hope, Health, and Healing for Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Patients

I want to address this post to newly diagnosed interstitial cystitis/painful bladder patients. I know you are scared, tired, and are having a hard time figuring things out. I sense the hours you are spending on the internet searching for nuggets of truth among the thousands, maybe millions of pages and social media accounts dedicated to this fickle and frustrating disease you are now faced with. I hear the whispers of hopelessness. I get it. I was there too. And even as a medical professional, a dietitian, I was just as baffled as you about what was happening to me back in 1998.

So, I thought I would take a moment to tell you about what I do here. Maybe you are like most patients who figure out, often before they are diagnosed, that some foods trigger their symptoms. (Me? I kept saying, “I think my bladder is allergic to tomato sauce!”) To add to the collective chaos of the IC community, this "bad food list" often varies person to person.

Now, in dietitian language, we know this type of food intolerance shows up in a variety of health conditions and we use an elimination diet to help walk patients through the process of figuring out their own personal trigger foods. With IC, of course, we don’t have to start with plain chicken and green beans because we know there is a core group of foods that affect most IC patients―the "top ten trigger foods.” Keep in mind, interstitial cystitis is not taught in dietetics and nutrition programs, so in the beginning, I had to figure things out for myself too. And, after feeling like I would never be out of pain or get my life back, I gradually felt better.

Then patients and leaders in the IC community begged me, literally begged me to "write the book" about IC and diet. So I dug in, way past my comfort zone, took some self-publishing classes, and with the guidance and discipline developed writing about IC/painful bladder syndrome in graduate school, I eventually came up with Customizing the Interstitial Cystitis Diet: A Confident Choices® Book and Confident Choices®: A Cookbook for IC and OAB. These books are the foundation of my business. For most patients, I think these books are all you need to get motivated to adapt your diet to your condition. For those who need more help (such as people with multiple health conditions that require dietary intervention) I do phone and video consultations.

Eventually, in a spark of inspiration, I developed the tag line―the mantra and mission statement for my work with interstitial cystitis patients. “Hope, Health, and Healing” became my guiding principle as I expanded my work into more books and social media. It was important to me to tell you and others that it isn’t hopeless. You can be healthy. And I believe healing is possible.

Finally, I ask those of you who have worked with me to share your stories in the comments either here on or Facebook. Let’s help these new IC brothers and sisters of ours get through these horrible first days by sharing our wisdom and encouragement. Share your success stories. Let’s show them that they are not alone!

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Author, Speaker, Patient Advocate

You CAN Feel Better! Just Take It a Step at a Time   

 For step by step guidance for creating your own personal interstitial cystitis meal plan, see: ConfidentChoices®: Customizing the Interstitial Cystitis Diet.


For some basic, family-style, IC bladder-friendly recipes, see: Confident Choices®:A Cookbook for Interstitial Cystitis and Overactive Bladder

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Set It and Forget It. Slow Cooker Meals for Sensitive Bladders

The concept is simple. Throw meat and some vegetables into a slow cooker, add some seasoning, and let it simmer all day. After a few hours you and your family have a complete, home-cooked meal, with minimal effort and maximum flavor. What could be better than that?

Of course, the benefits of using a slow cooker transcend the ease of preparation. Most modern cookers not only use less energy than conventional methods of preparing meals, but also are easier to clean. (For the “cleanest” cooking option, try using slow cooker liners.) Meats prepared in a slow cooker are naturally tenderized by the gradual cooking process allowing you to use cheaper and tougher cuts of meat. And finally, vegetables used in slow cooker recipes retain their nutrients better than boiling in water where the vitamins and minerals can be destroyed by the higher temperatures and lost in the water itself. 

But what if your favorite slow cooker recipes have ingredients like tomatoes and barbeque sauce that are less than bladder friendly? Remember, the beauty of having home-cooked meals is your ability to control what is added to the mix. The simplest meals made with fresh ingredients are of course the best. Beef or pork roasts combined with potatoes, carrots, celery, and onion with a little salt and pepper (if tolerated) is the most basic slow cooker recipe. But the versatility of a slow cooker also includes an endless array of casserole, stew, soup and even dessert recipes. 

Slow Cooker Food Safety and the “Danger Zone”

Keep in mind, the same low temperature environment that allows us to use slow cookers to prepare tender, flavorful meals over the course of a day may require some tweaking of your cooking skills to keep it safe. It is important to minimize the time the food spends in the temperature “danger zone” (40°F to 140°F) where bacteria multiples the fastest. Here are some suggestions:

  • Frozen meat can compromise the ability of the cooker to move quickly through the danger zone. Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator overnight before using it in a slow cooker.
  • Minimize the time your meal spends in the food safely danger zone by preheating the cooker and heating liquids before you add them to the crock.
  • To prevent vegetables like peas, zucchini, and corn from becoming mushy, many people like to add them in the last hour of cooking. To keep the mixture’s temperature from dipping too far into the danger zone, heat cold or frozen ingredients first before adding to the hot mixture in the slow cooker.
  • If using dried beans such as kidney beans, reconstitute and boil on the stove according to package directions before adding to your slow cooker meal. Boiling beans beforehand not only speeds up cooking, but more importantly, it releases the toxins that can become trapped by a slow cooker’s closed environment.
  • Avoid lifting the lid of the slow cooker when in use. This can lower the temperature significantly and increase the time to finish the meal.
  • If you want to use an acid reducer like Prelief to help make the meal more bladder friendly, add it at the end, preferably to individual servings. A slightly acidic environment when cooking can help control food borne illness and works with the heat to tenderize meats.
  • Resist the temptation to taste-test until everything has reached a safe temperature. Although the mixture may appear to be boiling, the inside of larger pieces of meat may not be safe until the very end. Use a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the meat to determine temperature. Whole roasts should have a temperature of 145°F to 160°F, poultry, soups, and stews should be 165°F.
  • After your meal, remove any leftovers from the crock and refrigerate immediately in a shallow pan to allow speedy cooling. Do not leave leftovers on the counter to cool.
For more information on slow cookers and food safety, see the USDA website.

Julie Beyer, MA, RDN
Author, Speaker, Patient Advocate 


Slow Cooker Roast Beef Dinner

  • 3 to 4 pound beef roast, visible fat trimmed
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and halved (can substitute sweet potatoes)
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 stalks of celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, quartered, if tolerated
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper, if tolerated
  • 2 teaspoon dried basil

It doesn’t get any easier than this!  Layer roast and vegetables in a 3 to 5 quart slow cooker.  Add water. Sprinkle in garlic, salt, pepper, and basil. Cook on medium for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 4 to 6 hours. Temperature of roast at its center should be a minimum of 145°F.

Chicken Dinner: Substitute 5 to 7 skinned chicken breasts or thighs for beef. Substitute rosemary for basil.
Turkey Dinner: Substitute 4 to 5 pound turkey breast for beef. Substitute poultry seasoning for basil.
Beef Stew: Cup roast into 1-1/2 inch cubes. Increase water to 1-1/2 c. One hour before serving:  Mix 2 T. flour with 1/2 c. warm water; stir until smooth. Stir gently into stew. Continue cooking for at least an hour.

Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into small, bite-sized pieces
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning (MSG-free)
  • 6 cups MSG free chicken broth (Swanson’s is available almost everywhere)
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of black pepper (if tolerated)
  • 1 ½ cup cooked eggs noodles (I like Marie Callender’s brand found in the freezer section)


Add whole chicken breasts to pre-heated, 5 to 6 quart slow cooker. Add carrots, celery, onion, garlic, broth, and seasonings. Cover and cook on low heat for 6 to 8 hours or until  chicken breasts reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Remove chicken breasts. Chop into bite sized pieces and return to soup mixture. Add cooked noodles. Cook for an additional 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Pudding

  • 1 - 15 ounce can solid pack pumpkin
  • 1 - 12 ounce can evaporated milk (may use fat-free)
  • 3⁄4  cup sugar
  • 1⁄2  cup biscuit baking mix such as Bisquick
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
  • 2 1⁄2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • Whipped topping or vanilla ice cream (optional)


Mix pumpkin, milk, sugar, baking mix, eggs, butter, spice, and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended. Put mixture into a 3 quarter or larger slow cooker. Cover and cook on low temperature (not warm) for 7 hours. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream as garnish. 

Slow Cooker Pear-Apple Sauce

  • 3 large apples (peeled, cored, and cut into slices)
  • 3 large pears (peeled, cored, and cut into slices)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
  • ⅓ cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt


Combine all the ingredients in slow cooker, and put the top on. Cook mixture on high for 4 hours, stirring twice during cooking. The pear-applesauce will be slightly chunky. For a smoother sauce, use blender or immersion blender to puree. Serve warm or cool sauce and store in the refrigerator for up to five days. May be frozen.