How a little bit of Chinese dietary wisdom can aid you in getting out of the hospital faster and on the road to recovery

Posted in Tips by Elizabeth M. Stephens | Comments (0)

What better way to get a new health blog moving than with a post about constipation! The inspiration of this post was a patient dealing with post-operative constipation (post-operative ileus), but the information can be used in much broader circumstances- any time your digestive tract needs a little babying.

It can take time to get digestive function up and running again after surgery due to a perfect storm of narcotics depressing the system, less physical activity, fluid and food intake. In the case of abdominal surgery, intestines can shift and become prone to blockage. Getting the digestive system working again is one of THE top criteria for hospital discharge, and Chinese medicine has wisdom to offer in helping get people back to comfortable and home sooner with avoiding the use of harsh laxatives.

When looking at what abdominal surgery does to the body through the lens of Chinese medicine, the major digestive woe causing forces are cold infiltrating the deep interior of the abdomen, and a disruption in the digestive tract’s natural directional flow. The operating room is cold, the tools are cold, and the nature of cold is it slows and constricts. The nature of the pain associated is colicky and cramping in nature. The effects of this foreign source of cold can linger way past the day of surgery, and may lead to other complications down the line if not addressed.

Proper digestive function takes energy and warmth, and it is important to be kind to your system and not challenge it with hard to digest foods when you are in recovery. It is also so important to eat nutrient rich foods to give your body what it needs to heal. Hospital food can be lacking, so some forward planning for your first meals and drinks can be huge. If your friends or family ask how they can be helpful, give them a recipe to make! (see below)

Big picture concept: be kind to your digestive tract- wake it up with a gentle nudge. Hydration is key, so try ginger tea, hot water with lemon and mineral broths. For food, think warm, baby belly friendly foods like rice porridge, old-fashioned oatmeal and sweet potato mash. When your body feels ready for more substance, lamb stew or vegetable soups are warming and will add fiber and nourishment.

Chinese dietary theory is based off of thousands of years of observing how eating different foods affected the body. Beyond the physical temperature of food and drink, everything has an energetic property based on the nature of the substance itself, and how it was prepared. Some foods cool the body down, others warm it up. Some foods dry the body out where others lubricate and moisten. You can make a food warmer in nature by baking it slowly than if you flash-fried it. Slow-cooked stews, broths, and baked items are comfort food for a reason.

According to Chinese medicine, cooked foods are considered easier on the digestive tract. You either cook foods outside of the body with a heat source, or in your belly with your own digestive fire- and that takes precious energy! Some people are very hot in nature, and can benefit from cooling foods but even some of these folks will experience some sluggish digestion after surgery. Simple, warm drinks and meals and healthy doses of circulating, appetite-whetting spices (ginger, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel seed to name a few) can help with gas, bloating, pain, nausea and constipation.

If you are going to reach for a cold or raw food item, ask yourself is the nourishment it is giving me worth the expenditure of digestive fire it will take to assimilate it? A shot of wheat grass juice might be pass that test- drink it with some warm ginger tea to balance it out. A big gulp of diet coke though? Jell-o?

Warming Foods

  • ginger root
  • oats
  • fennel
  • anise
  • cumin
  • root vegetables
  • onions
  • garlic
  • mustard greens
  • eggs
  • meats
  • spelt
  • quinoa
  • nuts

Cooling Foods

  • apples
  • bananas
  • tomatoes
  • citrus fruits
  • watermelon
  • yogurt
  • broccoli and cauliflower
  • zuccini
  • soy milk, tofu and other soy products
  • mung beans
  • wheat
  • seaweed
  • peppermint
  • cilantro


Ginger. Full stop. Ginger is king! It not only is warming, but it gets the flow of digestive energy going in the right direction- it’s excellent for nausea.  Pick up a box of ginger tea at your local health food store, or bring a big root to the hospital in your overnight bag and toss a couple slices into hot water. Sip away!

Magical Mineral Broth
Give your body the minerals and nutrients it needs to heal in one of the easiest to assimilate forms- broth (and toss in some ginger while you are at it)

Cooked for hours and considered one of the easiest foods to assimilate, this rice porridge can be dressed up with warming toppings like sliced fresh ginger, green onions, chicken or turkey.

Almond flour ginger cookies
If you continue to read this blog, chances are almond flour will come up again- I think it’s great on so many levels! It is high in healthy oils and fiber, an excellent digestive combo. This recipe includes lots of warming ginger, but feel free to experiment with adding cinnamon, cloves etc..

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