Long ago, Hippocrates proclaimed, “Let food be your medicine and let medicine be your food.” I will now outline the problems with (1) the food supplied by the kitchen and (2) the foods and beverages available for snack.
When I came to the unit, I met with a woman to explain my dietary needs. Both she and I can agree that I stated that I needed a gluten free, dairy free diet. At a certain point, probably on a later instance I believe I also told her I would like kosher meat. I most emphatically told the Executive Chef later that I wanted kosher meat and if no kosher meat was available, to please let me know if it was not kosher so I could make my decision about whether to eat it.
I will now explain why these three dietary concerns are important for my healing. Although not universally acknowledge, there is significant scientific evidence that diet is intrinsic to thde health of all and especially individuals with mental health challenges.
On the scientific studies related to gluten and bipolar as well as other mental conditions, please see . On the scientific studies related to both gluten and dairy and bipolar see . The importance for meat for the bipolar individual lies in that it is a heavy, grounding food complete with important vitamins and amino acids.
I will now quote an excerpt about diet from noted Buddhist Jack Kornfield’s A Path with Heart page 131.
A student who sat a three-month retreat that I taught was an over-zealous young karate student seeking the extremes of spiritual intensity. Rather than follow the instruction, he decided to get enlightened as quickly as possible . . . . he began to experience all sorts of altered states. . . . he was very fearful and agitated, moving in a wild and manic state, as if he had temporarily gone crazy . . . What did we do with him? . . . We changed his diet. While everyone was eating vegetarian food, we put him on meat loaf and hamburgers.
Kosher food is not only important as part of my spiritual practice, it has implications for bipolar health. When animals are killed according to Jewish rules of slaughter, the animal feels no pain and thus does not release toxic stress hormones. Please see further
It has been thus established that I and many of my co-patients would benefit from a gluten and dairy free diet and even from kosher food. These concepts are firmly backed by science.
I will now share with you three of the breakfasts I received. I believe that each of these came after my extensive meeting with the Executive Chef, who although well intentioned and skillful could not ensure proper meals.
No one expects hospital food to taste good and unfortunately one rarely expects hospital food to be that nutritious. But to repeatedly violate patient requests for diets necessary for their healing is a crime.
I absolutely do not tolerate gluten or dairy. They both make me manic.
Other patients had similar needs. And even though my experience in 1991 at the University of Chicago Hospitals was negative, even there and on the other units I have been, my diet has been respected.
1. Gluten french toast — in desperation I ate this. meal with dangerous gluten
2. Hash browns and pineapple — I requested some actual protein and was then provided with egg. meal without basic nutrition needed for a breakfast
3. Hash browns, melon and a very small amount of egg with cheese. I requested protein and a complex carb and received eggs and oatmeal. meal with insufficient protein with dangerous dairy.
As you can see, breakfast, argued by some the most important meal of the day was compromised. Other meals were compromised. Co-patients of mine who were gluten free were given gluten pasta. A patient who begged for quinoa got it sometimes but also received moldy broccoli. When I got meat I was not informed whether it was kosher or not. The Executive Chef had stated that finding kosher meat might be difficult. I did receive one glorious meal of chicken and veg in two large containers. I ate one container and the staff said I might have the other later. But because of the hullabaloo involving the violent patient, they discarded my meal as it had been out too long, leaving me quite hungry.
A patient, especially one recently arrived should not have to constantly send back for a proper breakfast and many of my co-patients were not as empowered as I. For patients with a gluten problem, the wrong meal is not merely manic inducing as was mine, but can be life-threatening. The kitchen blamed the person who took down our dietary information and that person blamed the kitchen or sometimes the person temporarily in charge of the kitchen was blamed. It does not matter whose fault it was: patients on the ITU were consistently exposed to harmful and potentially lethal food. This is the second reason why some form of compensation is in order and why the unit needs to be shut down.
Snacks: Unit-based food and drink
The water from the water fountain had an off-taste and co-patients informed me it was probably recycled although I have no direct evidence. As a result I stuck with the hot water but again not all patients had the wherewithal to do so. The following are the snacks that I can recall:
apples, oranges and bananas
cheddar flavored popcorn with lots of unhealthy ingredients
pudding with lots of unhealthy ingredients
decaf coffee for am with sugar, sometimes splenda and offered with a creamer with unhealthy ingredients
cranberry juice with a heavy dose of sugar
I did enjoy the fruit but I also was very hungry. Seroquel, the drug administered to me in fact leads to increased hunger. I did not have a single gluten or dairy free option for carbs and protein. And as apple juice was sometimes out, if I wanted juice it was going to be with substantial sugar, a substance that science has shown to be damaging and needless to say is especially damaging to the bipolar individual — see . I note here also that one of my breakfasts from the kitchen contained sugar laden rice chex.
I recommend the following snacks instead:
Vegetable crudite with salsa, hummus/bean dip/tahini, etc
Almond butter in individual packets if safe
Incidently, the kitchen is not nut free so if a patient really is deathly allergic to peanuts, it is not clear how they would protected.