Jessica Grossman is the founder and spokesperson for the ostomy awareness campaign, Uncover Ostomy. Founded in 2009, Jessica and the campaign work to change the negative conversation surrounding ostomy surgery into an open and positive discussion. I’ve been a fan of Jessica and her campaign for about as long as I’ve had an ostomy, and she was one of the first people to inspire me to advocate for ostomates.
Tell us how you came to have an ostomy.
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at 9 years old after weeks of no appetite, increasing stomach pain, and having lost 5 pounds. I maintained my health with various medications and a careful diet until I was 11. At 11 years old, I came down with an unrelated stomach flu and it triggered my Crohn’s to flare to extremes. I was then admitted to the hospital, where I spent the majority of the following 2 years, accompanied by fatigue, nausea, internal bleeding, excruciating pain, and sleep deprivation. I went through endless painful tests, was put on various medications with horrible side effects, and I was put on diets that ended up in complete bowel rest (no food) for over 5 months. Eventually, I was told that without having my colon removed, and getting an ileostomy, I would die.
How long have you been vegan, and what prompted you to make that decision?
I’ve been vegan for 3 years.
3 years ago, I started experience weird stomach pain that my GI Dr. actually told me was unrelated to my Crohn’s. I was confused and uncomfortable and wasn’t sure what to do. I figured it was due to stress, as I was moving to NYC. When I got there, TWC [Time Warner Cable] told me that it would take 3 weeks to get cable set up. I decided to watch a lot of Netflix, instead, and found an affinity to documentaries about food. A bunch of them recommended the vegan diet. Being in a new city, and knowing that the rules around American meat and dairy production was much different in the US than in Canada (where I moved from), I decided to try it. Within a week, all of my symptoms disappeared.
I was vegan.
Did you have any concerns about eating this way with an ostomy?
I was concerned, at first, mostly about being able to maintain this diet knowing that fibrous foods (veggies and fruits) could be hard to digest with an ostomy. As well, I was concerned about maintaining my protein intake. After doing research and learning how many vegan food options there were, I became less worried and began to adjust my diet accordingly. I am lucky that, with an ostomy, I can eat more veggies and fruits than most, but I have had my ostomy for almost 12 years. As well, I do have days/weeks where I need to take a break from too much fibre, so I stick to softer foods like tofu, peanut butter, hummus, etc.
What was your biggest challenge when you became vegan?
I think my biggest challenge was knowing what was vegan and what wasn’t. I don’t mean simply knowing if a product had milk, meat, eggs, or fish in it, but knowing what ingredient names actually meant milk or meat that you wouldn’t know without researching. It took time to learn and pick it up.
Have you noticed any health benefits since starting a vegan diet?
I have way more energy, I have no stomach pain, and I can maintain a healthy weight
How did your family/friends react to your decision to go vegan? Have their attitudes changed over the years?
I can’t remember exactly, since I lived on my own in NYC and my family was in Toronto. I know my brother thought I was being ridiculous, and still jokes about how I don’t eat real food, or I eat food that his food eats. When I moved back to Toronto, I lived with my mom for a bit, and she started to adapt to my ways a bit (eating more salads and tofu and things), but she was supportive of my eating habits. My current boyfriend, who I met after being vegan, knows I’m the girl in the restaurant or at the gala dinner that has to specially request an order, but he doesn’t mind. While I still cook chicken for him, most of the meals I make during the week are vegan, and he loves them.
What do you eat in a typical day? Do you supplement with anything?
In the mornings, sometimes before I go to the gym, I’ll have a spoonful of peanut butter. When I get back from the gym I’ll eat a spoonful of Vega vitamin powder (I like it as a paste rather than a whole smoothie!). I’ll have coffee at work and then I’ll eat a lunch of either quinoa, or a stir-fry, or a veggie wrap with tofu, or hummus and chips.. all depends on what I’ve made for dinner the night before. Lunches are dinner leftovers!
Do you find eating to be difficult when you travel? Are you easily accommodated or do you take extra steps to make sure that there are no problems with food?
I travel about once a month, mostly to NYC. In NYC it’s really easy to find what I need to eat. I don’t have my routine, as I’m usually much busier with work and meetings, but I try to keep it pretty consistent. When traveling to other places in the US, I can review a menu before choosing a restaurant and then I’ll ask for meals to be modified. Or, often, I’ll go to the local grocery store and pick things I know I can eat. When traveling outside of Can/US, I have to be a lot more careful and sometimes I’ll bring some snacks with me (like PB) to have just in case.
Do you have any advice for other ostomates or people with Crohn’s Disease who might be interested in transitioning to a vegan lifestyle?
I always say that each and every one with an ostomy is different. While I can eat fibrous foods, many cannot. It’s all dependant on where the ostomy has been created, how long someone’s had an ostomy, and more. I think it’s something everyone should try and see how it works. As well, people transitioning to this diet need to do a lot of research to make sure they are getting all the nutrition they need.
Do you have any general advice or tips for someone living with IBD or an ostomy?
I have tons. They’ll just have to check it out on my website ;) http://uncoverostomy.org
What ostomy supply brand are you currently using?
I use Coloplast!
What’s your favorite food?
So hard to answer! I love avocado sushi rolls, but I also love a good quinoa salad, or a good vegan dessert (huge sweet tooth!)
What’s your favorite hobby?
Working? I have so many things on the go, I don’t have time for hobbies!
Do you have a non-ibd/non-ostomy cause that you support?
Bone marrow donation. My father passed away from a rare blood disease and needed a bone marrow transplant. His story is here: http://jonathanatthehospital.com
You can check out Jessica’s social media sites below: