The principles of the hernia diet

  • Reduce the overall quantity of food you eat.
  • Eat mostly foods which are easily digested and pass quickly through your digestive system. These help to reduce the amount of time food stays in your intestines ('transit' time), and make bowel motions soft and easy.
  • Eat foods which help to reduce gas and lubricate your intestines.
  • Eat foods rich in nutrients which help to maintain the integrity of collagen and elastin in your abdominal wall.
  • Consider eating only two meals a day instead of three. Skipping breakfast means your intestines should only contain one mealís worth of food by lunchtime. This greatly reduces the volume of your abdomen and the pressure on your inguinal gap.
  • Never unduly postpone a bowel movement.
  • Try not to strain at stool, and if you do, hold your hernia firmly with two fingers to make sure it doesnít pop out.


Reducing food quantity and abdominal pressure

Quality and quantity are two sides of the same coin. The lower the quality of what you eat, the higher the amount you need in order to be nourished. Digestion uses a lot of energy and a lot of valuable minerals, vitamins and other nutrients. So the more you eat, the more you need to eat just to keep your digestive system working. The best approach is to consume less food, less often and to make sure itís nutrient-rich and contains enough fibre. Once you have become accustomed to eating better quality foods you are less likely to crave junk foods. You will find that they lack flavour and donít really satisfy you. Adopting a healthier diet can have considerable gastronomic as well as health benefits.


Controlling appetite

One way to control appetite is to skip breakfast. Historically, in agricultural societies, "break fast" was something you did in the early afternoon, after completing your dayís work. If you started at 6, by the ninth hour, or Ďnooní (Latin for nine) you'd earned your rest and it was time to replenish by breaking the fast since the previous dayís supper.

          If you eat a meal at around 8 p.m. the glucose energy digested from that meal sustains you beyond bedtime. Then, as blood sugar falls, enzymes in your liver transform its stored glycogen into glucose, which then kicks in and keeps you going until you wake up. When your liver runs out of glycogen, around 7 a.m. another process kicks in that converts fat to glucose and thereby maintains the supply of energy. Itís a wonderful mechanism and helps to keep the bodyís fat levels in balance. It is also the mechanism on which the Atkins Diet and other low carbohydrate diets are based. Maybe we should call it the Slim-ergy Cycle. Like any other part of your body, if you donít use it, it gets lazy. Exercise it regularly by skipping breakfast and after a week or so it starts to really deliver the goods: you wonít feel hungry. (If you do, try eating a couple of squares of 70% dark chocolate for elevenses.) You should then find that at lunchtime you eat with a genuine appetite, rather than out of habit and with a jaded palate that needs sugary breakfast cereals, bacon and orange juice to arouse its interest.


Transit time

Cows and sheep eat a wholesome diet. They have no choice as farmers dictate the optimum diet for health and growth. So their meat can provide readily available, albeit second hand, nutrients from a wide variety of grasses and meadowland plants. But meat, particularly fatty meat such as in burgers, takes a long time to digest and so slows down the transit time of meals through your digestive system. Cheese has a similar effect.

          Foods made from white flour, such as white bread, cakes, pastries and biscuits, contain high levels of gluten, a protein which is both hard to digest and clings to the mucous membranes of your intestines (a mixture of flour and water is so sticky that it can be used as wallpaper paste). These sticky deposits can reduce the ability of your intestines to absorb nutrients. They also slow the peristaltic action of your intestines and slow down the passage of food, making excretion more difficult. The resultant straining of the bowels should be avoided during hernia recovery. The longer food takes to pass through, the more of it is accumulating inside you, with consequent increased pressure against your hernia from within.

          Fried foods which become hardened or crispy also take a long time to digest. This is because the water content is driven out of their surface, making its breakdown by digestive enzymes much more difficult.

          It will help your transit time if you eat the above foods sparingly, and always as part of a meal containing high fibre foods such as wholemeal bread or pasta, and vegetables such as cabbage, brussels sprouts or broccoli. A diet that is high in fibre, wholegrains, vegetables and fruit and low in dairy products, meat, white flour and sugary foods will assist in reducing your transit time to 12 hours or so and in reducing your overall appetite. In turn this reduces the volume of your abdominal contents. and the outward pressure on your deep inguinal ring.

          I would also recommend that you donít over-consume foods from the nightshade family. These foods--potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines and peppers--contain solanine, a chemical which acts on neurotransmitters to dull sensation and create a nervous weariness that leads to fatigue.


Check your transit time

The quickest way to assess your diet is to measure your transit time and to study your stools. This is easy and best done with sweet corn. At eight pm, eat a light meal that contains a cupful of sweet corn (you can buy it in glass jars, tins or fresh). Donít chew the corn too much. Swallow as many whole kernels as you can manage. Ideally the corn will emerge in visible form in your stools 12-18 hours later.

          Some people try doing this with beetroot as a marker, but this is not suitable. The colour of beetroot travels faster than the actual beetroot, so the appearance of a red colour in the stools is not reliable evidence of the foodís transit time.

          If your transit time is longer than 18 hours, then either your intestines are flabby, swollen and weak, or there is excess food or deposits blocking your alimentary canal.

          If, despite eating fibre-rich nutritious foods, you find that constipation is still a problem and you canít get your transit time down to 12-18 hours, then products such as psyllium husks, flax seeds, prunes, figs etc. are helpful. Epsom salts and herbal laxatives can also be used in the short term, but beware of becoming dependent on them.


Your stools

Your stools should come out in an easy, steady, relaxed motion and should float on the surface of water. Always, always go to the toilet as soon as you feel the urge. Otherwise stools can dry out inside you and become harder to expel. The increased tension in the anus contributes to this result. If you have a bidet, use it not just for cleanliness, but to ensure full evacuation. A splash of warm water can relax the anus and lead to an unexpected further evacuation. The natural way to excrete is in the squatting position. For many people this can assist a more complete and strain-free evacuation.

          You may feel that, because of historic eating excesses, that it is worth having colonic irrigation to remove the deposits that build up in the large intestine. By all means do so, with a registered practitioner, but donít overdo it. Removing deposits increases the absorptive capacity of your large intestine and so helps to reduce your need for food.


Your prostate

When the prostate gland becomes enlarged it increases the overall pressure against the abdominal wall. Regular consumption of zinc-rich foods, particularly pumpkin seeds, helps reduce prostate swelling and thus pressure against the hernia. Pumpkin seeds also deter intestinal parasites, helping appetite control and reducing intestinal volume.


Collagen and your abdominal wall strength

The strength and integrity of your abdominal wall depends on the strength and integrity of the collagen and elastin proteins which are its main structural components. For optimal collagen integrity, your body needs an ample daily supply of the following nutrients

  • Vitamin A, Vitamin C
  • Calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, sulphur,
  • The amino acid arginine found in most protein foods but especially nuts



Avoid overeating

Helping to prevent internal organs from sagging is not just about external support. The more food you eat, the more space your abdominal contents require and so the more outward and downward pressure they can apply to weaken your abdominal wall at its weakest point--your inguinal canal. Smoking and a poor quality diet can also weaken the collagen and elastin proteins which keep the structural connective tissue of your abdominal wall strong and elastic. Research shows that smokers have a higher risk of rupture and hernia because smoking reduces levels of vitamin C in the blood.


Eat easily digested foods

Some foods slow down the passage of food through your digestive system, creating high-pressure "traffic jams" of food waiting to get through. Foods low in fibre and rich in sticky gluten, such as white bread and pastries are the worst offenders. Itís important to get your food in and out quickly and not to have unwanted waste increasing even further the size of your abdomen. A lack of dietary fibre also forces you to strain at stool, which greatly increases internal pressure.


Intestinal gas

Excess intestinal gas also puts pressure on your abdominal wall. Most intestinal gas is said to come from air swallowed while eating, so try to control this. If you eat beans and pulses, make sure that they have been soaked for at least 18 hours and that they have been boiled until soft all the way through. This helps reduce their gas-forming effects. Eat fennel and ginger or make strong teas from 'carminative' herbs such as peppermint, fennel, anise or lemon balm.


Junk food causes addiction

The denatured, refined and overly processed food that we often eat is aptly named "junk" food. A junkie is a person who has become addicted to something that can never satisfy their need, so they have to repeatedly return for more. Refined foods such as white flour products and sugar are severely lacking in vitamins and minerals and create a dependency on energy derived from continual eating to replenish blood sugar levels. This leads to over-consumption of these starchy calorie-rich carbohydrates, not to mention escalating levels of blood fats and body fat formed from the excess carbohydrates.


A research study

Magnesium plays a crucial role in maintaining the elasticity of connective tissue in the body. This study evaluated 76 patients during lumbar disc surgery for the calcium/magnesium ratio in their connective tissue. The researchers found that, the more elastic the tissues, the better was the patient's magnesium status. The researchers concluded that a lack of magnesium (which is mainly found in wholegrains and leafy green vegetables) causes premature ageing and hardening of connective tissue, and makes ruptures and prolapses more likely. Muller, W, et al. Age-Related Calcium/Magnesium Ratio in the Ligamenta Flava. Z. Gerontol, 1994;27:328-329.


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