Last year, on the very day I turned 50, the patient portal at my doctor’s office reminded me to schedule my first colonoscopy. I am a rule follower extraordinaire, but my fear (bordering on phobia) of the colonoscopy prep was greater than my need to check it off my list. I finally bit the bullet and learned that I am not alone in fearing the prep, despite my knowledge about colon cancer and the importance of early screening. According to the American Cancer Society, only 40% of people over the age of 50 are being screened for colon cancer, fear being one of the major reasons why people avoid the screening. If detected early, colorectal cancer has a 90% survival rate; it can take as many as 10-15 years for a polyp to become cancerous.
My research and careful prep were surely driven by my own neurosis/anxiety and desire to feel the least amount of discomfort possible. Incorporating some simple, intuitive steps allowed for an easier, more natural prep. I definitely went above and beyond my doctor’s general recommendations while remaining within her guidelines and believe that my carefully executed prep made the entire experience practically uneventful.
When I called to schedule my procedure, I asked for the Suprep kit, which involves a smaller amount of liquid: a split dose of 2, 6-ounce bottles mixed with 10 ounces of water taken the evening before and again in the morning several hours prior to the colonoscopy. I also asked the nurse for a prescription for Zofran, as my fear of nausea and vomiting border on phobia, and I read horror stories of not being able to tolerate the prep.
I typically eat a high-fiber, plant-based diet, but switching to a low-residue diet 5 days before the colonoscopy was extremely helpful in my clean-out process. I avoided all the foods that regularly comprise my daily menu of foods: whole grains, nuts, seeds, raw fruits, and vegetables. Eating foods that are easier to digest and leave the system quickly will vastly affect the outcome of your clean-out. Eat mild-flavored, bland foods like white rice, pasta, bread without seeds or nuts, bananas, cooked vegetables, poultry, and fish. My procedure was scheduled for late morning on a Wednesday, so dinner Monday night was my last meal before only ingesting liquids all day Tuesday. The natural inclination is to eat a large and late dinner, but I know that whatever goes in must come out, so I ate lightly and mildly. Red meat can take days to move through the intestinal tract. Eating lightly for days before my clean-out made my hunger less burdensome, and the amount of residue in my colon was greatly reduced.
Several days before the colonoscopy, I took an all-natural herbal laxative called Digestive Stimulator by Blessed Herbs to expedite my clean-out. This product is something that I have taken on occasion with great results. The herbal remedy promotes the healthy elimination of toxic waste and provides soothing relief from digestive upset. Another option is sipping on Smooth Move tea several days before the procedure.
The day before your colonoscopy, you may drink clear liquids (avoiding any red, purple, and blue food coloring); you may also eat popsicles, Jell-O, and Italian ices (again, avoid the colors above). I found that having a variety of liquids on hand kept me from feeling deprived. Lemon ice became my treat when I felt the need to chew, and the balance of sweet and sour was particularly satisfying. Beyond a glass of apple juice and a bit of clear soda, sugary drinks made me feel queasy. When I started drinking the prep (not pleasant), I was relieved to have been drinking more wholesome liquids such as coconut water, ginger tea, lemon water, and spritzers with juice and seltzer water.
Chicken bone broth (I sipped on Pacific Foods bone broth with ginger) was surprisingly satisfying and placated my hunger mid-way through my day. The ginger was an added bonus to quell queasiness. Bone broth is rich in protein and minerals that support the immune system and contain healing compounds such as collagen, glutamine, glycine, and proline. Collagen heals the gut lining and reduces intestinal inflammation—all great when undergoing a full clean-out of the colon. However, bone broth and stocks are high in sodium, so be careful not to consume too much or you will begin to feel dehydrated.
I was not working the day before my procedure and enjoyed a gentle yoga class which was the perfect way to stretch and relax while getting my mind off of my hunger and the prep to follow. Any mild exercise will help decrease anticipatory anxiety and allow your body to move in a gentle and soothing way.
I will spare the details of my (totally uneventful but effective) clean-out itself, but I expected to feel as though I had the stomach flu: crampy, nauseated, weak. I actually had the opposite experience and experienced almost no abdominal discomfort or nausea. One hour before drinking my first split does, I took a Zofran to ward off any feared nausea and vomiting. I changed into cozy pajamas and set up my tray of goodies in an aesthetically pleasing manner, as if I were having high tea. On the tray were my dose of Suprep (chilled) with a straw, a small bowl of lemon wedges, ice water in my favorite jam jar, and a bottle of peppermint essential oil. Some people find that placing the straw at the back of the mouth reduces the taste of the prep.
My aromatherapy diffuser was misting a combination of lavender and other calming oils. I was ready and feeling quite relaxed. Sucking on a lemon wedge between sips of the liquid is super effective in neutralizing the taste of the prep. If you start to feel like gagging, place some peppermint oil on a cotton ball and inhale slowly, as peppermint oil can be an effective way to quell the urge to gag.
When you begin to go to the bathroom, have soothing wipes on hand, as you may become raw and sore. I used Preparation H wipes and never had an issue with soreness or rash. Stay very close to the toilet for the next few hours as you will have very little control over your bowels.
About 4 hours later (the time will vary greatly), as I was winding down with my clean-out, I took a warm bubble bath and slept very comfortably (only waking several times to go to the bathroom) before starting the second dose in the morning. I dreaded having to drink the prep again, but somehow it was not as noxious. Even if you feel that your clean-out is complete, it is imperative that you drink the full second dose; if you are not fully cleaned out, you will have to repeat the entire process—nightmare!
Barring any complications, the procedure itself is something you will not remember and you will feel very relaxed upon awakening. My doctor gives her patients lavender eye pillows, and I awoke feeling relaxed, cozy, and serene but not disoriented. It was a luscious feeling, and the anesthetic wears off rather quickly, so I was completely lucid in a short period of time. I had no residual pain. You will need to arrange a ride home, and do not expect to do anything the rest of the day, as you still may feel the effects of the anesthetic.
Surprisingly, I was not famished after almost 2 days of no solid foods, so I reintroduced foods slowly over the next day. After the procedure, your entire digestive system is a blank canvas, so this is a great opportunity to replenish your gut with healthy, wholesome, nutrient-rich foods. If you don’t already take probiotics, start after your colonoscopy, as you will want to re-populate your gut with good, friendly bacteria.
I no longer fear the colonoscopy, and I found a way to embrace the mindfulness that surrounded the entire process. My body felt refreshed and energized in a way that I did not anticipate. I hope that these tips serve to soothe and placate any reluctance or fear you may have to schedule your colonoscopy. Please leave comments, questions, or suggestions. Bottoms up!