star Taraji P. Henson's stomach was burning. "I would have these bouts where I couldn't keep anything down, not even water," she said. The actress wasn't sure what was wrong with her; it came out of nowhere. And it sent her to the ER three times.
Eventually, she had a diagnosis: She had gastritis, an inflammation of her stomach lining. The more she learned about the illness, the more she realized it came down to one major factor - what she was downing on an empty stomach. Ibuprofen turned out to be a big offender, and her symptoms were only exacerbated by her java habit.
"Even though it says don't take on an empty stomach, when you're 16 and you have your menstrual cycle and you're in pain, you roll over and pop Ibuprofen and you don't think anything of it. It was years of doing that and years of drinking coffee on an empty stomach," Henson, now 46, says. "That is a no-no. It was the cumulative effect of all these things."
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Henson immediately changed the way she ate. Her body was producing way too much acid, so she started taking steps to balance things out.
"I drink about 32 ounces of bone marrow a day to coat and line my stomach," she says. "I ingest a lot of coconut oil and Bragg's [apple cider] vinegar."
Most mornings, she'll start the day with four boiled eggs and fermented vegetables - the veggies, like sauerkraut, aid with digestion - or a low-sugar cereal, like Special K, with almond milk.
"Now that I know better, I do better."
"I love a good pickle," Henson says. For lunch and dinner, she'll have boiled chicken - she can't do heavy oils, so fried foods are off-limits - and sautéed spinach or zucchini. "It's almost like I had to strip my body of everything, and I had to slowly introduce solids back into my body, like a baby."
With her always on-the-go lifestyle - it's not uncommon for her to be in Los Angeles and New York in the same week - Henson realized early on that the key to avoiding slipping into these old patterns was meal prep.
© Maarten de Boer / GettyA Hospital Scare Made Taraji P. Henson Transform Her Diet - And Her Whole Life
"Now that I know better, I do better," Henson says. It's also helped her lead a healthier lifestyle all around. "Preparation helps; it calms my nerves. That way, when I'm out there in the world and there's a McDonald's - I don't want that - I have some bars or protein bites in my purse."
A recent Kellogg's study opened Henson's eyes further. When she learned that most women spend a full hour of their day obsessing over what to eat - frequently second-guessing, doubting, or regretting their choices - she partnered with the brand to take action.
"That equates to 15 days out of the year? That's too much," Henson says. "I want women to own their food choices. You've got to eat. You shouldn't feel guilty about food. There are times you'll fall off the wagon, and that's okay."
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Gallery: 5 Reasons Why Your Stomach Hurts (by Good Housekeeping) 5 Reasons Why Your Stomach Hurts