Eat, Pray, Love and the UTI

I really did not expect to like Eat, Pray, Love.  In fact, since its publication in 2006, I’d been avoiding it like the plague. “Typical, New-Agey, Oprah-y, Grrl-book”, I thought. Nothing in it to speak to me.

Then I saw the trailer for the movie, and I was hooked – probably because I, like mostly everyone, love Julia Roberts. I immediately downloaded the book on my IPhone using the Kindle App and began to read.

First, let me say that Elizabeth Gilbert writes exceptionally well, and the book is actually a joy to read. I of course loved the Italy eating part. But more surprising to me, I wasn’t turned off by the whole yoga, Guru, find yourself stuff. This is because Gilbert writes it all with a reporter’s curiosity and a skeptic’s eye, and frames it not as a belief system, but as a tool for self-discovery and peace. (Plus I’m really good at skimming if I get bored….)

Too bad Gilbert’s curiosity and skepticism does not extend to the healthcare she receives while in Bali. She accepts the curative powers of a warm leaf placed on an oozing, infected cut without even wondering what leaf it might be or how it might have worked. Was it the heat (most likely), or something else (possibly)? – I was dying to know. She xeroxes pages and pages of traditional medical treatments without sharing a single one with us in any meaningful way. While I’m pretty sure 99% of what was in there was bunk, but there might be a few gems that would serve medical science. Unless Lizzie made a second copy, we’ll never know, will we?

But it was the UTI that really got to me…


About 9 months into her year of discovery, Gilbert, after a prolonged self-enforced sexual hiatus, takes a Brazilian lover. Not surprisingly, she shortly thereafter comes down with a bladder infection –

After all those nights of not sleeping and all those days of too much lovemaking, my body struck back and I got attacked by a nasty infection in my bladder. A typical affliction of the overly sexed, especially likely to strike when you’re not used to being overly sexed anymore. It came up as fast as any tragedy can strike.

In the old days, Ms Gilbert’s affliction would have been called “Honeymoon Cystitis”. Now we call it “post-coital cystitis”. And she’s spot on, that it seems to occur more often than not when sexual activity takes an upswing in frequency. Usually things settle down after awhile – probably because we settle down after awhile.

Gilbert, a seasoned cystitis vet, recognizes her symptoms immediately, and practically within minutes is at her friend Wayan the Medicine Woman’s home. Wayan tries more than a few herbal concoctions, none of which seem to be working. Then, just as Gilbert is about to give in and take the antibiotics she’s brought with her for just such an occasion, Wayan throws the kitchen sink at the problem  –

Then she went into the kitchen and produced a giant glass mixing bowl full of leaves,roots, berries, something I recognized as turmeric, some shaggy mass of something that looked like witches’ hair, plus eye of what I believe might have been newt . . . all floating in its own brown juice. There was about a gallon of it in the bowl, whatever it was. It stank like a corpse.

Drink, honey,” Wayan said. “Drink all.”

Lo and behold, Gilbert is cured!

In less than two hours I was fine, totally healed. An infection that would have taken days to treat with Western antibiotics was gone.

Now I don’t know what was in that brew, but do you think maybe the GALLON OF WATER might have had a little something to do with its magical curative powers?

Hydration, after all, is one of the mainstays of cystitis treatment. It’s not rocket science – You dilute up the bacteria, flush it out, lower the colony count and thus give your immune system a good shot at clearing things up on its own. Gilbert maximized the chances of this working by recognizing her symptoms and starting hydration almost immediately.  What was floating in the water probably had very little to do with her cure – unless there was a cranberry or two. Cranberry juice, after all, has been shown to block the adherence of e.Coli to the bladder wall.

Now, I think it’s fine that Gilbert avoided taking antibiotics, especially since her sympoms lasted a few hours at most.  What I take issue with is her lack of curiosity as to what might have cured her. A simple conversation with a doctor, while researching her book (and she does lots of research on many areas, including a fascinating foray into the history of the Italian language) and she might have unearthed the amazing curative powers of hydration, giving her reader’s a little healthy skepticism and a bit of knowledge. Instead, she fills their heads with woo-woo.

Could Gilbert have caught something else?

I also found myself a little worried that Gilbert might have picked up more than a UTI from having sex with her new lover. He tells her she does not need to worry about birth control because he’s had a vasectomy. I took this to mean they did not use even a condom. (Given how open Gilbert is about her experiences,  I think we would have heard about a condom if one had been there…)

This guy’s been on his own in Bali for what – five years?  Not so smart, Elizabeth.

Bottom Line

Enjoy Eat, Pray, Love for what it is. A beautifully written story of one woman’s journey to find inner peace and love. If you find yourself booking a flight to Italy to eat pasta, be my guest. But I’d hold off on medical tourism to Bali for now if I were you.

As for me, I’m still going to see the movie. I do love Julia, after all…

If you think you are getting a UTI

Drinking water is definitely a good idea. You can mix it up with a little cranberry juice if you want. If this resolves your symptoms, great. If not, call your doctor for an antibiotic. And don’t wait too long – the symptoms can get pretty bad pretty fast.

Most UTI’s will respond to cheap, generic antibiotics. Sulfamethoxazole with trimethoprim (SMTP) and macrodantin are the ones I prescribe most often. If your infection does not respond to the antibiotic you’ve been given, it’s most likely due to resistance, and a culture and change in treatment are warranted.

Emptying your bladder after sex and staying hydrated are good ways to prevent post-coital UTI’s. Cranberry juice or pills may help. If, despite this, you get recurrent cystitis, you may be treated with prophylactic antibiotics for use after sex.

Like Gilbert, my patients travel with an antibiotic just in case they get a UTI, along with a little something for a yeast infection – I call the combo “Dr P’s travel kit”. Try to stay well-hydrated while traveling, especially if you’re having sex more frequently.

And if you’re traveling alone looking for love – pack a few condoms, won’t you?

12 Responses to Eat, Pray, Love and the UTI

  1. I’m glad to hear the book was actually ok… I, too, have resisted reading it but I’ve been curious since I saw the trailer for the movie. Who knows, maybe I’ll suck it up and add it to my ‘To Read’ list.

    She is a brave woman! I’ve only had to deal with a UTI/Kidney infection once and I’m not sure I would resist taking antibiotics.

  2. Ok so I am a guy and we don’t get infections from too much sex ( unless it is an STI of course), but what would make someone not take antibiotics for a bladder infection? I am in the Pharma industry and I travel to India often. Trust me that there is no limitation on availability of antibiotics in India! I would, however, NEVER trust some home remedy from India. The water alone can get you in as much trouble. She would need cipro from the travelers diarrhea! Lovely.

  3. Schruggling-
    good point – I hadn’t thought about the water issue. Although by the time this happened, she had been i Bali long enough for her gut to aclimate, I suppose..

    Laura –
    It really was a nice book. Of course, I was on a mini-vacation at the time I was reading it, and in mid-life crisis like everyone else my age, but a lot of it spoke to me. What didn’t – I skimmed.

    Nancy and Yoo – VERY funny!!!

    RL – I’ve been hearing the movie is not so great, but I think I will still see it. Let me know if you do , how it was.


  4. I just finished reading this book also, and I really like her personal, honest voice (although at points I think she’s a bit whiny, but I like how she acknowledges it.) I absolutely loved the Italy-food part, but as you said found the “pray” and “love” sections to be insightful and not at all preachy.

    I really want to see the movie too! And in response to your comments about her bladder infection, I think your argument makes a lot of sense and it’s likely that she cured herself with hydration. However, a lot of traditional Eastern cures are not just hocus pocus. My relatives are from China and I have been there a few times. There are many respectable doctors who also study “traditional” medicine. And once when I had massively awful food poisoning, my uncle gave me this spoonful of nasty-tasting powdered herb and I was cured in 30 min. I brought a bottle home and gave it to my suite mate when she was vomiting and it cured her as well. I think it would be significant if doctors started researching some of the “magic” behind traditional medicine as many are doing with ganoderma mushroom. Who knows what sort of medical milestones could be accomplished if we combined old and modern medicine?

  5. I had heard great things about the book (and a good friend urged me to read it) but the wee wee woo woo might put the kibosh on it. I’m not a fan of pseudoscience and have grown weary of all its “enlightened magical cures.” As much as I like the idea of eat-pray-love… if it means I have to endure some snake oil touting too, I think I’ll pass. Or maybe I’ll review the book for Science Based Medicine? 😉 Hmm…

  6. OK, so I had the same apprehensive feelings about this book/ movie… The book finally found its place on my shelf, but the spine has not yet been cracked. I will likely read it eventually, but may need some time to try and forget the wee wee woo woo story. 🙂 and, yes, the movie also makes it to my list

    For (what seems to be) a similar story, I might recommend Tales of a Female Nomad, by Rita Golden Gelman. Not so much eat (sadly), but lots of pray (very spiritual), and plenty of love (self and others). Tons of travel, with many very real references (at least that was true of the places I have visited that she referenced). Granted, this hasn’t become a Hollywood hit with a great actress, but…

  7. Good write-up. I also resisted, but broke down and really, really enjoyed Gilbert’s frank discussions, particularly on her prayer life. So – I found this site trying to find out WHAT WAS THAT INSTANT BALI CURE. And yes, I am shocked Gilbert herself wasn’t more curious to get that recipe. Ladies, H20 does not clear a raging infection. Antibiotics, cranberry, yes, but this is bacteria that adheres to the bladder, and water will not kill it, or flush it. Unless we can find someone from the Balinese community out there, I guess its back to Ocean Spray. Mighty inefficient, but better than having to get a Dr. appt. each time.

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