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Back in 2009, Jon Reiner was feeling as healthy as he ever had. Jon has Crohn's disease--an autoimmune condition that affects his gastrointestinal system--but it had been in remission for a year. He was eating like a horse and felt terrific. But then one afternoon, a strange and ferocious pain struck him in the gut. It felt as if his insides had exploded. Because, well, they had. Jon was rushed into surgery and survived, but when his doctors met him afterward in recovery, they told him he there'd been a complication: in order for Jon's gut to heal fully, they'd have to shut it down and feed him intravenously. For a while. The doctors told Jon the nutrients he'd receive would give him everything he'd need to survive. But they were wrong.

This is a story about the deep power of the gut--not just to shape our minds, but to keep us from losing them. It's a story that suggests chewing and swallowing and digesting aren't just things we do to stay alive ... but things we do to stay, well, human.

Read more:

Jon Reiner, The Man Who Couldn't Eat


Jon Reiner

Comments [25]

Nicole from Minneapolis and Paris

I always love your relevant, funny, thought-provoking show, but this one hits so close to home. I was diagnosed over 20 years ago with Crohn's Disease. After about 8 years on mountains of steroids, immunomodulators and other drugs, I began to do frantic, and somewhat furtive, research in attempts to avoid a doctor-prescribed colectomy. I discovered the Specific Carbohydate Diet and cultured foods, which saved my colon and removed Crohn's Disease symptoms permanently from my life. Perhaps I am just lucky, but I have complied with this diet and ingested my homemade cultured foods every day for almost 12 years and gastroenterologists can't even find a trace of the enormous bleeding ulcers that plagued my colon for a good chunk of my youth. Over a decade ago my doctors called my bacterial theories bogus and me crazy. Now, finally, in the last several years, they are saying the opposite. The microbiome is being studied and many people with myriad illnesses will not have to go through the horrible medications and surgeries that former IBD patients did. I realize you didn't get into bacterial cures, but thank you so much for having a show on a topic that could help so many people!

Apr. 29 2017 05:32 PM
Amy from Vermont

What distressed me more than anything about this story was the wife taking the kids and leaving. What kind of person leaves their beloved spouse - even temporarily - when he is at his lowest point - sick, depressed, on the verge of death? Hey, maybe it was tough for her, but it was much, much worse for him. I guess she did not marry him, "in sickness and in health." How terribly sad. I am so glad I am married to a person with a kind and compassionate heart who I know would never "take a break" from me when I was at my most vulnerable, nor would I ever do this to him.

If things get bad, get help - don't just leave someone alone to deal with hell on their own.

Best of luck in your healing, Joe.

Apr. 29 2017 05:07 PM
Antony Papadia from Cape Cod

I really empathized with this man. I suffer of GERD and cant eat certain types of foods, so I mildly understand how hard it is. But on another note, this story enraged me. Because, he was surrounded by terrible people during a terrible time. I really hope he divorced that women. She cooked large meals for years in front of him, without any consideration for his condition. She pretty much taught her children that not caring about the fathers condition is fine. And then when the going got tough, she left. I had to take care of my cancer afflicted mother for 4 years. What she did was wrong. Shame on that women.

Jul. 28 2015 11:04 AM
Daniel from Durham

This story reminded me mostly of the clinical scenario of vitamin B12 deficiency which is quite possible in the setting of long-standing Crohn's disease. Besides directly reduced absorption of B12 related to inflammation in the bowel from Crohn's disease, a bowel resection may have removed the part of the intestine important for B12 absorption. Among other things like anemia and neuropathy (including thought changes like dementia and problems with motor and sensory neurons which), B12 deficiency has been directly linked with atrophic glossitis (the smooth tongue described in the story).

Jul. 11 2015 12:02 AM
j from Portland, OR

wow. i think his wife is amazingly unsympathetic.

She was making giant plates of food in front of this person who can not eat without replacing the basic human need. People are bringing food by without respecting any part of his experience.

She views his cake time as "perverse." She could have helped him. Prepared interesting foods for him to touch. Helped him experience food in totally different ways. She is hugely a part of the problem.

Jan. 27 2015 02:28 PM
kmk from Zurich

what an amazing story. Hopefully jon now is aware as to why all this is happening to choices. glad he beat it. and hope he is still doing well.

Jan. 24 2015 05:14 PM

I read this book awhile ago. He made me feel like I was right there with him!

Jan. 24 2015 03:59 PM
devon perry from coarsegold, california

gluten free diet. :)

Jan. 22 2015 03:54 PM
John from USA

Walking out on your husband because he's sick and depressed? Nice.

Jan. 21 2015 03:13 PM
Sellers from North Carolina

I empathize with the poor man with a deadly digestive infection and no taste buds because when you are on the verge of possible death many people try and check items off their bucket lists and enjoy life in every way possible including tasting good food. This man's life-span was becoming shorter with the worsening infection and he was not able to taste food for a very ling time. I can not even imagine this especially when it seems that I cannot stick with any diet. This type of infection is not one that I think of very often, but anyone can get it so we without it should be thankful and those with the infection should be able to have better healthcare than the man in this podcast received. This man's testimony just goes to show the power that our taste buds, stomach and brain have over us. Not tasting food brought this man on the brink of suicide, something needs to be done to help this infection heal faster.

Apr. 22 2014 11:55 PM
Garrett from South Plainfield, NJ

Classic One-liner at the end!

Oct. 17 2013 11:08 PM
jennifer wood from sacramento, ca

Crazy and well-told story. It was interesting that your story followed the one about the relationship between bacteria in the gut and the brains of mice. There is growing research making connections between the role of bacteria and auto-immune diseases in the gut. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet directly addresses this connection and there are tons of cookbooks, commuities, and yummy foods out there for people who find it helpful. I hope Jon has found health. Jon, if you are still struggling, check out the SCD. I have Ulcerative Colitis and I find it to be a very rewarding diet. Best, Jennifer

Oct. 16 2013 04:16 PM
Jewell from Foothills of Great Smoky Mountains


Thank you for sharing your amazing journey through NPR's RadioLab today... It was heartbreaking to know what you and your family went through, the individual suffering endured on many levels... I only wish someone could have shared a way for your to naturally and safely detoxify your body of the chronic inflammation this condition resulted.. To immediately discover a way for you to support balance your pH level, reducing chronic inflammation, please review the following link.

Blessings and in gratitude,

Jewell Cornette

Aug. 03 2012 03:18 PM

For my 60th birthday my son gave me a book called Self Health revolution by Michael Zenn. It is about making smarter choices what you eat. I began taking a less passive role in my food choices and added probiotics to my diet along with more raw and less processed foods. I have to say also that I have suffered from depression for many, many years. About 2 weeks into this I ran out of anti-depressants, I also was short of cash so I put off getting the meds, I felt good so I did not rush to the pharmacy to get the script. Well. a week goes by and I still am feeling good. I just chalked it up to the healthier eating, who knew that what I eat would have a major impact on my mood! Then I heard you show on guts and what Professor Crayan and his mice are doing, I was stunned I thought the probiatics were helping the digestive tract. I do not know if this is a coinicedence or Professor Cryan is onto something

Jun. 22 2012 12:31 AM
Liz from Nebraska

This was a great episode! Thanks Jon for sharing your story and thank you radiolab for bringing us some interesting research. The following quotes, made far before recent developments in our understanding of the gut, nonetheless seem appropriate for hinting at the way in which churnings of our guts, and the microbial critters that inhabit them may play a big role in shaping our experience and quality of life.

What we feel and think and are is to a great extent determined by the state of our ductless glands and viscera – Aldous Huxley

All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality – MLK Jr.

Apr. 28 2012 12:43 AM
Eric from Nyc

A fascinating and honest account of what was no doubt a horrible time. The tale is both sobering and uplifting. A lovely job by both Reiner and NPR, not to mention the no small contribution by his wife. I hope it helps sell a million books! Reiner and spouse deserve no less. And loved her comment about the underwear drawer. Yes, it's worth listening to just for that insightful comment!

Apr. 15 2012 03:49 PM
Jon Reiner from NYC

For answers to all of these excellent questions about me, my health, my family, etc., I invite you to please read my memoir, The Man Who Couldn't Eat. It's all there. Thank you for the listen.

Apr. 11 2012 12:42 PM

Fear not! Jon's wife came back. All is well in the Reiner home!

Apr. 10 2012 02:58 PM
DLH from Los Angeles

What happened with Jon and his wife? Did she move back home again, or did they separate for good? Don't leave us hanging!

Apr. 09 2012 03:34 PM
Bob Minder from

Oh my oh my! I just finished living without any food or drink going in my mouth for four months... tube fed. Most therapists thought I would be tube fed for the rest of my life, but I managed to pass my swallow test and am again eating and drinking. had my tube removed last week and joked with a friend that my wife watches my digestion rather than t.v. now. this was before hearing the show this week. and then the last story... i laughed so hard and then cried equally hard all within the same two minutes. and what a help to hear so much of what i experienced being expressed. yesterday i confessed to my wife and grown children that after the two months in the hospital, when i got home to the computer i kept bookmarking restaurants I wanted to go to after having studied, i mean studied, i mean visualized and DIGESTED their menus. and other confessions. my goodness... we all know the feeling of coincidence, of literature speaking rather directly to us, and what a blessed feeling it is. but i do believe i have never felt it quite this forcefully. bless you all. bob minder

Apr. 06 2012 03:38 PM
Carolyn from New York, NY

Fascinating story. The book is a must-read!

Apr. 05 2012 05:24 PM

Thanks Don! Typo fixed. Glad to hear you enjoyed the piece.

Apr. 04 2012 02:14 PM

This story made me get the munchies so bad. I tried to resist having a snack but finally when he was able to eat again I couldn't take and I broke open a Nutrigrain bar. There's another validation for the power of storytelling for ya.

Apr. 04 2012 12:21 PM
Don McArthur from Chattanooga, TN

That's a misspelling of Crohn's Disease in your story description about "Gutless." As to the story itself, I was on the road this afternoon driving from Atlanta to Chattanooga, and I was laughing aloud while listening to it. Just one of the better things you have done. Thanks.

Apr. 03 2012 02:49 PM
Chris from Zurich

The Man Who Couldn’t Eat was a fantastically, painful, yet delightful read. I felt like I was with Jon at every moan and groan.

Apr. 03 2012 02:03 PM

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