'Should I or Shouldn't I': Indulging on Food Over the Holidays With Crohn's Disease
Food. It’s only a four-letter word, but did you know it’s actually one of the most complex words in the dictionary? Really, it’s true! Well, for some of us anyway. Let’s get one thing straight: I. Love. Food. I love food. I love food!
Food. We can’t live without it. Literally – we need it to function. Without it, we would fade away to a shadow. But aside from being as necessary to us as oxygen, it is also a pleasure – an immense pleasure! We usually eat whatever tastes delicious to us, whatever makes our taste buds scream with delight. How magnificent that every day – at least three times a day – we get to consume something that elates us. No matter what is going on during the day, we can always take pleasure in those big and wonderful decisions of what we are going to eat!
Food also has the capability of not only helping us exist, but allowing us to exist in ways that are either beneficial or detrimental to our physical selves. (Now it starts to get really complicated…brace yourselves.) Food can have the ability to help us gain or lose weight, depending on what and how much we eat. Particular foods give us nutrients, minerals, proteins and fats that can help alleviate particular ailments the body is presenting.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates
Spot on! We had this wisdom B.C.… so why has it all become so complicated? Personally, I think that with the introduction of preservatives, chemicals, faster/more high-tech ways of producing food for the masses, our food has lost its natural and organic healing properties. Instead it has turned nutrition into a confusing state of affairs, promoting health concerns, bad digestion, bacteria, etc. rather than health. And perhaps that is why our culture is now turning back towards the organic way of life. However, even with an organic lifestyle, food is still not so simple. Food can be confusing, especially if you have particular ailments.
The thing is, when you’re living with Crohn’s, food does become a major issue. It can sometimes help, but it can also hinder and cause pain. I like to think I can eat what I want. You know, everything in moderation? But some foods have more of an effect on the gut than others…
Like ice cream. Darn it! The one constant with a lot of these health diets seems to be that sugar and particular dairy (milk especially, though hard cheeses and some yogurts seem to be OK) can disrupt your system. I always find that when I have too much “naughty” dairy it affects my digestive system. Some cramping and bloating will also be on the dessert menu.
Like alcohol. Gosh dang it! To crack open a bottle of red with someone, kick back and enjoy… how lovely! Until you find you’re running to the bathroom a bit faster than usual.
Like chocolate. Will you stop already?! Indeed, this well-known favorite is similar in effect to ice cream – the combination of sugar and cream seems to irritate the digestive system. Eating too much can leave me feeling uncomfortable. But who’s to stop me, right? I’m not a quitter (…when it comes to indulgence, that is).
All these delightful foods seem to have more of an effect during a “flare-up” of Crohn’s (when your digestive system is somewhat inflamed/ulcerated/active with disease). When consuming these things, your system is far more sensitive than it would be if you were in remission and without the active disease that causes bloating, an increased need to make a mad dash to the nearest bathroom and usually some cramping and pain.
There have been times when I was symptom-free (this doesn’t mean disease–free – the disease was just inactive) when I was having dinners with friends, drinking the wine, eating the brie cheese, having the chocolate (70 percent dark, thank you very much – yum!) and my system didn’t react at all! Other times, like now unfortunately, my system is very sensitive. I watch what I eat more because when the digestive system is sensitive, you can immediately feel the pain, cramping and bloating after eating something. Since I have also had a lot of surgery in the past and there is active disease around the scar tissue in parts of my small intestine, I am now finding it beneficial to eat foods that are easier to digest, such as bananas, oatmeal, eggs, well-cooked vegetables, fish – wholesome, but gentle on the gut. (However, I will have a delicious gluten-free chocolate brownie from my local bakery on occasion, and come the holidays I will be having an extra serving of dessert!)
We often try different diets if we have health concerns: paleo, vegan, vegetarian, ketogenic, gluten-free, sugar-free, juicing, “The Maker’s Diet,” “Eat Right 4 Your Blood Type,” “The Specific Carbohydrate Diet”… Not to brag, but I have tried them all. And those are only a handful of what’s out there.
When presenting a lot of flare-ups in my early 20s, my then-boyfriend and I researched “The Specific Carbohydrate Diet” and “The Maker’s Diet.” Both very wholesome, beautiful ways to eat – for anyone. But especially for people with Crohn’s. Both of these ways of eating were about consuming foods that were grain-free, mostly dairy-free and sugar-free, and full of nutrition, protein and healthy fats. Beautiful! However, what if you really want to bite into a banana muffin or sip on a chocolate milkshake? Sorry, not allowed. In the intro of “The Specific Carb Diet,” the author Elaine Gottschall expressed that you can’t deviate from this diet at all. Not even a bite of something “naughty,” because that one bite could affect the chemical balance in your body and boom: you could trigger a flare-up.
Trying to sustain yourself on one of these health diets long-term is difficult, but I did it – I stayed on the Maker’s Diet for a few years. I believe this way of eating really does make sense for my body. And it helped me. I wasn’t totally symptom- or disease-free, but it helped.
So why not stay on this diet 24/7? Because I’m weak. I love chocolate. I love red wine. I love pastries. I love coffee. I love pizza. I love going out to dinner, not worrying and eating what I want with those I love. Dieting becomes especially difficult during the holiday season when you want to kick up your heels and throw all care to the wind. Heaven help me!
I wish food wasn’t such an issue, especially when I love it so much! But, this is life with bowel disease. It’s going to be a constant conversation with yourself: “Should I? Or shouldn’t I?” One thing is for certain with Crohn’s disease: you are always learning! You’re constantly checking in, listening to your body and discovering that what may work for you when you are symptom-free may not work so well when your disease is active.
Ah well, c’est la vie. If only that four-letter word was simple.
I’ll tell you what, though – when you do go for that food you know will cause you a little grief in the near future – perhaps as a treat over the holidays – my goodness, you savor it.
And when you see that person sitting down to an ice cream, making love to it with their eyes, slowly taking a bite and groaning with pleasure… as awkward as it may seem, take a step back and tip your hat, for that person is enjoying every second of that creamy sweetness, perhaps with a sacrifice in mind.
Anyway, just some “food” for thought. Happy Holidays, all! May you enjoy every mouthful of your sinful delights.
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