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How Diet Plays a Role in Managing My Crohn's Disease


I have always struggled with the concept of diet in relation to Crohn’s disease. For so long, I wanted diet to play a role in my disease; that would enable me some form of control. Unfortunately, over the past seven years, I have learned that is not quite the case.

Don’t get me wrong, certain foods definitely have the ability to aggravate my stomach. There is a difference, however, between discomfort after eating, and a flare leading to a hospitalization or¬†a course of prednisone.¬†I think¬†food can best be conceptualized as an exacerbator of what is already going on inside my GI system rather than the perpetrator of disease activity.

 

To minimize the less serious¬†symptoms of my Crohn’s disease, such as bloating¬†and stomach pain, I stay away from fried food, oils, popcorn, green apples and a few other random things. I also struggle with eating at restaurants if the food is oily/greasy. I will treat myself to a pizza or burger every once in a while, but most of the time I prefer to have my body feel good and be fueled well.

Maintaining a balanced and healthy diet primarily based around nutrient-dense foods is critical for anyone, especially those of us with a chronic health condition. Through my own experimentation and inquiries to other members of the IBD community, I have found that each person is different in what works for them. When I find a food that does not bother me, I tend to stick to it. I enjoy eating the same meals every day if possible because that provides me with a sense of mental comfort and routine… one less thing to have to worry about.

For example, a staple in my diet is oatmeal. I can eat oatmeal every day and be perfectly content and satisfied. Mix in some protein powder and that provides me with a great fuel source for my¬†morning.¬†I also gravitate toward brown rice and other basic carbohydrates and avoid high-fat foods. However, this might not be the answer for someone else with Crohn’s disease. I have friends who swear by the paleo diet to maintain remission, others who are plant-based vegans. I have tried both of those extremes and have found that neither approach is right for me.

On that note, I gave vegetarianism another shot this past winter. I was a vegetarian for a few years in high school for purely ethical reasons. I still struggle with the idea of eating animals and animal products, but I know that in my situation, my body and nutrition needs must come first. I even went a step further and was recently a vegan for a few weeks. During that time I actually felt much worse, despite ensuring I was receiving enough vitamins and protein. I was bloated constantly and felt deprived of foods I love and consider healthy, such as eggs. I went back to eating lean meat (chicken and fish) as well as eggs and feel better than when I was eating a purely plant-based diet.

There are times when I can barely stomach any food due to nausea or pain, and instead of feeling obligated to provide an explanation¬† to others or myself, I just go with it. Some days are worse than others, but that is just part of life with IBD. I think anyone who¬†has Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis¬†struggles with a similar battle, but the issue is there is no universal solution.

I am definitely still learning about what does and does not work for my body. I used to feel ridiculous¬†having to explain to family and friends what new approach I was taking or why I was avoiding specific foods, but I have learned to worry less what others think. I can barely keep up with myself when it comes to nutrition, so I don’t expect anyone else to.

I have yet to write in depth about my thoughts and experiences with disordered eating and Crohn’s disease, but trust me, there is a connection; I will elaborate on this topic eventually. Since my diagnosis, I have obsessed over nutrition and learning everything I can about diet to better help myself. This creates a problem for me personally because, like I said, I have found I can’t completely manipulate my diet to heal myself; there is no perfect solution.¬†I struggle to accept that fact and still, though to a lesser degree now, try to control what goes on in my body to the best of my ability without mentally exhausting myself.

On the bright side, I am extremely knowledgeable about nutrition. Prior to my diagnosis, I would eat anything I wanted without considering the impact food has on my health. I am now passionate about learning, researching and reading all I can about how certain foods impact our bodies in various ways. Contrarily, I constantly am reminding myself that maintaining a perfect diet does not equate to a cured disease in my case.

Currently, I practice moderation, which sometimes means enjoying that dessert or whatever else I’m craving. Balance is crucial for my mental health.¬†Most of the time, I feel better with simple meals, and to be honest, that is what my tastebuds have learned to crave.¬†But hey, some days, I just want to eat pizza.

In short, no, diet does not affect my Crohn’s disease in a significant way. Stress, however, definitely is a major contributor in my experience (read about my latest stress-induced flare here). Do you have foods or stressful situations you avoid because of your IBD?

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Thinkstock photo via Danilin.