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The Impact of Ulcerative Colitis on My Body (Image)


Everyone with ulcerative colitis knows the effects it can have on the human body. We all know the familiar grumble of our digestive systems turning against us. If we haven’t experienced all the symptoms ourselves, we have definitely heard them read to us by countless doctors or researched them thoroughly on our own time, hovering over the glow of our phone screens as we desperately try to convince ourselves that it can’t be another flare-up of the disease we’ve been diagnosed with – this is just a stomachache, right?

And then the real symptoms start: the pain, the cramping, the running to the bathroom because you’re sure you won’t make it but you do (because you were half-expecting this, anyways), and of course the nastier stuff that I don’t need to write out to recognize. We all know intimately the effects UC has on our bodies, whether it be the symptoms or the weight loss or gain. But what I’d like to talk about are the effects ulcerative colitis has had on my body image – and maybe yours, too.

I’ve typed out this story half a dozen times already, but I think the best way to explain how I feel is to dive right in: I love my body. I don’t love what’s happening on the inside all the time, but I love my body for what it is. This last year has held record weight loss and weight gain (thanks, prednisone), but I’m happy wherever the number stops on my bathroom scale. Ulcerative colitis highlighted a very important lesson in the textbook of body image: we can’t control everything, so do what makes you happy. Eat what you can while you can. There are going to be days when you gain weight and days when you lose it, and there will be days when you can’t control any of it.

I say this all as someone who – as recently as last year – hated her body. I used to have fantasies of the weight just falling off! But when ulcerative colitis came around and granted my wish by stealing a lot of weight in the month before being diagnosed, I was suddenly very protective of my body and every pound of fat on it. I missed the way I looked when I was heavier. I wasn’t happy being skinny like I thought I would be. It took a while to work through my feelings towards myself and realize that my weight didn’t have to change one way or the other for me to be happy – it was a conscious decision I had to make for myself, on the inside. I had to remind myself every morning as I stepped on that scale that it was out of my control, and that I could only do what I needed to do to survive. I took my medications, ate my meals and took care of myself regardless of how my weight changed. Survival mode definitely changes your priorities.

My weight is currently back to where it can be considered healthy, but even now I realize I’m not making decisions for my weight anymore. I don’t look at foods and think about how much weight I’m putting on my body. If it doesn’t upset my ulcerative colitis and I like the taste of it, it is probably on my plate. That might not be the best way to live my life, but I strongly believe that we’re more than ulcerative colitis and we should be eating the things that make us feel good, not just the foods listed on the “Ulcerative Colitis Diet” websites. Things will be out of our control some days, so we might as well not worry about what happens and enjoy ourselves in the time between. If that means gaining a few pounds in exchange for eating our favorite safe foods, then so be it. Our happiness should come before the way our bodies look in the mirror.

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Photo via DeepGreen on Getty Images