Cut the CATS--It Just Might Work.
What are CATs and why should they be cut out of diet?
CATs stands for Caffeine, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Sugar. As a non-smoker, eliminating tobacco was no problem, but it was the other three that were going to be quite a challenge. But I did it, and it helped, and here’s how:
Caffeine and needing to use the bathroom
Caffeine is a stimulant. It speeds up your system, and it is no secret that our morning coffee has us using the bathroom pretty quickly after consumption. It is also quite acidic, another reason why cutting it from your diet can help ease stomach pain.
I honestly thought sugar was going to be the hardest thing to cut out of my diet, but it turns out that giving up caffeine was insanely difficult for me. I never realized how much I relied on it to function, and living with Crohn’s means that I was basically drinking it all day just to prevent me from falling asleep at my desk.
I would buy a 12 oz cup on my way to work, refill it in my office (I even had a Keurig on my desk), and then would go for my daily 3pm stroll to Starbucks for a little afternoon pick-me-up. It was an endless cycle that had no sign of stopping...until one day it just did.
I decided to at first just cut back on my caffeine by swapping my daily cup of joe for green tea. While it still contains some caffeine, it has significantly less and was more gentle on my stomach.
After a few days, I became accustomed to the reduction in caffeine and didn’t notice the change in my energy after a few weeks. My body functioned on that amount of caffeine, and I found that I was no longer running to the bathroom four times before 10am.
Eventually, I reduced my three cups of green tea a day to just one, followed by some herbal tea in the afternoon, and I was feeling much better physically and energetically within a few weeks.
Alcohol and irritation on the gut
I know, I am taking all of the fun stuff off the table, but alcohol contains sugar which causes inflammation and irritation in the gut. Most people with Crohn’s cannot tolerate any type of alcohol, and some have intolerances to certain types.
But if you are looking to relieve stomach issues, cutting back on the amount of alcohol you consume is a good place to start. It is also beneficial to avoid overly sugary drink mixes, as not only do they cause major hangovers, but they lead to further irritation of the digestive tract.
When I started my “Cut CATS” journey, I was 27, single, and living in the city, so drinking alcohol at least five days a week was not unusual. Between work events, girls nights out, and pouring myself a glass of wine with dinner, it was difficult to eliminate alcohol from my diet. However, when it came to choosing my wellbeing over wine, I had to go with the former.
I never cut back on my social obligations, especially if they were work-related, but I swapped my vodka sodas for just club soda and only enjoyed one glass of wine with dinner. I also stopped buying alcohol for my apartment so that I wasn’t tempted to have a nightcap on any random night.
Eventually, I started to feel much better and would go weeks without one drop of wine. I felt good, and that was all that mattered.
Cutting out tobacco for better GI health
As I mentioned before, I do not smoke or chew tobacco so this was an easy one for me. Like caffeine, tobacco is also a stimulant, which can affect the GI tract, and it also increases the chance of heartburn and peptic ulcers.
According to the NIH, those living with Crohn’s disease who smoke are more likely to have more severe symptoms, require surgery, and endure complications compared to nonsmokers.1 So, if you are a smoker, you may want to create a serious strategy to quit ASAP.
Eliminating sugar in the diet
Ah, sugar. It is so sweet, yet so cruel. Most of us have a love/hate relationship with it. We love how it tastes, yet we hate how we feel (physically and emotionally) after eating it. And, not only does it add extra pounds, it wreaks havoc through our bodies that not even the toughest spin class can work off.
Sugar affects our gut bacteria by causing unhealthy inflammation and raises cholesterol which also increases inflammation within our bodies. Living with a chronic inflammatory disease, sugar is definitely our kryptonite.
Regardless if you are vegan, gluten-free, AIP, or 100% carnivore, eating more sugar has never been the key to health for anyone. But, how do you actually cut sugar from your diet? It is honestly in basically everything (just read the labels!).
I started with easy targets. The obvious sugar-laden weak points in my diet. I avoided the receptionist’s desk where I would always stop for a piece of candy after lunch. I passed on desserts after dinner (and enjoyed hot cinnamon tea and a clementine which are perfectly sweet).
And, as I did with alcohol, I just stopped buying candy, cookies, and other sweets for my apartment. If it wasn’t within reach, I wasn’t eating it.
Sugar hidden in processed foods
Eventually, I started giving up processed food that contained sneaky amounts of sugar like salad dressings and condiments. (Seriously, sugar is everywhere.) And, I started to feel well and energized without relying on the sweet substance to fuel me for a few hours before my inevitable crash. I started feeling like my old self again, and it felt amazing.
Eliminating CATs in an attempt to feel better
Just to be clear, I am not telling you exactly what to eat because I know that Crohn’s affects everyone differently and we all tolerate different foods, but if you find that you cannot get your symptoms under control, it is worth eliminating CATS for a few weeks to see what happens. Best case scenario, you feel much better—isn’t that worth a shot?
Does exercising regularly help in the management of your symptoms?