Disordered Eating and Body Issues with IBD
For an outsider who doesn’t really know that much about Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, they might not understand how IBD impacts almost every facet of a person’s life. Eating, body image issues, and self-esteem problems are what I want to focus on now.
Eating issues because of ulcerative colitis
I have developed major eating issues (I typically refer to it as disordered eating) because of my ulcerative colitis. I also have self-esteem problems related to my constant weight fluctuations. My body image truly sucks. I have no idea what I “should” look like or weigh. I am trying to be real here, not negative so that other people who are feeling this way might be able to take comfort in the fact that it is so far from just them.
I have never admitted this but when binge eating disorder started becoming more widely known and understood, it made me feel less alone. Seeing commercials for it so much kind of made me feel like “if someone who hasn’t had their entire digestive tract re-done can have problems with food, maybe I am not as crazy as I thought.”
Do I eat differently than healthy people?
I always thought healthy people just ate, went about their business, and never really gave it much thought. I did have girl-friends in high school who suffered with their weight, eating too much, eating too little, etc but I still for some reason felt like the odd one out.
Disordered eating, as I like to call it, is so common among patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. It is only recently being talked about more openly because discussions of food and weight and low self-image are just too vulnerable for most people. Heck, it is an incredibly difficult thing for me to share and I honestly will only get into the nitty-gritty details of what I go through with one other person in my life (who happens to also suffer from IBD.)
Picture this for a minute:
There are a lot of times when an IBD patient either cannot physically eat, or they don’t feel comfortable mentally ingesting something.
So, they do without food.
Until they come home, their body feels starved (because, well, it has been, through no fault of that person,) and craves nutrition.
Avoiding and then binging food because of UC
Usually, when someone is so incredibly hungry, they don’t make themselves healthy meals; they reach for something quick and easy. And while those simple things can help with hunger, a person’s body is not getting the nutrients they really need...so their body craves more food. And a binge cycle can start.
There have been so many times when I was just eating the entire fridge and kitchen (things I barely even liked!) because my body just craved food.
There have also been times when I eat something I know is bad for my GI tract, so I figure I might as well make it a “bad eating” day. If I am going to suffer anyway, why not eat whatever I like and enjoy it since most days, I have to be much more restricted. Sometimes, my stomach is hurting as I am stuffing my face. It makes no sense but seriously... that is how messed up my body/brain is when it comes to food because of this disease.
The changes that UC causes to the body
I was a competitive swimmer who loved eating, didn’t worry too much about weight even though I was a lot heavier/more muscular than other girls my age, and just loved being me. When ulcerative colitis came into my world and changed my body in ways I never thought possible, I don’t think my teenage brain knew how to handle it.
I also started to see that not eating meant less time running to the bathroom. And then with my ostomy, less food meant less chance of a leak. It also meant that I could focus on what was in front of me instead of constantly checking to make sure my bag wasn’t filling up, excusing myself to use the restroom, and just missing out on the day.
There are times when doctors convinced me to give up entire food groups, only then to find out that eliminating those foods made no difference. It always took me a while for my mind to feel safe eating certain things again.
Eating issues are common for those with Crohn's or UC
I could go on and on and might write another article about this topic at some point but I just wanted to put this out there. Eating issues are extremely common in inflammatory bowel disease patients and the topic is not covered enough, in my opinion. Lack of resources and people sharing their personal stories led me to feel completely alone in this area of my life. I want to share this with others so they don’t have to feel how I felt for so long.
To anyone who is reading this and can relate in some way, please know that there is nothing wrong with you! Or, actually, the only thing wrong with you is the fact that you have a disease that you cannot control that also happens to impact every fiber of your being. It would be strange if your eating habits and/or the way you felt about yourself based on weight fluctuations from surgeries and medications, etc did not impact you.
Would you consider participating in a clinical trial for a new treatment if you had to see a different doctor during the study?
What is your comfort level disclosing your IBD to your employer?