A place setting with a menu featuring only a single meal choice.

Does Your Diet Feel Extremely Limited?

As a certified health coach, I work with a number of individuals who suffer from Crohn's and UC. While most of our work together involves identifying a diet and lifestyle that works best for their body, we often address the emotional pitfalls that come with feeling so limited in what they can and cannot eat. As 1 of my clients put it, "I feel like I am just living in a world of 'No's' when it comes to my diet and I am desperately searching for a 'YES.'" 

As a Crohn's patient myself, I am all too familiar with the feeling of being restricted on what foods work for my body, which has left me feeling like everything in my life was lacking variety. I felt like I was living in a world of black and white and desperately needed color.

So, what is the best way to deal with having a limited diet? I don't know the best answer for everyone, but here are a few tips to help get you through.

Focus on what you CAN eat with a limited diet

Coming from a place of abundance as opposed to a place of deprivation can really go a long way. While it feels like you cannot eat anything, the truth is there are probably at least 5 things you can eat, and when prepared in different forms, can really add up to many options. 

For example, maybe you can tolerate oats. That means you can eat oatmeal, oatmeal protein bites, oatmeal muffins, and/or cold overnight oats. Taking one ingredient and changing its form will allow you to feel like you are adding variety to your diet yet staying within your "safe foods" options.

Also, it helps to think "But I can eat X" when looking at a bunch of options that you cannot eat, especially when dining out.  Can't eat the salad? That's OK. You can eat the soup. Can't eat the burger? You can eat the salmon. Just changing your mindset and approach will allow you to see how much variety is actually in your diet.

Is it a physical or emotional food restriction?

You may not necessarily have a physical restriction on food. It may be a mental restriction, such as thinking that a certain food may hurt your stomach, or perhaps you ate it once before and it gave you terrible stomach pains (or so you thought, maybe it was another food?) which makes you avoid it at all costs. Before jumping to conclusions, identify the reason you are avoiding certain ingredients. 

Is it truly a food that upsets your stomach, or is it just something you are afraid to try? Has it actually caused you to be sick or did someone else with Crohn's tell you not to eat it because it makes them sick? Knowing the difference between emotional and physical restrictions may help you expand your tolerated ingredients more than you realize.

Add variety to your life that doesn't involve food

Perhaps adding variety to your life isn't going to come from the food you eat. You can certainly add variety to your life through hobbies, experiences with loved ones, changing up where you eat (maybe sit in the dining room instead of the kitchen some nights to feel special or sit outside on warm nights to have a change of scenery), or simply by altering your routine slightly throughout the week. 

Putting too much emphasis on your diet makes it more difficult to see opportunities outside of meals to feel like your life is actually robust and full of possibilities.

Think about what you gain vs. lose

Remember why you are eating/drinking this way and how it affects your body. At the end of the day, our health should be our top priority. Maybe you are not able to eat fried chicken wings or mozzarella sticks, but isn't living free of stomach pain worth it? And, despite not eating the same foods as your friends when dining out, isn't it important to focus on the fact that you can spend time with them rather than being sick at home

Sometimes, making modifications in our diet and eliminating foods that cause us digestive distress actually adds more to our life by allowing us to actually enjoy and live it. I went gluten-free in 2013 and haven't looked back. I have been able to travel, go to fun events, take long car rides, have a family, and not be tied to my bathroom for hours simply because I gave up gluten. 

Can I have the same pizza everyone gets at the restaurant? No. But, can I sit and engage in conversation and not worry about how long the bathroom line is while I eat the (sometimes less tasty) gluten-free pizza? Yes, and that is way more important than what is on my plate.

Making sacrifices with Crohn's and UC

Sometimes, we have to make sacrifices in our diet in order to get more out of it, and that's OK. Focusing on what you can do and what you have opposed to what you don't have is one of the keys to success when living with Crohn's or UC.

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