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New Year, New Diet? Tips for Approaching a "Diet Change" With IBD

Last updated: January 2023

Many things are associated with January – cold weather, NFL playoffs, MLK Day, and of course the inevitable new year's resolutions. It's great to set resolutions, aiming to become a better version of the person you were the year before. The problem, however, is that most people abandon their resolutions by mid-February, reverting back to their old habits and old complaints of years past.

Making diet changes for Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis

One common resolution and goal people set is to change their diet. Whether it be for weight loss, weight gain, or to manage IBD symptoms, going on a "diet" and changing your daily eating routine may be at the top of your list. But are you prepared with the right tools to ensure you are staying on track well past the second month of the year?

Here are some tips on how to successfully approach a new diet in the new year.

Start small

Making a drastic change to your diet may be tolerable in the short term, but it is not sustainable for long. If you are trying to identify which foods are problematic with your Crohn's or colitis, an elimination diet can help to narrow down what works and what doesn't for your body. However, due to its restrictive nature, it is designed for you to begin reintroducing certain foods after a short period of time. Then, once you identify your trigger foods, you can continue eliminating them from your diet and start feeling better.

Eliminate trigger foods... slowly

But what happens if you already know your trigger foods and you are trying to eliminate them starting the new year? Many people know that dairy and alcohol upset their stomachs yet they have a hard time giving them up. If this sounds like you, start by cutting back on dairy and alcohol first. Drink 2-3 drinks max per week, and maybe only have one serving of cheese on the weekends. Then, you can continue to scale back until you have completely removed them from your diet.

Avoid absolute restrictions

The same is true for weight loss. If you know that desserts are your weakness, completely eliminating any sugary snack from your diet is not sustainable long-term. You may be able to do it for 30 days or 60 days, but you will inevitably go back to your old habits when the right temptation crosses your path. The best approach is to start cutting back on the sweets, such as only when it is a special occasion or when out to dinner. Knowing you can indulge in your sweet tooth on occasion will make you feel less restricted, thus less tempted to dig through your candy drawer at home.

Break down the year into quarters

Visualizing the year in 12 months can seem daunting. A lot can happen in that time (as we all know!) so breaking your goals down into quarterly results will be more empowering and more likely to set you up for success.

Referring to the dessert example, visualize your diet with less sugar until April. Think about the winter months and holidays/events that may pose a problem for you. Don't think about the summer and what lies beyond the first few months of the year. If you successfully reach your goals by April, you will be more confident to continue building upon your new habits and resolutions for the next 3 months, and so on.

Only try to control what you can

I used to always set my goals and resolutions for the calendar year ahead, and at the top of my list was "avoid the hospital due to a flare." For the first 5 years of living with Crohn's, I failed this goal every single time. But, I must admit, it was a pretty bad goal, as I had very little control over it.

Focus on what you can control

What I should have done was focused on what I could control – my diet, stress management, attending doctor's appointments, getting testing done regularly, etc. and let the outcome play out as it should. You may not be able to necessarily control the number on the scale, but you can control what you do to get there. You can modify your diet, work out more, get plenty of sleep, and drink water. Focus on what you can control and let the results develop on their own.

Reframe your setbacks

Another thing to focus on that you can control is your mindset. We cannot control the fact that we have Crohn's or colitis, or that our blood work doesn't come back ideal, or that we can no longer tolerate dairy. But we can control how we handle those situations.

A good resolution that anyone can set is to practice more gratitude. Be grateful for what is going right rather than what is going wrong. Blood work came back showing signs of anemia? Rather than thinking, "Poor me, why do I have to take an iron supplement?" reframe it into, "I am grateful this was detected so I can do something about it and start feeling more energized." Upset that you can't tolerate dairy and you have an obsession with cheese? Think of it as a good thing that you can eliminate something from your diet that actually makes you feel well, as not everyone is able to do that.

Setting goals when living with Crohn's or colitis

As a Crohn's patient, I fully understand how difficult it can be to set resolutions and actually follow through with them. There may be setbacks and there will most likely be temptations to just give up on the whole thing. But one resolution you should keep is to stick with it.

Regardless of how small of a step forward you take, you are still moving in the right direction. Note little wins, build upon small habit changes, and control what you can and let the rest go. I am confident you will achieve your resolutions this year. You got this!

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