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4 Lessons I Learned Navigating Ulcerative Colitis and Food

After an inflammatory bowel disease diagnosis, the world of food takes on an entirely new complexion. Suddenly, harmless snacks become potential landmines, and mealtimes transform into bouts of digestive distress. But there are some ways to make a relationship with food a bit more…digestible.

Over the years, I found ways to enjoy foods while managing my gut. From mastering the art of food journaling and understanding my triggers, here are my top tips.

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Avoid comparisons

An important lesson for managing ulcerative colitis is recognizing food sensitivities vary from individual. Even if two people share the same diagnosis, their ability to tolerate different foods can vary drastically. Comparing your safe foods list to someone else's is a bad recipe to follow.

For example, in many IBD diet books and online research, the Mediterranean diet seemed like a great option for a healthy gut. But, for me, it would have been a bad decision. Most of the diet’s approved food list were the same foods that cause me digestive upset. The beans. The nightshades. The grains. The nuts. All these ingredients were my gut’s enemy. “How are people with IBD even eating this?” I thought.

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The only way to truly understand your own system is through diligent trial-and-error. Instead of envying what others can eat, develop an astute awareness of your body's cues and triggers. Maintaining a food journal is crucial...

Keep a food journal

When you have ulcerative colitis, keeping a food journal becomes the key that unlocks a wealth of personal insights. A food journal became my essential tool for cracking the dietary code. Diligently logging every bite, sip, and gut reaction allowed me to connect the dots between foods and symptoms. Was that bout of cramping from last night's spicy takeout? Or was it the dairy I had earlier? The journal provided an evidence trail to decipher my body's language. It transformed eating from a guessing game into a forensic investigation. With those detailed logs, I could identity patterns, pinpoint triggers, and become my own gut expert over time.

Try this downloadable food journal to get started.

Be an ingredient detective

With the hard-won knowledge of which foods my body responded well to, I would now become an ingredient checker. I became that ingredient label decoder, scrutinizing the grocery store's alphabet soup of polysyllabic words. Terms like maltodextrin seemed plucked from science. But mastering this culinary code proved essential for navigating IBD.

The biggest revelation? Separating the foods from the food-like products. Short, readable ingredient lists of natural items like vegetables, fruits, grains, and spices made me feel better. The longer the label got, with perplexing additive after additive, the more problems it brought on long term. At first, terms like potassium bromate and carboxymethylcellulose seemed like gibberish. But for someone navigating life with an inflammatory bowel disease, mastering this culinary code became helpful. It became clear those additives exist for manufacturers, not consumers. Basically, the more whole foods I ate the better I felt.

Get creative with new combinations

As a proud adventurous eater, the idea of a boring, restrictive diet was my actual nightmare. From that fried water bug in college (tasted like a chicken!) to constantly seeking out funky global flavors, experiencing new foods was my jam. Ulcerative colitis paused the adventure for a while, but hasn’t stopped it completely.

The key is not giving up that spirit of exploration and discovery that makes eating enjoyable in the first place. It just requires being a bit more strategic about it. Try a new food at home, not on vacation. Test only one new food at a time. Gradually build up a roster of safe, go-to menu items and see what different combinations there are to make! Always leave a little room for the occasional adventure.

Making food your ally

My gut’s relationship with food is both a formidable foe and also a potential ally. But I’ve learned to view food as fuel, not a foe. By embracing a spirit of curiosity, resilience, and perhaps a touch of humor, it might be possible to break up with that love-hate relationship with food. Remember, every stumble is an opportunity to learn, every flare-up a chance to refine our strategy. So grab a fork and fearlessly explore the delicious depths of a personalized gut-friendly diet.

Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.
This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The InflammatoryBowelDisease.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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