Being a Vegetarian as an IBDer
I have been a vegetarian since the age of 9 for moral reasons. My parents never liked it but did accept it as long as I was willing to make certain compromises given my age. They felt it crucial I get the right amount of protein, fats and other nutrients needed for healthy development and growth. No one in my family was a vegetarian, although my mom was never a big red meat eater. Point is, I made this decision all on my own and vividly remember telling my mom at a Yankee game that I wanted to adapt this lifestyle.
Things went on as normal, with only my eating adjustments and the occasional comment from my dad or brother saying how “stupid” I was for giving up meat. I know they were only joking around though and I truly never cared. I don’t judge anyone for eating meat and never care if people eat it in front of me. We all need to do what we think is best for us. For me, I was happier when I was eating the way I wanted to.
When I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 13, things changed for my family and me in so many ways. Aside from some of the more obvious things, it did make life a lot harder in terms of eating. I would constantly get comments from my family and doctors saying that I NEEDED to add meat to my diet. I am anemic. Any type of vegetables I consume will cause a blockage given I am so susceptible to obstructions. I cannot consume beans because of the skin. Peanuts are not in the cards either, which come with a lot of protein and fat. You get the gist: my diet is incredibly limited, as I know most people who suffer from a form of IBD can probably relate to.
My body needed things that my diet wasn’t allowing for
It was pissing the people around me off. And it was frustrating me too. It made me unsure what to do because I had people I trusted telling me that “my life is more important than a cows” and things of that nature. My surgeon (whom I loved!) would make all sorts of comments and analogies which tried to hone in on the fact that he believed I was hurting myself by sticking to a vegetarian lifestyle. I was referred to as stubborn by my family and other people close to me.
As a teenager and young adult, when you are already in a situation where you don’t have full control over your body and life, it angered me that I might have to give up something I truly believe in. All because of IBD! It was just going to be another thing that turned my world upside down because of a wretched disease that I never caused, wanted, or could control on my own.
I felt as though if I couldn’t be in control of something as basic as me having a moral belief that I would like to continue to stand by, then how was I going to truly live and be happy?
Did this mean that inflammatory bowel disease was going to change everything about me – as opposed to only some things? Would the course of my life just be dictated to me instead of me choosing my own path? It scared me because I was at such a crucial time where I wanted the ability to design my own life. I had thoughts, feelings, and goals and I wanted nothing more than to be able to carry them out without anything holding me back.
I did have to accept that I was at a disadvantage because of my IBD, ostomy and being so prone to obstructions. However, I just couldn’t give in. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can make you feel like you are losing yourself and I knew if I gave in to what everyone was telling me, or trying to demand of me, that I would be letting the disease win.
That isn’t a great way to look at things, in my opinion, because more often than not, you have to do things you never would want to do if IBD never entered your life. But, that doesn’t mean you have allowed your chronic illness to “win” – it just means you were smart enough to try and adapt and adjust to certain things given the hand you were dealt.
I now have protein smoothies and focus very hard on getting all the protein and iron I need in other forms that don’t come from meat.
I do eat fish about once every couple of months at home, if I am away or out to dinner because it is healthy and won’t wreak havoc on my stomach. That is the one concession I have made regarding this topic and it wasn’t done when I was being hounded. It was done because of ME. The change occurred when I was ready for it to happen. I needed to do my own research and experiment with different things. And then.. put it all together to try and live as balanced a lifestyle food-wise as I could.
The fact that inflammatory bowel disease is so different for everyone can make sharing some of the food struggles difficult to talk about. For example, I know there are many of you reading this who are psyched beyond belief to be able to have a juicy burger – especially if it is by doctors orders! 🙂 Therefore, you probably aren’t relating much to my experiences.
However, I share this because I know there must be other things that either your family or doctors want you to do that you prefer not to because of your own beliefs. I want you to know you aren’t alone and I do understand the internal struggle of knowing you probably should do or take something but not wanting to for whatever reason, and then going back and forth in your mind about whether you are hurting yourself because of it. And then getting more upset that you have Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis because if you were never diagnosed, these decisions, comments, and frustrations wouldn’t occur.
You are not alone.
IBD has the power to completely alter your life in pretty much all areas and while even though this is a minor thing compared to complications, surgeries, active disease, etc… it is something emotional that should be talked about. Especially with each other.