When Food is Your Enemy
Last updated: November 2021
I'm sure living with IBD, you know many things that should be good for you, but aren't at all. Salad, fresh fruit, and veggies? For many of us, the "healthiest" of foods that an anatomically correct body can digest don't cut it.
I learned within the first 5 years after my diagnosis that if my diet didn't remain the same, I found myself with many more symptoms. It sometimes takes years to recognize a pattern with certain foods you can or cannot digest.. and then all of a sudden, BOOM! You find yourself having issues with those foods too!
Diet is so different for everyone with Crohn's or colitis
Whether you've had any type of resection, ostomy procedures or no surgery at all, diet is so different for everyone and this is one of the hardest things to explain to people. Because I know that even when my body consistently tolerates the same three foods for a few weeks, there will generally come a point when those foods turn into my enemy and trying to find nutritious food will be a massive obstacle I'll have to overcome.
Junk food is sometimes the only option
Then comes the junk food; I know there are a few people whose gastrointestinal tract only wants junk food.. the processed food. Often, I end up eating healthy and facing the repercussions of it later because I try not to put junk in a body that is already so beaten down. This is not to say I never eat junk or fast food, because there comes a point in some flares that I cannot eat anything but junk or simply, I won't eat anything at all.
Supplemental drinks when solids are not an option
I get a lot of my calories through liquids/beverages. If I'm not able to eat solid foods, I know that most of my calories will come from supplement drinks, sodas or something else that will give me a bit of calories and nutrition. There are many supplemental drinks to choose from, so it's best to discuss with your doctor what he/she thinks would be best in your situation.
The stress of eating away from home
Going out in public and eating in restaurants or at someone's house is extremely unnerving because I'm not exactly sure what ingredients are used. I know exactly what goes into what I make at home and if I think I may/may not have issues with it later. At least I can plan my day/night around what I eat. That's what I have the most control of. And this can make people with Crohn's or ulcerative colitis extremely uncomfortable, not knowing how their body will react to a food they haven't tried before. Usually, when I'm out, I stick to something grilled, like chicken, and a side of something like mashed potatoes. I don't do roughage at home, and I definitely won't do it out of my comfort zone.
I also don't have an ostomy, but know that if you have high output naturally, you have to be a bit wary of what you order or choose to eat outside of the home, where your comfort items are.
Comments and unsolicited advice about food
There, of course, will be days when you just want to say "I don't care today - I'll deal with the circumstances later." Many of us have done it, and that's nothing to feel guilty about. Someone eating with you may comment or give you unsolicited advice on what and what not to eat, but don't listen. Sometimes, especially if you love food as much as I do, you just have to bite the bullet and eat nibbles of this or nibbles of that, knowing you might be sick after.
Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year, but I know there are a lot of things I have to avoid. Thankfully, not many of them are included in what our family brings, so I'm able to explore my options a little bit.
Fresh raw broccoli, carrots, watermelon, tomato paste, ham, corn on the cob, steak - these are all things I wish I could eat but I have to be very careful if I eat more than a bite. Knowing past food triggers helps me plan out my future, and I try as best as I can not to compare what others are able to eat vs. what I am able to. Chances are, you're going to get questions anyway. Answer the best to your ability, if you feel like doing so, to help educate them. Some people want to learn and others simply want to give you their opinion whether it's kind or not.
It's so important to remember IBD is different in every single person. While I'm not able to eat raw vegetables and most fruits, another IBD patient under the same circumstances might be able to. It's so interesting to go out with friends who live with Crohn's or ulcerative colitis to see what they eat. Even with an ostomy, some people can handle certain things, while others may still struggle.
Don't compare yourself to others
As hard as it is, try not to compare yourself to others regarding what they can eat - IBD diagnosis or not. Keep food journals on how you feel after eating something so you have a better sense of what affects you when. (If you're a woman, the chances are what you eat will greatly affect you much more when you are menstruating). Getting to know your body as best you can and knowing what ingredients and types of food bother you will help you in the long run.
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