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How I Developed a Diet That Worked for My Invisible Illness

 

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Crohn’s can affect anywhere in your GI tract, from mouth to anus. This disease can range in severity and location, which can make finding the right diet difficult.

There isn’t one, single diet for everyone with Crohn’s disease. That would be too easy — and if you have it, you know that this disease is far from easy.

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I received a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease six years ago. The disease has mainly affected my upper GI tract — my stomach, the beginning parts of my small intestine, the duodenum, and the jejunum. These areas are key for absorbing nutrition, which has made weight gain extremely difficult for me. I also currently have a GJ (gastrojejunal) feeding tube to help aid in nutrition absorption and weight gain. But I do also eat by mouth.

Going by trial and error

Over these past six years, there’s been a lot of trial and error when it comes to my diet, and I’ve had to eliminate certain food groups. I’ve found that I’m allergic to gluten and I’m also lactose intolerant. Both gluten and dairy produced very negative GI side effects when I’d eat them, so I eliminated both from my diet and that has helped tremendously.

I’ve also become very in tune with my body. If I’m having an off day or I feel like I might be having a flare-up, I’ll stick to more bland foods, like gluten-free breads, crackers, rice, and potatoes, to try not to irritate my GI tract any further.

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But on “good” days, when my symptoms aren’t terrible, I’ll be a little more “adventurous.” I’ll incorporate some fruits, vegetables, and a little more flavor, or even go out to dinner to a restaurant with gluten-free food that I trust. Which are, again, all trial and error.

A consistent diet is impossible

My body is constantly changing, which makes one consistent diet impossible. For example, I might eat an apple one day and be totally fine, but the next day, I might be in horrific pain from eating that apple. So, typically, I keep my diet pretty bland to avoid GI disasters.

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My diet is pretty carb heavy, consisting of pasta, popcorn, and bread. On good days, I do throw in fruits and vegetables that I know I can typically tolerate, and I usually throw in a protein bar or shake in my day because I also work out and have a very active lifestyle.

I’ve realized that I’d rather eat what makes me happy and what keeps me out of pain and discomfort than eat things that everyone else is saying I should eat.

I realize that I don’t have the best, healthiest diet. In fact, it would make any dietician cringe! But that’s because I’ve tried having a very healthy diet and it just didn’t work for me and my body.

I’d love to be the person that eats all-natural, raw foods, but my body just doesn’t tolerate it. I’ve realized that I’d rather eat what makes me happy and what keeps me out of pain and discomfort than eat things that everyone else is saying I should eat.

Crohn’s disease isn’t one-size-fits-all

Diet isn’t one-size-fits-all for anyone, Crohn’s disease or not. You just need to adapt what you eat to your current lifestyle. Since I’ve started working out, I’ve increased my protein and water intake to accommodate a more active lifestyle, and I eat more bland foods to keep my GI tract happy. But what works for me might not work for someone else.

In the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) community, I feel like diet is a very controversial thing to talk about. Everyone has their own opinion on what a person with IBD should eat, and any other way is considered “wrong.”

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But that’s simply not true. Crohn’s disease can affect anywhere in the GI tract. A person with the disease in their small intestine won’t have the same issues and restrictions as someone with the disease in their large intestine.

The disease affects everyone differently. I’ve learned to just eat whatever you want and not to listen to anyone that tells you that it’s wrong. Life is too short to not eat what you want.

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