In my DEEPEN approach I speak to 6 Key Principles that have had a profound impact on my ongoing recovery with Crohn’s Disease. Today, in Part 2 of this 6 part series I talk about nutrition and why I think it’s a key component to long term success in health and wellness
Regardless of whether or not you have an IBD diagnosis, nutrition is a key (and often overlooked) component to developing a complete and holistic health and wellness plan that in my mind has any potential of long term success. Now when you talk about nutrition in the context of managing IBD symptoms, it can tend to get a few peoples backs up. I put up a post last week on my Instagram and I actually ended up having to delete a few comments that were childish and mean…simply because someone else had an opinion that was different from theirs. So before I dive into this topic, I want you to know that I write about nutrition with these fundamental personal beliefs in mind:
- Food is my passion. Not eating it, not cooking it, but understanding how it affects our bodies. I believe in the power of nutrition and attribute it to my own personal success in managing symptoms of Crohn’s Disease.
- Food is what contributes to the health of our microbiota and microbiome and therefore when I talk about food, I’m really talking about the processes that it contributes to in our digestive systems. Specifically, the role it plays in the balance of good to bad bacteria in the gut. It is my belief that bacteria, and moreover, an unhealthy imbalance in bacteria is what is largely at fault for IBD.
- Food is literally our life-force. LIFE-FORCE. How we fuel our bodies will have a great impact on how we feel. If food is what we need to keep us alive, and IBD is fundamentally a digestive problem, how can nutrition NOT be vital to healing? Food has the power to heal or to create further disease. This appears to be a controversial opinion, (which always blows my mind), but it is mine and it is one that I will forever stand by.
- I am is no way suggesting that IBD can be cured with the food you eat or do not eat. I do however believe that the food you do or do not eat will make a huge difference in how you are able to manage your disease. How people experience their IBD is as unique as they are, and therefore what works for one person may not work for the next. Developing a plan that takes into consideration all aspects of disease is crucial to healing and that’s why I’m an advocate for wellness plans that are holistic in nature.
HOW NUTRITION HAS PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN MY LIFE
Before I was diagnosed, diet took up little space in my mind. I ate whatever I wanted, and didn’t make the best food choices. After my diagnosis though I started to notice that certain things I ate made me feel worse. I also noticed that incorporating certain foods made me feel better. My realization was simply experiential and unfounded in scientific data, but it was mine and it felt powerful. When my gastroenteroligist reinforced that what I found was simply coincidental and what I ate didn’t matter I remember feelings of disappointment and powerlessness.
There was a period of time where I continued to eat horribly because I mean hey…even my specialist said it didn’t make a difference so I may as well load up on the burgers and fries right? Well as I found out…wrong. The worse I ate the worse I felt. It was at that point when I decided to stop ignoring my intuition. Regardless of what my doctor was saying, regardless of unfounded scientific data; I was going to start eating to feel good. It became my mission to heal myself through nutrition.
This wasn’t an easy or quick process, in fact twenty years later and its still very much an ongoing process. It has taken me years to listen and learn from my body what works and what doesn’t. There was a period where I was so terrified of incorporating new foods into my diet that I ate only white rice and BBQ sauce for months on end because that was literally the only thing that wouldn’t make me sick. With trial and error this is what I have learned:
- It will be time consuming. Figuring out what foods make you feel better and what foods make you feel worse isn’t an easy task and because we don’t eat foods in isolation it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what is to blame for what is bothering you. This is where the elimination diet or food journaling can be really helpful.
- It will be frustrating. What works for you today, may not work for you at a later point in your life. The intestine is the most highly regenerative organ in the human body, and recent research has found that it regenerates its lining every five to seven days. Our body is in a constant state of growth and fluctuation so it is only natural that what may work for you today may not work for you down the road. This can be frustrating but it can also be exciting as our system may be able to repair, heal and be in a better state to include different foods.
- There’s more to nutrition than food. Supplements are also of great importance. Minerals, vitamins, herbs…all of these need to be taken into consideration and incorporated for maximum benefit and results.
- Nutrition is only a piece of the puzzle. In my mind, it’s the biggest piece, but not the only piece. That’s why I so strongly believe in the DEEPEN approach. Each principle of this approach cannot be successful in isolation and they work in conjunction with one another to position you in a place to be the most successful in your health journey. I’m skeptical of any treatment that doesn’t take a holistic approach to wellness.
WHAT DOES MY DIET LOOK LIKE?
There was a point in time that I felt like it was “unfair” that I had to live off of 5 foods. I mean if you look at most of the popular IBD diets they have “legal” and “illegal” foods. I’m here to tell you that just because you can only have 5 foods today, doesn’t mean that you will be having 5 foods in a month from now (hence point number 2 above). In fact relying on a limited number of foods for a prolonged amount of time can be quite damaging, and therefore these diets are meant to be starting points to allow you to learn about what foods may cause an increase in symptoms while you slowly incorporate other new foods. Some of the popular and well researched diets for managing IBD/IBS/SIBO are:
- Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)
- Anti-inflammatory Diet (AID)
- Low FODMAP Diet
- The SIBO Bi-Phasic Diet
In my experience, it is often more about what you don’t eat than what you do. I personally don’t stick to one diet, but combine bits and pieces from the SCD, AID and Low FODMAP diet. These diets tend to work well for me and also coincide with my fitness/competing goals. I know what foods to avoid for the most part and try my best to stay away from foods that trigger a flare or an onset of IBD symptoms. I eat in moderation and find that I have to be mindful of how much I eat as well. Eating too much of a ‘safe’ food seems to have the same effect as eating a small amount of a trigger food. I make sure to turn off all electronic devices and take the time to chew my food and enjoy it. I rely heavily on probiotics and use digestive enzymes from time to time. I make sure to take high quality vitamins and minerals and continue to try and incorporate new foods or supplements as I learn about their healing potential.
If you’re looking for more information about what benefits nutrition can have with your own IBD then I highly suggest these listed above diets as starting points. I also highly recommend being in touch with a holistic nutritionist, dietician, or naturopathic doctor as the amount of information out there can be overwhelming and confusing. These highly trained professionals focus on holistic, proactive prevention and comprehensive diagnosis and treatment. By taking into consideration the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of health, holistic approaches identify and remove barriers to good health by helping to create a healing internal and external environment. Nutrition is a vital part to any comprehensive treatment plan.
DID YOU KNOW?
A Google search about IBD and diet brings up a popular and well used medical website where it goes on to state that: “while fast foods should normally be avoided in a healthy diet plan, sometimes they can give your diet a needed boost. Some fast foods can offer a valuable supply of key nutrients and calories. For instance, pizza offers nutrients such as calcium and vitamins. A milkshake is high in calories and calcium”. I read this and just wonder how this is ever acceptable? I understand that malnutrition can be a serious and dangerous side-effect of IBD, but pizza and a milkshake as a calorically/nutrient dense option? Is this the best we can do for people? I. Just. Don’t. Understand.
It is clear that we still have so far to go and so much left to learn. 20 years ago they were telling me that diet does not matter. Today there is an increased understanding in the importance of good nutrition and the impact it has on the digestive system but we’re not all the way there. It is my belief that when a cure is found it will have been found because the medical community will fully understand how diet and bacteria impact the microbiome. I believe our treatment will look like a super probiotic of sorts, and I am hopeful that in 20 years from today, a world without IBD will be nothing short of a reality.
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” – Ann Wigmore