Be kind to your body - Food that works

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Crohn’s and colitis can be difficult to manage. There is so much information out there on nutritional supplements, natural health products, specialty diets and more – it can be hard to know where to start. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and many people use ‘trial and error’ to find what works for them.

For two members of the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada community, finding a healthy diet that works for them has been a key to their disease management.

Jenna Rines was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in 2010, and struggled through her first few years at university. In addition to medication, she experimented with her diet – although it was hard to eat well on a student budget. She tried a few different diet approaches, but in the end felt that the best approach was to simply eat healthy and listen to her body.

“You know how you’re feeling,” says Jenna. “I could kind of tell what foods weren’t working for me.” It wasn’t a quick fix, but Jenna’s process of trial-and-error helped her to identify problem areas like food with preservatives, greasy foods, anything artificial, and caffeine and sugar. Although it is sometimes hard to avoid these foods, she recommends staying flexible: “If you really enjoy something and can’t have it anymore, just try to find something else!”

Jenna had an ileostomy in 2011, and recently had her ileostomy reversed. Since her surgery she can eat much more freely, but sticks to the same principles as before. “Be kind to your body. Listen to your body,” she says – sound advice for anyone, but an especially important approach for a person with IBD.

David Chochinov is an occupational therapist at Proactive Rehabilitation Manitoba. And he also has Crohn’s disease. After his diagnosis in 1999 he felt adrift – trying different treatments, medications and approaches that never managed to bring his disease under control. The constant pain and inability to get proper nutrition changed his life, forcing the promising teen Judo competitor into early retirement.

Until he started food journaling.

“I would list my food, and keep track of my frequency in the washroom,” says David. “I would see when there were changes and pick up patterns. It was intensive. I was determined to beat this thing.” The food journal helped David to identify the foods that triggered his Crohn’s, and the foods he considered “irritants” while experiencing inflammation (e.g. acidic foods, spicy foods). Once these foods were identified and eliminated from his diet, his condition improved substantially. As inflammation subsided, he tried reintroducing foods, finding that some were better tolerated once his Crohn’s was in remission.

Eating healthy can be especially hard during a flare-up, but David stresses the importance of proper nutrition. “I try to eat as much healthy food as I can,” he says. Although it can be hard to eat fruits and vegetables, the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are extremely important. It can be hard for a person with Crohn’s or colitis to break down the hard-to-digest fibre in skins and seeds, but David suggests ways to manage. “When I’m sick I try to cook [fruits and vegetables] more,” he says, “and you can juice – it takes the fibre out and you still get the vitamins.” He also suggests drinking lots of water, considering a high-quality vitamin supplement, and eating food rich in probiotic bacteria (like yogurt).

Jenna and David agree – substantial dietary changes can be a real challenge. There is no ‘quick fix’, and at times the process can be painstaking. That said, both have seen encouraging results from meticulous management of their diets. Jenna’s approach recognizes the very personal nature of IBD – it is different for everyone, so “listen to your body”. The way food makes you feel – even if it doesn’t directly impact your symptoms – is a great indicator of what your body needs, and what your body doesn’t handle well.

David’s approach is similar – viewing food as a ‘tool’ for his disease management. Using a food journal has helped to identify ‘trigger’ foods, and he has developed strategies for maximizing his intake of nutritious food. For David, these strategies have helped to keep his Crohn’s under control. Now in his 30s, he has returned to the Judo mat – even winning the gold medal in a recent competition.

Top 5 tips from Jenna and David

1. Listen to your body 
2. Keep a journal – track foods and your body’s behaviours
3. Nutrition is important – find ways to eat fruits and veggies (or explore supplements) 
4. Eat healthy – avoid processed food, preservatives, fatty foods and sugar
5. Don’t be discouraged! It is a process, and may change over time

For more information on diet and nutrition, see our brochure ‘Food for Thought'

For more on Jenna and David, keep an eye on our Crohn’s and Colitis Canada Facebook Page and on our Twitter feed – we will be focusing on diet and nutrition throughout the month of March. 

For more information from David, visit www.proactivetherapymb.com

You can follow Jenna on Twitter @colitisgirl

  • Canada has among the highest incidence rates of Crohn's and colitis in the world.
  • 1 in 150 Canadians lives with Crohn’s or colitis.
  • Families new to Canada are developing these diseases for the first time.
  • Incidence of Crohn’s in Canadian kids under 10 has doubled since 1995.
  • People are most commonly diagnosed before age 30.

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