It is fairly well known that there is limited research out there to suggest that what you eat can be the cause, or indeed the cure, of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Yet, we all know about the importance of a healthy diet, and for a long term disease that manifests in the digestive system, it seems incredulous to suggest that diet does not have any affect on your condition.
After living with Ulcerative Colitis (pan-Colitis) for 13 years and having a keen interest in nutrition, I have experimented with just about every diet going. I am not looking for a cure; I know I’ll be disappointed. My goal is simply to live the healthiest life possible – diet, exercise, stress reduction to best support my bowel, strengthen my immune system and possibly (hopefully) live with less flare ups.
Recently, I enjoyed 5 glorious pain free years with no flare ups at all. In Mesalazine, I was lucky to have found a medication that kept my condition stable, whilst I lived a completely ‘normal’ life eating, drinking and doing just as I pleased. Unfortunately, it didn’t last forever, and the last 18 months have been a real struggle; flare ups every 2-3 months, on and off steroids, constantly exhausted.. all resulting in a complete turnaround to my lifestyle, including my diet. First, I visited a master nutritionist and herbalist where I had my gut bacteria tested to see what supplements may help. Since, I have followed an all natural, low-carb, high-fat diet, in order to be as kind to my body as possible. It isn’t a cure, and medication is still a must. But I believe that following these principles helps to maintain that important healthy gut environment;
- Eat natural, avoid processed foods
- Eat organic
- Increase natural fats – e.g. nuts, oils, avocado, coconut
- Avoid /reduce sugar
- Avoid / reduce dairy
- Avoid / reduce gluten, wheat and grains
- Avoid / reduce alcohol (or stick to clear drinks e.g. vodka/gin)
- Do not deprive yourself of ‘treats’
This is basically the Paleo diet; the way we used to eat back when we were cavemen/women. You may be thinking that it looks entirely restrictive and ‘is there anything left?’. I can assure you the answer is yes. I have experimented with a wide variety of delicious paleo recipes, and the purpose of this blog is to share them all here.
When you are having an IBD flare up, the same dietary guidelines apply, but in addition, the unequivocal additional advice is to avoid insoluble fibre, which irritates an inflamed bowel further, so avoiding nuts, seeds, greens etc. When you are in remission, these things are ok to eat (as with everything, in moderation).
The hardest part about this diet is probably time, as it is all about preparing meals from fresh, natural ingredients. As a Londoner with a full time job, social life and exercise regime to squeeze in, I have worked on recipes that are quick and hassle free, or easy to make a batch in advance. And they are all about being easily digestible, boosting your immune system and reducing inflammation.. Step up key ingredients beetroot, garlic, ginger and turmeric.
Rule number 8 – personally, I think following a restrictive diet whilst also managing all of the everyday stresses of having a long term condition can be a huge undertaking, and it is key not to let it add to your stress. You don’t want to be so strict that you feel trapped by it. I have had occasions when I am out with friends in the pub and the battle in my mind about whether I can allow myself to have that glass of wine or not has just made me miserable, and certainly isn’t helpful to my gut.
This is where rule number 8 comes in; it is so important that you still have delicious food in your life and that you are able to relax. What works for me is a balance where I can have treats when I really want them, so if that means having the odd glass (or three) of wine in the pub, or treating myself to a pizza once a month, then so be it.
For most people, going ‘off piste’ from the diet once in a while isn’t going to have a major affect. No one person is the same, and different foods will affect each individual slightly differently, so it is about knowing your own limits and finding what works for you. If you can stick to the key principles of this diet for the majority of the time, then I think you are doing very well.
Happy eating/drinking 🙂