I often struggle to explain my food choices to friends and family. I'm constantly tweaking my diet, making it very difficult to keep track of what I do and do not eat. Most of the time, I'm just as confused as the people around me. I'm usually met with support, as well as a lot of questions. I’m far from an expert in nutrition, but my expertise in binge reading health books is unparalleled.
I’ve had an interest in nutrition since I was young. I’ve watched plenty of Netflix documentaries about the food industry and did my best to sift through conflicting information to determine what a “healthy” diet was. I thought I knew what foods were good for me, but most of my previous knowledge was turned upside down after my diagnosis.
I tried out a vegetarian diet for almost a year before my diagnosis. During this period of my life, I ate mostly raw fruits and vegetables, lots of nuts and seeds, and whole grains with almost every meal. Looking back, this is very ironic considering these foods definitely caused a lot of problems with my digestion. These foods are all very high in fiber and difficult to digest in general, especially for someone dealing with an inflammatory bowel disease. Although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a vegetarian or vegan diet, it definitely didn’t serve me. I became deficient in many key nutrients that my body needed to function properly and cut out many foods that my body needed to heal.
The first gastroenterologist I saw told me that diet would not influence the course of my Crohn’s disease, instructed me to follow a low-residue diet to manage symptoms, and sent me on my way. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that a disease affecting my digestive system had little to do with what I ate. I felt compelled to search for answers beyond those given to me by doctors. When I did press my doctor with questions about diet, he mentioned that some people with IBD followed a Specific Carbohydrate Diet but said he didn't believe that it really worked. I went home and immediately ordered the book, "Breaking the Vicious Cycle", which outlined the principles of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.
During the weeks and months following my diagnosis, I reached out to the few people I knew with Crohn’s disease and gathered valuable advice from those with first hand experience. I read a number of books to learn more about the science behind different food choices and protocols. I gathered multiple points of view before making my own judgements. I also jumped down the Google rabbit hole many times, which brought both positive and negative results. Although we are lucky to have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips with the Internet, the sheer volume of resources can be overwhelming, as well as dangerously misleading. It’s important to seek out credible sources and practice skepticism.
My current diet most closely resembles the Paleo diet, but I’m not a huge fan of sticking a label on the way I eat. I try to eat foods that support a healthy gut microbiome and immune system. I currently avoid grains, legumes, dairy, added sugar, and heavily processed foods, and also adjust the amount of fiber that I eat on any given day based on Crohn’s symptoms. This sounds extremely limiting to most people, but I like to focus on all of the delicious foods that I am able to eat instead! I focus on eating nutrient dense foods to promote health while eliminating foods that undermine my ability to heal. I’ve added foods into my diet that I used to view as strange or downright repulsive (sardines, liver, and bone broth to name a few), and found that I actually enjoy these foods. And although I no longer eat some foods that I used to consider staples, I don’t miss them nearly as much as I expected to.
I find that I feel best when I eat this way. But I also try to listen to my body, continue to be open to new information, and adapt my diet as I go along. Our bodies are constantly changing and with that our needs change. It’s important to not get hung up on one ideology and ignore common sense.
Below are some of the resources that I found useful when I began learning about how food can influence Crohn’s, autoimmune conditions, and health in general. I don’t strictly follow any of the protocols outlined in these books, but instead gathered insight from each and developed a way of eating that fit my health goals and lifestyle.