(Sean Reed is a Crohnology member.)
It took me seven years after my diagnosis to realize that my doctor lied to me.
I had asked my doctor the same question all recently diagnosed patients ask their doctors: what can I eat, or avoid eating, to mitigate my symptoms?
His response echoed the response many IBD patients hear: there is nothing for you to do differently. What you eat has no effect on your symptoms. Unfortunately, I believed this for many years.
Trusting doctors comes naturally to those who aren’t chronically ill. Medicine, like most of science, seems to be beyond suspicion. Yet each and every patient with IBD takes a different route to the same horrifying realization: the doctors can’t help me, and I am on my own.
This is a very lonely realization, and it hit me three years ago. I then started to question my doctor’s assertion that food has nothing to do with how I feel. I tried a real food diet, eating more meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, and increasing my intake of fermented foods.
It was a remarkable difference. Seven years of medication and I never felt as good as when I started caring what I ate. Three years later I am feeling better than ever, though there is still work to do. Taking control of my health by watching what I eat was incredibly empowering, and gave me a glimmer of hope that there is a light at the end of this tunnel, even if I would have to work long and hard to find what works for me.
This post is not meant to advocate for any single diet, though I am a strong believer in the Paleo/Specific Carbohydrate Diet way of eating. Instead, I advocate for the idea that food plays a crucial role in your health. It is time to stop accepting the canard that food does not play a role in IBD.
To those newly diagnosed, I say: research about the biomolecular structure of the food you eat. Read about the health benefits of various foods. Make informed decisions for yourselves. In addition to simply giving up the foods that make you ill, eat food that is healthful.
Before you eat, ask yourselves what the health benefits are for your body. Stop eating processed junk food, no matter how tasty it is. Examine each and every ingredient.
This is easy to say, of course, but not so easy to do in practice. Beyond the obvious food cravings and social pressures that you’ll have to resist, you also have to wade through confusing and contradictory research on the effects of food on your body.
What is considered healthy? What was considered healthy a decade ago? Why is the answer constantly changing? It is enough to make anyone go cross-eyed. The subject of which research to trust could make for a whole other post — and probably a rather depressing one.
But as long as patients ask whether what they eat is healthful to them, and only eat that which they believe is healthful, they will take control of their own lives and symptoms.
With this control comes something we don’t have when we rely solely on medication: hope for a better future.
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