This is tough to write and keep short, so bare with me.
We have all gone through a flare of symptoms so severe that you do NOT want to eat. ANYTHING! Even water isn’t slick enough to get down your throat . For those undiagnosed, people may assume you have an eating disorder or a mental illness for refusing to eat. Readers who do not have IBD: having a flare is like having the worst case of food poisoning or gastritis times 10. The last thing you want is food.
Well, that’s where I’ve been the last few months. On and off, mostly on. I have been sick and teaching spin class, going to my training runs, tending to my children, and hell, I was ill when I spoke at the Book of Hope! I didn’t appear to be, and no one (including my employers) knew unless I told them.
The key to still being able to function once all the action dies down, is knowing HOW TO GET THE NUTRIENTS YOU NEED and drink them in. Drink, slurp, spoon. Get creative. Without normal meals, there is NO WAY that I could do the level of activity I have everyday without drinking my calories. SO…
Problem: Solid foods make you immediately run to the bathroom and/or you experience the burning and cramping that comes with an inflamed gut.
Solution: Your doctor is going to assess you and make a plan for treatment. But he is also going to insist that you eat something vs. starving yourself. With no real direction besides Pediasure or Boost, you leave there thinking “What? What do I eat?” Soups: I prefer that you make your own using vegetable or chicken stock so you can control sodium and fat content. Please stay away from cans if possible. There are a few brands like “Pacific” that make flavorful varieties (a little creamier) that are organic, no chunks, bits, etc. Take your time and read the labels. More and more people are gluten and dairy sensitive, and labels will show you which brands suit you. Shakes: A great alternative as a basic meal replacement. A basic shake would be two fruits you enjoy, a cup of almond milk, ice, handful of spinach, and blend until smooth. Yes, you could scratch the almond milk and replace with a 1/2 water 1/2 OJ mix. But almond milk isn’t as heavy as cow’s milk, has more calcium and added vitamins, dairy, lactose and gluten free with minimal sugar. Of course, for on the go, we have Pediasure, Boost, and Ensure alternatives. I personally like the Ensure Clear. I don’t like milky-textured drinks, and the Ensure Clear is a fruit-flavored thinner beverage. The point behind these particular shakes including the homemade one is to intake protein, electrolytes and carbohydrates that we are missing. Without these, on top of the dehydration and blood loss, you will start to waste away. Drinks: PLEASE, at least for the duration of the flare (and then some), no alcohol. I know. It’s heartbreaking, but you’ve got to eliminate all possible sources of inflammation. Stick to water, green and decaf teas. Limit juices and electrolyte drinks to use before and after workouts. For some reason, we overdue it with Gatorade when we’re sick. Athletes or gym rats: where I would normally preach no sugar and certain protein powders, you will have to add more throughout the day to maintain your energy and recover. For example, muscle recovery drinks are made for post workout use. To our advantage, many brands are making lactose free or gluten free alternatives. Even protein powders now have more options than whey and soy. Raw Code and Vega make plant based versions. **Use what works for YOU based on your sensitivities. Whey is not a good choice for people with C & C, but I do it occasionally and tolerate it better than the plant version when inflamed.
During this current flare, I was very concerned about how I would be able to complete a class (or start one!) with no real meals to fuel me. I started using my post-recovery drink BEFORE my workouts. The first time, I used half the suggested serving amount and went from there to assure no issues. Literally, if I teach spin at 5pm, throughout the day I have had soups, a protein shake, a tiny low residue meal, then half a serving of recovery drink an hour before class and another 16oz of water. I would then have either a small bar within 30 minutes of finishing training and another shake/drink after that.
When I visit my doctor, he says, “Wow, you don’t look sick!” I don’t. Look, just because we might feel like crap inside, know that you can control a lot of the outcome. I need more of you to get that you will not have complete control over the illness. But you can absolutely alter its effects on you. We shouldn’t have to give up everything we love because of crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. Of course, sometimes it’s horrible and there will be times when nothing seems manageable. It will indeed pass and a less painful and calmer time will come. You can only do as much as your body allows!
I hope this helps. I meet so many of you that tell me you are not eating, and that is hurting you more than you know. If you are having trouble with meal planning or recipes, consult a nutritionist for the best advice on calorie content as well as supplements.