Fast-forward 4 months from diagnosis, I wanted to review what aspects of diet and lifestyle are helping (or hindering) my recovery. This is what works for me currently, one of the weird things about colitis is many people seem to be affected differently by varying foods. There’s no one reliable list and the only real way to find out is by experimenting, and suffering the consequences.
Most fresh fruits and veg seem to be ok, all in moderation. The red cabbage smoothie experiment was not only revolting (oh, the afterburn!) my digestive system agreed. (I hear red cabbage juice is great for colitis, but I have neither a juicer nor a local red-cabbage-juice-flogging outlet to visit, so I guess we’ll never know).
Chicken and fish are all good – chicken thighs slow cooked in a casserole or mild curry are my go-to when I feel things starting to flare up. Pork is ok in moderation, as long as it’s not too fatty (bye bye belly pork, I never actually liked you anyway!).
Dairy is a bit of a funny one for me. I love, love, love most dairy so it’s been challenging experimenting to see what I can digest. I seem to be able to handle about 2-4oz whole milk a day, a little cheese, particularly goat’s or sheeps cheese, and some butter.
Grains – these are often one of the first things to go, but I’ve really struggled to cut out anything other than conventionally processed wheat. My days are long and physically demanding with two little kids, and I just feel like I need the energy sometimes. So far oats are fine, organic spelt and rye, rice, corn in moderation and quinoa too.
Caffeine – the occasional green tea and my one beloved cup of decaf a day. I could try and reintroduce it but frankly, it used to send me straight to the toilet (despite drinking 2-6 cups a day previously), and I really don’t need any help in that department. Once the initial adjustment was over I realised that coffee wasn’t really giving me anything more than a brief giddy buzz, and once that was over I was slumping harder than ever. I was still tired all. the. time. but just craving coffee on top of it, and suffering caffeine withdrawl headaches on top of it if I didn’t get my morning fix. So it’s quite nice to be liberated from that.
Herbal teas – I drink gallons of these now, predominantly camomile, liquorice root (once every other day as it’s fairly potent stuff), echinachea, red raspberry leaf, lemon and ginger. I started making turmeric lattes a few weeks ago (grated turmeric, ginger, black pepper, and honey, in soy or almond milk) and despite being extremely skeptical they are actually delicious and very calming. The jury is out in terms of their supposed anti-inflammatory properties.
Supplements – I take quite a lot of these, as part of what I suspect contributed to my declining health was a general postpartum depletion. So I take Osteocare (vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, zinc) which I find makes a big difference to my energy levels and mood. Cod liver oil, glucosamine, Bio-Kult probiotics, multivitamin with iron.
Medication – I am taking mesalazine (an anti-inflammatory drug) in tablet form daily. Around my monthly flare I also ‘double up’ with the topical foam which is not pleasant but worth it. I am still taking my Sirdupla steroid inhaler and very slowly tapering off my antidepressants (mirtazapine) but I have not had to take any antihistamines for MONTHS now which is extremely unusual (and great).
Exercise – yoga has been a huge game changer. Working some in to every day – even if it’s only 10 minutes – is really helping my sanity. Once I’d done a month of yoga (I followed Yoga with Adriene’s Yoga Revolution on YouTube, FWIW), I found I had the energy to introduce other exercise. I’m not exaggerating when I say I haven’t exercised since school. OK apart from the occasional swim. I had absolutely no muscle tone, no upper body strength, no core strength. I introduced kettlebell workouts to my morning yoga practice (using the yoga to warm up – and down), and it has improved my stamina, strength and general confidence immensely.
(God bless Henry, sneaking into all our family photos like the creep he is).
So that’s the good stuff. What’s on the sh*t list?
Fruit and veg – chickpeas. Whole chickpeas, specifically. I don’t know what it is about them but my digestive system just says OH HALE NO. Broccoli, previously one of my favourite veggies, now gives me painful gassy cramps.
Beef – I just can’t seem to digest it. Goodbye delicious, rare, steaks.
Dairy – cream and ice-cream. I’ve tried so hard with these. I desperately want to be able to eat them. But shortly after my tummy starts bubbling, the nausea and palpitations hit. I don’t know if it’s psychosomatic or what, because I’m able to drink small amounts of milk, but I just can’t seem to stomach them any more.
Grains – wheat still makes my symptoms worse. To be blunt, for me, wheat = mucus. So gross. Not worth it.
Exercise – I tried running. I desperately wanted to get good at it. There are so many inspiring runners on social media and among my friends. But every time I went for a run, my body was screaming at me to stop, and every time I ran, within hours my knees would be so stiff and sore that I was hobbling, like a deep burning sensation. I decided to take my own medicine and listen to my body, and stop. Joint pain is a common additional symptom of IBD. The joint pain subsided, but I may well try again in better weather when the local tracks have dried up (currently treacherous mudbaths).
Stress – I’m trying so hard to avoid this but it seems to be inescapable. I can feel my whole body filling with stress hormones and the rest of the day, often the day after, is filled with nausea, panic and a numb feeling. Work to do here.
I’m hoping to revisit this in a few months time and compare where I’m at. I hope it’s the same or better, but if it’s not then maybe it’ll be helpful too.