Have you recently been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and don’t know where to turn? Or what steps you can take to feel and live better? Ulcerative colitis isn’t just a physical disease, but affects the emotional quality of your life as well. Maybe you’re running to the bathroom very frequently and have grown weary of social situations. Or perhaps the constant medications and doctor visits have taken their toll. This is all normal, but many ulcerative colitis patients have found solace in support groups, following stricter nutrition guidelines, and working closely with their healthcare team.
The medical community hasn’t found a direct correlation between diet and ulcerative colitis, but don’t mention that to fellow patients! However, both patients and doctors have seen that certain foods aggravate their symptoms, particularly during a flare-up. Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Many IBD sufferers closely monitor their diets and avoid these culprits and concentrate on easy-to-digest options. Some patients find that eating a low-residual diet which is low in fiber eases their symptoms. Although not nutritionally optimal, they swear off the roughage (those hearty, green vegetables), foods high in fat, and anything acidic like marinara sauce or orange juice. Blander foods like bread, cereal, and easy-on-the-stomach proteins such as eggs and lean chicken breasts formulate the heart of the diet.
Other patients find that caffeine or artificial sweeteners trigger their flare-ups. Some mention beans or popcorn. Experiment with these problem food groups and keep a food diary to target trends. Because you may be eliminating your bowels often, it’s always a good idea to drink plenty of water and inquire about the need for a multivitamin. No diet is one size fits all; work with your healthcare provider to determine what foods aggravate your system and how to meet your nutritional needs.
Another symptom trigger can be stress and depression, but eliminating anxiety after a diagnosis is easier said than done! Stress can slow the digestion process and even change the acidity of your stomach acids. Some stress-busters include exercise, participating in support groups or another IBD community, meditation, or simply clearing a hectic schedule.
Exercise can help regulate your digestive system and we’ve all heard about endorphins, those great natural mood-enhancers you release after a good sweat! Even a moderate workout, such as a spin around the neighborhood, reaps benefits. In addition to the physical, a terrific emotional resource is speaking to other IBD patients or a trained professional. Your local Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America chapter (www.ccfa.org) can assist in connecting you with support groups or therapists who are familiar with IBD and its complications.
To help ease social anxiety, many patients plan ahead when traveling or attending a social function. It’s always a good idea to map out the restrooms when you arrive at your destination, or to keep an extra pair of undergarments on hand. Some IBD patients keep an emergency car kit, complete with a roll of toilet paper and a change of clothes for long road trips. Being prepared will lessen anxiety and, in turn, calm your bowels.
When speaking with other ulcerative colitis patients, there’s one common theme: this disease – because of the emotional toll, the lack of absorbed nutrients, and the chronic nature of the condition itself – wears down on the patient and often causes fatigue. Some patients feel embarrassment or anger after their diagnosis, but it’s important to realize that although some days you may feel down and out, you are able to live a full and vibrant life while managing your illness.