Finding a diet that helps control my IBD symptoms has been life changing.

After I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis 12 years ago, I spent 7 years pretending my inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) didn’t exist and ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

I was a college student, then a marathon runner, then a working young professional. I didn’t want anything in my life to make me different from my peers — especially my diet.

As it happens, those were also the sickest, brain foggiest, and toughest years of my life. Coincidence? Hardly.

It was only when I had become so exhausted and frustrated with my own illness that I had no other option but to start researching and experimenting with nutrition.

After months of trial and error with food, I discovered the power that nutrition has to heal the body. I started feeling better, had more energy, and experienced far fewer hospitalizations.

I also learned some valuable lessons along the way.

If your colon is already inflamed, certain vegetables can cause irritation during digestion.

If you struggle with bloating, pain, or other symptoms, then I recommend removing high-fiber vegetables from your diet for a while or, if you don’t want to remove them entirely, roast them until they’re soft.

While it may taste really good, too much sugar can wreak havoc on the body by promoting chronic inflammation and slowing down the healing process.

Food manufacturers also add sugar to many packaged and canned items, so it’s important to read labels before buying anything packaged.

If you need a little bit of added sweetness, I recommend using a small amount of honey or maple syrup as a natural alternative.

If you have an autoimmune disease, eating gluten can be a lot like adding fuel to a fire. For some people, it can cause inflammation and leaky gut, and may throw your autoimmune disease into a flare up.

Before you go out and buy all gluten-free products, let me also say that the gluten-free products sitting on the grocery store shelves right now are as equally unhealthy as eating gluten itself, just in a different way.

Many of these products have additives and chemicals in them to help bind the ingredients and replace the missing gluten. Some of these additives, like carrageenan, have been shown to cause inflammation and can be problematic for people with IBD.

Similar to gluten, lactose can be tough for some people with autoimmune diseases to digest. In fact, it’s difficult for most people to digest, with or without a chronic condition.

Research shows that only 35 percent of adults can actually digest lactose properly without symptoms like bloating and gas.

Luckily, there are so many amazing dairy alternatives now, and many of them taste as good as, if not better than, their dairy counterpart.

Oat milk is delicious in coffee, coconut yogurt is rich and creamy, almond milk goes great in any recipe, and cashew milk ice cream is to die for. Honestly, I don’t miss real dairy at all!

I love coffee like it’s going out of style. I love it iced, hot, in a latte, as a cappuccino. You name it and I will drink it — or at least I used to.

Unfortunately, my gut doesn’t feel the same way about coffee as I do. I can truly only enjoy coffee in peace (read: not sprinting to the bathroom) when I am fully in remission with zero symptoms. Any other time is just asking for trouble.

Instead, I have learned to really enjoy matcha lattes in the morning.

Matcha is finely ground green tea powder that originated in Japan. It tastes delicious, satisfies my cravings for a hot beverage, contains just the right amount of caffeine (hallelujah!), and, most importantly, doesn’t send me running to the bathroom after the first sip.

Here’s my matcha latte recipe:

  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 1/4 cup nondairy milk
  • 1 teaspoon matcha powder
  • a drizzle of honey
  • a dash of cinnamon

Blend with a whisk and enjoy. It’s so simple!

Living with an autoimmune disease that affects the digestive system means it’s hard for my body to absorb nutrients the way it should. Because of this, I’ve learned to get creative in how I consume the nutrients my body needs to heal and function properly.

I personally love drinking greens powder with water first thing in the morning, as well as taking a high-quality multivitamin.

Ever since I changed my diet and made it work for me instead of against me, I’ve seen a drastic shift in my quality of life. I will never go back to my former ways of eating the standard American diet.

In fact, I encourage anyone just starting to navigate an autoimmune disease diagnosis to change your diet as soon as possible.

Don’t wait as long as I did to make a change. If you need a little extra support, don’t be afraid to seek assistance from a registered dietitian or a nutritionist.

The effort is so worth it — and can be life changing.

Holly Fowler lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their fur child, Kona. She loves hiking, spending time at the beach, trying the latest gluten-free hot spot in town, and working out as much as her ulcerative colitis allows. When she isn’t seeking out gluten-free vegan dessert, you can find her working behind the scenes of her website and Instagram, or curled up on the couch bingeing the latest true-crime documentary on Netflix.