When you’re living with ulcerative colitis (UC), every activity presents a new set of challenges to overcome. Whether it’s eating out, traveling, or just hanging out with friends and family, things that most people consider simple parts of everyday life can be overwhelming for you.
I’ve had my fair share of good and bad experiences as someone living with UC. All of these experiences have helped me to develop hacks for getting out in the world and living my best life despite my chronic illness. Hopefully, you’ll find these tips as helpful as I have.
1. Keep hydrated
The importance of staying hydrated cannot be emphasized enough. Dehydration has always been an issue for me. Drinking the right amount of water isn’t enough. I have to supplement with drinks that contain electrolytes.
After trying many different electrolyte drinks and solutions, I decided that Pedialyte Powder Packs work the best for me. I usually have one each day. If I’ve been traveling, I bump it up to two.
2. Learn what works to alleviate your pain
I’ve experienced a few adverse reactions to acetaminophen, so I’m a little scared of pain relief medication. I feel safe taking Tylenol, though. I try to limit my use of it, but bring it with me wherever I go, just in case.
If I’m in pain and I’m at home, I’ll make some tea. Usually, I’ll brew bruised garlic cloves, grated ginger, and a pinch of cayenne pepper with green tea for about 20 minutes. After I strain it, I’ll add honey and lemon juice. This helps best anytime my joints or muscles ache, or if I have chills or a fever.
Other alternative therapies that have been helpful when I’m in pain are breathing techniques, yoga, and CBD oil.
3. Don’t leave the house without medication
You should always bring any medication you may need when you leave the house — especially if you’re traveling. Traveling agitates your routine. It makes sense for your body to react. Even if I’m feeling OK, I bring a mix of natural and prescribed medication to help my body adjust to any effects traveling might have on my body.
I also bring some over-the-counter drugs with me when I’m traveling. Usually, I pack Gas-X, Dulcolax, and Gaviscon. Gas, constipation, and upper digestive issues often plague me when I’m on the move. Having these in my bag can be a lifesaver.
4. Drink plenty of tea
I drink tea every day, but I up the ante when I’m traveling.
Roasted dandelion tea helps me with digestion and detoxification. I drink it after meals that have high-fat content (even if it’s healthy fat).
Gas relief blends help when I’m having gas pain or if I’ve eaten foods that cause gas. Blends that contain a mix of fennel or caraway, peppermint, coriander, lemon balm, and chamomile are all great.
Peppermint is perfect for when I’m nauseous or need help to relax.
Chamomile is also good for relaxation and aids in digestion.
Ginger is great for aches and pains or warming you up from the inside when you have the chills.
Raspberry leaf is my go-to when I’m on my period. If you have UC, menstrual cramp discomfort can be much more intense for you than it is for most people. Raspberry leaf tea helps me relieve some of that discomfort.
5. Get social
Your social life can take a big hit when you have UC, but it’s important to interact with your friends and family. Having their support will help keep you sane as you deal with the daily challenges of UC.
However, it’s important to know your body’s limits. If you feel well enough to be social, but you’re nervous about being away from a bathroom, invite people over to your home. I like to binge-watch my favorite shows or movies together with friends. I try to pick things I’ve seen before so that I’m not missing anything if I need to use the bathroom.
6. Simplify your food and drink
When it comes to your diet, consider choosing foods that don’t have a lot of ingredients. Simple foods usually give me the least amount of digestive problems or pain.
Grilled or steamed foods are excellent because there is typically minimal seasoning and no heavy sauces. The fewer the ingredients, the less likely your symptoms will be triggered.
For protein, seafood is a safe option because it’s usually pretty simple too. Chicken is a close second, then beef, and lastly pork.
Make sure you moderate what you’re eating and drinking. For me, overeating is the worst possible thing to do. When I go to a restaurant, I ask the server for a to-go box before my food even arrives. Packing up part of my meal beforehand prevents me from overeating and making myself sick.
Also, if you’re going to a restaurant far away from your home, it’s always a good idea to pack an extra pair of underwear and pants, just in case.
As far as drinking alcohol goes, if you’re feeling well enough for a night out with your friends, make sure to drink in moderation.
In my experience, drinking liquor without any mixers is safest because there are fewer ingredients. Also, drinks like that are meant to be sipped, which can help to avoid overdrinking. Make sure to stay hydrated throughout the night. Have at least one glass of water with every drink, and leave a glass of water by your bed before you go to sleep that night.
7. Eat small portions when traveling
The first day of travel is the hardest. Go easy on your body. Hydrate more than usual and eat small portions of food consistently throughout the day.
I’ve found that probiotic yogurt and water-heavy fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew help me get good bacteria in my stomach and stay hydrated. Both are usually offered at any continental breakfast.
It can be hard to stick to your normal diet when you’re exploring new places. Rather than stopping off for lunch and dinner and eating two big meals, consider making a few stops for food throughout the day. Order small plates each time. This way, not only will you get to try more places, but you’ll also prevent yourself from overeating or getting too hungry between meals.
I also highly recommend walking over driving. A nice walk will help with your digestion, and really allow you to see the city!
8. Talk to friends and family
It’s great to have an outlet to talk about anything that is bothering you. Whether it’s an online support group, talking face-to-face with a friend, or writing in a journal, getting it all out will help you clear your mind and feel less overwhelmed.
Two things to consider when talking to others about UC are:
- Honesty. It’s up to you how open you want to be, but keep in mind that the more honest you are, the more likely your loved ones can offer useful advice. I’m ever grateful for the friends I have that can handle my truth and offer great insight.
- Humor. Being able to have a good sense of humor about bodily functions can help turn mortifying situations into something you can laugh at together.
9. Be brave even when you’re scared
You can read all the advice in the world, but in the end, it comes down to trial and error. It may take a few takes to get it right, but learning what works to manage your UC symptoms is worth the effort.
It’s understandable if your UC makes you scared to leave the house, but conquering our fears is what makes us brave.
Megan Wells was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when she was 26 years old. After three years, she decided to have her colon removed. She is now living life with a J-pouch. Throughout her journey, she’s kept her love of food alive through her blog, megiswell.com. On the blog, she creates recipes, takes pictures, and talks about her struggles with ulcerative colitis and food.