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When you have ulcerative colitis (UC), knowing what to choose off a menu can seem as challenging as picking the winning lotto numbers. This is because everyone’s body is different. What works best for you may not work best for me, and vice versa. It will take some trial and error to find your safe foods, and you might have to make some unpleasant stops along the way.

It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed or scared to start this journey. In fact, it’s one of the most frustrating things about having UC! Hopefully, the following four tips I’ve learned can help to guide you.

How do you get to know your body? Through observation. For two years following my UC diagnosis, I kept both a food journal and a bowel movement journal. The bowel movement journal was a notebook that stayed in the bathroom. To keep track of what I was eating, I used the MyFitnessPal app. In fact, I still use it today.

Tracking your bowel movements in conjunction with what you’re eating can help you to detect if certain foods set off your UC symptoms. Then you can pinpoint the foods that work for you and the foods that don’t.

Once you start to track what you’re eating and your bowel movements, flag any repeated reactions to foods. This will help you to detect your triggers.

For me, I noticed my body reacted whenever I had foods high in fat, sugar, fiber, or anything acidic. These things are pretty general. It’s possible you might discover more specific catalysts, like dairy or caffeine.

Knowing which foods to avoid will help you when you’re trying to map out your meals.

For example, if I’m going to the bathroom more than usual and I’m seeing a lot of undigested solids in my stool, it means I’ve had too much fiber. To help alleviate myself, I’ll start to include only low-fiber foods in my meals. Yoga works as a great, natural remedy for me as well.

Then there are periods when I haven’t had enough fiber. I’ll know it if I’m going to the bathroom fewer than three times per day, my stomach feels tight and bloated, and it’s extremely tough to release gas. When I do go to the bathroom, my stool is solid and small. To combat this, I’ll up my fiber intake and do an aerobic exercise.

By listening to what your body needs and what it’s had too much of, you can decrease the amount of time you spend in pain or discomfort.

Once you’ve established your triggers and learned to listen to your body, you might feel confident enough to dine out (yay!). Although dining out might inspire you to be adventurous, veering too far off the path made lead to a flare-up. Continue to listen to your body and stick with what is safe.

For example, if fatty and acidic foods have been giving me digestion problems and I’m going to an Italian restaurant, I know any dish made with cream or red sauce is out. I’ll likely pick something from the seafood menu. Usually, there is at least one option there that’s pretty basic and free of cream or sauce.

These pointers have helped me on my journey. You may find other guidelines take precedent for you, and that’s OK. In the end, what matters most is that you listen to your body.

People will likely try to offer you tips on what to eat or how to exercise. Don’t feel guilty if you decide not to heed their advice. If you listen to everyone, you’ll go crazy.

Also, don’t feel guilty if you mess up along the way. It’s a learning process, and you’re doing an excellent job just by trying.

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.