Taking good care of yourself means making mindful choices about what you put into your body. We each have unique relationships with food and different patterns for how, when, what, and why we eat. Crohn's disease (CD) in particular may guide our decisions around diet, and for good reason: taking steroids while living on a diet of pizza, fried foods, and candy can be a dangerous combination. In this article, we’ll be discussing ways you can maintain a healthy relationship with food and eating at school, even when your Crohn’s symptoms might make that difficult.
Crohn's and overeating
Living with Crohn’s makes eating food a lot more complicated than it might normally be. One of the realities of having Crohn’s disease is that it robs us of the pleasure of eating when we feel sick. But it’s almost ironic that when we feel well, we may be at increased risk of overeating. Once we get over a flare, it is easy to enjoy the pleasures that food can and should give—sometimes a little too much.
Also, you may be prescribed steroids after a flare, which may artificially stimulate your appetite, further compounding the problem. Even when you finish that medication regimen, you might struggle to reset your satiety levels to a point that won’t encourage overeating in the future.
Good health means a well-balanced diet
Proper nutrition is essential for people living with Crohn’s disease. As a freshman in college, living in the dorms without a kitchen, you will probably rely on your university food service for your daily meals. College food services are often ready and willing to accommodate reasonable dietary needs. You know your needs better than anyone else, so it is important for you to take action and voice your needs.
Your school may provide useful information like nutritional analyses of new and popular food chains that are on or near your campus. For any specific questions related to Crohn’s disease diets, you might want to consult with a dietitian. One may be available through your university health center or in connection with your gastroenterologist. You could also try looking on the American Dietetic Association’s Web site.
According to Dr. David Rubin, whom you can meet here on Crohn’s & Me, malnutrition is a big concern for people with Crohn's. Our bowels may not properly absorb nutrients, putting us at risk. It will take time for you to get to know your unique body and what foods you can and can’t comfortably tolerate. Try keeping a food journal to keep track of which kinds of foods make you feel better or worse so you can take an informed, active approach to managing your diet. (Read more about nutrients important for people with Crohn’s in the Summer 2010 issue of Crohn’sAdvocate magazine.)
Disordered eating is not an eating disorder
Having Crohn’s disease complicates the relationship we have with our body, on top all of the usual concerns that people have about food and their bodies—and you don’t have to have an eating disorder to have disordered eating. Eating disorders aren’t primarily about food itself. They are actually symptomatic of underlying emotional distress, which is part and parcel of having Crohn's.
Living with Crohn's certainly does not mean you have an eating disorder, but it does affect how and what you eat, and it can be problematic and potentially detrimental to both your emotional well-being and bodily well-being. You might even associate eating less with having fewer symptoms, which might lead you to deprive yourself of food in order to feel better. But remember that food choices don’t cause your disease activity. Stay mindful of how food positively affects your body, too. This is a mindset that will lead to better overall health.
Unfortunately, the weight loss that can sometimes accompany a Crohn’s flare can be mistaken for an eating disorder. It can be infuriating and hurtful to have the symptoms of your disease envied by people who want to lose weight themselves.
Ultimately, the goal is to develop a healthy relationship with food in how it affects both your body and your mind. While Crohn’s can make eating more complicated, the benefits are worth the trouble. As always, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new Crohn's diet regimen to see what’s best for you. With the right mindset, you can enjoy all kinds of healthful foods by listening to your body and eating what you want, when you want! (Read more about developing a positive body image when you have Crohn’s in the Fall 2010 issue of Crohn’sAdvocate magazine.)