It was 2008 when I was first diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. A few years before this I had noticed that I was suffering from classic IBS symptoms and of course, that’s what the GP put it down to. This time around I was so ill and so sick of being turned away and I actually paid for a private consultation. The doctor put me down for an NHS colonoscopy and five minutes after waking up from the procedure, I was being shown photos of my bowel and intestine and where the disease was.
I was a student at the time of my diagnosis. I was just about to sit my final exams at university and my younger brother had just had a massive stroke. It was the most stressful period of my life to date and it’s no coincidence that my colitis symptoms were their worst. We’re talking fatigue, nausea, stomach pains and cramps, urgency when going to the loo and bleeding from the bowel. Every day my body was losing blood and not absorbing the nutrients from my food. I felt awful!
I’ve not unearthered some sort of alien equation here, I think we all know that diet + exercise – stress = good health. Here’s how I made the changes necessary to manage my disease.
Colitis is strange in that it has its ups and downs. They call the downs ‘flares’. There isn’t really any medicine I’ve found that helps when the flares strike and I’ve been lucky that these have been infrequent and not too serious. The only time I’ve been hospitalised with a flare was during my pregnancy.
From the point of my diagnosis, I had a couple of years of feeling up and down with the colitis, until I decided to actively try and take some control back. I slowly started to make some lifestyle changes in an effort to feel better. I’ve not unearthered some sort of alien equation here, I think we all know that diet + exercise – stress = good health. Here’s how I made the changes necessary to manage my disease.
I started with diet as it was quite clear to me that there was a direct correlation between eating certain foods and my symptoms worsening. Sometimes just immediate symptoms, sometimes they almost acted like a trigger for a small flare. Over the years I’ve played around with what foods are, let’s say, ‘good and bad’ for me. I went gluten free quite quickly and although a huge fan of a French stick and a good piece of cake, it wasn’t that hard to make the change. I do still long for some French bread though! Cutting out dairy has had the biggest impact and this has only happened recently when my son was born with cow’s milk intolerance and I had to strictly remove it from my diet. Good bye cheese, milk chocolate, even more cakes!
At times when I’ve been insanely strict with my diet – I have been my most well. The healthiest I’ve ever felt was when I was travelling and eating a very clean diet. Back in the UK, I’ve struck some sort of balance in that I can’t do it perfectly all of the time, and I really, really love the some of the ‘bad’ foods so I’ll have them very occasionally. It’s not all doom and gloom – I’ve learnt to make a bloody good gluten free cake and more recently a gluten and dairy free cake that would pass as a normal cake!
Everyone’s colitis seems to be different but I’d definitely advise exploring diet adaptation if you have the disease (or any disease) and you haven’t tried this already. There are many dieticians and even some cook books now that recommend using diet to manage various diseases. We can’t all be wrong but I’ve had doctors tell me that managing my diet won’t help would you believe!
Regular exercise is key to maintaining my health. I used to over exercise which, I thought was good for my health. Turns out, I was exhausting myself and wasting valuable energy that my body needed to tackle my colitis and function normally. I try and do some form of exercise daily. Whether that’s a walk, doing a low intensity exercise class or some body weight exercises at home. Since I’ve been doing my own exercises, I’ve felt a lot stronger and more energised. I’ve learnt a lot from Tracey Anderson’s body weight moves.
If you’re thinking a lifestyle change is needed, my top tip is to take things slow and don’t put too much pressure on yourself, or set too many goals at once. You can’t change everything overnight and only by doing things slowly, will you really feel the benefit of each step!
Part 2 next time. Stress, work and self-care.