Eating Healthy with Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Myths of Living with Ulcerative Colitis
Brooke Bogdan sets the record straight on misinformation about living with a chronic condition.
By Brooke Bogdan
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Medically Reviewed by Kareem Sassi, MD
One of the most important responsibilities of being diagnosed with a chronic illness like ulcerative colitis (UC) is learning as much about the condition as possible. Typically, most people turn to Google for answers. But a lot of times internet searches lead to misinformation.
Right after my diagnosis, I remember Googling ulcerative colitis to find out what it was. I came across a very negative and misleading patient blog about the horrors of having an ostomy. Of course, after reading that, all I did was look up dangers of ostomies and focus on negative and misleading information. I was caught in what I like to call the “quicksand of myths.”
Fortunately, I pulled myself out of the mire and learned how to separate fact from fiction when it comes to UC. Here’s a list of the most common myths about the condition — and the truth.
Myth #1:Changing your diet can cure UC.
Fact:It’s so easy to get caught up in “fad” diets that claim to be able to cure UC, when in fact diet is neither the cause nor the cure for this chronic condition. While dietary changes can reduce many of the symptoms of UC, you have to remember that there is no cure.
To find a diet that works best for you, talk with your GI or primary care physician about finding a nutritionist that is familiar with IBD. I found my nutritionist at my local YMCA. She told me that high lean proteins were the best option for me, and advised me against buying processed or frozen foods. She also recommended that I start eating high protein breakfasts. My favorite is an egg white omelet with a little bit of fat-free cheddar cheese, and two to three pieces of turkey bacon.
My nutritionist also gave me great advice about the usefulness of probiotics in Greek yogurt and kefir smoothies, which I have as a mid-morning snack. I also eat fruits that are easy to digest (like bananas) and lean meats and fish.
Myth #2:UC is the same thing as Crohn’s Disease.
Fact:UC and Crohn’s are both inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), but they are two distinct conditions. UC affects the lining of only the large intestine, whereas Crohn’s disease and the inflammation associated with it can appear anywhere in the digestive tract. The two diseases can also have different symptoms: UC frequently causes bloody stools while Crohn’s does not. I learned all of this by talking to people with Crohn’s disease at advocacy events for IBD.
Myth #3:UC is not severe.
Fact:Some people who are diagnosed with UC are told that “they’re lucky” because it’s not Crohn’s. In fact, UC can be more severe than Crohn’s disease. The severity of the disease varies from person to person. I almost lost my life from UC because my bowel was so inflamed that it was close to perforation. When the condition is that severe, surgery is necessary.
Myth #4:UC patients always need surgery.
Fact:According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, about 23 to 45 percent of people with UC will eventually require surgery. When you’re first diagnosed with the condition, it’s usually hard to tell if surgery is necessary. Doctors aren’t psychics. But they can put together a plan to help avoid surgery that involves steroids, biologics, and other medical therapies. It’s important to listen to your healthcare team and try every therapy or drug trial that they recommend.
I’m glad that I tried every option that was available to me before it came to surgery. I learned a lot about myself and about UC through trial and error of the methods I attempted to achieve remission.
Myth #5:Stress causes UC.
Fact:I will repeat: there is no known cause for UC. Stress affects even the healthiest person and although it can’t cause disease, stress can exacerbate UC symptoms.
When I’m stressed out I tend to flare, and If I’m already in a flare, stress will make me feel worse. If you’re newly diagnosed or in a flare, try to find relaxation techniques that will make you feel better. Figuring out what calms and relaxes you isn’t only just going to help the UC, it will be beneficial to your overall health.
I love working out, especially running or using a stair-climber. I also love to write, cuddle with my dog, Finn, and take a bath.
The list of myths about UC is long, but you can find trustworthy sources of information if you just know where to look. Ask your doctor or mentor for recommendations. In time, you’ll learn to how to spot a myth and will be able to debunk it yourself.
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