Diets, diets, diets. . .What's an IBDer to do?
For 31 years of my life I never thought about what I was eating. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, and never gave it a second thought. I wasn’t a fast food junkie by any means, but did enjoy things like french fries, Doritos, ice cream, and Coca-Cola, as well as watermelon, sweet corn, Yoplait yogurt, and beer.
After my IBD diagnosis in 1998 I never ate any of these aforementioned foods again - and many, many others - at least not without serious repercussions that made me finally stop eating them.
When I realized that what I ate could make a difference in how severe my IBD symptoms were, or weren’t, I began to research foods, nutrients, and diets. The number of diets available was staggering to me - the B.R.A.T. diet, the low residue diet, the rotation diet, the SCD diet - and each of them was foreign to me as well.
Eventually I found out what each diet was and how it worked. And over time I’ve tried or used each of them for certain situations or periods of time. I thought I give you a quick overview on what each diet is and when I tend to it.
B.R.A.T. diet - this is the bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast diet. When life is going along fine this diet sounds so ridiculous. But when a full-blown flare hits with cramps, low-grade fever, loss appetite, chronic diarrhea, and fatigue this diet is my savior. Even though I’m not big on huge brown spots on my bananas these are the best ones to eat when your gut has gone nuts. White rice, with maybe just a tiny bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt becomes a whole meal. The applesauce is refreshing and the slight sweet taste perks me up a little. And the toast is simply comforting with just a tad of margarine.
Low Residue diet - I’ve come to call this my “white and light” diet, think low fiber. This is a diet that is usually followed for a short period of time to give the gut a break and a chance to heal. Foods that comprise this diet include products made with refined white flour (breads, cereal, and pasta), white rice, baked chicken breast and white fish, eggs, yogurt, pulp-free juice, but clear juices are best, and clear soup broth. Foods not to eat when your gut is angry and ticked off include: whole grains (this includes whole grain bread and cereal), red meat, veggies, fruit like melons and oranges, nut butters, nuts and seeds. I employ this diet after the B.R.A.T. diet, when my gut has calmed a bit but I’m still having loose stools and cramps. When I think of foods on this diet I envision food not having sharp edges or corners.
Rotation diet - I think of this NOT as a diet but as a way of balancing what I eat. This is a complex diet and to really understand it you should do a little further research. I believe this diet was originally developed to help people identify allergies or hypersensitivities to certain foods. The basic principle, and it is very basic, is to not eat the same foods on successive days. For example, if you eat wheat based cereal on Monday, then on Tuesday eat an oat cereal, and Wednesday eat another grain. Plus, if you eat wheat for breakfast on Monday then don’t eat any other wheat products for the rest of that day. Or, when looking at protein, if you eat lamb on Monday, then have fish on Tuesday, and poultry on Wednesday. I find that I can eat some foods quite successfully as long as I don’t eat them on consecutive days, like almonds or cheese or grapes. But if I space them out I have more successful digestion of these foods without gas, bloating, or cramps.
SCD - Specific Carbohydrate Diet - there is some belief that certain carbs, like wheat, refined flours, and sugars exacerbate IBD symptoms. And this diet is quite strict on what is “legal” to eat and what is “illegal.” Basically anything made with wheat, flour, or any sort of sugar (other than honey) is illegal. The focus of this diet is on whole foods - proteins, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nut flours, and homemade yogurt. You can buy Elaine Gottschall’s book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle to find out exactly how to do this diet. She recommends eating according to this diet for at least one year to see a full change in your symptoms. Or, you can go to www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info and take a look at the “legal/illegal” food list.
I admit that I don’t follow this diet religiously. I have, however, removed all wheat, refined flour products, and sugar from my diet now for two weeks and have less gas and bloating, better formed stools, and a bit more energy.
For me, there is no one diet or eating plan that works for me 365 days of the year. I have to listen to my body and figure out what it needs when. What I do know is this, preservatives KILL my gut, so I don’t eat anything that is pre-made or pre-packaged. I eat whole foods that I cook myself. Thankfully I like to cook and am pretty good at it. I even make my own yogurt, which I find delicious and easy to do. Eating out can be tricky. Usually I can scan a menu and delete 85% of the items offered in about two minutes. Then I narrow down my choices even further and, if need be, play the old When-Harry-Met-Sally game of, “Can I have this on the side, or that on the side.” And in ten years of making these types of requests I haven’t been denied yet. Now, that said, I simply don’t set foot in fast-foods joints, chain restaurants, or Chinese restaurants. There is simply going to be nothing I can eat at any of these types of places that I won’t pay for later.
So, get to know your body, the food’s you’re eating, and how you feel after you eat them. Then you, too, will have a better idea of what your body needs when.
Author, Living with IBD & IBS www.ibdandibs.com
Elizabeth wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Digestive Health.