If you have ulcerative colitis (UC), you’re likely no stranger to different diets. Maybe a gastroenterologist (GI) recommended you try a low FODMAP diet. Or maybe your mom or sister is convinced that if you just ate more raw veggies, not only would you feel better, but you’d lose weight, too! Sound familiar?
For a while, I thought I did a pretty good job of sticking to one diet. But while reflecting recently, I found that my diets have actually been all over the place. I pieced together my dieting story below to hopefully help others avoids similar pitfalls while trying to manage UC.
And remember: It’s always best to consult your GI or registered dietitian before starting any diet.
The Paleo diet was the first diet I tried after my UC diagnosis. You may have heard the Paleo diet referred to as “the caveman diet.” This means that if a caveman didn’t have access to a certain food, neither should you. This diet, according to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, consists of meats, fish, nuts, leafy greens, veggies, and seeds. It’s supposed to help reduce inflammation because it centers around simple ingredients that don’t have gluten.
This diet worked pretty well for me, but there were still a lot of items on the “Paleo-approved” list that didn’t sit well with me — leafy greens, anyone?
I thought I had to eat only Paleo-approved things, but doing so just didn’t work for my body. It also made going out to eat or eating at friend’s house or with my parents more difficult.
Eventually, I had a talk with one of my GIs, and he told me that it didn’t matter what diet I followed — because of my UC, I could still flare and be symptomatic. That really struck me because I had always thought: food = flare. Not true. After about eight months on the Paleo diet, I decided to save my money and try something else.
Tone It Up Nutrition Plan
If you haven’t heard of the Tone It Up girls, I’ll fill you in: Trainers Karena Dawn and Katrina Scott are the ladies behind the Tone It Up fitness and lifestyle brand, and they have a huge following. One thing they offer is the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan.
This plan focuses on “lean, clean, and green.” This means lean proteins, clean and non-processed foods, and, well, greens. On the plan, you eat five times a day and choose foods that fit into their guidelines. I’m talking muffins made of chickpeas, donuts made with protein powder and beets, a variety of smoothies, and baked chicken.
I did the plan for eight weeks. It was intense and required a ton of food prep. The food was delicious… in most cases. There were definitely some recipes where I said, “Yeah, no way am I eating that.” For example, giant kale salads — here we go again with leafy greens!
This diet didn’t work out for me in the long run. I dealt with a lot of cramping while I was on it, and it was hard to figure out what exactly my guts didn’t like. So while I didn’t flare, I did have some symptoms.
After the eight weeks, I said sayonara.
Intuitive eating and counting macros
Currently, my diet is centered around intuitive eating and counting macros. I started intuitive eating with a new trainer because I wanted to feel comfortable around food and feel OK eating my “safe foods” (ones that didn’t cause me to symptom out hardcore). Intuitive eating means that you eat whatever you want, but you eat it mindfully, and with some portion control. But unfortunately, I’m not a very intuitive eater.
That’s where macronutrients (or “macros”) came in.
Your body needs carbs for energy, fat to break down the protein, and protein to build muscle and feel full. So, based on my weight and my goals, my trainer tabulated how many grams of each macro I need during the day.
So now, I weigh almost everything I eat, and I track it all. I avoid my trigger foods, add in some healthy ones that I know I can tolerate well, weigh it out, and watch how my macros trend throughout the day.
And what’s great about this approacah is I didn’t have to throw out all those cookbooks, guides, and notes from the diets I’ve tried in the past. I can incorporate them into my macro counting and still use those recipes.
Managing your UC diet
As much as we hate to hear it, there is no one-size-fits-all diet when it comes to UC. Everyone is different; so, if you’re someone who can’t handle raw vegetables, then don’t add raw vegetables to your diet plan. Add cooked ones, or ones that you blend up in a blender. If gluten makes your guts squirm, try some Paleo substitutes.
The best advice I can offer is to try things. You never know when a diet might stick with you. For me, as it turns out, when there are guidelines in place for how much of a certain thing I should have, I’m pretty good at varying my food. I prefer this to working with a list of restrictions.
One thing I’ve learned about “diets?” While they may have a negative connotation, trying them doesn’t have to be a negative experience.
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Mandy is a writer and cat mom who is slowly becoming a health-nut. She’s earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in professional writing. For her master’s thesis she wrote about patient education materials for those diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. She works full-time as a technical writer in Chicago, and serves on the board of directors and blogs for Girls With Guts, a non-profit organization to support women with IBD and/or ostomies. Follow more of her stories on HealthCentral and blog posts on the Girls With Guts website.