IBD joint pain (and what you can do to ease it)

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Before I was diagnosed with UC, I visited a doctor and told him that I had severe diarrhoea and pain in my wrists and ankles. He must never have encountered IBD before, because he was stumped.

Of course, my more experienced doctors immediately put the two together, and since I’ve started treatment, the pain has mostly disappeared.

However, from time to time, I’ll get twangs in my knees – more niggles and annoyances than anything else, and I’m wondering if any other IBD sufferers experience the same thing? My GI issues are completely under control, but yet I still get these strange pains from time to time.

A few things that help are:

– Warming the area. Put a blanket over your knees or have a hot bath. Don’t worry if it makes you feel like a granny – it works!

– Avoiding tight pants/jeans. Maybe it’s a no-brainer or maybe it never occurred to you (it never occurred to me until I was like, “Duh!”), but wearing pants that put pressure on your knees can exacerbate the pain. More reason to wear tracksuit bottoms (yay!)

– Not sitting still for too long in the same position. Stretch your legs and walk around often, but don’t overdo the exercise (until the pain goes away).

– Not sitting with your legs crossed (a leg swung over your sore knee can make the pain worse).

– Adding more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, like coconut oil, almonds, avocado, tumeric, blueberries, fatty fish, sweet potatoes, leafy greens and almost any other vegetable you can get your hands on.

– Taking a good quality fish oil supplement.

– Taking anti-inflammatories (if you MUST). Only when my pain became so bad that I couldn’t walk did I take anti-inflammatories, but it really did help and it gave me several hours of mobility that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Always check with your doc, though.

What solutions/suggestions do you have for IBD-related joint pain?

18 GIFs that perfectly sum up how it feels to have IBD

The first time you have a bad flare and come out of the bathroom.

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How you feel when anyone suggests you should get checked out by a doctor.

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When you finally relent and see a doctor… and have to wait for all the test results to find out if you’re really dying.

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When you find out you’re not really dying.

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When your doctor tells you you’ll be on medication for the rest of your life but you don’t need to change your diet.

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When you decide to take a break from your doctor so you can see a nutritionalist for a second opinion.

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When your nutritionalist tells you to break up with gluten.

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When you decide to binge anyway, and your loved ones try to stop you.

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When you discover delicious, healthy food that’s good for your belly.

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When you start to feel better thanks to your new diet

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When you have the occasional dietary slip-up and it doesn’t turn into a binge.

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When your new diet, together with your meds, becomes a way of life, and you feel better than ever.

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When you realise that IBD doesn’t have to ruin your life and you can do all the things you used to do… even if it means less cake, cheese or booze. It’s all worth it.

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(…And when it’s your birthday and you treat yourself to cake anyway – because it’s worth it, once a year).

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An overview of 7 different healing diets

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When it comes to healing diets, there are a number of popular options that have proved effective for people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease or various digestive complaints. If you’re looking to help heal your gut through diet, it’s a great idea to pick one of these tried-and-tested options – but which one?

Here’s a (very high-level) run-down of each of the main healing diets to help you decide. Bear in mind that, just like medication, different diets work for different people, and you’ll have to try them yourself to discover which one works best for you. Also remember that you’ll need to tweak and ‘engineer’ whichever diet you end up selecting – that means adding, removing or limiting things based on your own unique set of food intolerances, sensitivities or allergies. Each of these diets provides a great path towards health – you just need to pinpoint your exact route!

SCD – specific carbohydrate diet (long-term/indefinite)

I started this blog to document my 100 days on SCD – a diet aimed at helping to heal IBD and other GI complaints by removing grains, starches, processed sugar and processed food from the diet – food that are known to irritate the gut and promote inflammation. Many people claim to be medication-free and in remission thanks to SCD, which is why I initially attempted it. It works in phases: You start by removing virtually everything from your diet except for eggs, meat and carrots, and gradually re-introduce foods slowly, week by week, month by month, until you know what your body can and can’t handle. It is an extremely slow process that gives your gut a chance to heal and recover from months or years of damage. SCD offers amazing results for some people and ‘meh’ results for others – simply proving that every ‘body’ is different and requires different approaches.

SCD wasn’t the perfect solution for me, but I’m very glad I did it, if only for 100 days. Here’s a summary of my experience on the SCD diet. You can visit the SCDLifestyle.com site for loads of info about the diet, or view the stages of the SCD diet here.

Paleo (long-term/indefinite)

Paleo wasn’t intended to be healing diet per se, but many IBD sufferers have adopted it due to the fact that it cuts out many foods known to cause inflammation and aggravate the gut. Like SCD, paleo focuses on ‘clean’ eating that is free of refined/processed foods, sugar and grains, but unlike SCD, it also prohibits dairy and, depending on how strictly you follow it, honey. Like SCD, the paleo diet consists mainly of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, unprocessed/organic meat and eggs, as healthy oils. Unlike SCD, you don’t have to take a phased approach to the diet, which has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that you can enjoy all these foods right from the get-go, but the disadvantage is that if certain foods on the paleo ‘legal’ list are causing you gastric distress, you won’t know which ones they are due to the fact that you aren’t testing them individually.

Paleo has gained massive popularity around the world in recent years, because more and more people are wanting to remove unhealthy processed foods from their diets. This also means that more restaurants and grocery shops are catering to this diet and it’s easier to change to a paleo lifestyle.

AIP – Autoimmune Paleo diet/protocol (short-term/indefinite)

AIP is a healing diet aimed at restoring the gut and immune system. It’s based on the same principles of the paleo diet, but it has the added bonus of having many of the problematic foods removed, as well as the opportunity to test these foods and either reintroduce them slowly or cut them out altogether if your body doesn’t like them.

AIP is not intended to be a lifelong diet. It’s recommended that you follow it for a maximum of 60 to 90 days to help repair intestinal damage, which should theoretically give your body enough time to recover sufficiently for you to progress to a paleo diet. Things that aren’t allowed (particularly at first) include nuts, seeds, nightshade vegetables, many spices, dairy, eggs and various other foods.

I have followed the AIP protocol and I can tell you that it is very, very hard, but worth the effort. Knowing that it’s only temporary does make it easier, and from my experience, I do believe that it can be effective in the healing process. Here is a full list of foods you can and can’t eat during AIP. You can also take a phased approach to reintroducing them to see what your body can and can’t tolerate.

GAPS – Gut And Psychology Syndrome diet (long-term/indefinite)

GAPS isn’t as well known as SCD but its principles are similar, in that the underlying belief is that diet can aid in not only digestive disorders, but conditions like autism too. The foods consumed are almost the same as on SCD, but often dairy is excluded. It also takes a phased approach by removing and then reintroducing foods, and it is recommended that you follow it for at least two years, if not longer. Read more about GAPS here.

FODMAPS – Fermentable Oligo, Di, and Mono-saccharides And Polyols (long-term/indefinite)

This is another healing diet that you’ve probably come across during your research, but it’s less well-known than SCD or paleo. It’s also been designed to help relieve chronic digestive complaints, and many people swear by its effectiveness (I’ve never tried it). As with the other diets, it’s worth researching it and reading about the experience of others to figure out whether it might help you too. Get an overview of FODMAPs here.

Gluten-free/wheat-free/egg-free/dairy-free (long-term/indefinite)

A lot of people don’t have a digestive disease but do suffer from food intolerances – the most common of which include dairy, wheat, gluten and/or eggs. I am lactose intolerant and after discovering this fact, the only thing I removed from my diet was, obviously, dairy. I only later discovered that I had ulcerative colitis and that led me to change lots of other things too.

If you don’t have IBD or a digestive disorder, it might not be necessary for you to follow a healing diet, but simply to remove allergens/irritants from your diet. I have friends who, based on their intolerances, have removed those foods from their diets without actually following a specific eating plan. They’ve found a way of eating that works for them, and that’s great! They don’t need to follow an actual healing diet. If you don’t have IBD but suffer from something like IBS, for example, it’s well worth having yourself checked for common food intolerances. You might find that removing just one thing from your diet – like dairy for me, or wheat or eggs – might be a big part of the solution.

‘Rice’/‘White food’ diet (temporary)

This goes against every other diet I’ve covered above and it’s not even a ‘real’ diet. Plus, it’s also meant to be very, very temporary! Basically, this is my flair diet. When I’m flaring (which hasn’t happened in a year!), the only foods that seem to agree with me are white rice (with a bit of lemon juice), white bread, white pasta – all that icky refined stuff that I usually avoid. Plus starchier, low fibre veg like peas and carrots (cooked).

It’s well documented (maybe not scientifically, but certainly among sufferers!) that highly refined starches can actually help soothe aggravated GI tracts. That said, it should only be temporary solution because you can’t live on white rice, pasta and bread! I remember going through a phase some years ago when that’s exactly what I did – and I thought it was okay; that my body just ‘preferred’ these foods. It should in fact have been a HUGE red flag. If you have chronic diarrhoea and bleeding, white foods are NOT the solution. Get to a doctor!

That said, if you’re flaring, white rice and pasta can be very soothing, so if you can’t keep anything down/in, give it a bash. It works for me.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the healing diets out there, and as I mentioned at the beginning, any of these (or others that you choose) should be altered and tweaked over time to suit your body’s specific needs and sensitivities.

Please feel free to share your healing diet experiences, tips or advice in the comments 🙂

Healing foods to eat if you can’t afford supplements

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Having a GI disorder like ulcerative colitis is expensive. There’s the traditional medical route and all it entails – doctors’ appointments, blood tests, colonoscopies, gastroscopies, specialist appointments, hospital stays and medication – and there’s the functional/natural medication route, with nutritionalists’ appointments, tests, supplements and special diets.

If you, like me, have been willing to try virtually anything to heal your gut, you’ve probably found that the damage to your bank balance can be pretty extensive.

When I started seeing a new nutritionalist about three or four months ago, I was pretty upfront with her about the fact that while I was willing to undergo any tests she thought necessary, and willing to try any supplements she recommended, there was a limit to my financial resources. In spirit I wanted to try everything she suggested… but in reality, my credit card cried out in pain. She completely understood and tailored a course of treatment for me that I was able to afford.

Using food as a supplement

She cut down my supplements to the bare minimum for me (Vitamin D, fish oil, a good probiotic and curcumin), and said that it was now up to me to use food to make up the deficit. Although it wouldn’t work as quickly as UltraInflamX, for example, it would work and it would help to reduce inflammation and repair the damage. This is, of course, the whole point of a healing diet, and these foods would form the foundation of it.

Here are the items she suggested I include in my diet as often as possible, preferably every day, to help fight inflammation and heal my gut.

  1. Avocado
  2. Olive oil
  3. Coconut and coconut oil
  4. Turmeric
  5. Healthy fats with all meals and snacks for anti-inflammatory support
  6. Homemade chicken or lamb stock/broth
  7. Peas – a good source of protein. Pea protein to be used in fruit smoothies and soups
  8. Fermented foods
  9. Animal protein
  10. Seeds

I made my first batch of sauerkraut recently and it was really easy. It tastes very ‘sour’ so I know it must be right! I include all the rest of the foods in my diet regularly, if not daily, except for the broth. I just haven’t got around to making it, which is a sorry excuse! I think what puts me off is that not only is it a long process, but we also have a small, poorly ventilated flat and I’m just not sure I want to subject K to those smells!

When it comes to spices like turmeric, you can easily add little bits to curries, soups or broths, which is what I do. As for the pea protein, make sure it’s well blended into your soup or smoothie so it isn’t ‘grainy’, and when it comes to animal protein, always choose meat that has nothing added to it – no preservatives, hormones, spices, sugar, etc. Be especially careful of bacon.

What healing foods do you consume regularly?

Day 5 – Day 11: A week of challenges and triumphs

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K has been following the paleo diet for almost two weeks now. It’s amazing the psychological impact it’s had on me as well: I don’t want to cheat on my diet because I know how hard she’s working to stick to it, and how difficult it is for her.

To sum up briefly, here are the things she’s found easiest and most difficult about switching from a regular diet to paleo.

The easier parts:

– Eating more protein. As Paleo Leap says in this great article about paleo and protein, “healthy animal fats are the backbone of a paleo eating plan”. Although paleo isn’t meant to be a protein free-for-all (you really shouldn’t be eating steak for breakfast, lunch and supper), it’s also pretty hard to overdo it – your body simply starts to reject it, and you’ll feel pretty nauseated.

– Eating breakfast. K has never been one for breakfast and getting her to eat anything before midday has always been a struggle. But because she switched to paleo at the same time that she started working out pretty hard, she realised that she’d need something in her belly in the morning. I make her fruit smoothies every morning, using bananas, strawberries, pineapple, plain yoghurt and a dash of apple juice. I know that there’s no protein in it but it’s a start for someone who’s always shunned the idea of a morning meal!

Eating more fruit. Fruit is extremely healthy and I feel it’s a very useful ‘bridge’ between a standard carby diet and a paleo one. K often went entire days without eating any fruit, which means she was missing out on important vitamins and minerals. I’m so glad she’s including more of it in her diet.

The harder parts:

– Snack foods. Snacking on the paleo diet takes a fair amount of planning, which is ironic considering that a snack is usually eaten fairly spontaneously. There’s no grabbing a sandwich or having a bowl of popcorn between meals, which I know is hard for her. Most paleo snacks are protein-based, so I make sure that she always has things like biltong, fruit, hummus or yoghurt on hand (she’s still doing some dairy, but mainly yoghurt – no cheese).

Cravings. It’s difficult to give up comforting carbs in one fell swoop – but that’s what she’s done. She’s had the pizza cravings, the curry-and-rice cravings, and the eclair cake cravings. It’s normal, but that doesn’t mean it’s pleasant. That said, she hasn’t succumbed to any of them.

Bypassing the bread basket. We attended a fancy-shmancy event last Saturday that was packed to the rafters with Cape Town’s glam set – rich, blonde, tanned and skinny. When they brought the bread basket around, K really struggled to resist, and eventually succeeded by telling herself, “I’m not a prisoner; I don’t need bread!” She later commented that, were it any other event, the bread would’ve been demolished in minutes – but of course, these ladies and gents weren’t in the least bit interested!

– Set menus. At the same event, we were presented with a set menu with three options each for starters and mains. Because K is quite a fussy eater, even the meals that were paleo-compliant weren’t particularly appealing to her. The moral is, if you’re a fussy eater and you’re doing paleo, try to cook all your own meals. In fact, fussy or not, you should try to do this. It’s simply the healthiest way to eat.

Not eating eggs. K will eat eggs on occasion – but usually when they’re accompanied by toast, hidden in pancakes or turned into omelettes. I eat boiled eggs daily, and I find them an easy breakfast and a handy snack. Plus they’re also a great source of protein if you don’t feel like cooking. Not eating boiled eggs does make things a little harder, but it’s not impossible to navigate.

Alcohol. On strict paleo, all booze should be avoided, but some fervent followers will allow dry wines or certain spirits – neither of which really appeal to K.

So how is she making it stick?

Considering the harder bits far outweigh the easier ones, how does she stick to it? Well, the 30-day goal is really spurring her own (though secretly, I’ll admit that I’m hoping that some of the paleo principles stick long after that – after all, processed carbs are not good for anyone). She’s also signed up to do the Impi Challenge in October, and she’s knows she needs to be fully committed to her workout plan and her diet if she’s going to get through it successfully.

Of course, K and I are not doing paleo as strictly as we could be – although I, simply by virtue of my IBD and food intolerances, am probably far closer to it. If you are interested in following the diet, here’s a handy list of all the things you should eat and shouldn’t eat on paleo.

Allergic to… everything

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K jokes that I must be an alien because I’m allergic to practically everything on the planet. When I was a baby, I developed asthma. I was obviously still quite sickly because then the doctors figured out I was allergic to pets as well – and all the other regular allergen-inducing elements like grass, dust, house mites, pollen, people, walls, TV, water and being alive. Okay okay I’m exaggerating a bit, but I was a pretty allergic kid, and I continue to be a pretty allergic adult.

Often when I emerge from my (piping hot) showers, I’ll have a rash on my face, neck and upper body, a bit like itchy bites. If I swim in the sea, my body breaks out in tiny red dots from head to toe – tiny, raised red spots that take anything from thirty minutes to a couple of hours to disappear. Friends, unable to contain their amazement/mirth, have even photographed it.

When I visit my sister, she gives me an allergy tablet as soon as I arrive, because they have two dogs and within minutes I’m a sneezing, snotty mess. Right now, as I type this, I look like I’m deep in the throes of influenza – the kind you read about in Chaucerian tales, which wiped out thousands of people because of poor sanitation and rats and the fact that no one ever bathed (I swear I bath). My eyes are red and puffy and I have thick dark circles below them. I have no idea why this is – I simply started sneezing a few hours ago and haven’t stopped. I did open the windows of our apartment, and outside there are some trees, so it could be that. A cat could’ve walked past our front door. A cat could’ve thought about walking past our front door. It could be any one of a million things.

My research into autoimmune disease, and the time spent talking to nutritionalists, has made me realise that many people with IBD or other types of autoimmune diseases often display many allergies/intolerances, and also may exhibit symptoms of more than one autoimmune condition. For me, it’s asthma, eczema/psoriasis (mild and never properly diagnosed) and dry eyes – and of course ulcerative colitis. I’ve read many blogs posts by people who also have multiple autoimmune conditions so it seems to be pretty common. Oh and I’m lactose intolerant (and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few more as well).

I’m not trying to draw any conclusions  – you’ve got the Google doctors and scientists for that. I’m more just musing out loud. And wondering how the hell I’m going to get it together to look half-presentable for the show tonight. My favourite drag queen can’t see me looking like I’m coming off a 36-hour heroin binge.

Quick-fix solutions for puffy, panda eyes?? Eeeep!

How to tell if you’ve got a flare coming on (and what to do about it)

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A few days ago I woke up with an ominous ache in my foot, and my brain immediately went to dark places. Inexplicable pain in my feet and ankles, to the point of barely being able to walk, was a major feature of my most severe flare back in 2012. At the time I had no idea why my feet ached and I had diarrhoea, and my GP was unable to make the connection between the two (and no, my feet weren’t sore from constantly running to the toilet – after all, I spent enough time sitting!).

Anyway, I soon learnt that joint pain is part and parcel of autoimmune disease, and now that my UC is under control, I experience it infrequently, with just the occasional twinge in my knees.

The foot pain put me into a bit of a spin, but not in a bad way. Although I am listening even more closely to my body right now, I’m not freaking out about a possible flare. Instead, I’m actively putting measures in place to try to keep it at bay.

Aside from my regular medication, I’m placing an even greater emphasis on my diet and lifestyle, and here’s what I’m doing:

Ensuring that everything I eat is aimed at healing. That means no ‘empty’ treats that simply satisfy my taste buds but do nothing to enhance my health. I don’t need Bliss Balls or Nakd bars or 17 bananas a day. It means using food purely as a healing tool. I love to eat and I especially love sweet things so this is extremely hard, but necessary.

No.

No.

Eating foods that reduce inflammation. Every day, I consume avocado and coconut oil/milk/yoghurt – healthy fats that are known to help reduce inflammation. I also eat a small quantity of almonds (literally about 10 a day), plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (at least 5 to 8 servings per day) and lean meat and fish. I’m big into baby spinach right now – I eat it raw or pour boiling water over it to cook it instantly – and try to include turmeric in my diet. Here’s my easy recipe for homemade SCD/paleo coconut yoghurt.

No.

No.

Cutting out alcohol. Alcohol is extremely inflammatory and the fact that I ever drink it at all is a gamble. Right now, I don’t feel like betting on my health, so the booze is gone. I’m not even sad about this; I’m too focused on healing.

Reducing coffee intake. Okay, this is very hard. When the only things you drink are coffee and water, removing 50% of your beverage options is a bitter pill. At the moment, I’m still consuming one to two cups a day, but I’m trying to reduce this to just one cup, and hopefully I’ll be able to cut it out altogether within the next few days. I really hate tea.

Choosing healthy snacks. If I do get hungry between meals, I ensure that the snacks I eat are serving me, not simply filling a gap. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t go hungry. It’s just that I won’t chuck something into my stomach for the sake of taste or plugging a hole. If I’m going to eat it, it’s going to need to fill me and fulfil a healing function. I also drink UltraInflamX once a day to load up extra vitamins and tumeric.

No.

No.

Avoiding problem foods. For me, this means no nightshades (which I’ve been doing anyway), and strictly limiting my consumption of nuts and raw vegetables, as both can be hard to digest.

NO.

No.

Not overloading my gut. I’m a big eater so this has always been my greatest challenge. But overloading my GI system, whether I’m eating healthily or not, is putting it under unnecessary strain that can only lead to damage or at the very least, discomfort. I’m not a believer in eating 6 or 9 or 73 small meals a day. Honestly, that is just not satisfying to me. I love a hearty, filling dinner, and I can go smaller on the other meals. But even that hearty, filling dinner needs to be a reasonably sized portion or my gut simply won’t cope.

Definitely no.

Definitely NO.

Drinking lots and lots of water. I already drink 2 litres a day so I can’t fit much more in without spending every free moment in the loo (one way and another, I can’t seem to get away from that place).

Getting enough sleep. I generally get between 7 and 8 hours a night and I don’t usually have any trouble sleeping, so this is one of the few things that isn’t a problem for me!

Reducing stress. I’m a highly-strung person by nature. I’m impatient, easily frustrated and quickly angered. I frequently become stressed out and annoyed, and all of this probably contributed to my diagnosis in the first place. Trying to be calmer is very difficult for me, but it’s worth the effort because stress and anger only harms the gut and inhibits the healing process. I have redoubled my efforts after reading this insightful article from Adam Scheuer at IHaveUC.com.

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What are your tips for nipping a potential flare in the butt? 🙂