Day 98: What to eat (and what to avoid) when you’re having a ‘bad GI’ day

After everything my poor GI system went through last night with the nuts, it was still feeling very fragile today… and the legacy of the assault remained. I spent more time than I’d have liked to in the bathroom, but I didn’t panic, unlike the times before.

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There’ve been about three occasions on this diet when my stomach has reacted quite violently to something. The first few times I freaked out, thinking that it was a sure sign of a flare. Slowly I came to realise that a) sometimes your system just has an ‘off’ day, due to any number of factors from food to stress to hormonal imbalances or state of mind, and it doesn’t mean you’re flaring, and b) there’s no point stressing about potential flares – you’ll only make your symptoms worse.

Instead, it’s about eating (and drinking) right on those days to ease the symptoms instead of exacerbating them. Don’t ignore what your body is telling you, and if your GI system is out of whack, treat it delicately to help restore it to health.

What you should and shouldn’t eat when having a ‘bad GI day’

Let’s start with a list of foods to avoid:

  • Avoid foods high in fibre like fruit, nuts, high-fibre vegetables (beans, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc) and lentils
  • Avoid dairy, as it can aggravate an inflamed gut
  • Avoid fruit juice (too much fibre) and carbonated drinks (can cause bloating)
  • Avoid nut butters
  • Avoid any foods to which you know you react badly
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid any foods you have not yet introduced to your diet – now’s not the time to be adventurous.

What you should eat:

  • Bone broth soups, which help to restore the body, especially after a bout of diarrhoea. They’re highly nutritious and packed with vitamins
  • Herbal teas – add ginger to soothe your belly
  • Starchy vegetables like squash, pumpkin and butternut
  • Your ‘safe’ flare foods
  • Plenty of water – aim for 2 litres
  • BRAT foods – this works very effectively for some people (Banana, Rice, Applesauce, Toast)

While it’s frustrating cutting back on an already limited diet, it’s worth it for the day or two that you feel so, well, crappy. If you’ve been through your fair share of flares already, you’ve probably established a group of ‘safe’ flare foods. For me, it’s basmati rice (which I craved SOOO badly today but I wasn’t prepared to cheat so close to the end!) and eggs. I used to find that crackers were also very soothing, before I had to cut out gluten.

All things being equal, your bad bout should pass within about 24 hours, if it was just something that you ate. If it doesn’t abate or if you start bleeding, suffering from bad cramps, nausea, night sweats or joint pain, it might be a flare and you should contact your doctor ASAP to get it under control.

No.

No.

Day 63: When you gotta go…

For most people, bathroom habits are intensely private and seldom discussed, which I suppose is ironic considering it’s one of the few things every human being has in common. It’s also why so many people with inflammatory bowel disease delay going to the doctor – and, like me, end up in hospital before finally being able to get a diagnosis.

The fact is, discussing what comes out, especially when it’s abnormal, is embarrassing for many of us. It’s also why we don’t like to talk about our illnesses. People often ask me, ‘But how did you know you were sick?’ or ‘How did you know you were lactose intolerant?’. I usually allude to it by saying, ‘Oh, I had terrible symptoms that you don’t really want to know about…’ but of course they do, and they ask! And you know what? We shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about it! We didn’t ask for this disease, and we sure as shit didn’t ask for the symptoms. ‘Well, I started crapping blood every day,’ is, I suppose, the accurate answer. And when I give it, it really shuts people up 😉

Following on from this is the actual act of going to the toilet to do your business. For me, for most of my life, this was something that I only ever did at home. It was very private and I didn’t talk about it, unless there was a problem. In fact, I believe there’s a huge psychological component to it: My bowel would literally shut down when I was away from home. I remember going on overseas trips in my early 20s and going for a week or longer with zero activity – simply because I didn’t feel comfortable.

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I remember feeling so humiliated when, age 21 or so, my stomach was assailed by a Mexican feast, and I spent so long in the bathroom at my then-boyfriend’s apartment that he put a whole fresh pack of toilet paper outside the door as a joke. I always tried to avoid the dreaded ‘number 2′ at boyfriends’ houses – or anyone’s house for that matter. And public places? Forget it!

Even further back, I remember leaving for school in the morning, needing to ‘go’, and thinking, ‘Now it’s going to have to wait until I’m home again.’ And it did.

Of course, all of that largely changed when I developed UC. Suddenly, despite the power of my subconscious, my ‘second brain’ managed to overcome it to a significant degree. I had no choice but to answer the call when the flares knocked (and knocked and knocked) – no matter where I was. The worst place was my sister’s wedding – right there at the reception, in my gorgeous bridesmaid’s dress. That was my first flare in fact.

Sometimes you just gotta go right there in the street, in a wedding dress. Also, watch Bridesmaids #Best

Sometimes you just gotta go right there in the street, in a wedding dress. Also, watch Bridesmaids #Best

The flip side of this has been a conscious effort to try to go whenever I feel the urge – wherever I may be. I’ve come to learn just how unhealthy it is to hold it in, especially when you have an already damaged gut. I loved this post by gutwrenchingtruthaboutcrohns called ‘Pooping in public… and adults with no sensors‘, and now it always pops into my head when I’m in the bathroom at work and I just gotta…

Luckily I haven’t encountered any rude people (and of course we all like to think that leave hardly a trace behind us), but I do think that ‘going’ in a public place is difficult for many people – especially girls, and especially anyone who, like me, has an intense germ phobia about public toilets! Hovering when you pee is a fairy easy skill to master. Hovering when you have a flare takes significantly more practice!

Interestingly, during the worst of my flares last year, I’d go to the toilet several times in the morning while I worked from home, and innumerable times during the night, disturbing my sleep. However, no matter how severe the flare, my BMs mostly (not completely) held off during the four or so hours that I taught at a school each day. I walked there every day – half an hour each way – and then taught for about 3 or 4 hours. And apart from the odd occasion, my colon usually played nice while I was in front of my class. Or maybe my lessons were just so boring it fell asleep (it had been up all night after all).

Just what every IBD sufferer needs. K, pay attention #Chrismukkah #Presents #Multitasking #Productivity

Just what every IBD sufferer needs. K, pay attention #Chrismukkah #Presents #Multitasking #Productivity

So that always felt to me like the psychological component creeping back in. Obviously it’s impossible to completely control a serious digestive disease with one’s mind (unless you’re Dynamo or David Blaine maybe). But, speaking only for myself, I know there’s a huge brain connection and so healing myself is as much a psychological journey as it is a physical one.

It also means that when I go to the theatre with my mom, like I did tonight, and I’m in the queue for the toilet with a gaggle of well-preened older ladies, I just have to bite the bullet and do my shiz, no matter how inconvenient it may be. Because if I don’t (and sometimes, even if I do – like tonight), I have to sit through a 2-hour production with unbuttoned pants and audible fireworks in my belly while the bloat monsters play basketball in my stomach.

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I don’t know why it happened tonight but after I came home and enjoyed some QT with my loo, I felt a million times better. It makes me think it’s something I ate (I promise I only had a few bananas today), and that it could actually maybe (sigh) be the cauliflower. Investigations ongoing.

The point of all this is that going to the toilet is the most basic of human activities; the one thing we all have in common; and that when you need to do it, just do it. Holding it in is never healthy – and as we all know, ‘better out than in’ 🙂

While searching for images for this post, I came across this hilarious piece entitled A lady’s guide to pooping in public. I highly recommend you give it a read – perhaps when next you’re spending 5 minutes in the loo 😉 And her solution to the public poo conundrum? The best EVER. Read it.

Day 61: What about the *rest* of your health?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to spend so much time focusing on my UC that I forget that I have whole other systems and body parts that also need a little attention! I think it’s easy to fall into that trap, because this disease is so difficult to ignore. It tends to hog the limelight and all the other niggles or discomforts are left to sulk in the corner.

Yesterday I went for my annual gynae check up. I’ve been doing it since I was 20, and it amazes me how many women don’t bother with this essential health check-up. Opinions differ as to how often you should have a pap smear – anywhere from yearly (if you’re at higher risk of cervical cancer) to every three years. You also need a pelvic exam and just a general once-over by someone who can immediately pick up if anything is wrong.

When I saw my doctor yesterday, it was the first time since my UC diagnosis, and I was thrilled to discover that not only does he know a lot about the disease, but he’s in complete agreement with me about diet. He actually said in his super chilled-out way, ‘Ja, but it’s obvious‘ when I mentioned having to make dietary changes despite my physician thinking it unnecessary. He said I look very healthy and that the diet is fine for me to be on.

Interestingly, he also said that supplements (excluding probiotics) are a waste of time and money and he wouldn’t bother. His point was that if your body isn’t absorbing certain things from your food, it’s not going to absorb it from a pill either. That really does make complete sense.

So anyway, I feel great after seeing him, but it did make me think about how we tend to neglect other aspects of our health when we’re so focused on our gastrointestinal system.

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I’ve discovered that IBD patients may be at increased risk of infection, especially when flaring. I know how easy it is to brush aside an irritating cough or a runny nose because I’ve dealt with much worse, but ignoring the small niggles can lead to bigger problems – and when your immune system is compromised, there’s always a higher risk of flares.

As with most other aspects of this disease, we seldom have all the answers, and most of us are just trying to create our own, customised road-maps to the holy grail of better health for longer periods of time. I am no doctor, but it seems logical to me that if your overall health is good, there’s a better chance of your GI health being good too – and that if your general health is bad, it’s going to have a knock-on effect that could negatively affect your GI tract.

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Day 54: What things do you do today that your future self will thank you for? Share your tips!

I’m not getting all philosophical here. I’m not talking about the 50 or 60 or 100-year-old you. We’re all working hard to improve our long-term health and wellness, otherwise we wouldn’t be following these crazy diets and (literally) exercising out butts off 😉

I’m talking about you tomorrow. Not tomorrow in the existential sense; tomorrow as in the day after today.

A friend of mine, Simon, used to say, ‘That’s future Simon’s problem’, which was funny at the time (we were in our early 20s and travelling the globe when he came up with this). I always thought it was a clever saying, but at the same time, I really hate lumping things on Future Debby’s shoulders.

I’m the kind of person who likes to do things now, which I definitely got from my dad. I hate having tasks hanging over my head, so I tend to do things now rather than later. This is also great for someone with an unpredictable disease like UC: You might be 110% healthy today and (wo)man down tomorrow, unable to get out of bed – or more accurately, leave the bathroom. And for many of us – myself included – flares can sometimes hit suddenly and violently without any warning.

So here are a few things I do – and that you can do – to make tomorrow easier for future you:

1. Cook big batches of food. I like to cook lots of food on a Sunday. Sure, it takes many hours, but it means I have food in the fridge and freezer for an entire week. Tonight, my dinner took 5 minutes to prepare – 4 of which were done by the microwave 🙂

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2. Get as much work done today as possible. I set myself targets each day at work, and I hate to leave without having completed them. When possible, I try to do even more if I can, so that I have a lighter load tomorrow.

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3. Think about the little things you’ll need in the days or week ahead. I’m going to a baby shower on Saturday, so last Saturday, while at the shops, I took a few extra minutes to find a gift. This means that the gift has been ready and waiting for a week, and I won’t have to rush around tomorrow after work (or worse, on Saturday morning before the event) looking for something. Last-minute gift buying is frustrating, expensive, and almost never goes the way you hoped. Buy ahead with everything if you can, especially avos. Forethought is never more golden than when you want a ripe avo 🙂

4. Do an extra load of laundry today. Uggggghhh laundry. But if you have the time, just do it today. Tomorrow, you’ll thank you. Same goes for sweeping the floors, dusting the counters or taking out the garbage. Do it when you have the time, and maybe tomorrow you’ll have an extra hour to put your feet up. Bliss!

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5. Go to the bank. These days, you hardly ever need ready cash. Which means that when you do, you need to start digging around the bottom of your bag, your cubby, your pants’ pockets, your partner’s pants’ pockets, etc. We’ve all been there. Every Saturday, our maid comes to our apartment, and we pay her in cash. While at the bank yesterday, I drew the extra cash so that I won’t have to rush around like a mad thing when she’s already here on Saturday morning.

6. Put in extra reps when you have the energy. If and when a flare hits, you won’t be able to work out as heavily as usual – or even work out at all. So when you have the energy, and you feel like you can push a little harder, do it. You’ll be so glad you did.

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7. Fill up your tank when you pass the petrol station. You’re always going to need gas – and Murphy’s Law says that when you hit the red light on your petrol tank, you’ll be miles from a gas pump. Cue unnecessary stress. Rather fill the tank when you pass the station and you’ll pat your future self on the back.

8. Buy a case of wine or bubbly when it’s on special: This way, you’ll a) always have a bottle to take to a BYOB without having to find a liquor store that’s open (in Cape Town, most bottle stores close at 5pm and you can’t buy on Sundays), and b) you’ll always have a gift in a cinch. This was K’s tip, from experience 😉

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9 & 10: Two more tips from K. I asked her what she would add to this list, and she said choose your clothes tonight for tomorrow, to save time in the morning, and always reverse park so that you can get out faster in an emergency.

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Is there anything that you do to help your future self out? Share your tips – I really love hearing them 🙂

Day 52: Back on top and looking for your stress-busting tips

Guys, it was a false alarm! Despite having ongoing GI issues as a result of my UC, I never actually get stomach bugs, so I have no idea what they feel like. All I thought was – OMG it’s a flare. And that is exactly what it felt like. After all, I’ve always known I’m for-sure in a flare when I’m getting up in the night.

Anyway, it seemed to be clear yesterday, and today it definitely is. I was a little bloated all day, but I had zero diarrhoea. In fact, I’m a little backed up, but right now, rather that. Oh my gosh, I can’t tell you how relieved I am.

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Today I was feeling brave enough to add onion. I’d probably have waited longer if I didn’t have a whole cooked batch waiting for me in the fridge, and that ever-present nagging voice telling me not to waste food. The onion tasted good but because I was already a little off-kilter, I’m not sure whether I reacted to it. I don’t feel worse, and I’ll test again tomorrow and Thurs and see how it goes.

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So how do I cut down on the stress?

Meanwhile, I’m trying to find ways to stress less. I know how important it is, and my mom’s stern talking-to yesterday has sunk in. I MUST find ways to deal with my stress, but how? What do you all do? I can’t keep putting my body through all this:

stress-assessment-wheel

To reduce stress, this is what people on the internet apparently do. Do any of these work for you?

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I did yoga for years, and I enjoyed it, but I never switched off. I’d use the cool-down time to make to-do lists in my head or think about work or social plans or my weight or…

I haven’t exercised in a few weeks either because I’ve had a persistent cough/cold that’s made me quite chesty, and as much as I wanted to push through, I know that it’s counter-productive to exercise when ill. But I definitely think exercise is one of the best ways for me to de-stress.

What works for you guys? How do you keep the stress and anxiety at bay? I could really use some tips because clearly I’m not managing it on my own. SCD is as much a mental challenge as it is a dietary one, and while I’m finding it easy to avoid sugar, grain and pre-packaged foods, I’m not finding it so easy so avoid stress, anxiety, frustration and anger.

Please share your tips – I could really use them.

Day 51: Swallowing my own advice is a bitter pill

Today was a bleak day.

I was exhausted, due to the fact that I spent most of the night in the bathroom. Every time I drifted off, I was rudely awoken by a very angry colon. I don’t know how many times my diarrhoea woke me last night, but I do know I must’ve been pretty dehydrated today because no matter how much water I drank, I hardly needed to pee (a sure sign for me).

Just a few weeks ago I wrote about not anticipating flares, and just a few weeks before that, I wrote about staying calm when you think you’re flaring, and not to stress because stress makes it worse. But not only did I have an extremely stressful day at work today, but I also constantly fretted about the fact that I may be in the throes of a new flare. Well done Debby. Way to take your own advice.

Strangely, after my last BM at home this morning before work, my stomach hasn’t worked since. It hasn’t felt happy, but it also hasn’t gurgled and kicked the way it did all through the night last night. Plus, K has had the same thing. So……. maybe this is actually just a stomach bug? Maybe it’s a reaction to something we ate? Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that raw meat? I mean, it only occurred to me today, but isn’t it actually too soon on this diet to be eating my meat completely raw?

Needless to say, I haven’t added onion yet. I haven’t really changed much about my diet today, due to the fact that the diarrhoea hasn’t returned. However, I don’t necessarily believe that it isn’t a flare. It could just be a coincidence that K has a runny tummy too. I’m giving it a few more days, and if it happens again, I’ll get in touch with my physician and get my ESR levels tested. That’ll tell me if I have inflammation, which will be an immediate sign.

In the mean time, I’m not introducing anything new, and I’m also avoiding acidic foods like tomato and coffee (is coffee acidic? Well you know what I mean). I’m also trying not to be tearful but it’s really hard. I spoke to my mom this evening and she told my quite sternly – and correctly – that there’s no point in worrying and that I have to stay positive. I know she’s absolutely right and I’m going to keep trying to do that.

Looks like food won this round

Looks like food won this round

Day 50 and my least favourite F-word

I had so much I wanted to write today. I wanted to tell you about all the awesome food I cooked and that I’d prepared some onions to try and how much fun our facemasks were and how I’m going to make almond milk tomorrow for a new batch of yoghurt.

But then 4pm happened, and brought with it a dreadfully familiar routine. Since then (5 hours ago), I’ve been in and out of the bathroom at least 6 times with diarrhoea (and tears of frustration), but I’m trying to stay positive. I’m hoping it’s simply the booze and the litre of yoghurt I consumed on Friday that’s caused this, and that’s it’s just a hiccup and it’ll be out of my system by tomorrow. But even as I type, I feel my tummy gurgling, and I can tell I’m going to have to jump up any second.

I just can’t. I want to crawl into my bed and stay there until this passes. More than anything, I don’t want this to be flare. And that’s exactly what it feels like. If it is… where to from here?

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