- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
How to Live Better With Crohn's Disease
Living with Crohn's
I've had Crohn's disease most of my life. Living with the disease hasn't been fun, but I have learned how to still live a full and enjoyable life.
If you have been diagnosed with Crohn's, first learn everything you can about it. Some people just have mild Crohn's and it doesn't effect their lives that much. For your sake I hope that is the case. Others have severe Crohn's and it controls a good portion of their lives. Mine is considered moderate.
I'm hoping to be able to give you some tips to help you live a better life. After living with this disease for so many years, I've learned some coping measures. Everyone's disease is different and some of these ideas may work for you and some may not.
Take heart. As you get older the disease does seem to get milder. The immune system lessens once you are past 50. Some people have the disease in their 20's and then the disease just disappears. For me this hasn't been the case, but maybe it will be for you.
Some Helpful Tips
- First of all get exercise. Walking helps, but don't overdo it. An hour a day is good. Not only does the exercise help the immune system function better, but a walk can relax you. Swimming and other sports are good too. If you can't do a full hour, do it in smaller increments that up to an hour.
- Pay attention to what you eat. You might start noticing that some foods upset you. I have trouble with high fiber foods, acidic foods, and spicy foods. Some spices don't bother me and others do. You may find that staying away from some of these foods help you too. Everyone is different and some patients with this disease can eat almost anything they want.
- Some patients with Crohn's can't tolerate milk. I can't but I can eat cheese with no problem. You do need to get calcium, so you should take a calcium with vitamin D tablet everyday to avoid osteoporosis. Steroids can cause the osteoporosis too, so calcium is important. You need to take a mixture with Vitamin D because the body can't use the calcium without it.
- When you are having a flare-up, it might help to drink a liquid meal. Try Boost if you can handle the milk in it. There are many different products available. If you can't handle cow's milk, try rice milk with instant breakfast.
- Be sure to get proper sleep. Lack of rest can cause a flare-up. If you need a nap, don't feel guilty about taking one.
- Cramping can be painful. I've found a hot water bottle helps. I've taken Bentyl too which is for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but it seems to stop the cramping at times. Ask your doctor and see if it helps.
- Learn where every bathroom is at where ever you shop. This will help when you need one.
- If you can't work, don't be afraid to apply for Social Security Disability. It will help keep financial strain away from your life. Any extra stress isn't good for you.
- Get a flu shot every year. Taking antibiotics can upset your gut and so can any illnesses. The shot will help you avoid illnesses. Follow the recommended procedures to keep colds away, such as washing your hands often and keeping your hands away from you nose and eyes.
- Eat healthy meals even when you don't feel like it. Your Crohn's may make you feel like not eating, but you need to keep yourself well. Not eating will only make you feel worse.
- Take all medications exactly as the doctor prescribes them. I know it isn't fun taking pills everyday, but it will help you feel better.
- Remember, nothing you did caused the Crohn's. At one times, doctors blamed Crohn's on nerves. This is no longer true. Researchers have found that for some reason certain cells in patients with this disease have mutated DNA. They are now researching to find out the reason. It may just be an inherited characteristic or have other reasons. Keeping a positive attitude is important. Someday there may be a cure.
- Join the CCA (Crohns and Colitis Association) You can sign-up for an email newsletter online and keep up with all of the new research. If you live in a larger town, there may be a local group you can join for support.
- If the disease is really getting you down, wait until everyone is out of the house and throw a little temper tantrum. I'm serious. Stomp your feet and yell a little bit. This will help you relieve the stress and make you feel a bit better.
- Don't be ashamed to wear diapers if you have to. It will help you feel more confident. They now manufacture these so that no one can tell you are wearing them. They are comfortable if you get the right size.
Eating Out With Crohns
Eating out with Crohn's disease can be difficult. If you follow a few simple guidelines it won't be so hard. Below you'll find some tips to make it an easier and a more relaxing experience.You'll enjoy both the food and the company.
Many restaurants have menus in the yellow pages of the phone book. Call the place of business ahead of time and ask about the ingredients if you have questions. Ask if they cater to special diets.Don't feel embarrassed about it, because others have dietary restrictions,such as diabetics and those that have food allergies.
If you can't find the menu in the phone book, check online. Most restaurants have menus posted. If you still can't find the menu, call the restaurant.
Certain places aren't good places to eat to begin with. You need to skip Mexican and Italian foods. If the people you are planning on dining with, plan to eat at one, explain to them that you have special dietary needs. Most people will understand.
If necessary, eat something ahead of time and just order soup. This may not sound as exciting as a full meal out, but it is better than getting sick.
First of all, don't be afraid to speak up. Some restaurants are best to avoid. If you are with a group of people and you know you can't eat Mexican foods for example, let them know. My friends and family will ask me if I can eat at a place first. You need to make them aware that you have special food needs.
In the beginning, I was embarrassed to ask waitresses if menu items contained certain ingredients. Now I'm not. A good waitress has no problem checking with the cook if foods have spices for instance.
Chicken is usually a safe bet, because you can peel off the skin. This removes the spices and much of the fat at the same time. If you order mashed potatoes, ask if they add pepper or paprika. If you'd like gravy, ask the same. White rice is usually safe too. Baked potatoes rarely have seasoning.
Eating at buffets is a different challenge. You can usually tell what has been added to the food, just by looking. If you can't, just put a small servings on your plate and taste it. You can tell if it is spicy then. Return to the bar and get more of the foods that you know you can tolerate.
Stay away from salad bars unless you know what you can eat. Canned pears and peaches are usually fine. Almost everything else is something you should stay away from.
Chewing your food slowly helps the food be more digestible. Don't let other guests hurry your meal. Make it a relaxing time that you can enjoy. Ask for a table near the restroom if that makes you more comfortable.
This Video Will Help You Understand Your Disease
Foods to Avoid
If you have Crohn's disease, you'll learn that certain foods will set off your digestive tract. Here you'll find a list of those that may cause trouble. You may even be able to avoid flareups by avoiding these foods. Each individual is affected by different foods. Keep a diary of which ones cause you problems and then avoid them at all cost.
I myself need to avoid spicy foods, milk products, acidic and high fiber foods. You'll learn through experimentation what foods you can tolerate and what foods you need to avoid. Many Crohn's sufferer will be able to eat many of these foods. They are just the most common to cause problems.
List of Foods to Avoid
- Alcoholic Beverages - This includes all beer, wine and mixed drinks.
- Raw Fruits and Vegetables - These need to be cooked. I've had the best luck eating peaches, pears,applesauce and green beans. If you have problems eating green beans, eat french style and don't eat the seeds. Some people have problems with pears, so try slowly. Applesauce is good for almost everybody.
- Colas and other Sodas - If you can't drink these, try 7-up or Sprite. The carbonation can cause problems for some though.
- Dairy - Only avoid dairy if you are lactose or dairy intolerant. Dairy includes not only milk, but cheese, yogurt, ice cream etc. I can't drink milk, but can eat all of the others. Experiment with small amounts first and see what you can eat. Try rice milk or almond milk. For me the rice milk tasted too sweet, but you might like it. I liked the almond milk and enjoyed it. You can find these in most groceries. You won't find it with the milk, but usually near the baking supplies.
- Greasy or Fatty Foods - This group includes fried or fatty foods. As long as it isn't too greasy, I can eat it. You may not be able to do so. Some lists even include butter and margarine.
- High Fiber Foods - These foods do benefit some people, while others can't eat them. Some fruits, some vegetables, seeds, oatmeal, whole grains, bran and other high fiber foods are included. Check the fiber content on labels. If it is high, avoid it.
- Gas Producing Food- Especially stay away from cabbage, broccoli, onions, baked beans, peas and others that are known to cause flatulence.
- Nuts and Seeds - These are hard to digest. They include peanuts, nuts and even sesame seeds. These are known as scrapy foods. Some patients need to avoid peanut and nut butters. I am able to eat creamy, not chunky peanut butter. If you try it, go slowly.
- Red Meat and Pork - These meats are included on the list, but you can learn to prepare them so they are easier to digest. I cook all meats on a low temperature and let them cook for a long time. By then, they are so tender that they fall apart. If the meat is dry, stringy or fatty, you should avoid it. Using ground meat works well. If you can't handle fatty foods, try ground sirloin or ground round.
- Spicy Food - I avoid these like the plague, but others can tolerate some spices. You need to experiment with lightly spiced foods.
I know at this point, you are feeling like you can't eat anything. You'll be surprised with a little ingenuity, just how much you can eat. Try to keep a positive attitude and enjoy what you can eat.
Since I wrote this, my doctor told me to take Align. It is just a probiotic that can be purchased right off the shelf. The capsules are a little expensive. I pay about $28.99 a month for these, but they work. If you have problems with a gassy or crampy gut at night, it takes it away. These work for me and you should try them if you have this problem. Coupons are usually available to get the price down a little. I watch for them on sale and then use the coupon.