I’ve recently been asked a few questions around my own health, so decided it was time to elaborate a little more on my own health story.
As mentioned in “My Story”, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis early in 2018. Previous to the diagnosis, I was a fairly healthy individual who experienced the occasional cold, a sporting injury here and there but overall felt like my health was pretty great.
However, towards the end of 2017 I noticed the frequency and duration of my colds were increasing and by January 2018 I began experiencing pretty horrible symptoms, which I later found out were indicative of ulcerative colitis. To be honest, these symptoms were causing a lot of restrictions in my life, as running to the bathroom every 20 minutes and being in a world of pain meant I didn’t really want to be out and about. Alongside this, losing significant amounts of blood with every bowel movement meant that I was left completely fatigued, with no motivation.
After a number of blood tests, stools tests and both a gastroscopy and colonoscopy, I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease- Ulcerative Colitis.
I had a love hate relationship with my diagnosis. The thought of being diagnosed at 27 years old with an incurable disease is not an easy thing to swallow. But at the same time, I finally had an answer! I finally knew what was causing all of these issues! Now I just had to figure out how to treat it….
The Treatment Plan
My gastroenterologist talked me through the treatment plan and sent me home from the hospital with a script. For anyone that doesn’t know me well, I have never been a big fan of taking medication. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that medication plays an important role in the life of many individual’s, but for me I have always tried to use natural remedies where possible.
Anyway, I followed the doctor’s orders, collected my mesalazine enemas and used them as directed. (I have also been on a number of other medications on and off since my diagnosis- but more about that at a later date)
As a complementary medicine practitioner, I was never going to settle for medication being my only treatment option. I spent months researching Ulcerative Colitis and the many alternate approaches to treatments. To date, I have seen various practitioners including a naturopath, acupuncturist, Chinese herbalist, integrative GP plus my own treatment as a nutritionist. I have done various testing along the way, including my most recent microbiome test which I am eagerly awaiting results of.
I have been willing to try just about anything to support my body through this, but I have found the following to be most beneficial for me.
After reading up on various studies, talking to fellow practitioners and also speaking with others who had been diagnosed, I trialled various foods to find out what worked for me and what didn’t. At the end of the day, I truly believe that this disease effects everyone in a different way.
Cutting both gluten and dairy out for me has made the world of difference! Other foods that I also stay away from include soy products, alcohol, tomatoes, spicy foods, highly fatty foods and onion. I also avoid processed foods as much as possible, which is why I cook all my meals from scratch. Plus as a nutritionist, I understand the importance of whole and unprocessed foods.
I have also created a list of meals that I know I can tolerate during a flare up, and a list of additional foods to avoid during that time. Generally during a flare up my meals consist of either soup, slow cooked plain casseroles, baked vegetables, scrambled eggs with avocado or congee (Chinese rice soup). Nothing too exciting but I know I need foods that are easy to digest, and don’t contain insoluble fibres that could irritate the ulcers in my digestive tract. For these reasons I avoid wholegrains, seeds, raw vegetables plus my trigger foods mentioned above.
Other nutritional practices that I have implemented include:
- Peppermint tea: calms the digestive tract
- Probiotics: supports microbiome
- Digestive enzymes: supports the digestion of foods
- Glutamine and Zinc: supports the healing of the digestive tract
For anyone with certain dietary needs/restrictions, you will understand me when I say that it isn’t easy. Sure, you get into a habit at home and find recipes that suit your individual needs. But add in a family dinner or a friend’s night out, and it throws a complete spanner in the works. I have been taking my own meals to family dinners for a while now. It just seems easier than expecting someone to cater for all my dietary needs (which can change depending on how I am feeling at the time). And being my own family, I feel completely comfortable doing this.
In regards to eating out, I have found certain restaurants around town that I know I can eat at. Sure, I am that annoying customer that has to make alterations to the dish I order, but I am slowly accepting it. There have been many times where I didn’t go to events because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat. I found that it can be quite uncomfortable not eating and having questions thrown at you left, right and centre. This can make it so easy to isolate yourself and stay home instead. But this too can have negative ramifications on our health, in particular mentally and socially. I can definitely see the importance of being accepting of, and owning our diagnosis or dietary needs, in order to feel comfortable in social settings.
Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs
I cannot believe the difference this has made in my life! I have seen two fabulous practitioners since I was diagnosed and they have not only helped to settle down flare ups, but they have also supported my mental health (this disease can be quite taxing, especially alongside running a business), balancing my hormones (endometriosis has been questionable for me) and also supported my body through some pretty nasty colds when I was taking prednisone.
I have a history of being quite a sporty and fit person. Playing basketball at a higher level, including college basketball in America, meant that I was constantly in the gym or on a basketball court. However since I started becoming unwell, I definitely don’t push myself anything like I use to! My high intensity workouts that I use to do 7 days a week, have been thrown out the window for a more gentle approach to staying active. I have found that yoga is an amazing way to calm the mind, increase flexibility and also increase strength. Generally during a flare up I have very limited energy and don’t want to go to the gym or run around. However yoga is great whether I am in a flare up or not.
I also attend the gym anywhere from 1-4 times a week. This ultimately depends on what work looks like that week and how I am feeling. Often it involves some form of cardio (generally a run) and weights.
I would be lying if I said that this diagnosis hadn’t changed my life. It certainly has! I definitely don’t want it to define who I am but at the same time it has caused me to make a number of changes to my daily life.
Anyone living with a chronic illness will understand me when I say this… There are so many simple things that I use to take for granted. For example doing my own groceries. Sure on a normal day when I’m feeling fine there are no issues at all. But if you have ever tried to do your groceries during a flare up, it’s practically impossible. You have to leave your trolley full of groceries to rush to the bathroom, in hope that it will still be there when you get back so you don’t have to start again. And that’s provided you had the energy to leave the house to begin with.
Here’s another example.. I’m heading over to America in a couple days for a mini holiday, and to catch up with my “adopted American family”. I use to pack a bag, jump on a plane without a lot of thought. But no longer is packing for a holiday stress free. I now have to think about travel insurance (for an existing medical condition 💰), medications and treatment plans in case I flare up while I’m gone, and how to continue on my treatment path while being out of my regular routine and out of the comfort of cooking for myself. I’ll also be packing food for the plane, because it’s not worth the risk. I’ve organised to stay with a friend, and bulk cook meals once I arrive. And no doubt I’ll have to find some restaurants that can cater for my dietary needs so that I can enjoy a dinner out with friends. Considering I’m on a holiday, all of this may sound ridiculous, but if I’m not organised, often I can’t eat. But in saying all of that, this trip has already had to be postponed once due to a flare up.
As I conclude, I just want to ensure that as a reader you understand that I am not sharing my story for sympathy. Not one little bit! I don’t want people to feel sorry for me! I am sharing to educate my readers about my health story and my journey with a chronic illness. And I am also sharing to communicate to others who are battling health issues, that they are not alone!
My health journey is far from over and I am sure I will be faced with more challenges as the years go by. But if nothing else, this diagnosis has given me the opportunity to:
- Learn about myself and who I am
- Understand others living with a chronic illness
- Strengthen my belief of approaching health in a holistic way
- But above all of that, this journey has taught me to never take my own health for granted