Following Your IBD Diet In Difficult Situations

Help Yourself To Avoid Diet Pitfalls With These Tips

Most people can identify some foods that "don't agree" with them. In some cases, certain foods might cause a bout of indigestion, and in others, there are true allergies to some foods and food groups. Diet is highly individualized and takes not only allergies and intolerances into account, but also personal taste and ethical issues. This is no different when it comes to the diet of people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Some people with IBD may find that following a particular diet helps them to feel better or to avoid developing IBD symptoms. People with IBD typically use trial and error to find an eating plan that works for them. Some may start with one of the many popular diet plans outlined in books and web sites, and then refine it further. Others work with their health care team to develop a diet plan that meets their nutritional needs. One of the oft-cited difficulties in following a specific diet that allows certain foods and doesn't allow others, is fitting the plan into one's lifestyle. 

It's impossible for everyone to eat the same way all the time: most people have friends and family that are following a particular diet plan of their own. In our society we socialize and bond over meals, and all the variations in diet can make get-togethers difficult. That's why it becomes critical to devise coping mechanisms to manage diet in less-than-ideal situations. How can you stick to your diet when you are out in a world that doesn't always take your health into consideration?

For help in understanding how food fits into the "real world," I asked Andrea Meyer of The Great Bowel Movement for her thoughts on following a healthful diet. In learning how to stick with the plan that's best for her Crohn's disease, Meyer has gotten an education in diet and nutrition. She enjoys talking about diet and frequently finds herself sharing her knowledge with others. "There is a lot of intrigue around nutrition right now in general so, when I mention the changes I’ve made in an effort to better control my Crohn’s symptoms and for general health, a lot of questions come up."

Carry A Diet Survival Kit

What would be in your diet emergency kit? Whatever you need to get through your next social event.. Image © Bruce James / Getty Images

First things first: what will be included in your diet survival kit? The kit you create for yourself will be specific to you. If you are following a diet based on a book, for instance, carrying a copy (either the whole book or copies of specific pages) might help if you have questions. For those with food allergies, a list that outlines the various names for the allergen, any related foods, or foods that may contain the allergen is a must. Allergy medications should also be on hand, as well as a "safe" snack or two. Keep your kit in your car, your desk drawer, or wherever else you find you might need it.  

When Advice Is Given, Consider The Source

Angry Relative
Some people will always have advice for you, but that doesn't mean you have to follow it.. Image © Steve Luker / Getty Images

Everyone has that family member or friend that doles out unsolicited diet advice or critiques every mouthful of food. In some cases, there's not much that can be done about these folks; they probably won't change their minds about how they think you should be eating. You may decide that a wedding or birthday party is not the ideal place to have a heart-to-heart about your diet. The best plan is to have your answers to their questions or comments already planned out. "I ate earlier," "I'm not very hungry," "My doctor said I should avoid this," or even a simple "No, thank you, I don't care for that" are some non-confrontational ways to deal with an uncomfortable situation.

Meyer finds that she doesn't get a lot of criticism, but when negative comments do come along, she takes the high road. "I take it as an opportunity to express that I respect everyone’s opinions, and I encourage all patients to do what they feel is best for themselves."

Be Up-Front With Family And Friends

Family At Dinner
When you can't turn the other cheek, you may need to explain in more detail why you must eat the way you do.. Image © Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

When the non-confrontation doesn't work or becomes unmanageable, a more direct approach may be needed. Explaining the background of your IBD may help, such as how eating very fibrous foods may lead to obstructions. Many people misunderstand allergies (especially the idea of cross-contamination), but if you explain that the food you are allergic to will cause symptoms such as itchy welts or even problems in breathing, that may make the situation more clear. To those who are not used to following a diet plan, your diet may seem difficult to figure out, or even nonsensical, but if they are willing to listen, you can explain the basics.

Meyer says she enjoys sharing what she's learned about diet and nutrition with other IBD patients -- all she needs is a willing audience! "I have learned so much that I tend to get really excited and animated about it. I can’t help but want to share that with others. I often feel like I was meant to take this approach at this time for not only myself, but to be a resource for others."

Try To Avoid No-Win Situations

Woman Hiding And Eating
Finding healthy ways to deal with difficult situations will be a theme throughout your IBD journey.. Image © Anthony Lee / Getty Images

This doesn't mean that you should avoid social events. On the contrary, you should be out living your life, and shouldn't let your dietary needs curtail your social life. But with that in mind, there may be certain circumstances where you might need to be creative. 

If you aren't eating gluten, a pastry-tasting event at a bakery might not be the most fun for you (especially if you love cupcakes, but not what they do to you). Think outside the box and use your problem-solving skills when confronted with such a no-win situation. In the example above, you could call the bakery and ask if they could accommodate your diet. If that's not possible, perhaps they would consider letting you bring in an outside snack. You could also eat before attending an event, and ask your companions to help you stick to your diet plan when you are confronted with temptation.

Meyer has found that she's normally able to attend social events -- with a little accommodation. "If I’m invited to a party where my diet hasn’t been taken into account, I work around it as best I can while there and/or I pre-eat. I’ve also brought my own items in the past. It’s easy to bring my own salad along or my own meat to grill if everyone else is partaking in something I shouldn’t."

The Bottom Line

Your health is too important to be derailed by poor nutrition. Most people have challenges in following the diet that's right for them, and IBD patients are no different. Being proactive about your health does require some planning and thought, but it will pay off in the long run. For other people living with IBD, Meyer points out that "trying to manage your symptoms through nutrition is really no different than any other means. It is still hard. It still requires patience for the process and flexibility in your approach."

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