Explaining the Invisible Battle: How to Talk About IBD with Your Co-Workers, Friends, & Family

Living with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis presents a unique set of challenges, particularly when it comes to the food we eat. For many with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), mealtime isn't about nourishment or enjoying a meal with loved ones– it's about feelings of anxiety and fear. If you find yourself hesitant to eat or you’re skipping meals because you’re worried about the pain or discomfort it has the potential to cause, it’s vital that you know you are not alone. Food-induced fear is an all too common experience among those with IBD, and understanding its underlying causes is the first step toward overcoming it.

The Fear of Food: Understanding Its Roots

Food-induced fear in those with digestive challenges like IBD can stem from various factors:

Association with Pain: Most patients with IBD have experienced pain or discomfort after eating and oftentimes, it’s hard to know what the culprit is. It’s not uncommon in my coaching practice to have a client say to me, “I have no idea which foods bother me. It seems like every time I eat, I feel awful!” As a result of these intense negative reactions after eating, there's a natural tendency to associate food with painful and bothersome outcomes, leading to anxiety, stress and avoidance of a certain food or even avoiding eating all together.

Confusion and Overwhelm: With so much conflicting information about IBD diets available online, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about which foods are safe for you to eat. Uncertainties about what actually works and what’s worth trying can contribute to a generalized fear of food and eating and it can be quite debilitating and it can impact the quality of your daily life.

Misinformation: The internet is filled with self-proclaimed "experts" promoting their own dietary approaches as the best solution for IBD. As an example, one gut healing diet’s main goal might be to eat minimal amounts of meat, while another gut healing diet guru claims the “IBD cure” is to eat lots and lots of meat. It’s conflicting advice like this that can leave us feeling confused and afraid to deviate from what we perceive as the "correct" way to eat.

Expectations of Quick Fixes: In our society, we're often conditioned to seek quick solutions to our problems. “Give me a pill. Give me a bandaid cover up so I can go on with my life.” When patients with IBD don't see immediate results from a new diet or a new treatment, they might become discouraged and give up too soon, perpetuating a cycle of fear and frustration because nothing you try seems to work. Of course the problem may lie in not giving it enough time to make a difference in your life. It took a long time for your illness to bring you to this place and it takes a long time to heal. Although it’s hard, patience and time are our friends to be embraced on your healing journey.

Lack of a Clear Action Plan: So often we hear about the latest, greatest gut healing diet fad and we leap without thinking through if it’s the best option for our personal case and without creating a step by step, long term plan. Without guidance from healthcare professionals who are not only educated on the specifics of IBD, but also on the nuances of your particular illness, it can create a challenge for you to develop a clear action plan for managing your dietary needs. This lack of direction can inflate the way food-related anxiety and uncertainty shows up in your life.

Breaking the Cycle of Fear

Food fear doesn't have to control your life. By taking proactive steps to understand your body's needs, by developing a plan that works for you, and by seeking support when it’s needed, you can reclaim your relationship with food and enjoy greater freedom and confidence. Remember, you're not alone in this journey. Together, when we rely on others who’ve been there and who understand what we are going through, we can overcome food-induced fear and thrive despite the challenges of IBD.

The Impact of Food Fear on Daily Life

If the goal of getting over food-induced fear is to break the cycle of the fear, then we need to understand and acknowledge how it’s showing up in our everyday lives. Food-induced fear can have a profound impact on the quality of your daily life. It extends beyond mealtime, affecting everything from grocery shopping to social interactions, to how comfortable you are traveling away from home, as well as how much you are able to participate in everyday activities many people take for granted. Here are some common ways in which food-induced fear manifests:

  • Grocery Shopping: People with Crohn’s and colitis may feel overwhelmed or anxious while navigating the aisles, unsure of which products are safe to buy. This can lead to prolonged shopping trips (something moms with littles have no time for) or avoidance of certain food categories altogether (even if you don’t know for sure if they bother you).
  • Meal Planning: Planning meals and meal prep can become a source of stress, as you worry about finding dishes that won't trigger symptoms. Some may even resort to repetitive or overly restrictive meal plans in an attempt to minimize risk. And if you’re adopting that meal plan for your whole family too, it can be impacting them as well.
  • Social Events: Dining out or attending social gatherings can be fraught with anxiety for people with food-induced fear. You might feel self-conscious about dietary restrictions or you might have a fear of being judged by others for your eating habits. I’ve definitely had my share of social anxiety when it comes to eating in front of others to the point where I avoided it in the past because I was embarrassed and anxious that everyone was looking at me when I brought my own food to social outings.
  • Family Dynamics: Food-related anxiety can also impact family dynamics, particularly for moms with IBD. You might struggle to balance your own dietary needs with those of your children, leading to feelings of guilt or inadequacy as a mom. We all want to be the best mom we can be to our kids and when our IBD and how we feel after we eat threatens our ability to be a good mother, it’s emotionally crushing.
  • Emotional Well-being: The constant fear of food-related symptoms can take a toll on your emotional well-being, leading to feelings of isolation, frustration, or depression. When this happens, it’s common to withdraw from social activities or struggle to find joy in everyday life.

Empowering Moms to Conquer Food Fear

As a long-time IBD mom myself, I understand the unique challenges that mothers with IBD face when it comes to food fear. However, I also know that it's possible to overcome this fear and develop a positive relationship with food. Here are some strategies to help you overcome your food challenges and adopt a more healthy relationship with food:

  1. Seek Support: Don't hesitate to reach out to a health psychologist, a dietitian, or a health coach who specializes in disordered eating. Someone who has experience with IBD and digestive disorders is best positioned to serve you. They can provide personalized guidance and support to help you navigate your food-related fears.
  2. Educate Yourself: Take the time to educate yourself about IBD, your personal dietary triggers, and how your disease shows up in your body. Educating yourself doesn’t just mean read books or go to the internet. It means learn as much as you can about how IBD shows up personally in your body. The more you understand about how Crohn’s or colitis affects you,, the better equipped you'll be to make informed decisions about your diet and your lifestyle– not through fear, but through confidence and clarity.
  3. Experiment in a Safe Environment: Instead of avoiding all foods out of fear, try experimenting with different ingredients and cooking methods in a controlled manner. You can do this by remembering to always go slow. Be the tortoise when figuring this out. Keep a food diary like my food-mood-poop journal to track your symptoms and identify patterns. This information is massive to help you figure out the food your body loves, as well as the food that just doesn’t work for you at all.
  4. Practice Mindfulness: Mindful eating techniques can help you tune into your body's hunger and pain cues, allowing you to eat more intuitively and with less fear. Eat in a calm environment, away from the TV and away from driving in the car to maximize your ability to tune in with yourself while you eat. We all know we should hold to this rule, but as a mom we just don’t take the time to put this step into practice. Trust me, when you tune inward to what’s going on while you eat, when you slow down your eating and chew thoroughly before swallowing, it will help you tune into what’s happening inside your body.
  5. Focus on What You Can Eat: Shift your focus from the foods you're avoiding (the ones that are perpetuating that fear and anxiety about eating) to a focus on the foods that support your health and well-being. Foods that fill you up and make your belly say, “Ahhhhh, thank you!” Not just in that moment, but 30 minutes later; 24 hours later as well. Celebrate small victories and progress, no matter how minor they may seem. Pat yourself on the back, tell your family so they can congratulate and celebrate with you. Go out with some friends, take a bubble bath… whatever small celebratory step you can take.

Food-Induced Fear was a Well-Worn Path in my Life

As an IBD gal with bowel resections, I have less intestine to digest and absorb the food I eat. I always need to be careful about what I put in my body. Does it have too much fat, too much acid, too much fiber, too much spice? All of these things can wreak havoc on my bowels and send me into a tailspin of bloating, abdominal pain, trips to the bathroom, a sore bottom, and fatigue. The struggle is real for me too and it could definitely create a case of food-induced fear for me.

For a long time, it did.

For a while, I lived in this vicious cycle of being afraid to eat. Through lots of trial and error, I learned 2 important things that I still hold dear to this day: #1: I had to have a plan. I couldn’t fly by the seat of my pants when it came to the food I eat. I needed to get serious about figuring out my culprits and figuring out what my body loved. #2: I needed to give myself the time and grace to figure this out. I had to take the blame and shame and stigma away from this challenge. I needed some good old-fashioned self-care to allow myself the time and space to figure this out. When I embraced figuring this out, and even as a health coach, I don’t know it all, especially when it comes to my own body. I worked with a trusted professional on this too. One who gave me the space and time to gain insight and intuition about how my body functioned best. And when I did all that, my world opened up and I started to heal– physically and emotionally. Best of all, I was able to shed my food-induced fears and anxiety.

Moving Forward with Confidence & Clarity

Despite the challenges that can be put upon you by food-induced fear, it's possible to regain control and move forward with confidence and clarity. Let’s sum up everything we’ve discussed today.

Education: Take the time to educate yourself about your specific IBD, especially how it shows up in your body, not what books and the internet are telling you in general terms, but how IBD shows up for you. Learn about your dietary triggers and the role of nutrition in managing symptoms. And if this is a struggle for you, to put the puzzle pieces together, know that you are not alone and help is available through many sources to get you started: a health psychologist, a health coach, a dietitian… Knowledge is power, and understanding how IBD impacts your life can help you make more informed choices about your best gut healing dietary approach. 

Support: Don't hesitate to reach out to other healthcare professionals, support groups, or online communities for guidance and encouragement. Connecting with others who share similar experiences can provide valuable emotional support and practical advice. Support like this can be life transforming.

  • Mindful Eating: Practice mindfulness techniques to cultivate a more positive relationship with food. Focus on savoring each bite, paying attention to how different foods make you feel. Honor what your body is telling you in that moment and in the later moments as well– 30 minutes later, 24 hours later... Use a food-mood-poop journal to help you track how the food you’re eating is impacting you in positive and negative ways.. 
  • Gradual Exposure: Gradually expose yourself to the foods you fear or situations that give you anxiety in a controlled manner. Baby steps are the best type of steps to take. If food-induced fear is a reality in your life, you wouldn’t want to start by eating at a large office gathering before you break bread (so to speak) with your loved ones. Gradually increasing exposure over time as you begin to feel more comfortable eating in social situations is your key to confidence and clarity about what you eat. 

Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself throughout the process of overcoming food fear. It's normal to experience setbacks or moments of doubt. You are not alone. We’ve all been there. I’ve been there. What matters isn’t the negative experience you might have, it’s how you respond to it. Practice self-compassion and celebrate your progress, no matter how small your steps forward. Remember small steps lead to big leaps and big leaps lead to life affirming transformation.

You're Not Alone

Food-induced fear is a common challenge for those of us with IBD, but it doesn't have to define your life. By taking the time to understand the root causes of your food-induced fear, paying close attention to how it shows up in your body, by seeking support from healthcare professionals and peers, and adopting practical strategies for managing your anxiety, you can regain control and embrace a healthier relationship with food. Remember, you are not alone on this journey. You are part of a collective of IBD mamas, all doing the best they can in any given moment. 

Your Next Best Step: For Moms Serious About Ditching Food-Induced Fear

Are you ready to put food-induced fear behind you for good? Take the next step and put some action steps in place in your life. Get your hands on one of my favorite IBD mom resources– No More Food-Induced Fear: 10 Anxiety Busting Rockstar Mom Tips. It’s there to help you put everything you learned today into action in your life.

You could leave behind this information and say, “that was interesting,” or you could decide that today is the day that you do something about it. If you’re ready to take action to put food-induced fear behind you, check out the link below to help you get started now.

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tivimatepremium says May 27, 2024

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