Ep 16: 5 Myths About IBD Debunked

Myths. Urban legends. We all know them. Don’t walk under a ladder or you’ll have 7 years of bad luck! Don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your mother’s back! My kids love to tease me with that one. Usually we laugh at myths like this, but when it comes to Crohn’s and colitis these myths are anything but funny. They control how we treat our disease, keep us stuck when we’re trying to heal, and make us feel incompetent when it comes to knowing what’s best for our own bodies. 

Come with me on a journey in this episode as we bust these destructive myths once and for all…

We’re talking about:

  • The reason why IBD and mixed messages go hand in hand
  • The natural approach vs medicine (what’s better?)
  • The worst foods to eat during a flare-up
  • The latest research on what causes IBD

And so much more!

After the episode, you’ll be empowered to tackle your IBD from your own perspective, rather than relying on destructive myths that try to tell you what’s best for you. 

Episode at a Glance:

  • [01:28] The reason why we get so many mixed messages about Crohn’s and colitis.
  • [04:02] Which way of treating your IBD is better? The natural approach or the medicine approach?
  • [08:27] How the “food has nothing to do with your illness” myth got started.
  • [12:05] The extra problem we suffer through when we have an invisible, taboo illness.
  • [17:29] The worst foods you can eat in a flare (and what you should be eating instead)
  • [28:45] The three-legged stool approach to how you got Inflammatory Bowel Disease in the first place
  • [32:25] A few more honorable mention myths worth, well, mentioning
  • [37:00] The best way to take your IBD healing journey to the next level.

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Mentioned in This Episode:

Your FREE Stress Management Toolbelt

Episode #10: How to Find a Doctor You’ll Rave About

Book your FREE 30-Minute IBD Troubleshooting Session with me HERE.

Links for More Information:

Does the gut microbiome play a role in autoimmune disease?

Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health

Institute of Functional Medicine bio for Alessio Fasano, MD

Psychological stress in IBD: new insights into pathogenic and therapeutic applications

Episode Transcript:


INTRO: You are listening to The Cheeky Podcast for Moms with IBD, a safe space for moms with Crohn’s and colitis, connect, explore powerful tools for healing and transform our lives to thrive in motherhood and in life. I’m your host, Karyn Haley, IBD health coach, integrative wellness enthusiast, and mom to three outstanding kids. After having Crohn’s disease for 30 years and working as a health advocate exclusively with IBD clients for the last 10 years, I know it’s time to bring the types of candid conversations I have with my clients out into the open. It’s our time to go on an IBD healing journey and do it like only a mom can. Let’s do this.


Hey there mama, it’s Karyn here with you. I’m hoping you are having a day filled with loads of gut love, and if you’re not, I’m here with a positive and hopefully enlightening message today that you can take with you to help you on your IBD journey.

When it comes to Crohn’s and colitis, I just can’t believe how much misinformation there is out there, which makes it so challenging for us, the patient, to get reliable, accurate details about our illness. I think one of the reasons we get so many mixed messages about how best to address our symptoms is because there is no cookie cutter one size fits all approach to treating our illness. I’ve personally seen different woman with seemingly the same symptoms respond in completely opposite ways. And at first, it seems like a head scratcher. How can that be?

Not knowing what advice to take and what to throw away creates a daunting task with the weight of a statement like “when I went to school, we had to walk 20 miles to and from, in freezing cold blizzard-like conditions, uphill both ways.” I’m sure you’ve heard a statement like that from an elderly relative before. But since I try to be a glass is half full kind of gal, I prefer to look at the challenge of knowing what message is true and honest for you as a choose your own adventure novel, where instead of someone else being in charge of what you do and how you do it, you’re in charge of every IBD decision and you’re responsible for how the journey turns out. Sure, there might be some missteps along the way, but at least with a choose your own IBD adventure, you can go back and have a do over with a completely different experience.

Today, in the spirit of those choose your own adventure novels your kids are probably into (and if not yet, they will be), this episode can serve as a reminder that just like our kids who control the narrative in those books, when we have IBD, we have the power and we are in control or our IBD destiny. Today, I’m sharing 5 common, and not too talked about pitfalls, I see moms with IBD making. Fortunately, these pitfalls or myths as I call them, are just like a choose your own adventure book. When you’ve experienced a not so happy ending on one path because you were led to believe a myth, it’s not the end of the line for you. Instead, it’s just an opportunity for you to go back and try again. Only this time, you’re armed with more information and with you at the helm of your IBD decisions, your journey is bound to have a happier ending.

Let’s dive in with IBD Myth # 1.


When it comes to treating IBD, you have to be either in the medical camp or the natural camp. There’s no in between.

This myth, honestly, drives me crazy. People love to pigeonhole you into one camp or the other. And each camp is so judgey of the other. The natural camp thinks medicine is the work of the devil and MD’s will lead us to cancer causing medications and western medicine will never help us. And the medication camp believes that people who prefer natural remedies are just tree hugging, granola loving hippies who don’t have a clue about what it takes to actually feel better.

Now, if I’m being 100% honest with you, I fall more into the natural camp. I’ll always pick a non-toxic approach that gets to the root cause of IBD before I choose symptom management for my illness. But sometimes IBDer’s (me included) need doctors and medication, and hospitals, and surgeries. I’m so grateful those options are available for us. Lord knows doctors have saved my life a time or two on my 30-year Crohn’s journey.

The myth busting approach to managing your IBD that I’m advocating for you with this myth is a way of thinking that excludes the idea of only medicine or only natural, and instead incorporates what I call your Wheel of Wellness. I’ve talked about your Wheel of Wellness before on a previous episode, but it’s about never relying on just one thing to help you, but remembering that healing takes a village, a plethora of wellness tools to help you heal. These are the kinds of wellness tools that include having a really solid and honest relationship with your gastroenterologist, using meds when you need them, getting labs and procedures when they are warranted, BUT also knowing the value at the same time of healing foods, restorative exercise like yoga or walking in nature, meditation, acupuncture, sleep hygiene, supplements, stress relief, and therapy. This way of helping your IBD gives you the best wheel of wellness and it’s personalized just for you. And when you put in the time to build an amazing wheel of wellness, one that’s built just for you, it will be at your disposal whenever and wherever you need it.

This approach to healing is what’s termed integrative medicine—it uses the best methods to heal from the western and eastern perspectives. When you choose an integrative approach to manage your IBD, you embrace health and everything it takes to make health happen for your body as a whole.

Ignore the nay sayers who tell you your integrative approach is wrong. Just because it’s wrong for them doesn’t mean it’s wrong for you. Remember, Crohn’s and colitis are not diseases with a road map, where there’s only one way to get to your destination or the end of a linear book. They are about taking a detour, taking the road less traveled, taking a different way to get to your destination, a different way than anyone else… When it comes to IBD, make your own integrative road map and make health about the amazing journey you’ll take to get there.


Myth # 2

It doesn’t matter what I eat. Food has nothing to do with Crohn’s or colitis.

Now, I’m never one to contradict a doctor, after all, they went to medical school, but I’ve got to say, how is it possible that an illness that affects our whole digestive tract, how is it possible that the food you eat doesn’t impact your gut? Now does that make any sense to you?

It’s just common sense.

The thing though is, it’s not the doctor’s fault here. The food you eat impacting your IBD is just not something that they are trained in. Doctors are trained in disease management, not nutrition. I’ve heard that medical school training only involves a very quick blip in nutrition, like 3 hours… I pray that’s not true, but whatever the number of hours, it’s small,  so it’s no wonder that nutrition and the food you eat is rarely brought up in a visit with your IBD doctor beyond saying something like, “don’t eat the things that bother you” or “eat bland.”

Thankfully, I’m seeing ideas about the effects of IBD and the food we eat shift, if ever so slightly, and that’s thanks to research that’s become mainstream in the last few years regarding our microbiome—the community of bacteria that lives inside and outside our body. This microbiome research is what all of us with IBD need to make sure we’re paying close attention to because it’s likely to be the key to finally making large leaps in putting IBD behind us for good. I love perusing IBD/microbiome research because it’s so promising and exciting. I think it’s going to lead to some tremendous breakthroughs in how Crohn’s and colitis are treated and eventually eradicated in the next several years.

This microbiome research brings attention to how the bacteria in our gut can be positively and negatively impacted by the food we eat. By adding in foods rich in beneficial bacteria and taking away foods that promote bacterial dysbiosis (that bacterial imbalance), we can see how our IBD can improve and how we can thrive.

If there’s one thing that doctors love, it’s empirical evidence produced by research. So stay tuned on the “food has nothing to do with your illness” front because as IBD and the microbiome continues to be studied and research studies are published, you’re going to see a shift happen here when you ask the question to your doctor—”does what I eat matter?”

I’ll link one of my favorite microbiome studies in the show notes about how IBD and the microbiome interact, in case you’re curious on the latest advances in that front.


Myth # 3

If it isn’t visible, it isn’t so bad.

Of course, this myth is referring to IBD being an invisible illness because what’s going on on the outside of our body’s isn’t what’s going on beneath the surface. This is a different kind of myth because it’s not one we believe in, but it’s one believed by those around us. And what I think makes this one even worse for us with IBD (and why I feel like it has to debunked) is that opposed to other invisible illnesses, our disease isn’t only invisible, it’s taboo too. The taboo part has a lot to do with a subject that affects us greatly, but no one wants to talk about—and that’s poop.

So having an invisible illness is bad enough. It forces us to have to constantly remind our friends and loved ones that even though we look like we’re OK, often times we aren’t. And often times as moms, we move in the opposite direction. We try our hardest to ignore the pain, ignore all the bathroom trips, ignore our other symptoms because we don’t have time for it and we don’t want to burden others. We constantly get people saying things to us like, “huh, you don’t look sick?” I don’t even know how to respond to that. Plus, because talking about poop is a taboo topic, we never get recognition for how challenging this illness is for us.

Let me let you in on a little poorly kept secret… everyone poops. Some have more poops than others, but everyone poops. Your partner, your kids, your boss, your neighbor, even the hot celebrity you swoon over poops… everyone poops!

When it comes to those who perpetuate the myth that our illness isn’t as bad as other chronic illnesses because it’s invisible and it doesn’t show up outside our bodies and we don’t have a right to talk about it because some of the symptoms have to do with the P word, I say that’s their problem.

We don’t have to buy into the myth that we are less than or not worthy because we have a digestive illness. All the IBD moms I know are amazingly strong, resilient, smart as hell, gutsy as all get out, and capitol B, Beautiful. So no more hiding in the shadows mama because someone else is uncomfortable with you. It took me way too many years to realize for myself and I’m hoping you never go through the shame and embarrassment of our invisible and taboo illness.

Hold your head high my love, you are a warrior and a goddess!


Myth # 4

I can’t eat fruits and vegetables because they go right through me.

First of all, I know that fruits and veggies can be challenging for IBD’ers. I’ve experienced those challenges myself, especially in a flare. It’s not unusual for me to hear from a client that the food that went in looks much the same when it ends up in the toilet. Undigested carrots, pieces of lettuce, and skins of tomatoes, blueberries or peas are common foods I hear about going straight through without digesting So, it’s only natural to think you can’t eat any fruit of veggies at all.

And unfortunately, when this happens, many IBDer’s reach for “comfort food” (and I’m saying that in quotes) in the form of mashed potatoes and mac and cheese with the belief that they are easier to digest. OK, it’s time for me to give it to you straight, with love of course. These foods are actually the worst things you can have during a flare. Complex carb rich starches like white potatoes, pasta and white bread are only going to feed the bad bacteria in your gut and make your IBD troubles worse in the long run. Don’t fall for the comfort food that makes you feel comforted for the moment. Instead, let’s bust this myth by figuring out ways to incorporate nutrient dense fruits and especially veggies into your diet, even when you are having a Crohn’s or colitis flare-up. It’s all about figuring out how make these foods easier for your body to digest and absorb.

Meaning not only in a way that your body can breakdown the particles of the food, but then, also in a way your body can absorb the nutrients to bust that flare.

Let’s take lettuce for example. During an IBD flare, raw salads are usually out because you can’t digest them, but that doesn’t mean all greens should be avoided. With greens, I highly encourage you to experiment with spinach or beet greens, completely pulverized in a smoothie. Greens are a great way to get healthy vitamin C, folate, iron, magnesium, and antioxidants and when we blend them in a high-speed blender, we create a form of veggie that our body can digest and absorb. Now, if this is too much for your sensitive gut, and I’ve seen this too in severe flares, think about adding greens to a stew or a soup that’s cooked longer than normal to help break down the fibers in the greens. This makes them easier to digest.

One of my favorite ways to get veggies, even during a flare up and struggling to digest food is with my 15-veggie soup. I start with a base of bone broth (homemade is best), and to that I add all my favorite veggies—whatever I have on hand—my 15 are usually carrots, zucchini, broccoli, asparagus, onions, peas, cauliflower, tomatoes, beans, peas, yellow squash, spinach, mushrooms, scallions, and celery—those are my go to 15. I add some salt and pepper, oregano and thyme, bring it all to a boil, and simmer the soup with the lid on the pot until the veggies are very soft… we’re talking mushy soft. You might think that’s where this soup story ends, but if you’re struggling to digest your food breaking down food into it’s simplest easiest to digest form is the goal. Now, this lovely soup goes in the blender and when it’s done, you’re left with a creamy, delicious, nutrient dense, easy to digest and absorb healthy meal your gut will love.

The bottom line here is get in your nutrients, however you can. Just because you can’t eat a salad doesn’t mean you can’t eat greens. Just because regular cooked carrots go right through you doesn’t mean you have to give up carrots all together. It’s about putting them in a form that works for the current state of your body. There’s so many ways to do this and if you’re struggling with how to get your fruit and veggies in, I want you to get in touch. I’m happy to help you with this. Maybe it deserves it’s own podcast episode because it’s a big topic. You can reach me at hello@karynhaley.com

But when you do this, when you put your nutrients in a form that your body can digest and absorb, you give your digestive system a chance to calm down and repair with foods that heal, not supposed comfort foods that hurt in the long run. Once your gut has time to rest and reset, you can then start moving back into eating the soup without pureeing it, then eating cooked veggies, moving into lightly steamed veggies and finally into raw.

Can you imagine that for yourself?

It’s a beautiful thing to see what’s possible when we give the gut the time it needs to heal, instead of immediately going to the comfort food that doesn’t really give any comfort at all.

Just a couple more quick thoughts on this myth before we move on. When it comes to fruit, you may not be able to eat an apple or blueberries raw, but how about cooking that down too? I love making a blueberry compote, which is just blueberries heated like your making jam (I like to add a little vanilla so the blueberry flavor pops, but nothing else), then I puree the blueberries into a digestible form that can then be stored in the frig as a topper for my yogurt or grain free pancakes or scones.

All the health of a blueberry without the difficulty digesting it in its raw form.

Another idea for your consideration is juicing. Juicing is another way to get nutrient dense fruits and veggies into your diet. Juicing removes the skin, seeds and fiber so it’s easier to digest. Gut healing nutrients without the harsh digestion.

Remember, the ultimate goal here is to be eating a combination of both raw and lightly cooked fruits and vegetables in their whole, natural state, but most of us with IBD can’t start there. We have to give our intestinal wall time to repair and eating fruit and veggies in a more digestible way is the best way to start.


Myth # 5

I have IBD because I’m a perfectionist who can’t handle stress, anxiety, and pressure.

Hell to the no. First of all, you’re an awesome mama who juggles more things in a day than anyone can imagine, and I could just leave it at that, because let’s face it, enough said. But I will say just a bit more on this topic cause I’m here, you’re here, so why not thoroughly bust this myth.

You didn’t get IBD because you can’t cope with stress, although the prevailing view in the 1950’s was just that. IBD was thought of as more of a psychiatric diagnosis. Thankfully, research has come a long way with theories about the causes of IBD. In fact, we know a lot more about the reason for autoimmune disorders, like IBD, thanks for the work of Dr. Alesseo Fasano, medical doctor, gastroenterologist, and researcher in the area of autoimmunity. Dr. Fasano describes autoimmune diseases with a 3-legged stool analogy. Can you picture a stool like this. If it lost even one of it’s legs, it wouldn’t really function anymore would it? Dr. Fasano’s research shows that for autoimmunity to occur, 3 criteria (or 3 legs of the stool) must be in place. #1- genetics: certain genes we have make us more susceptible to IBD. We’re born with this, #2- a trigger: although the exact trigger for IBD is unknown, there is some sort of trigger that causes the body to attack itself, and #3 (the third leg in the stool)- intestinal permeability: or leaky gut as it is often called where the intestines get weak and leaky and protein from food particles and bacteria are able to enter into our bloodstream. Definitely not a good thing.

This whole autoimmune process could create other autoimmune diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis, or rheumatoid arthritis. For us, the 3-legged stool of autoimmunity created Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Possibly you have other autoimmune diseases as well. Once you have one, you may find that others pop into the mix. But the bottom line here is that rest assured, you didn’t get IBD because you’re a perfectionistic stress monster.

It is interesting to note though that while stress didn’t cause your illness, research does show that stress does affect our illness. It’s a subtle difference in words there, but a huge difference in meaning. So stress didn’t cause IBD, but it can most certainly make it worse.

I’m sure you’ve had stressful moments in your life, especially moments of chronic or more long-term stress where you noticed your Crohn’s or colitis suffered because of it. Covid-19 is a perfect example of a chronic stressful life event that can negatively impact your IBD. Any long-term stressor can do this.

The key to busting this type of impact, is to have stress busting tools at your fingertips, for when life stress gets tangled up in your IBD struggles. If stress is a big part of your life right now and you’re looking for ways to manage it, you can get a copy of my stress management toolbelt at karynhaley.com/stress. That’s k-a-r-y-n-h-a-l-e-y.com/stress. It’s filled with easy, mom-centered suggestions to help you manage the stress that’s most definitely in your life right now and it’s there for you when you need it.

Well mama, we’ve made it to the end of our 5 IBD myths and we’ve busted each and everyone. But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t leave you with a few honorable mentions for this myth bebunking episode so you can Do myth Busting Like the Mom I know you are.

Here’s just a few more quick hit myths that deserve a quick mention:

  1. IBD only affects your intestines. Myth: IBD is an autoimmune disorder with inflammation at its core so that inflammation and immune dysfunction can show up anywhere in your body including places like your joints, skin, and eyes. It’s important to know this when other seemingly non-gut related symptoms creep up for you. You’ll want to mention those to your IBD doctor as well.
  2. I’ll never find a doctor who understands me. Myth: While I will say it’s hard to find a good doctor who listens, understands, and supports your healing journey in the way you need them to, it is possible. Check out episode #10 to help you find the doctor you’ll rave about to all your friends. I’ll link to it in the show notes.
  3. There’s ONE diet out there that cures IBD. Nope, this is a myth too and don’t let anyone tell you different. First of all, I’m not a fan of the word cure, and secondly, there’s actually lots more than one special diet that works to help diminish your IBD symptoms. Picking the diet that fits your own personal needs and then making it your own is what this part of healing is all about. I get really revved up about this topic of Eating for IBD and finding the best diet for you to follow. So revved up that I’m actually in the middle of creating a training all about how to find the best diet when it comes to IBD. Stay tuned for that. I’ll let you know as soon as it’s ready for you to check out.

Well, we’ve made it to the end of another episode of The Cheeky Podcast for Moms with IBD. I’m so happy you joined me today. Debunking IBD myths is fun and I hope this information sparked an “ah-ha” for you today. Now, go run with it and start chipping away at the IBD in your life. You’ve got this mama. I’m just your weekly reminder that all is possible and a healthy life with IBD is in your sites if you keep rocking those baby steps.  Go for it! You’ve got this.

Remember if you’re enjoying the podcast, now’s the perfect time to leave a rating and review on itunes—a 5 star rating for good karma. Ratings and reviews help us reach more IBD moms and that’s a beautiful thing.

Until we chat again, I’m wishing you a cheeky and healthy IBD journey. Chat soon!

[46:47] Thank you so much for joining me today and for listening to today’s episode. When it comes to IBD, I know there’s a lot of resources out there, and I’m truly honored that you chose the Cheeky Podcast to get your IBD information today. If you found this information helpful, please give us a rating and review. It helps other moms find the podcast and see what we’re doing over here to help IBD moms everywhere. And if you feel called feel a call to do it, share this podcast with an IBD mom who you know could really use an uplifting message today, ’cause that’s what we’re all about over here at the Cheeky Podcast.

One last thing, if you’re still with me, and if you are, you’re definitely my kind of gal. We have to get to know each other better. If you’re tired of living on the hamster wheel of IBD with all the ups and downs between flares and remission, if you’re struggling to get control of your abdominal pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea and other troubling IBD symptoms, go to my website. It’s karynhaley.com, and my mom had to be just a little bit different, she spelled my name with the Y. So it’s K-A-R-Y-N H-A-L-E-Y.com and schedule your very own free 30-minute IBD root cause trouble-shooting session with me where we discuss the challenges you’ve been having, we set goals to help you move forward, and we talk about how we can work together to help you get your life back. It’s a power packed 30 minutes. You don’t have to live in IBD status quo. There’s so much that can be done to transform your life so you can thrive in motherhood and thrive with IBD. I’ve seen my clients walk this path and it gives me so much joy to take that journey with them.

My entire coaching practice is run online, so you never have to leave your house and you never have to get out of your jammy or yoga pants for us to work together. You know I’m wearing them to. If you’re ready to take your first amazing step towards healing, I’m ready to chat with you. Schedule your free 30-minute IBD root cause trouble shooting sesh today at karynhaley.com. Click on the work with me tab and I’ll see you soon. It’s important to note that the information in this podcast and in this episode is for general information purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The statements made in the Cheeky Podcast for moms with IBD, either by me or my guests, is not intended to diagnose, treat, to cure, or prevent any disease. Before implementing any new treatment protocols, do yourself a favor and consult your physician first.

Thank you so much for listening, for being here, for saving this space for us to spend some time together. Until we chat again, I’m wishing you a cheeky and healthy IBD journey.

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