Trigger Foods and IBD

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They don’t exist. Let me repeat that: NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING YOU ATE “TRIGGERED” or “CAUSED” YOUR IBD. Conversely, “eating right” is not a cure.

Let’s start at the beginning. The exact causes of Crohn’s and Colitis are unknown. Genetic factors are at play, together with environmental factors.  Essentially, what happens is that regular bacteria in your gut are mistaken by the body for invaders, and your stomach reacts with a response, hence the name “auto-immune.”

One of the reasons, I think why people tend to focus on nutrition is a sense of empowerment. You can’t control your genetics, but you can control what you eat. I get it. That however doesn’t explain why small children, even babies even are diagnosed with IBD. I was diagnosed when I was four, and at the time, my parents were living in the countryside, on a farm. My mother has always detested canned food, so I was “eating right”. I also wasn’t particularly stressed.

And yet, I hear it again and again- “I was eating a lot of meat, I think that’s what brought on the Colitis”- “I was on a mostly raw diet, that could have triggered the Crohn’s.” No. The foods we eat most certainly exacerbate symptoms. Things I can’t have when I am in a flare: legumes, juice, salads, any type of raw vegetables, apples with skins, any fruit with seeds- the list goes on. When I am in remission however, I have most of these things, except for lentils, they still do a number on me! (But, I am told, a lot of people have to be sensitive with lentils). So what makes people think that a piece of broccoli or spiced food triggered their disease?

A flare doesn’t come overnight, and it can present with many symptoms. It can be like my guest contributor James described- you get awful stomach pains every once in a while. I knew someone who didn’t even have stomach pains, he’d have debilitating back pains (and it was quite the journey to get him diagnosed). A flare doesn’t have to manifest in the intestines first, it can be as simple as a sore in your mouth, joint pain, fatigue. Most people experience stomach pains, some don’t. So by the time you eat that broccoli and are in agony twenty minutes later, the flare that has been building up for a while is showing itself. But nothing that you eat or don’t eat is going to stop it. Medication and self-care will.

Another reason why I get upset at the whole “trigger- talk” is that patients end up blaming themselves or even being blamed by others. We humans like our direct cause and effect. If you do a, b is going to happen. And you end up thinking, “what did I do to bring this on?”  If only I hadn’t stopped for that doughnut, if only I hadn’t had that glass of champagne.  It’s debilitating. Moreover, people will try to exploit your vulnerable state. Since starting this blog, I have had numerous people send me links to charlatan X who claims that eating paleo will fix things. Charlatan Y will tell you that if you drink his smoothies for $70 a week, will fix your IBD. IBD is a little more complicated than this.

Nothing that you ate caused or “triggered” your IBD.

Of course, when you are in remission, you should try to eat as balanced as you can, and try to get the nutrients that you lost back. But eat that occasional doughnut, because really, life is too short for nasty diets.

If you don’t believe me, here are a few more links:

CCFA booklet on nutrition and IBD

Dan Sharp’s takedown of the “alkaline diet”

Sara Ringer on “have you tried?”

One comment

  1. Just what I needed to hear today! considering I ate sundried tomato pesto last night and it had dairy in it (gasp!) Yet thanks to my new Dr and the realization lately that everything is not caused by my diet, I’m not panicking today, which in the past was really half my problem.


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