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On Living With Ulcerative Colitis: Fear of Food

Posted Nov 08 2011 2:00pm

There’s one part of my ulcerative colitis journey that I haven’t really touched on yet. I mentioned briefly in my Weeks Following the Diagnosis post that I was afraid of food — that I stuck to a few simple things I could tolerate in the weeks after my diagnosis.

But I didn’t really get into things, and really, if you’re going to post all about your digestive disorder on the internet, you might as well be graphic and honest, right?

That’s what I thought.

So let’s go back to my diagnosis. By the time I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, I had lost color in my cheeks, the skip in my step, a whole lot of blood, and many, many pounds.

Disappearing Lauren.

It’s sort of hard to tell from the photo, but just know that the jeans were a size 0 and falling off my booty. Enough said.

Despite losing all of those things, I gained a few things too — a lack of desire to eat when I was hungry and a near crippling fear of food.

In the months before I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, I started experiencing what I now know to be symptoms of a flare. If I ate lunch before class, it took just shy of an hour before I was deep breathing my way through stabbing pains in my stomach, hoping my professor didn’t call on me to answer a question. I’d clamp my hands over my stomach in a desperate attempt to quiet the oh-so-loud protests of my digestive tract.

It only takes a 19-year-old college sophomore a few weeks of this to learn not to eat before class. Eventually, I started picking at my dinner if I had plans that night, too. It’s not that I wasn’t eating. When I had nowhere important to go or nothing important to do, I ate. I know now that my system wasn’t getting nutrients out of my food anyway, so it probably doesn’t matter.

Once I was armed with my diagnosis , life with food didn’t get any simpler. Aside from avoiding high fiber foods and nuts, my doctor told me it was going to be pretty much trial and error. “Keep a food journal,” he said. That way, I could figure out what foods did and did not bother me. To add to the confusion, Prednisone, the wonder-steroid that helped me get better but rocked my stomach, made me incredibly nauseous, and often made me throw up.

I ate so much of this. Oh so much. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

So I continued to be terrified of food. Nothing sounded good. I ate plain toast and plain baked potatoes. Sometimes, if I was feeling adventurous or my mom was particularly worried, I’d try to choke down a little Gatorade for the electrolytes. That one never ended well.

I ate whatever sounded good, whether it was healthy or not, because I was just so excited that anything sounded appealing. I’m convinced I became addicted to McDonald’s in the early days because of just how often I ate their chicken nuggets. (And someone once found my blog by searching for ulcerative colitis and McDonald’s chicken nuggets, so I am hoping I’m not alone.) I once ate an entire box of Wheat Thins in one sitting, and paid desperately for it later.

If I’m being honest, it was years before I started eating normally again, and I still go into panic mode when I’m sick. Years later, the most gut-wrenching decision I often make is about what to eat after something has just upset my stomach.

Less than a year later, with all the color back in my cheeks, still trying to figure out what is okay to eat. Who knows why this boy stuck by my side through it all, but I'm forever grateful he did.


There are weeks when I live on toast and peanut butter. What are your favorite comfort foods when you’re feeling sick?

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