Nutrition & Exercise
Though an effective treatment plan is key to fighting your symptoms and the inflammation that can cause them, managing your diet to get proper calories and nutrition—as well as exercising regularly—is important. Your healthcare team can help you figure out a Crohn’s diet plan and how active you can be.
Crohn’s disease nutrition
There’s no evidence that what you eat actually causes Crohn’s—or that the inflammationImmune response to tissue injury that causes redness, swelling, and pain. of the intestine is directly affected by what you eat. Inflammation is believed to be caused by a combination of factors. But everyone is different, and certain foods and beverages may aggravate your Crohn’s symptoms.
Important Advice: Food is not the cause of Crohn’s disease, but tracking what you eat is the best way to figure out if you are sensitive to different foods.
Make sure to replenish nutrients you need
You should know that poor absorption in your intestines and loss of appetite often linked to Crohn’s disease may deprive your body of essential nutrients—so you have to be mindful about eating a nutritious diet, or malnutrition may occur. Talk to your doctor and, if possible, a dietitian about customizing your diet for you to make sure you are getting enough nutrients and calories.
That said, some people with Crohn’s disease may benefit from the following general suggestions:
- Limit dairy products
- Try low-fat foods
- Experiment with fiber
- Avoid “gassy” foods
- Eat smaller meals
- Drink plenty of water
Crohn’s disease and exercise
As you probably know (and as your doctor may tell you), exercise is an essential part of living a healthy life for everyone—not just people with Crohn’s. Staying active and getting regular exercise can help you:
Boost your overall health
Control your weight
Strengthen your immune system
Improve your mood
Reduce depression and anxiety
An added benefit for people with Crohn’s is that regular exercise may lessen the chance of extra-intestinal (beyond the GI tract) symptoms. Even if you have an ostomy, you can exercise as long as your bag is secure. For example, if you choose to go swimming, you may want to use waterproof tape.
During a flare, or when you feel especially tired, you may not feel like being active. You should check with your doctor to see if you can start exercising once your symptoms are under control, you can eat regularly, and you are getting enough sleep.
Because everyone is different, you should also ask your doctor about what exercise he or she recommends for you.
If you already have an ostomy or will be getting one, you may have special concerns about how active you can be. The United Ostomy Associations of America is a good place to find information.
It’s important to take care of yourself not only physically, but also emotionally. Joining a support group is a good way to ask questions, share your concerns, and learn from others who may be experiencing many of the same issues as you. Seeking out the support of a psychologist or counselor can also help. Taking part in an online community and forum can also provide insights and information about your concerns. Some foundations have websites that can direct you to support groups, mental health specialists, and online communities.
Brandi Chastain, world-renowned soccer player and IBD caregiver, talks to IBD psychiatrist Dr. Eva Szigethy about finding motivation and the importance of keeping focused on your goals.
Eva Szigethy, Ph.D., M.D., M.S., is a Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She specializes in the psychological impact of chronic digestive diseases.