When it seems like food is working against you and your IBD, reintroducing old foods or challenging new ones can become surprisingly difficult. That’s how I felt, anyway, when I wanted to add fruits, vegetables and other high-fiber foods back to my diet after having followed a low-fiber diet for what felt like an eternity. If broccoli upsets people without IBD, then how would my Crohn’s and I react?
But, if I had any hope of eating vegetables to improve my health, I’d have to learn how to eat them without disturbing my IBD.
Below are what I found to be the more difficult aspects to challenging foods, followed my 6-step process to overcoming these hurdles.
5 Obstacles to Reintroducing High-Fiber Foods to My Diet
1. I was afraid of food, especially foods with fiber. Thanks to all the inaccurate information about fiber and IBD online and elsewhere, I associated fiber and food with pain and inflammation. I struggled to accept that 1) symptoms are not always food-related, and 2) symptoms do not always suggest a flare or inflammation.
2. I felt I needed to wait to add food until I was symptom-free. That way, if I felt sick, I’d know it was likely because of the new food. The problem was, I never felt consistently well. Fear of food plus feeling poor were powerful deterrents to expanding my diet.
3. When I overcame my fear of reintroducing food, any strong reactions to that food brought those fears back. I became skittish to continue testing.
4. When I reacted negatively to a food, it often occurred outside of my expected timeframe. This made it tricky to pinpoint food triggers.
5. With so many variables — inconsistent symptoms, unexpected timing for reactions, stress, other environmental factors — it was nearly impossible to know if the “new” challenge food was to blame for negative reactions.
Overcoming my hurdles to eating fiber with IBD
Step 1. Identify “safe” foods.
Your process might differ from mine, but for me it was as simple as listing a few basic foods I knew I could eat without worsening my symptoms: Chicken, rice, and congee.
Step 2. Minimize variables.
To know if a “new” food was OK for me, I wanted to minimize confounding variables. This meant eating only my “safe” foods plus the one new food I was challenging.
Step 3. Aim for consistency among symptoms, instead of waiting to be symptom-free.
If you’re like me, then you might wonder, “How can I add foods back to my diet when I always feel some level of symptoms?” I waited and waited to feel well before adding back foods. Finally, I stopped waiting to be symptom free and worked towards establishing consistent symptoms. Sticking with my “safe” foods helped me establish a baseline for food challenges.
Once I “challenged” a food then I’d pay close attention to how I was feeling and noted any strong deviations from the norm. I expected mild symptoms, but if my reaction was noticeably strong or different, then I could be certain that the challenge food was the culprit.
Step 4. Remember these key principles.
Symptoms are not always food-related. Symptoms do not necessarily indicate a flare or inflammation. There is no evidence that fibrous foods cause flares. Reminding myself of these important points helped manage my fear and encourage me to move forward.
Step 5. Start low and go slow.
At the beginning of my food challenges, I had some strong reactions. Rather than banish that food forever, I tried it again using a much smaller portion. At least if I had a reaction, then it would be mild. I’d do this for a few days before slowly increasing the portion size.
Challenge food: baby carrots
Day 1: 2 baby carrots
Days 2-3: “safe” diet while monitoring symptoms
Day 4: 4 baby carrots
Days 5-6: “safe” diet while monitoring symptoms
Day 7: 6 baby carrots
And so forth …
Step 6. Be kind to yourself.
Sure, my method for food challenges took a while, but it was worth it to me. I didn’t put pressure on myself to adhere to a strict time frame. If I didn’t feel up to starting or continuing a challenge, then I didn’t. I waited until I could follow these steps.
When I follow this process for reintroducing high-fiber foods, I almost always know if the food challenge is successful or not. My multiple test approach is thorough and does a great job weaning out false positives.
I hope my 6-step approach to reintroducing foods with IBD helps you add back your favorite vegetables and other high-fiber foods! Leave comments below. We’d love to hear from you.