Artie Carden is a writer and content creator sharing their experience with IBD and an eating disorder.
IBD vs IBS
The acronyms for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) are used interchangeably but they’re not the same thing. The confusion is largely due to the fact that the acronyms are similar.
IBS is centered in the gastrointestinal wall and its symptoms can cause bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and change in bowel habits,ie frequent spell of diarrhea and/or constipation.
IBD, on the other hand, is the inflammation and damaging of the walls of the bowel. Some people can have both.
Artie explains that they previously had IBS symptoms for years before suspecting something more intense way going on.
In their last year of uni, their lactose intolerance had gotten worse, so they were being more careful with their diet: After I finished uni and came home, almost right away I was getting really bad pains constantly and would spend so much time on the toilet that I was doing some research, trying to find an answer.”
“That’s when I found out more about IBDs (inflammatory bowel disease). IBS and IBDs can feel and look pretty similar from the outside, stomach and back pain, cramping, constipation or diarrhea triggered by certain foods or not… but an IBD flare is much more extreme.”
“I compared a flare to having food poisoning and the flu times 10 if not more. I would get chills, hot/cold sweats, on and off the toilet all night, nausea, severe stomach cramping that would radiate through to my lower back and the worst times I would even vomit.”
An IBD diet
“There is a ‘Crohn’s’ diet I’ve heard of but never really done it,” Artie says.
“Generally, there is no one thing that helps everyone as some people have food triggers, others have different food triggers, others don’t have any food triggers! The basis I know is that when you are in a flare-up, you should (or are more likely to) eat very bland foods: toast or bread, pasta, potato, cheeses, crackers, etc. They are easier on the stomach but not the best long term diet.”
Artie adds that some people go on FODMAP diets but they are usually to find out what foods trigger flare-ups, so are not a long term solution.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. FODMAP foods can cause fluid retention, and gas which can irritate IBS. FODMAP foods are: lactose, soy, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, grains such as wheat and rye, sweetners such as honey, high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, and sugar alcohols such as isomalt, and sorbitol, as well as (but not limited to) the following fruit and veg: apples, cherries, pears, watermelon, asparagus, broccoli, garlic, and onion.
There are low-FODMAP fruit and veg, but low-FODMAP is a restrictive diet. It can also make going vegan next to impossible as meat and dairy alternatives like soy, falafel by extension of chickpeas, lentils and beans are staples in a vegan diet.
What can be beneficial for IBD and IBS is magnesium as it can help soften stools and ease constipation.
A Chron’s diet is similar to a low-FODMAP diet, and what people can and can’t eat depend on if they’re in a flare-up. For example, during a flare-up people with Chron’s should avoid high-fat meats such as red meat, and have fish, turkey, eggs, and tofu instead. Yet as tofu comes from soya beans, it’s not a low-FODMAP food, so it’s tricky.
“I personally found FODMAP impossible to do,” Artie says.
“It left me with nothing I really enjoyed at the time, but this was long before I was diagnosed with Crohn’s.”
“I’d spent years restricting what I could eat that doing it again felt like I could use it as an excuse to become unwell mentally again. “Oh I’m using this diet to help my Crohn’s” could have become an easy out. Then the flare diet is all foods you taught yourself you’re not allowed to have because carbs and cheese are ‘bad’, so it can be difficult to remind yourself that this is actually the best for your health right now.”
IBD, IBS, and eating disorders
“I was in recovery from disordered eating when I finally got diagnosed (June 2019) but still experience a lot of triggers,” Artie says.
One of the struggles according to the content creator is having to learn that quick weight loss is a bad sign as it means you’re unwell.
Weight loss could be due to: nausea preventing you from eating or your body not soaking up enough nutrients etc. from what you are eating.
“Then there are issues with medications, steroids are a staple that a lot of people with Crohn’s or Colitis will likely have to be on at some point. High doses make you want to eat constantly, I ate so much that I made myself feel sick and before my diagnosis, I had spent a lot of time working on not overeating/binging because I would make myself feel this ill. Lots of people gain weight on steroids for this reason, but you also gain a lot of energy, so I tried to combat how much I ate by trying to be more active and keeping a food diary.”
Artie believes that in some ways the IBD diagnoses helped challenge some eating disorder thoughts they still had, like the idea that weight loss is good or that certain foods are bad.
“But it has also been really difficult because I’ve HAD to restrict certain food groups for my health.”
“Having that choice taken from me is difficult, though I’m in recovery I still had the choice like I chose to be a vegetarian, but here my choice was either stop eating dairy with lactose or get really sick and possibly need emergency surgery! I deeply miss a lot of foods and the freedom of not worrying too much about finding or eating food when I’m out or at a friend’s house.”
What can you do if you have IBD
For those just diagnosed with IBD, Artie says to learn as much as you can.
“This disease is so different in each person you need to learn what works and doesn’t work for you and learn to be an advocate for yourself.”
“Second is keeping a food diary to try and learn what’s going on with you. I don’t count calories, I just write up what I’ve eaten, keep track of how much water I drink, the fruit and veg I’ve had and if I exercise. It helps show you where you are lacking like I have periods of time where I’ve not eaten fruit or vegetables for a while! Or I’ll notice I’m eating a lot or not enough. Plus, vitamins and minerals are your friends when you’re not able to eat enough of the right foods!”
Artie also suggests joining Facebook groups.
“They’ll help you feel less alone in what’s happening to you because a lot of the time your doctors won’t go through it with you, you have to find your own answers. But be careful, there’s a lot of misinformation in those groups and people who think they know better than you do or have it worse than you do. Some people are quite unlucky and that can be scary to read about and easy to start panicking about ‘what if this happens to me?’ but focus on what’s going on right now. Crohn’s and Colitis are so crazy anything can happen so you can’t really think too far into the future.”
If you have an eating disorder and now are faced with IBD Artie’s advice is to: Remind yourself that you need to do certain things for your health even if they challenge your perception of what’s ‘healthy’. If you find yourself obsessing, take a step back and ask someone for help. Find someone who can be your rational brain for moments when yours doesn’t wanna work.
Make sure to check out Artie’s blog, Youtube channel, and Depop. While you’re here, have a read of last month’s interview with Nicole Russin-McFarland about body image.