This month Dr. Theresa Nicassio answers a question from a reader with Crohn’s Disease and the perceptions of those around them.
I am a 27 y.o. who lives with Crohn’s Disease. While I want to feel normal in the world, my health gets in the way. When I go out, I just try to not each much, if at all, afraid of the pain I’ll have later. Some people think that I am anorexic, especially since I am so thin — they just don’t understand that I really want to eat like everyone else, but I can’t. It’s horrible to feel like food is my enemy. I don’t really have a question for you, but wanted to share my story, in hopes that you might talk about this and help more people understand.
Thank you for what you are doing,
Dear Foodie Wannabe,
With this being the month of Eating Disorders Awareness, I really appreciate your message that I know will speak to many other readers.
Our relationship with food is extremely complicated. We not only need food to live, but it is also a source of pleasure and relational connection with others in our world. When health problems like Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, food allergies, celiac disease, autism, ADHD, chronic fatigue, depression, or diabetes are a part of your life, the sweetness of joyfully sharing food with others freely is often lost. As you have shared, the emotional and social impact of this loss is much greater than most people realize.
Because no one wants to feel like they are high maintenance or hard to feed, many people hide their health problems from others and just try to pretend that they are okay. Unfortunately, the cost of pretending often leads to inflammation flare-ups that can worsen their symptoms for sometimes weeks or even months after eating the wrong food on a single occasion. They are then left wondering if it is even worth going on dates or to parties or to dine with friends at all because the consequences can be so significant. After enough bad experiences, many individuals with health-related food restrictions begin to isolate themselves more and more, making excuses about why they decline offers for social gatherings and celebrations until finally others learn to stop inviting them at all, unknowingly contributing to feelings of social isolation and loneliness in the affected person.
We live in a world where food is a primary source of pleasure. Unfortunately, the majority of the foods that we have grown to associate with celebrations and love are filled with the same ingredients that can trigger inflammatory responses in those individuals who live with chronic health conditions such as yours.
My wish is for all of us to increase our awareness about this very real problem that is affecting a growing number of people, especially with the global incidence of allergies, autoimmune problems, diabetes, and other neurological problems like autism and neurodegenerative conditions on the rise. With such awareness, we can make the conscious decision to change our behaviours to accommodate others with relative ease, a practice I call inclusive cooking. By simply making it a new habit to ask potential guests if they have any special dietary needs or preferences, we can create opportunities to again enjoy the privilege of celebrations and community-building experiences where food-sharing can be enjoyed by everyone and where no one needs to feel left behind.
Whether we realize it or not, we are all touched by health challenges of one sort or another at some point in our lives. The more we can compassionately hold a loving space in our hearts (and at our tables) so that every person can know that they matter, the more we can avoid the unnecessary suffering that you described in your message, Foodie Wanna-be. We are all different and our bodies have a range of unique needs, food-related and otherwise.
Before closing, I’d like for you to know about a wonderful blog that I think might be a useful source of information and comfort for you called “Inflamed and Untamed.” The author of the blog calls herself “Gut Girl: IBD Superhero” and is true to her name as an empowering voice for anyone living with or loving someone with Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
I hope this offers some of what you were hoping for.
Ask Theresa Nicassio PhD questions about health, psychology, life, food, parenting, wellness and whatever else you need advice on, by emailing her at Theresa@TheresaNicassio.com, with “BECAUSE YOU ASKED” in the subject heading. Feel free to sign your submission with a pseudonym of your choice (e.g. “Sleepless in Seattle”).