Do UC me as a fit girl?
I am your stereotypical fit girl. I crave a good workout that leaves you dripping in sweat and makes you feel strong as hell. I love pushing my body to its limits and running more miles than I thought I was capable of or lifting heavier weights than I could’ve imagined. I dream about meal prep Sundays where my creative juices get flowing to cook healthy food for the week.
That is, until I started experiencing IBD symptoms last summer (2017). All of the sudden, my stomach would be in excruciating pain after I had lunch or I’d constantly feel like I had to visit with the toilet before going for a run, only to sit there for 20 minutes and have nothing change. It was all really confusing. I knew what I was going through wasn’t normal, but it also wasn’t completely debilitating (at first), so I kind of thought it would pass. Ha- wrong. Once I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in September and put on some maintenance medication, I started to feel better. My athletic career had taken a backseat for a while, but I didn’t want to give up just because I had this new “thing” wrong with me.
So what do I do? How do I make sure I can workout the way I want and eat so many of the nutritious and delicious foods I want while living with IBD?
Listen to Your Body
Well, I’ll be the first to say that I’m not perfect and am definitely still a work in progress. However, over the past year (almost), I have learned a lot! I’ll start with the fitness side of things. If you haven’t noticed based on the first couple sentences I wrotet, I am a planner. I like my routine - wake up at the same time, go to the gym, have a protein/carb heavy breakfast, go to work, enjoy my salad lunch, come home, make fresh veggies, watch Grey’s Anatomy, and be in bed by 9:00pm. One of the first things my Type A personality had to learn was that not everyday will feel good. There will be times when I wake up in the morning and can just tell my guts are not having it. What I’ve had to learn to distinguish most is whether I just need to wake up (and visit my friend the toilet) or if something I ate is triggering a an increase in symptoms that's going to be around for a bit. Sometimes this takes extra work to really understand what my body is saying, but it’s my job to listen. It’s also my job to not feel bad about that decision. My body is not like everyone else’s, so I have to do what’s right for me. On the good days (and weeks) I aim to workout 4-5x a week and once on the weekends. Sometimes, that just doesn’t happen, but that’s okay. I don’t feel guilty about missing a workout and neither should you. Be proud of what you did and the workouts you did accomplish instead of harping on what you didn’t do.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
I’m sure you’ve heard it as much as the next person - comparison is the thief of joy. Absolutely no good will come from looking at your favorite Instagram models or #fitfam and asking yourself why you can’t be like them. Let me tell you something, babe. You are the most you anyone can be, so you may as well own that. Your body and its functions are unique to you, so you gotta do what feels right for you, not someone you see on the internet. It also helps to remember that you’re only seeing what they want you to see, and while there’s nothing wrong with showing off your best moments, there is always more to the story.
I personally find it most effective to follow a workout plan, such as Tone it Up or BBG, or sign up for a workout class at a local studio. I’ve started doing the latter a lot more and I am loving it! But what if you have to leave the class to run to the bathroom? Or what if your stomach starts making crazy noises and you get really uncomfortable and embarrassed? Been there, done that, sista! When I’m taking a new class or have a new instructor, I always like to talk to him/her beforehand. Sometimes it’s about injuries not related to IBD, but I am pretty open about my diagnosis, so I usually tell him or her about my UC and that I may have to run to the bathroom during a set. I have never once had them not be understanding. If I did, well, that wouldn’t be the right class for me. Occasionally, I’ve also had to make modifications because my guts weren’t feeling the core set. In my experience, the instructors are really good at helping you come up with an alternative. It’s their job to make sure you get the most effective workout you can and they want to make you feel comfortable.
When it comes to just following a routine on your own, there is no shame in taking the extra rest if you need it! Your body will tell you when it’s had enough, and as long as you’re listening with open ears, your workout will still be effective. When my guts are a little cranky, but I still manage to make it to the gym, I’m honestly proud of whatever effort I can give that day. It may not be my best, but I know it beats staying in bed.
Remember Your Why
Why did you start this so-called fitness journey? Was it to lose weight? Was it to help gain self esteem? Was it to try to ease some of your IBD symptoms? If you don’t have an answer to that, take a step back and really think about it. Maybe it’s an aesthetic reason. Maybe it’s more than that. Whatever it may be, always come back to it. It may shift over the months and years as you’re constantly evolving, but when you’re feeling icky or have to take time away from the gym, it will be significantly easier to get back in the swing of things if you remember why you’re doing it in the first place. And I’ll say this after coming off of a seven week workout hiatus - I’m easing back into it and I’m sore as hell. But my why is at the front of my mind, so it’s encouraging me to keep going and I’m sure once the waddling (no, I’m not kidding) subsides, I’ll feel more like my old self again.
How Eating Right is Coupled with Staying Fit
For me, it’s always been about more than working out. It’s about making my body feel it’s best, and that also includes the food I’m putting into it. I want to preface this by saying this has been my own personal experience with healthy foods and my IBD diagnosis, so it may be completely different for you. Meal prep has been a part of my life for the past 2ish years. I have come to look forward to the few hours I spend in the kitchen every most Sundays as an almost therapy of sorts. I usually pick out the meals I want to make sometime between Thursday and Saturday morning when I do my grocery shopping and try to buy ingredients that will overlap for multiple meals so nothing goes to waste.
I am not a nutritional expert and am still trying to find more of what works for me, but right now I maintain a gluten free, soy free and mostly dairy free diet (and have since my pre-IBD days). I’ve also recently learned how much raw cane sugar affects my gas and bloating, so I try to stay away from it as much as possible. My natural sweetener of choice is 100% pure maple syrup, but dates and raw honey are great options, too! Given what my diet looks like, I get the majority of my protein from meats and fish, my fats from nuts, seeds, avocado and coconut, and my carbs come from sweet potato, quinoa and the occasional rice. Simple starches like bread really upset my stomach, so it makes it pretty easy for me to stay away from. The combinations I’ve found of the foods I do tolerate well areare endless.
When my UC is in remission, I have a pretty easy time digesting vegetables, but they have to be cooked. Here are a couple of quick and efficient suggestions for turning raw vegetables into something soft and more easily digestible:
Roasted Veggies: roasted brussel sprouts and broccoli with olive oil, garlic powder and celery salt are my absolute favorite, but you can pick the veggie of your choosing
Zoodles: You can zoodle anything from zucchini to carrots or even sweet potato and once your “noodles” are ready, throw them in a pan with some olive oil and they'll soften within 3 minutes
Massaged Kale: Massaging my kale with olive oil makes it sooo much easier to digest and takes less than 2 minutes
Leftovers: I love to make “everything but the kitchen sink” scrambles on the weekends by collecting the week’s leftover (or frozen) vegetables and sauteing them with eggs and chicken sausage
Food & Exercise Journaling
I keep a regular food and exercise journal where I write down everything I eat in a day, including the ingredients that go into it. For example, if I say I had blondie muffins, I’ll write out chickpeas, almond butter and maple syrup because that’s what’s in it. If a meal makes my stomach bloat or turn upside down, I try to be extra diligent about writing it down because consistency and data are both key! Some days are better than others, but finding new recipes and trying new foods is one of the things that makes me extremely happy, so I like to try new things, within reason. Most of the time it works in my favor, but those occasional flare-ups do happen, so a bit of trial and error is necessary. If you’re not comfortable with trying too many new foods, just do what you’re comfortable with. Maybe one new vegetable and two new fats per month is more your speed. At the bottom of my journal entry, I typically write what workout I did that day so I can track my progress. Looking back, it’s nice to know that a few months ago I was using 8lb weights, but now I’m between 12lbs and 15lbs.
Maybe It’s not all bad
I’ve been living with UC for nine months, so everyday is a learning experience, but I’m grateful for the opportunity my diagnosis has given me to try new foods, adjust my routine, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Trust me when I say IBD definitely sucks, but I’m trying to make the most of my shitty (lol) situation. This disease has enabled me to be more conscious of the foods I consume and how they make me feel. It has also taught me to be flexible with my body and cut myself some slack when I need it. I would not wish IBD on anyone, but there’s nothing I can do to change the deck of cards I’ve been given. For those of you who have enjoyed reading about my journey, feel free to follow along on my personal blog: www.fitfourtitude.wordpress.com or on Instagram: @FitFourtitude.
Gaby DuFour is a UC warrior originally from Los Angeles, but now lives in Chicago with her boyfriend and two cats. She enjoys being outside as much as possible - lounging at the beach, running, having a snowball fight or walking around the neighborhood are some of her favorite outdoor activities. When it’s too cold to be outdoors, you can find her binge watching Grey’s Anatomy or having a Harry Potter marathon. Her Hogwarts letter definitely got lost in the owl post, but she’s without a doubt a Gryffindor. She recently got back from traveling around Europe and her favorite country is Switzerland- and not just for its chocolate.