Body image and IBD
With any chronic illness, weight tends to fluctuate. You might have surgeries that give you new scars, or even a stoma. When your body changes, seemingly out of your control, it can be difficult to accept.
For me, it was my weight that was changing. As the food I could eat and the medications changed, my weight increased and decreased fairly rapidly. It was hard to accept stretch marks on a young body. This made me prone to restrictive eating and binges. In the following article, I will cover ways to accept your changing body image.
1. Stay away from the scale!
Unless your doctor has encouraged you to monitor your weight, stay away from the scale. Don`t put it anywhere it could tempt you. You have bigger concerns than your weight from day to day. Instead of scalar measurements, focus on healing. Whether this means eating more, less, or differently, your weight is not nearly as important as your health.
2. Eat what works for you
It can be so easy to deem certain foods as healthy or unhealthy. Veggies? Healthy. Sugar and salt? Unhealthy. However, it isn’t nearly that simple. Many foods that society says are good for you, such as raw fruits and veggies, can be difficult for you to digest. Instead of looking at calories and quality, pay attention to what makes you feel good. For me, raw veggies are difficult to digest. So, I cook them. I avoid anything acidic or starchy and eat a lot of butternut squash. What works for me is not the same as what will work for you. During a flare, your gut is especially sensitive. Eat what works for it. Talk to your doctor to make sure your nutrient levels are good, and to see if you need to take supplements.
3. Light exercise is your friend.
In the midst of a flare, exercise can feel daunting. Sometimes, the mere thought of getting out of bed feels overwhelming. This doesn’t mean that movement is any less important. On the days where you don’t leave your room, do some bed yoga. (Look it up on youtube, it’s a thing.) In the middle of a flare, cardio isn’t necessarily the best thing to do. Try to get outside or on a treadmill for a light 30-minute walk. When you want to stretch yourself, try a jog.
Now, core strength tends to be very important for IBD. However, depending on your condition and surgeries, it might not be wise to dive into it. Please talk to your doctor about any sort of exercise. If you have the OK, start building up your strength with 1-minute planks and other bodyweight core exercises. Stay away from heavyweights. Once you’ve developed some good core strength, it might be good to approach some light barbells. Because those with surgery in this area are more likely to develop a hernia, focus on high reps with a lower weight. Slowly build up your strength and endurance.
Just to reiterate: listen to your body. If you aren’t feeling up for any core exercise, go on a walk. If you feel great, go for a run or do some strength-building exercises. There’s no need to push yourself too hard. The goal is health, not a gym body.
4. Talk to someone
Whether in the form of therapy or a conversation with a friend, body image needs to be talked about. It can be very difficult to accept changes and to focus on what feels good. Therapy is a very helpful tool in your medical journey as you deal with a diagnosis, treatment, a changing body, and changing limitations. It’s important to be able to consider your emotions and to take care of yourself. For those who don’t feel comfortable with therapy or can’t access it, consider talking to a trusted friend. It’s not good to bottle up emotions.
Body image can be difficult with a chronic illness. The tips I provided may not work for everyone. If you think they would be good to consider, great! If not, that’s perfectly fine too. How do you manage body image?
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