The Crohn's Lifestyle

Crohns disease diet and lifestyle tips

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

Crohn's disease can be a pain in the butt and gut. While there are many drug treatment options to manage the condition, making changes to your diet and lifestyle can play a huge role in controlling Crohn's disease.

This article offers tips on lifestyle changes that may help control your symptoms and stretch out the time between flare-ups.

What is Crohn's disease?

Crohn's disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. It typically affects the intestines but can occur anywhere in the digestive tract - from the mouth to the anus.

In people with Crohn's disease, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the digestive tract. This autoimmune attack causes inflammation, which can lead to pain, diarrhea and even malnutrition.

The symptoms of Crohn's disease depend on what part of the digestive tract is affected. Symptoms can be mild to intense, and can come and go over periods of time called flare-ups.

What is a good diet for patients with Crohn's disease?

There is no solid evidence that your diet can cause Crohn's disease. Nor is there a special diet to treat Crohn's disease. However, some foods and drinks can make your symptoms worse. If your condition feels worse after eating certain foods, it may be time to cut those out of your diet.

People with Crohn's disease often have less of an appetite, which means they may not be getting the daily nutrition they need. In addition, Crohn's disease may cause diarrhea and poor absorption of vital nutrients.

If you have Crohn's disease, it is important to get the nutrients you need while also cutting out foods that worsen your symptoms. Here are some suggestions for figuring out the right diet:

  • Limit your dairy intake. Many people with Crohn's disease find that their diarrhea, abdominal pain and gas improves after limiting their dairy intake. Depending on how much you are affected by dairy, you may need to cut dairy out of your diet altogether.
  • Try eating more low-fat foods. If your small intestine is affected by Crohn's disease, you may not be able to digest fat normally - which can make your diarrhea worse.
  • Eat less fiber, but only if high-fiber foods are causing problems. High-fiber foods - such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains - are a central part of a healthy diet for many people. However, fiber can worsen diarrhea, pain and gas in people with Crohn's disease. The tolerance for fiber differs from patient to patient. Some patients find they can eat certain vegetables but not others. Other patients find they can tolerate certain fruits and vegetables when they steam or stew them.
  • Avoid any foods that cause problems. Keep track of what foods your are eating and how you feel after you eat them. You may find a food diary helpful.
  • Instead of eating large meals, try eating smaller amounts of food throughout the day.
  • Drink lots of water, but don't chug it all at once. Drink small amounts frequently throughout your day.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages. Alcohol and caffeine can make diarrhea worse. In addition, carbonated drinks can cause gas.

How does stress affect patients with Crohn's disease?

As with your diet, there is no evidence that stress causes Crohn's disease. However, living with a chronic condition like Crohn's disease can be stressful. In addition, stress can make your symptoms worse.

Stress can change your normal digestive process. When you're stressed, your stomach empties more slowly and produces more acid. In addition, stress can change how quickly or slowly you process contents through your intestine. Stress may even change your intestinal tissue.

Even if you cannot avoid stress, there are ways to control it. If you find that stress or stressful events are causing flare-ups, here are some tips to help manage your stress:

  • Stay physically active. Exercise - even in small amounts - can relieve stress and depression. Exercise can also normalize your bowel function. Through working with your doctor and a physical therapist, you can find the exercise plan that works best for you.
  • Find time to relax. Deep breathing and slow breathing exercises can calm you down. Yoga and meditation have also been shown to reduce stress.
  • Eat well and sleep well. Eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep can relieve stress.
  • Biofeedback is another way to reduce stress. In biofeedback, patients are taught how to relieve muscle tension and slow their heart rate with the help of a feedback machine. Eventually, patients learn how to relax their muscles and heart rate without the machine.
  • Try hypnosis. Some patients find that hypnosis can help them relax, reduce stress and ease anxiety.

How does smoking affect patients with Crohn's disease?

Smoking is bad for you, whether you have Crohn's disease or not. In fact, smoking may increase your risk of developing Crohn's disease.

If you already have Crohn's disease, smoking can make your symptoms worse and increase your risk of complications. Patients who smoke may need higher doses of their medications, which may also increase the risk of complications. In addition, smokers with Crohn's disease may be more likely to need surgery.

If you quit smoking, you may find that your Crohn's disease improves greatly. Quitting smoking may reduce your risk of flare-ups and complications.

Ask your doctor for help finding ways to quit smoking. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 18, 2012