Managing Colitis through Changes in Lifestyle Essay

I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis three years ago. Ulcerative colitis is a disease that causes the colon to become inflamed. Sores may develop and they may bleed. It is very painful, causing severe abdominal cramps. People with ulcerative colitis risk becoming mal nourished and dehydrated during times that the disease is active. It is unknown why some people develop the disease, and there is no known cure, but diet, exercise and stress management can help control it.

After a period of severe illness that required a hospital stay, I discovered that my lifestyle would forever be changed by my colitis. I learned that I would have to modify my diet and my exercise routine, and learn to manage stress more effectively. I discovered that if I did not follow the dietary and physical guidelines, that this disease would only get worse, taking over much of my life, and could ultimately cause my early death from a rupture or cancer.

After hearing my diagnosis, I was very careful about what I ate. I stayed away from greasy and spicy foods and ate very cautiously, but as time went by, I became lax. As the medication I took seemed to control the colitis, I began to eat with less and less concern about having another flare-up. I began eating fast food and drinking soda again. I did not eat regularly and I ate only when I felt like I was starving. I was okay for awhile, but then, I began to have abdominal pain again. It wasn’t as bad as before, but it was enough to scare me. I immediately cut out greasy foods and tried to begin a healthier plan, but over time, and due to my lack of culinary prowess, I ended up with cereal, pop-tarts and sub sandwiches as my primary sustenance.

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My diet stayed the same for quite some time, and seemed to at least not irritate my colitis. But when I did the previous assignment for this class using the USDA’s “My Pyramid Plan” website (http://www.mypyramid.gov/), I realized just how unhealthily I was eating. I learned that my diet was deficient in many nutrients. I became aware that I was eating high fat, high carbohydrate foods, with little protein, fruits or vegetables. I learned why, although my colitis was at bay, I never felt really good. I realized how important it was for me to develop a food and exercise plan that gives me all of the necessary nutrients, while at the same time fits my dietary requirements for my colitis. It had to be something that I would actually follow, with foods that I enjoy, that are easy to prepare.

From the information I gathered from the My Pyramid website, I found that a twenty-two year old male should eat 2800 calories a day. I was eating approximately the right number of calories, but many of them were from sodas and other “empty calorie” sources. I was far below the recommended daily nutrients in calcium and protein, and far above in fats, cholesterol and sodium. My diet was also low in the majority of vitamins and minerals.

Although I have done well at implementing my new diet and exercise plan, there are still some areas that I would like to improve upon. By setting some goals in these difficult areas, I will have a clearer image of my problem areas and thus be able to devise some steps to overcome them.  First, I have been eating cereal, fruit and milk, or yogurt and fruit for breakfast; a salad or sandwich with protein, fruit and vegetables for lunch; and a salad with a Healthy Choice frozen meal for dinner. I also have two snacks of fruit and a protein, or a vegetable and a protein. This meal plan has been easy for me to follow, except when it comes to adding the vegetables and salad. When I am hungry, I have found that I will just do without the salad or vegetables if I have to prepare them. My goal is to always include these necessary vegetables with my meals.  To make this goal more easily attainable, I realize that I need to do something other than just will myself to change the problem. I believe that by buying plastic containers with lids, it would allow me to cut up vegetables and store them for the week, making it easier to just grab them at meal times. If they are available without me having to cut them up at meal times, I will be more likely to eat them. Also, purchasing pre-made salads might help. Although they are more expensive, they might be worthwhile until I get into the routine of eating a salad with my meals.

Next, I have been having some difficulty when food shopping. When I go to the grocery store and I am hungry, I want to buy foods that aren’t on my food plan. I have trouble getting out of the store without many extras in my basket. But when I go to the store and I am full, I have trouble wanting to buy anything at all. I have had to return to the store at a different time, so I could buy my groceries. My goal is to purchase the items that I need for my food plan, and only those foods when I go grocery shopping. Some things I will try in order to reach this goal is to write down my menu for each week, then make a shopping list for all of the foods on the menu, and buy all of the items on the list, but nothing more. It would also be helpful to take a friend with me who knows my intent. I will try eating a snack before I go shopping. This would prevent me from feeling starved, yet keep me from being full enough that I don’t want to buy food.

Although I began my exercise plan by walking each day, I have allowed things to get in the way of continuing on a regular basis. I have not added push-ups, or sit-ups, as I had planned and have been bike riding. My goal is to recommit myself to my exercise plan, and to execute more concrete assurance of its success. I will first, write down my exercise plan, as I am my menu plan, each day; Writing down my plan helps to solidify it in my mind. I will walk for thirty minutes at work each day, and will add sit-ups, lunges, jumping jacks and push-ups before bed. Finding a walking buddy at work would add motivation on days that I would otherwise tend to not walk. Most of the area is covered where I walk, so I can exercise no matter what the weather. I will document my exercise on the “MyPyramid” website where they provide a graphic representation of daily exercise. This will give me further support in my endeavor by providing a visual image of my progress. I have difficulty finding time to attend the gym where I am a member, but if I cannot follow through with my current exercise plan on my own, I will find a way to get myself there. The gym offers personal trainers and exercise assistants who act as a source of check in. By telling them my plan and using their help, going to the gym can add a level of accountability to my commitment.

The fact that I am a smoker is a major health concern. It hampers my breathing when I am exercising and it is an irritant to my colitis. Its long term ramifications are even greater, with emphysema and lung cancer as possible outcomes. I have wanted to quit for quite some time, but have put it off. In trying to develop a healthier lifestyle and in support of my medical condition, it is clear to me that my smoking has got to stop, so I am setting that as a goal. I have made an appointment with my doctor to talk about the options available to help me to stop. I know that it will not be easy, but I know that I must just do it! Steps that I will take to help support my decision are to get rid of all tobacco products and ashtrays in my home and car, and to tell friends and family that I am quitting. This way, the commitment is harder to abandon. I realize that if I have a slip up, that the way to handle it is to just go on and continue with my plan, although my tendency is to give up. When I stop smoking, I anticipate my improved breathing upon exercise will be a significant indicator of improvement to my health.  I know that I am ready for this step and I look forward to being a non-smoker.

Each of the changes that I am making in my life is not complex. They can each be done without any special equipment, and they are not dependant on another person. They are choices that I can, and desire to make for the rest of my life. Through taking the steps to stop smoking, increase my exercise, and improve my diet, I am making the decision to improve the quality and most likely the length of my life. I have already seen a difference in how I feel as a result of reducing the sugar and fat in my diet and eating regular, healthful meals and snacks. I am already having less abdominal discomfort, indicating that my colitis has is not as active. Since changing my dietary intake, I feel better, can think more clearly, and I have more energy. I have read that when a person makes a change or adds a new activity to their normal routine, it takes six weeks before it becomes a habit. By devising the strategies to continue with my plan and work toward my goals, I will ultimately be able to follow through until they become life long habits.

References

Langan, Robert C., MD, Gotsch, Patricia B, MD, Krafczyk, Michael A., MD and Skillinge, David D., DO. Ulcerative Colitis: Diagnosis and Treatment American Family Physician, November 1, 2007, Volume 76, Number 9.1323-1330.

My Pyramid Tracker. (2005). Retrieved May 23, 2008, from  (http://www.mypyramid.gov).

 

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