7 Diet tips that can help manage Crohn’s symptoms and side effects
Everyone has individual triggers, but watching what you eat can help ease and ward off flare-ups.
Diet doesn’t cause Crohn’s disease—doctors don’t actually know the culprit behind the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)—but what you eat (or don’t eat) can majorly impact how your body deals with it. That’s because Crohn’s affects the gastrointestinal tract, the part of the body that digests food, absorbs energy and nutrients, and expels waste.
When Crohn’s is active—as in, you’re currently experiencing symptoms—you may have abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea. These symptoms can cause loss of appetite and make it hard to absorb nutrients, which puts you at high risk for malnutrition, explains gastroenterologist Jason Rubinov, MD.
Unfortunately, no diet has been proven to manage or prevent any inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), says Arielle Leben, RD, of NYU Langone’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center, but some tweaks, like the ones below, can ward off symptoms and flares, making living with it—and staying healthy—easier.
1. Eat a bunch of little meals.
Consuming a lot of food at once stresses the GI tract and triggers a gastrocolic reflex, contractions in the colon that cause a bowel movement, Leben says. Sometimes for people with Crohn’s, the reflex is accompanied by pain, cramping, or diarrhea. Smaller, more frequent meals won’t stimulate that reflex as intensely.
Eating less in one sitting also gives the body additional time to digest food, which improves nutrient absorption, says Courtney Schuchmann, a registered dietitian at the University of Chicago’s Section of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition. Since people with Crohn’s don’t always absorb nutrients very well, this is a big plus.