“They told me candies, milkshakes, and pizza were all fine”
You can love food again. It's all about finding the foods that will love you back.
Scott Lippman was on a vacation with his wife in Central America in 2013 when he suddenly got sick. “We were nervous about it, so we cut the trip short,” says Lippman.
Back home in New York, though, he wasn’t getting better. In fact, little by little, he was getting worse. “I was losing weight. I had sporadic stomach cramps,” says Lippman. The year following his trip, he was tested for tuberculosis, parasites, and kidney disease, among other conditions. Finally, his doctor ordered a colonoscopy, and it was only then that the mystery was solved. Lippman was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
“At first, I was in denial,” he recalls. “I will not give up pizza, I told myself.” And his doctors encouraged him to eat whatever he liked because his weight had dropped so much. “They told me candies, milkshakes, and pizza were all fine,” he says.
But on some level, Lippman knew that kind of diet wouldn’t help fix things. “Even when I was healthy, I didn’t feel good when I ate like that,” he says. Instead of piling on the ice cream, he began researching the connection between diet and Crohn’s, reading books, articles, and websites. He tried all the diets commonly touted as cure-alls. He went on a low-FODMAP plan, which restricts certain types of carbohydrates. He tried the auto-immune paleo diet and the specific carbohydrate diet as well.
Though he noticed some improvements with some aspects of these programs, he didn’t feel much better and his weight continued to fall. “One doctor suspected anorexia. That’s the furthest thing from what was going on,” says Lippman.
Finally, a friend recommended registered dietitian Colleen Webb. “There’s a difference between an RD who specializes in your condition and a generalist,” says Lippman. Webb was part of a gastroenterology practice at the time, and she specializes in inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s.
“When Scott first came to me, the most important thing we needed to do was to liberalize his diet. With Crohn’s, there’s a huge focus on what not to eat because people are afraid. They lose focus on what they need to eat to meet their nutritional needs,” says Webb.
She explained to Lippman that there is no single magic eating plan for Crohn’s, and that he needed to get more calories and especially nutrient-rich colorful plants onto his plate. “Things like avocados and root vegetables are great,” says Webb. “I make it clear right away to all my patients that they are not condemned to a low-fiber, white-rice diet.”
Though Lippman loves dining out at restaurants, Webb showed him the value of cooking his own meals at home. “People with Crohn’s can eat a wider variety of foods than they think—it’s all about how to prepare them to change their texture,” says Web. Often that means cooking things until they are tender and soft, or blending them to make them smooth and easy to digest. Sometimes it’s as simple as peeling the tough skin away before you eat an apple. Working with Webb, Lippman learned to make gut-soothing soups and smoothies, which are particular favorites of Webb’s.
Gradually, Webb and Lippman’s dietitian-client relationship transitioned to friendship. With his Crohn’s under control and his weight back in the healthy range, he was inspired to share his experience and Webb’s approach to food with others struggling with gut issues. In fact, they started a business together. “It’s all about helping people feel better through food,” says Lippman.
When Lippman isn’t working, there’s a good chance he’s cooking. There are still foods he avoids to keep his Crohn’s in check, including popcorn, beef, tomatoes, alcohol, and, yes, pizza. “Pizza is kind of my white whale,” he says. But he enjoys his meals more than he thought he would when he was first diagnosed.
“Curries, roast chicken, branzino, and eggs are some of my staples,” says Lippman. His wife is Chinese, and she makes a particularly delicious congee. They keep a batch in the freezer at all times. He even makes his own almond milk from scratch. He acknowledges that eating this way takes effort. “It’s not something I’d imagined doing in my New York City kitchen, believe me,” he says. But the payoff—feeling better—is worth it.