“How are you medication free, seriously?” is a question that I get asked all the time. Like not an Instagram wanker ‘you guys ask me all the time’ kind of bullshit lie, but a genuine I-get-askked-ALL-the-time type thing. Whilst I’m flattered that my journey of IBD without medication has proven as such a source of interest, it’s also terrifying – because the truth is, I don’t really know!
Let’s start with two things. 1) A part of me is genuinely terrified to talk too much about being medication-free, as for some strange reason I think that I’ll jinx it the moment I open my mouth and 2) I am in no way medically trained and therefore any thing I say is purely based on my own body and my own experience. Thus you can see the complex battle I have with myself on how exactly to answer the question.
With all that in mind, I can share with you my journey. I can let you into my world and tell you about what I do, what I don’t do, and what has somehow (though I can’t explain it) worked for me. At this moment in time, it is really important to stress that as I am writing this, I am waiting for blood and stool test results – I will do another post once I have these tests back, as it will give me/you a good indication on whether what I am doing is a recipe for success or just smoke and mirrors hiding an internal shit-storm…literally!
Do Your Research
If you want to go medication-free to deal with your IBD, you absolutely have got to do your research. This is not a skippable step. Taking your health into your own hands is not something to be taken lightly – because trust me, if you’re not being supplied with drugs by the Hospital then their perceived duty of care for you decreases significantly (since I came off medication I have only had 1 appointment a year) and therefore it is really important that you are clued up on what you are doing and that you even actually want to be doing it!
There are some amazing people doing research into the strong link between diet, lifestyle and the gut – including gastroenterologist Dr Alan Desmond (@devongutdotor).
It’s the classic – you wouldn’t put shit fuel into a car and expect it to run properly and yet so often we forget that we should treat our body like the absolute beautiful piece of machinery that it is! When I decided to come off medication for my Crohn’s Disease, I also decided to overhaul my diet – and went vegan. I already knew that meat and dairy were absolute NO’s for me, so it seemed like the logistical next step. What I also found, was that it forced me to make meals from scratch – a complete novelty to me! Once I started cooking for myself, I began to realise the importance of knowing what goes into my food and how each thing affect me – positively and negatively.
Two years on from stopping Azathioprine and my diet is now around 85% plant based – with the occasional omelette or buttery croissant overlooked to keep myself sane. Food diaries and FODMAP tracking and replacement shakes can get confusing – if you try and focus on what makes sense for you and what doesn’t, then you can slowly re-train your relationship with food.
Many of you have sent me questions about a strongly plant-based diet and IBD, worrying that too much fibre might be detrimental for your gut. I would highly recommend watching this lecture with Dr Alan Desmond and welcome your opinions on fibre.
Now we have established how important it is to look after yourself internally (duh), let’s look at the ways we can often neglect our bodies and minds. A lack of exercise and an overload of stress are two things that most of us in the Western world are guilty of – especially me. Whilst stress is often an inevitable part of life, how we deal with it can be done in many more successful ways than we realise – mindfulness and/or therapy can be a couple of considerations. Being diagnosed with IBD is tough. Like, really tough. It’s lonely, it’s isolating, it’s confusing, it’s painful, it’s embarrassing – the list goes on. Many of us internalise all these feelings and instead accept our ill-fate. WRONG. If left to fester, these thoughts can build up, bubble over and explode – even without us realising. Most GPs are really good at referring you to counselling because of your Inflammatory Bowel Disease – if you think you would like to talk to someone about the changes or impact it is having on your life, please do it soon!
Additionally, keep moving. I have never been one to enjoy working out – it’s just not my thing, and never has been. However, when I get into a regular routine of exercise (often weight training is more successful to me than cardio, as running tends to lead to me sprinting to the toilet) I truly notice the difference in both my health and my overall wellbeing. There is an interesting article about the link between exercise and the gut microbiome here, which I would really recommend reading. If you’re thinking – what the heck is microbiome, then I would really recommend watching my interview with @thefoodiedentist, which you can watch on YouTube here.
Talk To People
If you have made the decision to move away from medication, then I hope this decision was made with the help and advice of a trained medical professional (preferably one you know). I cannot preach too much on this topic, as I was naughty and just decided one day to stop taking my medication – why, I hear you cry! Immunosuppressants were not for me and I did not feel comfortable taking them. Although they ‘fixed’ my Crohn’s in as far as being symptom-free, I felt uneasy about not knowing what was going on inside my body. Azathioprine to me felt like a plaster – just patching over the problem without necessarily getting to the root of the problem. I know there is no cure for IBD (yet) but I began getting increasingly interested in tackling my bowel disease head-on with a more holistic approach. As a disclaimer, I have absolutely no issue with medication and realise it is absolutely live-saving and life-changing for many thousands of individuals suffering with IBD. Should my latest test results come back with worrying symptoms, then I will of course consider going back to medication – but we will see.
Anyway, I digress…talk to people about your decision! Get professional advice, get help and get clued up with what you are doing! They may be able to recommend certain approaches or provide you with extra reading. Additionally, it is also a great opportunity to have an open conversation about your lifestyle and wellbeing, and they may suggest different supplements or dietary watch-outs for you. All of which will be invaluable information should you wish to go down this route. TALK TO YOUR GP/IBD TEAM!
Listen to your Gut
The final point is one of the most important ones (I lie, they’re all important) – listen to your body! There is a reason that this blog is called Gut Instinct – whilst being a hilarious, smart and witty pun (thank you, thank you) it also rings so true that your body knows its stuff! If something doesn’t feel right, then be aware of that! If you know something is better for you, then follow it! We often lose touch with ourselves but we need to learn to become more in-tune with our body. You only have one, so look after it, love it and respect it.
If you’ve read this far – thank you!
Hopefully some/any of the above is helpful and I’ve finally covered a lot of the topics that you guys on my Instagram @gutinstinct.blog seem to find most interesting. Please feel free to send me an email or message if you wish to learn more, and in the meantime, I will keep you updated with my latest hospital results – should they all be clear, my next appointment is not until July 2020…
Love, Lo x
For amazing and inspiring information, check out these following podcast episodes:
PS) for those of you who prefer videos rather than blog posts, I have filmed a video on exactly this topic (literally the same content) that will be going LIVE at the end of July!