Responding To Comments About Diet

How do comments about your diet affect relationships with family and friends?

Broccoli is one of those "good for you" foods that some people with IBD avoid because it might cause gas. Photo © Colin Higgins

Diet is a serious and complicated issue for almost anyone, but especially for those who have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). For people with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, diet can be a source of a lot of stress and difficulty. Typically, people with IBD are forging their own path when it comes to diet, because everyone with IBD is different. There is no one diet for everyone with IBD.

On top of not having much individual guidance on diet, many people with IBD see food as an obstacle rather than as nourishment. In some cases, they may avoid eating particular foods, or even restrict their food intake altogether, in order to avoid having diarrhea and other symptoms. It's common to hear people with IBD say that friends and family often don't understand their complex difficulties with diet. As diet becomes a hotly debated topic in our society, it seems everyone has an opinion about other people's food.

Common Comments About Diet

I asked my followers on Twitter and Facebook to tell me about the comments they've heard about their diet. Here are some of the responses:

@barkerdm: "[I] have been made to feel a few times that what I've fed my daughter has led to her having Crohn's."

Amy R: "You don't eat enough."

Michelle B: "[Advice givers] have no idea what IBD is and think that if I just changed my eating habits I would get better!"

@swanny_hooper: "They make fun and laugh saying my diet is a joke and would not bring me to any restaurant [be]cause my diet is not listed in the menu."

Why People With IBD Get Frustrated

Ask 100 people, and you'll get 100 different answers about what people with IBD should or should not eat. Even if someone with IBD does know which foods are best avoided, that doesn't mean that they'll never eat that food again. Tracy R points out that repeatedly being asked for a list of allowed foods becomes tiring. "I don't know the answer," she says, "[be]cause it [is] different every day of my life." In some cases, it may be a favorite food that needs to be avoided, and that's just not realistic in the long-term.

How You Can Respond To Comments About Diet

What is the best way to respond to people who take issue with the food you are eating (or not eating)? It would be easy to start poking holes in their diet or to critique their weight or their physique. However, and especially if this person is a friend or a family member, that tactic wouldn't be very constructive and would probably not help stop the comments that are annoying you.

An Opportunity to Educate

Instead, it may be better to help them understand the complexity of the relationship between IBD and diet. You could remind them that every person is different when it comes to diet, and your particular trigger foods are not necessarily obvious or even logical. Perhaps a glass of wine or the occasional strawberry doesn't bother you, but a slice of bread or a corn chip will.

Our Relationship to Food Is Complex

You could also mention that sometimes food can be a comfort, and while you know a particular food may not be as nourishing to your body as others, it might be your favorite or it could have a special meaning for you. Everyone can understand the need for a lapse in diet now and again, perhaps on a special occasion or a holiday.

However you choose to deal with insensitive comments about your diet, remember that your family and friends are most certainly honestly concerned for your health. Be gentle with them—they'll get it eventually.

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