Healing ulcerative colitis with diet is possible.
It’s not easy, but it’s possible.
In 2004 I was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis (UC).
What followed were many years of fear, pain, loss, grief and confusion.
From the very beginning, I was determined to heal ulcerative colitis naturally with my diet. Of course, everyone thought I was nuts…
I came very close to death several times from blood loss, dehydration and a severely ulcerated colon.
I lost virtually all of my 30’s to ulcerative colitis.
The illness and the fallout from being sick, weakened and distracted utterly destroyed the life I was living at the time – including my career as a biotech scientist.
I was determined to heal ulcerative colitis naturally with diet and get my life back.
It took a lot longer than I thought it would and it was a lot harder than I thought it would be.
Of course, everyone else told me it was incurable. And back then, all they had for UC was high-dose prednisone.
No, thank you.
I’m writing this in February 2019. And I’m quite healthy.
I also use no pharmaceutical medications for ulcerative colitis. None for anything, as a matter of fact.
The only medication I use is legal medical marijuana since 2014.
This guide is meant to share what I’ve learned in my journey – from nearly dying from severe ulcerative colitis to healthy, happy and thriving in my life.
Without medication or surgery or “managing” a disease for the rest of my life.
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”– Arthur Schopenhauer
Within this post is the knowledge and wisdom I spent so much of my life fighting to gain. I paid in blood for what I’ve learned and the healing I’ve achieved.
And, yes, most of the blood I paid went into the toilet…
Healing Our Attitudes About Healing Ulcerative Colitis with Diet
…When we drug ourselves to blot out our soul’s call, we are being good Americans and exemplary consumers. We’re doing exactly what TV commercials and pop materialist culture have been brainwashing us to do from birth. Instead of applying self-knowledge, self-discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work, we simply consume a product.”
– Steven Pressfield in “The War of Art”
In the West, our attitudes about health and healing illness are literally insane. I’ll dive deep into this as we go further in the series. Suffice it to say that most of what you’ve been told and taught is wrong and driven by politics and corporate greed. Not to mention just blind misinformation and massive social conditioning.
You and your health and your healing are utterly inconsequential to the medical establishment, the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the massive industrial food system and the government.
Depending how conspiracy theory you want to go, we could even say that “they” actually want you to be sick, confused and dependent on an industrial medical model that medicates symptoms, ignores obvious root causes and generally does more harm than good in the long term.
The entire system needs chronic illness – caused by the continual consumption of toxic food, toxic lifestyles, toxic relationships, toxic stress, medical and “recreational” drugs, alcohol and other toxic substances.
Typical Western food and high-stress, consumer lifestyles keep people sick and riding the Big Med merry-go-round for life.
Medicating Symptoms and Ignoring Root Causes
If you look at the commercials for the current crop of UC and Crohn’s Disease meds, you can see it’s all about continuing to eat crap and continuing to live your old life. Continuing to live your “busy” or “active” or “hectic” lifestyle. The life and food that made you sick to begin with.
The mainstream idea is: Don’t look at your behavior or modify anything for your health, just take a pill and keep going. And, most of what you’re doing has been making you sick.
The entire premise of the above commercial is that IBD is negatively affecting this guy’s life and his life with his family. He wants to be free to live how he lived before he got sick. This even includes eating cupcakes and ice cream with his child.
But how we lived before we got sick is a big part of what made us sick to begin with.
One of the ultimate truths I’ve learned about healing UC – and chronic illness in general – is this:
If you want to change your life, the way you’re living has to change.”– Adam Farrah
But, isn’t ulcerative colitis incurable?
The vast majority in the mainstream say ulcerative colitis is “incurable.” I believe that UC is so difficult to heal that it might as well be incurable. But that difficulty has a lot to do with what sacrifices we’re willing to make and what we’re willing to do to heal.
It’s taken me nearly 15 years to heal and the complete dismantling of my old life on every level. To a large extent, most people aren’t able or willing to make the choices I have. Healing ulcerative colitis naturally requires 100% dedication and a lot of painful sacrifice.
I’ve literally had to literally become a different person from who I was before I got sick at 32 years old.
The Three Major Factors in Healing Ulcerative Colitis Naturally
In my years of work on learning and healing around this topic, I’ve literally left no stone unturned to find healing and regain my health.
My first-hand, empirical and ultimately successful experience has shown three major, principal factors in healing ulcerative colitis naturally and holistically.
- Proactive Lifestyle Design and Management
- Medical Marijuana
That’s it. That’s all of it.
Within each of the above three categories there are myriad nuances, refinements and individualizations. But even all those are quite simple when approached systematically and scientifically. Not easy necessarily, but very simple.
Intense focus, continued refinement and long-term consistency in relation to these three factors is the path to healing ulcerative colitis naturally.
Healing Ulcerative Colitis with Diet
To give yourself the best chance at healing and living your best life, make a study and a practice of healthy eating and living.
It can be overwhelming and confusing at first, but thinking in terms of “How did we eat and live for the majority of our time as humans on earth?” can help this learning process.
With chronic, inflammatory and autoimmune illness, diet is a major factor in healing, managing symptoms and recovery.
Most modern food is everything but food to our ancient bodies. If you’d like to see some subjective proof of this, simply look at the major foods and food components that generally cause problems for people: wheat, gluten, dairy, peanuts, sugar, aspartame, sorbitol. None of these were consumed by our ancient ancestors and all became commonplace in our diets only in the last 10,000 years or, in some cases, much more recently.
Our bodies contain an ancient and vast wisdom that has evolved over millions of years. This wisdom doesn’t recognize most modern “foods” as food.
The Agricultural “Revolution”
Though things like bread and milk seem like “staples” to us that have been around “forever,” on the evolutionary timeline these foods are very new. Humans have only consumed them for about 10,000 years.
While our ancestors were able to survive and thrive for over a million years on meat, vegetables and fruit, as soon as agricultural products like wheat and dairy entered our lives problems began to emerge.
Below is Figure 2, from my book The Paleo Dieter’s Missing Link, I show graphically the relative rate of change in our food over time.
The Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (Paleo-AIP) – Finding the Right Diet Theory and Template for Clcerative Colitis
Much of my early work was done in the Paleo community. I was a well-known blogger and author there as early as 2010. As far as eating, living and moving, a Paleo approach will get you most of the way there.
The major problem with basic Paleo is that there are a good number of inflammatory and autoimmune-stimulating foods still in the diet.
It’s necessary to go some additional steps with diet and exclude some additional foods. The major template for these exclusions is the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (Paleo-AIP).
Basic Paleo Foods Excluded on Paleo-AIP
- Nightshade Vegetables
- Nuts and Seeds
For more on the Paleo-AIP diet, check out my friend Eileen Laird’s exceptional post: What is the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol?
I struggled for many years on Paleo. Nuts are a big problem for me. Eggs are also. Even the most beautiful, local, free-range eggs from the farm all my meat comes from will trigger blood in my stool within a week or so. Nuts will give me hives and other allergic reactions almost immediately.
For me, Paleo just wasn’t enough. I needed to get the immune-stimulating stuff out too. Paleo will get you close, but it’s quite easy to decide the entire dietary template doesn’t work because one or two foods are still in your diet that are causing major problems.
Once I got the majority of the Paleo AIP-excluded out of my diet, my health really took off. This Paleo AIP period also corresponded with significant positive changes in my lifestyle and work. I also started to get my medical marijuana program working well at this time.
Everything had to get working together.
What to Eat
I like to think of foods in terms of a healthy diet backbone or foundation. This is the foundation that you will come back to over and over and this is the main focus to get healthy and heal ulcerative colitis naturally.
What to eat:
- Meat from well-raised, clean, properly fed animals, preferably local
- Fresh organic vegetables, preferably local
- Fresh organic fruit, preferably local
That’s it. That’s about 95% of the diet to heal ulcerative colitis naturally.
My own diet is rounded out with some specific supplements like fiber and a hemp protein powder and I exclude some specific foods in the above three categories due to my individual preferences or specific food intolerance that I’ve empirically determined over the years.
But really. That’s the diet. Meat, vegetables and fruit. Individualize from there and you’re in business. That’s it. Really. It is.
The Healthy Diet Backbone
Below is Figure 1 from my book, The Paleo Dieter’s Missing Link. It shows how well-raised meats, organic vegetables and organic fruits form a core healthy diet from which so many other variations, including Paleo AIP branch off.
What to Avoid
I actually prefer to think of things in terms of the above – what to eat. Focusing on eating the right foods, finding the best sources for those foods and fine-tuning your diet over years to be perfectly individualized to you is what is going to make you healthy.
What’s going to make you very stressed and probably keep you sick is obsessing over avoiding a million different foods and ingredients.
People always tell me how they spend hours in the store “reading labels” trying to avoid a list of 3,200 different ingredients their naturopath gave them after a bunch of expensive food allergy tests.
My advice is always the same: Eat meat, vegetables and fruit and don’t eat anything packaged or processed that even has a label.
I don’t need to read labels because nothing I eat comes with one.”– Adam Farrah
With all the above said, here are the broad categories of foods I suggest avoiding for healing ulcerative colitis naturally. Even one of these once every week or few will likely have a negative impact and can even trigger a flare-up over time.
What to avoid:
- Nuts and Seeds (I use ground flax seeds with no issues)
- Nightshade Vegetables – Peppers, tomatoes, eggplant
- Packaged and Processed Foods – Even if they say “Paleo” on the label
Again, I don’t like to get too far into things to avoid – I prefer to focus on building a healthy diet from the myriad of beautiful foods I can eat. I specifically mention eggs, nuts and seeds and nightshade vegetables because they are all included on Paleo and they can cause big problems for people with UC. They did for me for years and I didn’t know it. All I did is “Paleo harder” and wonder why I wasn’t getting the rest of the way to my health goals.
Isn’t this Orthorexia?
It’s quite common within the mainstream consciousness to attack Paleo and AIP diet recommendations as orthorexia. For those of you not familiar, orthorexia is a essentially an “unhealthy” obsession with food, food quality and, most importantly, the avoidance of “entire groups of foods.”
I maintain that crap isn’t a food group, but many disagree.
This orthorexia thinking starts with the assumption that anything and everything on the supermarket shelves is “food” and, therefore, avoiding broad categories of “food” is some kind of food-related anxiety disorder.
The short answer is that virtually all the “food” in the supermarket is very, very new to our physiology, evolutionarily speaking. Not eating foods like dairy and grains is actually removing non-food from our diets. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had no access to these foods and they remain alien foreign to our systems as well.
The changes in our food over the past centuries have been exponentially faster than our adaptation to them.
Even if you disagree with the whole Evolutionary Health movement and the Paleo ideal, the avoidance of Neolithic foods still holds for healing ulcerative colitis naturally. At the least, it’s removing foods that are inflammatory and problematic for those with digestive disorders.
But, when dealing with the “Diet has Nothing to do with It” consciousness, avoiding eating anything for health reasons just looks like a mental problem that needs a good, hefty prescription of Xanax to fix.
Our ancestors lived and thrived for thousands and thousands of years without grains, dairy or Burger King.
Still, A Word of Caution
When suffering from a digestive disorder like ulcerative colitis, it is very, very easy to develop a lot of anxiety and obsession around food. The way past this is continual study and education.
Proactive Lifestyle Design for Management and Healing of UC
Food is just part – albeit a large part – of helping your body heal from modern diseases like UC and Crohn’s. But, most modern diseases are also diseases of lifestyle and respond best to changes and healthy practices in every area of your life.
“Just changing your diet – no matter how perfectly and obsessively – won’t get you to optimal health.”– Adam Farrah
Stress is the biggest factor I’ve found with regard to how it affects UC and how UC is affected by it. I find that even when eating a diet composed of 100% of the best foods for me, stress will impact my health and digestion.
I discuss yoga below. Yoga is, in my opinion, a mandatory practice to reduce stress. I’ve found no other practice that so effectively and reliably shuts off the fight or flight system and calms and heals my mind and body.
Ulcerative colitis is profoundly influenced by stress. Generally, people have flare-ups during times of increased stress.
These periods usually coincide with cutting corners on food due to time stress also.
Aggressively reducing stress in every area of your life is mandatory for healing chronic illness.
Work and Job Stress
We spend a lot of time working and earning a living. This is the major source of stress for most people. If you’re sick with UC, it’s very likely that your job – or even your career choice – is a major problem.
Sometimes our bodies just aren’t robust enough to handle what a career or particular corporate culture demands.
If you suspect your career is part of your problem, read the book Finding Your North Star by Martha Beck. It will give you all kinds of insights about your life and career choices.
Another great book is a somewhat obscure one by Janet G. Wolititz, Ed. D. titled The Self-Sabotage Syndrome – Adult Children in the Workplace.
One of the biggest obstacles to healing can be hanging on to jobs and careers and relationships and behaviors that will only ever make us stressed and sick.
Everybody has to work and earn a living, but there are many, many options for this in the modern world and people are starting new careers at every age and at every phase of their lives. Sometimes we can just modify our work habits and hours if we have that freedom, but often people emerge out of the other side of chronic illness with an entirely new career path.
Bad Food is Really Just Another Stress
Unhealthy, processed or just inflammatory food is a major stress on the body. It’s really the same as any other kind of stress. It’s an additional, negative demand your body has to use resources to deal with and heal the damage from.
Bad food is a systemic stress for everyone. For people with inflammatory bowel disease, the stress effects of the wrong food are much more intense. I suspect this is one reason people with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease have such debilitating fatigue – the body is struggling to cope with intense stress on every system.
Yoga and Meditation
Yoga has been instrumental to me in healing my entire life. It’s absolutely unique in that it trains flexibility, joint mobility, overall body strength, the energetic or Spiritual body and it requires presence or mindfulness, which makes it a moving meditation as well.
The stress and inflammation that builds up in our bodies during a day of modern living is profound. I also strongly believe that past trauma lives on in our bodies as stiffness, tension and blocked energy. Yoga moves this tension out and opens up our energy pathways.
People with chronic illness generally have more tension in their bodies and more trauma in their past. Yoga is instrumental in healing this.
I personally do about 45 minutes of yoga and 15 minutes of meditation or presence work every day. If I miss even one day, my mental state deteriorates, my body gets stiff and sore and my sleep isn’t as good.
A good yoga practice will change your health and your entire life.
For an in-depth look at medical marijuana for ulcerative colitis and all the lessons I’ve learned over the past 5 years as a medical marijuana patient in Connecticut, you can read my epic post Medical Marijuana for Ulcerative Colitis – The Principal Guide.
As I write this, I’m in my fifth year of medical cannabis. I’ve been in the Medical Marijuana Program in Connecticut nearly since its inception. I’ve been a customer of Thames Valley Alternative Relief in Uncasville, CT since it opened [Link].
Medical Marijuana has played an absolutely key part in the healing I’ve personally achieved.
Through my 5 year medical marijuana journey, I’ve come to learn many things about the interplay between cannabis, food, lifestyle, yoga, exercise and even energy anatomy and Spirituality. I have much to share about making medical marijuana more effective and keeping costs to a reasonable level.
A significant component in my healing of ulcerative colitis naturally has been medical marijuana.
There but for the Grace of God Go I…
Over the years, I’ve developed a nice relationship and friendship with my medical marijuana doctor. He’s quite an “old timer” and was considered one of the best cosmetic surgeons in the country before he stopped doing surgery and slowed down his medical practice. He now primarily does medical marijuana consultations and approvals for Connecticut Medical Marijuana cards.
Every year on medical marijuana I get better and stronger. Every year, when I go for my yearly card renewal visit, I’m exponentially better then the year before.
This doctor tells me he sees 3-4 ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease patients per week. Many of these patients are in terrible shape after going the mainstream route for a few years. Multiple bowel resections, major side effects from medications, still having flare-ups and developing depression, PTSD and other emotional issues as well.
Often, he tells me, they can’t make it through the entire consultation without having to run to the bathroom once or twice.
In contrast, I’m thriving, getting better every year and sitting and talking and joking with him and his receptionist.
And not once am I excusing myself from our conversation to run to the bathroom…
It’s Not Just Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana can help us live healthier and better lives with less pain and fewer symptoms of chronic illness. Medical marijuana is just a part of our healing journey though. The right food and lifestyle practices will make a huge difference in how we feel and can, in some cases, dramatically help or even reverse chronic health conditions.
Even with the medical marijuana, the majority of UC patients are still using medical drugs in addition and still eating whatever they want – because “diet has nothing to do with it.”
Essentially, the marijuana becomes sort of a palliative thing. Something that soothes the stomach when it’s inflamed and upset from irritating and toxic food and stress.
Medical Marijuana Done Right
THC and some of the other compounds in marijuana are highly anti-inflammatory. The right way to use marijuana medicinally is in addition to diet and lifestyle design practices. Get inflammation and immune system activity down as much as possible with diet and stress reduction and then use the powerful medicine that marijuana is. Now you’re on the right side of the curve and can start healing.
Eating garbage and smoking pot to soothe your digestive tract – the same digestive tract all the garbage food is going down – is doing nothing but keeping you sick and medicating symptoms. Oh, sorry. I mean: “managing your disease.”
A Word About Marijuana Edibles or “Medibles” for Ulcerative Colitis
Something that drives me really crazy is marijuana medicated cookies and brownies and other junk. I don’t know how many ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease patients I’ve met at the dispensary who are “medicating” with cookies and other nonsense. This type of “treatment” goes nowhere and probably does more harm than good.
Cost is too High
A topic I’ll go into deeply soon is keeping the costs of daily, heavy use of medical marijuana to a reasonable level. For now, I’ll just say that smoking plain marijuana flower is the most cost-effective way to go. Edible products have the additional price premium from preparing the marijuana for cooking as well as the labor to make the food product the medication goes in.
The consumer ends up paying 2-4 times as much per gram of THC with medibles and getting inflammatory and negative food ingredients that impact healing on top of it.
Most marijuana medicated foods are a definite no-go for inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease.
Absorption and Effectiveness is Questionable
Even when I’ve medicated with marijuana-infused coconut oil, I haven’t seen much impact. Intuitively, I sense that my digestive tract is just still too compromised to absorb the THC in the coconut oil efficiently. For patients with inflammatory bowel disease, I don’t recommend edible marijuana products and I surely don’t recommend junk food like cookies or brownies that are marijuana-infused.
Healing ulcerative colitis with diet is difficult, but not impossible.
Sometimes it feels impossible.
They say ulcerative colitis is incurable and that diet has “nothing to do with it.”
I believe diet has a lot to do with inflammatory bowel disease.
Food and diet is also the one thing we have total control over moment to moment. No one is in charge of what goes into your body but you. (Hopefully.)
It’s a lot more than diet, though. It required me to become an entirely different person.
I learned things I never thought I would and went deeper than I ever knew you could.
I’ve done my best in this post to show the foundational importance of diet as well as the importance of treating our entire lives when we get sick with a serious and chronic illness like inflammatory bowel disease.
In the end, it was a lot more than diet too. It was everything.
Healing ulcerative colitis naturally is a holistic, whole-life endeavor.
Healing ulcerative colitis with diet and lifestyle is a life-long journey.