Hi, I’m Abigail Marie; the Chef with IBD! I have ulcerative colitis (UC), as well as a background and degree in culinary arts.
I was diagnosed with moderate/severe left-sided UC in 2014, shortly after a bad car accident. After a few weeks of experiencing symptoms, I was quickly referred to a gastroenterologist and was diagnosed with UC after having a colonoscopy. I have my associates in culinary arts and a bachelor’s degree in Food Service Management from Johnson & Wales University. I have worked in several high-volume restaurants, and now work in food service for Novant Hospital. There, I prepare food for the patients and guests in the cafeteria.
After diagnosis, I was told diet had nothing to do with helping my UC. However, I experienced flare after flare. So, I decided to try and change my diet to see if it could help in addition to medication. It took a lot of trial and error before finding a diet that worked well for me. I kept a food journal for a long time, which was very helpful in identifying what foods caused my symptoms to worsen. Since everyone is different it’s important to listen to your body, as there is no one-size-fits-all diet for IBD.
Making my own IBD‑friendly recipes
After trying gluten-free, the plant paradox and paleo, I found a diet that worked for me; the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD). However, after being disappointed with many of the SCD recipes, I decided to make my own. I then started my blog, ‘– Abigail Marie the Chef with IBD’,– to create and share better SCD recipes with others. I also focus on lifestyle, new scientific research for IBD, new and emerging medications, IBD awareness, and patient advocacy.
So you may be asking yourself, what exactly is SCD? Well, the term was originally created by Elaine Gottschall for her daughter who was suffering from severe UC Her bestselling book ‘Breaking the Vicious Cycle’ explains the reasons that people with Crohn’s, colitis, diverticulitis, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, and chronic diarrhoea cannot break down certain multi-chain carbohydrates called polysaccharides.
The way the body breaks down foods on a molecular level is the key to the SCD diet. Elaine found that in people with IBD, the polysaccharides do not fully break down and remain in the intestinal tract, building up over time. This undigested food will start to ferment in the gut overtime causing bloating, gas, fungus and yeast overgrowths, and active disease. This serves as a catalyst for active intestinal diseases as well as their symptoms. By simply removing all the foods that contain these polysaccharide carbohydrate chains from the diet, the intestinal tract can start to heal and get rid of all the built-up undigested food and bacteria.
While this diet has worked well for me, it’s important to consult your doctor before starting any diet. I also want to add that SCD is not always meant to be long term as it is restrictive and eliminates food groups. Consulting an IBD focused dietitian can be extremely helpful and it is also important to have your specialist check your vitamin levels frequently to make sure you are receiving adequate nutrition. I have found a multidisciplinary approach is best for managing my IBD. This includes medication, stress management, gentle movement, diet and being involved in the community. Diet is very important, but remember it is one key piece to the puzzle of managing chronic illness.
Tips for eating and cooking with IBD
Keep a food journal: This can help you identify what foods trigger your symptoms. Everyday, write down what you eat and what symptoms you experience. The key is to be consistent and listen to your body. If you suspect a food is bothering you, try eliminating it for a few weeks and see if your symptoms improve. Some common trigger foods for IBD include: fried foods, dairy, alcohol, refined sugar and red meat. Finding what works for you can be a gamec hanger and give you more freedom in eating confidently.
Eat slowly/mindfully: Eating slowly and making sure to chew well gives your digestive system a head start. It can also be helpful in getting nutrients out of the food you eat. Being mindful about when and what you are eating can help you recognize when you’re full. Try to be present when eating and not get distracted by television or conversation.
Eat in smaller portions and more often: Eating in smaller portions is helpful in not overwhelming the digestive tract. For most people with IBD, eating a large meal causes discomfort. Scaling back your portions, but eating more often can help maintain blood sugar, mood, and most importantly, digestion.
For many with IBD, myself included, raw veggies and salads can be rough on the digestive system and not always the best choice. However, eating the rainbow of fruits and vegetables is still important. The solution? Consume these foods cooked instead of raw. They will be easier to digest while still having nutrients and vitamins you need.
Take a seat while cooking: When living with a chronic illness, energy can be hard to come by or can run out before your day is over. If you are feeling tired but still need to make dinner, take a seat. Who says you must stand to prep vegetables or cook something on the stove? This can apply to most tasks, not just cooking, and can help with completing tasks that otherwise may be more draining.
Batch cook meals and freeze some: When you do have energy, make a double batch and freeze one of them. This way when you are tired but still need a meal you can easily thaw it out, and voila! I like to use a vacuum sealer for bags to keep foods fresh and prevent freezer burn.
Try to reduce alcohol and refined sugar: Alcohol and refined sugar can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhoea. They can exacerbate symptoms and alcohol can increase bleeding. Try to limit these items for better gut health.
Make recipes work for you: Does a recipe call for butter, but you need a replacement? Try coconut oil instead! It’s an easy 1:1 ratio. Allergic to peanut butter? Try almond butter! The point is, there is always a way to make recipes work for you. If you aren’t sure what to replace an ingredient with, chances are you can find your answer online.
Some of Abigail’s most popular recipes
- Quick & easy sheet tray chicken fajitas with fresh salsa
- Grain-free banana bread muffins with walnuts
- Easy one pan lemon chicken piccata
- Grain-free cinnamon raisin ’porridge’
- Easy no-bake dairy-free raspberry swirl cheesecake bars