Everyone knows that what you eat can impact how you feel, and what we choose to eat can be unpredictable, especially during the holidays. But for patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, the way that the disease affects diet and nutrition—and vice versa—is complicated and personal, and not always what they may expect.

Enter Courtney Schuchmann, registered dietitian with the University of Chicago Medicine Digestive Diseases Center, who specializes in tailoring broad dietary guidelines to specific patient needs to maximize their nutritional benefits and minimize their symptoms.

On November 17th, in an educational program, supported in part by the GI Research Foundation, Courtney Schuchmann, along with IBD Center Director and Professor of Medicine, Russell D. Cohen, MD, offered specific pointers for patients living with inflammatory bowel disease. One of her biggest take-aways: patients should not overly restrict their diet, as overall nutrition and quality of life are important, too, and patients who are in remission can be more flexible with their choices than patients with active inflammation. This was surprising to patients in the attendance, many of whom sought to control their IBD symptoms by eliminating fiber, dairy, gluten, emulsifiers, or other substances from their diets.

“If you are doing well, I highly encourage you to avoid overly restricting your diet. The more restrictions on your diet, the less likely you are consuming adequate nutrition from the foods that you’re consuming… work with an IBD dietitian for a personalized approach… IBD looks very different from one person to the next, and diet looks extremely different from one person to the next,” explains Ms. Schuchmann.

In the webinar, Ms. Schuchmann explained key concepts, common misconceptions, and evidence-based suggestions for patients seeking to understand how their diet may contribute to their symptoms, including: the intricacies of dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble; common nutrient deficiencies; the importance of hydration; probiotics and prebiotics; emulsifiers and food additives; and even cooking techniques for incorporating whole foods into an IBD-healthy diet. For those with stricturing bowel disease, where the intestines are narrowed due to inflammation and scar tissue, Schuchmann offered helpful tips to make food more easily digestible and less likely to cause bowel perforation or obstruction. For those living with ostomies, she offered specific techniques for managing the pernicious problem of dehydration. Ms. Schuchmann also specified that patients should eat differently during a flare than when they are in remission and spoke about the many specialized diets (low FODMAP, SCD) which patients sometimes undertake to help with their symptoms.

“There is so much information, and we are learning more all the time. I strongly encourage anyone with questions about eating well to speak to a registered dietitian who studies Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis for specific recommendations, as there really isn’t a one-size fits all approach. And as always, getting inflammation under control and achieving remission is the first step,” advises Ms. Schuchmann.