I knew something was wrong in my early 20s.
It was hard enough worrying about fitting in with the popular sorority girls in college. Special dietary needs and digestive issues piled on added physical, emotional, and mental weight. My body image and food issues started at the age of eight, and exacerbated as I got older — food fear, disordered eating, orthorexia, gastrointestinal bleeding, chronic constipation, abdominal pain, fatigue, weight gain, and bloating… just to name a few.
Decades later, I finally received a diagnosis.
Crohn’s Disease can occur in people of any age. By simple definition, Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
In the years that I have been managing this disease, I have been able to find health, happiness and wellness, even living with Crohn’s. What I’ve discovered is that it’s all about boundaries and vocalizing specific needs that would have solved a lot of suffering over the years had I shared them sooner.
Here are my top pieces of advice for successfully navigating dating and being social while living with Crohn’s.
1. Be honest and upfront about your needs.
Not only do you deserve the freedom to be yourself, others deserve to know who you truly are. Everyone deserves to know the real you and you deserve a real relationship. You do not want to jeopardize your health and eat or drink something that will trigger issues just because you are embarrassed to be yourself. Use it as an opportunity to educate. Embrace your uniqueness, most people don’t know what they don’t know. Education drives compliance and acceptance.
2. Eat beforehand, bring your own food, and check the menu prior to your event.
This eliminates food issues completely. Social functions and dates do not need to be centered around food or cocktails. They should be centered around connection. By preparing ahead of time, you alleviate the stress of the unknown. Determine your nonnegotiables. They can be things like choosing to have a cocktail over a meal or choosing to savor a special meal from your favorite restaurant over your typical meal prep.
3. Request to have your meals and cocktails crafted to your specific needs.
Most restaurants will cater to your needs. Ask what oil and ingredients they use. For example, if they use low quality vegetable oil or ingredients that upset your stomach, ask for food to be cooked in no oil and omit certain ingredients that might cause upset. Common irritants are things like spicy seasonings, gluten, nuts, seeds, dairy, lectins, oxalates, artificial sweeteners and preservatives.
Read the ingredients in cocktails as well as your meals. Set drink limits. I have a two drink rule and personally avoid any calorically dense beverages with an abundance of sugar, carbs, or gluten. Remember that no one wants to be the girl or guy sitting on the corner trying to find your dignity down the street the next day. That look is not cute on anyone.
4. Be an unapologetic question-asker and boundary-setter.
If you don’t ask questions, you’ll never know. Simple as that.
Boundaries are paramount. I struggled setting and standing by my boundaries when I was younger. I felt I was apologizing for everything whether I needed to apologize or not.
I had a professor tell me one time, “Never apologize for something you purposely set out to do with good intentions or a minor mistake simply because you’re human. If you go through life always apologizing, people will take you a lot less seriously, and so will you.”
Healthy boundaries are there to protect you. Don’t apologize for special needs, non-negotiables, and protecting your energy. Maybe you require more alone time or maybe you don’t feel like going out. Own your boundaries or people will continue to step over the line.
5. Be a realistic relentless optimist.
Accept the facts but choose to always look for the silver linings.
Thoughts become things. Most would prefer to be around people who radiate joy and positivity.
I have a letter board in my kitchen that reads, “Stay close to the people who feel like sunshine.” I choose to be one of those people and bring the sunshine more than the rain.
Remember, just because you have special needs or a chronic illness does not mean you have to dull your sparkle.