Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is an umbrella term used for conditions that involve inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Two main types of IBD are Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. These conditions are associated with gastrointestinal symptoms and symptoms outside the bowel, both of which can significantly affect the quality of life.
Body image dissatisfaction is commonly associated due to the impact of IBD. There are several factors that can lead to greater body image dissatisfaction, including disease activity, long-term use of steroids, skin involvement, joint and muscle involvement, surgery and living with an ostomy. The constant fluctuation between weight gain and loss can be another cause of body image dissatisfaction for people. Most people experience some weight loss during a flare (when the disease is active).
Ostomy, or stoma, is a surgically created opening for bowel movements to exit the body other than through the anus. After a stoma surgery, it often takes time to adjust and accept your changed body.
Of the major medications used in the treatment of IBD, steroids are most associated with body image dissatisfaction. Weight gain is a common side effect of long-term use of steroids.
Because of the nature of the disease and treatments, you may notice a constantly changing body. You may have also felt a loss of control and experienced lower self-esteem. It may feel like your body is rebelling against you, especially during active disease activity. During this time, it is important to keep a positive mindset and accept the changes that you cannot control, while taking control of what you can.
Keeping a positive body image can be a battle, and here are some ways to help you stay in control:
Be nice to yourself
Do not let the disease take over your life. Focus on building your self-esteem. Positive self-talk and reframing how you view things will help boost your self-confidence. Leaving little notes for yourself around the house with positive expressions or aspects of yourself that you love will make a huge difference to your mindset.
“Positive self-talk is to emotional pain as a pain pill is to physical pain.” – Edmond Mbiaka
If your body image dissatisfaction is due to stoma, nurture the positive feeling that stoma contributes to your well-being and being rid of your symptoms.
Also, remind yourself that you have IBD, and IBD does not have you. Start doing activities that you enjoy. Even simple things, like laughing, taking a long bath, reading, and listening to music, can help move you in a positive direction.
Incorporate physical activity of any form
Exercise may be the last thing you may do if you are experiencing a flare-up and fatigue. When you are in remission or your symptoms are mild, you can be active but do not push beyond your limits. Learn what you are capable of and scale your activities accordingly. Physical activity will relieve stress, improve immune function, and strengthen your body. Before making any significant changes to your level of activity, talk to your healthcare team.
Create a support system
Surround yourself with people who love you, and plan activities or spend time with them to fend off feelings of isolation. Avoiding social situations or meeting people will add to a feeling of isolation. Consider joining one or more support groups, as the members may have experienced what you are going through and can help you better deal with your issues
Work with your doctor and communicate honestly about how you feel
Many people do not seek help or discuss their mental and emotional health with others. They fear that others might see it as weakness. Do not be afraid to talk to your doctor regarding body image dissatisfaction. Your doctor can support you in many ways, including connecting you with a therapist or counselor knowledgeable about the effects of Crohn’s and colitis. Do not go on a restrictive diet if weight gain is an issue. Work with your doctor or dietitian to come up with an enjoyable and healthy eating plan.
Pursue relationships and stay in ongoing communication with your partner regarding how IBD is affecting you
For many people, IBD has prevented them from pursuing an intimate relationship. Body image can also play a role, in addition to fear of symptoms. Avoid wasting time on people who will not accept you due to your condition. If you are worried about how stoma might affect your partner’s relationship, it is not likely your stomach influenced the initial attraction. The key point is to maintain constant communication with your partner about these issues. If your partner does not know how you are feeling, it may lead to misunderstanding on both sides.
Though your body can be frustrating at times, focus on what your body can do. Reflect on the benefits of having a healing treatment plan, your support community, and having a healthy diet and lifestyle plan. Living with IBD should not limit you from having or doing what you want in life. Be patient, positive, and ask for support when you need it.
“Feeling beautiful has nothing to do with what you look like.”– Emma Watson
“Speak to your body in a loving way, it’s the only one you’ve got, it’s your home, and it deserves your respect.”– Iskra Lawrence
“Your body hears everything your mind says.”– Naomi Judd