Professional chef Ryan Van Voorhis shares his go-to meal choices for days when he is navigating a Crohn’s disease flare.
When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 15, I tried every medication and therapy available to me. For years, despite many efforts, none of these treatments succeeded in helping me achieve prolonged remission.
At 19 years old, I visited the Mayo Clinic. After numerous uncomfortable and invasive tests, it was discovered my large colon was inflamed. The inflammation was so severe that my team of doctors strongly recommended I have it removed completely.
I was told I would need a permanent ileostomy bag.
This felt like an extremely scary and life changing decision to make, especially at such a young age. I ultimately decided that if a permanent ileostomy would not only change my life for the better but potentially save it, I was all in.
The surgery took place between my junior and senior years of college. Now, 20 years later, nutrition and hydration are still a critical part of my daily routine and health management.
Seeing firsthand the impact that diet and nutrition can have when you live with a chronic condition like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) actually led me to make a big career change.
After 15 years of working as a licensed clinical therapist, I decided to create a health and wellness brand called Nude Dude Food. Nude Dude Food is a team of private chefs focusing on using all locally-sourced and seasonal ingredients and specializing in the unique dietary needs of people living with IBD.
When it comes to dietary concerns, one key thing I’ve learned over the years as a chef and as someone living with Crohn’s disease and an ileostomy is that everybody’s food tolerances and needs are different.
As I share my go-to daily meals during a flare, it’s important to keep in mind that what works for me may not work for you.
I’m thankful my body can tolerate gluten because baking homemade sourdough bread is my specialty. When I have a fresh loaf in the house, it’s often my go-to for breakfast in the morning.
Unlike most store-bought breads, homemade sourdough is free of additives or ingredients that make it more shelf-stable. Sourdough bread is typically made of flour, water, and salt. It often involves a long fermentation process, which can make it much easier to digest. This may make it especially beneficial for people living with IBD.
The way I prepare the sourdough toast depends on what ingredients I have on hand. Often I’ll turn to soft scrambled eggs and some avocado and have a smoothie on the side.
A smoothie — whether after a workout, as a snack, or paired with a meal — is my favorite quick and easy way to fit more healthy calories in my diet. Keeping a bag of frozen fruit in the freezer can be a lifesaver. Additionally, protein powder or powdered greens can be an efficient way to add different nutrients into your diet that you aren’t getting enough of elsewhere.
For me, breakfast is critical for my body, even when I am not experiencing a flare. Because of my ileostomy, food passes through me much more quickly than it would in people who have a full gastrointestinal tract. For that reason, I wake up feeling pretty depleted — and what better way to kick-start the day than with a healthy breakfast?
When I’m short for time or need something on the go, I’ll grab a banana and maybe some instant oatmeal. Both of these are great sources of fiber and help thicken my output. Outside of a flare, I’ve found that choosing just one of these options works best since I don’t want to cause a blockage.
Lunch varies based on the type of day I am having. I’ll turn to different lunch options depending on whether I’m working in the kitchen, traveling, or at home working around the house.
The tough thing about living with a chronic illness is how unpredictable it can be. Running a small business means I often am not able to call in sick to work. Having easily digestible food options on hand has been a necessity. Bone broths, smoothies, and protein bars are my go-to choices when I’m short on time.
I’ve also found that electrolyte tablets that I can add to water can make a big difference for me. I’ve tried many kinds over the years, and they do my body wonders when I’m in a flare and dehydrated. These are great to throw in your backpack, jacket pocket, or purse, and I’ve found them to really come in handy.
If I have more time to eat lunch, I may grill some chicken thighs or sauté some ground chicken. Then I’ll throw that over steamed jasmine rice. This meal is easy on my stomach, full of protein, and always reminds me of a trip I took to Thailand.
Comfort food and fond vacation memories are a great way to stimulate your appetite when you’re feeling sick.
Like lunch, what I have for dinner often changes depending on my schedule. The strategy that I’ve found works best for me in making dinners more manageable is planning ahead.
There is no secret formula to meal prepping, but it all starts with a plan and a solid grocery list. Being prepared in the kitchen and having all of your ingredients prepped is often referred to by the French term, “mise en place,” which translates to putting everything in its place.
My go-to dinners at home usually don’t look like what I serve my clients, but they get the job done and keep me feeling good.
Dinner often consists of some roasted root vegetables (easier to digest than raw), a grilled protein (often chicken or salmon), and a carb like rice, a baked potato, or a sweet potato.
Another trick I often recommend to my clients is trying purées. Puréed veggies can be like smoothies but savory, and they make for a more easily digestible pairing to your dinner course. You can try vegetables you otherwise wouldn’t think to prepare like carrots, beets, celery root, and more.
I’m a strong believer that living with IBD doesn’t mean you have to always eat bland food. Often the trick is in the preparation.
At the end of the day, when in a flare, having a balanced diet is critical to fuel your body with the nutrients it needs to help you get back on track. However, a “balanced diet” can look different to different people.
While this is an example of what I eat in a day during a flare, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone living with Crohn’s has distinct nutritional needs.
I currently manage my symptoms through diet and exercise, but what works for me may not work for you. It’s always a good idea to consult your doctor to ensure what you put on your plate is what is best for your body.
Medically reviewed on March 02, 2022
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