How I Overcame Crohn’s Disease
All I can do is tell you what I did. I’m not a doctor and although I did a lot of testing and structured experimentation, I didn’t do any official form of clinical study. All I know is that in the end I’m medicine and pain free, and I feel better than ever. If you haven’t seen it, take a look at my talk at TEDxEast on the subject for a quick overview. It’s important to make a distinction between being cured and being in remission. I have received criticism for claiming to have cured myself of this disease, but I stick by it. The definition of cure is the relief from symptoms of a disease. There is no time limit on that definition or an implication of something temporary. More importantly, illnesses like Crohn’s and other inflammatory diseases put you in a constant battle with yourself because everything you do can have a positive or negative effect. It’s really easy to throw in the towel when you have limited information or apparent options. I am cured of this disease because it were to ever rear it’s ugly head again, I would be able to attack it with confidence and I would overcome it again. There is not a single shred of doubt in my mind that any attempt the illness might make to take me down would be completely futile. I have the knowledge and the calm, which means I have the power. This is not remission for I have won.
I tried testing everything I could think of with the hopes that it might have some correlation to how I was feeling. My doctor had run lots of blood tests, colonoscopies, endoscopies, barium transport studies, CAT scans, and sonograms (surprisingly the only test that had me weeping on the examination table). Most of these were performed under conditions of inflammation, meaning there wasn’t a healthy version to compare it to. When I started my own testing I started with what I thought was the most obvious, food. The problem with food tracking when you have an illness like Crohn’s is the amount of variety. I know a Crohn’s sufferer who can’t eat chocolate, and another who couldn’t handle ice cream. I was never able to find a specific trigger food for me and the hunt is compounded by the fact that environmental and emotional factors play into your levels of inflammation. So was it the spicy food or the fight with your girlfriend, it was always hard to tell. I tracked sleep, exercise (which was restricted by how weak I felt), mood, bowel movements, and even urine for a little while. Then I went more clinical and had gene testing done, a DEXA scan, semen analysis, and personal blood testing with InsideTracker. The resulting data takes up several hundred pages and I was able to find several correlations that helped me but I also came to the conclusion that no two Crohn’s patients are alike.
I was really weak when I started but I began with yoga thanks to my wife. Vinyasa yoga was a really good mix of strength and flexibility. The overall process was very calming to me which I believe was it’s most important benefit. The best thing you can do for a disease like this is reduce stress. However, it also provided beneficial twists and inversions which massaged internal organs and invigorated the abdominal nervous system. For cardio I tried the Insanity DVD series and lost 24 pounds in just two months. I started Krav Maga, the Israel Martial Art. The level of brutality involved was a very important release for the “internal rage” caused by a constant battle with my own body. Eventually I turned to triathlon training and found that endurance sports turned my body into a furnace for any food that I might put into it. Ironman France was the hardest thing I ever went through, not even my worst Crohn’s attack lasted 14 hours.
We realized that I needed to reset my body and clean it out. I went completely vegetarian for 3 months. I was eating a lot of greens and whole grains. I never went gluten free and I don’t believe there was ever a gluten issue for me. Eventually I reintroduced fish as my main source of protein. Now my diet is pretty well rounded with 95% of my meals prepared at home, almost no dairy (though I don’t avoid milk and cheese like the plague, just limit it), whole grains, lots of leafy greens, a ton of good fat (grass fed butter, olive oil, avocados), and no processed sugar (maple syrup, honey, agave are ok in moderation). Also, I have found that the timing of meals has a big effect on how I feel. I have run the gambit from eating six meals a day to eating two and what I’ve found consistent is that when I try to concentrate my meals towards the center of the day, things go much better. I always work out in the morning before I have breakfast so I usually won’t have my first meal until about 2 hours after I wake up which gives my metabolism a chance to get going. I also try not to eat after 8 at night so my body has a couple of hours to digest before I go to sleep.
I get a custom vitamin pack made by VitaminsOnDemand.com. It’s cheaper, automatically ships to me, and is neatly divided into daily packs with what I need. You can get your supplements anywhere I just find this the most efficient. Every day I take:
1) Krill Oil 500mg
2) Probiotic Complex 8Bn Units (Lactobacillus acidopholus, Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacterium longum)
3) Cat’s Claw 500mg
4) Garlic 60mg
5) Ginger Root 1.08g
6) Iron 30mg
7) Vitamin B Complex
This is the biggest one in my opinion because so many conditions have a stress component to them and many people can attest to having some stressful event result in a pit in their stomach. Sometimes those pits become ulcers, sometimes they become irritable bowel disease, and sometimes they even become cancer. I could get very philosophical right now about how we have one life to live and it’s about the moments that take your breath away, etc, etc…but this isn’t about a bucket list. This is about understanding our bodies responses to stress and then training our nervous system to mitigate those effects. If you don’t think the body can be trained to be more resilient just ask a Navy SEAL. People are not born with the ability to sit in silence in a jungle without moving or speaking for two days, killing an enemy from 1000 yards, then sleeping through the night shortly thereafter. Behavior like that needs to be trained. You’re body can handle nearly any level of stress if it doesn’t consider it to be stress.
In Krav Maga, when you train, even at a beginner level, you will get hit in the face and other parts of your body. The first time, it’s pretty shocking. Honestly, the 10th time is pretty shocking. Then something amazing happens, the next time you get hit you don’t even notice until you’ve delivered your “response” and your opponent is lying on the ground. Only then do you feel a tinge in your jaw, but instead of describing the sensation as painful, you smile because it reminds you of what you just did. The head of my Krav Maga school would say “No matter what happens in a fight, you’re both going to have a medical bill, the idea is for yours to be smaller than theirs.” When I was readying myself for Ironman France, I was incredibly nervous about the swim. I had done the distance many times but it’s a well known fact that triathlon swims are very aggressive and people just keep paddling and kicking no matter who or what is in their way. So when the buzzer went off I started swimming as fast as I could and spread myself away from some other people. 300 yards into the swim I was feeling pretty good and then a guy hit me square in the back of the head with a closed fist just as I was coming up for a breath. In that instant I remembered two things. First, I’d been hit before many times and I was fine, and second, my swim coach had me end every session with hypoxic training, swimming underwater with shorter and shorter breaks to come up for air so by the final lap you were either blacking out or your lungs were ready to pull the eject handle. It made me just swim harder and faster, climbing right over the guy that hit me and possible kicking him in the goggles as I passed.
You can train resilience through stress acclamation, meditation, and heart rate variability training, or just get in a boxing ring with someone bigger than you. Oh, and something has to drive you to want to feel better, pain is enough to do it but it’s nice to have something else too. Behold my three sons.
As I’ve tried to stress, everyone’s situation is different, the point is that there is a way to at least make yourself feel better and I hope this information is helpful. I do work with individuals to plan tracking and testing protocols and coaching throughout the process. Check out my Contact page to setup a consultation.