We all have different motivators for adopting a healthier lifestyle. Some of us do it to become better athletes. Others want to feel good. For Allison Guttman, the need for greater health and wellness was spurred by something more serious: Crohn's disease.
Healthy Lifestyle Strategies to Alleviate Crohn's Symptoms
“I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was a junior in high school,” reveals Allison, a Chicagoland physical therapist. Crohn’s disease is a chronic autoimmune disease, in which the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn’s patients may endure frequent abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss and periodic hospitalizations over the course of their entire lives.
Healthy Eating for More Energy and Less Stomach Pain
Although Allison’s case is not considered severe, she discovered early on a correlation between her lifestyle and her symptoms. “After a greasy meal my intestines would begin to play the xylophone, it felt like my stomach was growling for food, but I was always full lower in my abdomen,” explains the 28-year old, who holds a Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT).
To avoid this “xylophone” effect, she resolved to change her lifestyle, taking a 24-day healthy eating challenge that consisted of lean protein, fruits, vegetables, amino acids and multi vitamins. “While on the diet, I felt amazing—I had plenty of energy, wasn’t as tired and, best of all, I no longer had constant stomach pain.”
After the healthy eating challenge, Allison went back to eating processed foods and her symptoms returned. “I celebrated the completion of my challenge with a big greasy meal which left me in a world of pain,” she says. When she asked her doctor why this was, he explained that the GI tract in Crohn’s patients struggles to break down the components in greasy, processed foods.
At this point Allison realized that to effectively combat her illness, she had to change her lifestyle. Her improved, healthy lifestyle consists of two pillars: healthy eating and stress reduction. “It’s a way of life that can benefit everybody, regardless of their condition,” she explains.
Diet-wise, she has virtually eliminated processed foods, including burgers, pizza, jams, cake and several dairy products. “Those are ‘artificial’ foods that do not occur naturally in our environment,” she explains.
She now eats mostly natural, non-processed foods like chicken, nuts, rice and most kinds of fruits and vegetables. “These foods are more naturally suited to your body and make you feel better,” she mentions. Moreover, these foods alleviate her stomach pain and boost Allison’s energy levels.
Two Stress Reduction Strategies: Daily Routine with Exercise and Steam Showers
The other aspect of Allison’s healthy lifestyle, and one that is not as easy to manage, is stress reduction. “Stress can worsen Crohn’s disease symptoms by increasing GI inflammation,” she recalls after noticing the increase in symptoms during finals week at college. “I would say I have less stress now than in college, but I still implement a variety of strategies to manage it.”
One tool that she employs is establishing a daily routine, or rhythm, to control stress. “When you generally know what to expect each day and have an order to your life, you will find yourself worrying less,” she contends.
One major component of her daily routine is exercise, consisting of anything from an intense workout at the gym, to a peaceful walk with her husband. Exercise, she notes, increases the production of endorphins, or feel-good neurotransmitters, and improves focus, leading to reduced stress.
Another tool in her stress-reduction regimen is a relaxing steam shower. Steam rooms are meant to induce sweating, which provides numerous health benefits including body detoxification, pain relief, better blood circulation, etc. Some people use steam rooms to cure different ailments, while some others use them just to relax their body and mind.
A warm steam bath soothes aching muscles, cleanses away toxins from your body and makes you feel even better. Relaxation enhancements such as AromaSteam, ChromaSteam and MusicTherapy, work to transform your steam shower into a sensory spa.
“As a Physical Therapist, I know that much of our stress results from tense muscles,” she explains. “The benefits of steam is that it helps to soothe nerve endings and to warm up our muscles, relaxing them in the process. A steam room is also a great place to just close your eyes and forget your problems and wash away the stress.”
For Allison, living well by managing her diet and stress has perhaps reduced her need for Crohn’s disease medication. “I cannot state that improving my overall wellness is directly responsible for reducing Crohn’s impact on my life, but I certainly notice a correlation,” she asserts. She is currently talking with her doctor about whether her new lifestyle can supplant her need for medicine.
New-found Wellness Means Better Health and Quality of Life for Allison
No matter what the results of that discussion, Allison feels that her new-found wellness has greatly improved her quality of life. “Wellness in the form of a healthy diet, regular exercise and stress management is something everyone can benefit from,” she promises.
Be sure to check out Allison's blog, where she offers various healthy lifestyle tips.
What stress reduction strategies have you found successful? How do you embrace health and wellness in your life? What healthy lifestyle tips do you recommend? Let us know in the comments.