Ulcerative Colitis: How to Boost Your Energy
For people experiencing an ulcerative colitis flare, fatigue is one of the most common side effects that occur outside of the GI tract. And fatigue doesn’t necessarily go away when the flare is over: According to a study published in September 2011 in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, 30 percent of people whose ulcerative colitis was in remission experience fatigue anyway.
Although fatigue can seriously deplete your energy reserves, certain lifestyle changes can help you fight back. Here are eight strategies you can try.
Catch Some Z’s
A good night’s sleep can help you feel more rested throughout the day. “I try to sleep for at least 10 hours,” says Brooke Bogdan, 28, a public relations professional from Cleveland who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2013. “If I get less than nine hours,” she says, “I don’t feel well.”
Bogdan recommends that you go to bed and get up at the same time every day. If you struggle to fall asleep at night, make sure you don’t look at a screen before bed. A study published in the journal PLOS ONE in November 2016 found that people who spent more time on their smartphones in the hours before falling asleep logged less quality sleep time than those who weren’t glued to their cells. The researchers suggest that the blue light emitted by electronic devices may suppress a person’s production of melatonin, a hormone that helps people feel tired.
Although exercise can boost your energy, going for a run or lifting weights can be challenging when you already feel exhausted. Bogdan tries to remedy this problem by going to the gym first thing in the morning, before a long workday tires her out.
Exercising with other people can also be a good motivator, says Effie Siamalekas, 25, a videographer in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2015. Although she’s been in remission since July 2016, she occasionally feels tired and tries to stay active by playing soccer, going to a driving range, or rock climbing with friends.
Eat a Healthy Diet
When you’re tired, you may be tempted to eat something sweet for an instant energy boost. But that’s a bad idea because that brief sugar high will inevitably turn into a sugar crash. Choose foods like eggs, peanut butter, and oatmeal (if you can tolerate fiber) instead, says Neilanjan Nandi, MD, a gastroenterologist and an assistant professor at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia.
Staying hydrated is also important when you’re battling fatigue, says Emily Parris, 22, who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2013 and recently had her colon removed. She tries to drink half her body weight in ounces per day. “Drinking a lot of water is a challenge,” she says, “but it makes me feel much better.”
Open Up to Friends and Family
If you’re feeling too tired to go to a relative’s birthday party, for example, be honest about it. Parris says she hid her fatigue from family and friends for a long time because she was embarrassed. “But after I shared what I was going through, they were really supportive,” she says. “Plus, it made me stop looking like a flake when I couldn’t go out. They understood the real reason instead of me having to try and make up an excuse.” Speaking up about her ulcerative colitis allowed Parris to help her friends and relatives better understand what she was going through so that they could be more supportive.
Address Emotional Fatigue
Living with ulcerative colitis can be emotionally exhausting, especially during flares. Even when you’re in remission you can feel as if you’re “walking on eggshells,” Parris says, because you’re constantly worried about another flare.
In addition, people with ulcerative colitis often feel alone. A review published in March 2016 in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases found that people with inflammatory bowel disease have higher rates of anxiety and depression than people who don’t. If you feel emotionally overwhelmed by your symptoms, ask your doctor for help.
Plan Your Day Carefully
If you’re experiencing an ulcerative colitis flare, you have only a limited amount of energy to spare. If you usually feel more energetic in the morning, plan to tackle your most demanding tasks at that time. Don’t overcommit when it comes to your social calendar. “Be realistic with yourself and know your limits,” says Parris. She recommends that you pick one or two events a week and plan for them. For example, if you have an upcoming dinner on a Saturday night, she says, spend that morning and afternoon relaxing instead of running errands.
Monitor Your Iron Levels
If you’ve experienced blood loss from an ulcerative colitis flare, your fatigue may be a sign of iron deficiency — something that affects about 60 to 80 percent of people with inflammatory bowel disease, according to a review published in 2013 in the journal Annals of Gastroenterology. At the same time, suggests a study published in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases in December 2016, more than a third of people with anemia and ulcerative colitis may not be tested for iron deficiency.
Other symptoms of iron deficiency may include chest pain and pale or yellow skin. Your doctor can check your iron level with a blood test and treat any deficiency with oral supplements or iron infusions. Once you’ve replenished your iron stores, consider eating more iron-rich foods, like meat, fish, and cooked leafy green vegetables.
Give Yourself a Break
The fatigue you feel because of ulcerative colitis is much more severe than the tiredness a healthy person feels after a long day. Plus, it’s usually accompanied by other symptoms. “If I’m really tired,” says Bogdan, “I will also get nauseated.” Says Parris, “Going to the bathroom multiple times a day is tiring for anybody. It’s basically like having the stomach flu 24/7 until you can get the flare under control.”
Bogdan recommends that you listen to your body and rest when you need to. “Don’t push yourself,” she says. If you sense a flare coming on, taking a break or a nap is a good idea, especially because it might help you feel better later. “Don’t feel that you have to keep up with everyone else,” Bogdan says. “You have a chronic illness that you have to manage.”