Sunday, February 16, 2014

Embracing Our Bodies, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By: Erin Naimi, R.D.

I met with a young man the other day who was recently diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. Steven and his parents visited my office so we could discuss how to accommodate the dietary restrictions that have been placed upon him as a result of this condition. As I laid out the range of food choices he no longer had at his disposal, Steven listened, took note, and received the limitations that were set before a surprising level of self composure. Despite his unruffled exterior, I can imagine how perturbed he must have felt to have his life changed, in this way, at 19. 

For those of you who are lucky enough to be unfamiliar with this condition, ulcerative colitis (UC) is a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).   It is an auto-immune disease in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores, or ulcers, that produce pus and mucous. It’s a condition that has no cure (as of yet), and one in which your body essentially attacks itself- or namely the lining of its intestinal wall.  Though chronic, the disease can have indefinite periods of remission. However, in the midst of a flare-up, the symptoms of UC usually include painful abdominal cramps, persistent and uncontrollable diarrhea, and blood in the stools. Symptoms are generally (and often successfully) managed with medications and dietary modifications. However, in cases where the first line of treatment is not efficacious, the last resort is surgical resection of the infected part of the colon, referred to as a colectomy.

Imagine getting that news the next time you go to the doctor’s office.

At 19 years old, this young man’s life has been altered in an incredibly unexpected way. One day he’s an average highschool kid, and next thing you know he’s in college, dealing with a lot more than just frat parties and final exams.  Life can really be unfair. 

Through the course of my career as a dietitian and course of my life as human being, I’ve witnessed the innumerable ways in which the human body manages to malfunction- rarely, with any warning.   Yet, despite all the physical and emotional “break-downs” I’ve observed, and all the unfairness I’ve beheld, what I also know to be true is how amazingly and effortlessly the human body can work- ideally, at its best & healthiest. If anyone needs a reminder of that, turn on your TV to the Olympic Games and behold the wonders of the human body. 

Even for us average folk who have no ambitions of becoming world class athletes our bodies function in a myriad of dynamic ways, (ones we rarely take notice of) each and every moment of each and every day.

Take a moment… and a deep breath (those are your lungs at work), and notice all the wonders of YOUR body in this very moment.

When was the last time you paid attention to any part of your body that was not in pain or that you weren’t trying to change? If you’re like most of us, it’s probably been way too long.   If you don’t take this opportunity on a regular basis, please take it now… notice all the parts of your body that are functioning, effortlessly, without pain- in this moment.

Your legs, did they accompany you to the place you’re sitting now, without pain? Your knees & hips, are they your original parts or replacements? Your tummy, are you worried about the extra layer of fat you wish you could get rid of,  or can you take a moment to feel grateful for all that it digests for you each and every day, flatulence included! How is your back?  Are you able to bend over to put your shoes on without getting stuck in that position? If so, congratulations! If you’re reading this now, well, please be thankful for your eyes and for the fact that someone taught you to read along the way.  If you do have any injuries or medical conditions, I probably don’t need to remind you that life is unfair and that having all your parts in tact is such a luxury! I can only imagine how badly you wish you could have your “old body” back.

We spend so much time trying to change our bodies, lamenting over all its little exterior flaws that we forget to take note of all that we have working in our favor… healthy intestines and all.

It’s no big deal I guess. We’re all entitled to take things for granted- and in reality we all do. I wonder though, how it might change the course of your day and your even your life if (in addition to fantasizing about all the things you want to change) you take just a few moments to pay homage to your body and all its little parts: the beautiful and ugly parts combined-the bones, muscles, joints, connective tissue, organs, arteries, skin (natural or botox’d), hair, nails, fat and all! The parts that are drooping and the parts you will miss seeing in their original positions one day.  It will ALL change…. better to take notice now before they do. Oh how I wish someone had given me this advice when I was 19, maybe it would have saved me all those years of agony over the harmless dimples on my thighs!

I wonder if Steven, and other individuals living with UC,  used to notice and appreciate the ease with which they were able to eat a meal or get through the day (prior to the onset of their symptoms), without pain or discomfort, or concern regarding the location of the closest bathroom at any given time.  I wonder how he feels now, about his body.  Does he lament this condition? Does he now have a greater appreciation for all that remains well and healthy?

These parts of ours, they are all loaner parts, and are not ours to keep forever, if we’re lucky they won’t break down much before we have to give them back….

My challenge to you:  Start and end each day by considering 3 things about your body that you appreciate- each day and every day, at least for the next week. It’s a lot more fun if you can do it without your body having to remind you.          

Hey, what have you got to lose…?  Well, actually, that remains to be seen.