Rooted In Wonder:
Nurturing Your Family's Faith Through God's Creation
Master Naturalist, Bible teacher, author, wife, and mama of four! Join our adventures of discovering God while adventuring in creation.
On Monday we stepped into the home of the Olson family and met Scott, Brittany, and their two young children. Brittany was diagnosed 5 years ago with Crohn’s disease. Be sure to read part 1 of their story to learn how this diagnosis was made, what exactly Crohn’s disease is, and the prognosis for Brittany. Today we’re going to see just how Crohn’s affects the Olson family on a day-to-day basis, and what hope might be offered to Brittany through whole foods!
During my interview with Brittany, I asked her how Crohn’s disease affects her throughout day-to-day life as a stay-at-home-mom. She explained that many times her disease prevents her from going out. Before even a simple trip to the grocery store (well, as simple as a trip to the grocery store can be with young children…), Brittany has to stop and ask herself if it’s really worth the possible hassle.
Is it really worth the trouble if she has to abandon her groceries, carry her purse and daughter, keep tabs on her son, and navigate a restroom in a moment’s notice?
Another trip out she has to put some forethought into is dining at restaurants. Most restaurants only offer foods that would aggravate the symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Even if they offer foods that Brittany’s body would deem acceptable, there are just far too many other tempting options on the menu. Driving past a restaurant one day, Brittany made a comment to her husband that people so often take for granted the ability to order whatever they want off a menu. They can enjoy eating out at their leisure and pleasure, most often not fretful of the toll it will take on their bodies a few hours later. Brittany is not afforded this luxury.
The lowest Brittany’s Crohn’s disease has ever been was after giving birth to each of her children. Regular pregnancy and childbirth bring with them enough challenges on their own for a woman, adding Crohn’s disease to the equation resulted in the worst flare-ups Brittany had ever experienced. She compares the pain she experienced postpartum from the Crohn’s disease to the pain of labor itself.
Beyond childbirth, Brittany’s disease brings on challenges she must face in taking care of her children each and every day. As all moms know—we don’t get sick days. When mom is sick, the household still needs to be run. There are dishes to be washed, diapers to be changed, laundry piles to be tackled, tears to be wiped, and owies to be kissed.
Even the simplest of tasks can become quite overwhelming when juggling the demands of young motherhood while ill. Brittany explained to me that stress provokes the symptoms of Crohn’s. I can relate, as the absolute worst enemy of my Addison’s disease is stress. I can empathize with Brittany, because mothering young children most definitely involves a serious degree of stress. We love these precious little ones, but boy do they drive us crazy!
Brittany explained a vicious cycle which she often encounters. She can begin a day feeling quite well. However, if the kids give her a particularly rough time, and her level of stress increases, her Crohn’s begins to rear it’s ugly face. Because of this, Brittany has to spend more time in the bathroom and less time with the kids. Kids are not often sympathetic to any agenda besides their own, and so Brittany’s children in turn look for more attention, and she can’t take care of them in the moment. The kid’s get more upset, stress rises, symptoms worsen, all leading up to a debilitated wife by the time Scott arrives home from work.
As Brittany depicted to me what life with Crohn’s looks like, my respect grew more and more for her in how she faces these very real challenges. Brittany does not let her illness hold her back from life. She has too much to celebrate; a husband who loves her; two beautiful, healthy children, and the God who blessed her with this family.
Instead of allowing Crohn’s to run her life, Brittany is fighting back by trying various diets to help heal and nurture her body. Brittany is quick to admit that she struggles with these diets. Some of them are rather strict and she finds it difficult to adhere to them. The symptoms of Crohn’s are ungracious and unforgiving, though, and the smallest deviance from these diets can carry with it some heavy consequences.
One of the diets Brittany has tried is the Simple Carbohydrate Diet. In Brittany’s research, she has found the Simple Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) to offer the most hope to assuage symptoms and achieve remission, but it carries with it some very stringent guidelines.
“The Specific Carbohydrate Diet includes only very specific carbohydrates—those that require minimal digestive processes, are well absorbed, and leave virtually nothing to encourage microbial overgrowth in the intestine.” (Eat Well Feel Well, Conrad)
What does this look like? Well, in a way, whole foods! But it’s not quite that easy. The most successful way to begin the SCD is to start with cleansing the body of harmful carbohydrates and the damage they’ve caused. Brittany has tried this several times, eating only well-boiled, pureed vegetables, chicken broth, and homemade yogurt for days on end, but she has a hard time sticking to this bland diet long enough to reset her body. She once followed the SCD for three months, before kids and when caring for her illness was less complicated. During that time, she says, was when she felt her best since diagnosis.
Crohn’s is such a vastly complicated disease. Trying to work out in my own mind the effects diet has on a Crohn’s sufferer left me perplexed. Brittany has to avoid certain foods, even if they are whole and nutritious options. Currently she is trying to avoid all foods containing nightshades. This includes all potatoes, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, tamarios, pepinos, pimentos, paprika, and cayenne peppers. Some Crohn’s patients have found relief from symptoms by eliminating nightshades from their diets. Aren’t those all real, whole foods, though? They are. But they can wreak havoc on a damaged GI system.
Brittany also has to avoid any high-fiber foods, as well as raw food. Her body just cannot handle these foods correctly. The intestine is like a huge filtration system, absorbing nutrients, filtering out waste, and adapting to our diets. When the intestine is damaged, it can no longer properly absorb nutrients into the body. The body can no longer properly utilize the real, whole foods God gave us. And so those with Crohn’s must adapt.
Brittany now finds herself in a battle, as well as a classroom. She must fight the urge to give up and allow Crohn’s to rule her life and family. She must also pay detailed attention to her own body, finding what works for her, and what does not. When it comes to eating whole foods, her options are much more limited than someone without Crohn’s disease, and so her work is cut out for her. This is one thing I’ve observed in Brittany that challenges me in my own journey of eating to better my chronic illness—she’s not giving up. Even when she encounters disappointment and sickness after working so hard to better her health, she continues to learn, grow, and seek to better her health and the health of her family by eating intentionally.
Raising kids stirs something deep in our souls — an innate knowing that our time is finite. Taking my kids outside in creation, I’m discovering how to stretch our time and pack it to the brim with meaning. God’s creativity provides the riches of resources for teaching the next generation who He is and how He loves us. Join our adventure and discover inspiration and resources for refusing rush, creating habits of rest, living intentionally, and making the most of this beautiful life!