On Ulcerative Colitis: Health & Tact

“Seriously?!  I wish I could have a health condition that made it so I couldn’t eat salads.”

Yes. Someone actually said that to me once.  It was not someone I knew well at all, at an event where food was provided and I did not bring my own.  (Sometimes this means my options are limited.)  The conversation went something like this:

Person Lacking Tact: Gosh, Lauren, no wonder you’re so skinny.  You’re hardly eating!

Me: I know.  Typically I eat more.  I have a health condition that limits what I can eat.

PLT: What health condition?

Me: Ulcerative colitis.

PLT: What is that?

Me: It really doesn’t make for great lunch conversation. It’s a digestive illness that makes it difficult for me to process certain foods, especially those high in fiber, like whole grains and raw fruits and vegetables.

PLT: So… what happens if you eat them?

Me: Like I said, it’s a digestive illness, so it’s probably not the best lunchtime conversation.

PLT: But you can’t eat salads?

Me: No, not really.

PLT: Seriously?!  I wish I could have a health condition that made it so I couldn’t eat salads.

Seriously?  No you don’t, and that is a pretty thoughtless thing to say.  To be clear, I don’t mind if people ask me about my ulcerative colitis.  I don’t mind talking about it, and I’ve certainly gotten more comfortable with it as time has gone by.  However, at a table full of acquaintances who are eating lunch, I’d prefer not to discuss my poop, thankyouverymuch.

Poop is not actually this cute, nor is it really a good topic of conversation for mealtimes.

It is situations such as this one that caused me to avoid social settings involving food for quite a while after my diagnosis.  Unless I was very comfortable with the group of people in attendance or knew in advance what would be served, I’d make an excuse and stay home.  The questions made me uncomfortable, and I was never sure how to politely divert attention away from me and my eating habits.

Most people go above and beyond to be accommodating and helpful when they find out about my UC.  Friends are always asking what they can serve me, trying to make sure they have options for me, and doing their best to make me feel comfortable.  I never expect them to go above and beyond, but it always touches me when people think to ask.  In most situations, I can find something that I am able to eat, and am happy to just eat that.

I still love food, and can find something I'll eat almost anywhere. (Please note that this photo was taken during MC200, a 200 mile relay during which my team and I lived in vans.)

I am always surprised when people pay attention to and question what I eat, as I can’t say that I pay much attention.  When I was very self-conscious about my UC, I got flustered and mumbled responses.  The comments made me feel sad and overwhelmed.  Six years later, I have learned how to deal with the questions, though I still find them pretty tactless at times.

When I find myself in these situations now, I try to answer questions as honestly, politely, and briefly as I can, especially if people are eating.  If it seems that someone really wants to know the details of the situation and is comfortable hearing about it, I am just plain honest.  My closest friends know more than they probably ever wanted to know about my digestive tract.  However, I’m an open book and still get a little squeamish talking about it at times.  There are probably many people living with similar conditions who are private and would prefer not to talk about it.

Have people ever asked prying questions you didn’t feel comfortable answering?  How did you handle it?


Other posts on ulcerative colitis:

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

On Living with Ulcerative Colitis: The Diagnosis

On Living with Ulcerative Colitis: Weeks Following the Diagnosis




Filed under Life, Living with Ulcerative Colitis

8 responses to “On Ulcerative Colitis: Health & Tact

  1. The Mother of All Inappropriate Questions (pardon the pun) occurs when a lady is pregnant. Besides the strangers petting your belly, people from all walks of life suddenly feel like asking about your weight, your poop, and your lady parts is the right thing to do. It is so bizarre! Did you give the lady the Stink Eye when she announced that she was “jealous” of your illness? If not, I just gave her one for you!

  2. Hmmm… where to begin. Since I am fascinated with all things medical, including poop as I am an IBS-er, I would probably be the one quizzing you about your condition. My question ? Do you need to, or how do you, handle the gas issue ?? Would I ask at lunch ? I would hope not. I will share that my son had disfiguring eczema on his face for three years. His first three years. So all those “he’s so cute!” comments you’d hope for with a baby were supplanted by “oh my god, what’s wrong with is face ???” which is what one woman shouted at me from across a mall. If that doesn’t count as inappropriate, I don’t know what does. Good for you for handling people’s curiosity and naivite with such grace. An opportunity to learn is never lost when one takes the time to teach.

    • Lauren

      Thanks for your comment! So sorry to hear that woman was so inappropriate with her comment to you!

      As for your question, it depends where I am and how dire the need is to get rid of the gas! At home, anything goes. In public, I try to use my discretion. :)

  3. Pingback: On Ulcerative Colitis: Health & Tact (via Forward is a Pace) | mycreativevoice

  4. I ride with two ladies who both have Crohn’s disease. They are a perfect match, as they can quiz each other “intelligently”. I get the impression they get a lot of interrogation from the public. For myself, I have high blood pressure and despite making all the right lifestyle changes, still have to take meds. I get a ton of well intentioned but annoying questions from people (do you limit salt, do you exercise (duh!)). Sometimes things are not as cut and dried as we would like them to be.

    • Lauren

      Isn’t it amazing that people think you haven’t taken charge of your health and tried the obvious solutions? I am constantly surprised by what people are willing to say!

      Huge hugs to your riding partners with Chron’s. It’s like UC’s worse cousin because it can effect the entire digestive tract! How wonderful for them to have a buddy who is equally active and can discuss concerns intelligently. Sports nutrition is a delicate balance for anyone, and digestive issues make it even worse!

  5. A boyfriend I had at the time I was getting really sick was super accomodating and very polite about everything. I was upfront about it pretty quickly (kinda had to be.) and he was very careful picking restaurants. Also he took me to the foodstore so we could “pick food to cook that wouldn’t make me sick.” Instead we had funnel cake for dinner (my pushing). You can imagine how that night ended. It was rough, to say the least. I think it freaked him out (hence me never really hearing from him again.) We were younger and I think the reality of a rough night freaked him (and, to be honest, me) out. Anyway.
    My loved ones have always been incredible, and I just don’t bring it up if I don’t feel comfortable. If people ask about my eating tendencies, I usually give a very vague “I have digestive tract issues” and questions normally don’t follow up with that!

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