Living LifeWise: Learning I Have Crohn’s Disease

Living Lifewise Sunday, October 20, 2013 Written by

Living LifeWise is a regular column provided by LifeWise Ambassadors – LifeWise employees whose healthy choices are helping them live better lives. Today’s column is provided by LifeWise Ambassador Sarah Swanberg.

Crohn’s disease is an immune disease that attacks the gastrointestinal tract and affects as many as 700,000 Americans. I’m one of them.

Sarah Swanberg

Something’s not quite right

Several months ago I started having severe stomach pains that had me doubling over and cringing. Something didn’t feel right. However, rather than trust my intuition and go to the doctor, I decided to wait and see if the pain would go away on its own. It didn’t. Soon I was going to the bathroom 17 times a day. I even had a hard time getting out of bed because my stomach hurt so much.

When the constant diarrhea kicked in, I decided it was time to see my doctor. At first she told me it was a bug and to take an over-the-counter anti-diarrheal and come back if it didn’t get better. It didn’t. I went back in to see her and was referred to a gastroenterologist who told me I had Crohn’s disease.

Now what?

Finding out I have Crohn’s disease was horrifying, scary and confusing. I had mountains of information thrown at me and all I could think was, “Am I going to feel this way forever?” My doctor suggested an elimination diet that would help me identify the foods that trigger flare ups. For 30 days, there would be no dairy or gluten for this lady. Let me tell you, for someone who puts creamer in her coffee, enjoys a delicious sandwich on a baguette and thinks that the world revolves around cheese, this isn’t easy. I’ve also removed caffeine and alcohol from my world. All of the fun things, really.


Leading a healthy life is no longer an option for me. It’s mandatory. Crohn’s disease can be partially managed through medication. However, if I don’t take care of myself, medication can only do so much. Right now my focus is on learning to manage my diet. I eat smaller meals more frequently. I drink coconut or almond milk instead of cow’s milk. I cook with olive oil instead of butter. I have found new ways to enjoy quinoa and brown rice. It’s all about balance now.

It’s terrifying to know that I will have this disease for the rest of my life – there is no cure for Crohn’s. I have days when I feel OK, and others when I feel so sick that I don’t want to get out of bed. I have days where I only run for the restroom 10 times (that feels like a win right now). But I’m hopeful that with diet, exercise and stress management, I’ll be able to keep this under control and enter remission soon.

You can find out more information on Crohn’s or other inflammatory bowel diseases, at the CCFA website.



Sarah Swanberg is on the continuous path of finding the right balance between nutrition and exercise – the two things that have always plagued her. Having recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, Sarah is learning to enjoy her new gluten-free lifestyle and all the adventures that come with it. Living LifeWise is part of Sarah’s quest to live a long and healthy lifestyle. Sarah works in Communications for LifeWise and lives in Ballard.