What to Do During an Ulcerative Colitis Flare

Stephanie Eckelkamp
Medically Reviewed
January 31, 2021

If diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, you’ll likely experience a flare-up at some point, despite your best prevention efforts. When this happens, there are a few ways you’ll need to tweak your normal routine to minimize the severity of your symptoms and get back into remission ASAP. Even some of your typically healthy habits like loading up on veggies may be a no-go. Here are a few natural remedies that may help:

1. Cut out raw veggies and other gut irritants.

In the midst of a ulcerative colitis flare, you want to be as gentle on your digestive system and colon as possible. “Give your gut a little vacation,” says Cohen. This ideally means eliminating or scaling back on: raw vegetables, raw and cooked fruits, high-fat foods (e.g. fatty cuts of meat), high fiber foods (e.g. beans, lentils, whole grains), spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages. Basically, any food that takes significant digestive effort or stimulates the bowels.

2. Opt for easy-to-digest foods.

Focus on getting the bulk of your nutrition from cooked vegetables and easy-to-digest proteins like fish, lean meats, and eggs. Consuming some meals in the form of soups made with bone broth (which contains L-glutamine), smoothies, and veggie purees is also a great idea, says Cohen. These are much less abrasive on the gut and take less energy to digest. This allows energy to be diverted to more urgent matters, like healing the gut and taming inflammation.

2. Eat smaller meals.

Large meals can overstimulate the bowel and make ulcerative colitis symptoms like diarrhea worse. Keep meals on the smaller side and never eat until you’re stuffed. The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation recommends 4-6 small meals per day as opposed to three larger meals.

3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Because ulcerative colitis flares are accompanied by diarrhea, dehydration is a real concern. And while you don’t want to chug water, since this could further stimulate diarrhea, you do want to sip on liquids throughout the day—ideally liquids with electrolytes like coconut water or bone broth, says Cohen. Electrolytes may become depleted after bouts of diarrhea, but they are essential for maintaining proper hydration and fluid balance in the body.

4. Find ways to chill out.

All of the stress-busting suggestions above are extra important when you’re in the midst of a flare-up. Cohen also recommends implementing deep breathing exercises before every meal, as this “relaxes your body and mind allows you to digest more optimally.” And, since you’ll be eating 4-6 smaller meals, this is a great way to get a dose of calm at multiple points in the day.

Why working with a qualified care team is so important when it comes to managing ulcerative colitis

People being treated for UC typically aren’t getting dietary or lifestyle advice, which is a huge disservice, says Cohen. But managing ulcerative colitis and preventing (or at least delaying) flare-ups can be done! You just might need a little help from the experts.

Because UC isn’t one-size-fits-all and triggers are highly individual, enlisting the help of a care team like the clinicians at Parsley Health is wise. Providers can provide individualized supplement protocols based on lab testing, customized eating plans for periods of remission and flares, and communicate with your current GI doctor if necessary to streamline care.

Stephanie Eckelkamp

Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and certified health coach based in Allentown, PA. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. Her work has appeared in Martha Stewart Living, mindbodygreen, Greatist, Women's Health, Men's Health, Prevention, and Good Housekeeping. When she's not writing or nerding out on the latest health news, she's most likely on a walk with her pup Lucy Goose or trying to convince her boyfriend to eat more broccoli.

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