3 Reasons Why You Need to Rebuild Your Strength with IBD

I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) at the age of 27. Prior to my diagnosis I was unable to eat or drink for a few weeks without painful and debilitating side-effects. Basically, my immune system was attacking my digestive track and anytime I ate I felt pain. So I basically stopped eating because I was unable to keep anything down. This led to massive weight loss, fatigue, pain, and a general feeling of suckiness (medical term). I was hospitalized and released with a diagnosis of a disease I had never heard of before.

Weak and confused I needed answers. I was afraid of food. I was unsure how I would regain my lost weight (about 50 pounds).

How would I regain any strength while feeling so weak?

I wasn’t sick enough to be hospitalized yet I wasn’t healthy or strong enough to exactly do cart-wheels…or even walk around the block!

Maybe you are somewhere in between sick and healthy and simply trying to manage your way through life each day…not exactly sick to the point of needing hospitalization but not really thriving and living life to the fullest.

I understand because I’ve been there before.


The 'before' pictures
The ‘before’ pictures January 2013 after my first IBD flare

I know what it feels like to feel fatigued, weak, and frail. I know what it feels like to have almost no muscle mass or strength.

But I also know what it feels like to rebuild and truly appreciate Strength and why it is vitally important for recovery with a chronic, autoimmune disease like IBD.

Here are 3 reasons why you need to rebuild your strength with IBD:

1. Strength helps you manage stress – According to a CCFA.org article, “People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) commonly believe that stress can trigger their symptoms, and a new study suggests they may be right.” When I feel stressed I literally feel weaker. This article backs up this feeling. There are actual physiological reactions to our stress. Stress, and/or anxiety, can lead to hyperventilation, reduced blood flow, muscle tension and fatigue, and perceived weakness.

So we know stress/anxiety are no good. We know that we need outlets that help us release these feelings. Activities that help promote strength recovery also help us manage stress. When I say strength I understand our IBD situation. We aren’t exactly going to start powerlifting just yet! But we can rebuild strength by literally rolling around on the floor, crawling, and mimicking how babies and little children move.


Next time you start to feel the tension of stress start moving like a child. You’ll feel more relaxed, stronger, and might find a smile on your face.

2. Strength helps create a strong mind – More physical strength will carry over into mental, emotional, and even spiritual strength. According to Rick Hanson’s, Buddha’s Brain

“Your body has numerous major systems, including the endocrine (hormone), cardiovascular, immune, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. If you want to use the mind-body connection to lower your stress, cool the fires, and improve your long-term health, what’s the optimal point of entry into all of these systems? It’s the autonomic nervous system (ANS).This is because the ANS—which is part of the larger nervous system—is intertwined with and helps regulate every other system. And mental activity has greater direct influence over the ANS than any other bodily system. When you stimulate the parasympathetic wing of the ANS, calming, soothing, healing ripples spread through your body, brain and mind.
Along with the sympathetic nervous system, it’s one of the two main divisions of the autonomic nervous system. Whereas the sympathetic nervous system is in charge of the fight-or-flight response, our parasympathetic system helps us chillax.Hanson provides a bunch of different ways we can activate our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), starting with relaxation.He tells us: “Relaxation engages the circuitry of the PNS and thus strengthens it. Relaxing also quiets the fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system, since relaxed muscles send feedback to the alarm centers in the brain that all is well. When you’re very relaxed, it’s hard to feel stressed or upset. In fact, the relaxation response may actually alter how your genes are expressed, and thus reduce the cellular damage of chronic stress.”
More strength allows for more movement which releases more endorphins (the “feel-good” chemicals).

More endorphins make us feel better.

The more we feel better the more we promote health and vitally which help prevent disease and illness.

3. Strength helps you live again  after my diagnosis in 2008 it felt like my life was put on hold. I moved back home with my parents. I was out of work for months. I had no social life. IBD took 50 pounds off my body. It took my strength and my desire to live life to the fullest. It was a long time before I felt like myself again.

It was strength-training that got my life back on track.

I had always been interested in fitness and strength-training and I used these to help rebuild my body – which helped rebuild my life. When I was weak and frail from my IBD I was embarrassed and avoided meeting new people or even hanging out with friends. I dreaded the question, “what have you been up to lately?” because it meant I’d have to explain why I was so thin or talk about IBD and the associated symptoms. 

But by regaining my strength with each workout and seeing my body recover weight and strength I began to feel reborn. I wasn’t very strong but doing a set of pushups meant that I had accomplished something…and that meant progress!


IBD can make it feel like your body has hit rock bottom. But remember what JK Rowling said,

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

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