My Life with Crohn’s Disease- 10 Years Later

Hi, hello!  Oh my, it’s been a long while- my typing fingers are rusty!  I’ve been mainly sharing on Instagram these days but I’m a wordy lady and those text-limited captions don’t let me go very deep or say very much.  So I’m BACK AND IT FEELS AMAZING!  Grab a cup of tea and settle in because as promised, I’m long winded.

FIRST AND FOREMOST: Thank you to my long haul ride or die readers!!!!  I truly love you and feel so deeply honored that you have chosen to stick with me for all of these years!  I will never be able to really express what it has meant in my life, but please know my gratitude for you runs DEEP.  When you reference our Palm Springs house in a DM or share one of my recipes from 5 years ago on your Instagram I pinch myself.  Connecting with you all has been THE GREATEST part of this journey.  From the bottom of my big ol soft heart, I thank you.

I’m approaching the ten year anniversary of my Crohn’s disease diagnosis and I’m feeling all of the things about it.  First, that diagnosis was really the catalyst for starting this site and for all of the changes that came for me in the past decade.  Time traveling back to a decade ago this month…. I was fully immersed in the rat-race and living in LA, working my bones off photographing weddings (35 in 2010, most requiring travel) and feeling every bit of the pressure and exhaustion that comes with that.  We’d just completed a move (to this house, miss you DesignSponge!) and I was prepping for another full-speed year.  And then the stomach pain started.  I was in and out of the doctor’s offices and ER until finally I was admitted for a week long stay, and shortly thereafter diagnosed.

That diagnosis shifted EVERYTHING.  I no longer had the option to put myself last and my business first.  And I knew I needed to spend more time focusing on myself- which is where this site was born, as a space for me to share things I loved in an attempt to make myself spend more time on things I loved and less time on working.  Silly me, I would later turn this things I love blog into a full-blown workaholic business but I’ll save that story for another day. Bottom line- sometimes tigers have a REALLY hard time changing their stripes.

I still remember the overwhelming feeling I had when the doctor told me that I had Crohn’s disease and gave me his bleak predictions for my future (that I’d need to have portions of my intestines removed likely within 5 years, that I would spend the rest of my life on medication).  Thankfully, I decided not to believe him and here I am a decade later with my intestines still intact and medication free.  Now, I will say that I don’t think medications are wrong or a bad idea or that I have any feelings about them other than that they weren’t for me then, and don’t seem to be for me now.  That could change.  Or not.  The thing I’ve learned most over the past decade is that I control FAR less than I believe I control in this life.  It only took me four decades to figure that one out.  HA!

So here are some details about my health journey that I am reflecting back on today….I started my healing process with a macrobiotic diet and lifestyle.  I became wholly convinced that processed foods, meat and dairy were the true cause of my illness and I could just eliminate those, keep my lifestyle/low stress and be all good!  That was a really nice theory and truly did work for a bit, but after a couple of years of my vegan diet I began to develop a whole new host of symptoms- heart palpitations, fatigue, crippling anxiety, with bouts of Crohn’s flares in between.  After appointments with a handful of Eastern medicine practitioners (Ayurvedic, Acupuncture) and a dabbling with Homeopathic doctors, the resounding message they all gave me was that my body needed animal protein.  I reintroduced eggs, then chicken, and eventually found that I was gaining strength and vitality that couldn’t be denied.

Unfortunately, even though I eliminated most of my symptoms, I never fully escaped the occasional Crohn’s flares.  And so I started exploring and experimenting with diet some more.  I tried GAPS, AIP, and Paleo.  I learned loads about ancient cooking techniques and the wisdom of our ancestors and their cultured foods.  I took a deep dive into understanding gut health and the role it plays in our immune system.  I saw a functional medicine doctor.  I experimented with probiotics and a variety of supplements.  And here is where I’m at now:  I think I’m pretty dang healthy.  Healthier than I have been in the past decade.  I’m eating a grain-free and vegetable heavy diet.  I eat a variety of pasture raised, organic meats- mostly from a local farm.  I avoid sugar, gluten and processed foods.  I exercise regularly, I try to minimize stress when possible (ok so 2020 was a complete failure at that. I don’t know how to NOT stress during a global pandemic- if I figure it out in 2021 I’ll let you know!). I still minimize the exposure our family has to chemicals and try to make best choices for makeup and beauty products.

Crohn’s disease is a monkey on my back I’ve tried to fight off, ignore, banish through every trick in the book, meditate away, and that I have finally a decade later, learned to accept for what it is.  In many ways, I’ve made friends with that monkey.  It’s something that will be a part of my life (or won’t).   I can’t control it.  I can certainly manage it the best I can, but I have let go of the idea that I will heal it, transform myself into some human in perfect health who has no issues with her intestines, and be able to tell everyone else the best practices for living a healthy life.  WHAT A RELIEF!  Accepting what IS, well, it’s my life’s work.  For a recovering perfectionist it’s not easy but I remain committed to trying.

To all of those who also have a chronic illness I’m sending you all of my love, it’s not the easiest journey but it sure can be full of lots of unexpected gifts.  And to everyone who made it this far, thanks for reading… now, then and everywhere in between.   Hopefully it won’t take me so long to get back here again.   XX- Sarah

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Reader Comments

  1. Geri|

    Hi Sarah,
    So happy to see you back on the blog! Love your long windedness ( not a word ) and your witty way❤️
    Thank you for this post! It makes me want to go back to eating healthier, exercising, and really putting in the effort to heal my autoimmune disease that does flare up but is mainly controlled by medication. I really want to
    a medicine free life and you give me hope of that and I thank you😘 Yes thank god 2020 is behind us and many are starting to get the vaccine. Hopefully 2021 will begin to feel a little bit more normal❤️

    • Sarah Yates|

      Hi Geri!!! Happy to be back and reading your kind and generous words, thank you so much!!
      Just keep doing the best you can, and do a bit better when you can too! This is already such a difficult time to be a human, we don’t need any extra pressure! 🙂

      Take good care of yourself, I’m rooting for that medication free healthy body you desire! (But also, if that doesn’t come, I’m very grateful for that medication keeping you healthy in the meantime!!).

  2. Cate|

    Hello! Not sure when or how I started following you (was it the wedding photos in the hills in the cardigan?), but so glad I did. I’ve truly enjoyed the recipes and the home renovations and the style posts back in the day. But I think what’s kept me along for the journey is your authenticity and honesty. Your health, motherhood, all the strange, exhausting, and wonderful things life throws our way. I have Hashimotos, and the consequences of living with that, along with the trying everything you described, can feel defeating at times. Your perspective seems hopeful. Thank you for sharing and encouraging those of us that are following along! I needed that today.

    • Sarah Yates|

      Hi Cate, YES! That pink cardigan LOL! I got married in the decade of the neon revival, and loved it. 🙂
      Thank you so much for the kind words and support, it means so much to me! The thing I’ve missed most (by a LONG shot) about the blog was the connections I had with people like you who have sent me kind messages, or let me know how what I was sharing was helpful. It is the most rewarding thing. 🙂

      I am so sorry that you’ve struggled with an autoimmune illness, it really is such a challenge and can feel very defeating/scary/unfair/intense/etc. ALL OF THE THINGS, really. I am hopeful, I’m feeling pretty healthy and seem to have found something that is working (for now at least). But ultimately, it’s a one day at a time adventure even then. All of that to say, I’m with you. Thank you again for your words. XX

      • Katy|

        Yes! The wedding photos in the hills, that beautiful ball gown and the hot pink cardigan! That’s how I started following you too. 🙂

        • Sarah Yates|

          hahaha! I would say that makes it my equivalent of britney spears/justin’s all denim outfits. 🙂

  3. MEL|

    Thank you for your bravery in sharing! Sending so much love – from a long haul ride or die! 😉

    • Sarah Yates|

      Thank you so much!!!! I have such an affection for you ladies who’ve been with me for the past decade, it means the world to me!!! XX

  4. Katy|

    Long time reader here! 10 years?! Can it be?! I don’t open up my feedly much anymore (sob! Remember the blog days?!) but I was so happy to see this post. And so glad to hear you’re doing okay on your Crohn’s journey. I think your commitment to using food as medicine is commendable. Especially in times of stress where it is SO so hard to take care of ourselves with food. I struggle to feed myself and I have no real good reason except that it’s just hard to be a mom and also have to mother oneself. Healing foods take so much time and effort to prepare – and it never ends (ever!) so, I guess I want to just acknowledge what hard work that is and you have done it. For 10 YEARS. That’s incredible. I hope you can appreciate what a remarkable person you are for showing up for yourself like that.

    Here’s to another 40, 50, 60 years of health! And this blog! 🙂

    • Sarah Yates|

      Katy!!!! You are the BEST!!!! Thank you so much for the support over the past decade. It makes me emotional to think about you hanging in there and cheering me on all of these years!!!! This was a beautiful remind for me, thank you so much. xx