Suffering Through It: How Students With Digestive Diseases Experience College Differently
Start writing a post
Health and Wellness

Suffering Through It: How Students With Digestive Diseases Experience College Differently

And four things all college students with digestive diseases should know.

Suffering Through It: How Students With Digestive Diseases Experience College Differently

“You know what would be easy? Going to college,” said no one ever. College isn’t easy. Between navigating applications and financial aid to dealing with noisy dormmates and hectic finals, no one goes to college thinking that it’s going to be a piece of cake. However, students without chronic illnesses and invisible conditions—like depression, anxiety, digestive disorders, etc.—take for granted how much easier college is when you don’t have to constantly worry about your health.

When your biggest health concern is catching the campus cold or getting over your morning headache after pulling an all-nighter, college can almost be considered a piece of cake. That is, before you start to consider all the assignments, meetings, clubs, classes, activities, sports, musical performances, and God-knows-what-else you have on your plate.

Nobody said that going to college was going to be easy, but for students with digestive disorders like Crohn’s, Celiac’s, Acid Reflux, IBS, IBD, and undiagnosed digestive pain, college can seem nearly impossible. Allow me to set the scene for you as to what a day in the college life is like for someone with one of these digestive disorders.

The problem begins as soon as you wake up. What are you going to eat that won’t bother you? Sometimes it’s easy to avoid foods you know trigger you, but sometimes foods you thought were okay can give you slight problems. Maybe you start the day pain-free, or maybe just eating a piece of fruit for breakfast makes you painfully bloated.

As the day progresses you’re faced with the challenge of when to use the restroom so you miss the least amount of class, and the daunting thought of lunch approaching—even though you are really hungry—can turn off your appetite. “What if I eat something that makes me sick to my stomach? I have a club meeting tonight that I can’t miss, but if I have cramping and nausea I’ll be in pain the whole time.” These are the kinds of things that are running through your mind all the time.

Sometimes, you eat lunch and dinner thinking that all is well, only to realize hours later when you're doubled over in the bathroom or lying on the floor in a study room rubbing your stomach that clearly something had been labeled wrong in the dining hall. A simple mistake like eating roasted vegetables that had been labeled as dairy free but had actually been cooked in butter can ruin the rest of your day.

Don’t even get me started on doing assignments when you’re in pain. If your digestive system has been set off by a meal, or a really stressful experience, then you can forget about completing homework. Digestive pain is not a subtle pain—it’s an aggressive and transcending pain. You feel it in your abdomen, like a twisting knife or a balloon that feels like it’s ready to explode, but it also blooms in your back and down your legs, sometimes giving you a headache and making you feel nauseous or dizzy as well. Oh, and I forgot to mention that there’s not one quick fix. Sometimes prescription medications work, and sometimes they just don’t. Treatment is almost exclusively trial and error, and there are no guarantees.

Now recall that during this whole process you’re taking four to seven classes, working a job or two, participating in extracurriculars, and trying to socialize and make friends, and you quickly realize that doing college with a digestive disorder is going to be a lot harder than you ever could have anticipated. What can you do about it?

1. Seek Treatment

Some digestive ailments will go away on their own with a little rest and care, like the occasional upset stomach due to stomach bug, stress, or bad food. However, digestive discomfort that persists more than a few days or causes debilitating pain is a cause for concern. If you haven’t already, see a doctor. It’s good to know what’s going on with your body, so ask questions, request tests, and know that you might not get answers right away, but don’t give up.

Don’t sell yourself short, if your medication isn’t working or you’re still experiencing symptoms, keep trying. Don’t be afraid to seek out alternative treatment methods as well, like acupuncture, massage therapy, or chiropractic. Having a treatment plan is the first step to healing your body.

2. Change Your Diet

Part of your treatment plan may be some dietary changes, whether it’s going vegan, avoiding dairy and gluten, or simply paying attention to what you eat and starting a food journal. It can be hard to eat in communal dining halls when you’re on a restricted diet or have food sensitivities/allergies, and you can only do your best. If possible, try to completely avoid foods that trigger you. If you don’t know what your triggers are, keep your food journal up to date to try and figure them out. Make your own food if you have the chance, as you can better control that the food you make for yourself is free from your triggers. Don’t be discouraged by a restricted diet. Instead, try and see it as an opportunity to try new foods in place of the ones you may be avoiding.

3. Advocate For Yourself

When you’re doing college with a digestive disorder you have to be your first and best advocate. If your medication or treatment isn’t working, talk to your healthcare providers. If you eat something in the dining hall that was labeled vegan, gluten free, dairy free, etc., and you find yourself in pain, say something to the food services staff. If you don’t speak up for yourself, no one else is going to. Make your health a priority and ensure that you have an opportunity to flourish by always being honest with your health care providers and giving feedback to your institution of higher education about how they are doing at catering to students with digestive disorders.

4. Don’t Go It Alone

You’re not the first person to go through college with a digestive disorder, and you won’t be the last. There are other students on your campus right now who are going through the same struggle that you are. If you can, find them. That doesn’t mean going around your campus asking everyone if they have digestive issues—that would just be weird—but it means being honest with your friends about what you have to go through. One of them might be going through the same thing, or they might know another student who is. Find people who understand what you’re going through. Having people in your life who can listen to you when you’re in pain and support you from first-hand experience will make things that much easier.

Nobody said college was going to be easy, but nobody said that it had to be intolerable either. Going through college with a digestive disorder will be difficult, but there are a lot of things that you can do to ensure that you have the best chance possible at a successful, and mostly enjoyable, college career.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

It's More Than Just A Month

Mental Awareness reminds you that it's always darkest before the dawn.

Odyssey recognizes that mental well-being is a huge component of physical wellness. Our mission this month is to bring about awareness & normality to conversations around mental health from our community. Let's recognize the common symptoms and encourage the help needed without judgement or prejudice. Life's a tough journey, we are here for you and want to hear from you.

As the month of May begins, so does Mental Health Awareness Month. Anxiety, depression, bipolar mood disorder, eating disorders, and more affect millions of people in the United States alone every year. Out of those affected, only about one half seek some form of treatment.

Keep Reading... Show less

Pop Culture Needs More Plus Size Protagonists

When almost 70% of American women are a size 14 or bigger, movies like Dumplin' are ridiculously important, while movies like I Feel Pretty just feel ridiculous.


For as long as I can remember, I've been fat. The protagonists in the movies I've watched and the books I've read, however, have not been. . .

Keep Reading... Show less
How I Met My Best Friends In College

Quarantine inspired me to write about my freshman year to keep it positive and focus on all the good things I was able to experience this year! In this article, I will be talking about how I was able to make such amazing friends by simply putting myself out there and trying new things.

Keep Reading... Show less

29 Things To Do in Myrtle Beach, SC Regardless Of The Weather

Both indoors and outdoors things to do in beautiful Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

29 Things To Do in Myrtle Beach, SC Regardless Of The Weather
Dahlia DeHaan

In 2017, I moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina - one of the most touristy places on the East Coast. And ever since then, I've befriended locals and done some exploring on my own to discover new, fun things to do in Myrtle Beach. Here are just a few of my favorites.

Keep Reading... Show less

The Birthplace of Basketball

The NBA Playoffs are here. It’s kind of funny that my history kind of started out in the same place that basketball’s did too.


Basketball was originally created by James Naismith, a Presbyterian minister who taught P.E. at YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. He invented the new game to keep the young men occupied inside during the winter. Borrowing ideas from rugby and a game he used to play as a boy, “duck on the rock”, he thought of nailing up boxes to throw a ball into. He couldn’t find boxes so he used peach baskets instead. The rest of the rules he made up in about an hour.

Keep Reading... Show less

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Facebook Comments