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Trigger foods vs trauma foods - what's the difference?

Trigger foods vs trauma foods - what's the difference?

Updated on
November 12, 2023
Medical reviewer
Medically reviewed by
Brittany Rogers, MS, RDN
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Written by
Romanwell Dietitians

Most people with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis experience symptoms when consuming certain foods. Sometimes consumption of these foods may lead to or be associated with a traumatic event like a surgery or hospitalization. We call these foods trauma foods.

In this article, we dive into the key differences between trigger foods and trauma foods and share some examples of each. 

Trigger foods

Trigger foods are foods that cause a symptomatic response when consumed. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and are different for every person. Even though these foods lead to symptoms, you may still desire to eat them (at least in the moment). 

Some common trigger foods for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis include:

  • Deep fried foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Sugary foods
  • Processed foods
  • Dairy products
  • Cabbage
  • Pork
  • Processed meat
  • Pastries
  • Milk


Trauma foods

Trauma foods are foods that were consumed during a traumatic experience or foods that caused a traumatic experience as a result of consuming them. Unlike trigger foods, you may have no desire to eat these foods regardless of whether or not they trigger symptoms for you. 

Trauma foods are very individualized and based on your own personal experiences. Some examples of trauma foods that our clients have experienced include:

  • Popcorn - Popcorn may be a trauma food for a patient with stricturing Crohn’s disease who had a painful blockage which led to hospitalization and surgery following consumption.
  • Spicy salsa - Spicy salsa may be a trauma food for a J-pouch patient who experienced extremely painful butt burn for hours afterwards. 
  • Smoothies - Even a smoothie could be considered a trauma food for a Crohn’s disease patient who was previously on exclusive enteral nutrition (formula-based diet with no solid foods) and wasn’t allowed to eat solid food for weeks.

Personal experience

One of our IBD dietitians, Brittany Rogers RD, had a personal experience with trauma foods as a child with ulcerative colitis.

“My trauma food is my dad’s spicy chili. The beef, beans, and chili powder and my severe active ulcerative colitis caused me to go to the bathroom every 15 minutes for over 24 hours. At the end of it, I had nothing left in my intestines and stomach acid foam was coming out. 

Although this occurred in high school when I had untreated, undiagnosed UC, and I’ve since been in remission for a long time, I will never have my dad’s spicy chili again because of the traumatic experience that occurred from eating it.

Today I make an adapted sweet vegetarian chili option that I eat regularly and enjoy, but I will forever stay away from my dad’s recipe” Brittany said.

Get support

If you have symptoms when eating certain foods or you’ve experienced food-related trauma as a result of your IBD, we can help!

We can help you identify your unique trigger and trauma foods and come up with well-tolerated alternatives that you can easily swap into their place. We’ll make sure you feel safe and confident eating a broad range of foods so that you can feel your best without fear or anxiety around your diet. Reach out today to get started or to learn more about our nutrition counseling services.


We can help you reduce your symptoms without a restrictive diet
Pay as little as $0 per appointment with insurance
brittany rogers rd


  1. de Vries JHM, Dijkhuizen M, Tap P, Witteman BJM. Patient's Dietary Beliefs and Behaviours in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Dig Dis. 2019;37(2):131-139. doi: 10.1159/000494022. Epub 2018 Nov 2. PMID: 30391940; PMCID: PMC6381876.

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