All my life I’ve been affected by a sensitive stomach. From suffering as a child at school, on holidays, throughout university and now into my adult life – my stomach has barely given me a moments peace.
When people hear the term Irritable Bowel Syndrome I feel like they often just think of it as a throwaway diagnosis used for people who occasionally have a sore stomach and just need something to validate how they’re feeling. However the truth is, it’s a very difficult thing to live with. It’s a serious bowel GI issue that affects the large intestine. It’s exhausting to feel ill more than you feel well. It’s horrible to want to go out and enjoy a meal but not know how your stomach will react afterwards. It’s frustrating to have an illness that there is no real cure or treatment for, it’s not even something that can be tested – it’s just something that’s diagnosed once everything else is ruled out.
My IBS diagnosis happened in the blink of an eye. After testing clear for coeliac disease I was quite quickly dumped in the IBS bucket (pun intended) and left to it. I wasn’t given any advice or offered any medicines for reducing my symptoms and I honestly felt like I’d been thrown to the wolves and expected to work the rest out myself.
After decades of unpleasant symptoms and pain I finally decided to take matters into my own hands. It was ridiculous living my life in this viscous circle of good days and bad days, and ultimately I wasn’t making any conscious effort to alleviate my symptoms – I’d eat what I wanted and suffer the consequences afterwards. After much research and a bit of trial and tracking of my own symptoms I cut both gluten and dairy from my diet. These are both fairly common allergens that more and more people are developing an intolerance to, and they are also two known culprits in exacerbating IBS symptoms. Whilst my symptoms are probably a solid 60% better than they were before I did this, I still have a long way to go. I wanted to share some of the things that have helped me manage living with IBS on a day to day basis…
I wouldn’t say I’ve totally mastered this one myself yet (sometimes I’m just really hungry okay?), but eating smaller portions ‘little and often’ will really help alleviate your symptoms by keeping your stomach in check. I personally find if I eat too much I’m terribly bloated afterwards, my stomach hurts and I’m much more likely to have an ‘episode’, than when I just eat until I feel full, but don’t exceed that threshold.
Track Your Symptoms
I’d highly recommend downloading an app that can help you track your symptoms and help you spot trends that identify what may or may not be triggering your IBS. It’s been really helpful for me to notice particular foods that I would never normally have associated as being triggers for me, but have learnt they just don’t react well with my body. I use the IBS Relief Diary App and Cara – Food, Mood and Poop Tracker (lols) – and highly recommend both.
Avoid Known Culprits
Whether you’ve used an app to track your symptoms or not, there are just some food groups that are common triggers for IBS sufferers and are worth avoiding, or at least testing to see how you react.
- If you’re an IBS-C sufferer (constipation), it’s best to avoid: breads and cereals made with refined (not whole) grains, processed foods, coffee, carbonated drinks, high protein drinks and dairy.
- If you’re an IBS-D sufferer (diahorrea), it’s best to avoid: too much fibre (particularly insoluble), chocolate, caffeine, fructose, large meals, fried and fatty foods, dairy and gluten.
Don’t Be Embarrassed
I’ve spent too long being ashamed that I have IBS, not wanting people to know and thinking I need to be discreet because it’s one of those TMI topics. The last few years I’ve become more and more open about it and as a result, more and more people I know have opened up to me in turn about some of their own symptoms. If anyone asks me now why I don’t eat dairy and gluten, I say it’s because I have bad IBS and nobody seems to bat an eyelid. It’s a very common issue, it shouldn’t be something to feel ashamed of. Stressing yourself out with how to hide it, will actually only make things worse.
I’ve still got a long way to go to in my journey and whilst there is no cure (I’ll probably always be stuck with flare ups in some capacity) I do aim to continue focusing on my health in 2018 to help make things as good as they can be, after all, your brain’s health is dictated by what goes on in your gut!