I’ve realised recently that I haven’t shared a whole lot of information about digestive health and food on the blog.
I’ve got very very caught up in the wonderful power of the mind and got all excited sharing my discoveries through my coaching that I’ve neglected to get back to my roots and talk about where it all started.
Food and digestive health was where it all started for me (you can read more about how food was just the beginning for my health journey in this blog post) and the whole reason I started this blog.
And so, as we’re in April and it’s IBS Awareness Month, I thought this was the perfect time to put my IBS story into one place, and also to share with you some of the things I have learned about IBS since starting to explore and really tackle my IBS symptoms head on.
My IBS story
My body is a bit of a dichotomy. On the one hand throughout my life I have always had what people refer to as a ‘good constitution.’ I can eat a whole range of foods – and enjoy doing so very much!
But on the other, I have always to a greater or lesser extent suffered with periods of constipation or diarrhoea and also bloating and irritation in my gut over the years.
The ‘greater’ extent definitely came about during the last years of my 20s.
In my job in London I was increasingly regularly suffering from bloating. It would feel a bit like someone had pumped up my intestines. Gradually my belly would become distended and I sometimes had to loosen belts or undo trousers to try and get more comfortable.
This was super embarrassing when it happened in restaurants or when I was a guest at people’s houses and I had to hide it under the table.
Sometimes the bloating was so painful I struggled to stand up straight or walk. If I stood I would have to lean against my desk or hold myself up on things to try and find some way of easing the pressure.
While the bloating would pass – not helped in the slightest in my case by peppermint oil recommended by the doctor or over-the-counter IBS tablets like Buscopan, the more alarming symptom for me was attacks of diarrhoea.
The worst incident for me was after a delicious and rich lunch with my family for my 30th birthday. After three courses and wine we headed home, stuffed with great food and looking forward to getting onto the sofa and opening some presents.
But I could tell within 20 minutes of leaving the restaurant I was going to be in trouble. Bubbling away inside me I knew I had turned into a ticking time bomb.
By the time we were stood waiting for a bus I got to make-or-break point. I quickly explained to my boyfriend what was happening and then bolted for the nearest restaurant to duck into their toilet.
This happened on a number of occasions over the years. Sometimes I was somewhere ‘safe’ with a toilet nearby. But other times I was out and the problem was much more evident and embarrassing to people I was with. Travelling a lot with work meant I was terrified this would happen when I was overseas, with sometimes no toilet nearby.
So this is why I got to “enough is enough.” My family, horrified to see first-hand the extreme reactions I could have to food at my birthday meal, bought me my food intolerance test for Christmas (more about that in this blog post) and that is where my total shift in what I ate and how I saw my health began.
From those beginnings I can now look back over 3 years of trying out different things to help my IBS and assess what really worked.
I’ve learned IBS is not only about food
When I started to try and identify what caused my IBS I only looked at food.
Now with a few years experience and experimenting under my belt I can really see that IBS is triggered by far more than just food.
The job I was doing at the time, the relationship I was in, the amount of exercise and movement I was undertaking (read: none!) and the way I took care of my mind and mental health all played a vital part in my IBS flare ups being at their worst during this period of my life.
I can only really see that now, looking back. If I had started earlier with practises like meditation and mindfulness and maybe even journaling, I think potentially I would have been more in tune with my body and understood a bit more how everything linked together.
I’ve learned what my own IBS triggers are
Through experimenting, cutting things out (doing an elimination diet) and getting more in-tune with my body and the messages it was giving me I’ve learned what triggers my IBS.
And strangely, now I reflect on it, it was probably the things I knew all along weren’t right for me. There was no secret ingredient or one food that was making it all happen.
I have never had a sweet-tooth and don’t ever pick a dessert or a cake, over a starter or savoury option. Watching what I was eating and then slowly re-introducing things are my period of elimination, free sugar and added sugar products would invariably end up triggering my IBS.
I think I’ve always felt a societal pressure to enjoy sweet things and desserts. “Oh go on, just the one!” would come the messages from others.
But the truth is I don’t enjoy them as much as I do other types of food, and invariably my gut reminds me in rather unkind ways that it’s not something that suits my insides either.
Learning to be strong and know myself has been a critical part of the journey.
I’ve learned what my IBS triggers aren’t
The problem with the way I went about my elimination diet (I took a food intolerance blood test, you can read more in this blog post) was that I ended up with quite a negative mindset around a whole host of foods that were actually perfectly fine for me.
I missed out on lots of perfectly nourishing ingredients, all in the name of being on an ‘anti-candida’ diet which restricted and frightened me away from lots of things which didn’t affect my IBS at all.
It left me afraid to eat things, purposefully restrictive (which in all honesty came more from a place of wanting to lose weight than it did wanting to be healthier) and with a muddled mindset about what constituted ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food.
This is why on the whole elimination diets, and particularly FODMAP diets, are only recommended if done with the support of a dietitian or nutritionist. It’s also now why I personally preach more of an abundant, variety based diet. Rather than a black and white list of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ foods.
I’ve learned I’ll always live with IBS
I don’t think IBS will ever be ‘cured.’ Considering it is already an amalgamation of lots of different types of symptoms, it’s hard to pin point a single solution that will ‘fix’ everyone.
I will always know I have to be careful with certain things I eat, and that the way I feel mentally and physically will manifest itself in my gut and the way my bowels behave (or misbehave!).
And that’s okay. It’s part of who I am. A lot of my journey has been about acceptance – in the way I look, the way I work and just who I am as a person. And IBS comes as part of the package.
I don’t think I’d change it though, weirdly. It keeps me in-tune with what I’m eating and accountable to nourishing myself as well as I can. And that’s the most important take-away I can think of.
What do you think? Do you suffer with IBS? Does any of this story resonate with you? And do any of my tips offer support or help you hadn’t thought of before? Share with me in the comments or drop me an email, I’d love to chat.
This is what has worked for me and might help you in some way. But as we all know, everyone’s gut is completely unique so take these ideas and use them to inspire you to make your own explorations.
You might also like to read my thoughts on IBS and why we all need to get more comfortable with talking poo over on The Wee Foddie’s website.