This is a bit personal but I feel it needs to be done.
For the past 4-5 (ish) years, I have been living with IBS. And it sucks! For those of you that don’t know what IBS is, IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It is basically when your bowel doesn’t quite function as it should. The exact cause of IBS isn’t known and there is no test to diagnose IBS. It is pretty much a catch all term for continual bowel symptoms, which can included diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and bloating, when other potential causes have been ruled out. Further, up to 1 in 5 Australians may develop IBS at some point in their lifetime.(1)
So what does IBS really mean for a real person?
For me, it meant going for multiple doctor and specialist visits, blood tests (to rule out things such as celiac disease), a colonoscopy (not that much fun), and taking medication without knowing if it would help, all to be told that they couldn’t find anything wrong with me. It meant knowing where a bathroom was at all times, whether at university, driving to a friends’ house or at work. It meant avoiding eating anything, just so I could make it through a class, shift or get together without spending an hour in the bathroom. It meant avoiding my favorite foods because I never know what will trigger an episode of diarrhea.
It can make life a real pain.
IBS can be hard to talk about. When was the last time you discussed bowel movements with friends or co-workers? It actually took my partner’s convincing for me to first seek medical attention to even start the process of being diagnosed with IBS, after noticing that I was always in the bathroom after dinner for quite a while. Because I was too scared and stubborn to admit that my gut wasn’t right! Don’t do this!!! If something doesn’t feel right, go get it checked out. I suffered for almost a year before starting the process, and even with an incomplete answer (I have the what now, but not the why) I can deal with my symptoms a lot better now. (Plus I found out that I definitely don’t have celiac disease nor am I lactose intolerant.)
IBS can be managed but it isn’t always easy. I can be “triggered” by sugar, processed foods, greasy foods, dairy, oh, and stress! (Life is so joyful!) I have constantly been modifying my diet, trying to find a balance between symptom avoidance, nutritional balance, food enjoyment, cost, and living with my partner (a chef-in-training who loves to surprise me with delicious food!). I work hard to drink water (which can help), eat smaller proportions (less sugar/grease), and plan when I am eating based around my work schedule (small breakfast before teaching fitness classes at 6am, second breakfast at 9am to fuel me for the day).
The silver lining of IBS for me though: I have significantly reduced my sugar and processed food intake. Having IBS has made me more food conscious and I make a lot better choices nowadays then when I first developed IBS in university. So no matter what, find something positive about your gut situation and make the most of it!
While writing this article, I found an Australia website that provides a great resource for information about what IBS is and the latest research about potential research. (http://www.ibsclinic.org.au/index.php) This includes new research about diet and FODMAPs’s (a potential cause of IBS). While I haven’t tried out the diet advice myself, it is a good start for those with IBS looking for more information.
Also, feel free to ask me any questions about my own personal experience with IBS. I would be more than happy to answer your questions.