In this blog article, I share my story and 10 positive lessons I have learned from my journey of living with IBS.
1. I Have Control Over What Goes Into My Body
Living with IBS taught me that I have the power to control what goes into my body. When I was first diagnosed with IBS, I was halfway through my University degree and still living at home with 6 other people. My mum did most of the cooking and I had always eaten everything that she had given me.
After immense pain, indigestion and constant gas, I had to take matters into my own hands. My GP referred me to a Dietician and I began an elimination diet to discover which FODMAP foods triggered my symptoms.
No one likes an elimination diet but I learned so much from it. It was the first time in my life that I was in control of what I ate and it felt good.
When I moved out of home a year later, I was very diligent in learning to cook meals and snacks that were Low FODMAP to help me manage my IBS. I knew that I had control over what went into my body and I found that I felt completely different as a result.
2. Having IBS Taught Me How To Take Care of My Body
It was about the same time that I learned that I was lactose intolerant that I also started going to the Gym consistently. Going to the Gym has always been the best form of stress relief for me. Whilst I attended the classes, I learned more about how to strengthen my body and condition it for endurance.
All of the stress that used to swirl around in my stomach was now being expelled as I lifted weights.
Throughout that year, I went from hardly being able to walk without injuring myself (thanks, hypermobility) to completing a 7 Day Hike in Tasmania!
Experiencing a health crisis taught me the importance of caring for my body. I proved to myself that I was capable of doing things that I thought were impossible. I went from hating my body’s inefficiencies to loving what my body could do. I’m so thankful for that experience.
3. Through Living with IBS, I Learned About Nutrition and What Foods Nourish and Fuel My Body
If you have IBS, or even if you don’t, I cannot recommend enough that you visit a dietician. All of us should learn more about food and the different sources that nourish our bodies. Food really is medicine. But when you have IBS, food can feel like poison. Your body literally rejects what you put in and your stomach knots up.
The trick is to take the time to learn what foods trigger your body and be diligent to avoid them. For me, it was dairy and fermented foods. Then it became wheat, which eliminated another huge food group and made eating out really difficult.
People always used to say to me, ‘I don’t know how you do it’.
‘It’s simple,’ I would say, ‘I don’t want to be sick’. In my mind, cutting out those foods was a no-brainer. If I could prevent myself from being sick, what an easy decision.
And yet since then, I have met so many other people with food intolerances who can’t seem to give up the things that trigger their IBS. They learn to live with the pain.
I think in my experience, I have now come out the other side. I have experienced what it is to live free from the symptoms of IBS because I have been consistent in my diet. Now that I know what it feels like to be healthy, to have energy and smooth digestion, I don’t want to trade that for food that ‘tastes good’ or eat something ‘to make someone else happy’.
Living with IBS has taught me that it is my responsibility to nourish and fuel my body. That food has the ability to drain your energy or fuel it. We get to decide.
4. Living with IBS Taught Me How to Say No When Others Offered Me Unhealthy Foods.
On the back of what I shared about choosing foods to nourish your body, living with IBS has also taught me to say no when people offer me foods that upset my stomach.
Yes, it can be very hard at first. Let’s consider a little guide to living happily with IBS and learning to say no when the opportunity comes for sabotage.
Here are my top tips for living with IBS and eating out.
Tip 1: You don’t need to impress anyone or please anyone with what you eat.
When there is a staff lunch spread or a communal meal or morning tea, you do not need to eat anything. No one is watching. No one cares. If I know there will be party pies and sandwiches, I just bring in my own lunch. Most of the time, people commend me on being healthy. They see something in me that they wish they had the self-disciple to do themselves. You will find the same. Which brings me to my next tip.
Tip 2: Be Prepared.
If you are eating out at a restaurant, look at the menu ahead of time. There will probably only be one thing on the menu you can have, which makes it easy to decide! Be prepared to ask the waiters about specific ingredients and if they don’t know, politely ask them to please check and let you know. Alternatively, you can eat beforehand just in case. Anything you can eat there is a bonus.
Tip 3: Bring Your Own Food
If you’re going to a party, always bring something that you can eat. At least you know there is one thing there you’ll be able to eat. Take your own lunch to work. Be prepared and bring your own snacks when you are out for the day so you don’t get stuck needing to buy greesey takeaway options.
Tip 4: Don’t be offended if there is nothing there that you can eat.
This will happen. Other people don’t mind eating unhealthy foods. Other people don’t have the same health issues you have. Don’t be offended when you go to a function and others are unaware or unaccommodating. Just be kind and refer to tips 1 & 2 and bring your own food or eat beforehand.
Tip 5: Be gracious.
Sometimes, people have gone out of their way to make something for me. One time, someone made a gluten-free, vegan birthday cake for me at work. It was so lovely. But I had a migraine within half an hour because of the amount of sugar that was in it.
I think you will learn when to politely decline and when to honour the other person’s efforts. There have been times where I have eaten ‘gluten free’ pasta at someone’s house and been unable to go to the toilet for 4 days and cursing myself for being ‘so nice’. I should have brought my own pasta, as this was clearly important for my health. The cake? The headache was gone the next day. In retrospect, I would have had a smaller piece to still be polite but look after myself better.
I definitely don’t think you should eat something just to make someone happy. If there are times where you know you know your body could handle a little and you could honour their efforts, this is acceptable. I wouldn’t do this until you have learned about your ‘threshold’. Talk to your dietician about that :).
5. I Learned The Benefits of Recording What I Eat and Being Accountable to Myself
Learning to record what I ate and recording my IBS symptoms was a really good skill to learn. By using a diet tracking app, I learned which foods had higher amounts of carbs, protein or fibre. I learned which foods were higher in sugar. It was just really educational to understand what I was putting into my body.
When I was pregnant a few years later, I was able to use my knowledge of food to nourish my body. It also was really helpful when I found out that I had to manage gestational diabetes through my diet. I was leaps and bounds ahead of the other women because I already had a foundational understanding of the food groups diligence in being in control of my diet. My ability to be so diligent meant that I was excused from attending more appointments at the hospital and I didn’t need insulin to manage my diabetes at the time.
6. I Learned the Power of Being Consistent and Honouring Myself
Living with IBS taught me the power of being consistent and honouring myself and my body. It’s not about eating healthy for one day. It’s a lifestyle. Living happily with IBS is a habit. It’s a decision to take care of your body and honour yourself. Eventually, all the little decisions add up. Your stomach will calm down because you won’t be flaring it up every other day with poor eating decisions.
Living with IBS really has taught me how to form healthy eating habits and how to do what’s best for me, even when everyone around me (including my husband!) does something different.
7. I learned The Importance Of Anticipating Stressful Situations and Preparing For Them
Is my IBS healed completed? Yes and no. If I met someone, I wouldn’t tell them I had IBS. I probably wouldn’t even think of it. It’s not a big thing on my mind anymore because it doesn’t impact my day like it used to. It used to be all-consuming and that may be where you are at too. Now, it’s so much better. I can even eat dairy and wheat without it being a huge issue. I avoid it more because I choose to than because I will crawl into a ball if I do.
One thing that still triggers a bout of IBS is highly stressful situations. Maybe you have anxiety. I’m more of the ‘it has to be perfect’ type of person, which let’s be honest, is still a form of anxiety. I remember having the worst IBS at my baby shower. I hadn’t had IBS in so long but there it was. Why? Because I was stressing out about the party and everything that needed to get done. (Side note to any pregnant ladies, do not organise your own baby shower – you do not need that stress in your life!).
Since then, I’ve learned to anticipate stressful situations and prepare for them. I bring bags of ‘just in case’ things everywhere I go and most of the time, I am prepared for whatever my toddler throws at me. If people are coming over for a party, I prepare ahead of time to minimise the last-minute rush. I’ve always found that I work well under pressure but I’ve also found the pressure takes a toll on my body and I’d rather get organised ahead of time. If you struggle with IBS, I recommend you give this a try too.
8. I Learned How to Truly Listen to My Body through Living with IBS
It was a long time before I was diagnosed with IBS. Over a year, in fact. My GP put me on tablets for stomach ulcers for over 6 months, which is apparently a no-go. I kept saying, ‘something is wrong’. I was 22 and walking down Beaumont Street when I realised my milkshake made me feel sick. I had been drinking milkshakes my entire life! But at that moment, I figured out the problem and I listened to what my body was telling me.
I went back to a different GP and what do you know? We have a match! He referred me to the dietician and the rest is history.
Learning to listen to my body through the elimination diet and throughout my journey with IBS has been invaluable. I was the one who later diagnosed myself with a mood disorder. I took the checklist to the GP and said, ‘I have every single symptom except for weight gain’. 4 other doctors said I just had bad PMS and should take some vitamins but I knew something wasn’t right in my body. There have been many other times where I have been in tune with my body thanks to taking the time to listen to it because I’ve had IBS.
There are beautiful side effects of having IBS. It is possible to be healthier and stronger as a result. Listening to your body is an invaluable lesson.
9. Living with IBS Taught Me How to Advocate for Myself with Health Professionals
As I mentioned in the story above, I learned how to advocate for my own health. The doctors are very busy. They see so many people. No one ever had time for me. I knew that everything I was experiencing was connected. When they didn’t have the time to sit and think about it, I did it.
Now, I’m not saying to diagnose yourself using Dr Google but there are some great resources there. It’s about standing up to your doctor and saying, ‘this is not okay. I can’t keep living like this. Something is wrong and I need you to help me’. Doctors often see a young, healthy-looking person walk in and they think you’re fine. It’s up to you to stand up for yourself and believe that a better life is possible for you. Because it is!
10. I Learned that there is a Distinct Connection Between the Mind and the Body
Living with IBS taught me that our mind and our body are inextricably linked. Whenever I am going through some emotional turmoil, my stomach seems to get the memo. If your stomach is flipping out because you are feeding it trigger food, your mind will not be as strong. You won’t have as much energy. You simply, won’t be at capacity.
Similarly, if you eat all the good foods but your mind is focused on every worst possible outcome and you are fixating on things that make you feel stressed, your stomach will feel it.
There is more and more research coming out at the moment about the link between our body and our mind.
The Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones”(Proverbs 17:22, NIV).
“A sound mind makes for a robust body, but runaway emotions corrode the bones.”(Proverbs 14:30 MSG)
Even ancient Scriptures indicate that your mind affects the health of your body.
Whilst my body is healthy, I know there are still elements I can improve. I know there are still negative paths in my mind that need re-routing. My own journey isn’t over yet. But I have learned a lot on the journey so far. I hope that my story on this blog about living with IBS has helped you to see that beautiful things can come out of trials. This experience can propel you on to become a healthier person and you can live a happy life with IBS.
Was there anything in this story about living with IBS that you can relate to? I’d love to hear in the comments below:
No matter where you are in your journey. I pray that you will find hope and peace. You can get better. You will get better. Change is possible.