If you suffer from IBS then you’ll know the difficulty you have describing it to someone who doesn’t. You’ll also recognise the constant struggle to keep a happy and normally functioning digestive system, and the way that when you’re suffering an episode you can’t really think about anything else.
For me, I’ve got a sensitive digestive system- and a whole host of food can leave me with a tummy suddenly stretched out like a balloon fit to burst, or constipation to the point that I can’t then go to the toilet for up to 5 days, or with diarrhoea where I spend most of an afternoon in the bathroom.
Gross, yes. TMI? Probably. But girls- THIS HAPPENS TO SO MANY OF US. We just don’t know because no one likes to talk about how much they fart or poop!!!!!
Well, having spent years thinking it was normal to suffer incredibly painful wind after almost every meal, produce the most noxious gas known to man (where I have genuinely declined social engagements because I am too frightened about embarrassing myself) or to go from flat tummy to pain and looking 8 months pregnant within 30 minutes of eating something, I decided that this can’t be life.
Partly due to watching my partner go through some hefty and positive digestive changes by following the FODMAP diet and partly due to the fact I was sick of thinking about where the nearest toilet is, I started to learn more about my belly, good bacteria and the fermentation of food in the gut. And I started experimenting.
Here’s what I learned about my tum:
- Onions- stay the hell away
- Pomegranate- food of hell. So delicious but also say hello bathroom for the next 24 hours
- Sugar free chewing gum- WHY DO YOU HATE ME?
- Grapes- I wish we could be friends
- Beetroot- a guaranteed rush to the loo within the next 30 minutes. Repeat for 3 hours
- Chocolate- so tasty, but also a rather effective laxitive
There’s far more than that, but those are key triggers. It’s a stupid and eclectic mix of stuff I need to stay away from, and some stuff (like, cake, which can set me off because of the high sugar content) is frankly too good to resist permanently, so when I eat a wedge of it, I’ve made peace with the fact I am going to be sporting a painful cake-baby belly for the next few hours.
Does the above sound familiar? And do you know your trigger foods? It’s worth doing some experimenting if you ebb and flow between constipated, diarrhoea, frequent, painful or embarrassing wind or a regularly distended belly.
And how do you go about experimenting, exactly? It’s boring, but it’ll make such a difference, I promise.
You might have an idea of what sets you off- and what doesn’t. Make sure that, when you’re experimenting with what can cause your IBS to flair up, you are eating only one potential trigger food within a meal, and then leaving it a few hours to monitor the results.
So, for example, I ate stuff I knew was fine- a plain lunch of rice, chicken, sweetcorn and rocket with no dressing for 3 days. Every day after lunch, I tapped into my gut- how was it feeling? The result was full, but normal. On the 4th day, I added three tablespoons of pomegranate in. And within 40 minutes- I was in windy agony, and spent a couple of hours that afternoon in the bathroom, finally realising the link between this feeling and a fruit I liked to eat regularly.
Similarly, I spent most afternoons for a good few years making excuses to pop away from my desk at work, to writhe around in a toilet cubicle with a horribly swollen belly, desperately feeling like I needed to let it out but unable to, or just simply unable to stop it coming out. I used to dread lunch and put it off for as long as possible, because to me afternoons meant wind, pain, and 3 or 4 trips to the loo. I just thought a day of eating three meals did this to someone.
I did a bit of reading online and eventually realised it was probably something to do with the PACKET (I’m an idiot) of sugar-free chewing gum I was finishing every day. Sorbitol was OUT, and my afternoons are now much more normal.
Remember- it’s different for everyone. For example, certain types of sugar are my biggie, but I can drink lactose until the cows come home, even though lactose is a sugar that’s a trigger for a lot of people.
And I find onions absolutely delicious, but they seriously affect me. If I’m out for dinner, my guts will do a wonderful job of detecting even a sneaky bit of onion powder in a recipe, and everyone in the room will be gasping for air while I poisonously flatulate for the rest of the evening with an innocent look on my face and walking away from people very fast. Finding those triggers out took patience, experimentation, and some forgiving friends.
It’s laborious going through the working out stages, but as the above shows, the results might surprise you. And when you’ve worked out what sets you off into digestive hell, you won’t believe what you used to put up with by way of your tummy giving you gripe.
I’ve decided that the feeling of a happy, calm tummy is actually worth giving up a bag of haribo for, and and that realisation has been monumental.
I feel a bit naked writing about such intimate stuff online, but I also feel like making other IBS sufferers realise they can help their tummies is actually a bigger thing than worrying about the fact that you now know I poop.
I’m going to be writing a couple of posts this month about stuff I’ve been doing lately towards calming the intensity and frequency of my IBS, now I’ve got a handle on my trigger foods, so keep an eye out for them.
In the meantime, if you’ve experienced the above, then for the love of our guts please start making noise about it. It’s something that we shouldn’t feel embarrassed about! The more we admit to these issues, the easier they get to talk about, and then we can all start supporting each other and sharing our solutions towards a happy gut and a more energised life.