Hello, I’m Em and I have IBS.
No big secret, I talk about it all the time. Why, I reasoned, should I have to make an already depressing condition worse by suffering with it in silence? Yes. When I say it like that, you’d be forced to conclude that I can do whatever the hell I want.
SNOW: BEAST FROM THE EAST & NOT STICKING AROUND FOR LONG.
So my IBS, or my FIBS as my mum affectionately calls them, (fucking irritating bowels), have been a part of my life for a few years now. I’ve written about my IBS before, if you’re looking to read more about the condition and my struggle with it read that post HERE.
So to avoid sounding like a stuck record, this blog post is not going to be focussing on the ins and outs of my irritating bowels, if you wanna be nosey, to find out more about the condition, to see the swelling I incur on a regular basis- click the link above. This post is different, this is going to be much more specific, this is about how I deal with IBS on a day-to-day basis.
And that’s something that only other sufferers will understand, because having IBS is something that you really, actually, DO have to deal with daily. Every day is different, and most days there is something that you need to deal with.
It’s not as simple and as easy as you might think. It’s not a question of taking a pill or making one big change. It’s a huge process of trial and error, it’s a lifestyle adjustment. It’s a ball-ache because in so many ways it is so manageable, it relies on your good decision making.
Believe it or not, having a condition that is ‘easy enough to manage’ is one of the most frustrating things you can have. Because when you start to flare up, feel ill, double over in pain, there is a huge chance that your symptoms are your own ‘fault’.
And I fucking hate that. Blame is a sure fire way to add insult to injury.
In lots of ways this post will be futile, even to sufferers, because everyone’s stomachs are very different, everyone’s conditions are different.
So this is not a ‘how to live with IBS’, or a ‘how to cure yourself of IBS’, – I can’t help you because I’m not you. This post is simply a reflection of the things that work for me. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a nutritionist. I’m not even that healthy most the time.
But I am living with IBS and I am doing alright. So let’s go…
I don’t take pills, although there are ones on the market. Nor do I adhere, strictly, to the suggested Low FODMAP diet (although my diet is something that I have seriously amended in other ways), I don’t visit doctors anymore, nor do I talk to nutritionists.
I did, I spoke to loads of them. For years and years I did everything I could to ‘cure’ myself – I did as they said, I experimented, I was well behaved.
These days I fly solo and I am much, much happier.
Let’s start by talking about that, why I decided to walk away from the doctors and the nutritionists, even though I was not ‘better’. Why I decided to neglect the Low FODMAP Diet even though it is proven to significantly ease symptoms.
Well, the answer is huge to be honest. Namely though, I couldn’t handle the stress.
The stress that comes with having to monitor every single thing that you eat brings with it something that you cannot possibly begin to understand until you have done it, because you have to do it.
It’s not like going on a diet, it’s not like trying a detox or attempting something new in the kitchen. It can very, very quickly take the joy out of meal times, and it does that without promising you that you are going to get it back.
The stress that comes with telling someone, trained in food, about everything that you eat is crippling. It started to make me scared of food, of my own choices. I’d find myself dreading appointments because I knew I would have to admit to making bad choices.
“And WHY did you eat that pizza Em???”
“BECAUSE I FUCKING WANTED TO!!!”
You can’t say that to nutritionists. People who are trained in food and doing good things with it. No. So you either eat the pizza, feel shit and then lie about it. Or you don’t eat the pizza because you are frightened of judgement or criticism. And that’s not a good reason not to eat a pizza.
The stress that comes with checking every single thing that you eat is ridiculous and the Low FODMAP diet requires a LOT of checking.
I cannot eat gluten or dairy, at all. I haven’t been able to do that for ages, I’m allergic to cows milk and I’m gluten intolerant (life is cruel). That’s more than an IBS thing per say and the consequences if I do are more than a bit of a sore tummy and a couple of days with the shits. That is stressful enough, so the idea of adding more to plate (sadly not literally) is often too much.
The no gluten, no dairy massively impacted my entire diet and subsequently, my entire life. Pizzas, brownies, chocolate, pasta, fast food, burgers, mac ‘n cheese, bagels, ice cream, bread, butter, donuts, sandwiches, milkshakes – all gone in a flash. Sacrificing all these things because you have to is one thing, but to start removing tomatoes from your life because THE SEEDS AREN’T THAT GOOD or cucumbers because THE SKIN IS QUITE HARD TO DIGEST and it’s all too easy to become overwhelmed.
Eating out at friends’ house is difficult, going out for dinner can be horrible. Although most people, and restaurants, are understanding of the no gluten, no dairy thing – even the most patient of souls will start to show their frustration when you tell them you can’t eat onions, or garlic – seriously, HOW are you supposed to expect anyone to cook without onions and garlic???
And really, how bad can garlic a-c-t-u-a-l-l-y be???
The stress of all of these things meant that I have started to do things my own way.
Rather than eliminating every single thing on the FODMAP list, I have tried and tested various foods over the years and now finally, finallyyyy I know where I stand… ish.
I don’t eat gluten or dairy, I avoid nuts and seeds. Grapes are troublesome, sausages and bacon fuck me up. Lamb makes me gassy, certain vegetables are harder to digest than others. Too much sugar makes my tummy feel like a washing machine.
But sometimes I eat lamb anyway, and sometimes I eat sausages and sweets. Today I ate half a box of grapes.
The most important thing I have found, when it comes to managing IBS, is that you have to do everything in moderation, in a way that works for you.
And not just in a vague “put yourself first” sort of way. But in a ‘it’s Tuesday 27th February, what do you, EM CLARKSON, feel like doing TODAY???”
You cannot get it right all the time and life is too short for most of it. And garlic is too delicious. So I’d recommend trial and error. You don’t need to work everything out right now. It’s a process – give it a month, a year if you can. You’ll get there in the end.
Which brings me onto my next piece of advice.
And that is acceptance.
Learning to accept the cards that you have been dealt.
I spent years and years and years being so angry about IBS and so frustrated by it.
When my stomach bloated and I couldn’t get my clothes on, when I was feeling farty and embarrassed I wanted the ground to swallow me up, when I went to get into the bed and I’d walk past the mirror and I’d noticed a tummy that looked like it was homing a baby, I would want to cry.
I was so upset about it – constantly stressed by it and it made everything SO much worse.
Annoyingly and typically, one of the things guaranteed to cause an IBS flare up is stress. THANKS FOR THAT, UNIVERSE.
I have well and truly given up being stressed by it, where at all possible.
Yes. It’s a colossal pain in the tits feeling like you have to cart around 10lbs worth of gas a few days a week. It’s heartbreaking to look down and hate what you see. It’s frustrating as hell not to be able to wear your dream outfits because your body has other ideas.
That’s just it isn’t it? IBS is fucking annoying.
We don’t call it FIBs for nothing.
But you wanna know something shitty? There’s absolutely nothing you can do about it… not right now anyway.
Every day with IBS is different, and so there is no one piece of advice I can give you that will make every day easier. I’m SORRY.
All I know for sure is this: this time last year I was utterly miserable and I was letting my stomach control my life. I fixated on food, I got upset whenever I swelled or felt ill. I was obsessed. Obsessed with the inner workings of my gut – it’s shortcomings were well and truly taking over every other thing.
Life these days is so much easier. The condition hasn’t gone away and of course I still care about it, some days more than others.
But for the most part, I’m really trying to relax. A swollen tummy is not the end of the world. It’s annoying and frustrating and painful. But tomorrow, it will be better. Nothing is permanent and nothing is worth beating yourself up over.
THIS IS WHY THEY INVENTED LEGGINGS AND BAGGY JUMPERS GIRLS.
So, IBS sufferers – here is my advice: stress less. About all of it. The food, the appearance, the fact you hate shitting in public but don’t have a choice. Just relax. It will help. It really, really will.
SNOW: BEAST FROM THE EAST & NOT STICKING AROUND FOR LONG.