I’m delighted to share this guest post with you, my hungry readers also plagued by digestive health issues, written by Alexa, a client who is conquering the Battle of the Bowel.
It was six a.m. and I was hungry. Or at least, I thought I was supposed to be hungry. I squinted with unawake eyes into the fridge assessing my options. My hand flew to my abdomen as a cramp rippled through me, causing temporary paralysis. After the pain subsided I decided I should eat oatmeal, mostly because it seemed like the food runners are supposed to eat for breakfast. Another cramp seized my body as I poured the hot water into the dry oatmeal mix and sipped my black coffee. Although the cramps in my stomach and achiness in my body seemed to protest, I was gearing up for a 20-mile training run that morning—one run amidst many other painful ones I had completed during my five month training period while I chased down the title of “marathoner.”
I think back to that morning, and what seem like hundreds of similar mornings like that one, and I hardly recognize the person staring confusedly into the fridge at the crack of dawn. Not only do I not physically recognize her—she’s gained about ten pounds now and has clearer skin, shorter hair, and more muscular arms— but I can also no longer clearly recall the piercing, paralyzing pain caused by daily laxative abuse due to a killer case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
If only they could call it something else not involving the word bowel. Those of us caught in its wrath don’t get to have a slick one-word name like Crohn’s or Colitis – we’re stuck with the awkward and ambiguous acronym that no one ever understands, forcing those of us cursed with the wretched disorder to say its name out loud. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Instant conversation stopper.
My stomach problems, as I call them, in an attempt to avoid the “B” word as frequently as possible, began when I was fifteen and a sophomore in high school, amidst a myriad of teen anxiety, boy troubles, body image issues, and academic stress. Whether or not my intestines decided to stop functioning properly because I was anxious or because of a more physiological reason I am still unsure, but what I am sure of is that my stomach never seemed to stop hurting.
Soon after the stomach pain began, so commenced the countless trips to the pediatrician, gastroenterologist, and allergist, who gave me advice, medications, and sympathetic looks. In the end, none of them seemed to be able to cure me, and I continued to live in pain while abiding by their confusing, contradicting advice.
This confusion lasted about four years, and throughout that time, I attempted repeatedly to cure myself. I gave up dairy, meat, bread, and just ate fruits and vegetables. Then, I stopped eating all together. All the while, the pain persisted, and with every failed attempt to figure out what was wrong with me, I let my IBS take more and more control over my life. It controlled when I ate, what I ate, and when I could exercise, making my morning runs even more difficult. This lack of control, more than my inability to eat an ice cream cone, is what defeated me. There are so many things that already existed out of my control, and the fact that I was now unable to control my own bodily functions frustrated me beyond words.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is complicated. The physical symptoms intertwine themselves closely with the emotional and mental difficulties so that it is hard to tackle what is happening in the bowels (sorry, but the B word is sometimes necessary) without first dealing with what’s going on inside your own head. Dealing with a case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a lot harder than dealing with cranky intestines or a case of mild anxiety, it is something that requires energy, planning, a willingness to try, and a good dietitian who knows about the power of FODMAPS.
I’ve been on the FODMAP diet for almost nine months now, and it has revolutionized my ability to eat and function as an IBS sufferer. The low FODMAP diet, which stands for a diet low in Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols is a diet that eliminates the consumption of fructose, lactose, fructans, galactans, and polyols. How I explain it to people who aren’t scientists or dietitians though, is that it is a diet that doesn’t include many of the sugars that my stomach can’t digest properly. If I were to eat these foods, they would ferment in my stomach, and cause the unpleasant symptoms I dealt with for so many years.
Although I cannot say that I am cured of my IBS—as there isn’t really a cure—I now feel as though I have more control over my symptoms and my own bodily functions, which is definitely a step in the right direction. Listening to my body and becoming more intuitive about how it reacts to certain foods has been key, along with understanding which foods I can now eat again –in moderation. For anyone who is stuck in the dark abyss of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, there is a way out. There is hope! Your bowels will not continue to fail you forever. Seek out a qualified dietitian, try out the low-FODMAP elimination diet, and while you’re at it, start brainstorming new names for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I’m sure you’re as tired as I am of saying the “B” word.