It’s a lovely Spring day. I’m lucky enough to live in London, the best city in the world. There are endless fun things to do with handfuls of friends that I love spending my time with. Also, I am delightfully almost 100% over the worst throat infection of my life, giving me a new appreciation of being able to eat, sleep, work and play free from horrible pain.
Yet, I find myself laying face down on my bed – an all too familiar experience for me.
It all began four years ago. Almost overnight, I started getting sick after meals virtually everyday. Upset stomachs are relatively normal, but being in so much pain and discomfort that you end up squirming on the floor of a Conde Nast office, eventually crawling to the toilet, is not so normal (I didn’t dare ask for an internship the following Summer).
Turned out, after months of doctors appointment, hospital appointments and holistic method’s, I was told that I had “IBS”.
So what exactly is IBS?
It is thought that 10-20% of people in Britain will experience IBS at some point of their life. Unfortunately for me, I am one of them.
“Irritable bowel syndrome is a common condition of the digestive system. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.”
That’s the basic description of what IBS is. Everyone suffers differently, so it is impossible for me to tell you exactly what happens and why. Personally, my symptoms come and go in bouts, usually in times of stress or after eating certain foods.
For around six months, I found IBS really hard to deal with. For someone who used to eat everything, suddenly having to restrict food was really tough. I lost a lot of weight because almost everything I ate made me sick. I was extremely unhappy.
After doing some research, I found out that an estimated 3 out of 4 people with IBS will have at least one bout of depression, and just over half will develop an anxiety disorder. It can seriously impact your life.
It got to a point where I realised that living like this wasn’t healthy, and was probably making my IBS worse. So I started researching. I became engrossed in recipe books and health websites. I visited dieticians and started devising eating plans. Through trial and error, I am now at a stage where I can manage my IBS and can usually avoid flare ups. (Today being an exception. I expect the antibiotics I am on for my throat infection have spurred this episode on.)
How bloating makes me feel…
Toilet talk is still a huge taboo in British culture, especially for a woman.
Most women I meet that suffer from IBS will not discuss it. it’s not exactly a conversation starter, is it? Ladies aren’t supposed to fat, let alone often and (quite often) potent. At first, I masked my problems and made excuses. Now, I am not embarrassed about my IBS at all. Why shouldn’t I talk about it and be open about it, when I am the one who has to suffer it? It is a medical condition, after all. Yes, sometimes I literally sit on the toilet for an hour with diarrhoea. Yes, I fart quite a lot when I’m feeling unwell, it yes, it stinks. Yes, my tummy balloons to look like I’m close to my due date. And I refuse to be embarrassed about it. The people that know and love me are sympathetic to it because they witness how hard it is. It’s no laughing matter. Although, I do try to make light of it – without self deprivation I’d probably be in tears most days.
But some days it is difficult to stay positive in an industry crucially image based. There are some days where, literally, none of my clothes fit me. I often thoughtlessly blurt out that I feel fat, but it’s more uncomfortable. Not fat, not in debilitating pain.
My job doesn’t exactly help matters. 99% of the time a lunch at a job will consist of crisps, biscuits, and sandwiches at best. I mostly stock up on 9 Bars and Trek Bars to get me through. On days when I can’t get to Holland and Barrett, there is often a very awkward exchange between an assistant and I explaining why I can’t eat even the vegetarian option (bread),
For most models, there is always a pressure to arrive at a job with a perfectly flat stomach and refreshed face. Perhaps because I feel that pressure, and stress is a main contributor to IBS, I always feel an episode stirring when I’m at work; mostly a false alarm, but awful when it’s not.
(Funnily enough, quite a few of my model friends suffer from IBS. But you won’t find that in a Vogue interview.)
Part of me believes dealing with IBS has been a blessing in disguise – I am in much better shape now than I ever was before I got sick. I am incredibly healthy and in a much better mental state than I was before I was diagnosed.
My tips for managing IBS actually apply to everybody that wants to lose weight, get fit, or just wants to live life a little healthier. They are so simple and easy and most of the time, effort and cost free.
Tips for IBS that everyone should follow.
1. Drink water. LOTS OF IT.
I always have a bottle of water to hand; whether at work, in the car, at home, or when I‘m out. Water will help with all aspects of the digestive processes. We need 2.5 litres a day for the body to function properly. IBS sufferers should be drinking extra water to balance our systems. I make sure that I drink a bottle of water first thing in the morning and before every meal. But everyone should be drinking water; it’s natures biggest secret, and it comes straight from a tap – no excuse! (For the appearance conscious, water also helps with your skin, eye brightness, hair, nails and is the best weight loss aid.)
2. Cut down/off sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
Sugar really messes me up, so I’ve tried to cut it out in food as best I could (obviously natural sugar isn’t as bad). I do not drink anything other than water or green tea – honestly! Everything else should be avoided, or taken in moderation. Sugary drinks are full of air bubbles will add more gas to your digestive system. They are also either laden with calories are artificial sweeteners which are awful for your insides, your teeth and your skin. Caffeine and alcohol are also both stimulants to the digestive system and can increase IBS symptoms.
3. Have an eating schedule to train your body and mind.
I have breakfast within the first hour of your day. It starts your metabolism and gets your body into gear. Don’t skip meals because the digestive system fills up with extra air when it’s empty, which causes cramping and bloating. The best way for me is to eat three meals a day at regular times, usually 8 – 2 – 7. If you install times for eating mentally, you’ll feel less inclined to become ‘emotionally hungry’ (comfort eat) or snack. No mammoth portions – overloading on food which will shock your body. And eat slowly! You need to give your body time to digest food and feel full.
4. Banish junk.
Whether you suffer from IBS or not, junk food is a huge no-no. Your body needs nutritious, fresh food. Not only for the digestive system, but for overall fitness and health. There are many ways to make healthy food interesting and tasty. And once you change your ways, the sight of greasy kebabs and pizza will turn your stomach. JUST DO IT.
5. Get moving!
Without counting weight loss, fitness, muscle building and fun, exercise is great for two main reasons: One: exercise is a brilliant stress reliever. Countless studies have shown that regular exercise can help relieve stress. Two: exercise is critical for the proper functioning of the gastrointestinal system. If your body is sluggish, your stomach will be too; if your body is fit and active, your stomach will be healthier and better regulated.
I try my best to exercise everyday. If I am busy with studying or work and can’t get to the gym, I walk or jump rope – both simple and easy for anyone, anywhere. If you can’t get to the gym today, even walking at a moderate pace for 30 minutes will help!
6. Work out your individual food triggers.
IBS has given me intolerances to wheat, lactose and eggs. Some days, I can eat these things and be fine. But around 70% of the time, they make me ill. A lot of people gamble with food and continue to eat them. But I found that it was easier to cut them out completely, as, for me, the taste is not worth the pain. But even in non-IBS sufferers, certain foods can cause discomfort, bloating (a lot of people say this about wheat) and lack of energy. Starting a diet diary is a good way to work these out – monitor what you eat, what times, how you feel afterwards, and if you really want to get into it, your ‘bowel movements’. And if it means cutting out certain foods, do some research to find out what you can replace them with. For example, cutting out wheat meant cutting wheat bread, but I replaced it with Rye bread. Soya milk is also a nutritious replacement for cows milk.
7. AAAAAND RELAX.
Bubble baths, calm dog walks, yoga, reading and of course, sleeping are my favourite ways to de-stress and relax the body. In many people the main cause of IBS is stress; The body and mind are linked very tightly. Your body works very hard, so be kind and give it the down time it deserves. Your gut will thank you! And ultimately, so will your brain.
There are very few treatments and perscribed medical aid for IBS, but there are also products available over the counter that can help. Lucky for you, four years of my own trial and error can now advise you.
These are great to keep in your handbag in case of a surprise restaurant. If you realise the flare up early enough, these can actually help to maintain a normal functioning day! Hallelujah!
Fybogel is designed to maintain regularity and “healthy” bowel movements. When used properly these work very well. I take every morning after a glass of warm water and lemon, before breakfast, and just before you brush your teeth at bed time. Not bad tasting, either.
I don’t enjoy or recommend using suppositories regularly, but sometimes, IBS leaves you with no other option. Do not use if you’re planning on leaving the house any time soon or engaging in any sexy time.
I know it’s “expensive” but if you can afford £1.90 for a single tea bag and hot water from Starbucks, buying good tea for your house doesn’t seem that extortionate. It really does chill out your stomach. Replacing caffeine filled drinks with this and sugar and sweeteners with some fruit sugar or Stevia will massively improve IBS symptoms. It’s the new latte, daaaahhhling.
Do you suffer from IBS and can suggest any more tips or products? Let me know in the comments!