I warn you now, if it’s yummy home baked cakey goodness you’re after, this post probably isn’t what you’re looking for. There’s no cake here, just my account of how I manage the mysterious and unexplained syndrome that they call IBS.
When I was first “diagnosed” with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) my sister, who was about 5 years into medical school at the point, said doctors use the term “syndrome” because everything about your gut seems normal but it doesn’t function properly. It’s basically an unexplained illness. I was full of questions. What causes it? How do you treat it? Is it curable? To which the resounding answer was “no-one really knows”. The only slightly reassuring thing is this: IBS is one of the most common problems of the digestive system – about two in 10 people in the UK have IBS and it’s twice as common in women than men. IBS can develop at any age, but most people have their first symptoms between the ages of 20 and 35.* As a twenty something woman, I was definitely not the only one. I’m also not the worst off, by far. I’ve read other people’s symptoms and it seems like I’ve got off pretty lightly. For me, controlling my diet, exercise and stress levels are the most important things to keep me normal.
When I neglect one of these things I get “flare ups”. It’s hard to describe because it’s not like lactose intolerance where you might be sick after eating lactose, it’s more of an ongoing deterioration until I sort out the area I’ve been neglecting. I won’t go into loads of detail about my particular symptoms but I will tell you what seems to work for me.
One of the major changes I made was to cut out dairy. I realised that I did eat a lot of dairy and it was making me feel pretty bad afterwards. So I cut it out completely. I do feel much better for it, but I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to eating dairy because my body has got so used to not having it, I have a stronger reaction to it now than when I first stopped eating it. I don’t miss it, in fact I don’t even like the taste of it anymore. Another big no-no for me is alcohol, which isn’t so bad because I didn’t drink much in the first place. Caffeine is also out.
Things that I avoid or eat in moderation include: fatty and deep fried foods, very spicy food, raw fruit and vegetables (cooked is fine), high fibre food including wholewheat bread, bran etc, fizzy drinks and fruit juices. Things that I think I should probably avoid but I don’t want to….. bread (I think it is the yeast rather than the gluten that is my issue), red meat, sugary foods.
I have such a sweet tooth it’s really hard for me to stay away from sugary foods, I’m not as bad as I used to be but I am absolute sucker for a cupcake. My name is Cakey Kate!
I drink a lot of peppermint tea and take peppermint capsules. Peppermint is supposed to be a natural tummy settler and it really works for me. I also take multi-vitamins and pro-biotics to make sure I’m getting everything I need. I eat pretty healthily, but it can be hard to get my five a day when I can’t eat lots of raw fruit or veg. I do try to eat little and often, and will sometimes have 5 small meals a day. This stops me from overdoing it on three massive tummy-hurting meals when I feel absolutely starving.
I do plenty of exercise but I’m not training for a marathon or anything crazy like that. I just do it to keep in shape, that way I don’t have the pressure and stress of meeting goals and expectations, I enjoy it.
I manage my stress levels. I’ve realised that sometimes I’m not going to be the best at everything. I will do my best without making myself ill. That might mean I finish a project with a day to spare and without staying up beyond midnight most nights. I might get an average mark for it and know I could have done better, but I would have been ill and unhappy and it’s not worth that. Similarly, I get plenty of sleep. If my body is telling me it’s tired, I go to bed. At the best of times, I get grumpy when I’m tired. If I am stressed and tired it’s not even worth saying hello.
Sometimes I think I’m being selfish, but really I just make sure I’m doing what I enjoy and what makes me happy and stress-free. It’s not so bad! Let’s see if I can maintain that going into my final year of Architecture school………Don’t worry it’s just IBS, I’ve had plenty of tests which have confirmed it’s nothing else and my doctor sees me fairly frequently, yay for him! * From Bupa http://www.bupa.co.uk/individuals/health-information/directory/i/irritable-bowel-syndrome