Living With IBS – Women Share Their Stories

It’s twice as common in women than in men and it’s thought 20% of the population has it. Here’s how four women deal with IBS, its symptoms, and their advice to fellow sufferers of IBS.

What is IBS?

April marks the month of IBS recognition, but let’s face it, irritable bowel syndrome at the dinner table is not an easy subject to bring up. With symptoms like bouts of diarrhoea, regular wind, bloating, constipation, and not to mention constant tummy ache and fatigue, are signs of disorder that can drastically affect the quality of life. Yet, many don’t feel comfortable talking about it. As a result, IBS can be isolating, as well as physically limiting, and many of us don’t feel at liberty to bring it up with our GPs, let alone our boss or best mate.

We talked to four women who have lived with IBS, witnessed the symptoms, and came up with ways of coping up, in order to shed light on what it’s like to suffer from IBS.

PANDORA PALOMA, HOLISTIC NUTRITIONIST AND LIFE COACH

Pandora Paloma shares her experience of IBS

When I found out I had IBS


“In my teens and early twenties, I suffered from eating disorders and it was at the end of my recovery that IBS symptoms began to manifest. After meals, I began to get quite bloated. I continually felt ‘full’ and had trouble with my bowel movements that were quite inconsistent. I never went to the doctors about it, but my journey into nutrition began instead. I discovered that I had developed a poor digestive system by refusing food groups and continually starving and bingeing.”

“I don’t have a family history of IBS but my grandmother died of bowel cancer, which I took a more serious note of when I began educating myself on IBS. Since then, I have always been very aware of supporting my digestive health.”

My symptoms of IBS


“My main IBS symptoms were bloating, constipation, irregular bowel movements and a mix of stools on the Bristol stool chart and alongside all of this, an emotional response, which got me down a lot.”

Everyday life with IBS


“Living with IBS is extremely difficult. For me, I never really understood when the bloating would strike and when the flatulence would reach you in an important meeting would be really bad times. It’s really quite frustrating and not spoken about enough. I’d find it got so much worse during times of stress and, for example, when traveling, so often I’d spend the first few days of any holiday in.”

“IBS has also influenced my fitness levels-I have found that exercise with a calmer, lower intensity just works better for me. Career-wise, it didn’t affect me too much directly, although it made me retrain as a nutritionist from a PR career!”


“From a mental health point of view, constantly being bloated and feeling heavy can really take its toll on you. In fact, it meant that much of my recovery from my eating disorder lasted longer; I found it hard to change those negative body image thoughts by feeling overweight. It often affects the way you dress when you’re overweight, as more often the things you want to wear, such as a tight dress, get out of bounds as you feel like you’re too fat to wear. Anyway, I did. It’s funny, I guess that time really influenced the way I dress right now—safe, never too close, and lots of black! All the time, my wife says it. When I was pregnant, I actually dressed in tighter clothes, as I felt so proud of my body at this stage!”

Triggers from my IBS


“Heavier food such as a Sunday roast and too much bread were the main culprits for my flare-ups.”

Dietary modifications


“I am proud to say that, over the years, I have continued to recover well. I took a probiotic course and modified my diet to be more plant-based, with plenty of lightly cooked vegetables, plenty of beef, plenty of organic fish, and even some goats or sheep cheese. Symprove is by far the best probiotic I’ve used and I’ll use some digestive enzymes to help my digestive system if I’m having a slightly heavy meal.”

“Too much raw food can also cause me bloating again so I control how much raw food I eat, particularly in the winter when our bodies really need heat! I had to listen to my body and found it really helped to monitor what made my IBS symptoms worse early on by keeping a food diary. I also found peace with food, meaning I stopped over and under eating, which was a big change and a shift that if I feel like the symptoms are coming back in, I’ll make vegetables and protein easier for my diet and relieve the pulses. Liquorice tea also really helps, and when bloating hits, I’ll have some peppermint supplement capsules handy.”

Also read: The Dopamine Diet: Key To Fitness

Changes in Lifestyle


“In comparison to very high impact exercise, which often made my symptoms worse, I also began meditation, which helped keep my stress levels down, and yoga, which allowed me to move my body in a more relaxing way. Training in nutrition and life coaching has obviously changed my attitude to health and life significantly as well. The skills I have learned mean that these days I rarely experience an IBS flare-up. I assume that so much of it was psychosomatic for me personally-I felt overweight and heavy, which just aggravated the tension and the subsequent symptoms.”

My advice to sufferers of IBS


“Check with a nutritionist or specialist for advice and encouragement. There is IBS itself, but there are also several pathologies that cause these symptoms, so it can be difficult to try to navigate how to make it better on your own without finding out why it’s happening. You need to get to the root of the issue, not just address the symptoms if long-term results are desired.”

My coping mechanism


“Breathe when IBS gets especially bad! I always stop taking deep breaths if things get bad- I make it a priority to sit still and get back in touch above anything else with my breath.”

DEBORAH CARR, FOUNDER OF NOURISH KEFIR

Deborah shares her experience with IBS

When I knew I had IBS


“I first encountered bowel issues in about 1995, but back then IBS wasn’t really known (there was no name for it), and yes, I went to a doctor, but I was informed for ages that there was nothing wrong with me. The symptoms never improved-they only grew progressively worse over time. I’m so happy to say that since 2006 I’ve been healthy, with just occasional IBS bouts, that luckily return to normal right after I drink some Kefir.”

My symptoms of IBS


“I really recall my first IBS experience very well. It started as ‘butterflies in my tummy’ and a sensation that I wanted to go to the toilet. Every now and then, there’s nothing wrong with that feeling, but it continued for me, then eventually became regular diarrhoea episodes. At its worst, I found it difficult to get out the door in the morning to drive to work-I kept feeling the feeling of diarrhoea.”

Everyday Life with IBS


“IBS used to rule my life. At any moment, I might have a sudden attack and be desperate for the toilet. It was as though I was the only one who had it. When I first experienced IBS, it was an isolating experience of antisocial symptoms. I had to be careful about what I ate. I became a really fussy eater! I wanted to prepare more carefully and go out for a meal with friends.”

“My social life was certainly influenced by my IBS. I was fortunate to find some inner strength to keep working wisely, but seeing people could be very hard during the ten years that I struggled terribly with IBS socially and in terms of relationships.”

Emotional stability alongside IBS


I was inspired by IBS to initiate a bit of self-analysis to try and find out what triggered my illness, as I would have thought I was absolutely well up to the point where it began. It is an ongoing process for me to get to know, respect, and appreciate myself, but it has been really worthwhile. My self-confidence took a knock during my ten years of being unwell. Looking back, I feel sad because my 20s should have been a time when I was full of faith, but IBS was in control and how I felt about myself was influenced by the humiliating symptoms. It took years to build it up, but even the symptoms are a reminder of how one minute you can be completely fine and the next one double bent in pain-complicated.”

Triggers during IBS


“I will absolutely say that tension and a sense of not being in charge of one’s life are a big cause of flare-ups, having been lucky to find my own road to relief. We all cope differently with stress, but it’s a cause too much, even though you’ve made dietary adjustments that have improved.”

Dietary modifications


“Finally, when I found kefir, my recovery finally came about—I know that might sound really simplistic, but for ten years I lived with symptoms in addition to being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and I tried all sorts of elimination diets, kinesiology, hypnotherapy, blood tests for intolerance, aloe juice, loads of different forms of inflammatory bowel disease medicine, vitamins, and supplements.”

“I eventually noticed a change when I tried kefir for the first time-it was life altering and a personal blessing for me. At the beginning, I consumed at least 500 ml a day, distributed throughout the day. My symptoms started to improve and gradually I began to reintroduce normal food into my diet, without struggling after eating them. It was wonderful.’

Changes in Lifestyle


“I find that exercise is very helpful in terms of controlling IBS symptoms in my personal experience, as is rest and ‘release’ and handling life’s stresses. I agree that if we can handle our stress (let’s face it, it’s just not possible to live a life without stress!), we can also make ourselves feel better internally. In our fast-paced lives, we all have to face a multitude of demands, but find them.”

“I’m taking magnesium as well. Muscles benefit from magnesium, and given as the intestinal tract is a big muscle, and it can spasm when you suffer from IBS, magnesium can help calm the muscle. For this reason, I try to use magnesium bath salts at least once a week.”

My guidance to other sufferers of IBS


“It is very important to be kind to yourself. That’s the starting point for taking care of yourself and trying to find out in your life what you need and want. Making time for yourself and putting at least some of your needs first is important. Not in a greedy way, but to help you reduce your IBS symptoms in a caring way and get more of the life you are meant to have—pain-free! “

My coping mechanism


“My advice would be to avoid stimulants that aggravate the intestine, such as caffeine. I’d also drink plenty of water and try to relax. I also know I’ve already mentioned, but everything changed once I discovered kefir. Kefir attacks the bad bacteria in the gut directly and repopulates it with healthy bacteria, so the incidences of IBS flare-ups are becoming less and less frequent.”

BECKY EXCELL, FOOD BLOGGER, JOURNALIST, VLOGGER, AND FREELANCER

Becky Excell shares her experience with IBS

When I knew I had IBS


“I had my first bout of IBS in my first year at University in 2009. It was a very stressful time for many reasons.”

My symptoms of IBS


I figured I had gluten allergy back then, as wheat seemed to be the only thing that made me feel bloated and unwell, yet I became inexplicably intolerant of more and more things as the years went on—strange things, such as some fruits and vegetables.”

“It wasn’t until two years later that I was told by my doctor that I had IBS, and the penny dropped. All made a great deal of sense after he discussed it.”

Everyday life with IBS


“I would like to be all optimistic and say that I never allow my life to be disrupted because I’m brave and I don’t let it stop me, but in all honesty, almost every part of my life, every day, is dragged down due to this.”

“I didn’t know how much of my social life revolved around dining out before I had IBS. Eating out is extremely stressful with numerous food intolerances, and 99% of social occasions include eating or drinking.”

“Staying in, staying at home and never going out is much simpler (and safer), but that protection still comes at the expense of your social life and relationships, whether or not you know it. I feel like I can’t win sometimes!”

“I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve sat in pain in front of a desk at work because of my stomach, but I’ve managed to conceal it from my colleagues. Needless to say, my performance at work has been greatly impacted, even though I made sure it had a small effect on my attendance. I was miserable and I’m pretty sure everyone noticed, but I never really knew why.”

“I am proud to say that despite my IBS, I have maintained a good level of fitness, but I will admit, it is so much more difficult to motivate myself to get down to the gym when I have indigestion. It’s a challenge to leave the house sometimes, but I do it.”

Emotional Stability alongside IBS


“I still want to speak up on how my mental health is affected by IBS because it is not commonly known enough. I mean, am I really supposed to be told I have this horrible, incurable condition and I’m just okay with it?!”

“Every day of my life, the fallout of feeling so heavy, painful and bloated really grinds you down over time. You slowly lose all hope of ever feeling better, which is really detrimental to your mental well-being. I battle the feeling of helplessness as best I can every day, but some days are harder than others.”

“IBS has also really made a big dent in my self-confidence, simply because my stomach is chronically bloated now. Before I had IBS, I already had body confidence problems, and IBS has just thrown more fuel into the fire. My stomach looks pregnant from the bloating, and now I spend most of my mornings staring in the mirror at myself, trying desperately to convince myself that I’m not overweight. It certainly helped me realize how IBS affects so much more than just your stomach.”

Triggers from my IBS


One of my main problems is tension, aside from the normal trigger foods that cause me tremendous grief, and it’s pretty inescapable. I am (and always have been) a worrier and an over-thinker. You would assume that for fear of flare-ups, IBS would teach me to be less stress-prone, but IBS brings with it a whole new world of stress.”

“Even positive stress can cause a flare-up, for instance when I’m really looking forward to something or I’m getting psyched up to do something important. I just can’t win.”

Dietary modifications


“The low diet of FODMAP has helped a lot to minimize my symptoms. There is essentially a (very) long list of foods that people with IBS can find aggravate their stomach with the low diet of FODMAP. These foods contain indigestible sugars that people with IBS fail to digest – those sugars ferment and generally result in an IBS assault.”

“It helped me to recognize which foods were triggering my flare-ups by taking these foods out for a time and slowly reintroducing them. Although I was helped to control my symptoms by the low FODMAP diet, it is definitely not a remedy by any means, and it is very restrictive too.”

“I eat little and often and avoid huge meals that have helped so much. I have no intolerance to even consuming large amounts of foods that can often lead to an IBS attack, so I have to be very careful.

I began introducing prebiotics such as Bimuno into my diet recently after they were suggested to me. Over the years, I have tried a lot of different IBS treatments, but prebiotics are one of the only things for which I have ever seen good results. Constipation (hope that’s not TMI) is one of my main symptoms and Bimuno has really helped fight that already.”

Changes in Lifestyle


Exercise is undoubtedly helping to shift my very, very sluggish digestive system! Although most of the time I feel like a beached whale, hitting the gym and staying healthy is one of the only things that lifts my mood and makes me feel physically better. Yoga is also supposed to be very nice, but I am too much of a wimp to go too far on my own.”

My guidance to other sufferers of IBS


“It can be a daunting path to diagnosis, but the first call should always be to see a doctor.”

“Symptoms of IBS may be very unclear, so first your doctor may want to check you for any conditions. They can also refer you to a dietitian who can also direct you through the low diet of FODMAP.”

“Apart from that, just make sure you still have somebody you can relate to—somebody you care for. IBS can be a real war, but don’t just face it alone.”

My coping mechanism


“You will find me under a blanket with my dog on my lap and a peppermint tea in my hand when I really, really feel like I can’t continue!”

GINA GEOGHEGAN, FOUNDER WILD FIZZ KOMBUCHA

IBS
Gina Geoghegan shares her experience with IBS

When I came to know I had IBS


“After a bad food poisoning accident, I got IBS when I was 20. My body has never completely recovered and I have really bad symptoms for 13 years.”

“I went to every doctor, every healer, every nutritionist, every yoga instructor, every meditation specialist—you name it, and nothing worked. All they really tried to do was cover up my symptoms, or they advised me to panic less, which was not very helpful. It was a good way to relax every day, but my symptoms nevertheless persisted. I did some hypnotherapy that was somewhat useful.”

“Then, when I was on a road trip in Arizona in the States, I found kombucha, and I felt better for the first time in a long time. My symptoms went away and I felt “normal”. It was pretty amazing, life-changing stuff. That’s why I started my kombucha brand Wild Fizz. I wanted to make it to help others too. Not just people with IBS either, as everyone needs help with their gut microbiome and kombucha is one of the best things you can add to your diet in order to do that. I now say that I don’t have IBS anymore, and I finally feel like I did before I got sick.” It was pretty amazing, life-changing stuff. That’s why I started my Wild Fizz kombucha brand-I wanted to do it to help others as well. Not only do IBS people, because everyone needs help with their gut microbiome and kombucha.”

My symptoms of IBS


“I don’t really have any symptoms anymore which is insane! Kombucha really was a game changer for me and my disease, but I used to have a load of not very nice symptoms- constipation, diarrhea, bloating and nausea, plus I would feel tired and exhausted all the time.”

Everyday life with IBS


“The hardest thing for me was dealing with the social anxiety that comes with IBS, aside from all the physical issues. Bad digestion is sort of taboo – no one wants to talk about poo, which makes it even harder, because you feel sick, and then you feel ashamed and disgusting as well. Socially, because you never know when your symptoms will strike, it can make you retreat from friends and enjoyable activities.”

“IBS used to consume every moment of my waking life. Everything I did included coping mechanisms. I know a lot about where every public toilet in London is located. That is now a thing of the past, but when I need to go, I still know where to go!”

Triggers from My IBS


“For me, depression was the key cause of IBS flare-ups. One day, I could eat chocolate, drink wine, gorge on crisps and feel amazing and then get crazy sick doing just the same thing. All of it relied on how sensitive my body was, and it was undeniably down to my everyday stresses for me.”

Dietary modifications


“Diet wise, I did monitor the damage. If I was doing something social, I would avoid milk, fried foods, alcohol, fizzy drinks and sweeteners. I would limit my diet to white bread and rice crackers if I had a really rough time, which sounds nuts, but it was the only thing that calmed my tummy down. No caffeine, no fizzy drinks and no raw veg- 100 percent of the time, I avoided beetroots. My tummy used to hate beetroots for some reason!”

“I drink kombucha almost every day. It’s my daily dose of good bacteria that seems to keep my body happy and healthy. Apart from that I also eat lots of kimchi and I try to keep my diet as colourful as possible, and organic. I find that getting what I need from food helps me to feel better than when I take supplements.”

Changes in lifestyle


“In terms of lifestyle, meditation, hypnotherapy and any exercise which makes you feel good can help to ease symptoms, but don’t overdo it- being tired caused me to flare up. When bloated I would take baths and use hot water bottles to soothe my belly. I would also eat peppermint tablets which helps reduce that ‘bubbling’ feeling in your stomach. Getting enough sleep is also vital.”

My guidance to other sufferers of IBS


“I would encourage someone suffering from IBS to go to see a doctor as soon as possible. To reduce the risk of any health problems, get all the tests completed.”

“Read all you can about gut health, then. There are plenty of excellent books out there with some amazing research behind them. Then go ahead and experiment, if you’re armed with experience. Try every angle you can, see in your own time, what helps/doesn’t. Your flare-up signs and causes would be different from mine, so you need to consider your body and read it. This needs time.”

“I recommend starting to include one fermented food per day in your diet, whether it’s kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut or kimchi, to kick start your journey. Take peppermint oil tablets as you go about it to help with flatulence.”

“A perfect cookbook for IBS sufferers is Heather Van Vorous’s Eating for IBS. It helped me in my 20s to eat well. Otherwise, it helped me to minimize booze, caffeine and sweeteners, and it can make a very good difference to avoid fried foods, dairy and red meat, and stop smoking if you drink.”

“It’s going to take a little while, but you’re going to come to understand how and when your body functions and responds badly. When you start tuning into your body, it’s very wonderful and her responses to your actions will begin to make sense. Hopefully, you’ll achieve equilibrium where your body becomes your friend again with some practice, some patience and some love.”

My Coping Mechanism


“Not getting upset was very tough, so I would try hard not to cancel social activities. Also, when I wanted to have power of my body for a few hours, Imodium was a game changer in desperate times. I’m so grateful that those days are over.”

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