Since more than six years now, I am dealing with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Although the cause of the ailment is still unclear to doctors, stress, a sedentary lifestyle and certain types of food are known to increase its symptoms. For me, the sudden appearance of IBS coincided with a tremendously stressful and traumatic period in my life: my father was in the last stages of Kahler’s disease (plasma cell myeloma), after a 5-year long battle with transplantations and chemo therapy. My mother suffered from depression and I felt responsible for taking care of her and my 10-year younger brother. It was a very tough, sad and exhausting time. My body seemed to find a way to express the feelings, fears and stress that had been building up inside of me and that I couldn’t afford to address at that moment due to the complicated situation I was in. I had never been a sickly person at all, but from one day to another that changed. After my wisdom-teeth had been removed in the hospital, I contracted an infection which caused severe pain for a couple of weeks. Shortly afterwards, I had my first migraine attack. When I went abroad on a study trip that same month, I developed bursitis in my left elbow, which is still painful even now. Then, one day, I suddenly had a terrible attack of dizziness, which didn’t seem to stop. After a couple of hours the dizziness became less, but didn’t disappear. After several months of feeling extremely tired, sick and dizzy and after several hospital tests including an MRI scan , the doctor told me that I had an infection to my organ of balance (Labyrinthitis). After realizing I did not have a terrible disease but something that would pass, I felt less concerned, but I was still suffering from extreme exhaustion and insecurity. I couldn’t even do the groceries anymore, watch a movie or type more than a few sentences on my computer. It was incredibly frustrating, especially since I was supposed to be writing my MA thesis! I spent about 9 months in total resting and recovering, unable to do much else. In the meantime, the symptoms of my IBS had grown worse. I had already undergone a very painful endoscopy (not receiving any painkillers, oddly enough) but was determined to have a second one to be sure that it was indeed IBS that was torturing my bowels and not for instance Crohn’s disease. This time, they did anesthetize me and the conclusion was clear: I had IBS and I simply had to find a way to live with it.
Whether or not my weakened body is indeed the result of what happened in my family years ago, I do not know. Perhaps my travels to
Guatemala and and the
food poisoning that I regularly caught there, messed up my system. Or perhaps
my past of extreme dieting, having low self-esteem, being somewhat of a
perfectionist and always erroneously believing I was too fat, put my body in
shock when I started eating like a normal person again. I do not know…but I
feel relieved that I am ‘only’ diagnosed with IBS. I am working hard on keeping
my body healthy and reducing negative influences on my bowels and I must say,
the hard work is paying off! Since I started with a strict regime last year of
consuming only the foods that my body seems to thrive on and leaving out the
bad stuff, I am facing much less pain and bloating. While I used to have so
much pain on particularly bad days that I even had trouble walking, now I’m
never experiencing those extreme situations anymore. Although IBS seems to be
different for everyone, most people tend to either suffer from constipation or
from diarrhoea. In some cases, both. For me it’s always constipation, which
causes a bloated belly and a constant pressure on my bladder. It’s annoying,
painful and makes me look permanently pregnant! Fortunately, I’ve learned how
to cover up the bloated belly quite nicely by wearing the right kinds of
clothes. My belly is still bloated half of the time, but much less than it used
to be, because of my improved lifestyle and perhaps also because of my new
attitude towards IBS (accepting it’s not dangerous but that I won’t be able to
cure it entirely). Peru
Anyway, to make a long story short…I would like to share some of the things that have affected my IBS in a very positive way, reducing its symptoms. Bear in mind that these will not work for everyone because IBS manifests itself so differently in each person, but perhaps they’re worth considering anyway (just give it a try and see what works for you!). Also, be aware that everything should be tested for a longer period of time (at least for a couple of weeks), to find out what it really does for you and to establish a change in your body. This is my own set of rules to battle my IBS, which might be beneficial for you too:
- Have breakfast each morning (never skip it!), containing a ton of healthy ingredients that stimulate the bowels and enough fruit to make sure you won’t miss your 2 pieces a day: a bowl with soy yoghurt, 1 banana, 2 kiwis or seasonal high-fibre and high-vitamin fruits, +/- 5 dried blueberries, +/- 5 goji berries, half a teaspoon of chia seeds, +/- 5 hazelnuts, a tablespoon of raisins, a handful of puffed quinoa and a tablespoon of honey or organic syrup. It’s a powerful breakfast and will keep you satisfied until lunchtime! Soy yoghurt is easy to process and nuts, dried berries and seeds contain calcium and vitamins.
- Eat healthy, sugar- and gluten free snacks in between meals, such as: a piece of fruit, a gluten-free health bar, nuts, dried apricots, gluten-free toast with cheese, a piece of cheese, a slice of ham or a piece of chocolate made from cold-pressed cacao beans.
- Eat at least 80% organic foods. I suspect pesticides have a bad influence on my bowels. In any case, I don’t trust them and therefore I am thinking: better safe than sorry. As a plus, they usually taste better too!
- Eat meat only once or twice a week. I have noticed that fish and vegetarian products are easier to process for me. When I do eat meat, it’s organic. I try to eat fish quite regularly, because it’s very healthy, tasty and never stimulates bloating.
- Eat as much at fixed times of the day as possible. My bowels love rhythm! Both being hungry and eating too much too early has a negative effect on my IBS.
- Don’t overeat. Not surprisingly, it stimulates bloating.
- Walk, run, do sports or simply move as much as possible! I’m not a person who naturally loves to do sports, but I’ve noticed that the longer I sit still, the more I am in pain. Bodily movement stimulates the bowels and therefore is a major contribution to battling IBS.
- Relax. This is a hard one for me, since I lead a busy life and often tend to feel guilty about taking some rest, but I cannot deny it is essential. Not just for ones mind or body in general, but for ones bowels as well. Get enough sleep (8 hours works fine for me, but I do need to be in bed before 23:00 at night) and lie on the couch in between domestic duties. Read a book, drink a cup of tea…anything that truly helps you to relax. When I do not get enough sleep or rest, bloating always increases.
- Do not let IBS control your life too much. Build a routine and choose a healthy lifestyle, but don’t pay attention to your belly all the time because you will be focussed on it too much and notice the pain and bloating even better. In my case, it truly helped when I finally accepted my situation and decided not to let IBS rule my world.
- Eat gluten-free. This, I have only been doing for about eight months now. It is probably the most effective rule of all for me! I suspect it’s mainly grains that are causing the problem…whether I have a true gluten-allergy I severely doubt, but my bowels seems to have trouble processing grains. When I eat bread containing gluten every once in a while, I’m fine. When I eat it on a regular basis, I am facing severe constipation. Eating without gluten is not as hard as it seems and there are many alternatives for bread, pasta, pizza etc. Most of those products are available gluten-free, or one can simply eat a salad for lunch or a bowl of soup.
- Try to avoid ready-made foods, spice mixes, sauces etc. Make your own! This way you know what’s inside and you can avoid eating additives and preservatives. The less I eat of those, the better I feel. Pure food is the least harmful to the bowels and usually contains most vitamins.
- Let the main meal (in my case dinner) consist of at least 75% vegetables. They are high in fibres, vitamins and are processed easily. Some people with IBS like to avoid unions and cabbage, but in my case I do not really notice a difference.
- Don’t drink too much coffee. I try to keep to a maximum of two cups a day. Coffee works as a laxative for me, but it also increases pain. I guess it’s simply a pretty harsh substance for my bowels. Tea on the other hand, never has much effect on me.
- Do not eat after eight ‘o clock at night. This gives the bowels enough time to relax. After a while, the evening appetite decreases as routine starts to take effect.
- Drink water a lot. Try to avoid sodas and fruit juices (they contain lots of sugar or other harmful substances) and let the water clean your body.
The above mentioned ‘rules’ are not able to cure IBS, not for me or anyone else, but may bring some relief and they certainly stimulate a healthy diet.
My summer breakfast