Tuesday, 15 July 2014

How I'm defeating IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition of the digestive system, causing stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.

If you suffer from this condition then you would have experienced sickness and discomfort, a stomach so bloated you feel 8 months pregnant and a few embarrassing incidents involving you desperately trying to find a toilet.

IBS is the mother of all that is evil and has probably ruined parts of your life, but by understanding how your body works you can beat, or at least drastically reduce, the symptoms of IBS.

There was always something dodgy about my belly but when I turned 22 I could no longer ignore that there was something clinically wrong. Constant bloating, sickness, and although it’s embarrassing to talk about, I was rushing to the toilet far too often.

After many visits to the doctor it became apparent that I was suffering from IBS, so they gave me some tablets and sent me on my way. I had to take a tablet 20 minutes before I ate anything. What a joke!! This meant I couldn’t spontaneously have a nibble or steal a chip off someone’s plate. Instead I had to plan every move I made and everything I ate had to be eaten 20 minutes after I had taken the silly green tablet. What a life to live. A life I did not wish to live. Plus I found the tablets were not addressing the underlying issues at all and I was still unwell.

So instead, I conducted my own research (lots and lots of it), listened to my body and through willpower and persistence I exchanged my lifestyle for one that was positive in every way and completely managed my IBS symptoms. This new lifestyle I adopted goes a little something like this:

Willpower and persistence

So you’re serious about beating IBS? Well you better get yourself some willpower, and lots of it. In short, you'll need to change your lifestyle and to really reduce your symptoms, so they are almost non-existent, you will need to be persistent. Through persistence you will build new habits. This is not going to be easy, but I promise it will be worth it.

Junk food is the DEVIL
Donuts, cakes, biscuits, cheesy pizza… don’t you just love the taste of junk food with no nutritional value? Well these foods also love to flare up your IBS. Leaving you bloated, sick and probably stuck on the toilet. You will most definitely need to cut out foods high in fat, salt and sugar. Cutting out your favourite treats will probably be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do so be prepared for a tough challenge. But boy it will be worth it.

Through four years of constant trial and error and keeping a food diary I discovered that what I was putting in my body was the single most important factor when it came to managing my symptoms. Through indulging in a sugary donut I would go from feeling fabulous to feeling sick and every time I ate something that made me feel unwell I would jot it down and rule this food out of my life. Was it easy? Oh hell no! If you know me, you know I am the greediest girl who roams this planet, but my health and well-being is just too important. Change your eating habits and get into the habit of avoiding junk food. After all, junk food is no good for you anyway.

What else to avoid – I avoid gluten and dairy like the plague!
Ok, so in addition to foods high in salt, sugar and fats I have also cut out gluten, dairy and ALL processed foods. However, please only cut these out if they are actually making you unwell. You must get into the habit of keeping a food diary or mental note of those foods causing you issues. Once identified, you must eliminate them from your diet. There is absolutely no way you will get better if you continue to consume foods that are making you unwell.

Thankfully things like rice flour and corn flour exist. Both are gluten-free, cheap and make a fine substitute to wheat flour. I’m also very fond of soya milk. If this is not to your taste, try the other varieties including almond, coconut and rice milk. I do, however, find the other varieties a little on the pricey side so I stick to good old soya – the taste grows on you I promise!

Up your game in the kitchen

One of the best things I ever did was learn to make my favourite foods from scratch using substitute flours, substitute dairy and natural, healthy ingredients. I buy fresh and eat fresh and nothing goes in my body unless it has nutritional value. With good cooking skills you can make your meals taste absolutely delicious and you’ll quickly learn that eating healthy is just as, if not more, yummy then the evil foods you were eating before! Plus, the added health benefits are worth every single moment.

I also avoid foods from the ‘gluten-free’ range in the supermarket. Simply because they are so expensive - just make your own!

Eating out
Restaurant visits do not have to be daunting. I check the menu beforehand or speak to the chef upon arrival. In short, you’ll need to stick to things like steak, uncoated meats, salads and chips. When it comes to dessert, restaurants very rarely cater for us IBS folks. Unless they have fancy fruit salad or sorbet. I do love a bit of mango sorbet!

You will need to accept that restaurants won’t always offer an IBS friendly starter or dessert. Learn to be ok with this and instead go hard on the main course!

Inform friends and associates of your intolerances
I have the best set of friends in the world. Simply because they know what I can and cannot eat and always cater for me at dinner parties etc. If someone has invited you for dinner make sure you let them know what foods you are intolerant to. It may seem like you’re being picky but it’s far better to be picky then to spend an evening feeling uncomfortable and bloated. Or worse, stuck on the toilet. Ewww!

Preparation is king!
Always, always, always prepare lunch to bring to work. Never assume you can just pop to the local sandwich shop to grab something. Your choices will be limited, or you’ll find they don’t even have anything safe to eat, and you’ll probably give in and grab something you know you shouldn’t be eating. Get into the habit of preparing salads or leftover dinner from the night before and bring this to work instead.

Drink yourself beautiful
Up your water intake, reduce your intake of fizz and caffeine (I actually avoid fizz and caffeine completely) and you’ll find yourself exchanging your bubble guts for a better functioning digestive system. You should be aiming for at least 8 glasses of water a day – but you should know this already!

Go herbal

Mint, lemon & ginger and chamomile are my fave teas. They massage my belly with warmth and a bit of healing power and make me feel nice. Get yourself some tea and drink during or after meals or when your belly needs a massage.

Warm your belly
Hot water bottles and running warm water over my belly whilst in the shower does wonders. It most definitely relaxes my bloated feeling. Give it a go.

Exercise is king!  
Exercise will always make you feel fabulous. When you feel particularly bloated get yourself moving: jog, hula hoop, do some sit ups, plank, squat. Just get your body moving. It really, really works. Do something every time you feel bloated, even a few sit ups whilst watching your favourite programme or a few squats whilst waiting for the kettle to boil will help.

Get your mind right
First and foremost, don’t play the victim and don’t start feeling sorry for yourself. You absolutely must adopt a positive attitude towards IBS. For example, the fact that I am intolerant to the majority of junk food available means that I don’t eat it. And what does this mean? Well it means I am in bloody great shape because I eat so very healthily. Most women probably spend their lives dieting and trying to find out which diet works for them. Turns out all you need to do to get some abs is to follow an IBS friendly diet and voila you’ll be eating so healthily your waistline will sing!


When you’re having a particularly bad day, learn to focus your mind on something positive and hold it there, focusing solely on that for a few minutes, or as long as you possibly can. Meditation will always take your mind off the discomfort and enable you to go somewhere lovely.

Practice your breathing, light some candles, clear your mind of clutter and focus on all that is beautiful. Do not allow yourself to think about the discomfort you are experiencing. Instead, tell yourself you feel great and when you believe that you do, you actually will.

I really hope this helps you on your journey to beating IBS and if you have any questions, feel free to email me: chantelsachanna@gmail.com.