Eat To Treat: How I Am Curing My IBS
Warning: I will be talking about no2’s, diarrhoea and constipation in this blog post, so if you are uncomfortable with hearing these terms, I kindly ask that you do not read this. Unfortunately for people with IBS, whether they are conformable of not with these terms, they are forced to become very familiar with them..
I have had IBS for many years now and in my opinion it is a very misunderstood and under appreciated problem that affects a significant amount of the UK population (approx. 10%). A lot of people think it is purely just a physiological problem, but in my experience it can also be a mental problem too, as the symptoms can be very hard to accept; especially over a long period of time.
If I am being honest, there has been times during really bad, constant IBS symptoms, that I have felt like my life wasn’t worth living. That may sound extreme to those of you who have never had IBS, but it was a genuine thought that did go through my head whilst experiencing a very bad period of IBS. It can take all of the energy out of a person and make them feel like the only thing they are doing all day is sitting on the toilet, wanting to get it off the entire time.
IBS can be a very lonely condition; as it involves troubles with going to the toilet it is hard to talk to others about and you consider that other people may feel comfortable talking about the movement of your no2’s. It seems that people with IBS downplay their condition and do not let on to other people how bad their experience actually is. I have often downplayed it myself, saying ‘oh I just have bad belly ache’, when really I was in a very bad way with finding a toilet at the top of my priorities.
I think that people with IBS are easily pleased. By that I mean that all we want in life (when experiencing IBS symptoms) is to not have stools that resemble diarrhoea or constipation, and are not painful to push out. Having a ‘normal’ no2, which many people take for granted, is a luxury for people with IBS and it feels so good to not have IBS symptoms in those instances.
Moving away from my negative experiences of IBS, I am happy to say that I have been altering my diet in many ways and have seen massive improvements to the quality of my life; i.e much less frequent IBS symptoms.
I hope that my giving my account of what I have tried and what has and hasn’t worked; may help some of you to improve or even eliminate your IBS symptoms altogether. Now that would be a beautiful thing.
IBS – The Basics
I know most of you will be clued up on IBS, but just for my non-IBS readers who want to gain an understanding, I will give a quick rundown on IBS. Feel free to skip to the next section.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder (10%, more common in women) that affects the large intestine. Signs and symptoms include cramping, abdominal discomfort or pain, excess wind/bloating, gas, and diarrhoea (often violent episodes of diarrhoea) and/or constipation.
IBS is a chronic condition that needs managing long term (in other words, you can reduce symptoms, but in order for them to stay reduced you need to make commitments to your lifestyle that make living with IBS much easier).
IBS is not a life-threatening condition and it does not make a person more likely to develop other colon conditions or any diseases of the heart or nerves. Yet, IBS can be a long-term problem that can significantly impair quality of life in those that have it. For example, people with IBS miss work more than people without IBS and the condition is associated with being absent from school, decreased participation in activities of daily living, alterations of one’s work setting (shifting to working at home, changing hours) or giving up work altogether.
Two hundred years after the condition was first described, experts still don’t completely understand what causes IBS symptoms. There has been many suggestions as to the cause; from hormonal components (since its more common in women), substances regulating nerve signal transmission (between the brain and GI tract), and that the colon is hypersensitive (and overreacts to mild stimulation and causes bowel muscles to spasm instead of slow rhythmic muscle contractions, causing either diarrhoea or constipation).
There are known triggers for IBS symptoms, which include certain foods, medicines, the presence of gas or stool and emotional stress. People diagnosed with IBS are advised to reduce these triggers to a minimum for the best possible quality of life.
Things I have tried to cure my IBS…
The following findings are the result of me altering my diet over many months and through the long process of elimination, I have found that certain things help alleviate my IBS. I am attempting to write these in order of things I’ve did ages ago to things I do now:
- Nothing, ignore that I have IBS, eat anything at any time, me in the future can deal with the repercussions of my actions – Clearly you won’t be surprised to know that this does not work. You need to accept that you have IBS and if you want a better quality of life you do need to make alterations to your lifestyle.
- Buscopan tablets – I was very hopeful that these would work after seeing them advertised on telly and having others recommend me them. Unfortunately these actually made my symptoms much worse, so I shouldn’t have got my hopes up. With IBS, you have to have a backbone and not give up just because the things you are trying don’t work. An don’t expect the first thing you try to work well for you. If it does.. bonus!
- Peppermint Based Tablets – When I first started using these, they seemed to help me a lot. At that time I was eating quite late and when I already had symptoms such as bloating and abdominal pain, they did help to reduce the symptoms. There was a time when I ate a peppermint tablet before every meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner) as recommended and what I found was that it I did not get any IBS symptoms at night, but after I had had my breakfast the following day I would be toilet bound again. Now, I have not completely ruled out using peppermint tablets, but I will only use them if I already have IBS symptoms, namely bloating and abdominal pain. My other concern with the particular peppermint tablets I was prescribed was that they contained ingredients I would rather not have had in the tablets – I prefer things to be pure and not mixed with other ingredients. So, perhaps if you are able to find pure peppermint tablets you may have a different experience to me.
- Removing dairy from my diet (I still eat cheese occasionally) – I have swapped milk for soya milk and have seen a reduction in my symptoms. The reduction was massive when I first made the swap to dairy-free alternatives, and then my symptoms came back, but not as bad as before.
- Not eating late – For me this meant not eating anything after 7pm. I found this helped me to not get horrible abdominal pain and bloating at night when I went bed. I would have a better nights sleep and would not wake up the following morning with excessive wind.
- Not drinking cold water – I did think that maybe it was the cold water that I drink which is not helping, but I found that even if I drink room temperature water, I can still get IBS symptoms.
- Not drinking (even water) late – I have found that even if I don’t eat after 7pm, but I drink water I can still suffer with IBS symptoms the following day. I don’t understand why, but now I give myself 1 glass of water to drink after 7pm. Before I would allow myself to drink any amount of water after 7pm as I thought it is water, what harm can it do? I have found that since altering my drinking, I have had less issues the following day.
- Not drinking any drinks (other than water) after 7pm – I noticed that when I drank other drinks, like tea and hot chocolate after 7pm, I would go bed feeling bloated and with some abdominal pain.
- Not eating (following a bad bout of IBS) – Firstly, I was scared to eat as I knew it would add fuel to the bowel to make more no2s. I theorised that by not eating anything or eating as little as possible, I would minimise my IBS symptoms. Whilst it did help for the most part, I would find that instead of IBS symptoms, I would get equally painful hunger pains, empty stomach pains. So in the long run maybe not the best idea.
- Eating biscuits (following a bad bout of IBS), namely rich tea biscuits – I have found that eating rich tea biscuits has helped me to gain trust in food again and raise my appetite. I have not found it to make my symptoms worse, I find I recover much quicker. Watch the number of biscuits though, don’t be eating the whole packet. Maybe have 3 at a time at each normal meal time.
- Drinking water (following / during a bad bout of IBS) – I have found this helps. It not only helps me to feel like I am doing something, but I felt cleaner inside and I truly believe it helped me compared to when I didn’t drink much.
- Switch to an organic where possible diet – I think this has really helped me. If you want to learn more about what organic means, click here. I have found I am a lot happier in myself as I know that I am eating food that is better for my body and that I am also doing the environment a favour. This has really helped to boost my self-esteem and has a real feel good factor. As you know, IBS is triggered by stress, so me being happier in myself and my lifestyle has really helped to alleviate my symptoms.
- Cut out refined sugars, such as the sugar you use for tea/coffee – I can’t tell you if this has had an effect on my diet, but I certainly feel better about not putting refined sugars into my body. I now use a natural plant derived sweetener – Organic Agave Nectar.
- Removing meat from my diet (except fish/seafood) – I now follow a pescetarian diet. If you want to know more, click here. I used to get bad abdominal pain and really bad bloating after a meal that included land animal meat (e.g chicken, beef), even if I ate reasonably early (4pm). I used to get these symptoms from after eating the meal until when I went bed at night (several hours later). After cutting land animal meat out of my diet I have noticed a massive difference when I eat at the same time (around 4pm). Any symptoms do not stay with me when I go to bed, if at all.
- Don’t order takeaways – Every time I have got a takeaway I have seen it as a treat as it seems to taste so good. What I have come to realise, is that for IBS sufferers takeaways are more like instant gratification, delayed IBS. I always get horrible abdominal pain and bloating following a takeaway but I have always left it to future me to deal with the problems that come after, which isn’t fair on me.. Now, I will be honest I did usually get takeaways late; that’s the social thing to do right? But it is just not worth a) the money or b) the horrible IBS you get afterwards.
- Don’t experiment too much with food in one go – It’s fine to experiment, but do not add too many unfamiliar ingredients at any one time. Instead try adding one unfamiliar ingredient at a time, so that you can establish whether you are okay with that food or not.
- Eating smaller meals, but more frequently – I have found that no bigger than fist sized portion sizes (imagine the meal being crushed so it would be no bigger than the size of your fist) helps a lot. Not only did it help me to feel more full, I actually felt like I was eating much more than I needed to and I did not eat as many bad snacks (the naughty ones, usually involving chocolate). I think it also helps my colon as I am allowing it more time to digest more manageable chance of food. I have also found that I do not get bloated. I now have 5 meals a day: Breakfast, Lunch, After-lunch snack, Dinner, After-dinner snack. I will give you an example of what I eat further down this post.
- Create a meal plan and stick to it – Yes, this is mainly important so that you eat foods a regular intervals. But like said above, your portion sizes matter. I have also found it helps to spend less. I will give you an example of what I eat further own this post.
- Eat porridge for breakfast every day – Now that I have been eating organic wholegrain porridge every morning (for 5 days), I have not had any IBS symptoms, aside from wind (which I can deal with). I know.. real progress people!
- Take a sachet of Bioglan BioHappy Daily Cultures every day – I am still in the process of working out the best time to drink this (whether morning, lunch or dinner). I have tried consuming it at different times and it doesn’t seem to make a difference. What I have found though, is that I have been having ‘normal’ no2s and that is a wonderful thing. I fully believe that taking this each day with eating porridge every morning is really helping me. But in conjunction with all the other things I have stated above. The one I use is Bioglan BioHappy Daily Cultures in the Berry Flavour (5g sachets). These sachets contain 3 strains of live bacteria.
- Avoid fizzy drinks – This includes sparkling water. Fizzy drinks have only made my IBS. The same may be true for you.
- Feel hungry (real hunger) sometimes – When I fast for a few hours (and feel my belly rumbling a bit), usually due to working on a project and forgetting to eat, I have a much better day and do not get any IBS symptoms. I also have a great morning the following day. I wouldn’t recommend doing it every single day (you need food to function). An ideal would maybe be to fast once a week to give your system a break and a chance to start over. I wouldn’t recommend skipping breakfast on any days though. At the moment I am working on ‘fasting’ on a Sunday, and by this I mean have 2 meals instead of 5; one being breakfast and the other being a snack, such as 2 crisp breads.
- Have a bedtime routine – I have found that when I go bed before 12 midnight, and have at least 8 hours sleep, I wake up feeling better. Its helpful if you can set a time that you will get yourself in bed, to give your body a routine, which means it knows when it can rest and when it should produce more enzymes. I’ve found it helps.
- Swap to wholemeal where you can – When I swapped my bread, pasta, fusilli and spaghetti to wholewheat alternatives I saw a big difference. Much less bloating after eating these foods and they don’t taste much different. In fact to me me, they taste better.
- Add more fibre – I am trying to add much more fibre to my diet, in the form of wholewheat seeded bread, crisp bread as snacks and more fruit (I’m not the best on the fruit front at the moment..baby steps). This has been helping. Most of us get told to eat fibre to help our digestive system, but we don’t seem to know how much we should be eating. I read somewhere that eating 40g of fibre helps the digestive system process the food you eat and helps to increase your gut biome.
- Adding a glass of water with every meal – This has helped me to digest my food. I have has less stomach pains and less bloating immediately after eating a meal, which is great.
- Try different foods – After seeing this really work for me, I theorised that my IBS symptoms may be linked to a poor git biome diversity, so I am looking more into how I can increase the diversity of bacterium in my gut. I have researched into it and found that eating organic is best (as using pesticides can take away some of the good bacteria) and eating a variety of foods helps. I am still woking on this one, so I will be leaving an update on any significant findings. By trying different foods, this is more about different raw foods rather than different packaged ready meals..
- Try to reduce salt intake – I have tried to add a little less salt to my foods and being more conscious of the salt I consume. Avoiding ready made meals is a good call as they often add much too much salt for flavour, which is not only unhealthy but also a potential trigger for your IBS.
- Exercise more – There is research to say that exercising helps alleviate IBS symptoms. Whilst I have not been as active as I would have liked to have been, whenever I have had a little dance session or went for a walk on the park, I have felt better and had less symptoms.
- Buy foods package free – One thing I am looking into at the moment is only buying foods without packaging as it has been found that toxic chemicals can go from the plastic that contains food and actually into the food. there has been accounts of people who have completely removed their tummy troubles simply by buying foods package free. I am now trying to love my life in a zero waste way, to help my health and the environment. I will update you on my findings.
So there you go, the things I have tried to cure my IBS. I am still working on a few of the latter points, and will update you on this post of any changes. I finally feel like I am on the road to living a better quality life and being almost IBS free.
Aiming for 30g fibre is recommended by the UK. To back this up, when I have had a day of eating lots of fibre, my IBS symptoms have been less. This will not be the case for everyone, but it is worth trying to see if it alleviates your symptoms.
As promised above, here is an example of what I might now eat in a typical day: (*=organic)
- 40g Porridge Oats* (Aldi)
- With 200ml Unsweetened Soya* (Asda)
- 15g Chia seeds* (Amazon)
- Handful Supersweet Blueberries (Tesco)
- 1 Banana (Aldi)
- 10 Strawberries (Tesco)
- With a glass of lemon water (Tesco)
- 2 Toast on 50/50 Bread* (Homemade – recipe coming soon)
- Unsalted Butter* (Tesco)
- 2 teaspoons Strawberry Jam (Aldi Specially Selected)
- 1 Nutribioticals powder (Amazon – review coming soon)
- With a glass of water
- 250g (Mashed) Potatoes*
- 1/2 (210g) Tinned Beans*
- 2 Soya Vegetarian Sausages – Linda McCartney’s
After dinner snack:
- Homemade Banana Flapjack (recipe coming soon)
Total Fibre: 1 gram
Thank you for taking the time to read my story and how I am curing my IBS. As I have said before, IBS is an emotional condition as well as physical. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to write to me in the comments (or to firstname.lastname@example.org if you don’t want your comment to be public). I want to help as many of you as I can. And even if I can’t help, I want to be here to support. Remember you are not alone, and nothing lasts forever. Your symptoms will improve with time.