In the fourth of the Living with IBS series, university-student Ruth, shares her highs and lows of living with IBS…
How did you know you had IBS?
I have suspected I have some kind of gastro problem for a few years because I often felt bloated and in pain after eating certain foods or in a stressful situation. However, I just brushed this off and thought it was normal as it would go quite quickly. I also suffer with endometriosis and during a flare up I was admitted to hospital and had an ultrasound. This revealed inflammation of my ileum which the doctors believed to be Crohn’s disease. I was then referred to a gastroenterologist who performed an MRI and colonoscopy on me which revealed to everyone’s great surprise that I did not have Crohn’s disease therefore was diagnosed with IBS instead.
How do you cope with IBS on a daily basis?
I cope mentally by trying to think positively and see all the good in life and in every situation. This helps dispel any anger and ‘why me’ and allows me to gain a better perspective. It took a long while to adjust to this frame of mind but it has meant that I’ve built up a lot of mental strength so on the tough days I know how to get through them. Physically I cope by a change to my diet. I was referred to a dietitian who recommended and monitored me on the low FODMAP diet. By working out what foods I can and cannot tolerate it has allowed me to cope much better because it has lessened the pain and discomfort I experience after eating.
Any life-changing tips of how to deal with symptoms?
I hugely recommend working out what foods your body can’t tolerate and then cut them out. For me, the low FODMAP allowed me to do this well with a reintroduction phase on all the food groups such as dairy, wheat and fructose. This meant I could work out which food group my body can’t tolerate. Although it can be difficult to cut out foods, especially when with friends or eating out, it has definitely been worth it as it has made a huge difference to my pain and discomfort levels.
Foods you swear by and foods you swerve
I (try to) swerve all foods containing onions, garlic, wheat, cauliflower, beans, grapes, apples, pears and most foods containing dairy. The foods I swear by are; almond milk, porridge, strawberries, fresh tuna steaks, gluten-free pasta, rice, low FODMAP vegetables (carrots, small amount of broccoli), chicken and pork.
What’s the food you most devastatingly miss?
I miss home cooked foods like lasagna or spaghetti bolognese because without onions these lack a lot of flavour! I also miss being able to go out and grab something to eat while out, I find gluten-free tastes like cardboard so eating out for lunch I find very difficult.
What’s a typical weeknight dinner?
Fresh tuna steak with rice and a salad or spicy chicken with the same accompaniments. I like pasta dishes and I find gluten-free pasta tastes the same and using garlic oil is allowed in the low FODMAP diet and adds a lot of flavour. Since being on the diet I have tried many new stir-fry recipes with gluten free noodles or rice dishes, these types of foods are my favourite.
Do you feel your lifestyle has changed?
Yes, I eat healthier now and I am aware of what is in the food I cook. Although it is difficult finding a substitute to some foods it has allowed me to try new dishes and broaden my horizons.
What do your friends and family do to accommodate?
My family has been very good, when I am at home my mother tries to cook meals without onion, garlic or wheat and bakes me gluten-free brownies to take back to university with me. My friends have been good too; if we’re eating out they try to pick somewhere that has gluten-free options. I am lucky to have understanding people in my life.
How would you explain IBS to others?
I would say it is a physical and mental pain. It causes pain, bloating and other unpleasant bowel symptoms not only when/after eating but also in stressful situations. This then causes the mental pain because of the worry of when or how severe these symptoms will be and this happens all the time, every day, the same routine, the only part that differs is the level of pain, sometimes it can be bearable other times I have to take pretty strong painkillers and curl up into a ball. Living with IBS is far from easy but in a positive spin it keeps you on your toes, never a dull day.
Read More in the Living With IBS Series:
Read More About My Struggle with IBS: