It’s hard to talk about IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). It can seem like a trivial problem to people who’ve never experienced it, and as Brits, we have a hard time talking about bowels in the first place. I also can’t believe that just after starting this blog I’m going to start talking about my sad stomach – but I want to, because I know that the more people talk about things like IBS, the less stigma is attached to them, and the more likely you are to get a fast diagnosis and get better.
IBS isn’t, as some charmers have pronounced “just a stomach ache”. And it’s not made up either. Yes, people going on and on about gluten sensitivities and being allergic to non-organic wine can be annoying, but for me and many others, the problem is real.
About eighteen months ago I woke up as normal one Thursday and went into work. But by 10am I felt like someone was twisting a knife into my stomach harder and harder. I told my manager I was leaving, and barely made it the 10 minutes to Cannon Street station before I was sprinting to the disabled toilet and chucking my guts up. I stayed there for an hour, then made it home. What followed was a long weekend of absolute stomach and intestinal misery. I kept getting these stabbing pains – it was so much worse than the time I’d had food poisoning.
The following Wednesday I felt able to eat again, but over the next three or four weeks, the pains kept coming and going. On a trip to Amsterdam with my boyfriend, I spent quite a lot of time sitting in the park holding my stomach feeling too tired to do much else. I couldn’t believe that a simple stomach bug had had such a long-term impact.
What’s more, it kept going. Over the autumn, I lost weight because everything I ate seemed to pass straight through me. My hair was falling out and I was constantly tired and woozy. My stomach would bloat so much that in the evening I could be five inches fatter than in the morning. Right now, I am sitting at home having left work because my stomach was so painful it was making me feel shaky and sick.
I went to doctors, I tried medications, I tried cutting out gluten, then dairy, then both. Nothing helped. Eventually, I was referred to an NHS dietician, who suggested I tried the FODMAPs diet.
According to scientists, the FODMAPs diet will help reduce symptoms in people who suffer from IBS. What is it? FODMAPs stands for Fermentable, Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides And Polyols, which are a group of carbohydrates that scientists have pinpointed as foods that cannot be absorbed in the small intestine. They are fermented in the large intestine instead, which causes pain and bloating. Reducing FODMAPs has been shown to reduce IBS symptoms. (or at least, this is what the FODMAPS pamphlet I’ve been given has told me).
IBS can be difficult to diagnose because everyone has different triggers and different combinations of symptoms. The hope is that by following the FODMAPs diet, you cut out all the foods that could be a trigger for the IBS for eight weeks, and then you can introduce them one by one and work out which ones are causing problems for you.
It’s important to note that the FODMAPs plan is not a low carb plan – rice and potatoes are both considered fine. It’s also not a gluten free plan – some gluten containing foods are banned, but oats are allowed. It’s certainly not a fad diet that anyone would want to follow, it’s an extremely restrictive plan – especially for a vegetarian. The list of banned foods includes all beans and pulses, mushrooms, and various other vegetables which a vegetarian considers a staple. Also onions, which are in everything processed, so I’m going to have to make everything from scratch.
It’s going to be a hard couple of months, but I’m hoping that it will be worth it. I’m going to try and write an update about how it’s going every week, so please check back if you’re interested.