Irritable Bowel Syndrome and My Angry Belly

Those of you that know me may know that I deal, on a daily basis, with the confusing and frustrating symptoms of IBS.  And it isn’t cool.  Far from it.  And I bet I’m not the only person you know that has to deal with the same thing.  They may know what there stomach discomfort is all about, they may not.  I didn’t know for a very long time that there was a potential name for it.  Sadly, no two people have the exact same symptoms.  For some people, it’s explosive diarrhea, for others extreme constipation and for others still a nice combination of both.  And to make matters worse, diagnosing it is more like checking off a long list of what it’s not than a quick test to see what it is.

My diagnosis took place about 4 years ago.  It was a long process, filled with stress, tears and and confusion. Here’s what happened.  I had just moved to Columbus, Georgia, started a new job with a new company and was trying to break into my new social circle.  Suddenly, one day my guts just erupted into an angry mess.  Of course, I was at work.  At the time I worked with children with autism in their homes so when I say I was at work, I mean I was occupied attempting to provide one on one instruction to a child that could not maintain with out it in the home of this family that relied on me to keep their child safe.  I was terrified.  Didn’t know if lunch was headed up or down, but I knew it wasn’t going to stay in my stomach.  And the strangest part for me was that I felt absolutely fine right up until the very second I thought my entire intestinal system was going to fall out of my body. I was able to get mom, who didn’t speak much English, to relieve me for a bathroom break and empty the contents of my belly into their toilet.  Fine.  Not so bad.  I finished my day, a little nervous, a little fatigued, but able to get through with no real scares.

That night, after work, I met some colleagues for trivia.  After a few beers and a slice of pizza, I got the feeling again.  I paid my tab as quick as I could and ran for my car, not knowing if I would even make it home.  I did, barely.  And took a few vacation days to clear out my system completely.  Nothing I ate was digestible.  I could drink nothing but water, no caffein, no alcohol, nothing.  I was exhausted.  Multiple trips to doctor’s offices turned up nearly nothing.  Tests came back normal, I was not a drug addict (duh), wasn’t pregnant, had no STDs, no illnesses, all my levels for perfect.  Bingo bango, we don’t know…you have IBS.

In subsequent years, I have learned a thing or two about what having IBS means for me.  And that is a literal statement.  I am still trying to figure out exactly what my triggers are.  I know I can’t eat fried food, and if I am “full” after a meal, I’ll probably be in trouble over the next day or so.  I know I have to drink 100 ounces of water a day and if I take two days off of running in a row, I’ll probably regret it.  Other than this, most meals are a trial run.  And the way my system works, I can eat something one day and be just fine, then eat it again the next day as leftovers and pay the price.  I’m not lactose intolerant, I have no allergies to foods, but meat is almost always a no-no and most sweets, if I don’t use restraint, will wreck me.

So, what do I do?  I try to be aware of what I put in, and to pay attention to what my guts are saying.  And to have a good sense of humor about my overactive stomach sounds that produce nothing, as my last doctor pointed out.  Lovely, thanks.

There are a lot of sites out there that boast a “cure” for IBS. Eat this diet and you can say GOODBYE to blah blah blah…wouldn’t that be great! If being gluten free or soy free or corn free or any one or two particular items free would sooth my stomach trouble, believe me I’d be all for it.

If you suffer from IBS, or aren’t sure but have issues with gas, difficulty with either constipation or diarrhea, don’t pass it off like its no big deal.  Most people can poop, every day, one good solid poop.  That’s normal, that’s how its supposed to work.  If this isn’t true for you, look into it.  Here’s what I do that helps me most days:

1. Enjoy the company of a person that has a good sense of humor and isn’t offended by occasional gas.  I usually don’t even know that I’m about to pass gas.  This surprises some people which surprises me.

2. Exercise.  Doesn’t have to be running but it DOES have to be something.  Try a few different things until you find a workout routine that meets YOUR personal needs.  Run, bike, swim, walk, whatever you can find the motivation to do.  Trust me, after about a month of consistently exercising, you will notice a huge difference in how you process food.

3. Practice mindfulness.  Stress increases your stomach upset.  For real.  When you feel yourself getting anxious, start to work through it.  Deep breathing, yoga, that workout we just talked about…calm yourself down.

4. DRINK WATER.  Lots of water.  I drink about 100 oz of water. This does not include my intake of other beverages.  I have a 32 oz container that I fill 3 time throughout the day and have a cup of water at dinner.

5. Limit caffeine and alcohol as much as you need to.  Yes, both of these items can be IBS triggers, so during a flare up I try to avoid both completely.  And when I feel particularly full, I know better than to drink alcohol.  I do have my one cup of coffee each morning but other than that, I don’t drink caffeine.

6. Keep trying different things.  Don’t give up and accept your symptoms.  You will most likely find some relief even if you can’t “cure” yourself.  And you will probably identify a few triggers and then you can choose to avoid or just limit access to.

7. Many people say probiotics saved their lives, they didn’t help me.  I do put Kefir in my smoothies (I’ll post the recipe), and think that it helps to keep me regular.  I also find that fiber helps me.  Flax occasionally makes me more bloated, so I try taking a supplement.  My favorite is fiber choice chews.

8. Don’t worry.  Some days you’ll think you’ve solved the problem.  And may be you are one of the lucky few that do get it all squared away and can figure out exactly what triggers your symptoms.  Please let me know if you do! When things get really bad for me, I go through “gluten free” “sugar free” phases but to no avail.

9. Cook your own foods, so that you can have control over what goes into it.  I use olive oil most of the time, but when I’m having an exceptionally rough time I switch to pam, or another fat free substitute.

10. Try mini meals. I notice that when I’m full, I’m miserable.  If I eat small snacks throughout the day, I’m able to eat smaller meals and avoid being too full.  It helps me, most of the time.

11.  Read other people’s stories for encouragement and information.  Here are some of the resources I’ve found helpful:

Eating for IBS: Great recipes that don’t recommend replacements and use ingredients that are easy on all bellies.  They taste good! I’ve made several of them, including the rice pudding, and will be posting my versions of others in the future.  Price is good and the information is helpful.


Joy Bauer’s website:  I have found this site very helpful.  She gives a lot of information about what IBS is, the different types people deal with and how to combat your specific version.


International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD)’s About IBS.  This is a new one for me, but I’m enjoying it.


I also read cooking light, food network magazine and as many other cooking magazines and books I can find to keep fresh my list of recipes so that I don’t get bored and try to go back to something fast and easy that may cause my stomach to be very angry.

Please feel free to write back and give me your feedback on what you do and what helps you.  I’ll make sure to mention if a recipe is good for IBS.  Keep checking in and hope you have some success with your own symptoms.

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