When telling people I have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), 8 out 10 times their response is along the lines of, ‘Ooooh, like explosive diarrhoea?’ and if they don’t say that, I’m often given a facial expression of dread which reads the same thing. Despite between 10-20% of Brits suffering from the condition, why is it still so commonly misunderstood?
I was diagnosed with IBS in 2015 after suffering for years with intense stomach bloating, cramps and heart burn. On a bad day, I can physically bloat 2 dress sizes in a matter of minutes after eating and (more often than not) have to take 6+ Gaviscon tablets daily. I, like most, thought of IBS as a minor condition which caused sufferers to run to the toilet after eating gluten, and went through doctor after doctor and test after test to find a more ‘serious and conclusive’ answer to my pain. After resigning to the fact that I was living with an incurable condition, I started to trawl through the internet looking for like-minded folk who just wanted to eat a large stuffed crust Mighty Meaty Dominoes in peace.
Like most girls in their 20s, I started at the place I knew best; Instagram. There are millions of millennial lifestyle bloggers sharing Buddha Bowls and Boomarangs of their fitness routines, but all I was really looking for was someone who could offer me a quick fix to my agony. Despite the fact IBS is one of the most common medical conditions, I found next to no relatable or useful content on social media. After coming to the conclusion that obviously no one wanted to advertise their dodgy bowels on social media, I came across the well-being Wonder Woman herself, ‘Deliciously Ella’. Inspired from reading Ella’s story about her medical condition Postural Tachycardia Syndrome which is dramatically improved by her ‘Plant Based’ diet, I decided to give it a go.
I started by cutting out dairy and gluten (yep, including the Mighty Meaty). It was tough, but I started to feel the heart burn easing off and jeans were a more reasonable daily option. I bought Ella’s book and felt my ego inflate as I shared the numerous hashstags with the photo of my quinoa based dinners – #plantbased #vegan #GFDF. With this, I started buying into more bloggers who were happy to share insight into their perfect, natural, middle class lifestyles. Before not too long, I started to feel the backlash of the ‘positive life-style’ industry.
After buying coconut based EVERYTHING, and rinsing my bank account of all funds for non-healthy lifestyle based purchases, I started finding myself getting more and more obsessed with Instagram based bloggers who promised a perfect life if you followed their ‘easy steps’. With the ‘help’ from these bloggers, I started to move away from my aim of living a more comfortable, healthy life and began to pick away at my image. Women’s Health is the prime example of a publication which markets itself as being for ‘every woman’ but does the opposite. Their campaign #InShapeMyShape features women holding up body positive slogans to promote the beauty of all women, featuring the most successful fitness bloggers of Social Media, a very large majority all under a UK size 10. With this unfair representation of ‘Healthy’ being shoved in young women’s faces via their news feed, it’s no wonder girls like me in search of tips for a healthy diet become image obsessed. It is evident that despite living in a culture which states beauty is equality, extreme fitness and slenderness is still very much the pinnacle.
The number of pages I followed on Instagram grew with the negative thoughts in my head about my weight. I wondered how it was that despite exceeding my 5 a day, avoiding every single carb, refined sugar and processed snack how I was still not a waif of a girl. I began tricking myself into thinking I was gaining weight, avoiding food and telling myself ‘I’m just bloated’ when in fact I was empty. My brain started sending my stomach signals of fullness despite having eaten nothing for hours on end. I had convinced myself that this was all in the greater good for my health when in fact I was damaging myself.
One day, it was pointed out to me I was becoming a little harsh on myself. I shrugged this off with a sigh and said that I just wanted to be my healthiest self. It wasn’t until I noticed that I was both wearing and buying clothes two sizes too big for me that I realised I needed to stop. In my quest for ‘getting the glow’, I’d completely lost my confidence, the whole while still suffering from the daily symptoms of IBS.
With this, I managed to start turning myself around. I started to eat normally again and actually listened to my body when it needed me to. I went through and unfollowed over 30 healthy life-style pages on Instagram, including those which share patronising slogans (i.e: ‘All I want is a pay rise and a perfectly ripe avocado’… thanks again Women’s Health). I began to wear my right size again, and when I was suffering badly, I realised it was okay not to feel comfortable in skinny jeans.
The truth is, for anyone reading this looking for advice on IBS, there is none I can offer you. What I can tell you is that it’s a condition which differs daily and what works one day doesn’t work another. Maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise does of course help, but you don’t need Madeline Shaw or The Food Medic to ram coconut based ‘goodies’ and HIIT sessions down your throat. Listening to your body and giving it the rest and nourishment it needs is key, and don’t allow yourself to get hung up on what you THINK is best. Sometimes, more often than not, all you need is that Mighty Meaty (with stuffed crust, ofc) and putting a two fingers up at anyone who tells you otherwise.