When I started eating solid foods—yes, I'm going back to when I was a mere fresh-out-of-the-womb babe—my rocky relationship with food began. Sixteen years later, I was diagnosed with an ugly-sounding, ugly-feeling disorder called IBS.For those of you who don’t know, IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a gastrointestinal disorder that affects close to 15% of people worldwide. 40% of people with IBS have mild symptoms, and 25% of people’s symptoms are more severe.
People with IBS experience something called a trigger: a specific ingredient that can (and probably will) set off the stomach’s alarm to eject whatever is making it unhappy.
Everyone’s triggers are different. When I was little, my known triggers were few and simple: just rice and bananas. At this point, my eating habits were a little strange. I would come home from school and eat a family-sized bag of chips every day in one sitting.
Unfortunately, this was no magic trick. I wasn't just an eighty-pound fourteen-year-old who could eat like crazy. My secret was that my stomach would just get rid of it almost right away.
Don’t worry, this isn't a story about my bathroom-going experiences. This is about how the way my stomach reacts to eating has changed the way I look at food and the way people look at me.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the point in my life when my habits would change. I began to track and notice more trigger foods, eliminating all red meat and sadly, my daily chip intake.
Fast-forward two years: I was sixteen, and everything I ate disagreed with me. I had yet to reach the bottom of my problems, so I continued to ignore them and make sure that I was never too far from a toilet.
At this point, I went on a group trip to visit the concentration camps in Poland, near the towns where my grandparents grew up. This trip caused me a lot of stress, so when I came back ten pounds lighter, I didn’t think twice about it.
My parents, however, insisted that we try again to get to the bottom of this. We learned that IBS was exacerbated by stress, and I began to really scrutinize my diet to fix the problems I was experiencing.
Since then, my diet has changed drastically. I now avoid alcohol, all soy and soy by-products, olive, vegetable and canola oils, any high-fat dairy, and most processed products. Thankfully, I never had to give up ice cream or French fries.
My constant stomach afflictions have caused me to lose weight more regularly than I put on weight, changing the way people see me. I have been asked a number of times if I'm eating at all, and have been told numerous times that I "should just go eat a hamburger."
For anyone suffering from IBS, I know it’s (literally) a huge pain in the ass, but while there aren’t answers now, hopefully one day there will be. And honestly, who needs tofu?
I know sometimes you don't want eat because it’s easier to enjoy yourself when you're not constantly thinking about where the closest bathroom is. I know you want to say no to that cute boy who invited you over to Netflix and chill, just because you're worried that the dinner you had a day ago will upset your stomach.
It took me a while to be comfortable enough to talk about my IBS, but now that I am, I have no shame. I've learned through experience that it's the people you surround yourself with that make the biggest difference. My friends know all about what I can and can’t eat, and never question when I go to bed embarrassingly early because my stomach is hurting.
I've also discovered the joy of cooking. By learning how to make foods I can enjoy and that are good for my body, I can eat and feel good about it.
For those of you with friends stomaching IBS (pun intended), recognize that sometimes it’s better not to question when your friend says that they can’t go out or can’t drink (and saying, “but maybe you haven’t tried the right drink” isn't any better). Just believe that they know what's best for their body, not you. If you see them struggling, offer to help.
My relationship with food is complicated. Some days, I love eating. I can’t wait to buy ingredients, bake, shamelessly photograph my food, and enjoy it guilt-free. Other days, I resent my body for needing food when there’s nothing available for me to eat. I hate that I can’t eat my mom’s homemade meatballs, and it makes me want to cry that I can no longer devour a bag of PC cheese and onion chips (they sound gross, but they're out of this world).
That’s just life, and while my life sometimes stops me from enjoying the decadence of a cheesecake or a juicy burger, it won’t stop me from spending hours looking for new recipes, testing them out, and happily stuffing my face.