If you've ever had a stomach flu or food poisoning, then you know the terrible symptoms that come along with it: cramping, nausea, bloating, and sometimes diarrhea. For a person living with IBS (or Irritable Bowel Syndrome), these symptoms are an everyday reality.

IBS is a serious medical condition that can affect a person's well-being, physical health, body image, mental health, self esteem, and diet. While there isn't enough research out there to determine the exact cause of IBS, there is helpful information that is beneficial to making the symptoms manageable. As a person who has recently been given the diagnosis, I want to help anyone with IBS or anyone watching a loved one struggle with it understand more about what it means living life with IBS. 

What is IBS?

coffee, tea, milk, espresso, cappuccino, bed, mug, cozy
Caroline Ingalls

IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a problem that affects the large intestine, causing abdominal cramping, bloating, and changes in [BM] after the consumption of certain food. IBS can be classified in 4 ways:

IBS- C (constipation)

IBS- M (Mixed

IBS- M (Mixed)

IBS - U (Untyped)    

IBS is usually diagnosed if symptoms have occurred once per week for three months or have been continuous for at least six months. Unfortunately IBS has no cure and can be lifelong; however,  diet changes, stress management, medication, and probiotics are all ways in which you can manage your symptoms. 

How I Deal With IBS

Talking about our bathroom habits is not a comfortable conversation for most, but after two weeks of severe constipation and horrible bouts of stomach cramping that left me bedridden, I decided it needed to be discussed with my physician. She concluded, based on the frequency of my symptoms (and some consultation with a gastroenterologist), Irritable Bowel Syndrome to be the culprit of my discomfort.

After a long talk with my doctor and a lot of research, I came to realize that IBS is just an empty phrase meaning "you have problems" that relate to your GI, and thus there can be no definitive cure, and living with IBS means a life of trial and error treatments that may or may not work. 

Since being diagnosed, I realized that having what is considered a "healthy diet" (I'm pescetarian and dairy-free) didn't make me any less susceptible to this problem. On the days where I was the most bloated or in pain, I wanted to lay in bed forever. And when I had to go out, I wore baggy clothes to hide my distended belly. What I've taken away from this is that IBS is as much mentally taxing as it is physical. If you let it, it can affect your self esteem and body image. 

Managing My Symptoms

To cure my constant constipation, my primary physician recommended taking an osmotic laxative (like Miralax), daily until everything worked itself out and became regular. While that worked out one issue, I still had to figure out what to do about my lingering symptoms.

#SpoonTip: contact your physician to decide what methods are best to help your type of IBS. 

Method One: Low FODMAP

vegetable, carrot, cucumber, tomato, cabbage, pepper, broccoli, salad
Christin Urso

I tried a low FODMAP (fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) diet first. All those words essentially equate to complex foods that your body may have a difficult time processing. This includes things like: dairy, cruciferous vegetables, sugars (natural and artificial), and complex carbohydrates such as wheat and grain. This diet is meant to be a temporary relief to your daily symptoms with a strict elimination period, followed by a re-introductory period. 

I'll be honest, I found some relief, but I was miserable. Having a lifestyle where 90% of your food intake is vegetables, forfeiting things like; arugula (a personal favorite), broccoli, carrots, corn, kale, and a ton of other delicious (and healthy) food was stress-inducing. Looking at a restaurant menu shouldn't give you the sweats. 

Method Two: alpha-galactosidase

Ciera-Jade Henry

It sounds more intimidating than anything; alpha-galactosidase is the name of an enzyme used to help breakdown those small complex carbohydrates that are behind your uncomfortable symptoms. This can be found in OTC supplements like Beano™, and CVS Beanaid. 

After an impromptu "breakfast for dinner," night featuring home fries, I was in so much pain, I could only take shallow breaths. Desperate for relief, I decided to give the above a try, finding it with ease at my local pharmacy. It was relatively cheap and had easy instructions (take one supplement before any meal with a "problem food").

Even though I took it after ingesting said problem food, I felt a significant relief of pain less than a half hour later. I've been taking it religiously ever since, and truthfully, I have been feeling overall much better. While still uncomfortable at times, I know my body will never be perfect—but the goal was for my symptoms to be manageable, and for now, they are.

#SpoonTip: Avoid problem foods except for special occasions by replacing them with GI friendly foods.

coffee, tea, espresso, milk, cappuccino, bed, cozy, Morning, mug
Caroline Ingalls

I've learned not to be afraid or weary of my diagnosis anymore, and instead embrace that this is my body telling me that it needs a little more help and if I work with it instead of against it, the results will make everyone happy.